Dio Days 2015

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BEFORE – the sum total of my Dio library before Dio Days 2015

Dio Days 2015 Booty: after

AFTER – The expanded DIO library after Dio Days 2015

DIO – Lord of Roar secret compilation click here

Ronnie James Dio is one of the legends of rock.  Actually, he is a legend of metal, hard rock and classic rock, but let’s just elevate past all of that and say ROCK.  I first discovered his voice as I followed the thread of in-depth Black Sabbath study and listening exploration in 2006-7.  I had always been a mild fan of Black Sabbath, then in 2003 a friend gave me a copy of Master of Reality and that spun me all the way around.  Their writing reflected my own thinking back to me.  That 3rd album from the original (Ozzy) era Sabbath was much more fitting to my tastes than the ever-popular Paranoid, which perhaps I had just grown tired of.  Then in 2006, I got the remastered Black Box, all 8 of the Ozzy-era albums from the 70’s.  For almost two years, all I listened to were those 8 albums, Eckhart Tolle books-on-tape, and nature sound CDs.  Then in summer 2007, I came across the newly remastered compilation of Dio-era Black Sabbath.  It was so different, and yet, just as high-caliber as any other Sabbath.  I mean, if there was any doubt that they are the best band in rock history, to completely reformat in the early 80’s with a new vocalist, and sound so different and yet so good and still maintain continuity (Tony Iommi’s genius guitar playing and riffage)–this erased any lingering doubts for sure.  And this Dio stuff introduced me to one of my favorite singers of all time, which is a short and selective list to be sure.  With very few Caucasians…

Anyways: then my pal Nils played the epic track “Stargazer” one fateful New Year’s Eve for all of us (2007 or 2008).  Yet another great band that this Dio guy was in? Yes, Rainbow from the mid-70’s.  So my interest grew another dimension.  Then he rejoins with the Black Sabbath guys around this time (2008) and records a whole new album.  At this point, he is a 50-year music business veteran, an absolute master of his craft, and one of the brightest shining examples of creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, integrity and respect that you might ever discover in any “business” or “industry.”

So then he dies from stomach cancer on May 16, 2010.  Well, he had been working perhaps overly hard.  So every year since, around that time in May, in spite of not really paying attention to the general music press, I still get the urge to listen to lots of Dio.  This year just before the 5th anniversary of his death, the urge was particularly strong, and it became clear that the time had come to delve into the works that he had created with his own band, DIO, that existed more or less continuously from 1983 until 2004, and slightly beyond, and released 10 studio albums.  Dio Days 2015 also included the arranging of two Dio (with Sabbath) songs to add to my solo shakuhachi repertoire, but that will be the focus of a later entry (Dio Days 2015, Part II, most likely).

What can I say?  It is like a magic realm.  Correction: it is a magic realm.  You are either in and you have your mind blown wide open, or you are not in and remain outside the stone wall and iron gates of The Land of Dio.  There is a kind of long pathway that leads to this gate, mainly featuring the “hits” or classics, as it were: “Heaven and Hell,” “Holy Diver,” “Mob Rules,” “Children of the Sea,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Neon Knights” and others.  Lots of people know these and like these: how can you not?  These are some of the best rock songs of all time.  But there is a beyond: a Deeper Dio, if you will.  Lots of people know about it; most of them were, like, between 15 and 25 in 1983, when Dio made the leap from Sabbath to his own project and, in that era, 1981-85, his voice and performance prowess reached its ultimate peak, in-my-not-so-humble-opinion.  He always sounds good–really good–but some of the live shows and studio albums from those years contain an extra bonus–something.

Now understand this: because I was only 9 years old in 1983, I was still listening to Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel and–like everyone else who was not a Dio fan–Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  So I came to the band Dio with relatively fresh ears.  Sure, I have the bias that “Children of the Sea” and “Stargazer” are two of my favorite songs of all time, but those aren’t from Dio, the band, so this year’s study was begun with some uncertainty: will I like DIO, the band?

So here are a few caveats: there’s some keyboards, so expect that.  And what’s more, within the sphere known as “early 80’s metal,” that’s where the Sword of the Land of Dio was forged, so, like every house or property that has its own style and era it hearkens to, it is kind of perpetually 1983 in the Land of Dio, or so it can seem when you first arrive.  Even songs from the final DIO studio album Master of the Moon often have an 80’s flavor added, like a spice, even though it is a fresh, creative album from 2004. Just accept it and the visit will be more fun.  Then–even though he is widely and wildly respected and championed among musicians and metal fans in general–there’s sometimes the classic metal-snob gripe: “Dio sings too much about wizards and rainbows and witches and dragons and dreams.  That’s too, like, wussy or D & D or whatever.  REAL metal is just about, like–hate, death, Satan or rotting corpses and stuff.”  Fine.  Stay in your dark hole if you want.

Part of Dio’s genius was his deep understanding about balance and the ultimate sham that is dualistic thought, whether that’s in life, society or mythology or religion.  Given a choice, I’ll take the vaster, larger viewpoint, thanks very much.  And thanks RJD for seeing that clearly and sticking to it.  (Although in the 90’s, he did get pretty angry and pushed his dark edge much more.) Angels and demons are among us every instant.  Stand in the shadow for awhile and look back to the light more clearly.  It is all a play.  With some really great album artwork, too.

“There’s perfect harmony in the rising and the falling of the sea.” -RJD

“The closer you get to the meaning, the sooner you know that your dreaming.” -RJD

Now go listen to some DIO!

DIO – Lord of Roar   secret compilation   click here

preview of Blood Vapour for flute quartet

Blood Vapour

for flute quartet

The fourth part of the Chthonic Flute Suite commissioned by Areon Flutes in 2012.  This suite has two main inspirations: ideologically it draws guidance from the book The Dream and the Underworld (1979) by James Hillman (1926-2011) and musically it explores the textural possibilities of a flute ensemble within the context of the “heavy chamber music” style I have developed with Edmund Welles since 1996.  The term “chthonic” [thon-ik] generally means “underworld.” However, Hillman thoroughly elaborates that its true meaning extends “below the earth and beyond it” into invisible, non-physical and far distant psychic realms: the deeper mysteries of the invisible.

 “Underworld images are ontological statements about the soul, how it exists in and for itself beyond life.”

The quartet is divided into three sections: Thymos—Phrenes—Chthonios. Thymos means “blood vapour” and is one of the elements that souls of the dead in the underworld completely lack, therefore they crave it and seek it out; they also lack “breath consciousness” or phrenes.

“In the Homeric imagination, the dead lack both phrenes and thymos, and thus they ask Ulysses for the blood of life…According to the Onians, the phrenes refers rather to the breath consciousness derived from the daily in-and-out exchange with life.  The thymos that the dead seek from the living is the blood vapour which they get from sacrificed animals….Even as late as Ovid, the dead are shades who wander ‘bodiless, bloodless, and boneless.’ But psyche remains.  The underworld is a realm of only psyche, a purely psychical world. …Put more bluntly: underworld is psyche.  When we use the word underworld, we are referring to a wholly psychic perspective, where one’s entire mode of being has been desubstantialized, killed of natural life, and yet is in every shape and sense and size the exact replica of natural life.” (p.46)

So, how is this useful? For Hillman, this is the way to experience the soul in its pure form: “Jung superbly summed up the primary message imparted by the guidebooks (Egyptian and Tibetan) to the ‘land of the dead,’ saying that they each teach us ‘the primacy of the psyche, for that is the one thing which life does not make clear to us.’…Underworld images are ontological statements about the soul, how it exists in and for itself beyond life.” (p.47)

That is the crux of it: the ways in which we think and perceive in our default, everyday modalities are in fact very limited.  The scope of our existence actually extends further and deeper into invisible, uncharted and un-chartable territories: some of which can be explored through dreams and the descent into the underworld.  The things we cannot take with us there–breath, blood, the comforts of the solidity of the earth, the warmth of this flesh and bone life when we are safe, satiated and loved–become all the more delicious and appreciable when we return from a visit (if it is only a visit) to the underworld and its mysteries.  Without the mysterious, there would be only the known, and if there were only the known there would be no escape from it: life would be excruciatingly two-dimensional and oppressive, and the temporal “comforts” of physical existence would simply be a taunting parody of the rot and decay that inevitably alternate with the very fruiting and the sweetness that we grasp and cling to.