Remembering Doctor Brydon

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

-- Rudyard Kipling, "The Young British Soldier"

Dr. William Brydon, shown here, was the sole survivor of a 16,500 man British invasion of Afghanistan in 1842. Dr. Brydon and two others were harassed by the Afghans to the gates of Jalalabad; the other two were killed, with Brydon deliberately left alive to tell the tale. A detailed account is available in Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress by Jan Morris. Morris interviewed an old man (this was before the Russian invasion) who still carried a British rifle taken from the dead. Morris asked what would happen if an invader came again. "The same," the old man said.

Commonplace Book of Readings, July 2009

“There are some people with a vested interest in the world as it is, because that’s the world they have power over.” -- Alan Moore
“People who read Empire of the Sun have often said to me, ‘What a strange life, how unusual,’ and I say to them, actually, the life I led in Shanghai before and during the Second World War was not strange; it wasn’t unusual. The majority of the people on this planet today and for most of this century and previous centuries have always lived lives much closer to the way I lived than to, say, the comfortable suburbs of Western Europe and North America. It is here where I live today that is very strange by the world’s standards. Civil war, famine, flood, drought, poverty, disease are the norms of human experience.” -- J.G. Ballard in a BBC interview.
“Conservatives are only funny when they don’t mean to be. How many fucking times do we have to say this?”
-- Comment by “Aquannissiwamissoo” on Wonkette

“This reflection on another girl’s morality is interesting, because however much our heroine revels in her naughtiness—and she does revel—she is at pains to tell us that she is not promiscuous like the other girls. Even in this genre, which is almost explicitly about how we shouldn’t judge the naked girl on the stage, we find the same judgment, the same innate, catty, female dividing of the world into sluts and non-sluts, that takes place in the rest of the world.” – Katie Roiphe on stripper’s memoirs in Double-X
“Popular artists, then faced with the corporate control of the popular media, have a choice: like Harvey Pekar, they can say exactly what they think about the times in which we live and thus remain at the margins of culture, at best only a cult figure, or, like Letterman, they can swallow their reservations and move to the spot-lit center of the culture, while remaining at the margins of the discourse about what is really going on.”
-- James Hynes, In These Times
“I had, by then, abandoned all pretence of work… I could not write or even, by that time, read. Words made no sense to me. I made no sense to me so how could I make sense to anyone else? If journalism is about anything, it is about making sense of the world in which we live. Words, sense, the very reason that kept me moored and anchored to the world had abandoned me. I was lost and that loss was catastrophic. Who are you when you are no longer who you are? What do you do with a self that is no longer your self? If you don’t know who you are, how do you go on living? If you cannot live as yourself, who and what is it that you are living for?” -- Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog
“You bid me rouse myself. Go, bid a man paralytic in both arms rub them briskly together, and that will cure him. Alas! That I cannot move my arms is my complaint.” – Coleridge, in a letter on writer’s block, 1804.
“Just how bad will August be, because of the Republicans and various anti-reform special interest groups? Imagine the Brooks Brothers Riot, but happening every day, across the country, for the entire month. Just health insurance employees being dispatched in plainclothes to town halls, so as to shout nonsense at congressmen and senators trying to inform their constituents about health care reform. CALLING IT NOW: Most obnoxious month in American history! Maybe.” – Wonkette, week of August 1st, 2009
“The experience of the poor… comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.” – Barbara Ehrenreich
“It’s the sinking sensation that the American game is rigged — that, as the president typically put it a month after his inauguration, the system is in hock to “the interests of powerful lobbyists or the wealthiest few” who have “run Washington far too long.” …. What disturbs Americans of all ideological persuasions is the fear that almost everything, not just government, is fixed or manipulated by some powerful hidden hand, from commercial transactions as trivial as the sales of prime concert tickets to cultural forces as pervasive as the news media. It’s a cynicism confirmed almost daily by events.” -- Frank Rich, The New York Times
“A growing body of research shows that people with red hair need larger doses of anesthesia and often are resistant to local pain blockers like Novocaine…. Researchers believe redheads are more sensitive to pain because of a mutation in a gene that affects hair color. In people with brown, black and blond hair, the gene, for the melanocortin-1 receptor, produces melanin. But a mutation in the MC1R gene results in the production of a substance called pheomelanin that results in red hair and fair skin. The MC1R gene belongs to a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, and as a result, a mutation in the gene appears to influence the body’s sensitivity to pain. A 2004 study showed that redheads require, on average, about 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark hair or blond coloring. And in 2005, researchers found that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anesthesia, such as the numbing drugs used by dentists. In the latest study, the researchers tested for the MC1R gene variant, finding it in 65 of 67 redheads and in 20 of 77 people with brown or black hair.” – Tara Parker Pope, The New York Times
In the political jargon of those days, the word ‘intellectual’ was an insult. It indicated someone who did not understand life and was cut off from the people…. The invasion of Bohemia by the Russian army, whose occupation of the country had affected everything, had been for her a signal of a new life, out of the ordinary. She saw that people who ranked above her (and everyone ranked above her) were being deprived, on the slightest allegation, of their powers, their positions, their jobs, and their bread, and that excited her; she started to denounce people herself.
"So why is she still a gatekeeper? Why wasn't she promoted?"
The mechanic smiled. "She can't count to ten. They can't find another job for her. All they can do is let her go on denouncing people. For her, that's a promotion!" ….
The mechanic leaned over the engine again and said: "In Wenceslaus Square, in Prague, a guy is throwing up. Another guy comes up to him, pulls a long face, shakes his head, and says: 'I know just what you mean.'”
-- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

How To Talk to an Ann Coulter Fan About Health Care, If You Must

Kalamazoo Single Payer Across the Nation is hosting an informational meeting at the Kalamazoo Library this evening to give our local crazies a chance to shriek about health care. Don Cooney and others are asking the relatively sane among us to show up early and keep things civil. I can barely speak in a coherent sentence these days, so eloquence and precision are out of the question, and I'm open to correction, but here are a few reality checks I’m taking along, adapted from panels on Rachel Maddow and the Diane Rheum, I mean Rehm, show:

There is no “Obama Health Plan”— President Obama has left the creation of legislation to the Congress, which is making a hash of things. Congress receives $millions$ in contributions from health insurers and the results are as you see.

[Inside baseball: the Clinton administration presented Congress with a fait accompli health care proposal, and it died. Obama’s team made the call to let the House and Senate write what they wanted, so long as it gets “done” within the year. This may have been a strategic mistake, though I, wearing my hat of barroom expertise, am hoping that Obama is letting the extremists hang themselves with their own rope, and will show up at the eleventh hour with a “compromise” health care plan that is close to what we wanted all along. I’m wearing my Blue Lantern “Hope” t-shirt as we speak.]

AARP has not yet chimed in to endorse any plan; neither has big pharmaceutical, at least not overtly. The radical right and the insurance lobbies, of course, started honking and bleating before anyone had actually proposed anything.

Why the rush? Obama might have spent two years traveling the Chautauqua circuit, educating and explaining—or that might have cost him capital and momentum, and it never gets done. The interest groups are already at the table and brought their own appetite—that is, they are interested in “reform” that will benefit their own interests.

The “Hitler” calumny: There’s an innocuous provision (from Christopher Dodd, I think?) about helping people design a living will/power of attorney in the event of terminal illness (90% of Americans say they want to die at home, but 80% of us die in institutions, usually because of not having put our wishes in writing). Entirely voluntary, with no more legislative force than a pamphlet about exercise and diet, but this is the item that was distorted by the loony right into warnings about “death panels”, Hitler, etc. from Caribou Barbie.

Small businesses (under a certain number of employees) will be given access to the government run option for health insurance, a shared pool that will lower costs by force of volume, a national insurance co-op, so to speak. Small businesses and farmers are already used to the idea of co-ops when buying supplies in bulk; the talking heads inability to sell this idea is a wonder of obfuscation.

There is NOTHING in any of the plans before Congress that would create anything
like the British or Canadian systems, where old people and retards are apparently left on ice floes to die. Talking point: no one in the world is completely happy with their health care system (not even the French), but the US ranks in the 30s compared with other countries, so any direction other than down can be seen as progress.

Kalamazoo Single Payer Across the Nation events planned for this week and next week:

Tuesday: 7 to 9 p.m. public information meeting at the Kalamazoo Public Library, 315 S. Rose St.

Friday: 4 p.m. rally that will begin in Bronson Park and continue with a march to the nearby office of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph. Upton opposes the current House health-care bill.

Aug. 18: 4 p.m.
rally at Upton's office in St. Joseph.

Discovered after this post was written, a better-informed checklist from Rep. John Dingell:

This bill would:

• End the practice of denying insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

• Not allow termination of insurance if you become seriously ill.

• Preclude exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pays.

• End annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

• Provide guaranteed oral, hearing and vision care for kids.

• Allow people to keep their doctor and their plan if they wish, while also creating more choices of insurance plans.

• Eliminate lifetime limits on health insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, the fiction about this bill is getting more attention that the facts. This bill will not do the following:

• Will not lead to employers discontinuing health care coverage in favor of government coverage. Based on an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, H.R. 3200 will actually increase the number of people who get health insurance coverage through an employer compared with current law.

• Will not create an undue burden for small businesses. According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, 96 percent of small businesses will pay no additional fees under the bill. In fact, small businesses will benefit from tax credits to empower them to provide health insurance for their employees. Small businesses are now paying 18 percent more than big businesses for the same policy; we will stop this unfair practice.

• Will not exempt members of Congress. Our health care plan will be subject to the same rules as all other employer-sponsored plans.

• Will not cover illegal immigrants, leaving American citizens to pay for it. Section 246 of H.R. 3200 specifically prohibits federal funds from being spent to cover illegal immigrants.

• Will not lead to government-sponsored euthanasia. This bill provides an option for individuals to discuss life-extending measures under various scenarios and for Medicare to cover the cost. It is entirely the individual's choice; it does not require anyone to use the benefit and it does not penalize those who don't. Patients and their families would consult with health professionals, not government officials, if they choose to use the benefit.

• Will not lead to government-sponsored abortions. An amendment was added in the Energy and Commerce Committee that explicitly states no public money can be used to fund abortions.

Oracle's Creator Runs Afoul of Our Glorious Health Care System

While corporate charity continues unabated, writer John Ostrander is going blind because the health insurance he bought isn't going to be there when he needs it. Ostrander, godfather of Barbara Gordon's re-invention as Oracle, still needs several surgeries with extended stays in Boston to save his eye sight.
Friends in the industry organized an auction to raise money for Ostrander at the Chicago Comic Con, with original art like that shown by Art Adams, Paul Chadwick and others along with autographed books and memorabilia. Their website at has current information. Direct contributions (made out to John Ostrander) can also be sent to:
Mike Gold and Adriane Nash
304 Main Avenue, #194
Norwalk, CT 06851

Commonplace Book of Quotations: Streetcars, "V", Hollywood Relationships and Car Chases, Voltaire and Pledging Allegiance to the Bank of America

“…Jokes lead the way, like sniffer dogs, dragging their handlers behind them.”
--Craig Brown in a profound article describing the evolution of his humor from satire to the absurd.

“They [Merrill Lynch and Bank of America officers] find out they’re $7 billion off on the estimate of losses for the fourth quarter and they never think maybe we should go back and adjust these bonuses?” Cuomo told me, as Thain was finally responding to investigators on Tuesday at the New York attorney general’s office. “He refused to answer questions on the basis that ‘the Bank of America didn’t want me to.’ You can take the Fifth Amendment or you can answer questions. But there’s no Bank of America privilege. The Bank of America doesn’t substitute for the Constitution. And who’s the Bank of America, by the way?”
-- N.Y. State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo

“All of us invest our identities in what we believe. It’s hard to concede anything to the other side.”
-- Zoe Heller

“In any case, you do not disown your belief in socialism just because Stalin’s executioners claim to believe in it too, any more than you find Morocco unpleasant just because Michael Portillo drops in on the place occasionally. In Orwell’s view, it was the Stalinist Left that had betrayed the common people, not democratic socialists like himself. Orwell first encountered Stalinism in the squalid betrayals of the Spanish Civil War, which is where he also first properly encountered socialism. If his disgust with Soviet Realpolitik was born in Spain, so was a faith in the goodness and resilience of the human spirit, which there is no reason to believe he ever entirely abandoned.” -- Terry Eagleton

“I get the feeling that Evey [in the film adaptation of V for Vendetta was aged not to offer a clearer renunciation of V's actions, but to set up an utterly conventional love story between the two of them, their conflicted, moving father/daughter relationship [Evey is 16 in the original] scrapped because Hollywood can imagine no kind of relationship other than enemy or lover.”
-- Marc Singer on his blog I am Not the Beastmaster

“At least 40 other cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs, according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar construction. More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. And Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., have introduced or are planning to introduce streetcars.”
-- Bob Driehaus, NY Times

“I can't believe they got rid of the giant squid. Probably my favourite thing about talking about Watchmen is discussing the layers upon layers of the dialogue and the quality of the characters and the complexity of the story lines and all the parallel plots and deeper meanings and how everything is related together and the many references and accurate style of the story then at the end... A GIANT SQUID SQUASHES NEW YORK AND EVERYONE DIES.”
-- Comment on New York magazine

"Basically, the network and I had different ideas about what the tone of the show would be. They bought something somewhat different than what I was selling them, which is not that uncommon in this business. Their desires were not surprising: up the stakes, make the episodes more stand-alone, stop talking about relationships and cut to the chase. Oh, and add a chase. That you can cut to."
-- Joss Whedon

“Perhaps he [Voltaire] hated too much, but we must remember the provocation; we must imagine ourselves back in an age when men were burned at the stake, or broken on the wheel, for deviating from orthodoxy. We can appreciate Christianity better today because he could then, because he fought with some success to moderate its dogmas and violence…We can feel the poetry and drama of religious ritual now that the transient triumph of toleration leaves us free to worship or abstain. We can accept a hundred legends as profound symbols or illuminating allegories, because we are no longer required to accept their literal truth.”
-- Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Voltaire

Health Care Reform a Bad Joke, So Far

Remember those embarrassing, unfunny sketches when Bob Hope put on a wig and pretended to be a hippie? That's what the "health care advocates" looked like who testified before Congress last week and pretended to care. The Business Roundtable was there. The Chamber of Commerce was there. The insurance companies were there, naturallement. Gods help us and save us, the Heritage Foundation showed up, still wanting revenge for Hoover's defeat and Reagan's canonization, or whatever it is they do besides peeing in everyone's soup.

There was not a single witness asked to testify in favor of a single payer system,
although that seems to be what the majority of the American people-- including doctors and nurses-- want. The foxes who bought the hen house-- $512,042,660 it cost them in lobbying last year, and they own it goddamnit!-- voted in favor of fatter hens. Single payer advocates were treated as protesters, and removed from the chamber by police.
Bill Moyers' Journal has the best coverage of this I've seen, naming names and doing the math: there are thirty times more health care "administrators" than there are doctors and nurses in this country, for one instance. Drug and insurance companies profit from the current fragmentation, the fix is in so far as Congress is concerned, and the president is trying to do this without making the insurance companies mad.

Hemophilia, Comic Book Artists and Kitty Pryde

A sweet and simple fund-raiser idea: Douglas E. Sherwood of Oni Press asked a couple of dozen artists to draw his favorite X-Men character, Kitty Pryde, with the results to be auctioned on E-Bay as a fundraiser for the Oregon Hemophilia Treatment Center. I like the specificity of the idea, and that it offers something tangible-- an hour's diversion, a framed print, maybe a t-shirt-- to a relatively small pool of contributors.
Myself an O.G. X-Men reader, I'd outgrown the comic a decade before Kitty joined the team in 1980, though I came back for Grant Morrison's seven-volume run (still my favorite) and enjoyed Joss Whedon's take on the character. For me, it's all about Kitty and Lockheed, the most interesting pet/person relationship in comics. As a writer, it seems to me that Marvel is missing a bet by letting Kitty age with her readers, and not producing a series of adventures for the under twelves to be marketed to new readers, something like DC's Tiny Titans or Jeff Smith's Shazam. Call it "A Girl and Her Dragon", with the covers a parody of the "Boy and His Dog" motif. A million-dollar idea from a middle-aged man who wants to reboot Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Re-reading this for maybe the third or fourth time: funny and sad and funny again. A happy ending with a wedding, so by Shakespeare's rules that makes it a comedy. The movie is actually well done (Michael Douglas shlubbing around in a woman's pink chenille bathrobe is iconic) but there are are layers and back story you'll only get from the book.
Yes, it's embarrassing how many times my inner life corresponds with Grady Tripp's, but that could be said for any middle-aged writer, teacher or former Wonder Boy. I don't smoke dope like Grady, and I don't have my boss's dead dog, a dead boa constrictor and a tuba in my car trunk-- but the butt-cheek impression left by a James Brown impersonator in the hood of my car is not outside the realm of possibility.

"Hate to Talk About Myself"

I usually start answering memes and then don't finish them; too much like work, or Who Cares? But this one from Elspeth was fun and involves some word play:

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to people you like and include me. Try not to repeat a song title.

Pick your band/artist: Fats Waller

Are you a male or female: The Sheik of Araby

Describe yourself: Keeping Out of Mischief Now

How do you feel about yourself: I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed

Describe where you currently live: Lounging at the Waldorf

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: I Wish that I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate

Your favorite form of transportation: Alligator Crawl

Your best friend is: My Very Good Friend the Milkman

Your favorite color is: Black and Blue

What’s the weather like: Russian Fantasy

Your favorite time of day is: Loafin’ Time

If your life were a TV show, it would be called: Blue Because of You

What life is to you: The Panic is On

What is the best advice you have to give: Squeeze Me

If you could change your name what would you change it to: Big Chief de Sota

Your favorite food is: Fat and Greasy

Thought for the Day: Ain’t Got Nobody to Grind My Coffee

How you would like to die: Pantin' in the Panther Room

Your soul's present condition: Numb Fumblin'

The faults you can bear: The Curse of an Aching Heart

Your motto: It's a Sin to Tell a Lie

Watching People Watch the Watchmen

I enjoyed the Watchmen film more than I thought i would, seeing it with friends who'd never read the book but were able to respond to the larger themes. But ye gods, keep the general audience away from this thing that we love. Our local theater felt compelled to print out a sign warning customers that this is not a "superhero" film like they're used to, and I've already had students complain after the fact that they didn't understand the story or were disturbed by the content. I'll show you "school improvement" as soon as you outlaw parents-- who are these people that take an underage child to see the R-rated Watchmen? Probably the same parents that complain (never to my face) about my PG-13 World History class.

Harlan Ellison used to talk about "the fan sneer", that peculiar expression on a connoisseur's face when everyone on the subway starts reading The Lord of the Rings, or drinking an obscure wine that you discovered, or quoting from a cult film. On the one hand you're pleased that something of value has found a wide audience; on the other hand, when the mob jumps into the pool, they inevitably start pissing in it. Now everyone can plop down a few bucks to see the film version of Alan Moore's The Watchmen, including those who can't read or don't read, which sadly includes the director.
I thought the performances were perfect, and visually it's a panel-for-panel recreation of Dave Gibbons art-- Hollywood's problem is that set designers and special effects artists have outpaced its writers and directors by twenty years, giving us gorgeous films without souls. Jackie Earle Haley is a wonderful Rorschach, despite the cuts made in his part and Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg is a revelation in an emotionally complex but less showy, and therefore more complicated role to play. This could have been Adam West as Batman, and instead Wilson's humanity, contrasted with John Osterman's perfection, has us rooting for Dan all the way. Malin Ackerman has been unjustly criticized as eye-candy-- Sally and Laurie Jupiter represent the pin-up girl archetype, just as Rorsharch is the paranoid (Batman or the Shadow without funds), Adrian the genius, Eddie the murderous "patriot", John the Superman and Dan the high tech millionaire adventurer. It's not Ackerman's fault that Laurie Jupiter's emotional development was cut down to the one big scene when she puts together the circumstances of her birth. In the novel, Laurie figures it out for herself; in the movie, she can't do it without magical help from Osterman.
Visually gorgeous, and the actors put their hearts into it. But the director, Zach Snyder, is tone-deaf. The publicity mill keeps calling him a "visionary genius", but even Snyder knows the visions were piggybacked on someone else's hard work.

The problem is that whenever the director deviates from Moore and Gibbon's text, his additions are immature and gross. Snyder represents that part of Hollywood that panders to 15 year old misanthropes. He has no aesthetic common sense.
Snyder's Nixon wears a caricature nose. He rewrites jokes and blows the punchline. Violence in the film is drawn out from a panel or two to splatterporn in loving slow motion. Instead of Sally Jupiter scrabbling on the floor in ugly desperation to escape her rapist, Carla Gugino is bent aesthetically over a pool table, attempted rape as a Helmut Newton fashion spread. Snyder's film of 300, for all its fascist silliness, homoeroticism made palatable to an American audience, had a few genuinely beautiful images, but all of them based on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's drawings-- and Snyder added a rape scene to that.
When it comes to Rorschach's murder of the pedophile, the text has Rorschach handcuffing the villain and then setting the place on fire; we've already had our dose of horror by contemplating the off panel death of the victim. In the film, we're treated to Rorschach whacking at a prop head of the criminal with a meat cleaver. I've come to expect this from Hollywood, something to make the Roman mobs squeal "ew, gross!", but it's as obtrusive, gross and laughable as the cock-blocking voice singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during Dan and Laurie's sex scene. "Was offered Swedish love and French love-- but not American love. American love; like Coke in green glass bottles. They dont make it anymore."
Snyder's lip-licking violence, including two, count 'em, two slo-mo kung fu scenes for Laurie and Dan, leave no room for things like Rorschach's soliloquy as he watches the pedophile's factory burn: "Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night. Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning it's illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world. Was Rorschach. Does that answer your questions, Doctor?"

Only part of that speech survives. Snyder makes the climax of the story unrecognizable, and judging from my friends reaction, incomprehensible. After washing our face in gore, he wimps out and cuts Laurie's horrified reaction to New York streets filled with corpses, mass murder for the greater good. Instead we're looking at a big computer generated hole. I've no problem with filmmakers editing a work, but shouldn't they follow an artistic Hippocratic oath, and first do no harm?
This isn't a fanboy's plaint-- hell, I'd cut Hamlet or Macbeth for length-- but why are so many people who rise to this level in Hollywood-- the task of presenting a cultural touchstone to a mass audience-- have to be so tone-deaf?

The Can-Can's Such a Pretty Show

I wrinkle my brow at those who limit themselves to the music of their youth, but here I am with three acoustic songs written before 1980, one of them when Shakespeare was a toddler.

Poor old Granddad, I laughed at all his words
I thought he was a bitter man when he spoke of women's ways:
"They'll trap you and they'll use you before you even know; but love is blind, and you're far too kind-- don't ever let it show."

I wish that I knew what I know now
when I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
when I was stronger

"The can-can's such a pretty show; it'll steal your heart away
But backstage, back on earth again, the dressing rooms are gray.
They come on strong, and it ain't too long 'fore they make you feel a man,
But love is blind, and you soon will find you're just a boy again."

"When you want her lips, you get her cheek; makes you wonder where you are. If you want some more then she's fast asleep, leaves you twinkling with the stars. Poor young Grandson, there's nothing I can say; you'll have to learn, just like me, and that's the hardest way."

Ooh la la
Ooh la la, la la

The morning after seems like a good time to re-appreciate "Ooh La La" by Ronnie Lane.
The earliest surviving version of "John Barleycorn Must Die" dates to 1568, and even Robert Burns had a version; the one I know was recorded by Traffic in 1970.

I've always wanted to ask Bruce Cockburn if this really was based on an archetypal dream, or if he thinking of the lions playing on the beach in the dreams of The Old Man and the Sea.

What Song the Superman Sang: Commonplace Book of Quotations for February 2009

"Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you're lucky."
- Alan Moore

“I always offend someone by asserting that the reason the death of a pet is worse than the death of a human is that you have mixed feelings about all people.”
-- Dick Cavett

"I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies, and -- to return to my first instance -- toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable… At any rate, Spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can’t stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time I have stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or holiday camp, Spring is still Spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."
-- Orwell

“This town [Washington,DC] talks to itself and whips itself into a frenzy with its own theories that are completely at odds with what the rest of America is thinking.”
– David Axelrod

-- image by Sleestak, for his blog Lady, That's My Skull

“Faith is at best morally neutral, and at worst a vile mental distortion. Our habits are to respect people of faith, but I think we’ve been forced to question those habits. The powers of sweet reason look a lot more attractive post-9/11 than the beckonings of faith, and I no longer put them on equal scales.”
-- Ian McEwan, profile in The New Yorker

“The search for an impartial and neutral tool to mitigate the disruptive effect of factionalism was an important feature of political life in Italian city republics. As Waley (1991) maintains, the political scene in medieval Italy was characterized by factionalism fueled by intense competition for political office. The citizens were driven by an ardent desire to obtain the "honors and benefits" of office (Manin 1995). To overcome factional strife, most Italian communes adopted the institution of podesta, a foreigner endowed with judicial and administrative powers. The podesta was usually hired for a year and played the role of military leader, judge, and administrator. An important attribute of the podesta was that he had to be a foreigner so that he could be neutral to the internal "discords and conspiracies"
-- via Steve Clemons, The Washington Note

“The aim of literature is the creation of a small object covered with fur which breaks your heart.”
-- Donald Barthelme

"I’m confused now, because I thought Lindsey Graham was DC’s official angry chimp."
-- comment by Sassette on the "dead chimp cartoon" controversy at Wonkette

"In Final Crisis 7, Superman finally kills Darkseid [by singing a song into the newly constructed Miracle Machine. Morrison doesn't let the reader know exactly what song Superman sings, but instead leaves it up to the reader to fill in this particular gap."
-- Meme explained in Dr. K's 100-Page Super Spectacular Blog, with links to other examples. (For the record, it is the opinion of this writer that this song would only lengthen Darkseid's reign.)

Thirsty Girl in Australia

Koala means "doesn't drink" (most of their intake coming from morning dew on eucalyptus leaves) so it's a sign of how thirsty she was that Sam drank from a bottle held by a volunteer fireman named Dave Tree. Caught on the ground in the daylight, too, but she quickly accepts that he is a creature of good will offering comfort from the forest fires that killed at least 180 people and Saint Francis knows how many animals.

Sam and her (Sam's a girl) burnt nose and pads are healing now at the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter. She's even acquired some celebrity, a Facebook page and a boyfriend named Bob.

Addendum, March of 2010: Sad news on Sam's Facebook page: Sam has since passed away, of causes unrelated to the fire.

He Watched Until His Eyes Bled

My friend Jef Burnham just finished his 100th review for Film Monthly, on a film of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. Were this a comic book, it would have a wraparound cover with the entire cast of characters and a hundred little Jefs watching them; if this was Vanity Fair, there would be a lot of manufactured drama over whose expensively powdered bare bottom should grace the cover; if it was Time magazine, there'd be a cover informing us how important Time is. Instead we have Jef emerging from his burrow and predicting six more weeks of night.

The Violent Death Index

Awake at three in the morning. Plane crash in Buffalo on TV; 49 souls gone. But who knows how many-- the people who loved them-- who might be still asleep and don't yet know that their lives just stopped, too? I wonder about all the violent deaths in this country, more murders in one month in our larger cities than Japan has in a year, and does all that sorrow left behind add up in some way, accumulate like an invisible pollutant in the atmosphere? What kind of creatures feed off of that sorrow? What kind of thing thrives in an environment like that?

Joseph Campbell's Story About the Tiger Who Thought He Was a Goat

I heard Joseph Campbell tell this story at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids back in the Eighties. Just found this transcription, and the story wants to be told again, for what it's worth.

A starving and pregnant tigress comes upon a flock of goats and pounces on them with such fervor that she brings about the birth of her little one, as well as her own death. The goats scatter, but soon come back to find the newborn tiger by the side of its dead mother.

Tho goats adopt the baby tiger and it grows up believing it is a goat. He learns to bleat and eat grass, but the trouble is that grass doesn’t nourish tigers well, and he grows into a weak and miserable member of his own species.

One day, a large male tiger pounces on the flock and the goats scatter. The young tiger, not being a goat, remains standing there. The big male is surpised to find a young tiger living with goats, and when he enquired into it, the young one simply says, “Maaaa.” Mortified, the old tiger swats him back and forth a couple of times, but the only response coming forth was more bleating and grass nibbling.

The old tiger brings the young one to a pond and makes him look at his own reflection for the first time. He leans over and points out to him, “See, you look like me. You’re not a goat. You are a tiger, like me. Be like me!” He then brings the young tiger to his den and shows him bloody chunks of gazelle meat from a recent hunt. Taking a big chunk, he says “Open up and eat this!” “Oh no, I’m a vegetarian,” says the little one. But the old tiger would not take no for an answer, and shoves a piece of red meat down the little one’s throat, causing him to gag a little. Now the real tiger food is in his gut, getting into his blood. Spontaneously, the young one gives a a tiger-like stretch, and then a small little tiger roar.

“Now you’ve got it! Now go into the forest and eat tiger food!” says the big one.

Is there something larger than our ego that wants to come through, to demand authenticity and genuineness in the way we live? Are we to cruise onwards toward that inevitable ending, that certain exit on terms that were assumed and purchased for the first half? The second half of life is not a chronological issue, but a psychological one, in which we question what values and paradigms we are living by.
This is a question for each of us, whatever stage of life we’re in - are we tigers living as goats? If the answer is in the affirmative, then a second question - what is good tiger food? In other words, if we are not living as we ought to be, activating our fullest potentials, then what must we do, what would nourish us towards that?

-- A Joseph Campbell Companion, edited by
Diane K. Osbon, The Joseph Campbell Foundation, 1991.

Thumbs Up, Michigan! And Whadda YOO Lookin' At?

Upstate New York exists to make Michigan feel better about its status as the Texas of the North. Sure, we wolverines gave America its mad bombers, Nixon's pardon, the Amway-Blackwater dynasty, breeding enclaves for Calvinists the Netherlands didn't want, and city planning worthy of a post apocalyptic zombie film, but at least we don't shop at Forever Leather in Utica.

Unheard of Music: Concrete Blonde Doing Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows"

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that its now or never
Everybody knows that its me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you've done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black joes still pickin cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that its moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows its coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Commonplace Book: Quotations, January 2009

In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
– Albert Camus

Jimmy Olsen=me. And we all have signal watches
-- unidentified comic fan, watching the inauguration

Friendships, like marriages, are dependent on avoiding the unforgivable.
— John D. MacDonald

It may dash your hopes for that nice warm feeling called Schadenfreude, but the Masters of the Universe are smarter than the people they left behind at the investment banks. Their hedge funds have blown up here and there, but unlike the investment banks, they are still very much in business. They have hurriedly pulled themselves into defensive positions inside their shells, like turtles. Their Armageddon, if any, will not come for two more days, which is to say, Tuesday, Sept. 30. Most hedge funds open up a crack on Sept. 30, Dec. 31, March 31 and June 30 to give investors the chance to “redeem” their investments, meaning take their money out.
-- Tom Wolfe

Bill Clinton is brooding in his hotel suite at Brown Palace Hotel, like the outcast Grendel lurking on the outskirts of the town where young Beowulf lived.
-- Maureem Dowd

“In this issue, Hellboy bashes in a Hillbilly Devil’s face with a consecrated shovel. Goddamn I love comic books.”
-- Chris Sims

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work."
- Emile Zola

“One could argue that the key Al Qaeda training for 9/11 occurred not in the Taliban’s Afghanistan but in Jeb Bush’s Florida. And in terms of terrorist planning, 9/11 would have been better avoided with an occupation of Hamburg, where most of the essential plotting for the attack occurred.”
-- Bartle Breese Bull, NY Times


“There go the people. I must follow them. I am their leader.”
-- Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, 1848

Depression and schizophrenia are diseases that distort reality, and cause great suffering in the process. Depression is a great liar. You are not a failure. You are not worthless. You are not unloved. You have been happy in the past, though you can’t remember it, and you will be happy in the future, though you cannot remember it.

-- Dick Cavett

“I think we’ve remained fixed on 1968 because it feels like where we missed our turn and went down the wrong road… And on some level, I think we blamed everything that went bad after that on those two deaths. Just before he was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was asked when he thought the country would be ready to elect a black president. He said, “Forty years. 2008.” RFK was right on the nose. Barack Obama is not Martin Luther King, and he’s not Bobby Kennedy, but you’d have to be emotionally tone-deaf to miss the fact that he reminds boomers of both of those fallen leaders. That had to be part of the reason that this election created such elation in the population. It felt as if we were going back to that missed turn, and starting down the right road at last.

-- Bill Flanagan, CBS Sunday Morning

Unheard of Music: Yoko Kanno

Yoko Kanno with her big band in a live performance of "Tank", a sound that, without fear or favor, truly kicks ASS and TAKES NAMES. If you aren't moving around to this, I don't think I want to know you:

Yoko Kanno is a Japanese composer and leader of "The Seatbelts", a jazz band/pick up orchestra. She found the usual paths closed to her, so she made a name writing soundtracks for animation, much as Ennio Morricone elevated Westerns.

Kanno must have worked every type of jazz, funk, blues, even shamanic chants and lullabies into my favorite, Cowboy Bebop. What amazes me is how authentic it sounds, even with her goofy habit of mixing Japanese with English and sometimes Russian lyrics. If you'd told me I'd be singing along phonetically-- and feeling-- to a Japanese blues... (the title refers to Howling Wolf's first album, The Real Folk Blues)

"The Real Folk Blues" by Yoko Kanno
Aishiteta to nageku ni wa
Amari ni mo toki wa sugi te shimatta
Mada kokoro no hokorobi o
Iyasenumama kaze ga fuiteru
(It's too late to cry I love you.
The wind still blowing, my heart still aching)

Hitotsu no me de asu o mite
Hitotsu no me de kinou mitsumeteru
Kimi no ai no yurikagode
Mo ichido yasurakani nemuretara
(One side of my eyes see tomorrow,
And the other one see yesterday
I hope I could sleep in the cradle of your love, again)

Kawaita hitomi de dareka na itekure
(Somebody cry for me, with dry eyes)
The real folk blues!
Honto no kanashimi ga shiritaidake
Doro no kawa ni sukatta jinsei mo warukuwanai
Ichido kiri de owarunara
(The real folk blues:
I just want to feel real sorrow
It's not so bad a life, sitting in muddy water
If life is only lived once)

Kibou ni michita zetsuboto
Wanagashikakerareteru kono chansu
Nani ga yoku te warui no ka
Koin no omoi to kuramitaita

(Hopeless hope, every chance becomes a trap
What is right, or wrong
It's like both sides of a coin)

Dore dake ikireba iyasareru no darou
(How long I must live till I'm set free?)
The real folk blues
Honto no yorokobi ga shiritai dake
Hikaru mono no subete ga ougen to wa kagiranai
(The real folk blues
I just want to feel pleasure that's real
All that glitters is not gold)

This is a scene from the penultimate episode of Cowboy Bebop. Faye Valentine draws the outline of her childhood bedroom in the ruins of a devastated Earth. Radical Edward, the child savant known as "Ed" leaves the ship, alone-- and Ein, a genetically enhanced, hyper-intelligent corgi, decides that Ed needs him more than the others do.

Here she tries her hand at ska, "Bad Dog No Biscuit":

Or fooling around with standards on solo piano ("How Long Has This Been Going On" at the beginning and "Rhapsody in Blue" at the end and I don't know what in the middle):

One more favorite: wringing emotion out of techno music on "Inner Universe", with lyrics in Russian, English and Latin for Ghost in the Shell.

I didn't even know techno could contain so much emotion. I love this woman.

Follow the Shoe: Will Bush Ever Stand Trial in the People's Court?

Is anyone else worried about what's happened to Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the shoe-throwing journalist still in "detention" in Iraq? This is, after all, the land where habeas corpus went to die, and no one's seen or heard from him other than second-hand reports from his brother in the week before Christmas. We don't really know what "detention" means to the people holding the keys. We don't know if he "tripped and fell down the stairs" or if his arm really was broken in the arrest. The New York Times itself can't make up it's mind whether he's been tortured by the cops or handled with kid gloves because the Whole World is Watching.

Funny how a government that can't keep the electricity running found a definition for his crime with record efficiency: "aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit... an offense that carries a prison term of between five and 15 years under Iraqi law, for throwing his shoes at Bush on December 14."

His lawyers might make a case for diminished capacity, PTSD, (Al-Zaidi has been covering the widows and orphans of Iraq, been kidnapped once and arrested twice) but that would erase the meaning of al-Zaidi's quixotic gesture, like that killer last line of Mark Twain's "The War Prayer": "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." What I'm hoping for is five years minus time served, compensation if he has indeed been abused while in detention-- and a guarantee of a free pair of custom-made shoes for life. If he ever visits Kalamazoo, his money's no good here. This heartfelt anger was political theater that turned the propaganda of professionals, their jet planes and "Mission Accomplished" signs, into tinkling brass.

I love the man. "This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog! This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!" What most commentators have missed is that technology has made our leaders as remote from any consequence of their actions as any ancient autocrat. Somebody (I thought it was Bertrand Russell, but I can't find the quote) said of Khruschev and Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis: "If they say 'live', we shall live; if they say 'die', we shall die." This is an unhappy thought for a culture that can grant an utter fool the power of a god, and puts our entire species at the whim of distant torturers. Predator planes, satellite spies, the NSA's erosion of privacy and the Army's research into robot soldiers are become so commonplace that this power to murder and ruin is now in a hundred hands instead of a few. Who would begrudge a man who has seen too many dead children the throwing of a shoe?

"Now the movements of nations have become like a huge slow solemn dance of the elephants, random power swaying in unpredictable directions, their movements obscured by a stifling rain of paper, pastel forms in octuplicate, programmed tapes, punch cards. Through this low rain, in the shadowy patterns of the dance, scurry a half a billion bureaucrats, each squealing self-important orders. Beneath the wrinkled gray legs, ten thousand generals squat, playing with their war game toys. The billions of mankind sit in the huge gloomy reaches of the stands, staring without comprehension... and because tension and waiting can only be sustained so long, they can make their own little games and charades in the stands, the charades of art, sex, money, power and random murder."
-- John D. MacDonald, A Deadly Shade of Gold.

Mr. al-Zaidi appears to have been a gentle soul who specialized in human interest stories about widows and orphans. The popinjay he targeted is responsible for three times as many innocent deaths as were killed on 9/11, spent money that would make a Nero or Caligula blush-- and still professes not to know what the fuss was about. That he is insulated from shame is no surprise; I've never seen a crime that a Bush couldn't wriggle out from under, from banking for Nazis to drug running by the Contras to... Good luck pinning one down with the sword of Justice; they must be covered in protective slime like a catfish.

Will there, should there be, a commission to investigate crimes committed by the Bush administration? President Obama is playing his cards close to the chest, and too many members of Congress are guilty of aiding and abetting. You won't see an American standing trial in the Hague as long as Kissinger's still alive, but an independent "truth commission", like the ones in South Africa, might be nice.

When frothing near the ceiling about seeing the whole crew in leg irons, I have to keep reminding my friends that incompetence isn't punishable by law. They remind me that George Bush left so many fires burning in his wake, it could be years before anyone got around to pursuing the firebug. This in itself is a kind of brilliance, like those beasts that escape their pursuers by defecating. Someday, perhaps, with the wheels of Justice grinding very slow, but exceedingly small.

I Ain't Seen the Like Since...

I didn't realize just how happy I was until I arrived at my friends' house and opened that first Guinness, with Rachel Maddow and the BBC interviewing survivors of the Little Rock Nine, and the joint realization that this is the first time in my lifetime that the guy I wanted to be president actually won. Sure, I voted for Clinton (Damn Near Republican) and went door-to-door for whoever was running against the Shrub, but this time...

Working with schoolchildren all day, with the inauguration on in the background, one tries to be a voice of moderation, explaining the process, asking leading questions, supplying the humorous anecdote: Andrew Johnson showing up drunk for his inauguration, William Henry Harrison (the Indian killer) literally talking himself to death by droning on for two hours in an icy rain. But children, for all their enthusiasm, don't get it. Being but strangers to this world, they recognize that it's "important", but they can't be expected to understand that there's anything unusual about today's events. If this day was going to be truly savored, it needed to be shared with adult friends.

The gore-crow of the Bush administration has finally taken its beak from out my heart. Complete sentences were spoken. Thomas Paine was quoted. The King James Bible was invoked. The wicked were politely admonished. My favorite was the benediction by the Reverend Joseph Lowery (co-founder of the SCLC with M.L. King) who with a twinkle in his eye, went beyond the lyrics of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to end with a paraphrase of the bluesman Big Bill Broonzy:

But it wasn't just about seeing John Lewis and wondering what was going on in his scarred head, or seeing the cover painting of The Nation and tearing up when I realized that was Emmett Till and the four little girls killed in Birmingham standing on the podium with Obama. When Pat said there was a weight off her shoulders, I recognized there was a childlike element to my happiness; it felt like... when I was 10 or 11 years old... like that moment in Amazing Spider-Man #33...

"Three Fancies from the Infernal Garden" by Claire Cooney

"Three Fancies from the Infernal Garden", a short story by my friend Claire Cooney, can be read online in the Winter 2009 issue of Subterranean magazine.
One of the things I love about Claire's poetry (and here, her stories) is that they look like smiling candied apples until you get up close enough to bite into one and you find them biting back. Here she plays around with figures from Russian fairy tales-- there's a firebird, and the witch Baba Yaga, and people called Ivan.
Claire is a fellow member of the Twilight Tales writers' group in Chicago, a survivor of Saratoga Springs and the Battle of the Black Gate, grande dame in training and one of the booksellers who brought the late lamented Kate the Great's Book Emporium to life. And if you live in Chicago, you should definitely track down Katie and Claire's other ventures such as Top Shelf Books in Palatine, with its open mic on Thursdays-- and attend Twilight Tales (at the Mystic Celt until the Red Lion finishes remodeling) the next time Claire is reading. I would adopt her if it wouldn't cause talk, Claire being too tall for me to explain as a Third World orphan.

Death of a Ladies' Man

Louis Armstrong was a fan of Guy Lombardo, for reasons that passeth understanding-- but there was an elderly producer who said one of the most profound things he learned was that professional musicians have much wider tastes than their fans.
Most of my friends have open ears-- Pat Relf pushed Danger Mouse and Gnarls Barkley on me, her daughters found Louis Jordan before I did, I keep nudghing them about the composer Yoko Kanno... Still, I've resolved to post more music this year, if only to shake my more calcitrant friends-- the ones with mullets and restored Barracudas-- loose from the music they're used to.

Ah the man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread
"I never even knew how much I wanted you," she said.
His muscles they were numbered and his style was obsolete.
"O baby, I have come too late." She knelt beside his feet.
"I'll never see a face like yours in years of men to come
I'll never see such arms again in wrestling or in love."
And all his virtues burning in the smoky Holocaust
She took unto herself most everything her lover lost
Now the master of this landscape he was standing at the view
with a sparrow of St. Francis that he was preaching to...

Now you might think I'd start with my own version of musical comfort food, Fats Waller or Gordon Lightfoot, but no, it's been a dark lonely weekend with biting cold outside and soul-wrenching weather inside, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley ain't cheering me up, and damnit, if this is the Dark Night of the Soul come back for a visit (and yes, it stinks after three days) then this is the night (you win, Doris) for the patron saint of disappointment, Leonard Cohen:

First "Suzanne" (with the best understanding of Jesus on this cross this side of Alan Moore's Promethea), some lyrics from "Death of a Ladies' Man" because it's that kind of a day, and finally Jeff Buckley's and K.D. Laing's covers of "Hallelujah". Aristotle tells us this pity and fear is supposed to bring catharsis, cut the poisoned right out of us, but god-damn.

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

More Death: Andrew Wyeth

What is it about the week of January 16? Now news comes that Andrew Wyeth and John Mortimer, the father of Rumpole, both died this weekend. And I'm not feeling too well myself.
Wyeth was 91 years old, a refutation to the "live fast, die young" school of art. What makes Rembrandt Rembrandt and Hokusai "the old man mad with painting" was their ability to dive down deeper and deeper towards the great mysteries. Someone asked Hokusai about old age, and he said it was frustrating because he thought he was just starting to get pretty good; another 90 years, he said, and he might accomplish something. And Wyeth was in a line of great artists: father N.C., and his children, Jamie in particular, continue to do amazing things.

My favorite Wyeths have something human in them: Tom Carpenter in "That Gentleman", the hair on the back of Helga's neck, a dog squinting in the sun, Betsy standing in the snow by an old stone tower.

But what always amazed me, leaves me gobsmacked at the technical skill, was Wyeth's ability to paint inanimate objects-- a landscape, an empty room-- and invest it with so much personality. A lace curtain, a pair of boots, even a weather vane on top of a roof has a story that stepped out of the room just a moment before. How did he do that?
I'll never know, but in an interview last year, he did leave a useful note to etch into my skin: "People only make you swerve. I won’t show anybody anything I’m working on. If they hate it, it’s a bad thing, and if they like it, it’s a bad thing. An artist has to be ingrown to be any good."

"I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered."

The summer I was 11 or 12, Animal World with Bill Burrud was on CBS, and of course I watched that. Immediately after was another summer replacement show, a British series called The Prisoner, created by and starring Patrick McGoohan. And now Pat tells me Patrick McGoohan has died at age 80.
From the opening credits, I was entranced, stolen away to Faery by paranoid elves. I didn't understand half the things that were being said, like a kid overhearing an argument between grown-ups, but The Prisoner crawled into my bones and became part of my soul. Orwell had an intellectual understanding of the modern state in Animal Farm and 1984, but McGoohan understood it intuitively. "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."
1984 caught that in prose, Animal Farm has the power of fable, but The Prisoner was poetry. And this Winston Smith was an Irishman, a combination of anger and wit that was going to be a lot harder for Them to step on.
Apparently it started with an anecdote about a village populated by retired spies, a community of people who knew too many secrets for the government to ever let them out of its sight. You could tell your more literal minded friends that The Prisoner was a sequel to McGoohan's Danger Man series (Secret Agent over here). What was that line in the Johnny Rivers theme for Secret Agent? They've given you a number, and taken 'way your name.
What if the The Village had a sinister purpose? What if John Drake was taken prisoner, who knows by what side? Whose side was anyone on? An old naturalist Andre Gregory met told him that the modern metropolis was a model for the new concentration camp, where the prisoners police themselves and are very proud of the prison they've built around themselves.

It just occurred to me how often Number Six is a trickster hero, for all the storms of anger and secret agent fisticuffs: situation hopeless, no escape, keeping one step ahead of a crooked house and a sardonic smile that he saved for himself.

Sometimes it was "Invictus" staged by Dali, and sometimes the metaphor was more obvious. A Wild West episode was banned in America because Number Six's refusal to carry a gun might be seen as a rebuke to the war in Vietnam, which tells us more about Americans than it does about The Prisoner. The last episode descended into Magical Mystery Tour indulgence, but what the hell. The damage was already done.
All I knew, God break my bones but never bend me, was which side I was going to be on whenever forced to choose between bully or underdog, between the push-button mentality and the human act. I am not a number; I am a free man. And let them laugh. As Gordon Lightfoot suggested, if we cannot beat the Devil, we can try to give him a few unpleasant memories.