BUCKET BOOKS

What’s on your ‘Read before Dead’ list? (Here, read is past tense, ‘red’ to rhyme with dead). The question was posed by a new acquaintance on Instagram, where I’ve been attempting to build more of a presence for Vinyl Connection. It’s the same old hamster wheel I’ve trudged around on WordPress, Tumblr and other socials and I’m really not sure why I’m doing it. Isn’t all social media ultimately a waste of time? Like flicking playing cards into a wastepaper bin and calling it entertainment. Better off reading, surely?

My answer to the bucket book question was ‘more of everything’. Betterment of the mind through literature. Learning and appreciation. Pride and educational status are in there somewhere too, the snooty prefect who roams the mind corridors judging intellectual achievements. And always finding them wanting. Like lemon juice writing emerging over a gentle flame, a list emerged, demonstrating a fawning desire to be seen as ‘well read’ (rhyming with dead).

Dostoyevsky, starting with The Brothers Karamazov

Bleak House

Iris Murdoch (anything)

The Handmaiden’s Tale (because I’m currently earning good-partner points watching the series)

The other two thirds of Shakespeare

Reality is a little different. The last book I completed was Mick Wall’s no-holds-barred biography of Black Sabbath, which had more swearing than any non-fiction book I’ve ever read. The 33⅓ music monograph on Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights is required reading for a music book group. I ordered a back copy of Prog magazine to check it out; it is sitting on the coffee table next to an adolescent/children’s fiction book my son recommended. (He’s been reading some of my suggestions, I thought it only fair to have traffic going the other way). Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans is also on the table. I raced through the first half of this slim novella but have stalled.  Also in the ‘I must get back to that’ category is an ancient copy of Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett. Knowing my fondness for Mr B’s plays, a retired English-teacher friend gave me a spare copy and suggested we read it concurrently.  I’m winning, being on page seventy-four.  Yesterday, on the phone, he announced a new challenge: adding Ulysses to the list.  The deadpan voice did not fool me for a second; I roared with laughter. We started Malone Dies (a tenth of the length of Joyce’s tome) five years ago. His partner, also on speaker, scoffed. Why would you read that old stuff? Modern writing is better.  Is it?  I don’t know; haven’t read enough. But there are more dead writers than living and cities full of books waiting to be read. The list could be endless. More Vonnegut, a creative non-fiction dude recommended by a friend, attempt the Dune sequel, Sanditon… Better make a coffee and get reading. But first I’ll just check Insta to see how many more likes my photo of The Wombles LP has received.

RAIN

The forecast said up to 30mm. 

I decided to clear the winter leaves and silted earth out of the gutter in front of the garage. It used to flood but hasn’t since we had a proper drainage pit dug near the back fence. Two and a half thousand dollars for a hole, some rock, then filling in the hole again. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. But today it wasn’t a deluge, wasn’t like the Biblical flood of the East Coast of the USA where waves surged through subway tunnels; here it was steady rain, a horizon-to-horizon cascade. A million cloud-archers shooting an endless flight of liquid arrows at the earth. I sat reading Kerouac as the dull day trickled towards the plughole of evening, trying to puzzle through the poetic and often disjointed language of The Subterraneans while listening to The Pogues on the stereo. It should have been Charlie Parker ‘cos that’s what Jack was listening too, live in a West Coast club in 1951, but it was Shane MacGowen, another genius wastrel with more talent than sense. The persistent myth of the burning moth again, extinguished (in some cases) by historic rainfall early in the season leaving a permanent strata of marsh, deep underground. Something sad and wet underneath that never dries, even in the summer, but still provides compost for a growth of sorts. 

BLADES

The Dad on rollerblades was doing circles around the park rotunda, closely followed by a little boy on a little bicycle. Once every couple of circuits Dad fell over, sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. The child never came off his bike, though he stopped when the man stopped for a drag on his cigarette. Grey twists of smoke swirled around the helmet of the skater. The child, bareheaded, stared at a few puffy white clouds that drifted due west, a linear path.

I wondered about the balance in the modelling. Smoking compared to persevering with a physical challenge. Exercise versus lung poison. What will our children remember, digest, replicate? We hope for the best and remember the worst, usually at one in the morning, wide-eyed and pitted by poisoned thoughts. Fall over, bruise, get up. Parenting; life. Try to encourage and support the child, hoping they thrive. Hoping that later they might return the favour.

MOVING ON… OUT?

As the hours spent in my profession wane, I’ve noticed it is harder to keep track of what day it is. Especially during yet another lockdown. That must be the reason, COVID-19. It’s the reason for everything, the excuse for every avoidance, the aetiology of all ailments. I’m not sleeping well; certainly a lockdown symptom. Some of the dreams are odd, though.

Last night I was being asked to move my stuff, which was filling an office needed for other purposes. The request came from my boss, a young bearded man with a worried brow. He wasn’t angry, just needing me to move on. I was uncomfortable, telling him that I didn’t know where I was going next. When I awoke, I had a record running in my head. A record I knew very well, many years ago. An album I could sing along to in the late 1970s; probably now too. That’s the nature of memory.

Two songs from this particular album were jostling each other for the speakers in my head. What struck me about the songs, at least initially, was the contrast in styles. “You’re moving out today” is a comic pop song, essentially a list of items the singer insists her unwanted housemate take with him as he leaves.

Pack up your dirty looks

Your songs that have no hooks

Your stacks of Modern Screen

Your portrait of the Queen

 

Your mangy cat away

Your baby fat away

You’re headed that-a-way

You’re moving out today

His collections, his trophies, his clutter. His selfishness, his habits, his disengagement. Clean them out, clear the decks, cleanse the space.

In that cavity another tune instantly appeared. “I’d rather leave while I’m in love”, a tear-drenched song about loss of love. But more than that, a strange, self-defeating habit of leaving before the love dies. How perverse, thought I, glancing away from a lifetime habit of avoidance as the front-line defence against any challenge.

Reality is tough. Often brutal. Is that why the singer desperately wants to keep her dreams “and just pretend”?

Too many times I’ve seen the rose die on the vine

Somebody’s heart gets broken, usually it’s mine

I don’t want to take the chance of being hurt again

And you and I can’t say goodbye

It’s said that one reason older people tend to have higher rates of depression is that they know that things do not always work out, that good does not always triumph, that love most certainly will not conquer all. Yet Carole Bayer Sager’s advice seems to be a recipe for loneliness.

(Biographical diversion: Carole Bayer divorced Mr Sager in 1978—the year after this album came out—before taking up with film composer Marvin Hamlisch, then  marrying a certain Burt Freeman Bacharach a few years later. In 1999 she divorced the man who knew what the world needs now. It is not known whether she sang “I’ll never fall in love again”.)

If creativity fertilises growth (and vice versa), then perhaps it is the best defence against atrophy. A new focus is most definitely needed; the alternative is inexorable decline into mental and physical obsolescence. Sure, life is a virus that’ll get you in the end, but maybe the individual quest for a personally genome-sequenced vaccine is, in fact, the point.