Friday, April 17, 2009

VK/TC: Don't Let It Bring You Down/ Whiny Angel


It's kind of amazing when you find out forty years later that the stuff you thought was totally great IS totally great. Like:

Don't let it bring you down
It's only castles burning
Just find someone who's turning
And you will come around

A whole host of people who really were able to sing poetry. We thought it was poetry, and lo and behold, it is, and not just any old poetry, but the kind you pull out in the dead of night, when the world looks very dark, when someone who shouldn't have died yet has died. So here, now, we offer two people who are turning. If you need it, they might help you come around. If not, they might turn your head, or heart. Haruki Murakami, from "Always on the side of the egg," a speech he made on receiving the Jerusalem Prize in literature:

I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human
beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile
eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have
no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong - and too cold. If we
have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in
the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others' souls and
from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living
soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit
us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System
did not make us: We made The System.

There's more, and maybe we'll get to that, but from another part of the universe this came on a compilation CD a good friend sent. It was filled with great things (Perfect doing "30 Pieces") but somehow Oliver Mtukudzi's track really stood out, mesmerizing us even without being able to understand the lyrics.



You bring music, by Oliver Mtukudzi.

And words.
Like these of Haruki Murakami, which I freely extract from your citation of his Jerusalem address,

We are all human beings fragile eggs
faced with a solid wall
called The System

The wall is too high
too strong and too cold

If we have any hope at all
it will have to come from our believing in
our own
and others' souls
and by the warmth created by
joining souls together

I think I hear you, or anyway am feeling in the dark (my own obscure dilation) for the musical line that leads me, in the Oliver Mtukudzi and Harumi Murakami messages of belief and hope, lights in the windows of our fleeting houses amid the cold night, to your voice in this. We may as well join our souls together as not.

Don't let it bring you down

The belief and hope (speaking of fragile eggs as we were) impregnating the clichéd encouragement in that line doubtless do survive in pockets and corners of our souls, in this time; but, in my experience, only in a way much attenuated by time. Yet here we have the pleasure of that endeared memorial, Neil Young's whiny angel voice of innocence estranged by experience, now newly unfamiliar in that now you would remember that particular line, of all lines, in this most brought-down of all times.

The angelic innocence beyond irony yet changed by experience.
A hopeful uncertainty, a whistling in the dark.

That whiny-voiced awkward angel in a lumberjack shirt. Strangeness, innocence and belief. Don't let it bring you down. But when I hear it in my mind, late on a cold night, amid the obscure dilation of my mental wanderings, the high voice of the whiny angel that begins to sing that line--once perhaps as innocent as I would have imagined the voice of this angel of Domenico Ghirlandaio--

it sounds troubled in a way that had not, formerly, occurred to me.

Now when I replay the song in my head I get stuck on the castles burning bit, and try to sort that out; the no one turning, the no one coming round; the coldness and darkness of the frozen North Woods in winter under the aching deep starlight above the hockey rink. The lights in the sky, the electromagnetic auras.

What happens after the castles burn down?

I think of some very different angelic musicians, the Grunewald Concert of Angels, going on with their concert despite their tragic knowledge of--indeed, being in eternity, they have already seen it--the Inevitability of the Something Awful.
They know what you and I know. They appear understandably brought down by knowing it. One would not dare say to them, Don't it let bring you down. Down is their kingdom of Up. They appear brought down rather completely. And yet they go on with the show. With their curious copper green skin and lizardlike digital appendages crawling over the strings to produce the astonishing chords of the unheard Angelic Concerto.

Concert of Angels (details): Matthias Grunewald, c. 1515 (Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar)

Madonna and Child Enthroned between Angels and Saints (detail): Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1486 (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


Tom Raworth said...

I remember ™ "Neil Young", Tom: a book of yours I always liked.

Dale said...

Tom, thanks for this. The "castles burning" line and the angels of eternity somehow help to, well, not make sense of things, but to orient a way of seeing, clearly, or unflinchingly, what arrives in the darkest hour.