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Archive for July, 2011

Rootless Seed

“Wait for me,” the small, dark-haired boy entreated, his head aglow as a burning nimbus in the copper colored sunlight.  He felt the dry summer grass itchy on his bare feet and heard the buzzing of the cicadas in the gnarled bark of the tree trunks.  They ran, leaping, under hedges and over fences and past the fallen shapes of mangled branches.  They flitted like wounded larks.  He couldn’t catch up with her.  She was hopping upwards toward the house looming on the nearby hill.  He separated from the crowd.  “Whoever loves me will kiss me,” she said, giggling, as the boys clambered onto the porch.  He continued around the side of the house and gingerly tapped at the window.  Her curly locks were flaming in the hot summer evening.  They crowned a face ablaze with joy and warmth.  She slowly raised the window and gazed down at him.  He stood on his tiptoes and lifted his head to kiss her shyly on the cheek.  There was a pause. Memories of laughter midst the seeds scattered on the breeze where they once lived.  Their lips met and he heard a different kind of laughter.  The boys were gawking at him and he could hear arguing in the background.  The two men were talking.  The man took him by the hand and led him down the gravel path away from the house.  He was sad.  The car pulled away.  Her lips were pursed and her eyes gleaming, now softly fading away in the last golden embers of the day.

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And The Wanderer Looks West

“In the quivering forest/Where the shivering dog rests/Our good grandfather/Built a wooden nest,” sings Robin Pecknold in the song “Blue Ridge Mountains” from his band Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut in 2008.  Compare this with lyrics from another Seattle band seventeen years before—“Load up on guns/And bring your friends/It’s fun to lose and to pretend/She’s over bored and self-assured/Oh no, I said a dirty word.”  Or with a band only five years previous—“I’m gonna fight ’em off/A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back /They’re gonna rip it off/Taking their time right behind my back/And I’m talking to myself at night because I can’t forget/Back and forth through my mind behind a cigarette.”

A shift is taking place:  the emergence of a new generation.  Gen-X suffered a pervasive sense of fragmentation caused by the “greed-is-good” mentality of the 1980s and the constant culture wars of the 1990s.  This, combined with the advent of the Internet and the segmentation of relationships into proscribed boxes, caused an “every man for himself” attitude, a cynical reaction to the misguided ideals of the Boomers.  The lyrics of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” spell this out in splintered phrases ending with a sideways admission.  Even the White Stripes’ song, only five years previous to Fleet Foxes, has a jagged swagger, found in much of the music of the ‘90s and much of the music of the past decade.

The musicians who dominated over the past ten years, alongside hip-hop, pop, and electronica, were part of the garage rock revival (the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), had a hip, urbane vibe (post-punk revivalists such as Interpol or sleek genre benders such as TV on the Radio or Vampire Weekend), or an off-skewed approach (Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective & Joanna Newsom and their freak folk ilk).  These bands still exemplify the stuttered, telegraphic tendency of Gen-X music characteristic of grunge (slowed down version) and punk (sped up version).  What happened near the end of the past decade?  Something changed in the American musical landscape.  The “trophy” children of the Boomers, seen as apathetic Internet zombies by the majority of their older peers (Gen-X), were graduating from college and/or entering the real world.  American music crystallized into a search for the holy grail of Americana.  The members of the Millennial generation were turning away from the frenetic Dot Com era (even though they were still part and parcel of it) and the scarring paranoia of 9/11 and the Wars on Terror, as well as the mindset which inspired it and still cast shadows on Gen-X.

Instead of the starry-eyed “Get together” of their parents’ (the Boomers) era or the steely eyed stare “Come as you are” of their peers’ (Gen-X) generation, the Millennials were remembering their ancestors, some as distant as the old trees in their songs, and the struggles they endured and how these same struggles still beset them.  Fleet Foxes is one of the most definitive and representative examples of this new generation’s questions, embodied in the lyrics of Robin Pecknold.  The opening lines of their newest album, Helplessness Blues, state the case:  “So now I am older/Than my mother and father/When they had their daughter/Now what does that say about me?”

One of the questions, as strange as it might seem, is whether or not there will ever be another generation to follow them after their death.  How can we raise children or even bring them into this world, if the same decrease in the economy and in natural resources, continues?  Will we be able to afford the rising cost of living which our parents enjoyed—hard won by our grandparents through labor unions after World War II, by our great-grandparents via the policies of the Progressive era, by our immigrant ancestors who traveled west?

A deeply serious group of people, the Millennials.  Yet they are not taken seriously by the two older generations nor the “men who walk only in dimly lit halls/and determine my future for me”, as Robin Pecknold would describe them.  They are treated as pawns in a chess game mock-epically called the American Dream.  Thus the turning towards the past, the distant past, in the renewing of classic Americana in the music of the Millennials.  This is not true of all Millennials, of course.  The majority of this generation, even those who might secretly long or yearn for the lost frontier, are desensitized—by the ruthlessness of the global economy, the division into digital fortresses, and even by the way music is produced.  The word ‘consumerism’ takes on a decidedly sinister dimension when applied to the way music is being marketed to this generation.

The bits and bytes of music on the iPods and cell phones of the Millennials is meant for consumption.  Not only in the instant gratification and streamlined sense but also in the darker sense of the word—disintegration.  An entire album is reduced to an mp3 marker and loses its identity, if, that is, it had one in the first place.  Another aspect of the music marketed to this generation is the way it sounds, the way it is produced and engineered.  The ‘loudness war’ by music corporations compresses the music until it is tinny and harsh, similar to the contemporary attitude towards spending and making sure one’s own slice of the pie never gets cut.  There is no awareness of the collective.

This awareness is reflected in the way this new generation is listening to music.  The mp3 player and the shuffle will not exit from this generation because they are nomadic, they must be mobile.  Yet there are echoes of the past in their souls.  This is evident in the return to vinyl.  Some of the older members of the Millennials want to experience their music as an album, as a distinct removal from the on-the-run trend of listening.

Gen-X is still in thrall with words.  This is obvious in the talky comedies of Kevin Smith or the genre pastiches of Quentin Tarantino which bristle with terse dialogue.  It is apparent in the declamatory nature of much of their music, such as metal, hardcore, rap, and other variants.  This obsessive focus on words and the niches they carve led to the Internet and to the current political climate as the Boomers similarly were bound up in the word game, noticeable in the ideological ‘red state, blue state’ demarcations present since 1968.

The Millennials are burdened by words and what they suggest so retreat into a more archaic concentration on images.  Pastoral imagery courses through the lyrics of bands such as Fleet Foxes, Alela Diane, and Cotton Jones.  The imagery is more important than the words so the rustic lyrics take on a mysterious, timeless quality of narrative absent from the ‘here now’ provocateur flair of Gen-X.  If this shift in the musical landscape continues to be an emerging definition of the Millennials, the natural result will be that wanderer’s impulse to wander out west, to search for the frontier, asleep since their ancestors.

The grandparents lived through the winter of America in the 20th century; they repressed their individuality and chained themselves to the collective, struggled through the dual crises of the Great Depression and World War II, and looked for spring in the bland hopes of suburbia.  The parents were the bloomers who rebelled against the collective and upset their parents in their ego fixation.  They were flower children who turned into yuppies, stormy warriors of culture, burnout hippies, and, like their parents, the silent majority.  The peers were the bitter, brazen fruit of the “long, hot summers” of the ‘60s/’70s.  The dream died and free love was a sideshow.  As a result, these children grew up hardened and splintered during the ‘80s/’90s.  The Millennials are autumnal.  They are more subtle and reflective than the Boomers and Gen-X.  Yet this strength is also a weakness as they are more prone to apathy.  While the Boomers are still see-sawing between the ideologies of the ‘60s and Gen-X is still occupied with the cutthroat material world, the Millennials seek solitude—in the way they interact through Facebook, in their isolationist frame of mind even in the midst of their global awareness, in their longer hesitations upon entering the adult world.

Although the Millennials do have more of a local consciousness than Gen-X, which could cut off communications altogether, it is also their saving grace.  The return to the small, the modest, the left behind has a ripple effect as it not only illustrates their cosmic Americana but more importantly their deep-seated need to regenerate their society.  This time the frontier is neither Manifest Destiny nor the failed dream of the ‘60s.  It is the Millennials’ own interest in their origins and their inheritance.

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Siren

He trembled.

What lay beyond the hill?

The trees swayed in unison as green as the moss in the bottom of the rippling stream.  It was her tresses undulating in the breeze as candlelight flickered and billowed out in gossamer wisps into the shadows cast upon the wall above.  Her eyes were cloaked in tears and the dress she wore was gleaming white.

The sounds murmuring inside were hushed by the distant call of a nightingale.

The branches shook together, crystal drops cascading upon her golden hair as she ran away, farther into the nearby ravine.

A slender thread of her hair caught on his sweaty finger.

He ran.

He ran so fast he could feel fire in his veins and water in his lungs.  He dove off the rock outcropping.  Clambering like a dazed gibbon, he rolled into the crevice.

The thud of drums and whine of mandolins rose in the damp, cool air.  The moss clung to his perspirating hands, and he had to stop to catch his breath.

Was he a puppet in a tomb?  The music pulled him aloft as a blind dummy.

Where was she?  Would he ever see her again?

There was now only the sound of the mandolin, melancholy and sere.

She gazed at him, staring past him into the still forest.

He ran towards her.  Voices echoed in his ears.  He reached out to embrace her.  Her pale hand vanished.  Her chalk face merged with the hollow sky.

Had he seen her before?

He sat resignedly on the shore, his head in his hands.  He sank lower down the embankment.  He sighed slowly.  He closed his eyes.

“Please forgive me.”

Where did that phrase arise?  Why did he say it?

He heard the ghosts of his ancestors whispering in his blood.  He needed to go back.  The gate had been left open.  It was time to close it.

Last in the line, his burden to bear.  Each generation keeps the previous on the shelf.  In reality, they fought, laughed, cried, longed in his own smiles and shouts, fears and doubts.

Was it wrong to love her?

He loved her the way he loved the first rains of spring or the last leaves of October.  He could watch her from a distance.  He could wish her well and move on.

He shivered.  He had left the window ajar again.

His sadness made him smile.  Her eyes pierced the slowly drifting clouds sliding away to the east.

Childhood, adulthood, life, death, it all seemed so simple, a baby’s laugh, when he felt her presence.  And he could feel it even though she was far away, a mirage in the ether.

He couldn’t climb a tower and coax her.  That was his mistake.  He wasn’t going to meet her in a bejeweled fortress.  She was waiting in the hedge maze.

Exhaling his inhibitions.

Which of his selves would he become?

Would he leave something behind or be like the March bud which opens too soon and then withers away on the branch?  Never floating to the butterflies below?

The dust and pollen scattered hither and thither over the cracked stones.

Could she eat the apple with him?

Not to possess the bite but to share the core.  The black seeds were always there.  The bitter truth behind every sweet lie.

His heart beat faster and faster–it could explode.  He sat up quickly.  No, Death, I’ve eaten the apple before but never to the core.  It’s not my time yet.  Death backed off with a condescending grin.

“What happened to the music, boy?”

“It got distorted.”

“I see…” he stroked his beard and shook his head as if to say ‘What A Shame.’

He was tired.  He was hungry.  He needed to leave this room.

Thanking the wind, he closed the door.

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When It Ends

The deer’s final

dash

The frog’s final

splash

Into the pond below

Under mossy stones

Where the moonlight softly shimmers

‘Midst the comet’s spindly glimmers

Tumblin’

Into the abyss

A drooping farewell kiss

To the sulking gray clouds

Retreating from the distant day

The TV signal’s final fade

Snowy static all that remains

The last steam breath of the train

The struggle of one drop of rain

Hurtling

Fast

Towards the earth

Wondering

‘Bout its lasting worth

Where did it come from?

Where will it go?

Burned

By the heat

Frozen

In the cold

Between

The lightning’s                      forked                     flashes

And the thunder’s

Clanging crashes

 

 

 

Howling north wind

Turns to

whisper

Whirling planet

With a

whimper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her gazing eyes

The heart will rend

Her dimming voice

The last lament

 

 

 

The gate is closed

The coins are spent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet creeps the snail……………………..

starry bent

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Distant Echo

Yet creeps the snail

Starry bent

Yet sinks the sun

Noontide pent

Circuitous sap

Twirls in the bark

It’s the light most true

Neither day nor dark

Steely gray in hue

Flecked white, wings of lark

The tunnel in the spring

Leads to prison in the summer

Scent of honeysuckle on the breeze

Going in circles

Chased by the bees

And the silver trumpet’s glare

Glinting razors on the eye

Severing flesh from bone

Digging in the dirt and soil

Rhythmic blood replaced by oil

Chugging monotony

Mill-grist hypocrisy

Blind in plutocracy

Fists clenched

Against the void

Pearls chucked in gorges

Swine braized in forges

The wheel turns forward

Until a grind

The rotten rind

Left behind

Hollow husk in the wind

Twitchy nerves beneath skin

Hunger never abated

Future never created

Grasping at the clock

Gazing out to other lands

Never seeing in broad daylight

That the watch is missing its hands

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The watch is missing its hands

 

Storm warning!

 

“My belly’s growlin’,” the watchman croaks

 

An’ stuck are the spokes of his wheels in the mud

The cow chewin’ its cud

Flanks exposed to the lash

An’ the rain fallin’ fast

Waste land barren an’ parched

His throat choked an’ starched

By the lessons unlearned

The grasses unburned

The stones unturned

 

“Sweep the fields an’ plains!  Shake the trees!

Blight these quiet houses from my ken!

Roar, thunder!  Roar!

Let me be lost in your rushing!”

 

Shhhhhhhhh………

 

The tempest always moves on

The clock never stops

 

The bird’s nest still clings

And the dragonfly’s wings

Flitting slowly through the fog

Past the stuck tongue of the frog

 

Speak of justice in the jowls

And fortitude in the fire

And prudence in the pear leaves

And temperance in the briar

 

 

 

So the watchman sits and waits

Beneath the creaking gates

For the signal to depart

 

 

 

A windy smile…..

A rainy heart

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We are drawn to what we lack.  Yet we usually misunderstand our search. We are impelled outward yet are determined to keep ourselves inward. Gates and grids, borders and boundaries, always the impulse to take from outside us while preserving our own interests.  It happens in every sidewalk sideways glance, in every couple’s argument inside the home, in every playground or school fight, in every war between nations, in every conversation miscommunicated.

Project Out, Protect In.

Those who do not follow this impulse, who expose their fragility or seek a space open and free, are on the long list of lunatics, outcasts, rebels, martyrs, saints, and wandering poets.  Where is the seventh?  Where is the truly liberated individual beyond these categories?  Perhaps this will never exist so long as the human condition continues to perpetuate this impulse.

What are the results of this suffering?  The endless cycle of the generations–always those who are chained to the collective impulse, swept along by the tides of war or revolution; always those who try to escape the collective through a commitment only to the flesh (resulting in hedonism or nihilism) or through a quest for a sacred space transcending these earthly confines (resulting in the decadent/impoverished/tragic artist or the charlatan/renouncing/reclusive mystic.)

Is it impossible to exist in the world without succumbing to these extremes?

Maybe it is true that the simple situations matter most:  tending one’s garden or family, accepting the tick-tock of the routine of work and daily living, this emptiness of waiting.

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