Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November meanderings

WHEN I am tired or full of doubts, or unwinding, or just want to relax, I go back in time and place to all those things that have given me nourishment over the years. Then I feel renewed and more cheerful and soothed, and I am thankful I have these things to sustain me, these things that I marvel at, these pure and beautiful sounds and precious, comforting thoughts, things that make you feel special and unique, like you have uncovered some kind of corner or something hidden, where there is inspiration and goodness and silence and wonder and shining gratitude where you feel like a knight that shimmers in his armour, or can imagine all the colours of autumn leaves brightly standing out.
I am thinking of… lots of things… as I let my mind drift back in memory lane to events in the past. It is a film and the image goes wobbly and out of focus, and suddenly there it is in colour.

I am standing in this secure web of playing cricket with the other kids in the neighbourhood. We are playing for hours in the late afternoon sunshine. It all happens on a corner. The wickets stand in the middle of the road at one end, and at the entrance to a neighbour’s nature strip at the other (as time goes on they will build a garden on their nature strip to make it more difficult to play cricket). As a car intrudes we scoop the wicket up with one hand to allow the car to pass, and get back to the cricket. Sometimes Sam or Sotto are umpires and they have less idea about what to do than the rest of us. Wayne appeals for LBW, manipulatively and vituperatively, and they nervously raise their finger. The fear of going against his appeal! I like this shot which is like a cover drive (the bowling is slow enough for me to be able to do this), whilst Anthony at the other end smacks the ball over several houses. 

There is the time Wayne smashes the bat against a telegraph pole and creates a sudden end to our glorious games… but that’s another story. It’s all pretty innocent. Sometimes we just stand outside the Arbuckle’s house and chat- for hours and hours about anything. The talking and the listening and the speculating and the mystery of life, it’s all quite fascinating. We are like children in a William Blake poem from ‘Songs Of Innocence’, except we are surrounded by bitumen roads rather than being in the heart of the country:

When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.

‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies.’

‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all cover'd with sheep.’

‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leapèd, and shoutèd, and laugh'd
And all the hills echoed.’  
 (William Blake, ‘Nurse’s Song’).

Then there are other images, unravelling. I am still in this secure web. I think it is about the same time. I am still eleven or twelve, or maybe thirteen. I have grown up on a diet of Enid Blyton books. I have devoured them, especially the ‘Five Find-Outers’ series and the wonderful adventure series, like the ‘Valley of Adventure’ and the ‘River’ or ‘Mountain of Adventure.’ I read these books in one or two goes until they are finished. The older siblings, or the adults, are probably watching television. I am oblivious to the other noises in the house. It is all making me go blind. I am on the bottom bunk, without a lamp. But then, at that time, it doesn’t matter. These are the halcyon days of reading. 

Later, quite a bit later, as an adult, I will sit in a lounge room chair with Colm Toibin’s second novel, ‘The Heather Blazing’, and I will revisit those wondrous days of reading with a sense of wonder, enthralled by the writing and the characters, feeling as though I am reading something somehow intrinsically significant, moved by the power of words and moods and staying absolutely still until it is over, like you have finished a sumptuous meal.

Music. Memories of music come flooding in. When I was young if I wasn’t up the corner like Blake’s children, or devouring sets of books by Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie, I was in the lounge listening to the Marantz stereo, possibly with headphones, music making me deaf just as reading made me blind. The price you have to pay.

The cousins in Bundoora had some Beatles. It was the first time I ever had ‘Sergeant Pepper’ placed in my hand. I studied the numerous faces on the cover with absolute fascination. If I couldn’t quite get moved by ‘For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ or ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’, I was floored by ‘Lovely Rita’ with its delirious panting, astonished by the domestic violence in ‘Getting Better’ and put into a wondrous dream by ‘A Day in the Life’, the dreamy bit on the bus sung by McCartney my favourite bit. Then of course I would buy them all. Still very deep in my memory is going to Northland and taking ‘Abbey Road’ to the Marantz, staying up late when all were in bed, fascinated by the street scenes on the front and back covers, wondering what was next to the 'N' partially by the girl in the blue dress, Lennon’s screams in ‘I Want You’, his groans in ‘Come Together’, the nonsense of ‘Sun King’ and the majesty of the last twenty minutes of the vinyl’s ‘Side 2’:

‘One sweet dream
Pick up the bags and get in the limousine
Soon we'll be away from here
Step on the gas and wipe that tear away
One sweet dream came true today
Came true today
Came true today (Yes it did)’
(Paul McCartney, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’)

Naturally, my musical journey took other paths. I became even more involved in ‘The Doors’, and by Year 12 it was an obsession.

 I wore a Jim Morrison badge every day. People said I looked like him. Perhaps I thought in a way I was him. I even, somewhat cautiously it must be said, even tried to mimic a bit of his alleged lifestyle. I loved the rockier songs, like ‘Peace Frog’ and ‘LA Woman’, but it was probably the more adventurous or experimental ones I liked, as well as some ballads. ‘The Soft Parade’ and ‘The End’ have always held a fascination, and I can’t remember how many times I’ve crooned along to ‘I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind’, ‘The Crystal Ship’, ‘Blue Sunday’, ‘Indian Summer’, ‘Wishful Sinful.’ Never really the boppy hits for me. Jim’s face has always fascinated me. To this day I often look at pictures, and sometimes find new ones. Young and beautiful, and then equally as handsome, and more poetic and dignified looking, around 69’/ 70’ with that magnificent beard. A towering charisma, for all his faults and his reckless lifestyle.

Then, entering adulthood, and the space is all colour now and fresher and more recent and long lasting. The eldest brother had a Joni Mitchell- ‘The World of Joni Mitchell’- a compilation. It was enough. It wetted my appetite. I was spellbound, and still am, by the wondrous beauty of the words, and the shimmering melodies, unusual instruments like the Appalachian dulcimer- and Joni’s flowing hair and angular features and soprano voice, all creating seductive little hooks. The first songs (from this album) were really ‘That Song About The Midway’ and ‘Song To A Seagull’, the latter with its mesmerizing lyrics centred on place, the alienating city:

I came to the city
And lived like old Crusoe
On an island of noise
In a cobblestone sea
And the beaches were concrete
And the stars paid a light bill
And the blossoms hung false
On their store window trees
My dreams with the seagulls fly
Out of reach out of cry.’

Events from the past whirr about me. These are gloriously hungry times, of searching Joni’s oeuvre, internet-less and probably penniless. The album ‘Blue’ came quickly after, and we already had ‘Court and Spark’ (screeching in the lounge room to ‘Help Me’, and emotionally moved, without really understanding ‘The Same Situation”), and other Joni albums, some as they came out, brave efforts like ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ (brother’s help again), but then the ultimate floored experience, trance-like, in another world of blissful devastation- the discovery of ‘Hejira’, with no less than ‘Amelia’, ‘Song For Sharon’, and the majestic title track, the groove, the Jaco Pastorius bass, and the sheer love of poetry:
I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones
I know, no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone
Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tribute to finality, to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years
We're only particles of change I know, I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone…’

There’s a lot here because it is really difficult to know where to stop. It’s Joni at her best- an outsider with feelings of melancholia and confusion, a fresh break-up in the incessant quest for love, or safety, or security. And wandering, wandering. Just like another artist… which leads on to…

Van Morrison. A simultaneous discovery, and just as profound, when my mind was teeming with new ideas and experiences and questions and reading and thinking. Absolutely ripe for ‘Astral Weeks’. In some ways a similar journey about travel and a the old 70’s search for answers. John Densmore, in his book, tells the story of how he witnessed Van writing the lyrics to the song ‘Astral Weeks’ when they were sitting on a couch at a party together. Near the end of the song there is this heavenly experience:

Ain't nothing but a stranger in this world
I'm nothing but a stranger in this world
I got a home on high
In another land
So far away
So far away
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
In another time
In another place
In another time
In another place
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
In another time
In another place
In another time
In another place
In another face.’

The first thing you will notice is how evocative and expressive and other- wordly or mystical it is. Then how repetitive it is. And that’s Van Morrison. Another realm. His words don’t win him a Nobel Prize for Literature. But they are electric and earth shattering when they combine with the music and the unique phrasing. One of the ‘way up in the heaven’ lines goes for about ten seconds. ‘Wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy up in the heaven…’ Sometimes when I read something really good, like some gorgeous prose from someone who knows just exactly how to write- like Fitzgerald describing Gatsby’s world just before he gets shot- I imagine them up in their study on the top floor, putting the pen down, drawing a breath and looking out of the curtains and thinking ‘wow, where did that come from?’ That’s how it is with the whole of the ‘Astral Weeks’ album. Van pens it, gets it down in the studio with Jay Berliner and others, and then walks out with a light heart and a smirk of self-satisfaction on his face (you literally get to see it with Paul Simon during the earliest recordings of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’).

I am having trouble remembering the first time I ever heard the album. By 1984 I was buying each new Van album when it was released. Fortunately, he had the type of 80’s that very few of his contemporaries had. So I listened to this and others throughout the 80’s and I remember living in Adelaide for a while during 1986, and I think this was the time it meant the most to me. The evocative walking up Cyprus Avenue, the ballerina stepping lightly but not like Degas, the sheer joy of having someone you love sitting beside you, walking with abandonment drinking cherry wine, the euphoria of driving down the street in a chariot, the smell of sweet perfume, and then the abrupt, tragic death, ‘I know you’re dying and I know you know it too.’

These thoughts sustain and carry me. They are what make you an individual. They are what nobody else understands. We all have them. You can only hope to feel things, keenly. You don’t want robotic anything. You want a heart and a pulse. No empty spaces. And then one day, when you’re seventy…

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