Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Through the Fire: A Eulogy

My mom and I have discussed, for the past little bit, that the word that we should hold tightly to is the word "Through."  It's come up a lot lately in our conversations, and so on those long hours when I was waiting at Emory Hospital, I've been thinking that my mother's whole life has been the application of the word "Through," but I could never quite see it clearly enough until now.  

Through has three meanings.  First... through... over with.  No more pain.  And that's certainly true with my mom.  She's not hurting anymore.  The endless bouts with headaches, backaches that lasted for days.  And I know about those backaches, as I have become an expert back rubber, and sometimes it was like trying to massage a brick wall, that's how tied up her back was.  All the stress, the constant balancing of checkbooks ( which she could somehow do in her head for months at a time), the regret of mistakes past.  All that is through.  

Secondly, through.  Jason Crabb sings this song, "Through the Fire Again," in which he says: 

Just remember when you're standing in the valley of decision
and the adversary says give in, 
Just hold on.  
Our Lord will show up 
and He will take you through the fire again.

And it's so true.  It's not going to be easy.  I've told a lot of people I could write an entire book about my life, every word of it true, and no one would believe me.  But every time I've looked back at the hard times that my family has had, even to this very day, I can see God taking us through the hard times, placing good people along the way, doctors, nurses, people with wisdom and compassion, even a few angels.  My mom ran out of gas on I-20 in the middle of Atlanta one time, and walking down to a gas station would not have been advisable.  But just then someone who looked like he was out of a biker gang pulled up behind her, offered to get her gas, and put it in the car.  It's those times that you can see God taking you through the hard times.

And last, and this is what came up on the night we got my mom back into the hospital. She decided, to help her headaches, to watch the Gaither Video: Together, with the GVB and Ernie Haase.  The last song is set to the tune "Finlandia," and is amazing.  I noticed that the word "Through" comes up three times in the song.  I got to thinking, that this Through is just what my mom has lived all her life.  The Word of God lived 'through' you.  She stayed up many nights in a row tracking Oklahoma tornadoes because she knew her husband, kids, and the neighbors next door wouldn't wake up unless she woke them up. She always experienced the "Joy in her Christianity," and could not stand to hear some preacher yelling at her with fire and brimstone.  Let people see Jesus through her own living.  She rarely went to church in the last few years, and didn't tithe, and yet she gave of her own self in many ways.  

My mom said that if she could just get people to hear the words in "I Then Shall Live," and understand them, it would make the world a better place.  Sure, it's impossible to live that life completely, but we can try, and that would make all the difference, to let God's light shine through us. [Go look up the video on Youtube, it is certainly worth it.]

I Then Shall Live Lyrics: 

I then shall live as one who's been forgiven.
I'll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father; 
I am His child and I am not afraid.
So, greatly pardoned, I'll forgive my brother;
The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who's learned compassion.
I've been so loved, that I'll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I'll dare to see another's point of view.
And when relationships demand commitment,
Then I'll be there to care and follow through.

Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me.
Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor,
And may Your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may You feed a hungry world through me.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review - Woodkid: The Golden Age

Our stories are told over and over again, some just on the front porches where old people sit in their rocking chairs and tell of times past. People and places again and again until you remember it as if you were there, reliving the actions of your grandparents, once virile and precocious, and you can still see those twinkles in their eyes. Others have the talent of writing out their memories onto the page. Ink spills and presses and bytes and kilobytes, letters and words, sentences flow out and into the digital airways above our heads, to be read by someone in China or Europe.   It's the way we preserve our lives. It's the way we gain immortality, hoping that someone will read it, remember it, store it upon bookshelves or in their "favorite bookmarks" online, to read when they have a second or two.

Then there are the truly gifted ones, that can take a brush and some color and paint their lives onto canvas. We can experience the water lilies in pixelated wonder, or Turner's English countryside. What truly moves me are those who take their lives and place them on a staff for a piano or guitar.  People's lives turned into song, with the music taking the highs and lows and making them instantly accessible to everyone.

What Woodkid (the stage name for Yoann Lemoine, a French musician, director, videographer, and artist) has done is to take a semi-autographical account of his life and turn it into a book, a CD, a set of videos, concerts, and is even working with a ballet company to turn his work into a dance.  It's called The Golden Age, and I have been thoroughly engrossed in the manifestations of the work.  In each work of literature, or music, or artwork, the artist must understand that the work is the merging of his own life and that of the recipient.  Further, it is the merging of those lives along with the works of all other artists, authors, musicians, that the artist and the recipient has ever encountered.  Every one of us will hear or read or see something different, experience stimuli from within as well as without.  So to review the work, I have to go into what I brought with me into the work itself, as well as those which, I think, he brought with him.  It all merges, like one giant orgy, into The Golden Age, and mixes the music together into broad strokes of emotion.


 I sat in the front seat of my stepdad's ice cream truck in the blazing hot Georgian summer sun.   I was reading, for my 12th grade English class, The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe. It speaks of Werther, who falls in love with a young German girl, Lotte, who is in turn in love with Albert, also a friend of Werther. It is a story of love rejected, of desires gone unheeded, and of mankind's pursuit of emotional peaks which cannot be attained.  I had, sitting in this ice cream truck, one of my "Eureka" moments.  You know, one of those points in your life where the way you think about things changes forever.  There are always small moments like this often, but the big ones only happen a few times in someone's life.  I suddenly understood everything that Mrs. Cook (my 11th grade English teacher) had been trying to convey about the Romantic movement.  There are literary works that will change your life forever, and this was one of them.  It's appropriate that most of my Eureka moments came from the reading and "soaking in" of books.  It's what I've ultimately surrounded my life with, reading, selling, and writing about.

I say this because the feelings  I got from Woodkid's The Golden Age were the same as those in Goethe's semi-autobiographic novel.  Goethe had fallen in love with a poet named Charlotte Buff, but was ultimately rejected. He, nevertheless, bought the wedding rings for Buff and her fiance.

Woodkid's book deals with a love affair with, well, someone.  He is never named.  In fact, it is ultimately unknown whether or not the purity of the lover is not simply a Romantic reflection upon the author's own childhood.  As he grows up, he becomes more separated from the boy he once was, finding in the world things far from the riversides and cherry trees he knew as a child.  The fact that his lover is male is also autobiographic, as Yoann Leomine is gay himself.

The narrator's transition between child and adult is also reminiscent of William Blake's poetry in The Songs of Innocence and Experience.  I have spoken many times about Blake's influence in my thinking.  Blake is best known for the poems "The Lamb" and "The Tyger." Blake's philosophy is that we live in two distinct worlds, that of Innocence, and that of Experience.  In childhood, Innocence is, well, bliss.  It is without fault, beautiful, something that we always yearn for and regret leaving, even as we know it is inevitable that we do.  The downside, and the reason why we leave, is that Innocence is always Impotent.  Someone who chooses to remain in the Innocent realm can never effect the world around him.  The world of Experience is much darker, filled with consequences and ulterior motives.  But with it comes responsibility, power, the ability to change things, both for good and evil.  It is this stage that we must take ourselves, however unwillingly, because there is a need to change things for the better, and we cannot do that if we are impotent.  It was said that Blake had a third realm, that which we attain only after becoming completely enlightened, where the Innocence of the first realm returns with the power of the second.  It is very rare that anyone could attain this level of understanding.  Certainly not Werther, nor the narrator in Woodkid's book.

The Golden Age is almost split in half by his time in the idyllic world of his childhood and the urban, war filled, chemically enhanced world of his adult life.  There is a certain obvious parallel to the lover on the ship in the first half with "The Lamb," and his acquaintance partner in the second half with "The Tyger."  While reading the book (which only comes in the deluxe edition, found here), these are the books and ideas I brought with me, ones in which I could easily see floating throughout the words.  The passages are lyrical, poignant, with sentences popping off of the page as revelations about life.  However, the ending is more along the lines of someone trying to write while experiencing a drugged state  (which would not surprise me, see Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the Romantic movement).  Also in the book are the lyrics to the 12 track CD, which is very helpful, as it's a French singer trying to sing English words.


The music... now here's where we get to the glory of this work.  Yoann merges classical music with the beats he associates with the current hip-hop music, although what is produced is certainly universal in genre.  Listening to track 2 (my favorite) "Run Boy Run" in the car, coming up over the Parker Road bridge, the pounding of the Tympani drums and the snares and the violins and trumpets, a glorious resounding charge into war, I felt my lungs tightened as if raw emotions were billowing up, ready to charge over that hill.  Fortunately, since Yoann is a masterful music video director, he has created music videos to the best tracks, which I will embed here.  "Run Boy Run" reminds me so much of Where the Wild Things Are for very obvious reasons.

Track 5, "I Love You" has literary connotations as well.  Even before I was aware of Yoann's sexuality, the lyrics of the song brought to mind Death in Venice by Thomas Mann.  Aschenbach was a famous author who travels to Venice to heal from diseases gotten in the cold climates of Europe.  While along the shoreline of the Italian city, he sees Tadzio, and is immediately struck by his beauty and purity.  It is impossible that Yoann could not have read the book, or at least seen the movie, and had it influence his life, so closely does this track, and the following one, "The Shore," resemble the themes of the book.  Ironically, Death In Venice was the novel that was assigned to us right after The Sorrows of Young Werther in that 12th grade class.  The music video of this song becomes much more clear after reading the book.  While the drowning of the character in the video might look like a suicide (which would work, with the evidence of the books talked about above), it was more a reference in the book about his lover drowning as well as ships sinking (which could be the Lusitania or the Titanic).

I bring up "The Shore," as interesting because the opening notes reminded me a lot of Billy Joel's "Vienna Waits for You," which, as Joel said in a recording from a box set, dealt with Vienna as a metaphor for life.  He also talked about the style of piano playing at the beginning and end of the song, which he was imitating Kurt Weill, as well as the Cabaret atmosphere of Germany and Europe, something that Yoann, a gay musician growing up in Germany, would be familiar with.  It also becomes clear in the later parts of the book that the bars and nightclubs he attended would have had that music in them as well.  That the narrator would see this lifestyle as "war," and equate those days with the actual wars his relatives fought (WWII, no doubt), is interesting.  I find that often homosexual characters in movies and books often meet tragic ends, even those stories written by someone who is gay, very few of the stories end happily.  There is no balance here, as Aschenbach himself talked about, the balance between Apollo (reason) and Dionysus (emotion) is often askew, so that, in that novel, he stays in Venice even after being warned about a contagion in the city (which would be deadly to someone in his weakened condition) to watch the puerile figure playing on the beach.

I also bring up Billy Joel's song to illustrate what I have talked about before, about musician's abilities to use their own lives in song, thus preserving their memories as someone writing a story would, or the elders in the rocking chairs passing on memories to their children.


If nothing else, get the MP3s and find the lyrics online, as the book version costs around $50.00.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the music, and hope that he will create similar works in the future.  It is refreshing to find songs that actually mean something now, that dip into the mankind's past and combine literature and music, video motion, all the media that we use now.  So far gone are the days when an artist can just put out an album and expect people to buy the album.  We now drop over to itunes and pick up the single and that's it.  But what Woodkid has done is create a masterpiece that, to experience the whole thing, the album must be bought, and in the deluxe edition no less, along with watching the videos, and probably going to the concerts themselves (which are mostly in Germany, not here, alas).  I found myself one day imagining the songs arranged for a marching band, with the flag bearers using the crossed keys waving about on the field, with the trumpets and the percussion on fire as they marched on the field.  It would work so well.  I say this because the music reminds me a bunch of Steven Reineke's works, and those are easily adaptable for orchestras and concert bands.  It is the kind of music we need nowadays.  Something to make us feel alive, inspire us to go forth, raise our swords high upon the hilltops, and use our time on this Earth to fight the foes we have chosen.  Love and War go hand in hand, life and destruction.  Let's make sure we fight for the right causes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

Oddly enough, I don't remember where I got this book. It was a file on my computer, that I had downloaded from someplace (legally or no, I'm not sure, either). I suppose I had come across it while looking up Post-Modern literature after reading Robert Bolaño's 2666 which a co-worker had recommended to me. Or it could have been a related title that popped up on Goodreads or Librarything or Amazon or any of the online book servers. It also could have been talked about by Kay's blog Georgia Girl with An English Heart, for which this book would be a perfect read. Anyway, so I put this book on my Kobo and took it to Emory hospital for my mom's cardiologist appointments that would take hours. Honestly, there is something very soothing in reading books in hospital waiting rooms, like a touch of the outside world in a microcosm of sterilized air and beeping machines. It so very possible to be immersed in the hospital world, where, if done properly, becomes a home all in itself. There are no worries there outside the health of the loved one, the world takes a back seat. The walks from the parking garage at Emory, over Clifton Street and into the waiting rooms, which, at Christmas time, were decorate with gigantic trees and presents and all types of greenery. The pictures of bridges on the bridge were amazing (although they left out the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy, and probably for good reason), and the images of the seasons next to the gift shop, immutable in frames as the world went on around them, fitting for the hospital I was about to enter. What of Spring or Summer to the people who spend their time in beds, suffering from any type of disease, and cared for by nurses of the highest caliber. There is no better place to be than Emory Hospital, and whenever I have my heart attack, I want to go there for whatever surgery might have to be done.

I've found myself reading German authors, much like W.G. Sebald, who have spent much of their careers using words to free themselves from the atrocities of the 20th century. Most of Modern (WWI) and Post-Modern (WWII) literature, I think, comes from the need to move away from the thinking that got them all into those messes. And while Modernism tried to break completely away (Pound: "Make it New."), Postmodern thought seems to gravitate towards contemplating each road that we have traveled, examining each artifact along the way, until some solution can be found, some escape, away from that time, that reality. This is precisely what Sebald has done in The Rings of Saturn, which is the perfect book to start anyone in the genre of Postmodern Literature. It is short, only 167 pages, by Kobo measuring, and filled with images, photographs, paintings. It reminded me quite a bit of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. However, if I knew then what I know now, I would have started with Sebald before reading Eco or Bolaño.

The book surrounds the author, whom we can assume is Sebald himself, walking through his home county of Suffolk, Great Britain (Sebald left Germany in the 1960's for a professor-ship in the UK), from Suffolk to Ditchingham. Along the way, he visits friends, stops at decaying mansions, and recalls subjects and locations far and wide. There is no plot (other than, at the time of the telling of the story, he has finished his walk and placed himself in some sort of rehab or mental institution), however, like some of the best books I've read, no plot is needed. In fact, the walk is a frame for the people that you meet within the narrator's mind. Joseph Conrad, the "aunt" of the Last Emperor of China, Edward Fitzgerald (the translator for The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám), and others. Of course, the main characters are the nations themselves. The barren lands of Great Britain, stripped of all its trees; The Congo, stripped of human beings, made slaves in the dark jungles; China, invaded by the West for profit at whatever cost. Flowing from one person, time, event, to another, much like the waves of the ocean that the narrator stares out upon, there is no feeling of being lost, of waiting for anyone named Godot. It is pure lyricism blended in with history, biography, and memoir.

In the end, I was reminded of the ending of Voltaire's Candide, where we find the meaning of true happiness is, after all the depressing and tragic things in life that happen, one must return home (whatever home that may be) and cultivate the garden (metaphoric, of course, but in some cases, it actually is a garden). In the end, after the mark is made on the world, after the power and the glory, we languish, and we find solace in the daily lives of silkworms, in the motion of the waves, in the growing of our gardens.

I highly recommend reading this novel, and then do what I did. Hop on Google Earth and find the places he talks about in Suffolk. Use Street View and walk down the same streets as he did. Then go here and download the public domain documents that make up the writings of the characters in the book. The book would be great to base an entire college (high school?) course around, complete with the Intertextuality that most Post-Modern works use. There's nothing better than taking all the thoughts of mankind and weaving them together into a giant web, where art, music, literature, history, science....etc... merge and coexist. I only hope, that, as I walk the paths of my own county, that I can pull together the threads I have collected into some tapestry, which, if I am fortunate, will appear here in words, just as Sebald did in his books. It's all I can hope for.