Saturday, April 09, 2016 10:27 PM
In high school I wrote a term paper comparing T. S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”—a spurious pairing based on both titles inferring the existence of a ‘land’ of some sort. On first reading I found T. S. Eliot rather opaque—so I was able to make a case that both works involved a lot of nonsense. My teacher was probably so glad that someone bothered to read Eliot that she forbore from destroying my facile interpretation of his poem—I think I got a high grade based solely on the ambition of my reading.
But having been introduced to Mr. Eliot, I was off and running. I read all his poems and most of his plays—then I read most of his essays—then I read critical analysis of Eliot’s life and works, seeking some explication of this rather difficult poet. In the process, I was led to read parts of the Bible, some Shakespeare plays, some poetry by Marvell and Donne, Jessie Weston’s “From Ritual To Romance”, and a good chunk of Fraser’s “The Golden Bough”. At one time I could recite “Burnt Norton” from memory—though at sixty now, and having read all the Four Quartets many times over, I think I understand the poem better now than I did when I could recite it.
Eliot is a strange influence on a young man—he was both after and before his time. He was after his time in the sense that Old World propriety meant more to this native of St. Louis than to the inhabitants of the modern-day London where he spent his adult life. He was before his time in many ways—not least of which being his rejection of religion in his youth and his return to it later in life—not unlike the born-again backlash against secularism that would sweep America a decade after his death.
Eliot being as much a philosopher as a poet, studying his work as an adolescent may have made me old before my time, at least mentally. Looking back on it, I feel that studying Eliot made me old before my time in much the same way that being ill for so long, and even dying momentarily on the table during my eleventh-hour liver transplant, made me dead before my time. In my mind the two are similar in having made me an outsider among my contemporaries and robbing me, in a sense, of the innocence enjoyed by most people—both the carefree-ness of youth and the ignorance of death most adults maintain right up to the end. But there is room for doubt as to whether those things affected me or if I just have that sort of personality.
Because of this feeling I have a tendency to feel irritable whenever my thoughts turn to social ills, politics, or man’s inhumanity to man—I know that most people give these things only cursory attention now and then, rather than becoming obsessed with our immature behavior as a race. Most people cling to the assumption that humans shouldn’t be any better than they ought to be—but my ‘old geezer’ perspective rants and raves at our insistence on such ingenuousness. I look ahead so persistently that I never enjoy the present—it is a maturity shared by few. And that’s the way it should be—it is foolish to take the world’s troubles on one’s shoulders, when there is little to be done about it other than fret.
‘One day at a time’ is considered great wisdom by many—to me, it smacks of the grasshopper—wasting away the present, without a thought for tomorrow’s troubles. But then, I’m no big fan of ‘surrendering to a higher power’ either. So no twelve steps for me—I get along without them, but I’m glad they work for other people.
Monday, April 11, 2016 11:53 AM
Yes, I know that Monday has a bad rep amongst the working—but for those of us who are unable to work, Monday has a sweetness to it that workers could never imagine. After being disabled it took me years to get over the vestigial thrill of the weekend. Every Friday night I would get that conditioned response—relief that the weekend was finally upon us—but what followed were two more days just like all the rest, if not less enjoyable.
Stores close early on the weekends—those that open on Sunday at all—and you can’t call any place of business to work out a billing or customer service problem. The weekend roadways, should I venture out, are crowded and slow. House-bound people tend to watch a lot of TV—and weekend TV sucks. (Okay, I’ll give you “Madame Secretary” and John Oliver on Sunday night, but that’s it.)
All weekend long it’s mostly sports on TV—I could never acquire a taste for televised sporting events—believe me, I’ve tried. Even Turner Classic Movies (TCM) deserts me—Slip Mahoney and the Gang in the morning and silent films at night. The news channels (which I dislike enough on weekdays) run ‘caught on tape’ prison documentaries instead of live reporting—which is very apropos—weekends on TV are a lot like prison. All of this makes perfect sense—the vast majority of people have lives—and those lives are busiest on the weekend—why run top programming for an empty room?
I’ve learned to love Mondays. On Monday the New York Times crossword is as easy as it’s going to get—and Jeopardy is once again on at seven—those may seem like little things, but they loom large when one’s life has few other high-points. Weekend food is usually leftovers and take-out, so the food is better on Monday, too. Everyone else is starting their week and that excitement comes through a little, even if there’s a lot of tail-dragging that goes with it. When weekends involved a lot of partying, I used to have a terrible time on Monday morning—now that I can’t have that sort of fun, enjoying Mondays is my booby-prize, I guess.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 9:50 AM
There is so much music. I own so many CDs that a strong man couldn’t carry them all in one trip—stacks and stacks of them pile up as I continue re-ripping my collection to my new external hard drive—and all I can think about as I go through them is how much music is missing. My old LP collection was more complete, and I never lose that urge to buy enough CDs to equal that former glory—but that old collection was largely built up during my dad’s tenure as VP of Direct Mail at BBDO, back in the sixties. It included the Deutsche Gramophone recordings of the complete works of Beethoven (about twelve volumes of six records each) and the entire Time-Life classical music series (another pallet-full of records)—an avalanche of recordings he was given as free samples in the course of determining their mail-order ad campaigns. (We used to joke that he should talk Mercedes Benz into doing a Direct Mail campaign.)
I am one of five siblings, but neither my parents nor my siblings showed any interest in classical music back then—all the free records went to me and no one was jealous about it—in fact, I often fought over the living room hi-fi with my siblings—they much preferred Rock and R&B. I liked that music also—but I preferred variety—I wanted to listen to all music. The whole world was mesmerized by rock’n’roll back then—when I actually bought classical records at Fox & Sutherland’s, they were going cheap—sometimes only a dollar or two, where Beatles albums were closer to ten bucks. The whole classical catalog was referred to as ‘loss-leaders’—records that were produced to enhance the reputation of the label, rather than to make a profit.
Having that in my early days, I would get huffy, later on, when some piece of classical music became popular—“Thus Spake Zarathustra” used in the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Bolero” used in the movie “10”—people would say, “You’ve got to hear this!” and in my mind I was always thinking, “Yeah, right—like I’ve never heard that before, you philistine.”
When you listen to classical music and read classic literature at thirteen, you get used to being an outsider. But there is a way in which everyone will suddenly become an expert on something that found its way out of obscurity and into the spotlight for a time—and I find myself caught between my delight that others are finally sharing in the joy I get from these obscure sources—and resentment of my private preserve being trampled by the unwashed. But it’s not all my fault—I spent most of my time feeling outside of society and to do that day after day required that I build up some pride in being different—and there’s some unavoidable bitterness when that difference gets erased in a surge of popularity.
To make matters worse, there is so much music that even my obsession has gaps in knowledge. When ‘Classical Music’ appears as a Jeopardy category, I always assume I’ll know all the answers—but oftentimes I don’t—there’s just too much to know. Plus, ‘opera’ is the most popular form of classical music—and I’ve never much cared for opera—I don’t know much about it. Well, that’s not true—but I know less about opera than an opera buff.
It makes me laugh when Music Choice’s ‘Classical Masterpieces’ channel gives out with three factoids about the composer, that cycle on the screen while the piece is played on the audio. It’s ludicrous—they could be scrolling the composer’s complete entry from Grove’s Music Dictionary—or at the very least, the Wiki entry—in the time it takes some symphonies to play. Do they suppose that would make people less likely to watch? How information-phobic are people, anyway? They’d probably tell you that the factoids are meant to pique your interest so you’ll go google the composer yourself—but that’s just lazy.
Then again, I only turn to that channel when I’m reading—still, they could actually build up a viewership of music-geeks, if they put a little effort into it—maybe not—I don’t know. They make me irritable anyway, mis-titling and mis-crediting a surprising number of audio-tracks—so I know there’s nobody home at that company that gives a damn about classical music. I guess it’s still a loss-leader.
Here’s a song cover and an improv from yesterday: