October 18, 2007

Stupid Song Lyrics

{a modest compendium; obviously it's scarcely possible to be comprehensive. For the most part I've avoided mentioning howlers like "In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they're only made of clay", because I'm aware that 'stone' or 'rock', which would be correct, doesn't rhyme with the last word of 'Our love is here to stay', and a songwriter has to eat after all}

"Wo-o wo-o, hey hey
I love you more than I can say.
Love you twice as much tomorrow.
Love you more than I can say."
Math and language skills about equally challenged here. If you can't say how much you love somebody, it's a safe bet you can't coherently promise twice as much tomorrow--and why should the object of his affection settle for, at best, half the love he's capable of, today?

I don't know how many times over the years Crosby, Stills, Nash and Yonge have sung "Four Dead in Ohio", or how many times Neil Young has sung it solo. Thousands I'd imagine and in all that time it's never occurred to them that these lines
"Gotta get down to it, soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago."
means exactly the opposite of what they intend.

There aren't any intelligent lines in Neil Diamond's "I Am (I Said)" but I think the peak of stupidity is reached by the refrain
"I am, I said, to no-one there
And no-one heard at all, not even the chair."
Which is surprising when you consider what amazingly sensitive ears most chairs have.

The writer of these lines was exceptionally proud of them, since they're the only lyric heard (like it were a needle skipping) on a song running 4 minutes or thereabouts (I was in a bar and my drink wasn't finished, that's why I subjected myself to the nuisance)
"There's things I haven't told you
I go out late at nigh
And if I was to tell you
You'd see my different side."
I'll let that, and this blast from the past, stand in for all those songs whose invention stretches no further than the repetition of one exceedingly stupid lyric 'til you can practically see the drool tricking down the singer's jaw on both sides, and perhaps secretly wish it were copious blood
"I'm a Neanderthal man, you're a Neanderthal girl
Let's make Neanderthal love, in this Neanderthal world"
(I bet somewhere there's an errant Ph.d thesis comparing this lyric, not unfavourably, to the elegant thought twists of Wittgenstein, but stupid academic theses are a whole 'nother issue.)

"Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn't mean it.
"I just want you back again."
Where do women dig up these bozos? (I don't mean that literally.) And why do so many otherwise intelligent women stick to them like glue? (I suppose the same question can be asked in reverse, and about same sex mismatches, but that doesn't make it any less puzzling.) Assuming the lady he's singing to has a legitimate grievance--and the evidence of these lines is enough for me on that score--the least she should expect is awareness of precisely what she's complaining about, and a particular apology. I'd advise dumping. Shag him one last time for auld lang syne if you must, if his cock's in better repair than his hart and brain, but after that's done, make like the birds and flock off.

'Norwegian Wood' isn't at all a stupid song, but in his last interview Lennon made an amazingly stupid remark about it: "I wanted to write about an affair, but I didn't want me wife to know I was writing about an affair.
"I once had a girl
Or should I say
She once had me."
Really smooth camouflage there, Johnny.

I won't pursue this any further, but I throw the comment board wide open to reader contributions. Please make your quotes as accurate as possible. Cheers.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 16, 2007

Baby Talk

"A ridicule deferred is a ridicule lost forever."
R.A. Lafferty

"Last fall, a Toronto lawyer who works at one of the city's bigger firms asked for two weeks of paternity leave so he could help his wife settle into a routine with their newborn daughter. For that, he was mocked endlessly.
" 'So,' his male colleagues would say, eyebrows cocked, 'paternity leave, huh?'
"This tone suggested no true lawyer would ever do anything so sissified.
" 'It drove me nuts,' says the lawyer, who asked not to be identified."
--Dave McGinn, Nat Post, Oct 16 '07

What follows is a balanced journalistic account of this issue as it works itself out in the contemporary marketplace. You know the drill: follow this example with one from a friendlier work environment, wing in a few more anecdotes and then bring on the sociological observation on how things are changing in the workplace and how further change might be managed. Give me the basic data and I could produce a dozen of these a day, so long as I could repress a constant urge to giggle. (Humour is strictly frowned upon in this sort of think piece, though a think piece without humour is like a rainstorm without water IMHO: it lacks a little something.)

It doesn't seem to have occured to the lawyer--trapped in this anecdote like a fly in amber--that he had at least two responses available to him. The first was to maintain a dignified silence, firm in his own principles. In practice that seems to be out, since he was actually so infirm in his principles that this teasing "drove him nuts" as it would have on the school playground when he was three. In which case what he needs is a quiverful of barbed responses.

He could ask those teasing employees to tell him--quick, off the top of their heads--the names and ages of their children? What milestones in their children's development were they present for and which did they miss? First word, first step, little league, first school performance, first run-in with the law? Right, you were sort of obliged to take notice of that since parents, who on earth knows why, are held somewhat responsible in those cases if their children are not yet of age. Even if, as in your case, involvement was so minimal you could hardly have done or said anything to set them so seriously off on a wrong path. Your part of the joint enterprise was completed by your part in making them. And what's kept you a stranger to your children all these years? Ah right, all those thousands of extra billing hours in Millstadt v. Hagler, which has been in litigation more years than you can count on the fingers of both hands and is unlikely to be resolved in as many more. One or two colleagues whose hobby is literature have taken to calling it Jarndyce and Jarndyce and won't tell you why. Drives you nuts.

Certainly there's nothing the least bit sissy about a man all gwowed up whose life's work is resolving (or resolutely leaving unresolved) the endless hissy fits of corporations. Civilizations have been known to totter and fall over less. But do you never feel you've given over a little more of your heart and soul than--oh now please! the office is no place for that kind of blubbering.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 14, 2007

Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing

This year, for a change, I approve of a Nobel pick--though I got a great kick out of seeing just how underwhelmed Lessing was when told the news. "I've won every bloody prize in Europe, why do you have to bother me like this?" Which might seem like an ungracious response to a microphone stuck in your face out of nowhere when you were peacefully steeping out the back seat of a car, but it's reported Lessing's been on the short list of the Nobel committee for 40 years. (Her story is that 40 years ago she was told the Nobel committee didn't like her. That wore off presumably, or the people who held that opinion died out.) Look over the list of the winners in that period--there certainly aren't any better writers than Doris Lessing on it (supposing that's a possibility) and probably not more than three that are arguably in her class. The writers who might be compared to Lessing are mostly conspicuous by their absence (going right back to the turn of the century) and in many cases--recently, Peter Barnes, R.A. Lafferty, Dennis Potter, Janet Frame--the error can never now be rectified. Assuming the committee is right now on a roll, what about Alasdair Gray next year? If he lasts as long as Lessing has, there's a 14 year window of opportunity, but where's the guarantee of that?

The Golden Notebook's the one everyone talks about, and scarcely needs my recommendation. Read it if you haven't, read it again if you have. Enjoy.

Shikasta may be just as good. (Thomas Disch said in an interview that Lessing's science fiction novels were dreadful, and about the other four I agree with him. One of them is 150 pages of weak rhetoric contending against rhetoric as a corrosion of language. Plato's argument, which she derives hers from, is equally weak but not quite so wordy.

About Shiikasta I'd quarrel with him though. It's a story that freely overleaps centuries and millenia and takes our entire planet for its locale. Here's a passage that stood out for me:

"This woman, this man, restless, irritable, grief-stricken, sleeping too much to forget their situation or unable to sleep, looking everywhere for some good or sustenance that will not at once give way as they reach out for it and slide off into reproach or nothingness--one of them takes a leaf up from the pavement, carries it home, stares at it. There it lies in a palm, a brilliant gold, a curled, curved, sculptured thing, balanced like a feather, ready to float and to glide, there it rests, lightly, for a breath may move it, in that loosely open, slightly damp, human palm, and the mind meditating there sees its supporting ribs, the myriads of its veins branching, and rebranching, its capillaries, the minuscule areas of its flesh which are not--as it seems to this brooding human eye--fragments of undifferentiated veins, but, if one could see them, highly structured worlds, the resources of chemical and microscopic cell life, viruses, bacteria--a universe in each pin-point of leaf. It is already being dragged into the soil as it lies there captive, a shape as perfect as a ship's sail in full wind, or the shell of a snail. But what is being looked at is not this curved exquisite exactness, for the slightest shift of vision shows the shape of matter thinning, fraying, attacked by a thousand forces of growth and death. And this is what an eye tuned slightly, only slightly, differently would see looking out of the window at that tree which shed the leaf on to the pavement--since it is autumn and the tree's need to conserve energy against the winter is on it--no, not a tree, but a fighting seething mass of matter in the extremes of tension, growth, destruction, a myriad of species of smaller and smaller creatures feeding on each other, each feeding on the other, always--that is what this tree is in reality, and this man, this woman, crouched tense over the leaf, feels nature as a roaring creative fire in whose crucible species are born and die and are reborn in every breath . . . every life. . . every culture. . . every world. . . the mind, wrenched away from its resting place in the close visible cycles of growth and renewal and decay, the simplicities of birth and death, is forced back, and back and into itself, coming to rest--tentatively and without expectation--where there can be no rest, in the thought that always, at every time, there have been species, creatures, new shapes of being, making harmonious wholes of interacting parts, but these over and over again crash! are swept away!--crash go the empires, and the civilizations, and the explosions that are to come will lay to waste seas and oceans and islands and cities, and make poisoned deserts where the teeming detailed inventive life way, and where the mind and heart used to rest, but may no longer, but must go forth like the dove sent by Noah, and at last after long circling and cycling see a distant mountaintop emerging from wastes of soiled water, and must settle there, looking around at nothing, nothing but the wastes of death and destruction, but cannot rest there either, knowing that tomorrow or next week or in a thousand years, this mountaintop too will topple under the force of a comet's passing, or the arrival of a meteorite.
. . .
"And when the dark comes, he will look up and out and see a little smudge of light that is a galaxy that exploded millions of years ago, and the oppression that had gripped his heart lifts, and he laughs, and he calls his wife and says: Look, we are seeing something that ceased to exist millions of years ago--and she sees, exactly, and laughs with him.
"This, then is the condition of Shikastans now, still only a few, but more and more, and soon. multitudes.

"Nothing they handle or see has substance, and so they repose in their imaginations on chaos, making strength from the possibilities of a creative destruction. They are weaned from everything but the knowledge that the universe is a roaring engine of creativity, and they are only temporary manifestations of it.

"Creatures infinitely damaged, reduced and dwindled from their origins, degenerate, almost lost--animals far removed from what was first envisaged for them by their designers, they are being driven back and back from everything they had and held and now can take a stand nowhere but in the most outrageous extremities of--patience. It is an ironic, and humble, patience, which learns to look at a leaf, perfect for a day, and see it as an explosion of galaxies, and the battleground of species. Shikastans are, in their awful and ignoble end, while they scuffle and scrabble and scurry among their crumbling and squalid artefacts, reaching out with their minds to heights of courage and . . . I am putting the word faith here. After thought. With caution. With an exact and hopeful respect."

Much of Lessing's work remains undiscovered country for me. I think I'll begin by tacking The Four-Gated City again. I've tried reading it through more than once, and while I've gotten through hundred page swatches with considerable pleasure, I've yet to succeed at that. It's about time I did.
If there were no better reason for celebrating than how much this award got up the nose of Mr. Tweed Suited Pretension himself, Harold Bloom, that might be almost enough. But there are far better reasons.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 6, 2007

Unconditional Love

The wide dispersion of this cliche in ordinary speech and on the printed page alarms me. It's usually possible, with divagation, to figure out what people mean by it; but what they mean is never anything resembling unconditional love. Small children might feel that or something very near it, until they're taught to discriminate what's worthy of love and what isn't. (You'd strip a great deal from the school curriculum if that lesson were removed, which would make for a lot of work; you'd have to replace it with things worth learning.) A Buddha perhaps or a figure of perfect enlightenment under under another name (for the sake of argument, let's say Louis Armstrong) might actually be so free and open to all experience as to love unconditionally. But please! "I love my children unconditionally."? Unless you're trying to set a record as a limbo dancer, that's setting the bar awfully low; 'my children' being itself a stated condition.

At a minimum you might speak of loving children unconditionally. To do that wouldn't necessarily make 'my children' an irrelevant distinction, but would certainly somewhat diminish its importance. And are children the only human creatures this teeming globe presents us with? Unconditional love would have to expand enough to include adults as well, and I know by considerable experience they're a far harder test. But where would the children we're to love unconditionally come from, if not the sweaty loins of adults?

And are people the only creatures with whom we share this ample earth? far from it I'd say. There are untold species of plant and animal life we haven't even discovered yet--a new breed of hummingbird was recently found in South America, and put on the endangered species list the same day. You've got to love a guy with a hard luck story like that. Not that there are any shortage of told species--you could probably google the number of distinct species we've catalogued and named, but trust me--the number is immense. The number we've put on endangered species lists is no small potato, nor the number that have grown extinct in the average baby boomer's lifetime. We'd be a lot more actively concerned about that if unconditional love were as thick on the ground as people are in the habit of claiming.

Personally I think we'd do well to act as if we loved all life on earth, even if we were faking it a bit, because all life exists within a complex web of interdependence and we're high on the list of the most dependent. A great many species might be extinguished if we continue or clear-cutting, gas-burning, air and water and land poisoning ways, but one of them will certainly be ours. Possibly as soon as our children's or grandchildren's generation reaches the age of majority. There's no way to love our children unconditionally if we don't love tree frogs, dolphins, fruit flies and house flies, rain forests and all the hyperabundant life that thrives in them. Tell that to the next person you hear boasting of unconditional love for anyone, and tell them I said so.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 3, 2007

African Concept Album

In a BBC interview Mick Jagger, asked what he might have been if not a rock star, replied: "Maybe I'd be in Africa trying to help a beleaguered economy. Who knows? Or probably an ex-ballet dancer with bad knees." There was no follow-up question apparently. What is it with these slacker interviewers? I think I'd've pointed out to Sir Mick that while a ballet career at his age is probably out of the question--though if he tried it the bad knees would be sure to arrive in short order--a hale and hearty sixty is not at all a bad age to start pitiching in in Africa if this really is a long-repressed dream. Full time or between tours--the Stones are off the road more than they're on it after all. And there's this in favour of the idea--though when it comes to his personal fortune Jagger's reputed both greedy and stingy, he has a far wider practical streak than most of the celebrities who've been making the obligatory three-week junket to save Africa or at least one of its itty-bitty cutey-wooty babies. Jagger's never been a sentimentalist unless on the delicate issue of his male member, and unsentimental sympathy could do a power of good almost anywhere in Africa--anywhere the risk of being on the wrong side of automatic fire or artillery shelling isn't too great. Wouldn't expect a foreigner to risk that, I'd prefer it if Africans didn't have to. Yes, I can almost picture it.

Well it was a thought.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides