Somebody’s Body: Liner Notes

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:

Somebody’s body
Rise on angel’s wings
Somebody’s body
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.

Heaven Bound: Liner Notes

 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.

3 AM: Liner Notes

If “Around Once” was lugubrious, this one is at
least maudlin.

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.

Around Once: Liner Notes

This is one lugubrious sucker.

Everybody dies. 
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.

Unrelieved lugubriousness.


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: Liner Notes

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.

snake egg.jpg

I claim in the song that “ain’t no snake ever born could go in reverse.”  I am not sure that is biologically true.  Some claim that sea snakes can go in reverse.  Maybe.  But somehow “ain’t no land snake ever born could go in reverse” lacks the impact I desired.

A Note

Friends gave me a copy of Ellen Schrecker’s The Lost Soul of Higher Education for my 65th birthday, and I read it cover to cover while working out on an elliptical machine. Nothing much new in it, at least to me; I have lived through much of the history she recounts, though I wasn’t really conscious during the McCarthy Era. Aside from that (she writes a good deal about attacks on academic freedom), the book was more like a trip down painful memory lane. Not depressing exactly, since, in effect, I was pre-depressed (before the reading) by what I have observed over the last 30 plus years. I suppose you could say the read simply affirmed what I had observed and conjectured. There’s always a bit of pick-me-up in being affirmed, even if what is being affirmed is negative. Maybe that was why–I can’t think of any other reason–I decided to email the author and tell her I had read her book and appreciated it. So I found her email address at Yeshiva University and sent her a note. She emailed back saying my note had made her day. That’s nice to think I had helped to make somebody’s day, and it didn’t take that much effort either. I think I should do that more often, email the author of the books I read. Though I don’t read many books these days, and many of the authors I tend to read are dead. So you can’t email them.

Dermatology Again

Ever since I developed that cancerous (squamous) cell on my upper lip and had it excised–some twenty-five years ago–I have seen a dermatologist annually. I have seen the one I saw today for about ten years; I don’t know where the previous one went to or remember what he looked like. But this guy and I…we are growing old together. He looks less young each time I see him; his hair is really thinning with male pattern baldness (somehow related to the depletion of testosterone). One thing remains the same. He has never been on time for an appointment. He always runs twenty minutes late. One day I came in early and I thought maybe I was his first patient, but he was fifteen minutes late for that.

Today, my appointemt was for 9:20 and I had another appointment, not five minutes away, at ten. No big deal. But I wanted to be on time, if only because I always am.

There I sat in the office in my “gown,” as they call it. Here, they say, put on this gown. I don’t know that the nurse would have said that but for the fact I said I was there to have the dermatologist check out my body. Sometimes I only have to talk off my shirt. So there I am all sagged down and slumping on that table thing in my gown, and I am not really pissed off. Not like I sometimes get. Tense in the face and toe tapping pissed at the wait. I am more like numb with anxiety. But damn I have been waiting 25 minutes, so I get up and go to the door, thinking I will call out and see what’s up.

I open the door and there he stands. He apologies for the wait perfunctorily, and I say equally perfunctorily, is OK. And he launches into something about dermatologists waging a war on melanoma. That freaks me out immediately because I think he must have spotted one. But no, maybe he has just been to a conference on melanoma because it turns out, as he looks me over, that there’s nothing really alarming.

“You have few moles,” he says. “Yea,” I say, “I am blessed that way.”

Then, on cue, out comes the liquid nitrogen.

“May I,” he says pointing at something on the back on my hand. What am I going to say? No?

So he starts blasting away.

He’s finishing up when I point out the red spot on the tip of my nose that he tried to get rid of last time, but it didn’t go away, and he starts into talking about how the only way to tell if it’s cancer is to biopsy–which freaks me out–and then he starts blasting away at the tip of my nose, so now six hours later I have this big ugly pustule on the tip of my nose.

So, I say, in effect, A-OK? Hoping for some reassurance given the melanoma scare.

“You look great,” he says with some enthusiasm and then qualifies the hell out of it with, “for the kind of people I am used to seeing.”

Now what the hell does that mean. What kind of people is he seeing?

But I will take what I can get.

By now it’s eight minutes to ten. The whole exam took a little over five minutes.

Seemed like forever.