Where the heck am I?
Tacoma, Washington. We are here for a wedding.
A river runs through it. Once highly contaminated, now not so much. Lots of water in Washington.
Well, yesterday, Thursday, March 14, 2013, I taught my last class ever at UCSB. Could well be my last class period. Been teaching writing since 1973. Can’t imagine not doing it. But having used up my call back time, I am officially done. Oh, wait. I still have the last batch of papers to grade. And then I am done.
Though the title might not suggest
it, I had wanted to end “The Tingles,” as we had begun it (Lighthouse
of Love), on a slightly more upbeat note.
Now looking back, I can’t say where exactly I located that note, the
more upbeat one. But I think it’s in the
last line of the refrain, “You can lean on me if I can lean
you.” True, it’s hardly The
Youngbloods calling on us all to smile on each other, but at least there’s a
hint of an exchange of human warmth, though perhaps significantly qualified by
that “if.” You can lean on me
IF I can lean on you. I could have
written: You can lean on me AND I can
lean on you. But I didn’t because
“and” seems to presume to much, and honestly, you can lean on me only
if I am allowed to do the same.
So that’s the upbeat note as best I can locate it.
As for the rest of the refrain, I must insist on the
“Nothing now anyone can do
Just have to buckle down and try to see it through.”
Sometimes that’s just how things are. It–whatever it might be (someone dying;
dreams gone up in flames; words spoken that can’t be taken back; really bad
mistakes made)–simply cannot be undone or fixed up or glossed over. All that you can do–if that–is try to get
though it with whatever dignity you can muster.
The last stanza is perhaps a bit too existential (in the
existentialism sense). But I just can’t
get Sartre and Heidegger out of my head…with their idea of our having been
flung into a world we did not make.
Death again. This
time about dying anonymously, as it were.
A body pops up in the lake with no I.D. or identifying marks and then
gets buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
That’s a downer. But maybe
too–given how noisy the song is–it’s about making a joyful noise, in spite
of everything: as in the line:
Rise on angel’s wings
Sing, Sing, Sing
Maybe, in relation to the whole, we all die
anonymously. Sure, we all have a smaller
social circle. But just beyond that the
circle spreads out to those other people we may even share a few moments but pass
by generally in our daily rounds. I
noticed, one day, at this place where I worked out, that an older guy, who was
usually there all the time, had not been there for some time. So I asked another guy if he knew anything
about that guy. “That guy,”
because I couldn’t remember that guy’s name.
I indicated where that guy usually sat and said that I thought he was
from Wisconsin and had worked for Sears.
And the guy says, “Oh that guy.
He died I think.”
So I worked for a while on a song called “That
Guy. You know, that guy.” But I never finished it.
This is Brother Dan’s song from top to bottom. He plays all the guitars and percussion and
sings it. I do a little back up. He also wrote it, some time ago, back in the
80’s, when he and his wife, Kim, had a punk band. I don’t know what they were calling
themselves at the time. Goodbye Blue
Monday? Mr. Pleasant? I don’t know, as I said, but I always liked
the song from the first I heard it. And
it mixes well with the overall malaise of the CD. It’s about a suicide, I think.
If “Around Once” was lugubrious, this one is at
It’s about insomnia, about suddenly being wide awake at 3 AM
and not being able to get back to sleep again, knowing that you have a long
hard day ahead, and will need every bit of energy you have to get through it,
yet here you are at 3 AM wide awake with the minutes slipping by. No rest for the wicked, eh?
I hate it. I have
been insomniac for years. At one point,
years ago, I used as my soporific cheap wine and was for some time in effect a
situational alcoholic. But that proved
counter-productive, and anyway, I
discovered prescription meds. Before I
couldn’t get to sleep at all. With the
meds, I got off to sleep OK but started waking up at aberrant hours, like 3
AM. Now apparently, as a senior citizen,
according to what I have read, I am likely to have only “fragmented”
sleep the rest of my days.
I don’t know why exactly but the song makes me think of a
bit from Freud’s essay on Narcissism:
We should then say: the sick man withdraws his libidinal
cathexes back upon his own soul, and
sends them out again when he recovers.
‘Concentrated is his soul’, says Wilhelm Busch of the poet suffering
from toothache, ‘in his molar’s narrow hole.’
I was aware of something like this, I think. The first two parts of this song are very much
concentrated in my molar’s narrow hole.
I tried to break out of the narrow hole in the last part by suggesting
there are other people–poets, lovers, soldiers–doing other things at 3
AM. But true to form, I return in the
last line to narcissistic grandiosity claiming that, as I lie there, I hear the
world turning round.
This is one lugubrious sucker.
We all get to go around just once.
What’s the big deal? I don’t
know. But I think it is.
As I wrote I thought it was in the genre of the
stages of life poem.
But the song didn’t turn out like that.
The first stanza is sort of about what life looks like when you start
out. Much potential seems to lie
ahead. Things look different in the
middle stage; mostly regrets at things not done and sadness at how quickly time
has passed. And the last stanza is about
how things look right at the end: pretty bleak.
The emotional key to the song for me is the line, “And
you ain’t got time to unpack your trunk.” The psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut
tries to differentiate the classical theory (Freud) of man [sic] as suffering
from guilt from what he calls “tragic” man [sic]. The former he says:
…cannot illuminate the sense of fractured, enfeebled,
discontinuous human existence; it cannot explain the essence of the
schizophrenic’s fragmentation, the struggle of the patient who suffers from a
narcissistic personality disorder to reassemble himself, the despair–the
guiltless despair, I stress–of those who in late middle age discover that the
basic patterns of their self as laid down in their nuclear ambitions and ideals
have not been realized.
That’s a long way of saying: and you ain’t got time to
unpack your trunk.
The curse is based on a true story.
Way back when I was a kid in shorts, at a time when only kids wore shorts and, as a kid, you looked forward to the day you got long pants, in Ora, South Carolina (circa 1950), my uncle, a teenager, who lived across the field from us would call out, “Come here, Nicky. I got something to show you,” and I would round the corner and there he would be chopping the head off a chicken. I don’t know how many times he pulled that one or how many times I fell for it, but the phrase “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” has for me a specific graphic meaning having seen, as I have, that chicken running around the yard with its head still over there on the tree stump and there was something just awful about that.
But one time, he calls out and I round the corner and there’s no chicken. Instead, a snake is hanging down the side of the chicken coop and uncle is laughing up a storm, like it’s a real thigh slapper or something, seeing the fix this egg thieving snake has got itself into. For it had crawled into the coop, and swallowed a wooden egg, which, as I understand, was used to induce the hens to “brood,” and having swallowed that egg could not get back out the same knot hole it came in through. So “The Curse” is a true story up to this point, for, while, in the song, I let him wither on the vine as it were, in fact uncle picked up an ax and cut the snake in half and squeezed the wooden egg right out of the tail section, plop! onto the ground.
So what’s this little story? What is it about? Well, not much of anything except that it happened. The snake of course is a mighty symbolic creature, what with Adam and Eve and all, and the idea that the snake was cursed (by not being able to go in reverse; and us too cursed by our irreversibility (can’t go out the way we come in)) has theological implications. But lest the meanings get too thick, I tried to thin it all out with: “Never bite off more than you can chew/And never swallow anything that’s bigger than you.”
Speaking of snakes that got stuck, my wife spoke with a woman in Columbia, SC, who was going into the bathroom to take care of nature’s needs, when a huge gopher jumped out of her toilet followed in hot pursuit by a large snake. She rushed out of the bathroom to call the animal protection people, as the snake rushed the gopher, and when they got back in the bathroom, no gopher was present. Rather the tale of the snake was sticking up out of the toilet. Guess what? It got stuck trying to go out the way that it come in.
Hey…Brother Dan and I made a CD over this last year. You can listen here.