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№ 5: Mystery Baritone, Yoga Dad, Zen Mountain

Alex Payne
Alex Payne
3 min read

Table of Contents

If spring is springing for you like it is for us in the Hudson Valley, you don't want to be inside reading newsletters. Read them outside, friends. Scroll beside a crocus. Open links by Lily of the Valley. Forward emails for Ēostre.

Scott Walker: 30th Century Man

for your mind

I was in the back seat of a stranger's Subaru Crosstrek the other day, catching a ride, when I heard a familiar but momentarily unplaceable baritone on the car's stereo. Impressionistic verses dripped in languid vibrato over an unusual arrangement: peaceful guitar and chimes in the left channel, while in the right strings buzzed around several notes like an acoustic Swarmatron. Bittersweet memories of a love lost, anxiety held at bay only by observation of the present moment. Timeless, like a ghost.

The driver clued me in. The singer was Scott Walker. Of course it was! How could I have missed him? Except that one doesn't hear Scott Walker much, and isn't that a shame?

The song was "It's Raining Today", off Scott 3 (1969). The driver asked if I'd seen the documentary about Walker, 30th Century Man (2006). I had not, but I remedied this a couple of days later, and am now here to recommend it.

If I was selling the film, I'd say that it's the story of a guy who went from being arguably bigger than the Beatles to the margins of the avant-garde. From having his band's car upended by a mob of screaming fangirls to instructing a percussionist to punch a slab of meat in pursuit of the perfect thwack for a song about Mussolini's hanged mistress.

The documentary was produced by David Bowie, and features the likes of Radiohead and Brian Eno, the latter shaking his head at how seemingly none in music have gone further than Walker. It's a portrait of an artist committed to his vision above all else, willing to wait decades for inspiration and opportunity if that's what the work demands.

If 30th Century Man hits you right, consider also Swans: Where Does a Body End? (2019), which explores the life and career of Michael Gira, another enduring musical iconoclast. The latter documentary is, I'd caution, a little baggy, and the two films played back to back may well result in an overdose of white dude ennui.


for your body

If the Google Books Ngram Viewer is to be trusted, we hit peak "yoga mom" in 2018, which feels about right. Five years on, maybe we can get yoga dad going. I'll start.

The pandemic and our subsequent relocation took something precious from me: hot yoga. Finding yoga (of any style and temperature) was a blessing, a wake-up call near the end of my 20s informing me that I had a body and didn't have to be miserable in/about it.

Over the last decade, I spent many happy, sweaty hours in various studios, often those affiliated with Canadian franchise Modo Yoga, whose slogan may as well be, "We're not Bikram, promise!" In my experience, hot yoga is divisive, appealing or appalling. To me, it invigorates and cleanses; at least one guest of mine was brought to tears during a class. I miss it awfully.

Whether traveling, sick, or stuck inside due to a virus or skies blackened by forest fires, it's been useful to have another way to practice yoga wherever I'm at. I've tried them all, and the one subscription I maintain is to Glo. Their library of classes must be thousands deep by now, with 5-10 live classes offered daily in a variety of styles. My favorite teachers on Glo include Ivorie Jenkins, Marc Laws II, Stephanie Snyder, and Jason Crandell.

Zen Mountain Monastery podcast

for your soul

I'm trying to ween myself off podcasts, motivated by little more than a hunch that my writing would be best served by not having the voices of others drowning out my own in otherwise quiet moments.

My one enduring exception is for the Zen Mountain Monastery podcast. I found ZMM online and began listening to their dharma talks in podcast form in order to get a feel for their sangha (community). Now that we live within an easy drive of the place, I'm looking forward to doing my first in-person retreat there this summer. I still listen to the podcast, though.

I'm struck nearly every week by the words of Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, the most senior figure at ZMM and the Order to which the Monastery belongs, who I hope will be recognized as one of the great religious orators of his time. They also give time on the podcast to senior students, whose varying stories of their paths to Zen are often inspiring.

If you're exploring Buddhism in general or Zen in particular—or if you just want a few minutes of insight and peace in your week—check out ZMM's podcast. Their dharma talks are more like sermons than classes, mindfully meandering around themes and teachings by way of anecdote and observation. If you find yourself wanting more formalized knowledge rooted in history, try the Zen Studies Podcast as a supplement.

Since I just missed March, I'll have another one for you before April's out. Always open to questions, recommendations, topic requests—anything you'd like to say, really. Thanks for reading.