The Frederick News-Post

Ecstasy & Longing CD Release Concert

                                                               By LAUREN LAROCCA   Frederick News-Post Staff

After 22 months of work, John Terlazzo released his sixth album, "Ecstasy & Longing," in November, and he and Kristina Machusick will bring it to life on Saturday during a performance at the Blue Elephant Art Center. Doug Smith (producer) is the only person who knows it better than me," Terlazzo said during a phone interview from his home in York, Pa. "This album is probably downloaded into the cells of his body. He'd listen to it on the stereo at his house, the stereo in his car, the computer, someone else's house ... to hear how it sounded from each place," Terlazzo and Smith went to high school together and reunited around 2000 when he "popped up again," working sound for a concert at a Unitarian church. Machusick, Terlazzo's singing and songwriting partner, lives in Camp Hill, Pa., just north of Terlazzo. "Some of these songs really call for that balance of energy between man and woman," he said, noting that for years he played in bigger bands that had no female energy. During a writing retreat led by Terlazzo, Machusick played her flute to his songs, "and then she started singing and I realized she knew these songs inside and out," he said. "I'm fortunate to have someone singing with me who cares about these songs that much." He loves and misses the "texture" of his old five- or six-piece bands, where Machusick first saw him perform, but said, "there's an amazing array of textures just with Kristina and I. There's a lot to work with." The album also features musician Jacob Thro and some songwriting collaboration with Greg Engle.


"Ecstasy & Longing"

song by song . . .

1. "By The Castle Walls"    -- sound clip --

"The phrase 'by the castle walls' arose probably in contemplative writing," Terlazzo said. "I work in those areas, and when you're down there, there's a lot of garbage and junk and rocks, but there's gold that shines through, too. The phrase, connects to something deep inside of me. "The phrase 'I alone have escaped to warn you' arose from a line in the Old Testament, which is not a place I go to often." The Biblical story told of a messenger who continued to escape plagues and disasters, to warn other regions. Terlazzo thinks it stuck with him, somehow, subconsciously, from having heard it during childhood.


2. "Dancing The Old Dance"

Like a lot of His songs, "Dancing the Old Dance" has an Old World energy to it. "Kris' recorder is really thick' he said. "I mean, you can taste it. It sounds like buttermilk, the way it moves." Thro plays a nylon string guitar to continue the Baroque, Romantic style. While the song is a "love song", it's romantic on two distinctly different levels. "There's a continuum there. That's all the same thing." At one point, the song states, "Shouting love unto the gallows, shouting love into the grave, shouting love until the emperor himself has been changed." "That's a fairly political statement and one I absolutely insist on," Terlazzo said. "We've had some wretchedly ill people running the country for the past eight years. I'm so energized by what happened in this last election. Love causes the empire to topple."


3. "Priests of Patmos"

This song began as a ghazal, an old Persian form of poetry with an idea repeated throughout. Terlazzo's idea was Madness, with a capital "M." He described it as a sort of spiritual experience. "My experience of God or my experience of the Endless is a really ethereal experience, and there's a kind of Madness in it and it's very clear to me that that's the real life," he said. When in that place of awareness, a lot of stuff becomes trivial and meaningless, just sort of drops off. He was writing the ghazal on a beach in Italy in 2006, while looking across the water and seeing images of Greece -- and India, he said, though he's never been there in this lifetime. "You just trust in allowing this stuff to come through you," he said. "Those illuminated moments, ... I'm just grateful when they come." And so the song came out that way, and he later adjusted the words when he put them to music.


4. "This Kind of Love"

"I love the organ on this song" he said. That is the gift of Thro, who also plays 12-string guitar and bass on the track. The song describes a love that is both spiritual and romantic, a subject Terlazzo frequents often. "It's the same energy" he reiterated.


5. "In Those Gardens"    -- sound clip --

A harmonium is featured in this song, played by Terlazzo. "I wanted a harmonium for a very long time," he said, "like, 30 years or something." The instruments are extremely expensive, so when a friend of his went to India two years ago, he asked her to pick one up for him if she happened to see one. She did, and it cost him $162 - a drastic difference from their American price. He's self taught, on harmonium as well as guitar.


6. "Odalisque"

Terlazzo loves Matisse, and he told the story of one particular reason why he's so inspired by the artist. Having returned from Morocco once and back home to the war in France, Matisse found himself in a maddening landscape of death and tragedy, but instead of giving in to the depressing situation, he locked himself in a hotel and painted, from live models, a series of nudes. "His response to that was to retreat to a place where he could praise beauty" Terlazzo pointed out, "and he just gave himself over to painting." The pieces are known as the Languid Odalisques, and Terlazzo's song is not necessarily about the art but about the story of how that art came into existence. As a side note, the line "a silken scarf of emerald green drifts from the Oriental screen" is followed perfectly by descending cello notes.


7. "An Apparition (Beyond the Caravans)"    -- sound clip --

Terlazzo delves into a bit of Eastern philosophy. He said the song is about a Buddhist treatise on impermanence, disguised as a Gypsy ballad.


8. "Heart And Skull"    -- sound clip --

Also begun as a poem, "Heart and Skull" again was converted into song form with the help of Engle, who joins in musically on the track with 12-string guitar and vocals. Images of both Tibetan Buddhism and Old World European fairy tales co-mingle to form almost Tolkien-like worlds. "0 awakened skull, courageous heart" are "fairly Buddhist ideas," Terlazzo said. "Living with an open heart is the only thing we can call living. ... It's a pretty straight-forward message: malice and anger are not going to serve us. We have to work hard to remove them from our lives." The song concludes, "Drink your draught and break your bread" before the mouth of Vajra hell," which is the Tibetan idea of hell, a realm of pain, suffering and ignorance." When Terlazzo typed the lyrics and Vajra was an unrecognized word, his computer suggested Viagra.

"That really says something about our culture," he said.


9. "Song of Longing"

Prefaced by a quote from Rumi, this song is another that focuses on the idea of universal love. "We think of love as another commodity," Terlazzo said, "blatantly or subliminally sold," He paused. "Love is the energy," he stressed. We can say we're here to love, he asserted, but he thinks we're here to absolutely dissolve in love, to allow ourselves to disappear in the energy of love. "I think the Sufis most beautifully describe it," he finished. The quote he referenced from the Persian poet: "If you want to live, die in love, die in love if you want to remain alive."


10. "Your Hands"

They were the hands of his soon-to-be wife that Terlazzo was remembering during a trip to New Orleans in 1980. He was actually on his way to Mexico, where he would spend four months, but stopped in Louisiana on his way down. "I was in love and really inebriated by it," he said. "I was aching over the lack of presence of my love," He wandered through the French Quarter and into an old church, where he lit some candles and "sat in silence for a long time. I kept thinking about her hands," He said it felt like 300 years before he finally got up and opened the big wooden door to leave. Bright sunlight poured in and revealed a scene outside that had completely changed from the time Terlazzo had last seen it. The streets were packed with people, a throng of madness. Mardi Gras had started. "I didn't know it was today. It was just suddenly there," he said. People were making music, Quakers were leafleting, there was art everywhere, half-naked - and naked women, masks, beads, drums, madness. To his left, about 50 Hare Krishna devotees were parading through, chanting and drumming. To his right, people in white shirts and black pants carried a huge cross and waved Bibles in the air. These two groups were marching straight toward each other, meeting at three topless women can-can dancing. "And I thought, 'What a strange and curious and interesting world'" he said. "The song sounds surreal, but I just reported what happened."


11. "Hidden"    -- sound clip --

Very much an Eastern design with his fingers on the keys, "Hidden" is just Terlazzo and the harmonium. Short and sweet, the lyrics were originally a poem from his chapbook "The Secret Work."

We think we know

Where the sheaves of wheat

Are stored away and hidden,

But when We break the seal -

Only laughter.

"The only appropriate response to truth is complete humility," he said.


12. "Shadows Of The Pyramid"    -- sound clip --

Terlazzo said he felt very close to this song because it brings together two of his favorite topics: true love and disdain for false authority. The story takes place in Egypt and tells of the love between a slave and an Egyptian princess, who vow to meet in the shadows of the pyramid, "and to hell with anything that tries to stand in their way," Terlazzo said. Two of the lines were written by Vermont poet Gary Moore: "There's a song so sad no singer can sing it / And it lies in the valley like a wind that's died." Moore handed the lines to Terlazzo years ago on a sheet of paper, giving them to him to use. Terlazzo later added to them for this song: "There's a dream so mad no dreamer can dream it / But I am that kind of slave & I will dream it tonight." Terlazzo called Moore a great friend and the most important influence of his life, in terms of poetry.


13. "May All Beings Awake"    -- sound clip --

This song stems from a Tibetan tradition that Terlazzo loves and respects. They are taught to make every act holy, and they consecrate their daily actions by repeating the mantra "May all beings awake; may all suffering cease," "It's an unbelievably enlightened take on life," he said. "They do it walking down the street, cooking breakfast, loading stuff on the back of a horse. ... They dedicate the moment - an idea so radically different from our country, where we think day-to-day, 'How can we make more money?'"


14. "Farther Along"

The first verse is from an old traditional hymn that Terlazzo heard a woman sing about 30 years ago. "That verse would just keep arising in my mind," he said. "I wrote the other verses around what the song meant to me," He pointed out that Woody Guthrie often found old pieces and reworked them to make them relevant for the times.


15. "The Thorn"

This is the other song Terlazzo did with Engle, and it has the same Medieval energy of many of his songs, and again Terlazzo took an old tale and made it relevant for today. This time, it was that of the ancient idea of a beloved Queen.

"We are longing for the eternal feminine," he said. "Every spiritual tradition, at its center, calls for this balance between masculine and feminine. "And it's also very much a love song," he continued. "I've never been able to, nor have I ever wanted, to separate the two. Earthly love is divine love, and anyone who thinks otherwise is tragically confused."