As I sit before the computer this evening the words to a famous T.S. Eliot poem come to mind. It is actually the refrain to the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In it, the author takes flight on the images of his life and at the end of the first stanza says quite out of nowhere,
In the room the women come and go,
Talking of Michelangelo.
When I first read these lines in a high school poetry class, I knew what they meant without really knowing what they meant—if you know what I mean?
It is much like the songs of Bob Dylan. How much did we really understand of some of his early stuff—like this verse from his song Gates of Eden:
Of war and peace the truth just twists
Its curfew gull just glides
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides
With his candle lit into the sun
Though its glow is waxed in black
All except when ‘neath the trees of Eden
Every time I listened to that song (it must have been hundred’s) I thought I knew what it meant. Each new listen sharpened my senses and gave me a hope that all was not lost even though I really had no idea of what he was saying.
Well, in a sense that is not true. Some part of me knew or at least had a glimmer that what he was really talking about was our collective feeling of alienation from mainstream society. And in some twist of reality, the true meaning of the song was not in what was or wasn’t being said but in how he was doing it…it was what the words and music felt like as he simply sang what was on his heart.
I guess I longed for that freedom that I thought he had. I delighted in the fact that just maybe he was really making some sense of what didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to it.
I remember going to high school in the sixties and walking the halls in the early morning before class. It was a ritual we all performed—the rich and the poor—the greasers and the frats and all the ones in between and uncategorized. The high school I attended was a big rectangle with classrooms on the outside of the hall and on the inside of the hall. The main part of the school, the part with all the classrooms was like this big hallway that went round and round the whole school. There were side shoots and the like—the library and cafeteria—but for the most part it was one big square building, single story with a big parking lot in the back and a vehicle drop off area in the front.
I almost forgot where I was going with that one…..but the description will help.
The walk around the halls would begin early and pickup people as more and more students arrived at school. It was a time to see and be seen. It was two way traffic—one group going clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. The caravan would pick up people at their lockers and drop them off at home room. I think a lot of weekend plans were made in those early am hall wonderings. Dates were arranged and lives were shattered and the walk just kept on keeping on.
We talked about music and looked at girls—and yes the girls looked back. It was a time to see what kind of clothes everybody was wearing.
The point really is that our lives were lived in a state of fog yet at the same time we were all in a goldfish bowl as well.
Like the Prufrock poem in which Eliot wonders about the emptiness of life and says quite innocently:
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
One of the comments in my Junior yearbook was that people couldn’t wait to get to school to see what I would be wearing. I worked at a men’s store and always picked up the latest samples at a great price and wouldn’t hesitate to wear anything as long as nobody else had the same thing. Madras pants, copper colored Levi cords, Beatle boots, etc.
I guess the point to all of this is that this makes sense to me but might not to you and I don’t know how to explain it any better.
I have recently been freed from a cage of control and feel somewhat lost—not unlike those high school feelings that seemed to always be there until they weren’t anymore. But they really didn’t go away—not completely—just got distracted for a few decades until it was time to fly and I hit the sky and oh my…look how high—bye, bye.
Bob Dylan helped me out for a time as did Eliot, Bukowski, Ferlinghetti, Davis, Coltrane and all the rest.
Since 1979, my two greatest helps have been my wife Sandi and Jesus.
As the new year approaches, I get the feeling that I haven’t done my best by either of them. As I write this I know it is not really true but that is how I feel right now. I haven’t stopped to smell the flowers in a long time. My garden enters the winter just as it left the summer and fall—messy and waiting to be cleaned up.
I am a man in recovery and I guess I just need a little space to get me by—if you know what I mean.
It is supposed to get to 60 degrees tomorrow and a bike ride is a real possibility.
Happy New Years.