Archive for December 22nd, 2010

Party To No Covenants

His weariness with things was frightening; it smacked of obliteration, a wall of anger and fatigue that felt as though it might sweep him into nothingness. Worst of all was loneliness.

There were times when he was capable of rejoicing in himself as a singularity—a man without a story, secure from tribal delusion, able to see the many levels. But at other times he felt that he might give anything to be able to explain himself. kernTo call himself Jew or Greek, Gentile or otherwise, the citizen of no mean city. But he had no recourse except to call himself an American and hence the slave of possibility. He was not always up for the necessary degree of self-invention, unprepared, occasionally, to assemble himself.

And sometimes the entire field of folk seemed alien and hostile, driven by rages he could not comprehend, drunk on hopes he could not imagine. So he could make his way only through questioning, forever inquiring of wild-eyed obsessives the nature of their dreams, their assessment of themselves and their enemies, listening agreeably while they poured scorn on his ignorance and explained the all too obvious. When he wrote, it was for some reader like himself, a bastard, party to no covenants, promised nothing except the certainty of silence overhead, darkness around. Sometimes he had to face the simple fact that he had nothing and no one and try to remember when that had seemed a source of strength and perverse pride. Sometimes it came back for him.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

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Yet Shall We Be Merry

(This is a reprint from January 11. I’d intended to post it for the 2009 Christmas season . . . but why would I ever be on time? Two weeks or so late is pretty darn good for me: there are some posts I’ve wanted to post to this blog since a couple of years before the blog existed.

(In any event, after winding around for a while, the piece settles in to talking about wassailing, a pre-Christian tradition of Olde Albion that has since become twinned to the Christ child . . . though its pagan roots still peek out, now and again, from behind his robes.

(Some people seemed to like this piece, so I thought I’d post it again, during the right time this time, to see if some “different-one people,” as my daughter would have once put it, might like it, too. It ends with a nice wassailing song, which different-one people from all around the globe have come to call their own.)

Dark wizard Albert Grossman deliberately assembled the folk-singing trio Peter, Paul, and Mary to rake in coin amid the urban folk-revival of the early 1960s. He wanted “a tall blonde, a funny guy, and a good looking guy”: that’s what he got.

But Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers proved to be something more than a quick milk of the cash cow. They introduced millions of young people, including myself, to significant forms of American roots music. Their smooth and engaging arrangements allowed us to enter them, as through a door, and out the other side we encountered lifetimes of music that, without them, we might never have known.

I had not thought much about the group for many years until the “tall blonde,” Mary Travers, passed away last fall, on September 16, of leukemia, at age 72. Just as Peter, Paul, and Mary became more than what Grossman had intended, so too did Travers. “This was not,” recalled producer Phil Ramone to Rolling Stone, “a girl who was just going to be cutesy like lead singers had been in bands. She created a much bigger role. She took no prisoners when it was what she believed in.”

In the weeks following Travers’ death, the tubes rang with reprises of the group’s music. But nobody seemed much moved to post or discuss the Peter, Paul, and Mary song that had long most entranced me. So I guess I’ll gas on about it myself, there beyond the “furthur.”

furthur=>

Four In The Afternoon

Obviously, modern mechanised life becomes dreary if you let it. The awful thraldom of money is upon everyone and there are only three immediately obvious escapes. One is religion, another is unending work, the third is a kind of sluttish antinomianism—lying in bed till four in the afternoon, drinking Pernod. In any case, the essential evil is to think in terms of escape. The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a life-belt, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet to be fully alive.

—George Orwell


When I Worked

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