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A Transitive Nightfall: Notes on a Title

By Michael Divine on December 5th, 2017
A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

“A Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds” – Detail

“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.

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