13 April 2014
18 February 2014
Reviewing the situation: a beginning
No, I have been listening to actual streaming radio. For example, right now at
But mostly I listen to several stations dedicated to folk music, and I have begun to notice that once I put the station on and begin to listen, I find it very difficult to turn the music off. I am somehow captured by the music, pinned onto it, as it were, and of late I have been wondering what there is, and has been, about folk music that so matters to me. Downstairs, there are albums—vinyl—that I possess but that I cannot remember purchasing. In my adolescence, competing on the radio with rock n roll were the purveyors of the music that came to be known as the music of the folk revival. This music, Jack Kerouac and Mr. Matienzo, my senior English teacher, led me down to the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, and my early record collection contained a not inconsiderable sampling of the folk music I heard there. How exactly I came into possession of these albums, as I have said, I cannot recall: Peter, Paul and Mary, the latter with whom I was in love and whose hand I so wanted to hold; Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, Phil Ochs, Carolyn Hester, Dave Van Ronk. On one of my first dates, I took my beloved Renee to the Hempstead Arena in 1964 to hear Joan Baez. I owned all of Baez’s early albums as well as those of Judy Collins. I began to haunt Greenwich Village in the early 1960s: it had to be then because I left New York City for college in 1965. Now, seeking a congruence between the stored image and the hidden emotion, I see myself walking the streets of the Village— at first during the daytime seeking out the ‘hippies’ and the folk artists—and then soon ascending during the nights and crossing onto Bleecker and Macdougal Streets. If there is a hidden emotion, it exists in the longing to descend once again into the dark basement space that was the Gaslight Café, or the Café Wha? or Café Wha Not? The Fugs played there, I recall, and even an early incarnation of the Mothers of Invention. The drums of Olatunji poured out of the closed doors of one of the haunts: but I was there after the folk music.
I do not recall what captivated me: perhaps it was what I thought of as its purity; its social conscience, though how that evolved in me I cannot pinpoint. Folk music could be heard in those coffee houses. In the days and years before the appearance of Starbucks et al., that drink was weak and veritably tasteless, but a Coca-Cola could be purchased, I think, or a tall glass of iced tea. Perhaps the Bitter End had a liquor license, but at the time 21 was the legal drinking age, and I was far too young—and young-looking—to enjoy the opportunity of more potent drink. Though the folk musicians were scruffy, I had not yet begun to shave, but I wore black chinos and a black turtleneck for effect. I was a steady visitor to the Greenwich Village folk music scene. Kennedy’s assassination had introduced me I think, to evil, an element in much traditional folk song; and the civil rights movement had offered me something external to which I could belong that was not my culture. Folk song was current. Tom Paxton’s first album was called “All the News that’s fit to Print,” a line borrowed from the masthead of The New York Times. Phil Ochs’ first album was entitled “Ain’t That News.” I remember reading that Eric Anderson (whom I met while I roamed the streets of Greenwich Village) wrote “Thirsty Boots” as a tribute to friends who had participated in Freedom Summer. I own that album as vinyl. In November of my first year at Roanoke College Judy Collins performed in the gymnasium and for her encore sang “We Shall Overcome.” To me it was already a familiar anthem.
I adored rock n’ roll: it freed me from the staid, proper, repressed and focused life that white suburban living liberally supplied me. It was its rhythms, its anarchic possibilities, its means of escape that drew me to it. It articulated my personal frustrations, gave voice to my angst, offered me moments of release. Winterson says, “You can be a loner and want to be claimed.” Rock n’ roll claimed me and I felt less alone. But folk music awakened something in my consciousness (or did it perhaps merely ‘find’ that something) that changed me profoundly. Folk music was the object that when found I knew I had lost. Lostness is a function of separation from that which gives meaning. Dylan said, “A folk song may vary in meaning and it might not appear the same from one moment to the next. It depends on who’s playing and who’s listening.” I was listening. Jeanette Winterson says “We don’t seek happiness: we seek meaning!” I think it was in folk song that I found meaning. In her memoir Jeanette Winterson writes: “We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem . . .” I did not recover my language in rock n’ roll: there I found my self and my joy. But in my immersion in folk music I learned a new language. I turned to the poem. And I became an English major. And that has made all of the difference.
08 February 2014
28 January 2014
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
26 January 2014
There is a wonderful idea from George Simmel that I found quoted in Adam Phillips’ book Going Sane. Forget the context of how I became engaged in that particular book, and the context of where the quote appears does not affect its relevance here. In his Philosophy of Money Simmel attributes to our money economy the illusion of precision about what people demand in the way of goods or services or from each other. Simmel argues “the money economy enforces the necessity of continuous mathematical operations in our daily transactions . . . evaluating, weighing, calculating, and reducing of qualitative values to quantitative ones.” Money has taught us to measure the value of things down to the exact penny. Simmel oversimplifies, of course: but perhaps now Elizabeth Barret Browning’s question, “How much do I love thee?” is now answerable in the most reduced and clear-cut terms. We might use the exact cost of the gift, or we might construct a rubric and measure the quantity on the Likert Scale from 1-5.
I do not mean to argue the aim of education here, but instead to decry the absolute quantification of every aspect of my life that includes education: where I go everyday of my life.
16 January 2014
Stuck Inside of Mobile
It was subsequently announced that the plane’s broken bottle had been caused by “human error.” I suppose this was for the airline both excuse and exculpation—there was nothing structurally wrong with their airplane: it was other people who created the problem. Of course, this didn’t account for the original problem with the ‘placard,’ whatever that might have been, indeed, what a placard might be, in fact. In any case, the repair continued to increase in complexity and time required, and after about two hours we were informed that the decision had been made to route us to another gate and another plane altogether. And so all of the passengers re-boarded the first plane and retrieved our carry-ons, de-planed again, and moved to the new gate that was at that moment de-planing a newly arrived flight in from somewhere else. The waiting area became very crowded and extremely lively. After approximately another 30 minutes or so we re-boarded, taking exactly the same seats we had occupied on the first flight. There was no mention of placards and bottles. We sat awaiting taxiing and takeoff.
But the weather had changed dramatically. Snow had begun to vigorously fall and before take-off the plane had to visit the de-icing section of the airport: another 30 minutes or so of delay. I was reading my Giambattista Vico—On the Study Methods of Our Time—with some sincere interest, but soon the day’s hours had to be accounted for and I drifted off to sleep, only to be too-soon awakened by news that we were now actually headed for the runway and eventual take-off. These are such moments through which I prefer not to sleep, and under my watchful eye we flew into the air with no further complication—though for me the very possibility of flying in the airplane—any airplane—is fraught with complexity. We were served (again) packets of peanuts, pretzels, and sweet cookies, and offered (again) complimentary Coca-Cola beverages and even, for purchase, more elaborate food stuffs and liquors. Now we appeared to be a normal flight, albeit four hours late.
There was a time in my life when these events would have caused me inordinate worry, consternation and even anger. At such times I would anxiously pace the floors, hoping, even expecting that my pacing would inspire somebody to do something and return everything to schedule and send me on to my destination in due time. I hoped my worry and discontent would effect some solution.
But this time I felt resigned and rather at peace with the situation. I mean, I knew that there was nothing I could do—I had no bottle they could use to replace the bottle someone had broken—and there was no other means of getting me to my destination in reasonable time except this airline. And so my breathing remained steady, my heart beat regular and slow, and my mind focused comfortably on matters far removed from issues of delay. And I suspect that this patience derives from the age at which I have arrived: I am not in a rush for anything, really. After all, wherever I am ultimately heading, well, I can wait. I do what I can here and now and do not worry about those things over which I have absolutely no control. If I do not arrive sooner, I will certainly arrive later.
I think of Hillel: And if not now, when?
I think of Hamlet: Rest, rest, perturbed Spirit.
I rest, no longer perturbed or even perturbable.