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“I was very impressed with T.S. Eliot around the time I was writing [the lyrics for] Dark Star. Beyond that, that’s just my kind of imagery…. I don’t have any idea what the ‘transitive nightfall of diamonds’ means. It sounded good at the time. It brings up something that you can see.” – Robert Hunter on the lyrics for “Dark Star” from which the title of the painting is taken as quoted in “The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics”
“So I have a long continuum of ‘Dark Stars’ which range in character from each other to real different extremes. ‘Dark Star’ has meant, while I’m playing it, almost as many things as I can sit here and imagine…”
– Jerry Garcia, Rolling Stone 1971
I’d like to share a few words regarding the title of this painting, “A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds”. I had thought, at one point, of calling this “Electric Guitar is My Guru” but for various reasons, not the least of which included Violet saying that she didn’t like that title, I changed it. I’d thought that a good title because really it’s a sound that has followed me and that I have followed – like a dancing partner – from my teen years into my adult life. It has expressed those deep parts of my soul, long tangents of my imagination, and the heights of my spirit. But the word ‘guru’ has a lot of baggage attached to it. So, as a title, I had to leave it behind.
Then I remembered something that Jerry Garcia, one of the greatest guitarists of our age (forget about whether you like the Grateful Dead or not, the man was a magician of the guitar.) said about the song “Dark Star”.
Dark Star is one of the Dead’s epic songs of open ended flow. I can’t really describe it. It is an experience as much as it’s a song. Years ago I read something that Jerry had said about that song – and I can’t remember where I read it and can’t seem to find the quote anywhere. He said that the thing he loved about Dark Star is that between every note was an infinity of possibilities – more than any other song in their catalogue. There were songs that could open up, could go in multiple tangents and directions – you know, somewhere between the lyrics and the bridge – but only Dark Star could open up everywhere in every direction all at once between any note.
“A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds” is a lyric from that song. Written by Robert Hunter, the lyrics are as visually elusive as the song – moments and fragments cascading through time offering images and suggestions of moods and melody. The pieces on their own don’t have any real narrative but, taken together offer a glimpse of a sensation, a possibility.
This is, to me, the essence of painting. Each moment and each brushstroke is a thousand possibilities. This painting attempted to be even more of that – every moment cascades into the next with only loose rhymes or relationships to the previous. It is the heights and the troughs, the peaks and valleys – the rippling edges and roaring swoops – of a thousand nights under bright lights and raging guitars. It is the echo of a rhythm of a perfect melody never forgotten found deep in my soul I can never forget the love I felt then and all of the infinite possibilities.
It’s all and everything. It is diamonds, reflecting and refracting, ad infinitum. It is a nightfall of them. So I am grateful (no pun intended) for that line, those few words, penned by Robert Hunter, back in – what – 1968? Fifty years ago. But time is an illusion. And the space where the pen stops and where the pen begins again – a lifetime, an eon, to some – may, in all actuality, be merely a moment, a breath, a transitive nightfall of diamonds cascading through the atmospheres waiting for the next scribe to pick up their brush.
See the full painting here: A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds
“Each note is like a whole universe. And each silence…. And the quality of sound and the degree of emotional… It’s like the most important thing in the world. It’s truly cosmic.”
– Jerry Garcia in “The Rolling Stone Interviews”
Loud fuzzy distorted sustained amplified strummed plucked looped shredded wah wah wah wailing upon and fed back through layer upon layer of chord progression melody line guiding me and dividing me and finding that perfect note, that golden chord, that crying out tone of my soul.
This is my homage to that instrument that has been this shining beacon in my life, the guitar. There are so many rock stars whose narrative melodies, soulful intonations, thrown to the wind ministrations on this instrument have triggered the unfolding imagination of my mind. My art, all of it, finds its harmony with the guitar. My paintbrush is the guitar with color and shape rather than sound. Etching along the space time tunnel in perfectly poised movements, some weird zen dance – the guitar lines and my brush – are one moment in motion flowing in gold. Every painting is another rock star fantasy.
I remember being at a music festival and, amongst the thousands of people, the multitudes of noise, the dust and mayhem, there was this beautiful high melody being played over the heads of everyone and I was like ‘what. is. that?!’ and I followed it and found a stage with this rather shriveled old man in a wheel chair and a guitar on his lap, glinting shiny silver in the afternoon sun and a huge smile on his face as effortlessly sang his soul through his Fender guitar and it was Buddy Guy and he was a master.
There’s Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Jerry Garcia and Eddie Hazel and Thurston Moore and Frank Black and Slash and George Harrison and Trey Anastasio and David Gilmour and Kieth Richards and John McLaughlin and Kurt Cobain and The Edge and Van Halen and and and. I mean, there’s so many. All these bands and their guitars: The Black Crowes, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, and whoever plays guitar for LCD Soundsystem and the various guitarists for Talking Heads and on and on and on… There’s just. So. Many. It goes on and on. Some added one perfect note. Others, entire encyclopedias of sound.
It’s the musical instrument of the 20th Century. Now, in the 21st C. it seems like the ‘instrument’ of the century is the computer. But the 20th C. was led by the guitar. And I followed it religiously.
I learned so much from that golden raucous everything. It can be delicate restraint then complete self-indulgence. It’s all the rock and roll one can handle. It is, to me, the voice that ties the band together. It’s a note. A chord. A sound imprinted on my heart. It just takes me and takes me and takes me and I go – willingly – with all the ego aggrandizement and dissolution at the same time.
It is delicate curlicues of aural calligraphies written on the passing fabric of time. The best of them form elaborate sentences, paragraphs, whole novels of sound with beginnings, middles, and ends, where deep troughs in which we lose ourselves lead to high peaks from which the view is as close to infinite as is humanly possible, arriving at conclusions of sonic perfection creating, within that space of time, a sparkling, shimmering, twirl and dip, grip the underbelly, and shimmy through the spinal column, all of it never ending noise sound tone soul realization – is this the sound of infinity – is this the sound of the inner eye of the universe? It is the sound of sunlight glinting through the diamond jewel of my mind.
I’m so grateful for that sound – that roar – that has flowed through my life for several decades. It ripped into my soul. It took over my world. It never let go.
This painting is an homage to that sound, that instrument. It is a homage and thank you to all the great guiding lights who picked it up and wailed their souls on it. To all those epic rockers and their late late nights. All the sex and drugs and rock and roll. Whatever got you through the night. And that release you found – from our inner soul to the outermost edge of human expression that this instrument was capable of transcribing.
Somewhere, and I can’t find where, Jerry Garcia remarked that the thing he loved about playing their song “Dark Star” was that it could open up anywhere – there were an infinite number of possibilities between any note and the next. I think of paintings like this and my favorites are those that seem to be able to continue to expand and expand – between any line, any curve, every piece unfolding to the next.
So I borrowed a line from that song, titling the painting “A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds” where each drop of that nightfall, each note shimmers and glistens, merging with the next, a cascade of sound, light, color, all at once.
This is a painting of self-indulgence. It is a painting of Rock n Roll.
Thank you, dear musicians, for all the good times you’ve brought into this world.
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