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May 29

It happened to come to my attention earlier today that this was the date in 1453 when  Constantinople fell to the Turks. Many years ago I read a book about that event which was sad and disturbing, as is almost any account of mankind's propensity for conquest and slaughter. 

I thought often of that story in the days following 9/11 when more than one prominent American sought to defuse American anger by reminding us of the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099. This event, we were assured, was a memory still very much alive and important in the Islamic world. The suggestion was that our outrage ought to be lessened or at least balanced by Muslim outrage over that nearly-thousand-year-old event. In particular I remember Bill Clinton talking about it, and including a gruesome story of horses wading in blood up to their knees (which seems likely to have been an exaggeration where no exaggeration was needed). 

There was nothing wrong with that in itself. It is well for Christians, and Westerners who though not Christian have an attachment to Western civilization, to be reminded that the Christian-Muslim conflict has over the centuries included atrocities and injustices on our side as well as theirs.

What is however wrong, and wrong in a very significant way, is that I never heard any of these enlightened persons mention the sack of Constantinople, or any other historical instance of Islamic aggression. It hit home to me, not for the first time by any means, but powerfully, that sophisticated Westerners would not or could not defend their own history, at least not if it meant defending Christianity. Oh, they might go to war for the usual very concrete reasons having to do with wealth and power. But they had no affection for or pride in their civilization as something existing in history as well as geography. Increasingly, they have no real knowledge of it, even the putatively educated. It's possible that Bill Clinton did not know that the event of 1453 ever happened.

Or if they have knowledge, it consists mostly of the knowledge of the bad things. Western history for them consists of the so-called "Dark Ages," colonialism, slavery, and Hitler. (The ignorance involved in referring to the medieval era as "the Dark Ages" is an amusing irony.) Western civilization is held to an impossible standard of perfection, others indulged and patronized.

This is no compliment to the others, as it suggests that they aren't capable of meeting the same standards that we are and shouldn't be held to them. But that's another story. 


Nan Vernon: Manta Ray

Maybe you remember that a few months ago I got excited about a track by Nan Vernon on a compilation album (see this post). It was a Cruise-Lynch-Badalamenti-sounding arrangement of an old Bobby Fuller Four song. I had never heard of her, but quickly discovered that she had released one album, Manta Ray, in the mid-1990s. It's out of print but used copies can be found on Amazon, and I immediately bought it. I see now that it can also be found, and really cheap, on Discogs

What with one thing and another, including having been off pop music for Lent, I only recently gave it several serious listens. I can now report that while it isn't the Lynchian masterpiece I was hoping for (though not expecting), it is extremely good. Moreover, it has the seeds of greatness, and I wonder why she never made another. Manta Ray is 25 years old now. I'd like to think that she's been off doing other things, raising a family or something, becoming more wise and mature, and is going to come back with an album that fulfills the promise of this one. Not likely, I guess, but that's ok: one brilliant work is enough. 

NanVernon-MantaRayCover

Don't think I'm being unduly swayed by the fact that the jacket photos show her as very attractive in a way that happens to push my buttons. Remember, when I was enchanted by that first track I didn't even know who was singing, much less what she looked like. She could have looked like Rumplestiltskin for all I knew. Or cared. 

The first track on Manta Ray, "Motorcycle," is sort of a female Springsteen thing, a rocker with somewhat obscure road-and-romance lyrics. The more characteristic songs are slower ones like "No More Lullabies," which really make the most of her lush and powerful voice. I could swear I've heard this song somewhere else:

My impression after one hearing was that this is a very good, very well-produced mainstream sort of record. That's pretty faint praise, especially as "mainstream" coming from me is at best a neutral term, and at worst dismissive. But it kept getting better and I changed "very good" to "brilliant."

The arrangements and production are part of the appeal: there are all sorts of interesting and unconventional little touches, as you can hear in "No More Lullabies." Maybe best of all from my point of view is that as it goes on the album takes a turn toward the strange. There's a very Brecht-Weillian song in German, "Johnny's Birthday," credited only to "hollander," and with no translation of the lyric. And the last song, which is also the title song, is a surrealistic vision that puts me in mind of Kate Bush. I'm not the only one who's had that thought. In looking around for information about Nan Vernon on the web (there's not a whole lot), I ran across this comment:

If she had gone the direction of the song "Manta Ray" I think she'd be up there among the goddesses*. As it is, she's an extrememly worthy apostle.

....

* (my personal musical goddesses being Kate Bush, Happy Rhodes, and Jane Siberry)

I don't know Happy Rhodes but other than that, yes indeed.

Her recorded work since this album seems to consist entirely of one-off covers, like the one I first heard. You can find some of them on YouTube. She should do a whole album of those, maybe more than one. I would, as the kids say, totally buy that. I've always thought it one of the weaknesses of post-1965 pop music that artists generally want to write all their own material. I understand there are financial reasons for that, but too many of them aren't that good at that part of it. 


Talk About Selling Out

A CapitolOne ad:

Life Doesn't Alert You About Your Credit Card--But Eno Can

And I thought I was pretty close to unshockable in such matters. 

BrianEnoYoung3Sure, I'll keep an eye on that credit card for you.

Of course Eno has changed a lot since the above pic (ca. 1972).

Brian_Eno_2015

Brian Eno, in case you don't know his name--i.e. have little interest in the popular music of the past 50 years or so--is quite a brilliant fellow. Presumably the people at Capitol One are abysmally ignorant. 

I guess one can't claim copyright infringement on one's name, especially when the use of it has nothing whatever to do with one. But this is odd. I didn't bother finding out why Capitol One came up with those particular three letters for their service. 


The Search Button Doesn't Actually Work Very Well At All

I noticed in the statistics for this blog that the search button has been used a lot over the past few days. Don't feel paranoid: it doesn't record any info about who's doing the search, just that the URL has been referenced. So as a public service I must tell you (if you haven't figured it out already) that the search is unreliable. It's almost worse than no search at all, because it often fails to find the most obvious and prominent things. It's very frustrating.

If I really want to find something, I use Google's site-specific search: follow the search term with "site:www.lightondarkwater.com." For instance, a search for "Mary Karr" (or case variants thereof) using the Typepad search fails to find two recent posts which mention her name. But using this search string with Google does:

mary karr site:www.lightondarkwater.com

I think Google offers some sort of search plugin that can be used to implement a local search, but I tend to avoid using Google these days if there's an alternative. My first choice for internet search in general is DuckDuckGo, and then Google if that result is unsatisfactory in some way. It also has the site-specific feature, which doesn't seem to work quite as well as Google's. I just tried the Mary Karr search there and it got the two recent mentions but not a couple of older ones in comments that Google found.

I should probably at least put some kind of disclaimer on the search button if I can't replace the Typepad search with something better, as it can be quite misleading. It hasn't improved for years so I guess it isn't very important to them. 


The Liar's Club, Again

"Again" because I was talking about it last week in this post, when I had only read 60 or 70 pages. Now I've finished it. 

I'm still not sure that it's right to expose other people so very intimately to the world, but I gather that the main characters apart from herself who are still living, her mother and her sister, were at least accepting of it. (Her father, an extremely important  member of the cast, died before Karr wrote the book.)

And I'm still a little skeptical as to whether she could truly remember so much, still suspecting that she must have filled in a lot of detail from imagination and general knowledge of the people (including herself) and places. If not, it's the work of a truly prodigious memory, and I suppose some people do have such gifts.

And there are certain things about her style that aren't entirely to my taste. But the energy and fecundity of her prose, especially her rendering of the visual, are extraordinary. I mentioned in that other post that I was set upon by envy very soon after I started reading The Liar's Club, and that aspect of it, the visual, is what I envy most. It is a book filled with pain and could have been almost unbearable. For that matter, never mind the book, the bare story could have been almost unbearable. I am not a fan of the "misery memoir" which has been a sort of trend for some time now, but this one (which I think was one of the first) certainly justifies its existence by its enormous merit. It is quite a book. I recommend it.

Mary Karr converted to Catholicism--in 1996, I read somewhere, which would be not long after The Liar's Club was published. A subsequent memoir, Lit, apparently goes into that, and curiosity may compel me to read it. But not right away. 

TheLiarsClub


The Big Heat

Fritz Lang directed this 1953 film noir, which would lead one to expect that it would be at minimum pretty good. I think it's way better than that, one of the best of its type, although it isn't my favorite (my favorite so far is Out of the Past--see this post). Glenn Ford stars as an honest cop whose investigation of a suicide leads him to a web of big-city corruption. That sounds tired, I know, but the way it works out is not. Gloria Grahame, who played Vi in It's A Wonderful Life, is a gangster's girlfriend who, in a departure from the typical, proves to be quite the opposite of a femme fatale, except...well, no, that would be a spoiler. Anyway t's a very poignant role, and performance. 

This poster is pretty much useless as guide to the movie. It's funny how many crime/detective novels and films are called "The Big" something or other. In this case it refers to the heat which is going to come down on the crime syndicate if/when certain information is revealed. TheBigHeatMoviePoster


Early Memories

I'm reading Mary Karr's memoir The Liars' Club. It's very good, but I realized fairly quickly that some part of me wants to dislike it. At first I didn't want to admit that to myself, keeping a keen eye out for faults while not quite consciously wanting to find them. Then, when it got difficult to suppress my actual bias and desire, I started asking myself why I wanted to dislike it. And then I spent a little while trying to suppress the answer to that question. I finally faced that one, too: it's envy. 

I'm no stranger to that ignoble emotion, especially where writers are concerned. I suppose anyone who wants to be good at anything is bound to feel a little envy of those who are very, very good at it. Likely to, anyway, if not bound. But it's not usually very strong with me--just sort of a sigh, I wish I could write like that. And it definitely doesn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the work, much less cause me to try to find fault with it. My problem with Mary Karr's book is that I've written a book that's at least 50% memoir, and it's not nearly as good as hers. I'd like to think it has strengths of its own, but in the way of vividly bringing to life scenes from the past it's not in the same league as The Liars' Club. I envy the latter's richness and color, the precision and detail of its observations, the novelistic or even cinematic rendering of character, the wit--especially the wit. I even came pretty close to envying Mary Karr the presence of those crazy people in her life, the fact that they were available to her to write about. My family was not nearly as wild and colorful--which I am sensible enough to realize is a good thing even as I feel that hint of envy. (And I do not, very much do not, envy certain of her experiences.)

And I certainly don't recall nearly as much of my childhood as Karr does. Really, is it possible that anyone remembers so much of childhood so precisely? Doing my best to take into account my bias, I still have some skepticism on that score. Surely Karr embellished and combined and reconstructed in some instances, such as a scene in which she recounts a long story which her father told to a group of friends, including not only the essence of the story but its exact words, and some digressions, as well as precise details of the listeners' identities and appearances and responses. She's still a small child, not yet in school. Would a child that young even notice all that, much less be able to recall it in middle age? 

Well, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. And even if there is some embellishment, I'll assume it's justifiable in that it's in keeping with the real characters and events. And in any case it's a really engaging read.

I had been mulling that over yesterday when I saw this post at Neo-neocon's blog: What's your first memory? Many of the answers, starting with her own, are fascinating. It's a topic that has intrigued me for a long time. Some people seem to remember a great deal from quite early, meaning two years or younger, some nothing until considerably later. I think the matter first really caught my attention years ago when I began to notice how much more my wife remembers about her childhood than I do about mine. Or maybe it's not so much the amount as the precision and the detail. In particular she has a detailed memory of an event that happened when she was twenty-six months old. Her mother doubted this, but my wife was able to describe the scene so precisely that her mother had to concede that it was a genuine memory. 

For my part I can't say for certain that I remember anything at all before the age of four or five. I have one image which may come from much earlier, but I can't be sure because it's not specific enough. The indubitably genuine memories are not nearly as precise as many of my wife's--surroundings are usually pretty indistinct, for instance. That aspect of the difference between us may be due only to the fact that she is very observant and has a very good visual memory, whereas I'm not and I don't. 

Still, I've noticed often enough that I think it may be a pattern that women tend to remember more, and more precisely, from childhood than men do. I don't know if that would hold up under statistical inspection, but as I say I've noticed it. And it would fit with a more supportable generalization: that women tend to be more interested in children and childhood than men.

And there's a related pattern that I am pretty sure of: women are far more likely to remember what clothes they had on. Mary Karr remembers as part of a fairly ordinary moment in her childhood that she was wearing "white underpants, which had little red apples printed on them." There's an autobiographical book, by a woman, called Love, Loss, and What I Wore, but I don't know how many childhood memories are involved in it.

TheLiarsClub


The Millennium: Begin

The AllMusic.com review describes this album as "a bona-fide lost classic." I don't think that's really true, not because it isn't a classic, but because it's no longer lost. It was released in 1968 and sales were negligible. It was eventually discovered, or rediscovered, years too late to benefit the artists very much. It deserved a bigger audience than it is likely ever to have, and still does, but at least it has been acknowledged by a lot of critics and fans.

TheMillennium-BeginCover

I think I will let Wikipedia do the work of reporting the facts about the group, which seems to have been basically a studio entity, and the recording of what turned out to be their only album: you can read all about it here. You can find out more about the album, the group, and the person who was one of the masterminds of the effort, Curt Boettcher, in Dawn Eden Goldstein's memoir. More than the facts, though, you will find out about the profound effect the album had on her, and where her interest took her. She is one of two people I know who were greatly affected by it. (The other is a friend who concurred in Dawn's recommendation of it years ago on her blog.)

I finally bought it a few years ago, listened to it once or twice, and thought "Yeah, that's nice, not really my cup of tea but I can see why people like it." A few weeks ago, because I was about to read Dawn's memoir, I listened to it on a long car trip and began to get the reasons for the enthusiasm. Another hearing at home confirmed it: yes, it is actually extremely good, worthy of being compared to anything else of its time; yes, including the Beatles. Actually it's better than much of the Beatles' work from their last two albums. I guess it's a little on the light side for me to apply the word "great" to it, but it certainly belongs up there with far better-known music.

The AllMusic review describes it as a combination of "hard rock, breezy ballads, and psychedelia." I'd use a different set of labels. There's not a lot of what anyone today would consider to be hard rock on it. And if the term in 1968 meant, say, Jimi Hendrix or Cream or Steppenwolf or Iron Butterfly, or the Beatles in a track like "Helter Skelter," there wasn't much at the time. How about "sunshine pop and psychedelia"?

The former term in particular is rather vague, but think of The Association or The Mamas And Papas, or maybe even (don't laugh) The Monkees: bright tunes, complex vocals and arrangements, cheerful optimistic lyrics. Like those, but even more so, this music is all about the tunes and the vocals. The instruments are used brilliantly, with great care and precision, but are generally not in the foreground. Nobody is jamming here. There must have been several really good vocalists in the group (think of The Assocation again), even considering how much multi-tracking is present.  The whole thing is very tightly arranged and produced, like the Beatles' later studio work. 

Interestingly, the album begins more in the sunshine vein, and tends a little darker (just a little) and more psychedelic as it goes on. And it ends with a track (not a song), "Anthem (Begin)," which is just flat-out abstract, comparable to The Beatles' "Revolution #9" (but mercifully much shorter). I'd call it a misstep, really, though I have no doubt that Boettcher and Co. had what seemed to them very good reasons for doing it: some kind of statement about the opening of possibilities, maybe. But I'd rather the album ended with the beautiful and brilliant "There Is Nothing More to Say." 

That title might make you think that the song is some kind of bitter statement, maybe about the end of a love affair. But it's in the vein of several others on the album which overflow with very 1960s sentiments: a better world is coming, open up, let go, be  yourself, and so forth. 

There is something that you hear in so many of our songs
And it's something that we want you to know
Oh the time is going to come when we're going to lead the way
You'll be shown the way
And shown the time
We only need to go

To which many of us who were there and have seen how things turned out respond "Yeah, right." But never mind that: the sense of hope is poignant and sweet, even if it is a bit cloying at times, and it's apparent all through the album. 

Dawn heard Begin twenty years after it was released, which if I'm not mistaken, was the year she was born. In other words she heard it when she was around twenty. As it happens, that was my age in 1968. I wonder what I would have thought of the album if I'd heard it then. Would it have hit me in somewhat the same way it did her? My guess is that I wouldn't have really taken to it; I would have thought it a little twee, though I didn't have that word--too sweet, too close to fluffy, for my taste at the time. Though I might have loved it at a few years earlier, at the age fifteen or sixteen, when I was enthusiastic about Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence.

And I wonder why it didn't sell. It was somewhat out of step with its times, but not all that much. The hippies were into harder stuff in 1968, but they were a minority of the record-buying public. It wasn't long after the release of Begin that the 5th Dimension's slick productions lightly flavored with flower power were huge hits. I wonder--this is going to sound silly--if the cover was a factor. It's a nice picture, but not striking. A little dull, actually, if you ask me. If I saw it in the stores at the time, which I don't remember doing, I probably didn't think it looked interesting.

Or maybe it just fell between two stools, too sweet for the hippies, too complex for the mainstream. Or maybe it had to do with their not being a live band, thus having no legend of great performances and enthusiastic crowds. Or maybe the record company just didn't do a good job of getting the word out.

Well, whatever the reason, it's a sad story in many ways. None of the participants ever had much success as performers, though a couple did well as producers. But at least we can be glad that this brilliant work wasn't truly lost.


Two More Notes on Dawn Eden Goldstein's Sunday Will Never Be the Same

I knew I should have let that notice that I posted last week sit for a day or two before posting it. I generally do that with anything that's more than a paragraph or two, in case I think of something else I want to say or change the way I said it. So, addenda:

(1) I found a note I'd made while reading the book and forgotten about. Here, I'll just give it to you verbatim: 

People might say she's extreme about life worth living or not. But she's only facing the truth that is mostly ignored.

I didn't mention one of the arresting things about Dawn's story, which is that she was suicidally depressed for much of her youth and young adulthood. It seemed to her that her life held neither happiness nor meaning. And at times when she felt that there was not even the hope of happiness she felt that to continue living would only prolong the unhappiness. 

What I mean when I say she was facing the truth is that the sense of what life is for that is generally operative in our secular culture is that one is meant to be happy, and more or less entitled to be. (We don't look very closely at "meant to be.") This is a sort of starting point. However, if happiness is not happening or at least plausibly expected, life can still have a meaning. You can find meaning in doing things that you believe worthy--and most people would probably say that this involves somehow making life better for other people, those close to you or some larger set, maybe the whole of humanity. That's good, and I don't disparage it. But it's a limited, provisional meaning, not an absolute one. If, as the famous remark goes, in the long run we're all dead, then this constitutes meaning only for the relatively short run. I'm very sympathetic to people like Dawn for whom this is not enough. Because I'm one of them. 

(2) I lodged the mild complaint that I'd like to have heard more about the music she loves, and the effect(s) it had on her. That's still true, but I re-read the passage where for the first time she hears "It's You," from The Millennium's album Begin, and then the rest of the album, and it certainly does what I asked. "It's You" is the 45 pictured on the book's cover. I will be posting a review of that album sometime this week so will save further comment on it for that.

Also, her references to Robyn Hitchcock's work make me want to hear more of it. There's a significant moment when she hears him perform "The Ghost In You," a song by the Psychedelic Furs. As it happens, that song is one of the three Robyn Hitchcock tracks in my mp3 collection. 

I might still like the Furs' original better. 


About That Letter From Those Theologians

I mean the one in which they accuse Pope Francis of heresy. I've only read the first page, at which point I scrolled down to see the list of signers. The only one I recognize is Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. I've read several of his books and he is certainly not any sort of crank. Or at least he hasn't been in the past. I can only conclude that either there is something to the charges, or that Fr. Nichols has made a mistake in judgment. 

The first page includes the first charge: that the Pope has "publicly and pertinaciously demonstrated his belief" that

A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.

I've heard more or less the same charge from people who are theologically educated and are not cranks. It may be justifiable. Nevertheless, I don't plan to get into the controversy any further than the preceding remarks. It's been raised in a Facebook group for the Ordinariates to which I belong, and I posted the following comment there. I guess it's partly or mainly just an occasion for me to say something I've wanted to say for some time. And I want to say it more publicly.

This is a sort of meta-comment, about why I am not going to comment on the letter: as a lay Catholic with no knowledge of theology beyond some basics, I do not consider myself qualified or entitled or obligated to call anyone a heretic on any grounds more subtle than something like denying the physical Resurrection. This is much more emphatically the case where the accused is the pope. The same basic principle applies to the signatories of this letter: I am not qualified to evaluate their arguments. 

And on a personal level I have, in my going-on-40 years as a Catholic, become almost as sick of heresy-hunters as of heretics, especially of self-appointed heresy-hunters among the laity. By "heresy hunters" I mean those who are clearly looking avidly for anything that can be construed as heresy or just savoring of it. I have had a lot of reservations about Pope Francis and in particular about his governance, and have said so publicly. I had misgivings about him from the beginning, initially for nothing any more concrete than "I've got a bad feeling about this," and I think they have been somewhat justified. Somewhat. But I have deeper reservations about the anti-Francis people who seem determined to put the worst possible construction on everything he says.

(That emphasized "Somewhat" was not in the Facebook post, because you can't do italics in Facebook comments.)

The inquisitorial spirit I'm talking about is partly a somewhat (at least) understandable reaction against the toleration and even advocacy of heresy on the part of many elements of the Church, most harmfully within the hierarchy and the academic establishment. I was an enemy of what can loosely be called Modernism as soon as I understood what it was, and I still am. But the inquisitorial impulse quite clearly often has a strong taint of pride and malice. And is probably at least as great a risk to the soul of the person exercising it as the profession of doctrinal error. 

NobodyExpectsEtc(Sorry, couldn't resist.)