Poem

…don’t worry, I haven’t written one. I had to write a journal entry in my English class about my favorite book, short story or poem; an easy assignment because of all the ones I love, I immediately knew which one I wanted to write about.

My favorite poem is The Barrel-Organ by Alfred Noyes. I first came across this poem in an English Lit textbook I bought at a garage sale (I snap up any old literature textbook I come across). It was written in 1958 and it is long – 135 lines. Its length is why I can never convince anybody else to read it. A poem that long requires a certain amount of commitment, even to a poetry lover. The first few lines, though, reveal an irresistible rhythm that pulls you through the rest of it. It’s easily the most musical poem I’ve ever read; it has an unusual rhyme scheme and the tempo changes several times when the focus shifts.

There’s a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street

In the City as the sun sinks low;

And the music’s not immortal; but the world has made it sweet

And fulfilled it with the sunset glow;

And it pulses through the pleasures of the City and the pain

That surround the singing organ like a large eternal light;

And they’ve given it a glory and a part to play again

In the Symphony that rules the day and night.

The poem is set in London and describes the inner lives of people on the street within hearing distance f the organ. It speaks of the influence of music on humans. It illustrates the timelessness and necessity of music – how it shapes our actions and then sings of them after they’re done. It bears witness to all of humanity’s triumphs and follies. It cheers us, comforts us, rocks us to sleep and jolts us awake. The Barrel-Organ is glittering, gritty and beautiful, just like the city in which it is set.

This thing makes me so happy that if I had the brain space to devote to it, I’d spend my life trying to memorize it. I absolutely adore it.

Take the epic-poem challenge. Read the bitch. If you like poetry even a little, you won’t regret it. http://www.bartleby.com/103/117.html


I

…am a lucky bitch.  

That is all 


628

“Here’s to the boys back in 628, where an ear to the wall was a twist of fate.”  These lyrics refer to a pack of vicious gossips, overheard by the narrator while talking a bunch of smack about him.   This tickled me when I first heard the story behind it, because 628 is the telephone exchange of the small town where I grew up and, as the saying goes, a more wretched hive of scum and villainy is scarcely to be found.

Well, okay, so that’s an exaggeration.  But, as I found out when I ventured out to work in surrounding cities, we do have a reputation for being a hardheaded, clannish, unpleasant people, and it’s not entirely unfounded.  I never really wondered about this – I hated that reputation and found it embarrassing, but it was what it was – but  I never thought about it until recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Huey Long, A Biography By T. Harry Williams.  I thought I was going to read a biography of, you know, Huey Long, but first I was treated to a pretty frank and commonsense summing-up of the parish where I was born and raised (we don’t have counties here in Louisiana, we have parishes).  Back when Louisiana was being settled, the area that would become Winn Parish didn’t have much to recommend it, according to T. Harry, whom I assume knows what he’s talking about.  The soil was too poor for farming, really, and there was nothing to trade (this is before the lumber industry took ahold).  The people who settled here were, by necessity, stubborn and possibly delusional. They were a people not much swayed by others’ opinions, and of this select group of settlers, even fewer dug their heels in hard enough to find success.  What success they did find was pitiful by wealthier parishes’ standards, but Winn Parish people likely neither realized that nor would’ve cared much if they had.  When the regional climate turned rebellious in the 1860s, Winn Parish collectively spat on the ground and instructed their delegate to vote against secession.  They weren’t slaveholders, they reasoned; it wasn’t their war.  The delegate shared this view and voted the Winn Parish conscience, and when outvoted, refused to sign off on the decision.  (He did, however, dutifully raise a force to send to fight for the Confederacy.) This was the climate that produced Earl and Huey Long, the former a poster child for Winn Parish jackassery and the latter a perfect storm of intellect, ambition and ruthlessness.

My takeaway from this, filtered through my own experience, is that if you have roots here (my own family has buried our sixth generation at Pleasant Hill cemetery), you likely have a strong streak of stubbornness running through you.  This can be a fine thing if it’s tempered with the thoughtfulness and purpose exhibited by our ancestors.  The “Winnians” of today, though, tend to have this manifest in what can only be described as douchebag behavior; insular, unthinking, a backwoods strain of pigheadedness that’s no credit to anyone.   It’s unfortunate, because we can be so much better than we are. We have the blueprints; we have the inherited ability. It’s a good thing the dead can’t reanimate, as it’s my belief that if our forefathers could see how we’ve squandered their legacy, they would summarily kick the shit out of us.


Something happens

…and I’m head over heels  Any ’80s kid can finish the rest of that with no prompting.

So I said awhile back I owed Tears For Fears an apology and a new blog post.  A couple of posts ago, I referred to them in the context of ‘forgotten music from [my] youth.”  That’s partly true; they were huge in the ’80s and rightfully so, on the back of catchy synth-pop tracks like the above-mentioned one and Shout and Everybody Wants To … (yeah, you finished singing it in your head; don’t lie).  I knew they’d put out a couple of more songs, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found once I went looking.

So most of us know about The Hurting, their first album, which just turned 30 and gave us Pale Shelter and that gift that keeps on giving, Mad World.  1985 brought Songs From The Big Chair, their big bang that produced the tunes they’re most famous for.  In 1989 they gave us Seeds Of Love, providing Woman In Chains and Sowing The Seeds Of Love.

See, what had happened was, here awhile back I got a wild hair to see the Woman In Chains video.  It’s a gorgeous song with a video to match.  It popped into my head at random one evening, so I YouTubed it up.   At the end of it, YouTube helpfully served up some more TFF favorites.  As I watched, enjoyed, and read comments, I found myself disabused of a few notions.  1) The band is not broken up and in fact has never broken up.  Curt Smith (the chiseled, rat-tailed charmer who sang most of their earlier singles) left in 1990, but Tears For Fears carried on under the sole guidance of Roland Orzabal (the curly-haired, sad-eyed cutie) until Curt’s return in/around 2000.   2)  The quality of the music had not suffered.  Like, at all.  Unlike some acts who get boxed in by their Big Hit Sound, Tears For Fears was and is all about variety.  It’s dang near impossible to choose a favorite album or even a favorite song (although I’ve settled on one of each, subject to change, of course).

Imma start with the albums I didn’t know about.  YMMV.

Elemental, 1993:  I kind of knew about this one, in the periphery of my mind.  When I heard Break It Down Again, I immediately recalled it and even my disinterested husband said, “don’t you remember being so excited back then that they were still putting out music?”  Well, no, I don’t; my memory is for beans but that’s another post for another day.  It’s the catchiest damn song and a guaranteed mood lifter.  It has one of my favorite lyrics of all music:  They make no mention of the beauty of decay.    The awesome doesn’t stop there; Cold is kind of hilarious and has an interesting backstory, and Mr. Pessimist is just so …satisfying.   I’m going to run out of superlatives before I even get to the next album, which is just wrong because

Raoul And The Kings of Spain, 1995:  Is my favorite TFF album.  I got this one in the mail before Elemental, so I of course listened to it first because I ain’t got no sense.  I think Elemental suffered a little in its shadow, because Raoul is SEXY.  This album has swagger in spades.  The title track is sumptuous.   Falling Down is clever and fun to sing along with.  Los Reyes Catolicos is exquisite; it and the lovely Sketches of Pain are, for me, the stars of the album.  Every track on Raoul is evocative.  If you’re not emotionally spent at the end of it, yer doin it rong.  The critics hated this album.  I don’t think they got it, I really don’t.  I bought this album on Amazon for less than $5, which embarrasses me somehow.  I feel like I absconded from the temple with a priceless relic under my coat.

Tomcats Screaming Outside, 2001:  Okay.  This is not a TFF album – it’s Roland’s solo album, but since he’d been shouldering the band for so long (and since this is my blog and I do what I want) I’m going to throw it in.  In a word: DAYUM.  In two words: DAYUM, SON.   Tomcats is an acquired taste and not for the faint of heart.   It’s [here’s where I wrote some words and deleted them]  It [more deleted words]  It defies categorization; it just has to be heard.  In the interest of full disclosure, I had a visceral negative reaction to one of the songs and that colored my early opinion of the whole thing.   Funnily, this song – Bullets For Brains – has since become a favorite and I’m able to see the album for the masterpiece it is.  Low Life should have been a smash hit.  Day By Day By Day By Day By Day is quietly, desperately brilliant, and Dandelion is one of the most exuberant songs ever recorded.  Tomcats never stood a chance; it was released in the US on September 11, 2001, when our minds were on other things.

Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, 2004:  You know how when you’re cooking, and you take several tasty things and combine them into a dish? That dish can’t help but taste good while it’s fresh, but once it simmers or marinates it develops flavors that transcend its ingredients and becomes unbelievably delicious. That’s this album. The guys couldn’t have made this album earlier. They had to go through what they went through, produce the music they produced, and live their lives before this was even possible. Thank God they did, because this album is necessary to my personal wellbeing.  The way their voices blend back together after so long apart has magic in it.  This album is so … mellow.  It’s happy.  That’s not to say that all the songs are bouncy and lighthearted; some are, but the themes dealt with here are aging and loss and the passage of time, so there’s more than a hint of darkness – sadness, foreboding and resignation all take the stage.  But there’s an underlying optimism to it that is so, so appealing; it closes the circle begun by The Hurting, and there’s so much maturity and satisfaction in that.   This is Tears For Fears aged to perfection; happy, yes, but hopefully not an ending.  The title track is delightful and infectious, you’ll hear a really nice Beatles influence in both Who Killed Tangerine and Secret World, and Killing With Kindness is, simply put, my jam.

Rumor has it that the boys from Bath are back in the recording studio as of this blog post, and I’m beside myself wondering what they’ll come up with next.  They’ve never made the same album twice, and despite the obtuseness of the critics and the howls of fans who want only to relive the glory days, they keep evolving their sound, staying current and fresh.  If you like solid songwriting, fine musicianship and just all around great tunes, check out not only these albums but also Curt’s solo work – Mayfield and Halfway, Pleased.  Don’t wait – you’re just, just, just wasting time.


Fired

I lost my job last week, and I miss it.  Well, that’s not entirely true; my job was something of a clusterfuck, and the company I worked for was the Walmart of the industry.  I miss my field, though.  I heard someone on a TV show mention an unusual diagnosis, and I got a little pang.  I’m hopeful that I’ll find something else in the field soon.

In the meantime, though, I’ve discovered something shocking; I’m not nearly as lazy as I like to think I am.  This is breaking news to me, because it seemed like I spent at least 50% of my work hours wishing I was taking a nap, fantasizing about all the nothing I could be doing at a given moment, and planning weekends filled with glorious idleness.  Today marks 1 week jobless, and I’m going spare over here.  It seems a body can only stalk Facebook, make lyrics videos, listen to music and nap so much before it loses its charm.  I need to be doing something.

That’s another thing that has come as a bit of a shock.  I’m not nearly as good at sitting around as I thought.  I was sitting around on Facebook and my ass yesterday, and realized I needed to go clean something.  Quelle horreur!  I, voluntarily doing housework?!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted to find out I’m not quite as worthless as previously imagined.  They say job loss is a time for self-reevaluation.  I guess I’ll have to cross “full-time hedonist” off my list of ambitions.


Soundtrack

Old vehicle = old stereo.  Old stereo = old music formats.  Old music formats = rediscovering forgotten music from one’s youth.  Ohai, Tears For Fears.

Roland Orzabal.  All I’m gonna say is, any guy capable of writing the lyrics he does deserves all the panties thrown at him.   Intelligent, thoughtful, interested in psychology, kind of a feminist – okay, a little goofy-looking* but y’all know I dig that – pretty eyes and great hair.  Why did I not notice this when I was 16?

Oh yeah; Peter Tork, that’s why.  (Why, hello again, Monkees; we got reacquainted this time last year with Davy’s passing.)  Peter.  Sigh.  That dimple!  The swingy blond hair, mischievous eyes and bright smile.  And that dimple.  It deserved its own show.   He was in his 40s by the time I discovered the show in syndication, but I didn’t care.   I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s much smarter than the character he played (see above re:  intelligent and thoughtful) but the sweetness, I believe, is innate to both Peter the character and Peter the man.   Did I mention the dimple?

Ho-oh-ohh-oh-oh-ohhoward Jones.  In a word, eccentric.  Odd-looking, kinda hyper, British.  Just my type.

Mick Hucknall, whose voice still has power over me.

“Our” music shapes us, no matter when we take possession of it.  It encodes itself into our DNA and helps make us who we are.  It’s how we explain ourselves to ourselves and how we try to explain ourselves to others.  But for teenage girls, good music made by cute boys has a little extra mojo.  Hell, the music doesn’t even have to be good if the boy is cute enough.

And with that, I’m off to go “read it in the books, in the crannies and the nooks there are books to read!”  ♪ ♥ ♫

 

*This is a dirty lie, and I don’t know why I told it.  That man is hot as hell.   We didn’t have MTV when I was a kid, and it’s a good thing because if I’d ever seen that video with him in geek glasses reading the paper in bed, I’d have done groundbreaking work in the field of celebrity stalking.


Thanks, Nick

On November 25, 1974, a voice went silent.  Few noticed – it had always been such a quiet voice.

English singer-songwriter Nick Drake was 26 years old when he died from an overdose of antidepressants.  Whether he intended to commit suicide has never been determined; he was a fragile person, suffering from clinical depression and possibly associated disorders.  His use of marijuana is well-documented, and there is speculation that he may have turned to harder drugs as his world darkened.  Whether this is true and to what extent it may have contributed to his death will never be known.

Not much about Nick Drake is knowable, not to his growing legions of fans now, not to his family and friends during his lifetime.  His father once remarked, after getting a report from an obviously perplexed schoolmaster, “All the way through with Nick – no one knew him very much.”

Nick knew Nick, though, and his small body of work reveals insight into his own mental and emotional brokenness that is breathtakingly honest and deceptively simple.  His music is as fragile as his psyche, his voice breathy and ethereal.  His lyrics, accompanied by his exquisite guitar picking, explore themes of loneliness, lost opportunity, the passage of time.  The music stirs listeners to melancholy without pulling them into depression.  Nick’s gift was introspection without indulgence, anguish without angst, honest emotion without a whiff of “emo.”

Nick was beloved by those who knew him; a cherished son and brother and a loyal friend who embodied the descriptor used over and over by those closest to him:  kind.   He felt deeply – perhaps too deeply for this world – and he hated taking the medications that stripped those feelings from him.  He took them anyway, apparently reaching out for help from any available avenue.  A study in contradictions, he sought recognition but shied from publicity.  He sang gently evocative songs but could also wail an authentic blues.  He was a star athlete who turned sickly, a drug enthusiast with a distaste for his prescriptions, a child of privilege who favored shabby, ill-fitting clothes.   On the subject of obtaining his college degree, he told his father that a safety net was “the one thing [he didn’t] want,” yet he was ultimately, tragically unable to survive on his own.

Nick recorded three albums in his short career:  1969’s Five Leaves Left was followed by Bryter Layter in 1970, and in 1972 came Pink Moon, the stark, stripped-bare acoustic album considered by fans and critics alike to be his masterwork.  Those three albums were supplemented posthumously by bootleg recordings and compilations, but even so, the sum total of his life’s work hovers at around 100 songs.

One hundred songs, and each one a jewel.  One hundred little windows into a beautiful, bedeviled soul; one hundred attempts by Nick to connect with something larger than himself, to impart a message to someone, to anyone who might have been listening.  Unfortunately, few were listening in 1974.

Sometime after midnight on November 25, after wandering downstairs to have a snack, Nick took more of his medicine than he was supposed to, collapsed across his narrow bed and never arose.  His death was ruled a suicide, but this ruling has been disputed.  Gabrielle Drake, however, has said that she prefers to think her younger brother committed suicide, “in the sense that I’d rather he died because he wanted to end it than it to be the result of a tragic mistake. That would seem to me to be terrible….”

However you left us, Nick, thank you for the beauty you left behind, and I hope you’ve found peace.  The prophecy in “Fruit Tree” has come to pass.

Fruit tree, fruit tree, no one knows you but the rain and the air

Don’t you worry, they’ll stand and stare when you’re gone 


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