Cease practice based
on intellectual understanding,
Pursuing words and following after speech.
Learn the backward step that turns
Your light inward to illuminate within.
Body and mind of themselves will drop away
And your original face will be manifest.
So says the first place we recall seeing the phrase “original face” — the words of Eihei Dōgen, born in Kyoto, Japan in or around the year 1200. The world in which he lived cast him more a character in a Kurosawa film than the monk we may picture — something that led him to travel and study. The Japan of Dōgen’s time was ruled by a foolish aristocracy, willing to purchase prayers, and monasteries which fought one another with soldiers.
After studying in China Dōgen returned with revolutionary views which survive in the Sōtō school of Zen, and which are founded, in part, on the concept on nonduality, an idea expressed in the deceptively simple passage quoted above. The easiest approach to understand is to recognize and confront the comfort we find in familiar conflicts: Good and evil, dark and light, and ultimately self and other.
Before my role here at Hymie’s I spent many years as a dishwasher in a diner. It was during the time I first read Dōgen, and wrote my own mantra on the wall above the sink:
The dishes are clean, the dishes are dirty
It is all the same
You do not wash the dishes, the dishes wash you
To wash one dish is to wash all dishes.
While largely inspired by Dishwasher Pete‘s incredible fanzine my sudsy mantra was my own way of relating to what I had read. Totally unable to meditate (and still totally unable to sit still) menial work became my gateway to understanding nonduality. Perhaps for you it is building birdhouses, or whatever task allows you to remove yourself from yourself long enough to see yourself — one does not have to be a Buddhist to enjoy this feeling in the act of work.
How does this relate to this new local release, Original Face by Little Man? Are we taking some enormous leap, based simply on its title — are we also placing upon it the weight of everything one will feel when confronted with Dōgen’s often frustratingly obfuscated directions to the path to enlightenment.
I don’t know. At this point I simply concede I’m only a guy who in a record store who has no idea — If I were a better writer I would be working for Pitchfork and I would simply give this album some stars and compare it to Dinosaur Jr. End of story, please click again next week as our advertisers are counting on you.
Fortunately for its listeners, Original Face is also a solid rock and roll romp — fun enough that we can listen to it, talk about T Rex and deal with the heavy shit later. Its title track might be giving a nod towards sixties mod as readily as eight hundred year old Japanese poetry. You know, Small Faces, Little Man — all in the same jam. In the British scene the mod-est of the mods were a ‘face’ — what we might call a fancy lad, or a man about town (think “David Watts”). Hence the Small Faces, all (originally) men of literally small stature. Put Little Man’s lead singer and guitarists, Chris Pericelli, next to his behemoth bandmates and you’ll see the humor in the name.
And underneath its glam-y veneer, Original Face feels like an extension of the fuzzy psych experiments that scene made before it collapsed into itself. “Face” feels like a metaphysical take on the Who’s “Disguises” (if it had been covered by Montrose) and the album’s opener, “Flip You Over,” has the jingle-jangle Brits met Buddy Holly charm that defined the ‘British invasion.’
The success of Original Face is how Pericelli’s lyrics stand in contract to their presentation. “Face” features metaphysical lyrics in what could have been a track from Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings — bassist Brian Herb and drummer Sean Gilchrist make this work. The next track (“The Builder”) shifts into heavy romp T Rex mode and the trio romps through one of the best retro rock performances the Twin Cities has produced in recent years. Of course Marc Bolan, Mick Ronson and all those other glam heroes cut their teeth in that mod scene — they had original faces just as you and I do.
For all its hints to heavy glam, like the sublime rhythm guitar accents in “The Builder,” this album is at heart clean cut pop. Original Face has the stark honesty of Big Star in its occasionally naive lyrics as much as in its inventive arrangements. It also has the hedonistic energy of Van Halen on its last song (“I Know Who You Are”) in spite of its burdensome heft.
“Flip You Over” captures nearly all these things: the Big Star-yness, the (we know its not cool anymore) Aerosmith-yness, the meditative, and something else…something newer, something closer to home…
Yep, On Original Face Little Man sounds like one of our favorite local bands, Story of the Sea. At times, Pericelli sounds so remarkably like Adam Prince it seems like our wish came true: Story of the Sea announced its breakup in January and all us fans wanted was a few more songs. Something to say ‘so long.’
Little Man teases us with that — Dōgen wrote that a foolish man sees himself as another, while the wise man sees others as himself. We spend so much time thinking about where an album came from, who it was influenced by, that we forget to enjoy it for what it is. Original Face is a riotously fun rock and roll album. It has air guitar qualities (if no one’s watching), and I’m probably going to know all the words by the time its released next Friday night. “I know who you are,” sings Pericelli. “Don’t have to look too far. Stay right here with me.” And that’s just what we’re gonna do.
Little Man will release their new album Original Face at the Amsterdam Bar on April 18th. Fury Things and Pink Mink will play opening sets. Details here.