Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Time Is the Final Currency"

 Noel Paul Stookey once said of his hen-house turned home in Blue Hill, Maine, that sitting on his stairs at 7 in the morning, watching the sun come up over the Atlantic, that he was blessed, having moved away from New York City and all the hustle and bustle.  People thought he was crazy. "There are two ways to miss things," he said, "One is if it goes by too fast, and the other is if we go by too fast.  I've always complained about the bicycles speeding by me as I walk, or the motorcycles, that they zoom down the paths so fast that they miss the beauty that's all around them.  Sometimes it's better to watch the trees grow, and look up into the sky and watch the planes circle and descend toward the airport many miles away.  That time slows down in the rural areas, it's such a wonderful experience.  It's no wonder that people leave the urban areas and go out to the boondocks where they will be away from all the noise and commotion.  I know I would.

There's nothing better in this world than being at my grandparent's lake house in Sulphur, Oklahoma, late at night , looking out the window over the Lake of the Arbuckles, and watching the moon rise, listening to the crickets, sitting in a recliner and letting the world go it's own way.  In quiet reflection I have those memories now.  I don't know if I had them back then.  If I had more money than sense, I'd buy that lake house back. I wrote a blog about it here.

Or perhaps, since I'm in Georgia, I'd go with a house here.  There's a house in Washington County, just across the line from Deepstep, GA, that is a wonderful house out in the woods.  The only people that go by it are hunters during deer season.  Beautiful dark wooden floors and furniture. I found it on Google Earth, and have a mark on it, just in case...  I doubt I'll ever have the money to get a  house like that, but even something similar would be nice.  Something Thoreauish.

I know it's a little early to think about this for me, but it's come up because of my mother's recent heart surgery, and her having to face her own mortality. But she's talked about how she wants to live out the rest of the years of her life. And it got me thinking about the same thing.  Truly, I'm only 36, and I have half of my life left to live, and who knows how the country will go during those years, or the economy, but I do know that I'll make it somehow.  And I also know that, when the time comes for me to grow old, I want to do it away from the city sprawl.  I want to watch the rings form within the trees, year by year.

It's amazing what things will get you thinking about your own mortality.  I guess it's something that's been going through my mind lately.  My mom said that while she knows that God and Heaven await her after she dies, that until then, survival and living are pretty important.  There's a natural fear of death, I think we all have that, but I think the more fearful part is losing control of the life you have left.  I've seen it, through my grandmothers, how dementia and finances and diseases can slip reality away, where dreams become more real than reality, and there are times I wouldn't mind that, but life is so amazing, so beautiful, I don't think I would want to spend the last part of my life stuck in some room in a nursing home, propped up in a wheelchair in some hallway.  I've seen too many old men like this at the rehab place my mom was in, and also at the nursing home my grandmother was in temporarily.  Don't keep an eye on me, dear nurses, take me outside and let God keep an eye on me. He's done that well so far.  Let me see the cardinals flit from tree to tree, and the summer wind ease up gently against my face, and then on to places unknown.  It's better this way.

I also say all this because I've heard some great music lately, a pattern in the writings of some great rock songwriters, as they look at their own lives and see death a'coming.  The advantage that they have is that they can express their feelings (much like I do here in a blog) through the art media that they are known for.  And while they create their works, much like the artwork on the blog above, they release it for us to hear and see and say, "yeah, I get you." Thankfully, with the Internet being what it is, I can put together those works here on the blog.

Bob Dylan took a weekend and wrote all of the songs in Time out of Mind, a masterpiece of blues and introspection that I absolutely love.  I think he, like the other's I'll show below, got to the point where they calmly look at their old age and see death coming, but not quite here yet.  It's off in the future a little ways, but close enough to pay attention to.  The track I love , well, I like all of them, but the one that fits this blog is "It's Not Dark Yet."


His tour mate for the past few years, Paul Simon did a track on You're the One that sounded like it would be his last album (he's done 1.5 since (the one he did with Brian Eno was not worth the .5), and it deals with the end.  The image where he can "release [his] fists at last" is so powerful.  Such a haunting song.  And all of these are.  Nostalgic, Raw, leaving the singer exposed without many instrumental backups to keep the voice hidden.


Finally, check out David Crosby's new studio album, Croz as a wonderful mixture of introspective songs and lamentations about the way the world is (although not so much that the ideology sticks out like a sore thumb) The first track has a minor key meandering sound, while talking about the city, and it reminded me of the other songs that deal with age and mortality.  His other one that fits this is "Time is the Final Currency" from the album CPR he did with his biological son, but it's harder to find on Youtube.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Making Music Under the Cypress Trees

Soon you will see a picture of the Encyclopedia next to the images of the BetaMax machine and the 1681 demise of the Dodo Bird.  We have several sets that people have donated to the Friends of the Library group here in Conyers, and we can't even give them away.  The reason, much like the decline of books, CDs, and Playboy magazine readers (yeah, for the sports, we know), is due to the Internet.  Wikipedia killed the Encyclopedia, and while teachers will probably never allow a Wiki reference in their research papers, it's essential to the education of kids nowadays (young whippersnappers). They can find any information they want on any subject, and it will probably be fairly accurate (and therein lies the rub).

I say this because I was remembering a painting from my college days, one that Dr. Viau and Dr. Pepetone had used in their Gothic Imagination class, and, as the years extend the tunnel further and further back, I couldn't remember the name or the artist.  So, off to the Internet I go.  It was a painting of someone rowing toward a large batch of cypress trees. So, on Google, I put "Rowing Art Cypress" and instantly, the picture of Arnold Böcklin's Isle of the Dead pops up, along with the link to the painting's article on Wikipedia.  I instantly found out what I needed to know, and learned something (again) in the process.  

Böcklin was a Swiss painter in the 19th century (1800's for those of you figuring in your head), and his style reminds me quite a bit of Caspar David Friedrich's paintings.  This, of course, comes as no surprise to me since I love Friedrich's works, and therefore this one was bound to stick in my head. Like Friedrich, Böcklin used symbolism heavily in his works, although his were more mythological in nature (while CDF used Christian imagery).  The painting mentioned above has a rower taking someone to this island filled with cypress trees, a symbol long associated with death.  The rower himself goes back to Charon, the one who would row Greeks to the hereafter, and the person standing in white, calmly looking toward the trees and the island, would be the person we would identify with. Notice how, like the Traveller, the individual stands facing away, confident that he or she will not fall while the rower rows. He (I'm a guy, it's a "he") looks toward death in a calm manner, just as the traveller does, looking out over the cliffs.   

Böcklin had a very intimate relationship with Death, as he lost 8 of his 14 children in infancy. I found it not surprising that The Isle of the Dead was painted late in his life, while perhaps he was facing his own mortality.  How do artists contemplate Death?  With the paintbrushes that have expressed their lives, of course.  And paintbrushes are metaphoric here, as the same thing applies to artists of all media.  Take a listen to Mahler's Ninth Symphony (his last) and watch the paintbrushes find dark, lonely tones, as an example.  

What interested me, as I listened to my mp3 player in the car, were the aging rockers of the 1960's, and how they are dealing with their own mortality. I've noticed on several albums by different singers tracks that deal with their own deaths, the silencing of that music.  They are haunting works, beautiful, leaving the singer exposed and vulnerable.  I really want to get to that blog, but this one had to come first.  So make sure you click on the links above and go learn some things.  We have Wikipedia here for a reason, to make up for all the education we've forgotten or never received in today's schools.  It's the one thing I refuse to do, to look back with regret, because going forward, there's so many things I can do, so much to learn and experience.  Like the traveller, it's best never to see yourself looking backwards in regret, but forward in anticipation.   

Monday, February 10, 2014

The #YOLO Society

I wonder if those younger than me are truly able to think inside themselves any more.  Well, that's not exactly true, I know they do, at least, I hope so. I've talked about this before, the idea that how we communicate effects how we think.  The increasing trend is to speak in fewer and fewer words, and in more images.  Again, this is a trend that started well before World War I with the invention of the camera and then the television, and I think this is all a planned reduction of thought by writing words.  I've felt it, too, even writing these blogs.  I could have gone on and on about the game Papo Y Yo for the Playstation, but after seeing the Youtube videos made about the game, I simply added these to the blog and called it a day.  The increase in emotionally driven images and shorter text-thoughts centers around today's youth.  There's no need for a detailed account of an adventurous day when taking a few camera shots on Instagram will take care of the ideas that words would communicate just as well.  Instead of describing the feeling of bunjee jumping off a tower, just take a picture of yourself prior to, type #YOLO, and that satisfies the people on the receiving end of that thought.  Those four letters describes a complex life philosophy, one that flies in the face of religion, certainly of safety and of self-control.  It promotes commercial activities that would not be done otherwise.  A 3000 calorie burger? #YOLO. Buying a jet ski?  #YOLO. Experimenting with street drugs? #YOLO.  You get my drift.  The value of life is lessened as the experience of living increases. This wouldn't be possible prior to the Internet because there would be no way of communicating such a lifestyle using as few characters as possible.

So everything is communicated in short, sometimes unintelligible letters and images that are supposed to trigger emotional, not rational, responses.  So if an emotion or a thought is unable to be communicated by contemporary social means, is the thought able to be contrived and cogitated upon? If a tree falls in the forest....  One could argue that this is a deliberate planned move toward the simplification of thought towards, well, #YOLO. What a government could do with a society of young citizens who find that instant gratification is the most important objective in life.  There would be no need to work hard and achieve a long term goal when instant happiness is the apex of existence. It's not a far leap to understand that a large strong central government that controls lives through giving people what they want, but not too much, and making them dependent upon those in control, would have the biggest advantage from a #YOLO society.   But since my main objective is not to talk about such things, I will leave the point there.

Similarly, how does a #YOLO society deal with religion, with the existence of God?  If a world lives only for short term gratification, does eternal life mean anything to them? And this doesn't mean that these people would necessarily be bad people.  The desire to do good things for other people is just as strong a motivating factor as self-gratification.  They both end with the same positive brain-chemicals being raised and the same wonderful feelings swirling around in the brain and heart.  It might even be conceivable that the idea of God providing our every need, of forgiving our every sin, would appeal to a YOLO (the # sign is getting annoying) generation, but only if the message of Christ was given in methods that mirror how they communicate. Namely, emotional triggers caused by music, images, and few words.  It's obvious that contemporary Christian music has far fewer layers than the hymns of old.  Take Gloria Gaither's "I Then Shall Live" and compare it to any of the Christian Pop Chart toppers currently.  The depth of meaning in the words is vastly different.  They are communicating some of the same things, but to different audiences.  The latter needs rhythm, repetition, almost a hypnotic beat that drives the point home, while Gaither's hymns gear more toward a slower, more reasoning style, filled with symbolism, classic Christian motifs (the lighthouse, the fountain, etc...) which don't resonate with today's youth.  And while you communicate the message to different people using different methods, the classic methods of text, of symbolism through words, mean more to me than emotional hooks and memes.

Actually, this isn't where I wanted to go with this idea at all, but it'll do for a start.  I've found it interesting of late, talking with my mom post-Aortic Aneurysm operation, about the idea that she was within minutes of dying.  How do you face death and how does that change you?  My dad had several heart attacks and open heart surgeries, and those surgeries changed his personality.  My mom has a theory that facing death in that manner, whether it be because of the heart surgery or not, does change the way you react to other people.  Take Dan Reeves, former coach of the Atlanta Falcons.  After his heart surgery, he was much more conservative in his play calling, and his win-loss record went down.  I would even go as far as say that John Fox probably had the same problem, and would have affected the Denver Broncos much more had Peyton Manning not been the Quarterback and running things.  I want to look at these subjects, as well as the works of artists when they face their own mortality, specifically, the rock 'n roll musicians that I listen to.