Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sailing to Philadelphia Considered

Like the bears in the zoo which plod the same circle day after day, I dutifully checked the Pynchon section of the public library. The past years of habitual checking had produced nothing but it was part of my routine. Then, one day, there was a new book in the Pynchon section. I took it home with great expectations. Intellectual memories were blurred by time but the feeling of excitement was the same. I had read Gravity’s Rainbow and V so many years before that I had forgotten what they were about. But I had a strong feeling, took it for granted, that Thomas Pynchon was an important writer to me. Life intervened and I never got to finish the book of seven hundred pages. It was called, MASON AND DIXON. Years later when a Mark Knopfler cd came out, I bought it and listened with relish to SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA, the song. He does it as a duet with James Taylor. Returning from three years in Europe, I spent $40 of the $60 with which I landed in Ottawa, on a concert featuring Dire Straits and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mark Knopfler’s the only concert I’ve gone to see in the past thirteen years, since we moved to the country. In other words, I am a Mark Knopfler fan. I even liked his instrumental duets with Chet Atkins. James Taylor’s songs and voice and his connections to Apple Records and Jimmy Buffet and Carly Simon sent thoughts in another direction. Then, suddenly, I heard the words to the song. I realized what the characters, each of whom had a voice, one of Mark Knopfler and one of James Taylor, were saying. They were sailing to Philadelphia to draw the Mason - Dixon line. I assumed, at first, that it was a coincidence. Then, in an interview, Mark Knopfler said that he had respectfully distilled the 700 page book into a two minute song. He was exploring the phenomenon that is America and this was a part of it which he articulated in his own way. Now that Pynchon ‘s 1000 page novel is about to be published, Ian Rankin discloses, in a Guardian interview on the website, that he is a real Pynchon nut. He was going to do a PHD on the writer. Ian Rankin reminds me that Pynchon dedicated Gravity’s Rainbow to Richard Farina. I think he was married to Mimi and they played folk music. For sure he wrote a book called BEEN DOWN SO LONG, LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME which was popular. I can’t remember anything about that book but I know that it was the source of many weird names considered for rock bands of the day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Inarticulate Speech of the Heart Considered

If you overlook the financial calculations involved in recording, selling and buying, it becomes difficult to assess the worth of a piece of music to anyone. Music, no matter what kind, is valuable in itself. It can transcend time, language and cultures. Van Morrison’s album, ‘Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’, is a collection of original songs which celebrates the spiritual side of people. It isn’t a bunch of songs dedicated to the description of a relationship between two people, but a demonstration of the creative spark, a recognition of the muse and a long range point of view of the human race. Not a love song to be found. Few will go to the trouble of locating, buying and listening to the cd, alone, through to the end, perhaps in their favourite writing space, but if they did. If they did, they would find background music, muted, to create by, or upbeat songs to which to dance a jig or with which to hum along. To each their own, choosing the music to background their writing, some preferring music with no lyrics, some no sound at all. But for those who like a little music in the background, this album has everything. The instrumentals are similar to some of Mark Knopfler’s creations. It would be a waste of time for me to try to describe each song in detail. That’s why Van Morrison wrote and recorded them. In fact, the album has a release date of 1983. It’s over 20 years old and it’s the first time I’ve looked closely at it. Except for the cover which is clever and beautiful. The songs can lighten up a room and pull one’s self out of self centred thoughts or draw one into deep contemplation. They can raise one’s spiritual eyes for a moment. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it will take two or three plays of this disc for others to appreciate it. I don’t know and delving analytically into it isn’t what I usually do. I just know that it’s nice to have it on in the background when I’m rereading what I’ve written the day before or when I’m checking out websites. These songs which I know by heart often start me off writing before I switch to lyricless jazz. It also helps with broken hearts, hangovers and situations of loneliness.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Canadian View

We were snowed in as usual. The cabin fever began to grow. There was barely room for all of us and the animals. Nothing could be left out in this cold. The wind shrieked and howled while the snow buried our houses with us in them. The digging started right away, of course. Those of us who were nearest the door were given shovels and plows whether we wanted them or not. Granny sat by the wood stove. She was blind but she was knitting. There would be a long scarf for the children by the time we tunnelled to daylight. Children howled and shrieked with joy as they buzzed through the crowded residence. Families and extended families with their neighbours and their extended families sheltered in the humble abode. Gramps saw it once. One time, so they say, before he passed away, Gramps emerged from the snow tunnel the day before the winter snows descended again. He looked upon the homestead that day, without snow on it and never spoke another word. Caribou jerky hung from the ceiling. Wood stoves kept the stew stewing. We took it in shifts. We hoped, in our modest way, to make it out before the snows came again. We aimed to see what Gramps saw. Farmyard beasts mated in the back, among the hanging furs. Birds sat in the rafters and dropped droppings as we dug for many days. Once, it became lighter and we thought we had reached the end in record time. We were wrong, of course. A cave-in deprived many of consciousness. Lively Irish fiddle music replaced lively Scottish fiddle music which replaced lively French fiddle music. Then they reversed. Stew and beer awaited those who participated in the digging. It wasn’t an occupation which promoted good health, but as our neighbour, Mr Clark said, “Up, up and away! ” Children were born, old ones passed along, the population’s size expanded and shrunk. The digging went on, but it was slow work. We were sure to reach the end by the return of the snowstorms, but what then? Did we always have to do this? Is this what life was about? It was in this frame of mind that I’d become separated from the main group. I don’t know how it happened. I wandered through a shiny crystal tunnel. I was lost. The temperature was all right but I had no food or water. A mysterious tugging kept me walking on without fear. Then it was over as soon as it had begun. I emerged into a warm field full of sunshine and trees and grass and birds. A small man dressed in green sat with his back up against a towering oak tree. He was fingering a flute, trying out different notes by covering different holes. I sat down in front of him and watched. His bushy grey eyebrows flickered as he stared at his fingers in concentration. He blew a few notes, wrinkled his nose and placed the flute in an inside jacket pocket. From this he withdrew a deerstalker pipe and tobacco. When he had lit up and enjoyed the smoke, he smiled and looked at me. ”Well now, how are you and the Canadians you know?” I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt good right then, at that moment. But how was I really? And the Canadians I knew? This flashed through my mind in a nanosecond, but the little man’s eyes showed that he was waiting for me to catch up. It seemed that he was reading my mind. I only had to think something and he would chuckle to himself. It made me examine every thought. “Fine” I said. “Fine? Fine?” he chuckled, drew a good draught on his pipe. When I looked into his eyes I could only think of the digging. Stew, beer and digging. It wasn’t a happy fate that awaited Canadians. The reality of it struck me in the face like a cold mackerel. “Well, you seem to have caught me unawares, so I’ll grant you the wish you desire” said the little man dressed in green. He produced a wand and stood at the ready. He rolled his eyes, checked a pocket watch in his vest, tapped his toe, sighed and looked impatient. I could think only of the digging as I made my wish. The little man doffed his green fedora, pocketed his pipe and disappeared with a smile and a twinkle of the eye. I found myself walking along the crystal corridors again, pulled onward by an unknown force. Sounds of the digging greeted me as I joined the digging assembly line to the envious oohs and ahhs of my coworkers. They were admiring my brand new shovel. More stew, beer and digging. It began to look dubious that we would reach the end of the snow tunnel before the snows returned. We dug harder and faster to make it through. Then, just when things were darkest, we began to see a little light. As we dug toward the surface, there were hoots of jubilation among the grunts of work. The sun appeared as we emerged a year after the last snowstorm, but a snow cloud quickly hid its warmth and light. We realized, as we looked upon the homestead, that big lump of snow, that the snowstorms had returned. We were late by a few days. We resolved to beat the snowstorms next year as we filed back into the tunnel.