Mortality By John Betjeman

The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Shiver and shatter and fall
As the steering column of his comfortable Humber
Batters in the bony wall.
All those delicate re-adjustments
“On the one hand, if we proceed
With the ad hoc policy hitherto adapted
To individual need…
On the other hand, too rigid an arrangement
Might, of itself, perforce…
I would like to submit for the Minister’s concurrence
The following alternative course,
Subject to revision and reconsideration
In the light of our experience gains…”
And this had to happen at the corner where the by-pass
Comes into Egham out of Staines.
That very near miss for an All Souls’ Fellowship
The recent compensation of a ‘K’ –
The first-class brains of a senior civil servant
Are sweetbread on the road today.

Mortality by John Betjeman

Advertisements

Sad Song, When Tragedy Becomes Comedy

Today I was talking to my Dad on the phone about Dante’s Inferno.  Surprisingly we both found it funny.  This is a book where people’s souls are tortured in the most horrible ways imaginable for all eternity, often for no more than religious thought crimes or moments of passion.  The religious medieval mind was sure a strange one!  When things go that dark they, at some point, go through the looking glass and pass into the realm of absurdity, and then turn into comedy.

Lou Reed often makes me laugh in the same way, though I’m almost positive that he was in on the joke.  When he was asked about his album Berlin, which many deem the most depressing album of all time, he said he was just, “having fun.”  Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I can put that album on, or any number of his albums, and find myself instantly cheered up.  The final song on it, Sad Song, is the cosmic punchline to the album.  I was going to describe it, but I found this description on YouTube by Adam Pendleton, the first comment at the time of writing, and I really enjoyed it:

So this poem is about an abusive husband, than his wife kills herself. Even so, he doesn’t really care. He half-heartedly chants “sad song.” than shrugs and moves on. Even after she’s gone he thinks of her as “wasting my time.” and that he was wrong for thinking she ever looked beautiful. He justifies his abuse, “somebody else would have broke both her arms.” At least that’s what I got out of it.

As Mark Twain once said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.”

Modern Hell

I am reading Dante’s The Inferno for the first time since highschool.  If memory serves me correctly, I am actually reading it front to back for the first time.  I have been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in Dante’s hometown of Florence.  The Inferno is clearly influenced by the people, places, and imagery of which Dante was familiar.  

Hell, even at its worst, resembles the artwork and literature of his time, which was often the work of true artists and craftsmen.  I find myself reading this out on the American highway, which often features architecture and art that’s only functions are functionality and efficiency.  Box stores and garish logos dot the landscape.  This is not to say that making things visually striking is everything, as the Nazis were quite good at that.  But often even our modern view of Hell resembles the artistry of Dante’s time, more than any true concept of what is the worst in life.  Would you choose Dante’s Hell or an abandoned K-Mart for eternity?   Dante had no concept of what modern pollution was capable of, of nature so full of chemicals that it looks like a nuclear winter in deep space. 

Overall I, like most who read this, am quite amazed at how much this old text has to offer.  However, how deeply strange would a modern hell look to Dante?  Who knows such things…

the crunch

Too much
too little
or not enough

too fat
too thin
or nobody

laughter or
tears
or immaculate
non-concern

haters
lovers

armies running through streets of blood
waving winebottles
bayoneting and fucking virgins

or an old guy in a cheap room
with a photograph of Marilyn Monroe

many old guys in cheap rooms without
any photographs at all

many old women rubbing rosaries
when they’d prefer to be rubbing cocks

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movements of
the hands of a clock

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it blinking in neon signs
in Vegas, in Baltimore, in Munich

there are people so tired
so strafed
so mutilated by love or no
love
that buying a bargain can of tuna
in a supermarket
is their greatest moment
their greatest victory

we don’t need new governments
new revolutions
we don’t need new men
new women
we don’t need new ways
wife-swaps
waterbeds
good Columbian
coke
water pipes
dildoes
rubbers with corkscrew stems
watches that give you the date

people are not good to each other
one on one.
Marx be damned
the sin is not the totality of certain systems.
Christianity be damned
the sin is not the killing of a God.

people are just not good to each other.

we are afraid
we think that hatred means strength
we think that New York City is the greatest
city in America.

what we need is less brilliance
what we need is less instruction

what we need are less poets
what we need are less Bukowskies
what we need are less Billy Grahams

what we need is more
beer
a typist
more finches
more green-eyed whores who don’t eat your heart
like a vitamin pill

we don’t think about the terror of one person
aching in one place

alone
untouched
unspoken to
watering a plant
being without a telephone that will never
ring
because there isn’t one.

more haters than lovers

slices of doom like taffeta

people are not good to each other
people are not good to each other
people are not good to each other

and the beads swing and the clouds cloud
and the dogs piss upon the roses
and the killer beheads the child like taking a bite
out of an ice cream cone
and the ocean comes in and out
in and out
under the direction of a senseless moon

and people are not good to each other.

By Charles Bukowski.  I used to read a lot of Bukowski the last few years I lived in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to post something of his here, so I started reading some of his poems tonight.  Even though I read many, I kept coming back to this one, which was actually the first one that I read.  The language is so visceral.  It’s beautiful and vulgar at the same time.  If you have ever watched the show Deadwood I believe you will understand that even vulgarity, taken far enough, used in the right way, with the right combination of words and meter, can become something truly beautiful.  At least I do…

The Night of a Thousand Tuesdays

This is actually lyrics to a new song that I just demoed, that I hope to bring out live shortly.  I was joking with my brother about how, once you were an adult and worked a shitty soul-deadening job, nothing that you were scared of as a kid frightens you anymore.  When you were sitting in an office or wherever, doing busywork, you would gladly have werewolf come busting through the front door dismembering people, even if you had to meet your end too.  A theory of mine is that the reason shows about the zombie apocalypse are so popular, is that so many people that work these terrible jobs actually secretly dream of it happening.  At least in the zombie apocalypse you can survive on your wits and get whatever you want in the store.  As I was joking with my brother he said, “The Night of a Thousand Tuesdays”.  Tuesday was always that day at work that you felt most defeated.  Even on Monday you still had a little of that spring in your step from the weekend.  That title, as we joked, was our fake idea for the adult horror movie that we were going to create.  I thought that would make a great song title at least.  Thanks brother!  And yes, I have worked many soul crushing jobs…

THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND TUESDAYS

I ain’t scared of ghosts or witches
Of the latter I’ve known a few
I’m not scared of death or dying
It comes no matter what you do
I no longer root for teenagers
In horror movies on TV
The serial killer in his mask
Is now the only one that speaks to me

I’ve spent too much time in the office
Hearing your senseless voice
It’s the Night of a Thousand Tuesdays
I could kill without remorse

When you’re young and innocent
You fear the monster under the bed
But now if you saw that thing
You’d embrace it and your end

I’ve spent too much time in the office
Hearing your senseless voice
It’s the Night of a Thousand Tuesdays
I could kill without remorse

Busy work and cold calls
Have stolen my youth
Cubicles and their walls
Have blinded me to the truth
The worst is when you pretend
That we’re a family
It’s turning me into an animal
That wants to see you bleed

I’ve spent too much time in the office
Hearing your senseless voice
It’s the Night of a Thousand Tuesdays
I could kill without remorse  

One Hand is Kind, One Hand is Cruel

Baby, let me remind you
You’re ahead one
And behind two

I’m the kind to lay it on the line
But this world is as vicious as love is blind

One hand is kind, the other is cruel
You can have the Kingdom, but may never rule
One hand is cruel, the other is cruel
You can enter the Court, but only as a fool

Baby, let me explain
Most are only as generous
As they are vain

I’m the kind whose always on time
You’re the toast of the town, but there’s another in line

One hand is kind, the other is cruel
You can have the Kingdom, but may never rule
One hand is kind, the other is cruel
You can enter the Court, but only as the fool

Oh I’ll caress your neck
But if you ever talk back, if you ever talk back…
I’m the kind that lays it on the line
Time after time, after time, after time…

Another set of song lyrics from the distant past.  I found some old demos and I clearly don’t have any other blog ideas yet.  Hey, at least I’m honest!  The idea at the time was that the God of the Old Testament was talking to mankind in the form of a relationship song.  However, I think that unless I explained that it just comes across as a piece of sexist clap-trap.  Hey, again, at least I’m honest…

Going Back to Love

Looking for the days of wine and roses
The bounty after the flood
All of my past ventures have failed me
So I’m going back to…
Looking to put some food on my table
And get these boots out of the mud
I heard this town’s looking for a troubadour
So I’m going back to…

The last refuge of the poets
Seeking shelter from irrelevance
The last refuge of the meek
Seeking quarter from ambition

I’m going back to love

Looking to find favor with the weaker sex
Butter and not guns
I’ve never been much of a fighter
So I’m going back to…
Looking for something I can believe in
They kicked me out of Christiandom 
But in my own way I’m a missionary 
So I’m going back to…

The last refuge of the poets
Seeking shelter from irrelevance
The only way they can connect
To the huddled wretched masses

I’m going back to love

No more science, no more reason
I’m not a man for all seasons
No more science, no more reason
No more evolution

I’m going back to love

Lyrics to a song I wrote some time in the distant past.  I think I was reading a lot of Flannery O’Connor at the time, though I can’t be sure.  A cynical narrator that can’t be trusted, using the thing that brings people together to enrich and ingratiate himself.