Monday, November 28, 2011

I think J.S., John, Will & Geoff would like it ... there is no reason and the truth is plain to see

The original album cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" -- know her?

The evolution of a mood in time, space & style

A Whiter Shade of Pale
by Gary Brooker
& Keith Reid
& Matthew Fisher

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
And the waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, "There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see."
But I wandered through my playing cards
And they would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open wide
They might have just as well been closed

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, "I'm here on a shore leave,"
Though we were miles at sea.
I pointed out this detail
And forced her to agree,
Saying, "You must be the mermaid
Who took King Neptune for a ride."
And she smiled at me so sweetly
That my anger straightway died.

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

If music be the food of love
Then laughter is it's queen
And likewise if behind is in front
Then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
Seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
And attacked the ocean bed

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

(Note: The last two verses of this song are not included in any of the performances posted here, and it is difficult to find one which presents them. That is a pity, I think, because some of the most vibrant literary and historical allusions of this composition (and there are more than a few) are contained within them. The song, in its entirety, climbs beyond mere art, I think. It was a once in a lifetime achievement for its creators; it is my second favorite piece of contemporary music and; it is absolutely magical to dance to .... try it.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Civilization vs. Tarzan

The French Revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799, is frequently hailed as the establishment of inalienable rights and democracy in Europe. It also happened to be one of the bloodier and more terroristic revolutions in history, with thousands summarily executed. And, it also more-or-less led to the "creation" of Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor of France in 1804. He is notable for a series of wars, justifiably remembered as the Napoleonic Wars, which led to more years of immeasurable death and destruction. This illustration is of the public "murder" of Marie Antoinette in 1792. Her crime was to be the queen of France, whose extravagant lifestyle proved to be unpopular among the masses of people. She died at age thirty-seven by the guillotine, along with several thousand others whose lives offended the common folk. Such is the way of the world when the "thin veneer of civilization" is stripped away. Is history repeating itself today?

The story of a two-edged sword

About a month ago, I wrote in a post that I had planned to reprint an essay about the "thin veneer of civilization," but I could not locate the book it was in among the several boxes of books I have piled up in this house.

Well, I found the book a few days ago, but decided against reprinting the piece because of its length. It was simply too long. However, today being the forty-eighth anniversary of the assassination of American President John Kennedy and this month being the two-hundred-nineteenth anniversary of the unjustifiable execution of Marie Antoinette, a queen of France, I decided to put down a few thoughts about human nature, civilization and the shallowness of the veneer that shelters us from savagery.

People who enjoy searching for the origins of things have so far determined that the first use of the "thin veneer of civilization" concept was in an 1890 preface to, "The Golden Bough," by Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazer:

"The truth seems to be that to this day the peasant remains a pagan and savage at heart; his civilization is merely a thin veneer which the hard knocks of life soon abrade, exposing the solid core of paganism and savagery below."

Not surprisingly, I would be carrying around books such as these (two volumes, initially) since they dealt with mythology and religion.

Jack London, one of my favorite writers and one who is among the least appreciated today, used this concept in an essay entitled, "The Somnambulists," on June 13, 1906. This piece was first published in a newspaper, the Oakland (California) World, on July 3, 1906. Remember the location of this newspaper. Among the things London wrote:

"Civilization (which is part of the circle of his imaginings) has spread a veneer over the surface of the softshelled animal known as man. It is a very thin veneer; but so wonderfully is man constituted that he squirms on his bit of achievement and believes he is garbed in armor-plate."

The phrase appeared in a number of the "Tarzan" novels from the mind of the prolific Edgar Rice Burroughs. These novels enjoyed great popularity beginning in the early Twentieth Century. This term was, in fact, part of the cloak often used by Burroughs to describe Tarzan's actions and reactions. Here is one example:

"It was a woman's love which kept Tarzan even to the semblance of civilization -- a condition for which familiarity had bred contempt. He hated the shams and the hypocrisies of it and with the clear vision of an unspoiled mind he had penetrated to the rotten core of the heart of the thing -- the cowardly greed for peace and ease and the safe-guarding of property rights. That the fine things of life -- art, music and literature -- had thriven upon such enervating ideals he strenuously denied, insisting, rather, that they had endured in spite of civilization."

In any event, the absolute tidal waves, coming one after another, of political and social unrest in America and Europe brought the "thin veneer of civilization" concept into my mind again. Actually, concept is not the correct word to use. It is a fact, a reality, an actuality.

Students trash university buildings in California because tuition fees are increased (the epitome of idiocy); in a number of cities around America, participants in the so-called "Occupy Wall Street" movement break laws and clash with police for reasons none of them are able to articulate or clearly define; in Greece and England, rioters burn and loot because of economic problems created by their own greed and selfishness. France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and other European nations are on the verge of financial collapse and civil hysteria.

Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are in the midst of struggling to determine if democratic or autocratic, radical religious states emerge. For all practical purposes, civil war exists in Syria. Pakistan has the bomb; Iran wants the bomb.

Back to Oakland, California, the site where Jack London wrote and published his "thin veneer of civilization" piece. This place has arguably experienced the most violent of the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations. The city has spent millions of dollars because of these demonstrations, businesses have lost millions, and people are more divisive than they were before the demonstrations began.

As London wrote more than one hundred years ago:

"It is the same old animal man, smeared over, it is true, with a veneer, thin and magical, that makes him dream drunken dreams of self-exaltation and to sneer at the flesh and the blood of him beneath the smear. The raw animal crouching within him is like the earthquake monster pent in the crust of the earth. As he persuades himself against the latter till it arouses and shakes down a city, so does he persuade himself against the former until it shakes him out of his dreaming and he stands undisguised, a brute like any other brute."

Or, as the teacher, philosopher and historian extraordinaire, Will Durant, a bit more eloquently wrote:

"Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be
savages again."

From my point of view, America and other parts of the world are on the verge of burning. The most pathetic part is that American politicians of all persuasions are unable or unwilling to act beyond their own, personal interests and liberal politicians actually are urging the upheaval onward in an attempt to ensure their own, personal political survival. The veneer of civilization has already vanished from them, and their desperation is evident to anyone whose eyes are open.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Caught up in love

For those unaware, while among the human species females tend to be the more decorative of the sexes, in Nature it generally is the male who flaunts the colors while the female blends in with the flora and fauna of her environment to ensure greater safety and security in a predatory world. This is because Nature generally considers the giver of life -- the female -- to be the more valuable of the mates. Form your own conclusions about that among the couples you encounter. As for our pair of quack-quacks here, as I often say, do not judge me on the quality of my photographs: The only purpose these ducks serve is to be a sort of illustration or link for the written words and the music. For instance, it does not require much imagination to visualize our many-splendored drake to be singing the song posted below to his well-camouflaged companion. Love comes in many forms.

Life, death, fate & memory

A few years ago, I spent a month in Knoxville, Tennessee, where one of my daughters was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee. (You did not know that, did you?) I watched her dogs while she and her then-boyfriend went to Yellowstone National Park. (I am particularly skilled at watching dogs; we almost are like cousins .... or something like that.)

I spent a few days canoeing on the Tennessee River and photographing (yes, me, with a Nikon in one hand and a Canon in the other) odds and ends -- mostly in museums and cemeteries.

In a "city cemetery," a number of tombstones caught my eye, but one in particular actually gripped me. It was for a young man. I cannot recall the precise details without checking my notes from the time, and I have moved so often in recent years that I am fortunate to know where I am, much less where my notebooks are located. Beyond that, I do not care where they are.

So, relying on memory for approximate dates, the young man died in 1898 at age twenty from "a fever." A block away from this city cemetery was a military cemetery. I went there next and, eventually, found myself standing beside a tombstone for another young man who had the same last name as the man in the city cemetery. He also had died in 1898, in Cuba, as a member of the American Expeditionary Force during the Spanish-American War. He was twenty-two years of age.

On both tombstones, the names of the parents were carved. The two were brothers, children of the same man and wife. I thought how cruel life must be to some, while it is so kind to others. It had been more than one hundred years since those deaths. I wondered then, while I stood in the cemetery, and I still do at times, if anyone other than me had thought about those two brothers and their parents during the century past.

By the way, both parents were also in the city cemetery, I discovered the next day, dead within another year after their sons. Heartbreak, I think. What else could it have been?

The re-birth of an idiom

Some of you might have read it, some of you might have figured it out, but next to novels, my favorite "objects" in the world are motion pictures. I saw a film the other night, "Maybe It's Love," in which there was an expression I had never heard before.

One character said to another: "Thanks, you're a regular."

I never had heard the expression before: "You're a regular."

It makes sense.

I have decided that my mission in life (well, one of them) will be to reinstate this expression into the idiom of Americana, although I do not think I would like anyone to call me a "regular." It would destroy my image of myself.

Anyway, it is amazing how easy it is to get an expression or a thought or a concept moving. By the way, this film was made in 1935. Watch it sometime. It was terrific.

Less thought & more walk

The four seasons really do influence my mood, greatly. Sometimes, I think that is the way it is supposed to be for everyone. As for me, I tend to work more hours and play less in the summer because the warm, sunny days make me happy. And, I often have said (and written) that I hibernate during January and February, and that if I could eliminate two months from the calendar, it would be those two. Of course, I meant it in the sense of the weather.

I have spent some time thinking (sometimes, I do this too much) about the seasons, and recently decided to try to live them as I did when I was a child. I enjoyed them all in an outdoor sense, actually loved them all in that sense, and pretty much ignored their climatic inconveniences. What child cares how much he sweats in summer's humidity or if he becomes chilled in winter's frigid winds?

Much of my distaste for winter has come from having had to drive in atrocious conditions on the road to a story when I worked as a reporter, or to and from work in town and home in the "outlands" during blizzard and icy conditions. It is amazing I am still alive, in a sense, considering some of my highway "adventures" during snowstorms.

But, it is absolutely fantastic to walk on an ice-covered lake at night in the dead of winter, or to wander through the twinkling snow in woodlands under a full moon. I love moments such as those, so this is where I will concentrate my "adventures" for now.

Less thought and more walk is the moral here .... I guess.

Something special ....