Monday, August 06, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 013 - Juggling & Lies Edition

Monday morning, Monday mornin'
Closing in on me
I'm packin' up and I'm runnin' away
To where nobody thinks of me.

Richard Thompson has written an awful lot of great songs in his life (the question would probably be "which songs has he written that aren't great songs?") but the above was one of my first favorites: "When I Get to the Border", from 1974's masterpiece I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, which features not only his howling bagpipe guitar solos in the 15/8 outro but also the rackets and oboes of John Tams.

A good weekend, this last:

Good pub session on Friday: nice fellow-feeling in the room, and the one table of greasy little yuppies at a birthday party, the guys in their Izod shirts and Top-siders chain-smoking and the gals in their teased hair and fuck-me pumps cackling like guinea hens, actually recognized "Happy Birthday" by the time we'd played it for the 3rd time, which in turn gave us the opportunity to say "Are you enjoying the music? That's good. We'll make you a deal: if you don't shout over the music, we'll play quietly enough so that you can converse." Which is much nicer than I tend to be in such circumstances. They took the hint, drank up, and left. After that, the room filled up with friends of the band and the music and we had a nice time: the Honors undergraduates, old friends, returning friends, set-dancers and martial-arts teachers, kilted students and tattooed bikers at the bar.

Wedding of grad-school-bound students north of here on Saturday: tiny little Church of Christ congregation, "dinner on the ground" at the reception. They're such good kids: smart, talented, disciplined, going off to a top-notch graduate program, where, in the time-honored tradition of grad students, they're going to work hard, expand their minds, be broke, and build a life--together. Dharmonia and I don’t have kids, but when we get invited to an event like this, and are treated as honored guests, it feels a little like what I infer that must feel like. It feels good--and I always say to such kids "I'm proud of you," because I remember how much it meant to me when an admired teacher said exactly those words to me.

Last night, a superb Japanese dinner from one colleague as part of her house-warming regime, and then on to a party for another colleague shortly to be departing for new pastures. Dharmonia and I have been going to parties like this since at least 1975, all over North America and around the world, and they’re usually well-oiled: by red wine or tequila or Guinness or Glenfiddich or Shiner Bock or Sierra Nevada India Pale Ale or ouzo or retsina or arrack or strong coffee and Arabic pastry or Laphroaig or poitin or, now and then, by a little bit of Jah Rastafari’s holy herb. And these parties are more significant than they might appear, especially for a musician. Because in such a gathering, you look around, and realize that every single person in the room is someone whose musicianship, or writing, or acting, or storytelling, or just plain larger-than-life personality both enriches your own life and sets you a standard to try to live up to. That’s our tribe.

I was a fan of musicians before I ever became a working musician myself. And, over and above the beauty of the sounds they could create, I was entranced by the capacities of the musicians’ life: of a life whose priorities--to create beauty, to express emotion, to connect with community--I instinctively knew were better, more lasting, more eternal than those of the greasy little yuppies amongst whom I was raised.

Unlike those greasy little yuppies (by which I really only mean anybody whose live begins and ends with owning things) whose apparent purpose for existence is to buy-and-sell shit (or to persuade others to buy-and-sell shit), artists make things. We bring beauty into creation. And that craft, task and purpose connects us, in the European tradition, back and back through the epochs:

To the fishermen, longshoremen, and slave boatmen dancing for eels on the Catherine Wharf in antebellum New York; to the players and singers in the streets of Mozart’s Vienna, who borrowed tunes from Giovanni and Zauberflote and played them on the barrel organs—to the Master’s delight; to the dancers and tumblers playing for drinks and tips in the courtyards of Versailles, where Lully would steal our bits for the newest ballet eulogizing the Sun King; to the panhandlers and dance musicians scavenging alongside the pilgrims who slogged their way up the Camino del Santiago toward Compostela—and who gave those pilgrims the songs they sang; to the jongleurs and menestrels who improvised love songs in the villas of Provence, as the aristocratic poets cocked their ears to hear our rhymes; to the nameless vielle- and lute-players in the souks of Andalucia and Aragon, trading the tunes with Moorish masters which found their way into the Songs of St Mary;

To the satirists and graffiti-artists who gave Juvenal his best lines; to the comedians and tragedians at Roman Saturnalia; to the dancers at the Dionysian rites who birthed the first theater; to blind Homer chanting the verses of the old War of Achilles and Agamemnon that had been passed along to him via the ear and the memory; to the nameless bards who sang the epic of Gilgamesh before symbols ever existed permitting the stories to be written down;

To the Neolithic priests under the hill at Newgrange, who, at the Winter Equinox, sang the songs that illuminated the altar at the hill’s heart; to the shamans, draped in totem skins, who chanted the holy prayers to Bear and Horse and Buffalo in the caverns below Lascaux; to the first holy seer, clad in wolfskin, who danced out of the shadows and into the firelit circle of the first sentient homo sapiens, and sang: "Let me tell you a story..."

Years ago my brother-in-music Larmo wrote a song that reached back to those ancient and medieval archetypes of the jongleurs and menestrels who could never be trusted, but who could always create the beauty that gave expression and meaning to human existence. He called the song "Juggling and Lies."

That’s us. That's our stock-in-trade. That’s my tribe and my lineage.

We make it possible to be human.


Banjosnake said...

Holy flippin' shit, dude... from Richard Thompson to Church-of-Christ dinners on the ground to Mozart and Lully to Homer to Newgrange and Lascaux? All that and Blind Willie Johnson, too?! Jeezus man, you treadin' my ground, now! Oh, wait... it's everybody's ground... that's what you're trying to tell us! It can't be bought and sold on eBay or in malls, it can't be collected and traded like baseball cards, it can't be hoarded or gifted away, claimed or stolen. It simply is, with or without us, but it simultaneously manages to nurture us and inspire us and send us on our way, kinda like ya mamma, you know.
With any kind of damn half-decent luck, the aliens are gonna find that gold record, check out Blind Willie, and come shake hands and say hello, so that maybe for once we'll stop thinkin' how friggin' great we are and that we're the center of the damn universe, and start making more cool shit instead of just buying it... on credit, at that!
Keep up this shit, Brother Chris. Your words trump a thousand sermons.

CJS said...

Thanks for the heartfelt words, brother. We'll keep on keepin' on, I reckon.