Thursday, April 9, 2009
yo-yo #40: tom kuhn "smo-bro"
"what is the fundamental truth of yo-yoing?"
i was assailed by that question today on a yo-yo board. sounds like "what's the sound of one hand clapping", right? it's actually a good question, i guess (at least more interesting than "should i get a dm or a m1?" or "where is the ywet?") and it was asked honestly enough. i know i get all "zen" on this blog (like in every effing post), but something about questions like that actually rub me the wrong way. sort of like if someone says to me "let me tell you about how much i love jesus." ... i have nothing against jesus, but when that kind of thing gets said, it almost invariably implies that i'm about to get "talked to"; as if i'm only there as a wall, off of which bouncy-balls of truth may be thrown. how do i play into your love of jesus? or truth? or yo-yoing (i'm asking sincerely)? it just feels too explicit; trust me to understand the mystery for myself, dude.
the thing is that the asking of the question "what is the fundamental truth?" implies that there IS one. any question implies the presence of an answer. here's an empty cup: please pour your secret-something-special into it. no... you know... i don't think i want to. not cause i don't like you, but i respect you enough to let you come to it on your own.
this yo-yo represents a longtime collaboration between the legendary "dr. yo", tom kuhn, and the equally legendary comedy duo, "the smothers brothers". when i first saw it, i thought it was ugly as all get out. i was bewildered (and still am a bit) as to why it had any serious collectors' value.
tom smothers was (and remains) an avid yo-yoer, and he incorporated the toy into the act throughout the 1970's. people over 50 frequently associate the toy first and foremost with smothers, and i've been asked a number of times by passers-by or folks waiting for coffee both whether i know him personally, and (even better) whether "i think i could beat him". i mean, what the hell? anyway, on television-when-it-was-still-called-television (and on any number of youtube vids), he can be seen doing simple tricks with a frivolously loose (almost inebriated) style, while his brother dick narrates. the performance of the tricks themselves (usually a few of the "10 basics") is secondary to the message/joke, that tom is able to enter "the state of yo", a kind of mystical, meditative trance wherein he is totally and viscerally connected to the yo-yo's energy, and so, is privy to secret levels of understanding.
although this is all done in pseudo-jest, in the post-psychedelic era of the smothers' success, the grain of truth is evident. tom is silly and ridiculous, but the audience is clearly meant to question whether playing with a little toy CAN enhance one's sense of the moment, of the world, or of "the truth". the early 80's trick-tutorial video with tom and dick accompanied by "legit" yo-yoer (and paddleballer, as it happens), daniel volk, continues to imply that playing yo-yo is somehow "meaningful". volk's really good, and you should watch that, irrespective of "the state of yo".
years later, neil feser's "the book of yo" (with introduction by smothers and forward by kuhn) surfaced as a much more sincere, in-depth description of the "state of yo". therein, feser alludes to "primary sources" by the ancient chinese master "yo tzu" to illuminate "the way" through yo-yoing. it's unbelievably self-indulgent, and frequently borders on the absurd, but there's actually a lot of good, substantial stuff in there, too. it's very difficult to read through it without running into something that causes you to question some aspect of your yo-yoing. feser makes allusions to the martial arts and ancient chinese allegories that are cute, if nothing else. all of the "yo tzu" stuff is "prose-poetry", with explanatory (and, imo, even more creative) mini-essays by feser interspersed throughout. if you enjoyed "the tao of pooh", you'll eat this right up (if you can find it).
to digress for a second... i'm gratified that there are people who read (and apparently enjoy) this blog. i can't imagine that i'd read one like it... i mean... some guy droning on about his life and his yo-yo's? you can keep it. part of me likes the idea that some people read it, but, no offense... you're not why i write it. i've said it several times, but i don't write this to convey any particle of "the truth" (as i see it) to anyone but myself. so there. you want REAL truth, go explore yourself. blog about it if you want. i might even read it (though i might not, if it reads like this tripe).
anyway, if you ARE reading this, it stands to reason that you must be a really serious yo-yo player. i mean really, i can't believe it's remotely interesting for the uninitiated. so if you're a yo-yo player... why the hell are you doing it? why are you yo-yoing?
before you jump down to the comment box to tell me all about it though, please understand that i don't actually give a crap. at all. even a small one. if you can answer that question, with words or without, then you know all about "the fundamental truth". and like snowflakes or casseroles, you'll never see two interpretations thereof that are fully alike. your truth is meaningless to me (again, no offense), and in fact, it may seem esoteric, egocentric, petty and obscene to anyone besides you.
i get it, you get it, and there isn't anything to say about it: "when you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough. when you have realized understanding, even one word is too much."
the thing is, there is no "illuminating answer" that i or anyone could possibly provide to that question. the fundamental truth of yo-yoing is nothing more or less than the play itself, and that's the only place you're ever, ever going to find it. no blog will take you there. no book will explain it. no old youtube video of tom smothers, yuuki spencer, or nemo concepcion will ever show it to you. and yet, "the mystery" isn't mysterious in the least, and it's always available! go throw yo-yo, and do it sincerely (the real trick)... and you already understand.