No lovers, no drugs. No lovers, no drugs. And it’s painful not to touch, yeah it’s painful not to touch. Corona, your crush. Corona, too much. And it’s painful not to touch, yeah it’s painful not to touch. I went to the mountain to be. I wanted her, she wanted me. Returned to the desert to see. Now I’m back in this prison with me. You love her, too much. She loves you, not enough. And it’s painful not to touch, yeah it’s painful not to touch.
“No Lovers, No Drugs” is a music video meditation on the aesthetics of asceticism. It is an offering of art as abstract chaplaincy–made to comfort and accompany us through this touchless time. The one who finds the Holy Grail is the one who asks, “What are you going through?”¹ With this song I am asking (and answering): What does our long loneliness look, feel, and sound like? What are we going through? I offer a simple chorus: it’s painful not to touch. I believe that music can rehabilitate us back to presence and connection, and that our solitude can be sung in solidarity.
“No Lovers, No Drugs” is an altarpiece for our class — Quests For Wisdom: Religious, Moral and Aesthetic Experiences in the Art of Living. Dorothy Day, Evagrius Ponticus, Howard Thurman, Emily Dickinson, Louise Glück, Zhuangzi, Toni Morrison, Frida Kahlo, and our profound guests and professors were all mentors on this project. I edited the video through the lens of their ideas, weaving together the themes of our class with the evocative imagery of my own inner and outer quests for wisdom. In the spirit of ritual practice, my aim is not to make an argument, but to perform it.
“No Lovers, No Drugs” depicts the story of a mythical desert mother wrestling with her monasticism as she fights demons of addiction in isolation. No sex. No drugs. But hell yes, Rock and Roll. The drums keep a steady honkytonk beat of heartbreak and blues. The guitars hiss muted screams at one another, while an ethereal cello floats overhead. Raspy whispers wince out lyrics of longing. The music carries us through canyons and across seasons on a risky pilgrimage of devotion to Corona Arch in Utah–the year 2020. We move fast and slow as we wander down endless and empty roads. There is a contrast of temperatures: a cold colorless desert versus a sizzling hot sun setting over snow.
Can you feel your hands clapping the dry dust-to-dust of erasure? Do you feel your brave bare feet sting as they step into the cold snow alone? Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.² Each day is a ritual of breaking. Paddle gently across the currents of emotion. Build fire. Be humbled by the mountains. Be grounded by the rocks and the neolithic teachers who etched their art on bare walls. Keep count, marking the sober days, the days of no-contact, the days in prison, in quarantine, tallying The First 10 of 10,000 Things³. Mary and her immaculate conception–what is the invisible thing waiting to be born inside each of us? Ganesha, the remover of obstacles–may he stomp out the sins and suffering that get in our way.
In addition to sharing some remarks on the process of making “No Lovers, No Drugs,” I have also provided an index of all the work I have created while in quarantine since March 2020. This series is tentatively titled The First 10 of 10,000 Things, and is a testament of my attempt to become an ethical virtuoso–an artist who shapes her work to help others in the world. I am caretaking and creating in the unique year of 2020 vision. May this archive of art work and academia serve as a map to retrace the steps of my own creative quest.
“No Lovers, No Drugs” came quickly, on a random masked trip to the grocery store on July 12th, 2020. The lyrics, licks, and beats were written, arranged and recorded within just a couple of hours. It was a spontaneous, miraculous birth of music. I rehearsed the vocals into my phone while pacing in the alleyway behind my apartment building–the only private space available to me. I was nursing a broken heart while entering a new recovery program, and feeling the full sting of emotional and physical isolation. The first rough takes of guitar and voice were so raw and honest, that I didn’t want to touch them, even though they were technically “flawed” from an audio engineer’s standpoint. The guitars and main vocals heard in the final version are the original first takes.
I sat on the song for about a month, afraid to touch the truth. Often, when I have music in the works, I will start to pair it with visuals to get a fuller sense of its mood and vibe. I cut a quick video demo pairing the music to footage from a recent trip to Utah. It hit the mark. Meanwhile, new neighbors moved in upstairs, and I began to notice the faint sounds of an ethereal cello floating overhead. I thought cello might be a welcome addition to the song, so I reached out to see about a collaboration…
“The love of our neighbour, in all its fullness, simply means being able to say to him, ‘What are you going through?’”⁴ It was so replenishing to my soul to be able to invite a stranger into my home to make music together, despite the plague. Molly Farrar’s cello added a whole new dimension to this piece. I sat on it again for several months, not sure how to balance the crude sharp guitars with the fine aura of an orchestra.
I worked on other projects in the interim, including a collaborative public performance and stop-motion animation music video (for our stop-motion time) about the Dark (K)night of Soul–a classic quest for wisdom that continually engages and fascinates me. Using chalk as a medium in this project inspired me to play with it again for “No Lovers, No Drugs.” Come finals week, I polished the mix of the song, and returned to the video edit. This time I started to see its narrative through the lens of our class, and this pulled all the iconography together.
This song and video belong now, to me, as an iconic centerpiece of this most beautiful and unbearable year. May it bring others solace to know that we suffered together, apart.
The First 10 of 10,000 Things
An Index of Art as Abstract Chaplaincy by Idgy Dean
9. The Addict & The Yogi (In Progress)
“Blowing on the ten thousand things in a different way, so that each can be itself — all take what they want for themselves, but who does the sounding?”
“Heaven and earth were born at the same time I was, and the ten thousand things are one with me.”⁵
¹ “In the legend of the Grail, the keeper of this miraculous vessel is a king paralyzed by a most painful wound. And there it is said that the Grail shall belong to the first who asks this king the question, ‘What are you going through?’ The love of our neighbour, in all its fullness, simply means being able to say to him, ‘What are you going through?’ It is a recognition that the sufferer exists… ” — Waiting for God by Simone Weil, page 64. / ² A well-known Zen koan. More on its origins here. / ³ Inspired by “Free and Easy Wandering” in The Complete Works of Zhuangzi. / ⁴ See note 1. / ⁵ The Complete Works of Zhuangzi, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013: pages 8–13.