The Sacred and the Profane


I’ve come in and out of consciousness a couple times over the past couple of weeks.  I’m here and then I’m not. And then I am again. I believe in life outside of this one. No, not “outside” this one (and definitely not “after.”) That’s the point; it’s all part of the same. I’ve had little glimpses of it from without and this is just what I’ve come to believe. You can believe what you want.
When I went to my Gastrointestinal doctor’s appointment on Christmas Eve they rushed me to the Emergency Department because I was tach-ing out at about 160 bpm. I didn’t really feel that bad. Weak, to be sure and a little spacey but hell the spacey part is just me most of the time.
I don’t want to write about all that medical shit. I’m doing what they say. We think we have the answers. We’ll move forward so I can get back to creating art, being politically active, and helping vets. Last thing I’ll say about the heart thing today: I left the hospital with a halter heart monitor on so bear that in mind while I tell you the story I sat down to tell you.
A few nights ago I ended up embarrassing my dear friend Jim O’Quinn immeasurably. I have seen more plays with Jim O’Quinn than I have with any other person on Earth. When he still lived in New York we saw everything from the biggest Broadway hits to those great midnight experimental off-off joints in some basement down in Alphabet City. I love him. That’s why I hate I embarrassed him. Sorry, not sorry. I tell you there was this young man there, glasses, bushy beard and mustache. At a glance I knew he was 1) mostly quiet by nature and 2) a genius in at least a couple of fields. He’s a friend of Jim’s so we were all to sit together to see the play. The young man sat between Jim and me. At some point his leg fell over against mine. I ran my right hand down my thigh so my fingers ended up between our legs and my hand would be touching his. He leaned gently into me, close enough for me to smell him. Close enough for me to smell him. Even writing those words now, feeling it in my body again it’s like I’m a fucking teenager. I’m fifty-four years old and it’s like I’m 16. We rubbed up against each other like kids at a drive-in through three hours of play and two intermissions. I’m sure Jim had had enough of it by the end but I simply couldn’t keep my hands off this boy. In one of the intermissions between times when I was trying to bury his mouth with mine in the courtyard, he told me that he was in a polyamorous relationship. In his case that means he is in love with two people who are also in love with each other. I apologized for my pawy-ness and he said that he welcomed it, that his interacting with other men in that way was completely allowed in the context of the twenty-first century. I ain’t mad at ‘em.

I was interested enough in this human. Wait a minute. I think I may have screwed up. “The young man” I think now that I think about it, they prefer to be thought of as gender-nonbinary but no, no, I’m good. When I asked it there was a preferred pronoun they said that they operated with all of them. This is always welcome news to me because I often call my girl friends “dude” or “bro” and when talking to other queer friends, we almost always refer to all the straight men we know as “she.” It’s a crazy mixed up world. I’m down to call anybody whatever the fuck they want to be called if it will help them be happy. What does that cost me? Nothing.
I was interested enough in this human to want to know them better so I scurried away right after the play (I’m sure much to Jim’s relief) rather than try to drag this young angel off by the beard and back to my lair. I’m glad that I did.
I did remember that for the moment or so he’d been able to get my mouth off of his, he told me that he is a musician and that he’d be performing a piece he’d recently written as an Artist in Residency. I seem to remember his saying the words “electronic,” “experimental,” and “strings” and that was enough for me to yell, as I disappeared into the weird late night world of the Central Business District, “I’d be down to hear some o’ that! Call me.” And he did. And he told me where and when he’d be playing. So I went.
Now forget all that other bullshit, all the part about what an animal I behaved like the other night, about why I’m wearing this heart monitor tonight, this is the important part:

The artist is Peter J. Bowling and this work is entitled Pink. We are at “Peter and Paul,” the repurposed former Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church (founded 1848, closed as a church in 2001). Maybe it didn’t close as a church. There are many ways to worship.
When I entered the sanctuary, all the other congregants were seated in a large semicircle of wooden chairs beneath the soaring gothic ceilings. While that which was dead has fallen away from the walls, the restorers wisely have not hidden the past with new paint. There are, visible on the wall, evidence of about seven different color choices over the 172 year history. The top layer, now also greatly chipped away, is pink, thus (presumably) the title of the piece.
The heels of my cowboy boots ring the cavernous space like a stone bell as I march at 120 beats per minute toward the last remaining open seat, dead center. I sit down.  At the center of the crescent of chairs was the young man I’d so hedonistically worshipped at the play a few nights before. He appeared beatific and prepared for his martyrdom, the willing sacrifice of his artist’s heart he was about to pass around for us to consume.   It’s not the first time I’ve dragged my sin before the altar, won’t be the last. My favorite cocktail is made by a measured combination of the sacred and the profane.
Peter, as I said, had described his work as experimental (I think) and I had put that together with a whole lot of erroneous presumptions and figured the work must be almost identical to Dan Friel. And it’s not. It is clear that Peter J. Bowling is his own artist and he has his own voice. His only acknowledgment of me is a smile that says “I’m happy you came.” I take off my Goorin Brothers and put it on the floor, place my hands in zazen, take one deep, grateful breath and the performance has begun.

Peter J Bowling talks a bit through his bushy mustache and beard, from underneath a short-brimmed hat, and a wealth of experience beyond his years to explain to us that this space in which we were receiving this sacrament, this temple of gestation and birth, had been a place where in the early days of AIDS, when some perishes refused rites to the homosexuals, at this place, compassionate Catholics gathered to give funeral rites to those dead of the Plague.
Peter J Bowling acknowledges to us gathered that this story may be apocryphal and I think how it doesn’t matter.

Peter J Bowling is wearing a “Silence = Death” tee-shirt and I have the thought “I bet that tee-shirt is as old as he is” and about all who wore one like it who are no longer here.

Illuminated in a expansive nimbus created by our collective attention, he holds a Viola de Gamba against his body as if he was trying to reassure the instrument. At a glance, you’ll think you recognize the instrument but upon closer observation you’ve likely seen nothing like it.  It seems larger than a viola yet smaller maybe than a cello. Upon closer observation the fingerboard is larger and it looked to have seven or more strings.
When Peter J Bowling begins to play, it is not Dan Friel.
Although he’s not beholding to any style or, particularly it seems to any rules of composition and yet what comes out of the instrument could be mistaken for any familiar string instrument in most orchestras you’ve seen or Balanchine ballet. The music is seamless except for when it calls for seams; it is transcendent and beautiful. I’m taken aback about how quickly I’m traveling. I’m surprised by it but old enough and I’ve seen enough not to stop it.
My heart. All these hospital visits.
The music fills my body.
There is a cluster of wires and devises cluttered around his feet. The many machines effect the sound made by his body and the gamba, feeds it through a main wiry artery to a speaker in the apse. “The Ghost Choir” the artist calls it.
My friend Jim leans in, “I love this but I have to be somewhere! Let’s come back!” and he leaves.

Peter J Bowling after the first part of the journey says, “In the spirit of how this piece was created, please feel free to use the space in a way that feels good to you.”
I’d been aching a’ready. I open my eyes from my meditation to see how and if anyone accepts this encouragement from our pastor. No one does. They’re all still seated in the little wooden cabaret chairs.

Finally I can stand it no more, my prayer needs to move.
I went to the back of the sanctuary so as not to become part of the performance for the others. I stood at the base of a thirty foot stained glass window depicting the Madonna, and for me, tonight, the Divine Feminine. My body sways back-and-forth like it does in the Arbor and for a moment I can hear the Lakota drum. I keep my eyes closed so no one can see me dance and for the next half hour I am alive inside the prayer of his music and I become the Dance.
When I’d returned to the church from my journey I found myself leaning with my hands on the stool of the window, feet spread wide and behind me. I look down into a small baptismal of my own tears and wonder how I got here.




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