Sophomore Thoughts

Four thirty. I’m having fun with my laptop now; no painful memories. The wildfires have been such a shock, and now my mind is settling down a bit. Times don’t seem so apocalyptic as on Monday. We’re planning on having the food pantry Saturday, so, conditions allowing, I’ll go help. Seeing Sue and Nancy should be fun. I played my white Precision for what must’ve been 90 minutes. The classic tone inspired me to pick out some Queen songs from the mid- to late-70s. I guess The Game was released in 1980. I haven’t listened to those albums in years. I’d like to hear News of the World and Jazz in their entirety again. John Deacon was a wonderful bass player… Wow, the smoke is still quite dense outside. Aesop is handling the situation okay… I remember, in the band Blueface, how I wanted to cover “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” But with our inept guitars, it wasn’t realistic. You can’t cop a Queen song with just a rhythm section and a lead vocal. I’ve wondered before why I chose bass over guitar; is it just because it’s an easier instrument? But no, I genuinely love the tone of electric bass. It sounds great to me. There’s nothing better than the sound of Chris Squire’s powerful bass on “The Gates of Delirium.” Suddenly, I feel like I did as a sophomore in high school. I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on. I also started listening to Led Zeppelin…

My taste in reading material changed from ERB to stuff with more magic in it: Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber, especially. Their writing just seemed more mature somehow. It dealt with essential problems of life, such as death, in a more realistic way. Perhaps it came across sadder and wiser than the adventurousness of ERB. The latter was like reading westerns, with clear-cut heroes and villains, and it was gratifying to see evil punished. But in the other two writers, victories often were pyrrhic. Emotions were more complex and confused, and the truth was ambiguous. It seemed that more serious thought went into their content, and feelings ran deeper. Sure, it was only sword-and-sorcery fiction, but it was comparatively well-done. I also enjoyed Roger Zelazny and Karl Edward Wagner. The second raised questions of the rectitude of selfishness. The antihero, Kane, was brutal and ruthlessly selfish, and even megalomaniacal in the scope of his projects. Basically, he wanted to rule the world himself. He was all about gratification. Where Conan had been power hungry, it was presented in a way that made you cheer for him. He was plainly the good guy fighting the bad guys. But Kane’s designs were not so clearly for the general good. And in the whole array of writers from ERB to Wagner, you witness a loss of innocence over time. The naïve romance of ERB beginning in 1912 gradually collapsed to the cynicism of the 1970s. Just as the wars grew more complicated in real life, so did the fiction that was written. Thus, you have the reluctance and remorse of Moorcock’s heroes, the slowness to answer the call to adventure. The adventures were no longer fun and exciting. Heroism was not so heroic anymore…

If Emerson Wrote Music

Four ten. Bass practice went about the same as yesterday: mostly uninspired and aimless because the social aspects are so iffy. Nobody wants to play. So I did that, and then the mail carrier brought my Burt Bacharach disc. Aesop went nuts while I walked out to get it. Finally I opened the Coke and drank half of it. Of course it tastes good, but we’ll see how I respond to the caffeine. Suddenly I can hear an old recording I made when I was only twenty years old. It occurs to me what an impact the words of other people have on me, and always did. Especially the critical remarks. Also I perceive that I’m past my prime musically. I don’t see the point in making compositions anymore, because songs need an audience. Getting people’s attention is so hard to do.

It’s enough for me to play my bass with someone, and even this plan hasn’t worked out. Thus it’s just a matter of acceptance and going with the flow. If music ignores me, then find something else to do.

The circumstances of life have a melodic motion to them, like music without sound. Life has modulations, variations on themes, often transitioning to new songs— with no coda. Phrases may not repeat, but wander off in a different key and different meter. Who writes the score, or is it totally improvised by the performers? Like a musical version of Pirandello, say Six Characters in Search of an Author… I’d thought I was a control freak, but it turns out that the chorus is controlling me. We don’t know who arranges the sheet music. We just sing, play, and dance when our part comes.

Holy Ghost

Quarter of nine. I lay down in bed with Aesop for a few hours and fell unconscious, hearing a church hymn in my head. I wonder how the food pantry went this morning? I missed seeing Sue and Catherine. But I think doing the worship was more important this time. It’s interesting how participating in church is more or less symbolic of participating in society, in the world here and now. So maybe the spirit of God really is the world Holy Ghost or whatever name you want to give it. As long as it is in the present, and observed together, the name doesn’t matter much. People feel it and express it and call it God, and for convenience that makes sense. What do I know? I’m just another meat puppet, an incarnate soul on a journey with everyone else. Emerson refers to a Power in one of his poems, a universal spirit, which is the same thing as the God that people worship today. Even when unfelt, God is not unseen by his effects. The spirit comes out particularly in the songs we sing, but also in everything that has movement and life. God is observable in human togetherness…

Tricentennial

Quarter of nine.

Rain today, but it’s light, not torrential. Already been to the market and bought canned food for Aesop. I took my black umbrella and my American flag shopping bag. I strode off to the beat of Thomas Dolby’s “Hot Sauce” in my brain. Nobody else was around on my way there. I observed nothing unusual. Just a typical morning in the “new normal.” Insipid and blah, but it’s better than eventful in a bad way. As I was opening my umbrella, I thought of how inanimate matter is our friend, the way it conforms to immutable laws. When you put something down, it will stay where you left it. Now I conceive of how Oppenheimer interfered with nature, releasing all this radioactive energy. Where did that place human beings in the food chain? Was it a heroic discovery, like Franklin flying a kite in an electrical storm? It was much graver since it was used as a weapon. I like to believe that America is the brainchild of the Enlightenment, exactly like Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity or Jefferson writing the Constitution. In this spirit, the nearly deaf Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. The Tricentennial 2076 is still a long way off, but it’s not too soon to speculate on what a 300 year old America wants to be. How far away have we wandered from our original ideals and intentions? How far are we from realizing our goals? How long until “all the colors bleed into one,” as in the old U2 song?

Utility Is Simple

You have to face down your worst fears if you’re going to quit drinking. One of mine was that I might turn out to be some sociopath. The way my family reacted to me, I never knew. My grandmother and my sister had such extreme views on “selfishness”— really very irrational and unrealistic. My sister’s speeches always harp on this same string. It is the only moral philosophy she knows. But not even the Bible condemns egoism, or makes a huge issue of it. Anyhow, I had to reject the family doctrine that “selfishness is wrong.” If I hadn’t, then I would still worry about being a psychopath.

Nine ten. Now I don’t know: was my education from the University of Oregon an evil thing? It was secular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean wicked. Then there’s my sister’s religion with its built in racism. People have various attitudes toward sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet everyone believes that they are right. I guess a moderate position is the one to take when I consider all the extremes, the polarities that divide people. And breezing through everything are the winds of change. Historians say that history is cyclical and tends to repeat itself. Philosophers say that history is a rational process, working toward ever greater freedom. Ultimately, humanity is free and responsible to choose whichever way it goes. We can go in a better direction, or we can steer ourselves further into the darkness. Meanwhile, I go about my daily peripatetic routine, taking in the sights and sounds, trying to be a good utilitarian, keeping people happy. Happiness is a simple concept, nor is it difficult to practice.

Amateur Sociology

Eleven forty. When the mood strikes, I will gaze through my sociology book out of curiosity. I wonder what prompted me to look into this science? There must be a personal reason. People talk about culture and society often, but they aren’t scientific in doing this. It interests me to think how pressures around me influenced the person I became. It is like a Pink Floyd song, but the band complained about society rather than taking a more objective view of it. To me, it’s intriguing to ask how culture and society function. And maybe it’s a matter of individuals actively constructing the world we live in. Constructivism makes more sense than the idea of society existing as a separate monster, imo. “But its protectors and friends have been sleeping / Now it’s a monster and will not obey.” So much of rock music is sociological, though maybe not in a methodical way… What happens when a playwright like Arthur Miller writes The Crucible or Death of a Salesman? Is he a symptom of his society, or rather does he shape and change society by the power of his language? Consider A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Same situation. The first performance of the play caused the audience to riot. Nora Helmer wasn’t supposed to leave her husband at the end, but she did it anyway, to the outrage of those watching the drama. Percy Shelley stated that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. And yet poets are just individuals. Which is the shaper of which? Does it make sense to conceive of society as a whole unit, or as JS Mill said, is it only the sum of the individuals that compose it?

Ecclesiastes

Ten ten. I lay in bed in a half conscious stupor, thinking about the year 1980, the music and the books I was familiar with then, though I don’t know why. Everything I was then was what 1980 had to sell me. The year 1980 was less a time than a merchant and a teacher, an industry captain, a god and government, society, the people en masse, a spirit of the age. There’s something about the number 40 that rings of perfection and magic. We were at the coast when I bought Tarzan and the Golden Lion from a grocery store. It was probably Waldport. I obtained At the Earth’s Core from the same supermarket. Mom remarked on the boobies on the woman in the cover painting. I thought she was being vulgar. We stayed at the Wayside Lodge, between Yachats and Waldport on the Oregon Coast… Probably tomorrow I will hike over to Bi Mart for my prescription. My heart is full of melancholy tonight as “Achilles’ Last Stand” soars through my head. I’m an old school dinosaur in search of a place to belong in a new century that hasn’t figured itself out yet. What great discoveries lie in wait for the 21st Century? What new things under the sun— or is it all just reinventing the wheel, and vanity of vanities, all is vanity?

“Commerce between Us”

It must be time for me to read a book again, since I am devoid of ideas today. Victor Hugo always gives me food for thought, although the thoughts tend to clutter up my own attitudes. Probably Virginia Woolf was more to my taste. How can you go wrong with classical beauty? It was interesting how she meditated on the durability and perishability of beauty, and was unable to decide which was true. Is beauty immortal or not? Jacob’s Room is a very fine short novel, exemplary of some of the concerns of Modernism. For fun I might take Hilda Doolittle off the shelf and sample a few poems. She was the childhood sweetheart of Ezra Pound. Funny how the one who paved the way for Modernism was Henry James. He did this by opening communication with the old country across the Atlantic. The stuffy isolationism of the nineteenth century caused American art to stagnate. There was a sore need to reunite with our roots, or so James and many other creative people felt. It was sort of like the British Invasion in popular music. What would American music be like if The Beatles had never happened on the scene? We’d still be stuck with Elvis Presley. So, the same with Modern American literature. And Henry James made it all possible, blazing the trail for Pound, Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and other American writers to cross the ocean and soak up the culture. Finally there was commerce between the Old World and the New, resulting in very fruitful times for the art of the Western world… Another such reopening is necessary for America and Europe. It might take place depending on how the election goes this fall. The MAGA policy is going nowhere. When the pandemic dust settles, it will be interesting to see what happens all the way around.

History Lesson

I found my copy of The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins, a cheesy old bestseller that both of my parents read when I was a toddler. Maybe I wasn’t born yet. It is quite decadent, dealing with money and sex mostly. I wonder why my parents fed their minds on such immoral stuff. Were the sixties and seventies so very different from the present? This book could be said to be the bible of my parents’ marriage. A constitution of sorts. A handbook, an owner’s manual of conjugal ties…

I suppose The Carpetbaggers expresses a moral creed in a way: aestheticism, or maybe Epicureanism. Indulgence in pleasant sensations is the highest good. Living with my mother after Dad passed away was odd. I spent that time trying to pigeonhole her belief system, which was fairly easy. I purchased my own copies of Harold Robbins and the verse of Kipling. Did some thinking about Poe. Then I reread Lord of the Flies and part of Thomas Hobbes. I finally joined a butt rock band— and Mom had a heart attack and died. The combination of smoking and drinking caused her demise. I was left behind still trying to solve the mystery of her life. I knew what she believed, but I didn’t understand the why of it. “I am lost now in this half world / It hardly seems to matter now.”

My sister perceived Mom’s life as something naughty and taboo, as well as prideful. I beg to come to her defense. Mom might have been misdirected when she lived in Glendale California and brushed with movie actors at her high school. She graduated at age 17, which would have been 1945, the year the war ended. She never gave me a good timeline of her life as a teenager, but she described a little what high school was like during WW2. Instead of an honor roll posted on the wall, there was a roster of senior boys killed in action. Mom had a classmate who was a Hollywood actress, and who asked Mom to do her homework for her. I think my mother was immersed in a culture quite alien to what Polly and Jeff grew up with in Oregon. My parents both were raised on the movies, on Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne. Dad wanted to be a war hero and enlisted as soon as he could. He was discharged from the Navy because he caught rheumatic fever, while in France his twin brother was killed in action in the Army.

Times were a lot different for my parents, and the silver screen gave not only escape but also a representation of their lives. It would be difficult to judge my parents and the dreams they were raised on. To judge them is to judge a whole generation.