A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Mercy Street, by Peter Gabriel

I started this as a typical me run-on post on Kactus's Superbabymama, in response to this video of "Tajabone" from the movie Todo Sobre Mi Madre. Then I realized this is all about me, and it belongs here.

Kactus got me to think about songs that have jumped out and taken me by the throat. I don't know how to link to a video, or even the music, but I bet you probably know this one, Kactus:
"Mercy Street"
I only guess that because you like Laurie Anderson, whom the articles say he hung around with in this period, late '80s.

See, I don't know anything much about the politics of which artists are cool and which aren't among whom either. That was pretty much Natasha's department. I think she had all the back story of anyone, actor, songwriter, movie folk, ready to pop out and she kept it all straight.

All I know is this. A fellow Dabney House resident, a guy I looked up to, was playing this one day. Actually I didn't know where it was coming from, I just followed the sound like a fish on a line, and listened to it. I got the words pretty well in my memory but I wasn't sure--I don't know whether Gabriel just sung it so clearly I heard them all or whether the lyrics were written on the album--probably the latter.

Apparently I "know" as much as anyone about what the song "means."

Well, I just read Anne Sexton's poem "45 Mercy Street" for the first time ever just now.

I don't think it would be fair for me to say anything much about what the poem means, even just to me, just this second.

But here's what I found in the song:

Though I could figure out that Sexton was a suicidal poet readily enough at the time, and it has a plaintive, minor undertone, for me this song was like clean water, clear light, liberation. I hear all the darkness, all the despair (well, I get that it's there anyway) but actually what the song did for me was crystallize the positive vision of "materialism" in the Marxist sense.


"looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made
are the dreams all made real

all of the buildings, all of those
were once just a dream
in somebody's head..."

That got me. I know I'm supposed to hear it all post-modernist, that the "dreams" of these other people are some kind of narrative trip that composes our world, this world that leaves us empty, despairing, miserable. But the first thing I felt was that it affirmed the worth of dreaming, of building, of striving. You can make your dreams solid and real. "Words support like bone." Because, I felt, words can be true words, honest words. Promises can be kept.

Anne doesn't find her worthwhile life in this world. Her life, her soul, is broken. The poem is about her fruitless search for 45 Mercy Street, the home she remembers, the place where she was loved and had meaning, and she doesn't find it. The last verses imply she "fails." She dies. The boat with her father is Charon's ferry to the underworld.

And yet--I felt that, I got that. But more important to me was the vision that whether we find it or not, the solid dreams are still there somehow. If we fail to get them, to build them and nurture them, in this life of ours, still truth and meaning go on somewhere out there. Maybe there is redemption and hope for us too. At any rate there is beauty, even if we have to rip our hearts out to see it.
It meant a lot to me.

Maybe I should revisit this.

Actually maybe I should blog it instead of clutter up Kactus's comments.
OK here goes. Select! Cut! Paste! Voila le blog-poste!


Blogger kactus said...

I know Mercy Street very well--in fact was just listening to it the other day. I have a weakness for men's voices and harmony and minor keys and this song has it all. I especially like the part toward the end where he sings the phrase "kissing Mary's lips" which if you remember one of my emails will resonate particularly well for me.

Anne Sexton is one of those problematic women writers. Her personal life was a mess and she, from all accounts, could be a horribly abusive person. Her anger and her depression made her next to impossible to live with. Toward that end, my favorite Sexton poem is "Her Kind"
I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.

You can read the whole thing here (and listen to her read it, if you're able to hear it)

I've really got to look for YouTube vids that are captioned, or else provide the words myself. Music is too important. Problem is that a lot of the music I listen to is in languages I don't understand, so the captions don't do a lot of good.

9/23/2006 6:56 PM  
Blogger Mark H. Foxwell said...

I actually enjoy reading captions in foreign languages; it is easier for me to figure out what people are saying in any language by reading than listening.

Usually. I've found that Chaucer and other Middle English writers come through much more clearly if I read them aloud. Though I like to do the reading, then I have both text and sound--Natasha used to hate the fake Scottish type accent I'd adopt, on the theory that Scottish (Lowland Scottish anyway) is an archaic form of English. I have no clue what the people who write Gaelic and other Celtic languages are up to, only that apparently there is practically no correspondence I can fathom between the letters written and the sounds we are supposed to "hear" reading them.

I love it when I can see languages I know smatterings of written as they are spoken, because it gives me a better sense how the spelling is supposed to match the sound (usually much more consistently than in English) and I pick up grammar and vocabulary, pretty much the way I did with English.

Anyway there is no burden on you to find captioning; often it doesn't exist.

9/24/2006 12:33 AM  
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10/18/2006 4:55 PM  

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