Disaffected Prep

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


September Gurl with the Blue Plastic Radio

A colleague of mine once suggested that I read W.B. Yeats' poem "Second Coming," while tracing an imaginary circle (or a Yeatsian gyre) in the air with my finger.

Sounds absurd yea, but dammit it works. It changes your concentration, forces you to focus purely on the text and your relationship to it while blocking out any sort of outside influence to interrupt your analysis and experience.   

I have a simplified(1) version to share.

Read the following Campbell McGrath(2) poem while listening to Big Star.  I'll explain why this works in a second.



Girl with Blue Plastic Radio
Campbell McGrath

The first song I ever heard was "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde."
There was a girl at the playground with a portable radio,
lying in the grass near the swing set, beyond the sung-lustred aluminum slide,

kicking her bare feet in the air, her painted toenails - toes
the color of blueberries, rug burns, yellow pencils, Grecian urns.
This would be when-1966? No, later, '67 or '68. And no,

it was not the very first song I ever heard,
but the first that invaded my consciousness in that elastically joyous
way music does, the first whose lyrics I tried to learn,

my first communication from the gigawatt voice
of the culture - popular culture, mass culture, our culture - kaboom! -
raw voltage embraced for the sheer thrill of getting juiced.

Who wrote that song? When was it recorded, and by whom?
Melody lost in the database of the decades
but still playing somewhere in the mainframe cerebellums

of its dandelion-chained, banana-bike-riding, Kool-Aid-
addled listeners, still echoing within the flesh and blood mausoleums
of us, me, we, them, the self-same blades

of wind-sown crabgrass spoken of and to by Whitman,
and who could believe it would still matter
decades or centuries later, in a new millennium,

matter what we listened to, what we ate and watched, matter
that it was "rock 'n' roll," for so we knew to call it,
matter that there were hit songs, girls, TVs, fallout shelters.

Who was she, her with embroidered blue jeans and bare feet,
toenails gilded with cryptic bursts of color?
She is archetypal, pure form, but no less believable for that.

Her chords still resonate, her artifacts have endured
so little changed as to need no archaeological translation.
She was older than me, wordly and self-assured.

She was already, a figure of erotic fascination.
She knew the words and sang the choruses
and I ran over from the sandbox to listen

to a world she cradled in one hand, transistorized oracle,
blue plastic embodiment of our neo-Space age ethos.
The hulls of our Apollonian rocket ships were as yet unbarnacled

and we still found box turtles in the tall weeds and mossy grass
by the little creek not yet become what it was all becoming
in the wake of the yellow earth-movers, that is:

suburbia. Alive, vibrant, unself-consciously evolving,
something new beneath the nuclear sun, something new in the acorn-scented dark.
Lived there until I was seven in a cinder block garden

apartment. My prefab haven, my little duplex ark.
And the name of our subdivision was
Americana Park.

Not going to offer anything of C4-explosive insight here, but I found the tones, or the colors employed by Chilton and McGrath to be of the same palette and thought it would be a touching combination.  Power-Pop is such an achingly beautiful aesthetic, one that combines the classic combination of joyously upbeat catchy music with lyrics tinged with longing and sometimes the specter of depression.  I get the same feeling from McGrath here; the girl that struck him like a power chord that he can't shake. 

I employ this reference a lot so I'm a little weary of introducing it here, but the themes of longing have such resonance with me that the MOST IMPORTANT line of poetry I've ever read is the following from Keats' Grecian Urn (which was namecheck'd in the above poem, natch).

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
  Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
    Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; 
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
  For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

In other words, the figures depicted in the urn are locked in place, though to Keats this can be beautiful, for while their love will never be consummated there is some perverse solace to be found in the realization that "she cannot fade...(and)...for ever wilt thou love..."

I always think of this lyric when I listen to Power-Pop songs, since the songs seem to get wrapped around the axle(3) of the idea of "the weekend" or "Friday night" - this mythological moment in American experience where anything is possible and achievable.  Though, I think when you examine the lyrics you'll see that the longing for the unconsummated moment (i.e. Friday Night) is greater than actual moment itself, since for most loner-romantics the actual event/moment is painfully anticlimactic and never lives up to the wild expectations you built it up to.  Needless to say, I see the same thing in Keats, which just goes to show you that pasty, emaciated dudes pretty much have been talking the same themes for a really long time. 

Doesn't stop it from being really, really good though. 

(1) Simplified because I think there was some serious intellectual-maxillofacial-mechanical insight on the whole Yeats gyre thing, whereas my example is just a tune that seems to match nicely with a poem I dig. 

(2) I love McGrath.  He gives me hope for the red-headed stepchild of the arts (aka poetry) since 95% of the poetry I come across reminds me, as Kleinzahaler said, of "a middle-aged creative-writing instructor catching a whiff of mortality in the countryside." I really don't care too much for poetry that relies on references to obscure Greek gods like Epimetheus or something to make themselves look smart and stuff. I'd rather read a poem about Bob Hope or Charlie Sheen and what they mean to us.

McGrath already did the Hope one.  I'm working on the Charlie poem.


(3) Thanks for the expression Stephen. 


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