Here we go. I’ve been grossly unfair, but I have to cut myself some slack for my pissiness and unfairness was dictated by mood. In a recent article that I wrote and that was featured on bobdylan.com, a late review of Dylan’s Christmas album, Christmas In The Heart, I wrote (and I believe) that Dylan’s album skipped all of the steps and went straight from pressing to being an instant classic. I think he knew it would. In the same article I said that I felt Aimee Mann’s Christmas album, Another Drifter In The Snow, was not the sound of Christmas at all. It was not, I wrote, in my view the sound of “rockin’ around the Christmas tree.” It was, I wrote, the sound of my maybe-future-would-be could-be suicide.
That was unfair and I was wrong. Unfair if only for the simple fact that anyone would be hard-pressed to pick one song or artist to be the soundtrack to their actual death, but apart from that it wasn’t fair anyway. The soundtrack death thing: that’s like picking the music you’re going to walk down the aisle to (okay, bad comparison, but I mean momentous occasions). My words had more to do with my state of mind because I’ve written about Aimee Mann before and am a person who likes her music a great deal and thinks she is extremely gifted. If I wasn’t rockin’ around any tree, it had nothing to do with Aimee Mann or her music. The cold truth is that last year, ’09, I decorated the tree by myself with all blue lights and a dusting of fine tinsel while listening to Johnny Cash Live At Folsom Prison. Go figure. As to Aimee Mann, I’ve been with her since Til Tuesday. I’ve belted out “Voices Carry”, especially these past months since December perhaps, now still in June, I find myself listening to her Christmas album, Another Drifter In The Snow – this and Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart.
As to Dylan, I think his Christmas record is an instant classic. I remember my mother’s Elvis’s Christmas record which she used to spin every Christmas and that to me, was the sound of Christmas, so when I left home and spent my first Christmas away and with my fiancé in Wisconsin, I awoke on Christmas morning not to the sounds of Elvis or my siblings blasting Alvin and The Chipmunks. No. I awoke to hymns and sacred choral music.
I ran into what was my then boyfriend’s father’s Bible-room (yes, Bible room he had a whole room lined with shelves of Bibles and that is where I slept on the pull-out couch in this very proper Midwestern home). It was from the Bible Room that I rang my mother, telling her through tears, that they were playing ( my goodness, of all things, I was confounded) hymns: religious music on Christmas Day! Elvis was nowhere to be found. Neither was Berna Dean or Darlene Love or Johnny Cash. Whatever happened to Christmas? Aimee Mann asks as much on her album….”…and what ever happened to you.”
As to why I am listening to Christmas music in June, well this is a whole other story and one that is long and complicated you’d find it boring. I find it boring. Just accept it as a first premise: I am hearing Christmas in June. I feel I must also disclose in all fairness to you the reader, that I am writing this as I am going through a divorce, have just moved to another state, am physically ill, and emotionally bereft because I am in love with someone who is not in love with me and who is married and who happens to be related to my husband, to compound an already nightmarish situation.
It’s like a bad TV movie they show on Lifetime, only it’s my life. I used to watch those movies when I was just out of the hospital (which is a lot, so I know whereof I speak, but I ought not brag about this, but I know my pop culture). But aren’t all Lifetime TV movies based on some “real-life” events or dramatizations of? I just pray that my life doesn’t wind up on Lifetime. If it does, I can guarantee this: I won’t be the woman who gets killed by the murderous husband, or some very TV-handsome star.
It’s far more likely that I’ll be the blonde who dons a cheap brunette wig and dark lipstick, packs a neat .22 in her vintage bag and takes out with one shot the guy in the parking lot of Walmart or some such or the street in front of my house for giving me a hard time and, because, as Dylan says, “Man thinks ’cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please “. I’m the bitch who thinks he should have his license to kill taken away. If no-one else will do it, then I’ll take him out with a single shot from my cap-gun (the only real weaponry I have, well….the pen… this and a tin gun that shoots sparks).I would dump the empty round from my cap-gun, re-load just in case, ditch the brown wig, shake loose my blonde hair, and I would drive coolly off in my Mini like I stole the damn thing. You got it right, Mr. Dylan in your song “License To Kill, you just didn’t know it was me. The way you draw out the “whooooo” in “she say whoooo gonna take away his license to kill” I say “whooo-eeee” as in caution, baby:
Now, there’s a woman on my block
She just sit there as the night grows still
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?
Me, that’s who. My situation, let me clarify for the gutter-minded: I am not committing adultery. One can be in love with someone else and not even have sex, although I’ll get to that later. Yes, ideally that person would not be married, but he is, but being in love with that person does not always equate with the sordid and the seamy. I’ve studied Qabalah for years now (quietly, for I am confirmed Episcopal, but practice Qabalah most days). I read that if you meet the other half you, your truly destined Other, then it is your duty even if you are already married, to take the rougher road and be with that person, other half you and follow their shining light glittering tinsel Tikkun blue like the lights on my blue spruce last year. Talk about mixed faith blessings, mixed faith weddings. Quick, break a glass under your shoe.
Sometimes something can be pure, good, and right, even if it doesn’t work out. The notion that a thing is “not meant to be” is nonsense. Some things are meant to be, are fated to be, it’s just that some people are afraid to face their fate. Read Jung on this. It takes a very brave person to actually live his or her fate and face it daily. Regardless of what choose to do, it’s best not to rewrite, best not to be a revisionist. I will say I’m with Aimee Mann and her album title You’re With Stupid Now and any one, male or female, who has been in this position and is smart (well, we all ask ourselves how smart we really are if we got into this position in the first place, but anyway), we must retain the confidence to say, “I’m not quite that stupid; That I know real love when I find it and that regardless of what he may or may not do, I know what I would do, which makes me bravely stupid. Heroically dumb. I know he loves me. I know I love him. Regardless of whether he makes a move or not. So, as Aimee said, You’re With Stupid Now. Say what you’re thinking: At least he’s with someone now. Absolutely meaningless. I am my own best company always.
And I am his, and I know this. Yet, it does not matter to me what he says about his love for me, his supposed in-loveness, the “uncanny” kindred feeling he has when we’re together, the completion of the self, the joy, the sublime, the divine, the numinous ineffable blah blah blah which wouldn’t be blah blah blah if he did something about it, because that much is real between us: it is uncanny), the fact remains, he’s going to stay put out of fear, for fear of complications. Ah, complications (c’est la guerre). But he will not. No matter how much I hope, he won’t. I could play Mann’s song “You Do” but it doesn’t apply to me. I’m not living in any fantasy world where I expect he’ll turn up and “rescue me” as my friend B. put it in an email the other day, insultingly insistent that I have “rescue fantasies”.
This must be true.
After all, I moved out of my own house, found a nice apartment that is affordable, moved to another state, arranged the move, set up the whole place myself including heavy bookshelves etc (not easy when you’re my size), bought myself more tools required, set up my home, just returned from a ten-day solo trip to Santa Monica where I flew out “just because” and stayed with E.’s friend who I hardly knew, Joseph, who turned out to be wonderful and whose apartment I stayed at to get my thoughts together and to see what else is potentially out there for me because I just might decide to move to CA. I did these things as a person who is an epileptic cancer patient. I would say that none of these things bear the hallmark or are suggestive of a woman who expects to be “rescued” and I write them not as a martyr either who expects some sympathy or medal. I write them simply as statement of fact. I expect a “so what” because they are what you do. But I do not expect to come through with pretty much shining colors during this really tough time only to be told by someone who ought know better that I’m essentially hanging out at the top of the stair like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince. That would be cool, even cooler if the prince were coming, but that’s just not reality and I know it all too well, although I do live on Flora Street now and that is the name of one of the fairies and my apartment is at the top of a winding stair and is a little garret. If there were a prince, he’d rush up the stair to find me here with my sleep disorder which was diagnosed years ago, looking less than beautiful. But rescue fantasies? If I had them, maybe they’d keep me going, but I am, as Clapton said, “running on faith.”
I will say that I do expect, or did expect that E. would be there for me the way I have always been there for him. That is to show up in person. When my grandmother died, I expected to see his face the way that when his mother died a couple of months prior, I was there in person a week after I had uterine surgery. I was there standing next to him, graveside, getting sideways looks from his wife and ignoring it all because I love him and he needed me there. It was important.
Expecting your best friend to be there for you is not a rescue fantasy: it is a perfectly normal expectation when you have come to count on each other. That’s what it’s all about. In our friendship, the boundaries are constantly shifting between us: they are not solid, they are a fluid give and take that is never quid pro quo but rather a flow like the Taoist concept of wu-wei. Wu means without and wei means effort. The idea of wu wei can be thought of as a river flowing or a tree growing: it is doing what comes naturally to it. The idea of wu-wei is to take natural action so that you are one with the Tao and not fighting it – you are in perfect sync with it and with the order of things.
E. is not wu-wei and he is standing in the way of my wu-wei. I cannot just “be”. It’s hard to be in a world of mind games: instant messages that are elliptical (at best) and senseless and cruel at worst – a kind of emotional terrorism. He does not telephone at all. I don’t need to hear Aimee Mann sing and tell me “Wise Up” because I am already wise to this crap.. These are great songs, but the songs I yearn to hear are “Coming Up Close” and her cover of “Nobody Does It Better” and if there is any song that I would level at him right now it would be “You Could Make A Killing”. (I wish I was both young and stupid / Then I too could have the fun that you did / Till it was time to pony up what you bid.)
That said, I choose not to listen to those songs because as D.A. Pennebaker and Dylan named the ’65 tour documentary, Don’t Look Back. I have no desire to be constantly “Firing on Babylon” (Sinead O’Connor). I want to be either left alone to live my life and see where that takes me, I want to write and I do and will, and sure, yes, I would like it more than very much if E. were to turn up here but that is what you do when you tell someone you love them and you’re their best friend. This is not a fantasy of mine. This is commitment in the twenty-first century and friendship in any century. Not showing up is betrayal in any century unless there is some very compelling reason, so I must assume there is some very compelling reason that in time will come to light. Just not yet. Right now it’s still dark.
He did call the other day and I was glad to hear his voice after so long: almost (or actually) a whole season. I thought I would feel anger but I felt nothing but love and tenderness. I felt concern. He kept putting money into the coin box he said but the minutes went by so quickly. “That wasn’t a full minute!” we both said and laughed. It was good to laugh with him again, then we had to say goodbye and I lost him to the world again, not knowing where he is or when I’ll see him.
Mann’s Christmas album is not a record that I see being played in traditional middle-class American family homes. The typical, the idea we have of the stereotyped American middle-class, those who occupy the midlands, are too homogenized, you could say “too pasteurized” for the likes Mann. Aimee Mann. Aimee Mann is not dilute. She is straight up and strong. She has an edge and that’s precisely what makes her so very good but what won’t wash in a homogenized pasteurized land. I hear Another Drifter In The Snow and that great guitar strum and that shuffle sound that Mann has nailed in her music and that is unique to her and that voice (I don’t need to say anything more about that alto-voice because if you’ve heard it you know). It is just right, but it is not just right for playing with your folks on Christmas day: or not mine anyway.
Another Drifter In The Snow is the album to play when you do not go home for Christmas or the holidays, whatever your holidays are because I think Mann’s album even though “Chrismas” is simply a holiday album, much like Dylan’s. I don’t read it as Christian: color me crazy. It’s what you play when you spend the holidays with a gathering of your best friends as I used to years ago – having everyone over to our loft in the North End on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day – that is when Mann’s album would be most fitting (and that is when we listened to a lot of Aimee Mann, though she hadn’t released this album yet, alas) but under those circumstances it would not be at all depressing because it has the sound of an intimate friend.
I could be wrong, but it would seem to me that the demographic for Mann’s music is other GenXers like me who aren’t necessarily interested in “home” in any traditional sense because we are a generation who come from broken homes, raised by single mothers, visiting fathers (if we were lucky), and if your family had money, then a nanny or maid of some kind or overall caretaker who raised you more than your own mother did. For the most part, a great many GenXers did a lot of raising of themselves by themselves. A generation of latchkey kids raised on Count Chocula and Booberry and single mothers and absent fathers and step-parents and if we’re honest, a lot of us had the same dream as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (laugh all you want: pretty much every source of note ranks this as one of the top one hundred films of all time and I quite agree).
GenXers like me grew up with the fear of nuclear power plants. We remember Three Mile Island (I was not that far from it: we could see it across the bay); it was and is still wholly palpable to us. So was Chernobyl: I’ll never forget that. So was Union Carbide. At university, we used to have “die-ins” in the plaza by Marsh Chapel at Boston University where we protested nuclear power (and Apartheid, among other things) because these were our generations biggest fears and concerns, the way other generations feared the atom bomb, we feared not only nuclear power plants, but nuclear weapons and we feared Apartheid, which was alive and well at BU were some of the schools money was invested in South Africa.
As to nuclear war, sure, the President told us he had built some super-shield in outer-space (which I still don’t understand; I mean, is it like some Kryptonite shield or what? I never could suss out how the whole ‘star wars’ thing worked). This was supposed to make us feel better. It never made me feel any safer. I drove around in my car with other protesters to various sites to protest back in my youth and yes, we listened to Til Tuesday because that was who Aimee Mann was back then and I remember belting out “Voices Carry” which I still do when I’m driving in my car or alone in my house. It was the pre-“You Oughta Know”. If Alannis Morrisette did a good job with that song, and I think she did, Aimee Mann nailed it more with a subtler take but that actually packs more of a wallop in “Voices Carry”. She doesn’t need to say anything about sleeping with anyone else. It is her voice at the very end of the song, the trail off that you could almost not hear if you don’t have the volume up or if you’re not listening closely. She fades out with;
Hush hush keep it down now voices carry
Oh hush hush, darling, she might overhear
Hush, hush - voices carry
He said shut up - he said shut up
Oh God can't you keep it down
Hush hush voices carry
I wish he would let me talk.
The last line, “I wish he would let me talk,” is a whisper of resignation, so quiet at the end of a song that otherwise belts out a (rightful) frustration as well as righteous indignation.
Say what you want; say she “chose to be the ‘other woman’ and then level your names and labels at her and report her to the Society for the Prevention of Vice but please, welcome to the real world where things are not so neat and tidy and where if you have studied culture you know that so many of social mores and customs are totally arbitrary (which is why they vary so much from culture to culture) even in the Western world. What flies in France does not fly here and vice versa. You’d never have Carla Bruni as the first lady – a pop singer, former model, talented, beautiful, who was a mistress (by god!) and “legitimized” because French President Nicolas Sarkozy married her, making her Carla Bruni-Sarcozy: Mrs. Sarkozy and she was accepted by French society. I personally like Carla Bruni’s music and liked her before I knew anything about her affair with Sarkozy. In the U.S. all I hear are jokes about Bruni now. I don’t hear about her talent, her beauty. I just hear bad jokes because in this country it is unthinkable that any man would leave his wife even if he did fall in love with this other woman, especially a man of such power. In this country they think: What was he thinking? Let me clarify – he was probably thinking, my marriage is over, I’m in love with another woman, I should come clean and marry her and make her the first lady. So he did. Hence, Carla Bruni Sarkozy. Quelqu’un m’a dit…
What some people fail to understand is that it is not about “the other woman”, it is about the man who is spinning two women and feeding them both, as Helena Bonham Carter says in the film Fight Club, an “avalanche of bullshit”. No wonder Mann is frustrated. No wonder she’s shouting about how all he does is tell her to shut up. If I were a singer and had her voice I would shout it out too; I would belt it out because I needed to and because the hell with him for trying to silence me. I’d say enough of this crap and I’d write a song too, although lacking that particular talent, I’d write a poem or an article. In terms of any song, but particularly songs about being the so-called other woman who has been “scorned” as society is so fond of saying, “Voices Carry” is in a class all its own. It almost defines the genre for that time and that type of music. There are other great songs about break ups and such but from different eras, different types of music.
It’s an interesting observation and I don’t think she was the first to make it, but I was recently reading Elizabeth Wurtzel who pointed out that men are “left”, but they are never scorned or shamed. These is a verb reserved only for women. More, men involved in any type of extra-marital business are not labeled anything other than perhaps stupid or foolish. They perhaps “made a mistake”, were “unwise”, thinking with their dick, etc., (the old refrain, “He’s just a man,” which If I were a man I would find enormously insulting) and ka-ching, all is forgiven even if their wife makes them pay hell for it in various and sundry ways, society and their family gives them a free pass. I can’t think of an equivalent song by a male to pair with the song I mention by Aimee Mann’s Til Tuesday “Voice’s Carry”.
I can think of pissy songs by men; hurt songs, and a number by Dylan but nothing about being scorned, being left. The closest any artist I can think of who has come to it is Prince in “The Beautiful Ones” but that song is an ultimatum, “Do you want him or do you want me” and it’s a powerful song. There’s no sense of being shame or scorn. Instead it is full of power. Nick Drake asked the same question in his song “Which Will”. Both are about choice, but neither man feels scorned or is “the other man” or if he is, society isn’t pricking his chest with any scarlet letter. Instead we’re listening to his sweet melody and thinking, “poor thing” and “what a bitch”. Deep down, we think she’s hedging and we feel sorry for him or we identify with his pain as we do in Prince’s screetching howl “Do you want him…or do you want ME, cuz I want YOU…” He sounds powerful, not defeated at all.
A woman, married or unmarried, who has any type of interaction with a married man – even if not an affair but some closeness that is perceived as “unnaturally close”, which I can speak of personally, that woman is labeled as a whore.
It’s funny: I look at photographs of Aimee Mann – who I’ve seen in person, around Newbury Street years ago in Boston and no, I didn’t go up and say hello because that would just be stupid. “Hi, I really like your music….uh….” It seems silly to me. I love her music, I love her voice. More, she looks like she could be my cousin or sister for we have the same coloring, although she is far more beautiful. Something about her that just gives off an aura, a glow that I maybe once had, but am lacking in the present working hard to get back that lux aeterna.
I have to, and perhaps that is why I am listening to Aimee Mann’s Another Drifter In The Snow, because no matter that it is June, I feel trapped inside a snow globe. Here I am inside my glass bubble with my pretty little world. Turn me upside down and shake me and see. I have a snow globe with Sleeping Beauty inside. I put it inside in a glass terrarium so now she is double-housed, twin-paned. Nobody is coming to rescue her. No valiant prince to cut through the swath of burrs and thorns with his shield and sword of virtue and truth. I am no fool. If Sleeping Beauty ever comes out of that glass house it will be because I take her out.
Note too that I am also an artist and make shadow boxes, sort of like those of Joseph Cornell if you know his work (Google him if you do not and look under images). This is hard word and involves tools, hardware, skill. I make many of these boxes all tell a different story. I did make one that is called “Sleeping Beauty” (put it in evidence against me). It is a see-through glass case and within it there is a bed of rose petals and rose leaves and resting on this bed, a silk worm’s cocoon and inside the cocoon, a coiled silk ribbon and this is Sleeping Beauty. The viewer has the option of awakening her by pulling on the needle at the end of the ribbon which will unfurl through the top of the cocoon. There is something written on the furled ribbon that will perhaps never be read. Who knows. It would take someone with more than mere curiosity for me to allow them to awaken her by pulling the thread. If you awaken her, this comes with a responsibility just as it does in the story: if you fight to awaken Sleeping Beauty it had better be for true love. Well, anyway, I don’t think she or I need worry about it since I think nothing but true love’s kiss could awaken her.
I have the distinct feeling that even Sleeping Beauty with her lips that “shame the red, red rose” and her golden, falling hair knows all about the things that Aimee Mann sings about. She’s heard “You Do”. She knows “Wise Up” (and she is wise) and she also knows “Comin’ Up Close” and she certainly knows “Voices Carry”. I reckon she’s hip to Dylan. Yes, even Sleeping Beauty, or perhaps most especially Sleeping Beauty for we all know that in fairy tales, just like in real life, you can’t be Good with a capital G and beautiful and expect to move through life with ease. Expect to be the target of animosity simply because you are good, because you are beautiful. You may not see it, you may feel like the most fucked-up girl in the world (in all likelihood you are not, the competition is stiff), you may taking to your bed and weeping until you are almost comatose – a zombie - but make no mistake you’ll have enemies simply because you are a rara avis and defy all social registers.
Same problem with Snow White who was banished to the woods for being too Good, too beautiful, and don’t get me started on Lady Diana whose life really was like something out of Grimm’s Brothers fairy tales with the awful ending, which fairy tales often have. It’s a myth that fairy tales are all sugar and light or that the princesses in them are all sweetness and light. They are not. They are wholly human. I wonder if Lady Diana ever belted out at the top of her lungs “Voices Carry”. I like to think that she did and that she found some relief in doing so. If my husband had a Camilla-figure, I’d move out and be belting out “Voices Carry” and I wouldn’t care what anyone thought. God knows it certainly applied to her situation and she was a contemporary woman. If I had to place bets, I would say she did know the song and that when she moved out of the precious palace and into her own space perhaps she was free to sing as loudly as she wanted and maybe even dance about.
In her most controversial television interview, the one that the royal family didn’t see coming and that was unannounced, Diana said, “Throughout history powerful women have always been a perceived threat.” She continued, “They want to know: Where does she get it; Where is she going with it; How is she going to use it…” Diana was absolutely right. And as a perceived threat, as a woman with any power, you are told, “hush, hush - keep it down now” as Mann’s sometimes-man tells her. You are on your knees scrubbing the palace steps like Snow White because the queen finds your light, your beauty, a threat. Sleeping Beauty, same deal. Lady Diana, same deal. It is your very light that is the direct threat. Heaven forbid you should shine too bright, let alone shine at all.
You can’t be good and expect to move through life easily. Being good makes you more of a target because you are more misunderstood and the more you defy simple classification and definition, the more you will piss some people off. Not everyone, but those who are insecure or who waffle or who don’t have confidence in themselves, those people will gun for you. You confuse, confound, and people don’t like to feel stupid even if they are stupid and believe me, it’s stupid to try to shove people into social registers and definitions. It’s a whole lot braver and smarter to simply be yourself and define yourself.
My friend B. said I have, as she put it, “rescue fantasies”. The notion she seems to think I hold that some towering hero will turn up on my doorstep. This notion stems perhaps from the things that I make like my Sleeping Beauty shadow box. She doesn’t understand that I do not expect anyone to awaken her, that it is art which is what I do, and even if I identify to some extent or even a large extent, I am too strong a personality to simply sit still and expect someone else to pull my needle or whatever and unfurl me.
First, I don’t know that I wish to be unfurled by anyone other than the person I’m in love with, which truly sucks for me since that isn’t going to happen, and further, I am under no illusion that anyone (and I do mean anyone, including my close friends who all seem to have disappeared) is going to show up and, with a quick shoulder-toss of his cape, save the day. No. I am too thoroughly modern and too want this and old-fashioned enough that I know better and know enough to not want that. That it would not be a “good” thing even if it did happen.
The only person who is going to save the day here is me: that much is clear, but what I have to ask myself, what really truly gets me is how it is even possible that anyone who really knows me could believe I have a rescue fantasy that after all I’ve experienced in my life (read: I cannot recall having ever been saved, so to speak) that suddenly now, at this moment, my life will do an about face and some Horatio Alger type is going to turn up on the horizon and save the day – whatever that means. It’s all very Danielle Steele or maybe Ayn Rand at best when I’m more Anne Sexton / Dorothy Parker / Allen Ginsberg. ”America, go fuck yourself with your atom bomb” – Allen Ginsberg.
If I were to pick a Dylan song that applied at the moment or a handful of them, they would not be the romantic ones that I think have truly packed a punch for me for the simple fact that there is no authenticity behind them on this end, the receiving end. Dylan is authentic, the work is real. “Wedding Song” is still “Wedding Song” and carries with it “Isis” and “Never Say Goodbye” and “Nobody ‘Cept You” and “Lay, Lady, Lay” all of the songs of love, of woo, of me and you-know-who, but to hear that now is like walking about in a field of live land mines. I put my iPod on Shuffle and it’s really a pretty dangerous endeavor because you just don’t know where it will land. Let it land on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” or worse, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and it’s hard to see the good part of it’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” which is there and I know it because I’ve written about it.
It’s simply a song about change and so you leave the past behind and shed your old skin and follow to that something that calls for you. The saints may be coming through but look out, brother, look out sister, the sky is about to fold under you, the carpet start moving and shifting – there is no stable ground here and your lover, he has taken all of his things and has just walked out the door. So what do you have? Seasick sailors rowing home and the knowledge that the reindeer armies are going home. I don’t know if either, let alone both, is a good thing. I really do not know. In any event, I wouldn’t pick “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” for my situation which may seem odd given my situation but I don’t think it’s ever “all over”. I’m with C.S. Lewis who said about life, “You play the hand you’re dealt: in the end, I still think the game’s worthwhile.” So when I do love, I love long and hard and fast. But leave me alone and I will retreat back into myself. That’s not indifference exactly, it is reclusiveness and I am reclusive by nature but I write and my writing is broad and wide.
“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” can’t be the song because frankly, if it is, you may as well take whatever option you like and make your “final exit” because there is no real hope. If “something calls for you” is supposed to give me hope it fails radically. Something calling means nothing to me for it all depends on what is what is calling, who is calling, and more, do you wish to reply to the call and should you. These are all questions you have to ask yourself, baby blue, before you go on striking that match to start anew. Mr. Dylan with all due respect, don’t preach from your pulpit just because you think you know where it’s at with me. You know where it’s at and where it’s been at with you and that’s all you can write about. If I over associated with one of your songs and thought it was about me you’d think me mad, and rightly so. All I am saying is that your song here, and the same for “Just Like A Woman” is not about me and you know it. It’s not even about women in general. It’s about one specific person you had in mind, one hurt.
The line “She breaks just like a little girl” I don’t know where to begin. I’ve seen grown men break down and they break down like little boys who seem to me an awful lot like little girls only more violent in their tantrum as a general rule and less willing to listen to reason until you ply them with a new toy or sweets. Girls are more liable to listen to reason: the “if/then” scenario. Give an upset girl a real solution in “if/then” form and if she’s anything like me she’ll be a happy camper because that’s what it takes – to break things down, to try and sort it out, to try and do the math whenever possible, although unfortunately life is not as neat as math, even though we are surrounded by it.
Back to Aimee Mann for a moment (she made me think of math because in the words of Lloyd Cole, “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin…” from the song “Perfect Skin”). Her usual songs though I have to say I cannot listen to right now because apart from some of the Christmas album and “Nobody Does It Better” and a few other songs I find the lyrics get me down too much. It’s the same with Dylan. But her cover of “Nobody Does It Better” gives the original a run for its money, which is a tough thing to do. The only gift you can give in return to Mann is Carly Simon’s original (or you, if you can sing, singing the song back to her) because truly, nobody does it better.
If Aimee Mann and Bob Dylan and Darlene Love, Mariah Carey, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and of course, John and Yoko singing my all time favorite “Happy Christmas: War Is Over” - if all of this helps me pull off Christmas in June in ninety degree weather while I am wearing a gingham sundress and a cowboy hat as protection from the sun and desert boots with my dress because I’m still some sort of Santa Monica cowgirl (I decided this, or rather, discovered this, while I was in Santa Monica where I spent some time just getting things together – thinking and writing and writing and thinking) then I think that’s a good thing. I’m far too old to believe in Santa Claus, but I do believe that Bob Dylan exists (and I believe in Dylan) so when he sings here comes Santa, I believe he’s talking about himself. I just want to know if he’s really going to come, and if whether or not he’ll make the rounds this way in June for my private Christmas.
Santa Monica, California was good for this outlaw. One day my mother reached me by telephone when I was in my friend Joe’s sunny kitchen. She said, “Well now that you’ve been out there and done some thinking you can go home and re-think.” I thought, What???? Why would I make major, massive, as in earth quaking plate-tectonic shifting life decisions only to fly back to another state and reverse all of my thinking and re-think what I’ve spent countless days and nights thinking about and making as sound a decision as possible given the variables that I have.
As I said from the start, if this were a calculus equation I’d have no problem, but it is not. I cannot plug in the variables because there are simply too many that are unaccounted for, to say nothing of the constant variables which I suppose you can count on to be predictably inconsistent and that’s something; it says you cannot lean that way. You learn to lean this way instead. But no, there is no Carrollian Symbolic Logic here.
If you’re looking for logic in my life at the moment I’m afraid the only accounting you will get is my own which is a logical accounting of all of the illogical things that have been happening since Christmas. So maybe this is why I’m still right there, as I well recall it last year, 09-10, decorating the blue spruce to Johnny Cash Live At Folsom Prison and giving each branch a whisper of tinsel, spun fine as any silken web. That is the delicacy of the season. This year (or last year, I suppose) I used only blue lights on the tree. Blue lights and silver tinsel. It was as beautiful as any nest built by the satin bower bird. It certainly could woo were one to approach. I ought have a tree now, really. After all, it goes with the music and I really don’t need presents.
That’s a lie. I’m listening to “Baby Please Come Home” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. I said I was in love. I warned you. No, I’m not mooning, waxing pathetic and poetical. I am not writing poems of yearning and heartache. Hardly. I spend my days writing and making trips to the local Walmart buying things for my new apartment, which is the top floor of a house and so has sloped ceilings because of the roof. I have a mosquito net that I’ve hang over my bed and lots of mirrors (that I’ve collected over the years, all sizes, shapes, periods) lining the floorboard. How they shimmer - all of my bookshelves I’ve put together (and have the blister in the center of my right palm to prove it. It just proves that I have delicate hands – not worker’s hands, but writer’s, editor’s hands. They work hard, but not usually endless hours of manual labor. These hands clean plenty, but putting together bookshelves and lugging heavy boxes is an entirely different matter. Since the blister popped, the wound is a perfect red-raw circle that looks like holy stigmata. As John Lennon said, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy…” Well, the way things are going, I have to say even I wonder…
My work is the work of the mind, and words are the exchange we use. I find all too often that words fail us simply because words that we have agreed upon are ultimately pretty arbitrary. Take time for example. We all agree that sixty minutes (already a manmade construct, to count time, which began with the Egyptians who calculated time by the moon but found they had to make adjustments as the lunar cycle is not exacting enough. We have the Greek calendar, the Roman calendar. All of these were built mostly for agricultural and farming reasons. People needed to know when they could reap, when they could sow.
We agree that sixty minutes is equal to one hour. Now, how I experience that hour and how you experience that hour are going to be totally different depending on our situation. That hour right now could be an eternity or it could flit by breezily, who knows. That’s the thing. So you measure by the dial because you cannot measure by your actual experience. If I were to ask you to describe your experience of an hour, how would that be and would it take an hour to describe the experience of the hour. Emotional yardsticks are what language is all about, and we are uniquely individual.
Don’t get me started on what this means in Dylan’s songs like “Most Of The Time” and “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, “4th Time Around”, or heaven help me, “Born In Time,” because once you try to tackle the whole thorny notion of time any meaningful discussion about how you experience time versus how I experience time are bound to be different. It becomes ad kalendas graecas.
Dylan can talk about time and bend it and stretch it in ways that I’ve never heard any other artist achieve. Part of this is achieved I think by the way he uses his harmonica, which sounds like a train whistle coming down my track and that to me will always signify time for what is distance if not time. In “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, as I’ve said, time is just distance, as he says, “a crooked highway”: tomorrow is a long place, especially when you are yearning, when your heart aches.
It seems to me almost impossible to listen to “Most Of The Time” and really listens to the lyrics and the how the music intertwines in the song, to truly hear it and come away with the impression that this guy is fine. It seems clear from the swampy sound of the sinking bass line, the hesitation before he says the woeful “…most of the time….” And the hesitation that follows is the ellipsis that leaves you hanging, the pause that says it all by saying nothing. It is clear that this “I am fine most of the time” can be retranslated as “I am not fine at all hardly any of the time; most of the time I’m a wreck.” All of the things that he says he does not do and that do not bother him seem to me precisely those things that weigh heavily…most of the time.
To get another sense that this “most of the time” is just a cover for the totally stuck state the narrator is in, no matter that he’s trying to “stay clear focused all around”, listen to Sophie Zelmani’s cover of the song - a slow, smoky, sorrowful, rendition that has you wanting to sit Shiva just to get this sorrow out of your system once and for all. Zelmani hits the right note. Of note and what is also interesting is the alternate take of “Most Of The Time” by Dylan on Tell Tale Signs although, acoustic and rambling, it is lighter and harmonica heavy and rolling but it still has that pause, that ellipsis that let’s you know that this is someone who is still not over it, no matter what he is saying because it is more in what is not said – in the pauses and the spaces inbetween the lyrics. In the Alternate Take on Tell Tale Signs the song sounds wholly different from the album version from Oh Mercy but the phrasing, the long heavy pauses, all lead to the same non-place where he tries to stay clear focused, tries to read the signs.
So Christmas in June, perhaps it’s not so odd after all since maybe it is arbitrary – I had read that the conception was on December 8th. Then someone told me I was wrong, so now I do not know. I do know with absolute certainty that something very important that relates to the Messiah happened on December 8th. Count on it.
According to Wikipedia, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on 8 December, was established as a universal feast in the fifteenth century (1476) by Pope Sixtus IV, although he did not define it as church dogma; that was done by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The conception is celebrated nine months before the nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on the 8th of September. Truthfully, we can’t really know (not only because the Catholic church has edited out whole gospels of the Bible, including the Gospel of Saint Thomas, the important Nag Hammadi scrolls, the early Gnostic texts discovered in Egypt in 1945). I’m a person of great faith but I can’t get with any religion that edits found texts of its own faith because they don’t like what they say or suggest, mostly the controversy stirring around the relationship of Mary of Magdala with Jesus. It seems to most scholars that yes, they were more than just friends. Sort of like me and Ellis, except we’re not high and holy but I can’t help but think of us every time I hear Dylan’s “Romance In Durango”
Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape.
If we can anticipate Christmas in September, why can’t I do the same in June? Truth is, I missed Christmas in too many ways. No, I am no redeemer; if anything, maybe I like the rest of us am in need of some redemption (we all need a little redemption), but I’m with Dylan when he said, “People seldom do what they believe in. They do what they want and then repent.” I actually try hard to do what I believe in so that I do not have to repent. I do this because I think guilt is a useless emotion. More, I try to live my life without regret and so far I have few regrets – mistakes I’ve idiotically fumbled into and should have known better to be sure, but rarely have I done something deliberately, knowingly, that was wrong and then felt the need to repent repent repent. I don’t like being down on my knees groveling for forgiveness, but those times that I did screw it up, you bet, I did repent. I did the Episcopal thing which does not involve mandatory confession but being me (who wanted to be a nun as a child: this or a writer: I am an odd combination of both I feel – a faithful servant to my profession), I went to confession (twice in Paris, because I felt the need to confess to the opaque-hazel eyed priest at Saint Sulpice). But no. As a general rule, I do what I believe in and what I believe in I will stand by any day because I believe that what I believe in is right and good. You can cap the R and the G on both of those.
I’m also of the belief that our biggest sins are those things that we leave undone, far more than what we do, it is what we do not do. It’s the blanks that should concern us. Those awful blanks. This years (or last year, ’09) was a wretched non-Christmas. The heart of Christmas was found on that December 8th when I went with E. to see The Messiah at Saint Thomas’s on Fifth and 53rd and that night I fumbled with my dress getting ready, putting my hair in a bun, readying to leave. I honestly couldn’t tell you how what happened next happened. A hesitation waltz, he would say. We were there in our best bests, then suddenly making love to the sound of Dylan’s “Wigwam” which was playing (he recalls this, I recall only the feeling). Never overuse the word “ineffable”. You, like me, will need it for moments like that moment. I never thought that it could be, and I had just had surgery, so it was painful. I thought of St. Teresa of Avila and her vision, how she described it:
“I saw an angel close by me, on my left side in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful - his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Cherubim…I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it.”
Don’t go thinking sado-masochism. I don’t enjoy pain. Far from it. It was just the timing; I had surgery a couple of weeks prior. But I would not change a thing of what happened, for it is the closest I have ever come to the numinous that night of December 8th, the night we saw The Messiah, the night we walked by Rockefeller Center and looked up at ridiculously tall buildings and saw Charles Atlas who his great grandfather had cast and we wondered about the symbols cast into his ringed weight. What do they mean, we wondered. I still don’t know. If anyone else knows, let me know. Christmas was that night. The lights at Rockefeller Plaza. The music of the all mens’ and boys’ choir of St. Thomas and the absolutely outstanding Messiah.
Wish me a merry little Christmas now for it was all too fleeting; a Happy Hannukah just before this, because I am sure it came and that I was somnolent like a bear in a cave who sought refuge from the world and was hibernating, a deep season-cycle sleep. But I am here now, and it is June and I am awake, listening to Aimee Mann tell me that Santa is on his sleigh. Dylan reassures me too.
For some reason, I believe them both when I believe no-one else these days.
Thanks for listening,
June, 10, 2010