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July 2014

"Flossie hates peace"

Someone posted on Facebook a link to this imaginary dialogue between John Lennon and Yoko Ono, "John Lennon Writes Imagine". It's funny, but even funnier was this comment, from someone who signed herself "FlOssieraptor":

I've hated that song since I was a kid. When I was at school we had a music teacher who wore crumpled linen suits and had affairs with the sixth formers and Imagine was his favourite ever song. If we'd behaved ourselves and not set off the example tune on the keyboards he would let us sing it. The first time he did this, he said we were going to be using the 'brotherhood AND SISTERHOOD of man' version (because he was teaching in a girls school and wanted to be right on). Without thinking I said 'oh come ON,' and he turned these sad, pitying eyes to me, and then said to the rest of the class 'well I guess Flossie hates peace.'

And so do I, apparently, as I try not to miss an opportunity to say how much I dislike the lyrics of "Imagine."

Equally apropos, though unamusing, was the comment from "emdash":

I nearly dissolved into a sea of rage when I watched "The Killing Fields" and saw they used "Imagine" over the closing credits. HEY YOU KNOW WHO WAS TRYING TO "IMAGINE NO POSSESSIONS?" POL FRICKING POT. 

Muriel Spark: Doctors of Philosophy

I bought this book, a discard from the local public library, for a dollar a year or so ago. I don't know how long it might have been before I read it had I not left it in my office and turned to it one day a couple of months ago when I needed to go out for lunch and didn't have anything else handy to read. At page two I laughed out loud, and continued to do so now and then as I ate lunch, and whenever I picked up the book thereafter.

It's a play, the only one Spark ever wrote for the stage (she also wrote several radio plays). While I take it to be a very sharp satire of women in and around academia, the first commentary I found when I searched the web for it calls it "a fascinating article of early second-wave feminism." I'm not sufficiently informed about the history of feminism to know exactly what the early second wave was all about, but between that view and my own, I'll stick with my own.  

The plot revolves around a married couple, Charlie and Catherine, and Catherine's cousin, Leonora, who lives with them, or at least is staying with them at the time in which the action of the play occurs. All three are Ph.Ds. Catherine has given up her university career for marriage and motherhood (one daughter, Daphne), while Leonora is single and teaching at a university (which I don't recall being named). To say, as the site I linked to above does, that "the two [female] scholars debate the choices they have made with their lives" is not exactly untrue, but is like saying that Macbeth and the witches discuss political strategy: it hardly gives the real flavor of the thing. 

Catherine and Leonora are in fact envious of each other--Catherine of Leonora's career, and Leonora of Catherine's family--and it comes out in ways which I'll forebear describing because doing so would spoil some of the fun. Charlie, an economist by profession, and obsessed with the way the women in his life are constantly putting him "out of pocket," is determinedly unimaginative and might remain oblivious to the female tensions swirling around him, if he weren't forced to pay attention by developments which make that impossible.

There is a housekeeper, Mrs. S., who is the voice sometimes of down-to-earth dullness, sometimes of common sense, and sometimes of actual philosophy; there is more than a hint that she's the only one who knows what's really going on ("S" for "Spark"?). There are two more Charlies: Young Charlie, who is Daphne's boyfriend, and Charlie Brown, usually referred to as Charlie B., who is introduced in this way:

CATHERINE: I'll tell you where I made the mistake. Marriage--yes. But I shouldn't have married into the academic world. Can you imagine what it has felt like, as a scholar, to be the mere chattel of another scholar for all these years?

LEONORA: You exaggerate. Charlie doesn't treat you like a chattel. You've had a very pleasant life.

CATHERINE: I shouldn't have married Charlie. In some ways it was unfair to Charlie. I should have married a stockbroker. I should have married a bank manager, or a butcher or a baker. I had to have my sex, and my child, but I should have married someone who wouldn't eat up my brain, my mind. I should have married an electrician, a plumber. I should have married a hulking great LORRY DRIVER.

Enter DAPHNE followed by CHARLIE BROWN, hulking great lorry driver.

It's true that the dilemma of the woman who wants both a career and marriage and family (and it is a genuine dilemma), and for that matter the situation of woman in general, especially the intellectual woman, is the central device of the play, but to see it as a treatise on that subject is to miss the point, or most of it. I'm not sure what the point is, exactly, if there is a single one to be isolated, but there is a great deal more here than gender studies. Call it human studies, maybe. But definitely call it funny. Here's Mrs. S., asked if Charlie and Catherine know of an incident soon to embarrass them:

MRS. S:  Certainly not. They are deep thinkers, my dear, not common detectives. Doctors of philosophy, not medicine. Must a happened at Oxford.


Coming in January: 52 Authors!

You're meant to hear that mentally in the breathless tone of a movie trailer voice-over. I'd like to work one up but I don't have any of the skills needed, so just imagine it.

In comments on one of the 52 Guitars posts, the commenter who calls himself El Miserable suggested that next year I do 52 authors. I said there was no way I could manage that, so Grumpy proposed sharing the fun, assigning various people to write about five writers, leaving me with twenty or so. That's still a little questionable, but I'm game. I'm not sure I can write about writers as briefly as I do about guitar players, and I've had difficulty with that. But we'll see.

I propose, further, that the project be open to anyone who wants to participate, and that the number of writers per person to be written about be a maximum of five, with the option to do fewer, in case five seems like too many for some people who might otherwise like to play. And I guess if you really want to do more than five, why not?--unless it would require not letting someone else participate, and I very much doubt that that will be a problem. 

I've created a page (like a blog post, but not associated with a date, and stays put) where a roster and a schedule will be maintained--see the "Here" section of the sidebar, where it will stay. Several people, including the two above-mentioned, have already, in that same discussion, claimed their authors, and those are listed there. (Let me know if there are any mistakes or omissions.) I'll consider those taken unless the claimant changes his or her mind. There's a list by participant and by author, but as yet there is no schedule. Since it's only late July, there's plenty of time to fill that out, but if you want to pick a week now, let me know.

I think we should keep the guidelines for content pretty open. This is a Catholic blog, and I would reserve the right to refuse to publish, for instance, a scabrous attack on the faith (an intelligent argument would be different), or a lengthy excerpt from the works of the Marquis de Sade. But on the other hand you don't have to strictly toe the Catholic line. And if you want to write a small critical essay, fine. Or if you only want to say "I think X is great" and post some excerpts to justify your praise, that's ok, too. Chances are good that I will do that with some of mine. Just because this is a blog, the pieces need to be relatively small: let's say 600-1200 words as a general guideline, but feel free to go up over 2000 if you really have a lot to say. My impression is that online pieces much longer than 2000 words don't get read.

A word about the word "author": for some reason I tend to avoid using it, and I'm not sure why. It sounds slightly stilted, or something...can't put my finger on it...and I thought about using "writer" instead. But at least in my mind I tend to apply that word to novelists and journalists, and not to, say, philosophers or theologians or critics. And I do think non-fiction (and poetry) should be included in this, so I'll stick with El Miserable's original term, authors. 

If you haven't already joined in and would like to, post a comment here with the names of the writer(s) you'd like to discuss. Or email me--see the Profile link for the address. Obviously, as the people mentioned earlier indicate, there's no requirement that you use your real name. That's up to you.

If you're not used to dealing with word counts and are wondering how long a 600-word piece is: this one is 643.

The Disembodied Revolution

I'm going through the Sunday Night Journal entries, making my final selection of those to be included in a book (not a real book, just a self-published one), and ran across this quotation from E. Michael Jones, which struck me as worth repeating. The context is a discussion of Wagner:

The revolutionary agenda espoused by both Wagner and Bakunin was so politically diffuse that no political reform could have accomplished it. As a result, it is only natural that its political death would only release its revolutionary soul into freer flights of fantasy, where its disembodied soul was free to posit conditions that it was safe to say could never find incorporation in any political system anywhere…..a revolution which was essentially metaphysical in its scope.

Jones's work is a mixed bag at best, tending toward the fanatical as I recall, but that's about as good a capsule summary as I've seen of something that's been happening in leftist politics since the mid-1960s. Independently of its specific positions, with which I don't always disagree, it's a quasi-religion. And contrary to what Jones suggests at least in this fragment, the impossibility of implementing hasn't made it less appealing as a vision, though it probably increases the rage produced by the continual disappointment of its hopes.

My following comment from the post is not bad, either:

I used to be puzzled by affluent and privileged people who complained that they were not free, because there never seemed to be anything in particular that they wanted to do or to have that was not already available to them. But their complaints were quite sincere; they would feel themselves oppressed as long as it was possible for anything to be other than they wished it to be. The dream of an earthly life free from the limits of the human condition is still very much with us (Imagine there’s no heaven…).

(The whole post, "Is Wagner Bad For You?", is here, by the way.)

52 Guitars: Week 29

Derek Trucks

As I mentioned last week, Derek Trucks is the nephew of Butch Trucks, one of the three original members of the Allman Brothers Band who are still with the group today. And starting in 1999 and continuing until just recently Derek was in it, too.

He was a child--well, ok, a teenaged--prodigy, as the first video attests. The tune is "Mr. P.C.", which jazz fans will recognize as a John Coltrane composition featured on the famous Giant Steps album. It's well known enough to have its own Wikipedia page, where it's described as a "simple 12-bar minor blues." Well, simple by jazz standards, I guess. but it runs at breakneck speed (about 10 seconds per chorus). Derek Trucks is fifteen years old here. Pretty audacious, to take on a tune so closely associated with one of the giants of jazz.


He recorded his first album, The Derek Trucks Band, at seventeen. It included "Mr. P.C." as well as other jazz tunes, like Miles Davis's "So What?"

His musical interests clearly extend well outside of rock and blues. Here's a composition by the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:


 And here's something from the same concert, not exactly blues, but bluesy:


I was a bit surprised that no one complained last week when I featured Duane Allman and didn't mention Derek and the Dominoes (in which he worked with Eric Clapton). It wasn't an accident: I always found Layla a little disappointing--a minority opinion, I know. I think it's partly because the guitars are recorded rather distantly in much of the album. But at any rate it certainly has its great moments. One of my favorite songs from it is "Anyday." Here it is performed by the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, proprietors Derek Trucks and his wife, Susan Tedeschi. Notice the guy in the white shirt and glasses singing along, about a minute or so in.



The Bondage of Creation

As I have written more than once here, one of the two or three most troublesome questions of faith for me is the apparent contradiction between the biblical narrative of paradise and fall, and that put forward by science: millions of years of nature red in tooth and claw, and primitive mankind slowly rising out of beast-hood, no happier or gentler than any other, progressing through millenia of savagery and only recently arriving at a point where, for instance, there is something approaching a general agreement that slavery and torture are wrong. (Here is the first time I discussed it, almost exactly ten years ago.)

This was last Sunday's second reading, Romans 8:18-23:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

I'm pretty sure that the answer to my question, the solution of the great problem, lies behind these words, obscure though they are. In the meantime, we groan in travail with the rest of creation, but also in hope, as the next few sentences say:

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Personally  I don't know about the patience part. But I wait and hope.


I've been meaning to recommend this: the BBC series about the early career of the detective we know and love as Inspector Morse from the series starring John Thaw in the late '80s and through the '90s. This is the second season, and there's only one episode left, so it's almost not worthwhile for me to mention it now. But I'm doing so in case there's anyone who liked the old series and hasn't given this a try.

"Endeavour," as fans know, is Morse's first name, which he detests. The show does a pretty good job of presenting young Morse as a believable version of old Morse. There are lots of nice bits for those who know the old series, showing the development of certain familiar Morse quirks--surprisingly, in the beginning he doesn't drink at all. But more than that, it's a good series of mysteries in itself, and would be even if you'd never heard of the others. Morse is a subordinate to Chief Inspector Fred Thursday, who is a strong character in his own right. The acting is excellent throughout, as we expect from the BBC. Ok, the plots are sometimes a bit far-fetched, but you have to overlook a certain amount of that in most mysteries. 

The first episode of season 1 is available on Netflix, but for some reason the others aren't. They are on Amazon, which makes me worry for the future of Netflix. The most recent episode, "Sway", is still available for online viewing ("for a limited time"). And there's one more coming this Sunday. Each episode stands on its own, and you'll miss very little that's essential by watching them out of order. More information at PBS.

52 Guitars: Week 28

Duane Allman

In my none-too-humble opinion, the Allman Brothers when Duane was still alive were the greatest blues-rock band there's ever been. (For those who don't know the story: Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971, at the age of 24. You can read the band's entire long story at Without him they were still an extremely good band, but Duane's playing had a magnetically intense quality that, along with Gregg's singing and songwriting, lifted those first few albums into the realm of the extraordinary.

It was of course a two-guitar band, the other guitarist being Richard "Dickey" Betts, and the harmonized leads that framed many of their songs were an important part of what made the band distinctive. When the soloing starts, I can usually tell who's who, but not always. Great as Duane is, the band wouldn't have been the same without Betts, and it must have been a frustrating situation for him to be somewhat in Duane's shadow, even after the latter's death. 

Here's a live version of one of their signature songs, "Whipping Post." It's a little faster than the studio version, but twice as long, with a lot of jamming. I wonder now how 22-or-so-year-old Gregg Allman came to write those exhausted end-of-the-line lyrics:

Nothing seems to change
The bad times still remain
And I can't run

Not to mention the 50-year-old voice.


But maybe I shouldn't wonder at Gregg's melancholy, because I was the same age and felt exactly what he was describing in "Dreams":


By way of justifing my original claim, here's some straight-up blues-rock. But of course their music ranged much further than that, as you can tell from the preceding two tracks.


I don't know who's playing when on those two tracks. But just in case you're wondering, here's proof that Dickey Betts was his own man, on another of Gregg's classic songs, "Not My Cross to Bear":


Dang, they were good. By all accounts the version of the band that's been in existence for the past ten years or so is also extremely good, but I haven't checked them out yet. I will be doing so over the coming week, though, because next week's guitarist will be Derek Trucks, nephew of Butch Trucks, one of the original drummers, and a member of the Allman Brothers Band for the past ten years or so, until earlier this year when he decided to leave. 

Unusual Weather

(It seems a little crass to publish this somewhat frivolous post when someone I know, if only through his writings and through mutual acquaintance, is close to death. But that's the way of it, as both Frost ("Out, out--") and Auden ("Musee des Beaux Arts") have noted in their well-known poems: the rest of us go on. That does not mean that we're not thinking about Stratford Caldecott and his family, and continuing to pray for them.)


For six more days after the storm lessened we still had fairly rough weather; nor did the sun once show himself during all that time. For the season—it was now the middle of June—the storm was unusual; but being from southern California, I was accustomed to unusual weather. In fact, I have discovered that the world over, unusual weather prevails at all times of the year.

--Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Land That Time Forgot

Or, as my grandfather used to say of the weather, "There's no such thing as a normal year." Either statement pretty well sums up my skepticism about the more extravagant claims about the effects of global warming.

I had never read anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs until one day last week when I went out for lunch and wanted something light to read, and this was handy. This short novel begins with a lengthy adventure involving the capture of a German submarine during World War I, then turns into a hiddne primeval continent story somewhat like Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World (which I have not read, but when I was twelve I saw the preview of the movie, so I know all about it). Dinosaurs, ape-men, Neanderthals, sabertooths, and mammoths all run around hunting each other in this pocket of non-standard evolution. That latter part was a bit of a letdown to me, not because it was badly done but because I just found it less interesting. Likewise, the whole Tarzan idea never interested me much outside of the comic books, nor does early sci-fi of the sort Burroughs presumably did in his Mars novels. The Land That Time Forgot is the first of a trilogy of short novels about that island, "Caspak," and I don't know that I'll read any more; I'd rather have more straight-up adventure, like the first half of this book. But I have to say the man can tell a story. I can see why he was so popular.

I also liked this bit:

I could have gone on my knees to her and begged her forgiveness—or at least I could have, had I not been Anglo-Saxon. 

There is, by the way, a certain amount of casual matter-of-fact racism in the book where the primitive peoples of Caspak are described--Africans viewed as lower on the evolutionary ladder than Europeans, etc. And quite a hot hatred of the Prussians against whom England and the U.S. were fighting at the time.