|Rahsaan Roland Kirk|
14" x 11", oil on wood, 2014
Monday, January 20, 2014
Roland Kirk (Shaman?)
A wisdom encircled Rahsaan that had folks believing he had something greater to say, something supreme to impart each time he spoke. Part southern preacher, part stand-up comic, part ancient-prophet—Rahsaan’s voice boomed with authority with his words always aimed at delivering the most hard-hitting truths.
May Cobb, Songs of Our Life: Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “The Inflated Tear,” The Rumpus, 2013.
For the last two or three years I have been following the blog The Man Who Cried Fire, dedicated to the life and music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and written and collected by Mary K. Cobb. Kirk has been a mainstay in the Top 100s since 1999, and the more you hear and see of him, the more his place as one of the great artists’ of twentieth century music is cemented in the annals of the history of the world. I have considered Kirk a shaman, one who could traverse the mythical realms of the spirit world. As an artist and art historian I have been convinced that the true function of art is that what it was in the beginning: the intermediary of the gods. “One who is a specialist in ancient techniques of ecstacy.”
“The shaman normally is a functionary for a nonliterate community, serving as its healer, intermediary with the gods, guide of the souls of the dead to their rest, and custodian of traditional tribal lore. The typical shaman comes to this role through either heredity or having manifested idiosyncratic traits (epilepsy, sexual ambiguity, poetic sensitivity, dramatic dreams). Psychologically, shamans depend on an ability to function in two worlds, the ordinary reality of daily life and the extraordinary reality they encounter through their ecstatic journeys. As well, they serve their tribe as a defense of meaning, by incarnating a contact with the powers thought to hold the tribe's destiny.” (Carmody & Carmody 1989:33)
Andreas Lommel, in his work on shamanism (Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art), draws a distinction between a medicine person and a shaman, noting that the future shaman acts under an inner compulsion “...a psychosis that is emerging for some reason or other is so strong that the only way out open to the individual attacked by it is to escape from it into shamanistic activity, that is to say essentially by means of artistic productivity, such as dancing or singing, which always involves a state of trance.” (1967:9-10)
In Siberian Tungustic the word is "saman," meaning "one who is excited, moved, raised," and refers to individuals who, while in a trance state, visit the realm of mystical beings to communicate with them and in the process gain mystical power.
1941 saw the discovery of Paleolithic paintings in caves at Lascaux. At the time they were considered the oldest known paintings and, according to the French philosopher Georges Bataille, it represented the “birth of art.” Bataille was one of the first to see these paintings and he immediately saw in them something so profound that the whole of art history should be rewritten. 1941, of course, was during the second World War, and the dominating force of the avant-garde (what was left of it) then were the surrealists, with whom Bataille himself was briefly associated.
(Has the subject of this 17,000 year old painting been photographed in Siberia?)