‘The Calliope Crashed to the Ground…’


One of my very best BFFs seemed to be reflecting upon a park in New Jersey last evening, and posted a line from a particular little ditty as her status on the facebook. It got the song running through my head, of course- the super-rhyme-scheme is catchy as all get-out, but the version that popped in there was Manfred Mann’s cover of the tune, rather than Bruce’s original.

Which, while not surprising perhaps, got me thinking some interesting things about creativity and muses and suchlike.

Before she became a brightly-coloured musical instrument (usually associated with circuses) Kalliope/Calliope was the Muse in charge of cool things like epic poetry and eloquence. Capital-M Muses were the Greek goddess-types who provided the inspiration for all those things I like best- art, literature, music, history- you know, those things that we create that connect us as humans.

Shrines to the Muses- museums– are pretty much the closest I tend to get to entering places of worship on anything like a regular basis, and as anything other than a tourist. I like museums. A lot. They are places of reverence, to me. And they feel like home. The Muses are definitely ladies after my own heart- even if I have seen neither hide nor hair of their influence lately.

The Romans picked up on the idea of the daughters of Zeus (the Big Boss) and Mnemosyne (Memory- in goddess form) and assigned them particular roles. Historian that I am, I’ve always been a wee bit partial to Clio (with her scrolls and all), but all props need go to Kalliope for inspiring the epic-ness of Mr. Springsteen’s well-rhymed song.

Kalliope is generally pictured with a writing tablet- reflective of her importance to those who wax poetic- and was called, by peeps as important as Ovid, the Chief of all the Muses. She was mother to Orpheus, and the inspiration and whispering Voice in the night that drove Homer to write a couple of well-known ditties, about a guy named Odysseus and about a conflict in a town called Troy, of his own.

My beloved Dante spoke well of her: But, since I am yours, O sacred Muses, here let dead Poetry rise again, and here let Calliope sound, a moment, accompanying my words with that mode, of which the Pierides felt the power, so that they despaired of pardon…’ (Dante references the first Battle of the Bands- won, natch, by the Muses, who then turned the upstart Thessalonian daughters of King Pieros into magpies for their extraordinary presumption in challenging them to a sing-off. Think Glee/Pitch Perfect, but for keeps).

Kalliope is usually described as the eldest of the sisters- something I know a little something about. She’s also considered the wisest… but I’ll leave that one alone, lest my sibs take offense (Happy Middle Child Day to the mid-sis, BTW. Who knew there was such a thing? I guess I missed the notice while I was busy celebrating International Cat Day on the weekend. We humans are ridiculous sometimes…).

I’ve been more than a little short on the inspiration and harmony lately. I mentioned all that a couple of weeks ago (has it been weeks, already? Time does fly when you’re out of creative juice…), but I have been trying to pay closer attention to the things going around me since then, so I suppose some progress is being made.

Complete aside, but somewhat indicative of my re-engagement with things that matter… we’re in the throes of the longest election campaign in our history (thanks current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister for that ill-use of our taxpayer dollars) and I had the opportunity to challenge my MP- who never did answer my letter (written after receiving the inadequate response I talked about here), inquiring about just what the Hell he was thinking in backing the current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister’s ill-begotten, fear-mongering, Bill C-51- when he knocked on my door a couple of nights ago. More fool him. After the first 10 minutes I’m quite sure he was reallyreally wishing he’d just left the little card without venturing a knock… He has less than 10 weeks to convince me that his party deserves my vote- our convo certainly left me doubtful he’ll be able to do so. We’ll see how that turns out…

I’ve given some thought to sources of inspiration and creativity- and, funnily enough (that interconnection thing again), I flippantly referred to a friend as my (small-m) muse, since he was more than a little responsible for my last post. I used a winky-faced emoticon when I said it, but some emoticons hide truth, sometimes, methinks.

Bruce wrote Blinded by the Light because his record company insisted that Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J, his debut album, needed something a little more single-y, more hit-esque, than the songs he’d already come up with. He wrote the lyrics first- unusual for him- using a rhyming dictionary. The result is pretty damn clever, indeed- especially for someone like me who loves playing around with words and who can recognize mastery of the craft. The language-play is full of images and stories that leap at the listener as the song unfolds, reminiscent of some of Dylan’s coolest poetry-set-to-music.

For all Bruce’s undeniable prowess, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version is better-known -and contains one of the most frequently misheard lyrics of all time. Interesting how certain things translate well, while others can become indecipherable when the origins are messed with. The piano line(s)- and the interlude of Chopsticks– are instantly recognizable.

The steam piano that, with unpleasing sneezing and wheezing, crashed to the ground, is noted for its volume. Powered by steam or compressed air, calliopes were primarily used on riverboats and circus carousels and the music carried for miles, suggesting that listeners should come closer. Check it out. But, since pitch is affected by the steam, they are almost always out-of-tune on the higher register.

So. Loud and off-pitch. And associated with circuses and all the, uh let’s say down-homey, atmosphere that they can conjure. Sort of totally the opposite of that other Kalliope- what with all her wise, grand, poetic harmony… Yet the instrument entices, and encourages, and draws us in, as it rasps across great distances.

My fave lyric from the original doesn’t appear in the single version- or the cover- of the tune:

‘Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card who said, “Do what you like, but don’t do it here”
Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then, boys, you’re on your own”‘

The play on light and darkness, and the implied aversion to creative expression in the person of the police officer, evoke so many cool things that resonate with the paths down which my thoughts have been traveling.

Inspiration can come from any number of sources. I tend to find mine, most often, in other people. With our contemporary state of communication being what it is, social media can be, for all its faults, a sometimes-useful tool to catch up with the important peeps and tap into those things that are driving them forward. Or just keeping them going.

Our muses can be myriad- if we take the time to pay attention. I’ve been bad at that lately. But I’m working on it, and listening to those Voices I love. Even if the things they say are off-hand, or ‘thrown-away’, or representative of nothing more than a current playlist- it’s a pretty fruitful place to start.

As is memory- that Mother of all Muses- perhaps especially when the memories seem to be placeholders of regret. The ‘way back home’ does, at times, require treading in the darkness of night, but we shouldn’t be hanging out there, eschewing the light, for too long.

‘Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Whoa, but mama that’s where the fun is’

What sights does our sun see when it looks down upon its third planet, after all, but the wonder that is us, and all our human potential? Whether it involves cutting loose or revving up (though not, hopefully, ‘wrapping up like a douche.’ Never that…) it’s time to listen to those shooting stars, sitting in sidecars, humming their lunar tunes, and realize that I will, with help, make it all right. And, perhaps, make things all right. Even when those boulders on my shoulder get me feeling older.

Bruce knew what he was talking about. It starts with sticking together and being sources of inspiration and creativity to one another. All runners in the night- chasing our Kalliopes, and calliopes, wherever they may lead.

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9 comments on “‘The Calliope Crashed to the Ground…’

  1. We are in sync you and I today, for not only has the post I wrote today spoken of the muse, (thank you kindly for the ‘like’), but I have been singing this very tune all day. Blimey. I had no idea Bruce Springsteen wrote it!

    “Our muses can be myriad- if we take the time to pay attention.” – this is so very true, and I’m with you re museums, and everything else mentioned here actually *smiles*. Blinding stuff. *nods a lot*.

    – sonmi playing the guitar solo minus a guitar upon the Cloud

    • colemining says:

      There seems to be a fair bit of simpatico thinking going on lately, Sonmi. Which is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

      Keep on playing that air guitar. People are listening- and appreciating! Thanks for stopping by- and for your thoughts.

  2. joey says:

    I’ve always been a fan of the Muses, too. Although, I think it may have begun with my love of Xanadu…I like the way you tangled all these thoughts together, and remind us of universal thoughts.

    • colemining says:

      Thanks, Joey. It IS all connected- when you really get down to it. The Muses rock- and who doesn’t love Xanadu? You know that ELO is my jam- they make the Muses come to life… Thanks for the visit!

  3. I hope you are right about the “soon to be former” PM…I was in TO this weekend and saw lots of Orange signs. I hope that is a sign of things to come…is there a muse I can call on to get me through this nail-biting election campaign?

    • colemining says:

      Oh Booksy. I don’t know how anyone can listen to that guy and consider voting for him. I’m a little afraid of the ‘splitting of the left’- but I’m hoping that there will be some clear heads prevailing so that we can work together to oust the disastrous ‘leadership’ to which we’ve been subject for far too long. The length of the campaign is ridiculous- and another sign of the misuse of power that is epidemic with this government- so I’m trying to take the whole thing in small doses- wherever possible. I want to hear what they have to say- but I can’t handle the attacks and the bickering and the outright lies being told.

      I think I’ll look to Clio- my Lady of History- for some comfort in this sitch. History does show that sometimes, when the people are really paying attention, bad government gets its comeuppance. I just hope that enough people are paying attention.

      Thanks for the visit, Anne. Sending strength to you. Hoping the signs- and things to come- remain positive. xo

  4. bethbyrnes says:

    Cole, I can only wish that the extremist nut that is my local Representative would knock on my door. I wouldn’t let him leave until I gave him an earful that has been building for about 20 years, LOL, since I moved to Wildifornia, here.

    I never thought much about the origins of Calliope. I had a close associate in NY, a therapist of that name and she was brilliant and dangerous deranged, both. I always associate that word with utter, untamed chaos. Now I have something better with which to link it.

    The concept of muse is one to which I have devoted very little thought. I think for me it must be colour and pattern. When I see something beautiful, I immediately want to copy it, photograph it, paint it, write about it or own it. I guess aesthetics in all arenas are my small-m, multifarious muses.

    My folks have a summer home on the cusp of Asbury Park. How I miss the beautiful Jersey Shore. Never ran into Springsteen but he is to NJ what the the Beatles and Stones are to Liverpool (I think).

    Whatever inspires you to write, I am grateful every time you do! ❤

    • colemining says:

      Happy belated birthday, Beth! I can’t believe I spaced on sending you a message on Tuesday… been a weird week. Hope you had a wonderful celebration!

      I’ve always associated the calliope with chaos (and, perhaps, a little bit of dangerous derangement- LOVE that alliteration)- possibly because of all the spooky stories about creepy carnivals (Ray Bradbury’s, especially) that I love so much.

      I get that a lot of people find inspiration in natural beauty- and physical aesthetics. I do too, to some degree- a cottage up in Georgian Bay can, and has, inspired me with its wonder, for example. But I really seem to find my Muses, when they wish to be found- stubborn, standoffish ladies, the Muses- in other people, and the ways in which they embrace this life/world of ours and try to make sense of it all. Last night I went to my fave local tavern to see an old friend’s band play. Seeing them up there- three talented, driven individuals who have chosen to make art out of their passion- despite the genuine challenges they’ve faced in doing so- was beyond inspirational to me. Still reeling from the intensity of it, TBH, but there just might be a blog post in it… watch this space 😉

      Haven’t hit the Jersey Shore myself- and, I admit, I’m something of a late-comer to the wonder that is Broooooose, but my BFF and another of my soul mate-types are EMPHATIC fans, so I’ve had looooooong years to develop my appreciation. He’s a pretty cool dude, all things considered.

      My current MP is a former City Counsellor (and you know how animated I can get when discussing City politics) who made the jump to federal politics when our former MP left to run against The Buffoon for mayor, last year. Since she didn’t win that race (neither did The Buffoon- thank all that is good in the universe), she’s headed back into federal politics, and will give Adam a run for his money, since she has represented this area well for a number of years. As I mentioned to Anne/Booksy, I’m really trying to monitor my viewing of all the elections madness- for my own sanity. Things HAVE to change ’round these parts. And there are so many shady dealings- and outright lies- floating around out there, that’s it’s exhausting trudging through all the mud.

      Enjoy the remainder of your birthday week! Thanks, as always, for your input! xo

  5. […] with thoughts about calliopes*- in particular, their ability to draw in the listener, their encouragement of us rubes to come and […]

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