What a pondickerment! Our blogging pal Paula (I Remember…one of the best blogs on the net if you enjoy well-written insight into the misery of being young) wants to borrow some Willa Cather books so she can find out what I’m obsessing about.
Sad to say, what’s left of my books are in a storage shed twenty miles away (closer than they have been in a couple years). I do have a couple of Cather’s books with me, but it’s because I bought them at the Willa Cather Bookstore in Red Cloud, in June and I’m still reading them. So I guess it’s the library for you, my girl.
Let’s see. Perhaps it’s best to start with My Antonia. It’s one of those books that the school systems of America have taken over and intend to squeeze all joy from as soon as possible, so read it soon. In spite of the school system, it remains the best novel ever written about being young in the raw country (Well, Huck Finn is up there too. Can I have two best novels about being young in the raw country ever written?).
In my day they did the same thing to Ivanhoe and Ethan Frome. Ripped them to shreds so bored teenagers (who wanted to watch Gunsmoke, chew bubblegum, listen to Gene Vincent sing Be Bob A Lula She’s My Baby, and go on a chickie run off the cliff in a stolen car like James Dean) could be transformed into sensitive, caring adults who discussed imagery, symbolism and character motivation over gin and tonic at the neighbor’s patio party. Can you believe that in the 1950s those two obscurities (Ivanhoe and Ethan Frome – look ‘em up) were still considered “impotent works of literature”?
As some of you may suspect, I was an English major – not that I wanted to teach or anything. I just liked learning about the way people thought at different times of history. Wordsworth and Coleridge were cool poets. Reading them seemed no stranger to me than reading Alan Ginsberg or Gregory Corso or Richard Brautigan. (look them up too) The new guys were just a little easier to understand. I even liked Percy Shelley, although I couldn’t make head nor tails of his poems.
As I walked around the Haight-Ashbury in 1966, romantic rebellion made perfect sense. We were doing the same thing, just less talented at it. We could drink the laudanum all right, but I couldn’t find anyone writing the equivalent of “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a mighty pleasure dome decree…”
Someday I’m going to drag out my journals from the period (also in storage twenty miles away) and subject you to some genuine San Francisco Haight-Ashbury poems, written by a certified long-haired freako. Just ask Lamie de Kink, who drops by here from time to time when she’s not running her beatnik clothing shop on Ebay.
Here’s one from memory, actually the lyrics to a song called The Song of the Murderer:
Well, let me tell you the truth
just like I heard it from Ruth
she said she’s going to stop the clock
she tried — she couldn’t stop it.
She’s going to try it again
I wish I knew when
because if it is true
than you and I
had better be friends.
The chance won’t come again, friend
it won’t come again, friend
Then there’a musical part that goes dump-da-dump-da-dum. That’s the first two verses. Note the hippie obsession with peace and love and ominous concern about the future to come.
Yow. There’s more too…Here’s the bridge…
Could she beguile it by running?
and should we believe what she said?
what if she dropped it?
maybe she stopped it?
what if she lied about it?
what if it’s just playing dead?
Let’s see. Dead. Fred. Bed. Tread. Hmmmm…
Or perhaps you’d like Ode To Summer better. It was in waltz time.
“As I sit in town watching the riots beginning
I dream of the meadow we used to climb up to in Spain.
There’s no meadow here today.”
Or maybe even Ain’t No More Bodhisattvas. Here’s a snatch from it, all I can remember this foggy morning on the Central California coast…
“And now we are two hundred million people climbing walls
cramming down our garbage cans with broken Barbie dolls
gleaming with a multicolored evanescent sheen
and every single one of us wants to be a human being.”
That’s how we hippies talked, you know. Ask Foghorn Leghorn. He was there too. Probably trying to score some more Owsley acid in some dive on Page Street. (actually, I know nothing of Mr. Leghorn’s past. He is a man of mythic mystery, my favorite kind. He may have been a saintly wandering truth seeker who touched nothing stronger than green tea)
Well, Paula, that’s about it for today. I hope this was of some help in your literary quest. I’ve always enjoyed explaining literature to earnest young students. If anyone would like another lesson in literary criticism, please apply at the Pigsty. We are open late.