Lately, I’ve taken to going on early morning walks, in an effort to shed some of the pounds that being an active Mason has put on my waist. To keep at a good pace, and keep myself from falling asleep while walking (did I mention that it is EARLY in the morning?), I’ve taken to listening to music, and it has gotten me thinking about perfect albums.
Of course, the first thing I attempted to do is define what MAKES a perfect album. I know you’ll have your own definitions, but here are my criteria:
1) The album has to tell a story. This knocks out many of my favorite albums, but for it to be a PERFECT album, it needs to have a complete theme that is supported by both the lyrics and the melody. While there are many fantastic albums that are just collections of songs, they don’t meet the qualifications.
2) Every song has to stand on its own, even though it also contributes to the story. That was a very tough rule, because it knocks out most Pink Floyd albums (does anybody really just listen to “Bring The Boys Back Home” on its own?), but for the album to be PERFECT, each song has to be individual.
3) The album has to make me feel something. It can be happy, or sad, or anger, but it has to be moving. If your art isn’t moving, is it really art?
So, with those three rules in mind, I was only able to come up with a few perfect albums, which I’ll list later on for those of you who are interested. However, since this is obviously a Masonic blog, you must have realized that there is a Masonic connection here.
One of my Masonic mentors was discussing the issues he was having with memorizing ritual, when he made the comment “I know the lyrics to every single Beatles song ever released, why can’t I remember a few sentences?” The point he made is incredibly valid: why do we all have such an issue remembering our lines of ritual when we have no issue remembering trivial things such as song lyrics?
The answer, of course, is a combination of simple repetition and an emotional connection. Our favorite songs are those that we have listened to thousands of times, mumbling along to the words until we’ve heard them so many times that we know them by heart. In this way, we have literally rewritten part of our long term memory to contain the lyrics, so that they can be instantly recalled when needed. Strengthening this memory bond even further, those songs that move us the most form an emotional bond, where the song evokes further memories of friends we heard the song with, where we were, and what we were doing.
What if we were to apply this same mentality to our ritual work? What if we were to listen to the ritual being performed so many times that we had no choice BUT to learn it? Even more, what if we were to form emotional connections to the ritual work? What if we were to know it as intimately as we know our favorite songs, and every time we heard it we couldn’t help but sing along, and be flooded with the emotions of when we first heard it?
Our ancient brethren understood this. The most effective form of memorization is through something called a memory palace, where you place your memories in a visual place, and then cement them in place by using sounds, smells, and emotions to keep them firmly in our memory. Once memorized in this way, they knew that it could be instantly recalled, repeated, and analyzed for further understanding.
How well do memory palaces work? I have no idea. Honestly, I’m just now learning how they work, and it will probably be years before I have a good enough understanding to make use of them in ritual. Hopefully you will begin this journey too, and together we can search for perfection in our ritual work.
Further, ritual work (when done well) would fit my definition of a perfect album: each degree tells a story (and all three, combined, also tell a story), each lecture stands on its own, and most importantly, the ritual itself is incredibly moving.
As promised, here is my list of “perfect albums”. Bear in mind that your taste in music almost assuredly differs from mine, so please feel free to add any perfect albums in the comments. They’re listed in release order so that it doesn’t appear that I’m ranking them…
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Uriah Heep, The Magician’s Birthday
David Bowie, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
Alice Cooper, The Last Temptation
The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
Everclear, Songs From An American Movie Volume 1 and 2 (I know, this is cheating because it’s two albums, but it was clearly meant to be one)
My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade