A Portrait of a College During the "Present Crisis" [Part I]
Off eBay a few months ago I pulled a 1940's era Bowdoin College guidebook for prospective students, thinking I would find pictures of students, their activities and their clothing to be interesting. Certainly the case - but I forgot it was the era of the War as well, and was surprised to find pictures of ground and flight instruction, as well as a class on Aeronautics. Amazing how the effects of World War II can permeate an idyllic campus, as these scans show. (Part I of II)
Some bros collect pretty fashion pictures and put em on their tumblrs.
Not my wheelhouse. Instead, I nerd out and collect sentences.
My favorites from an admittedly scattered reading this past week:
"We had our mountain lion, Curtis, with us; we snuck him into the Four Seasons in his cage and locked him in our bathroom."
-Slash by Slash
First off, Slash has a mountain lion. Secondly he brought the mountain lion into a Four Seasons Hotel (was the Mandarin booked?), and lastly, said mountain lion is named Curtis. It's such a respectable, adorable name - who wouldn't name their mountain lion Curtis! Carlton works as a good mountain lion name too, I think.
"We do not admit by collisions of this trivial sort the doors of heaven may be shaken open."
-Howards End by E.M. Forster
Gorgeous language and beautiful sentences throughout H.E. - though thankfully it never skirts into the affected territory, which is a tough line to balance. The above is a perfect example of a powerful sentiment expressed concisely.
He got into nails, of course,
because He'd always loved
hands were some of the best things
He'd ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds' wings,
and after He'd done that
He could paint all the nails
any color He wanted,
and mean it.
Just do yourself a favor and read the whole poem, it's that good.
[On the Park Slope Coop being worse than Socialism:] “Because at least in a socialist country, if you know the right people, you can get out of it.”
New York Schadenfeude doesn't just extend to bankers; the Park Slope Food Coop is always a terrific target. The latest uproar? Allegations that some coop members are sending their nannies to fulfill the 2 hour and 45 minute monthly work requirement. Quelle Horreur!
Spent a ten-spot on this little (seriously little - like 4"x 2.5") class of 1944 Bowdoin handbook I pulled off eBay.
Published by the Bowdoin Christian Association in 1940, it provided the in's and out's of the college such as traditions, clubs, frats, college regulations and the like for the incoming freshman class.
"Remember that business should come before pleasure and let concern for your courses supersede any other interests. Even though you may play a whale of a game at right tiddle and may be a star on the varsity handball squad you did not come to college to be an athlete."
N.B. I have no idea what a tiddle is.
The more, well, "practical" advice is fascinating.
Freshman must carry matches.
Freshman must not walk on the grass.
Freshman must not wear preparatory school insignia.
Freshman must not smoke on the campus or on the street.
Freshman must not wear bowties, nor wear loud clothing of any description.
Freshman must not sing Phi Chi.
Freshman must not drink in public. Freshman must not date the local ladies.
Times have certainly changed.
I regularly violated that prohibition on bowties and loud clothing, circa 2002, as a freshman myself.
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
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
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.
It's been a long time. I haven't written much. Things have been crazy.
∴ (therefore) I have not felt like blogging(1) much.
To make it up to you, I made you a mixtape of some blues and soul tunes I've been bending an ear to recently. I know you can get irreverent and sporadically updated content from just about anywhere, but you came here, and I appreciate it.
So please don't go.
...I had to pull the shingle down from the door and close the shop for a bit from a cold, cold feeling in the winter (2).
The kind where you want to just fly away on a big bird.
As if you were a road runner...
But don't give up on me.
...Hold on, I'm coming (back)
I'll write more. I promise.
Because (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher.
(1) "Blog" is my absolute least favorite portmanteau in the English language and I worry that all the molar and canine gnashing it causes when I say it will leave me with teeth that resemble half-bitten chicklets, though we're all kinda stuck with the word since it's gained critical mass and is subject to what all those pointy-headed computer engineers call "lock-in" (a)
(2) Albert Collins' nicknames are Master of the Telecaster, the Ice Man, among others. He also walked off the stage while still playing his guitar (still plugged in), crossed over to a local pizza shop, ordered a pizza, returned to the stage (still playing) and had the pizza delivery guy come up on stage. If I achieve 9% of his coolness I will be satisfied in life.
(a) I picked up the concept of 'lock in' from Jaron Lanier's excellent book, You Are Not a Gadget. In it, he argues (among other things) that social media websites have a negative impact on our conception of ourselves as human beings and This Is Not A Good Thing. Essentially, you lower the bar/degrade your understanding of yourself in order to "fit in" to a software program, since it is invariably simpler than reality. This isn't a horribly -- though still unfortunate -- bad thing when it comes to the impact on our consciousness of technology and music (Lanier provides the example of MIDI, which was an imperfect software standard that became locked-in) but can be pretty disastrous when it comes to things like how we understand human connections, friendship and personhood (hello, facebook). As Lanier says, you have to be someone before you can share yourself.
Zadie Smith gave a nod to Lanier's book in her excellent article on Facebook/The Social Network in the New York Review of Books.