‘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.

‘Who Told Tomorrow Tuesday’s Dead?’

I think that’s one of my favourite lyrics ever.

No, not the words in the nursery poem, the words in the title.

I know. It’s Wednesday, but I was thinking about that song, and the guy who wrote it, a lot today .

I’ve talked about him before – in the context of another song. A song that helped to set the story of my life, thus far. Truly. It helped to put me on my own particular Road to Find Out in ways both conscious and un-.

And given the crap that’s been going on around here the past while, and the results of yesterday’s election in the States, I really feel like I need an interlude of Cat.

Seriously, neighbours? What’s going on down there?

Not being an American, you’d think that the results shouldn’t be bugging me so much. To be honest, I didn’t pay the midterm election all that much mind. We have had a fair bit going on north of the border, and, honestly, I’m sort of out of sorts about the whole reactionary-engagement-with-politics-thing that seems to be epidemic (and more problematic, on this side of the Atlantic anyway, than a particular virus I could name) lately.

But I just. Don’t. Get. It.

So. Let’s intermezzo, shall we? (yes, I used intermezzo as a verb).

Yusuf Islam is out and about on his Peace Train… Late Again tour (forever the most dexterous of wordsmiths. How GREAT a name is that for Cat/Yusuf tour?). I wanted ever-so-much to go and see him when he comes to town- he’s playing Massey Hall, which is certainly one of my very fave venues for live-and-intimate shows in my hometown.

But… tickets went on sale just as I was boarding a train headed for his hometown, so I wasn’t really in a place or position to be online and looking to buy. The show sold out in a matter of minutes.

This is partly because, other than brief television or special appearances, he hasn’t toured North America since 1976. Yes, I said 1976. So I’d imagine that there are a whole lot of people like me desperate to see him and say hello. Since I was six the last time he hopped the pond to play shows, it kind of goes without saying that I’ve never had the pleasure of his company.

And I’ll be missing him again. He has, rightfully and rather impressively, made sure that scalpers and those crummy and criminal ticket resale companies won’t be able to (easily) get their hands on tickets and fleece his fans, so there aren’t even any tickets floating around on Craig’s List or the like.

I admit that I’ve been creeping his fb page and checking out the set lists as he plays to his first North American audiences in almost four decades, and living a little vicariously through those who will have the privilege of hanging with him for an evening.

The Road to Find Out and Tuesday’s Dead aren’t (so far) in the rotation.

It’s understandable- he has such an incredible and extensive body of work that includes bigger hits and better-known songs from the eleven albums that he recorded as Cat, back in the day, and he is also playing selections from his 2006 and 2008 albums, An Other Cup and Roadsinger, and his brand new offering, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone.

But. Those songs.

One of the many beautiful things about music is its accessibility. I can go back and listen to the songs any time I want- or, for that matter, sing them to myself when tuning in (and tuning out) with the Shuffle Daemon isn’t appropriate.

The lyrics have been written on my heart- and they are in my head when I need to call them up for a listen.

Two of his albums, Tea for the Tillerman (1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971) are among my all-time favourite records. Of his, certainly, but by anyone, really. I grew up with them- and still know the lyrics to all the songs.

I have a bit of an uncanny (for lack of a better word) knack for remembering lyrics (and the accompanying tunes, of course- but the words are paramount, for me). Some of my old friends still bug me about this ability for recall- but I don’t see anything all that peculiar about it, myself.

It’s part and parcel of my way of engaging with the world- concentrating on those things I find important, or beautiful, or educational, or fun. Or any combination of any and all of those things. It is the primary way that I attempt to be mindful of my context and present in my life. There are distractions aplenty, but focusing on something and really appreciating it? It leads me toward gratitude and appreciation of the relevance and reliability of my fellow human beings, usually when I most need to be reminded of these things.

Great words deserve remembrance. Whether they are shaped like stories or speeches or songs (or poem- which are songs without music), they carry power and retain import that speaks to both their specific contexts and, in the case of the best of them, to their timelessness. The ones that hold the most wisdom transcend temporal settings and retain the ability to impart vital imagery.

If I make a mark in time, I can’t say the mark is mine.
I’m only the underline of the word.
Yes, I’m like him, just like you, I can’t tell you what to do.
Like everybody else I’m searching thru what I’ve heard.

Whoa, Where do you go? When you don’t want no one to know?
Who told tomorrow Tuesday’s dead

Oh preacher won’t you paint my dream, won’t you show me where you’ve been
Show me what I haven’t seen to ease my mind.
Cause I will learn to understand, if I have a helping hand.
I wouldn’t make another demand all my life.

What’s my sex, what’s my name, all in all it’s all the same.
Everybody plays a different game, that is all.
Now, man may live, man may die searching for the question why.
But if he tries to rule the sky he must fall.

Now every second on the nose, the humdrum of the city grows.
Reaching out beyond the throes of our time.
We must try to shake it down. Do our best to break the ground.
Try to turn the world around one more time.

Tuesday’s Dead is something of a thematic follow-up to, or continuation of, the examination of his quest for meaning and understanding of the world he sang about in On the Road to Find Out. Crazy love for both these tunes.

A number of interpretations point to Xian imagery contained in the song (as is the case with Road, as well), but, like my readings of pretty much everything else, I see the themes as being without specificity of creed, denomination or over-arching system of belief. They are human lyrics- that acknowledge the wisdom of the past, the movement toward the future and our ability to work toward change.

There are those who have suggested that the whole thing about ‘Tuesday being dead’ has to do with that old fortune-telling nursery rhyme up there ^^^^^

If Tuesday=Grace, a possible exegesis of the line thus follows that the biblical concept of Grace is that thing that isn’t dead.

I get that interpretation. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. We all make connections that resonate and make sense and create meaning for us. If Xian exegetes want to appropriate the song, it’s all good. My interpretation is far more humanistic (go figure).

The rhyme, recorded as early as 1838, but with traditional versions going back far longer, had a dual- to describe the personalities and help to set the destiny of children born on each particular day of the week. Its later iterations have changed up the characteristics, moving them about in accordance with specificity of interpretation and association.

One version switches up Wednesday and Friday’s characteristics- based in the Xian superstitions regarding bad luck and Fridays (originating with a story about a crucifixion). Being a Wednesday myself, and not especially woe-full, I tend to prefer that one…

Yusuf has said that he’s not entirely sure exactly where he was going (coming from?) having some unknown individual telling ‘tomorrow’ about the death of Tuesday. It’s one of those random lyrics that just fit. Which makes it all the better, as far as I’m concerned.

We don’t always know what we’re talking about. And that’s okay. It’s part of the whole human-thing. We hash it out as best we can- and, in so doing, often come up with the wildly wonderful in the process.

So.

One more time.

Let’s keep trying to turn the world around. In spite of those who attempt to rule- the sky, the earth, the people- based in fear and misinformation and polarizing politics.

I’m not saying anything new here. But allow me to underline his underline, and the underlines of all those who came before him. And continue to echo the mark of his voice- 43 years- and counting- after the fact.

Safe, and peaceful, travels, Cat/Yusuf. Better late than never. Please come back and visit again soon.

Bonus (not-at-all-woeful) Wednesday feel-good tune? THIS one, by my beloved Monkees (written by David Gates- of Bread). It mixes up the days even further- and I’m not sure I like the ‘you’ll live your life apart, now’ as Wednesday’s foretold fortune found here- but hey. It’s all in the interpretation…

We Write…

Had to share this. Wonderful, lyrical words to get you thinking about the power of communication and the impetus to share our thoughts.

scottishmomus

We write of summer meadows and of dewdrops,

Of circles caught in circles in our mind,

Of senses’ fantasies that beg releasing, in

Images that seep on page to find

Recognition in the land of journey

Of imagination played before our fluttered eyes,

Of colours bright or muted, freed from prism,

Of right or wrong, of truth, of evil lies.

 

We write of winter howling in bare treetops,

Of geometric tangents linked with space,

Of god and gifts and sad laments of knowing

Revealed inside the gifs behind our face,

Of politics and grace and favour owing,

Of how, by nature, owls seek out and track their prey

While, through the night, their silent wings stir currents,

Nocturnal voice, soft breathing held at bay.

 

We write at dawn and in night’s tiptoed torment

Of tales and thoughts, common to us all,

Of worlds within the world we all…

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