Today I’m taking shelter in my apartment while a certain Christian music festival rears its ugly head across the street. Fanny-packed crowds flood the streets below while devotional rock blasts through the windows. I shut the shades and find my Rifts box set, selecting the third and possibly gentlest Oneohtrix Point Never album, Russian Mind. Once the turntable is spinning, I nudge the volume a few times until I hear nothing but the gorgeous introductory drone and feel myself wash away. I’m reading VALIS, the final work by science fiction visionary and personal favorite, Philip K. Dick. It’s dense, wild, bursting with ideas in every direction at once. It’s also painfully close to my inner workings at times – a strange proposition when the book is about insanity, living information, and puzzling out the coded machinations of the universe.
Hit play now, so you can follow along:
I slide back into the book I’ve nearly completed. The wandering cadence of this story feels like the most familiar dream. When a sudden gap allows the fist pumping dogma to pierce my room from outdoors, I jump to get side B rolling as quickly as possible. The title track begins, and my eyes fall on this passage:
To my surprise I realized that I had stopped shaking.
It was as if I had been shaking all my life, from a chronic undercurrent of fear. Shaking, running, getting into trouble, losing the people I loved. Like a cartoon character instead of a person, I realized. A corny animation from the early Thirties. In back of all I had ever done the fear had forced me on. Now the fear had died, soothed away by the news I had heard. The news, I realized suddenly, that I had waited from the beginning to hear; created, in a sense, to be present when the news came, and for no other reason.
I could forget the dead girl. The universe itself, on its macro-cosmic level, could now cease to grieve. The wound had healed.
Not many people know me that well, but those who do will know why this hits me so hard. Especially when paired with what I was hearing.
Coming in after a song called “Grief and Repetition,” Russian Mind works a swift attack. Rejecting the overlapping, clipped dull tones of its predecessor, the song bursts forth in a warm arpeggio, taking flight above grey clouds on a stormy day, pulling right on into space. It’s simple, direct, working on a primal level; there’s nothing subliminal about the way it sets progressive thought blooming. It is, in a sense, a kernel of understanding my love for sci-fi evoking synth music. I grew up when science fiction was, if not optimistic, always framed with boundless possibility. There was fear, but not of the unknown. The fear was about our past, our old, dumb ideas still haunting us. The unknown was the future, and whatever it held was not going to hold us back. This music opens a back door, plugging me into that childhood feeling of endless curiosity and hope for what was yet to come.
I feel confident hazarding a guess that Dan Lopatin (the artist’s real name; coincidentally the son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union) was raised on similar fiction with a similar affection for the galaxy of sounds made possible via synthesizer. The more I read on, while the album neared its conclusion, the more apparent it became to me: this notion that VALIS, and the philosophy of Philip K. Dick in general, might be the author’s ultimate work. Not only that, but it may be one of the few books I’ve read that stabs toward the fundamental abyss I find myself gawking at so often. Not only that, but, given the book’s themes and plot (I won’t spoil anything), Lopatin’s work likely acknowledges both Dick and this novel in particular.
I’ll end with this tidbit, gleaned from the Wikipedia article on the name of the final track on this album:
Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing the material world.
Please, read some of Dick’s work. It’s worth all of our time.
Special thanks to my friend, collected unkept, for lending me VALIS.