David Herrle reviews the Soulgasm spoken-word CD by Alice Parris
produced by NuVision Records
buy the CD
Betrayal hurts. Betrayal inflicts great pain on the betrayed. Knowledge of betrayal may be denied, ignored, to avoid pain; but, in Alice Parris' words, such knowledge can "as a black rat propelled through dark passage" jump right down your throat whether you deny it or not. This is one of the first memorable images spoken on Soulgasm, introducing listeners' minds to the rich ride ahead, the narrator's lulling perambulation through tribulation, vehemence, deaths, sex, and resurrection. Deaths? Plural? Yes. Plural deaths. Death by betrayal, death by abandonment, death by lost youth, death by purposelessness. But vehemence gets her through, beats the grave, emulates the Phoenix/Christ and bursts from dust: an invigorated ex-mummy sexed back into lovely life.
Soulgasm is an honest testimony of the speaker's enduring hope despite doubt and distraction. Killing dryness continuously threatens "living waters". This tension recurs throughout part one, Eclipse of the Soul. "I thirst to be watered again," says Parris. She longs to "bear fruit worthy of notice". October comes. Only trees can easily accept Nature's deadly delivery. Besides drought, temptation can coolly crush careless travelers: "Spirit Python drops down from camouflaged trees. Slowly winding 'round, tightening, subtle - don't know you been had. Your final breath completes Python's squeeze play." Add "familiar spirits" to the potential adversaries. They wait "for an opportunity to draw blood", exploiting family and enemy to thwart seekers for "the true light", "to abort one's destiny". If you swim against the current, refuse to abuse the life gift, even choose God over materialist despair, then you must expect attack from all sides, punishment, and mockery. Only the one who knows and admits one is sick truly suffers the symptoms.
Parris continues on, however, through "pockets of evil", "venomous lust for wrongdoing", "arising passions", and "unbridled propensity for evil", wearing scars as evidence of her peril. In short, "Sojourners, beware." This journey from death is full of holes leading back to death. One doesn't rebound from sorrow and regenerate in a typical orgasm's wild instant. This apex must patiently mount, strenuously earn the cool burn of release and joy.
I'm taking a time out to spiel about spoken-word accompanied by music. It either works or it fails, floats or never inflates. But certain spoken-word bits are more edifying than others. For instance, the former Talking Heads front man, David Byrne, released an album of his music/recital for The Knee Plays (1985). The goofy score was inspired by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans (a band comprised of 7 black cats and one white cat), and Byrne's monotonous voice rambled his weird but interesting lyrics through most of the tracks. Worth playing, but obviously missing...soul. That's my major peeve with Byrne: his usual, unleavened delivery and worldview (that often undermined the Talking Heads' wonderful instrumentation). I think Byrne triumphed with his later composition (based on a theatrical piece), The Forest (1991), which comprises mostly amazing music, wordless but soaring vocals by Byrne, and two other vocalists. The Forest ripples with soul. (I need to replace my cassette with a CD copy before I die, by the way.)
Parris hit home with her first swing. Soulgasm is appropriately titled. It lures, seduces, scares, masters, and reaches crescendo. Instead of expected boredom, it sustains curiosity. And the part jazz/funk/hippy-hoppy score beats and acclimates the blood and pulse. I found myself losing myself in the epic story. And abundant epigrams, rich images, and catchy lines keep the pot hot.
Soulgasm's story is basically about the defiance of despair and death: a "sad creature" striving to "regenerate itself", "dripping the blood of love". It's also, specifically, Parris' autobiographical soul trip: "50-year-old woman, too young to rock her days on the porch, too old to use her beauty as leverage." She asks, "Where is the epiphany at fifty?" From confusion and a cold, closed door, Parris spiels through trials and nocturnal surrealism until she builds the confidence to order closed doors to "Open. Open. Open." She rekindles her feminine glory, earns audience with the Adonis king of positive masculinity - a deserving, attentive lover. By the last part, the narrator's words are entirely about power resurgence and prowess. Her body physically reawakens: "Ancient lover, you touch me in my womanplace." But her soul is also reawakened by God through the validation of Purpose: "In my desert places the Lord touches me." In her dry need God pours life affirmative water. "Destiny aligns itself. Purpose pours in living waters, and the heart of dust comes forth, alive." Realization of love-worthiness works like sexual therapy; endured pain, like birth, produces live from death, art from misery: "Poetry has been created from the dust of my soul." Soulgasm ends with a soulgasm after an energetic, breathless monologue of renewed pride and hope. (Parris' words and phrases are seemingly edited to defy pause, overlapping, assertive.)
A choice is made along the Way: "To love or not to love." If love is chosen, then the once-perilous path transforms into "the spiritual superhighway". Pain pays off. Parris sums it up early in the first part: "Suffering. We become transformed in the crucible of suffering. One day the refiner's fire yields a finer character than can be obtained from 1,000 days in the palace of princes."
- review by David Herrle 2/2005
Silenced Voices Speak by Alice Parris
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