hirhurim

ruminations and meandering thoughts in their variety

 

Climate change is real. (A brief guide to the scientific consensus on climate change by Laurence Lewis) It’s the biggest thing that has ever happened in your lifetime. It will be happening for the rest of your lifetime. It is the ultimate test of human community, the moment when we learn whether evolution and culture have been able to create creatures and societies that do, or do not, have the capacity to preserve themselves as a whole.

Are we individuals and states? Or are we everyone and all nations? That is the ideological question, the political question, the moral question, the ultimate question. The answer is coming, one way or another.

 

Once you grasp that it is possible that the universe is infinite, meaning, no matter how far you travel in any direction you will continue to encounter new stars and planets, and once you grasp that some 14 billion years ago this infinitude of space, energy and matter was entirely concentrated in a single point of no size, yet still infinite (an infinity concentrated in a singularity) and have leavened this thought with the multiverse hypothesis that there is an infinity of such infinite universes continually coming into existence…. it’s time for lunch.

 

If it’s not humorous it just doesn’t seem that serious. Wow, I hope that’s humorous. Or is made funny by the self referentiallity of sentence two. On the other hand, if the previous secondary level of self referentiallity doesn’t help, then this tertiary level won’t save the thought. But seriously folks, I just flew in from Pittsburgh, and my arms are so tired.

 

Man walks into a doctor’s office for a $15 copay visit, routine follow-up, and walks out with an $85 bill because, hey, it’s the new year, so the Providence Choice health plan annual deductible started over on Jan. 1. In what rational world should delaying the date of service delivery from late December to January 5th quintuple the end user cost? Needless to say, I would not have walked through those doors today if I had bothered to study the statement of benefits, but who wants to live that way?

 

Can we revive the front porch campaign? Could we imagine a no-cost or very low cost political campaign for local or national office? Is it really true that political offices can only be won with massive fund raising that obligates the candidate to moneyed interests? Could a candidate stand out by not traveling, not fund raising, and simply speaking via the press, youtube, facebook, skype.? Plant himself or herself in a small headquarters office, show up every day, and spend almost no money at all? Don’t technologies make that MORE feasible now than it was in the 19th century, not less?

 

Jonathan Turley (New York Times, link) is working hard to defend polygamy in America.

Framing it as a freedom of association issue, he misses the much more compelling social justice argument.

Boys Cast Out by Polygamists – New York Times (link)

“Disobedience is usually the reason given for expulsion, but former sect members and state legal officials say the exodus of males — the expulsion of girls is rarer — also remedies a huge imbalance in the marriage market.”

Indeed. This is what happens when deep historical memory is lost.

The case against polygamy is made pretty well here: http://www.vancouversun.co​m/pdf/affidavit.pdf (link)

It’s the sort of thing you’d think didn’t need to be restated, but perhaps it does.

 

These are the things they did to build the original temple. The Rabbis figured if you don’t do these 39 things, you are pretty much not working, ergo, refraining from these 39 activities constitutes the essence of Shabbat rest. All the rest is details, and there are quite a few of them.

Defining negative spaces is a way of speaking volumes. Things and actions and thoughts that are not present give rise to other things and actions and thoughts that are then able to become present.

Imagine giving each of these modern interpretations, in addition to or instead of their ancient ones. Can we identify the winnowing, the grinding, the spinning and the trapping that we do, and step back from it? Could we find a way to map all 39 paradigmatic work activities onto our own lives? It’s all about living the poetry.

Source: http://www.torahtots.com/torah/39melachot.htm

 

Remember (I don’t!) how those Dylan fanatics would pour over every symbol, image and reference in the master’s poetry, seeking each fragment of holy meaning? Can you believe those guys? Nut cases, every one.

I’ve decided to do the same thing for one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists. Mostly this is just to track down the references and images that I’m curious about. Then of course I plan to stalk her and ask if I’ve really got it exactly right and have fathomed the true and complete meaning of her every word… have I?! Have I?! You have to tell me Gillian!

It is my belief that this, the last song on the last CD of her 4 major CDs is the most autobiographical song she has written, and her final response to all of those critics who have accused her of being a “pretender.” As much as I enjoy many of her other songs, this is one of my favorites.

Wrecking Ball

by Gillian Welch

Well now boys, I’m a rollin’ stone
That’s what I was when I first left home
I took every secret that I’d ever known
And headed for the wall
Like a wrecking ball

Started down on the holy road of sin
Playin’ bass under a pseudonym
The days were rough, and it’s all quite dim
But my mind cuts through it all
Like a wrecking ball

Oh, just a little deadhead
Who’s watching? who’s watching?
I’s just a little deadhead

…A fallen daughter on a scholarship
Well, I got tired and let my average slip
Then I’s a farmer in the Pogonip
where the weed that I recall
Was like a wrecking ball

I met a lovesick daughter of the San Joaquin
She showed me colors I’d never seen
Drank the bottom out of my canteen
And left me in the fall
Like a wrecking ball

Standin’ there, in the morning mist
A Jack & Coke at the end my wrist
Yes, I remember when first we kissed
‘Though it was nothing at all
Like a wrecking ball

Hey boys, a little deadhead
Who’s watching? who’s watching?
I’s just a little deadhead

With too much trouble for me to shake
Oh, the weather and the blindin’ ache
We was ridin’ high until the ’89 quake
Hit the Santa Cruz Garden Mall
Like a wrecking ball

What does it mean? Why, just what it seems to mean, of course. It has the kind of meaning that words and music generate together. There is some irreducibly non-verbal truth that is integrally part of this package. The entire analysis that follows, ignoring the music, can be said therefore to do violence to the combined song/poem/performance. So forgive me for even going down this road at all, like a wrecking ball.

Well now boys, I’m a rollin’ stone
That’s what I was when I first left home
I took every secret that I’d ever known
And headed for the wall
Like a wrecking ball

The rolling stone image is everywhere, from Dylan to the Stones to Rolling Stone magazine but I’m reliably informed by a professional musicologist (Thair P.) that it was Muddy Waters who first used the phrase.

I find it interesting that the singer does not say that she exposed every secret. Rather she took them, as if she took them with her and perhaps even stole them. It sounds almost as if she kept them inside of herself, almost as if they were her power, secrets of strength and power and wall breaking. And yet, I can’t escape the feeling of “painful secret” or “family secret” either. Perhaps her pain is her power, her pain is pushing her to break through the wall.

And what is the wall? A wall of convention? The wall of limitations through which we break to become our own person?

And does she break through it like the wrecking ball, or is she wounded as she breaks it?

Also, there is of course a long history of other Wrecking Balls.

1) There is “Wrecking Ball”, an album by Emmylou Harris.

2) There is the song Wrecking Ball by Neil Young, which also appears on the Emmylou Harris album.

3) Let us now spend a few hours reviewing the history and metallurgy of wrecking balls, and the four stages of their development for use in building demolition and comedy films. Oh, OK. Let’s not.

Anyway, this is Gillian’s Wrecking Ball.

Started down on the holy road of sin
Playin’ bass under a pseudonym
The days were rough, and it’s all quite dim
But my mind cuts through it all
Like a wrecking ball

“Holy road of sin…” could reference a number of religious heresies as well as the philosophy of every blues band that ever was. I’m looking for a direct quote or reference to put that road and phrase in context.

Of course there is nothing unusual about having a stage name, but the reference to hidden identities, continues the theme of hidden/revealed that was introduced by the discussion of secrets.

We have a little past/present meditation here, because after remembering the past, the final two lines move to the present. Right now, today, her mind “cuts through it all.” That’s an interesting image because it is more violent than simply grasping the past. It is, well, more like a wrecking ball. And so memory is presented as much as something that destroys as something that holds.

Oh, just a little deadhead
Who’s watching? who’s watching?
I’s just a little deadhead

The Grateful Dead are what they are, and deadhead means what it means. Not much to say about that… but I keep thinking about that question. Who is asking it? And why? Is it a question about God? Or simply the paranoia of excessive drugs? There is probably no answer, and that’s OK.

Note also the ambiguous tense, seemingly resolved. Who is watching, or who was watching? The contraction legitimately represents both the past and the present, and leaves it unresolved. But the ambiguity is resolved with I’s. “I’s” implies only “I was” (as opposed to “I am”) and that in turn suggests that “Who’s watching” means “who was watching.” This in turn means that the question is being asked in the present about the past. Who was watching. And therefore we are again in the realm of memory, gazing at the past from the present.

Further we may ask, is the question “who was watching [what]?” or is it “who was watching [who]“? Who was watching me? Who was watching over me? Or perhaps simply and plaintively, “my life was so obscure, I wish someone had been watching.” Was the audience watching when she played bass? Were the police watching while she grew weed (next stanza?) Were her fellow deadheads watching? Who indeed was watching, and who or what were they watching?

Furthermore, I don’t know if Gillian has published official lyrics, but if we ignore the question mark, we can read “…just a little deadhead who was watching.” Who was watching becomes a description of what she, a little deadhead was doing, and not a question about whether she or her world was being watched over by man, woman or God.

…A fallen daughter on a scholarship
Well, I got tired and let my average slip
Then I’s a farmer in the Pogonip
where the weed that I recall
Was like a wrecking ball

This is the first revelation of gender. Has the gender of the voice changed… or simply been revealed? Was it really a woman above who started down the “holy road of sin, playing bass under a pseudonym”?

Fallen seems to have several implications, any of which could be intended. There is the older meaning of a “fallen woman”, who has lost her honor or her virginity, and there is the more likely intended sense of simply having fallen out of favor with her parents. The sense of “fallen” socio-economic status is also possible, but “fallen” paired with “daughter” introduces the relational image of a daughter and parents, so that I think we are probably meant to hear about a daughter who has not lived up to parental expectations, even as other meanings hover near by, available for our use.

We may presume, based on the Pogonip and Santa Cruz references that the scholarship was to the very real, University of California, Santa Cruz. This places the protagonist in what is an unusual position for a song like this. He/she begins as a college student in the University of California system, albeit one on a scholarship. This therefore is someone who had a 3.0 grade average and decent SAT scores and filled out bubble forms and wrote freshman essays. Most “folk”, “alt”, “country”, “whatever” songs wouldn’t foreground that. This one does. Of course, it is poetically useful because as soon as we learn of it, we also learn that he/she descends in status (I let my average slip) to the level where we can have a song about him/her.

The Pogonip is pretty definitely a reference to a place near Santa Cruz. From what I’ve read it seems to be a park and wild area. So does being a farmer there mean actually owning a farm and also growing weed? Or does the character mean simply that he/she was a farmer of weed?

Pogonip has a secondary and perhaps also intended meaning,

…a type of fog consisting of ice crystals suspended in the air. The name “pogonip” is an English adaptation of the Shoshone word meaning “cloud” (Wikipedia.)

Anyway, back to the blindin’ ache.

I met a lovesick daughter of the San Joaquin
She showed me colors I’d never seen
Drank the bottom out of my canteen
And left me in the fall
Like a wrecking ball

The etymology of the San Joaquin mountains can be found here:

“Gabriel Moraga named the river in 1805 or 1806 for San Joaquin (Saint Joachim), the father of the Virgin Mary. (Arch. MSB, vol. 4, Munoz, Sept. 24, 1806.) The name spread up the river into the mountains, where it became North, Middle, and South forks. The mountain probably was named by the USGS during the 1898-99 survey for the Mt. Lyell 30′ map, simply because it was a convenient name to borrow for a triangulation point. It is on the first edition, 1901.”
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada

There is also the central California Valley San Joaquin valley. It is less romantic but more probable that the lovesick daughter would be from the southern Central Valley.

The San Joaquin Valley (pronounced /ˌsæn wɑːˈkiːn/) refers to the area of the Central Valley of California that lies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Stockton. Although most of the valley is rural, it does contain urban hubs such as Stockton, Fresno, Visalia, Modesto, Bakersfield, and Merced.

In any case, meeting a lovesick daughter of the San Joaquin doesn’t quite imply that the character went to the San Joaquin. It says explicitly only that the lovesick daughter was from there. And, relative to Santa Cruz, the San Joaquin valley is just over the mountains. This is a California story.

However, a commenter on this blog (see comment below) recently pointed out that the Love Sick Daughter is an acrostic for LSD. I had completely missed that. It clarifies or sharpens many things. First, obviously, the “showed me colors that I’d never seen” suddenly has at least a dual meaning, including psychedelic and emotional. Second, it further ambiguates (makes more ambiguous) the sexual orientation or sex of the protagonist. There may very well be no lesbian relationship implied here at all. The Love Sick Daughter may not a person at all. All this leaves open in my mind the question of whether “the San Joaquin” serves any purpose other than to place the song in California and/or to rhyme with “colors I’d never seen.” The Love Sick Daughter of course is of a piece with the “just a little Deadhead” refrain. I’ve heard that Deadheads sometimes took drugs.

Finally, the Love Sick Daughter implication gives a new nuance to “drank the bottom out of my Canteen.” A lot of things can leave a person all consumed. Love can do that. But so can LSD. It can drink all the water in the mind, and even the bottom of the soul’s canteen itself. I think we can say that both meanings stand as intended possibilities.

Standin’ there, in the morning mist
A Jack & Coke at the end my wrist
Yes, I remember when first we kissed
‘Though it was nothing at all
Like a wrecking ball

For the record, Jack & Coke is a Jack Daniels Whiskey and Coca-Cola mixed together. It makes the whiskey easier to drink for those who are not big drinkers.

To me this stanza is the center of the song…

Dissolution and hitting bottom (Jack and Coke at the end of the wrist), and hitting the top (“when first we kissed”);

Drunken stupidity (Jack and Coke) and linguistic formality (“When first we kissed… not “when we first kissed”).

The moment that is everything is called nothing.

Note also that the reference to “morning mist” echos the secondary meaning of Pogonip. Images of mist and fog abound, presumably not least because of all the weed, and the Love Sick Daughter of the San Jauquin.

Isn’t it funny how memories of nothing at all can be the most powerful of all?

Finally, in addition to all of those non-drugged out meanings, understanding the LSD component it is safe to say that the moment when first we kissed could also recall the moment when that little tiny tab first touched her lips… although it was nothing at all, it hits the mind like a wrecking ball. The Jack and Coke is now easing the pain as she comes down.

Whether this is a description of the end of an affair, or the end of a trip, we don’t know and can’t know. I assume it is both.

Hey boys, a little deadhead
Who’s watching? who’s watching?
I’s just a little deadhead

With too much trouble for me to shake
Oh, the weather and the blindin’ ache
We was ridin’ high until the ’89 quake
Hit the Santa Cruz Garden Mall
Like a wrecking ball

The whole gender thing doesn’t matter, but much of this song feels to me as if it is sung in a male voice. And yet, the only gender specific references are to the central character as “a fallen daughter on a scholarship” who appears to meet “a lovesick daughter.” So, maybe my gendar (gender radar) is malfunctioning and maybe this is a female love story, or maybe Gillian is being as elusive and allusive about gender as she is about most of the images here. There is a very simple way to read this as a lesbian relationship, but I think she is being more ambiguous than that. (The new observation above that the Love Sick Daughter may not be intended to refer exclusively to a person at all, adds weight to this sense that this is not really lesbian story at all.)

Not much to say about the ’89 quake. It was big, it hit the Santa Cruz Garden Mall and toppled a lot older buildings. My wife (a graduate of UCSC) informs me however that she always carried a sense that nothing was ever the same in Santa Cruz after that quake. It was the end of an era, a place, a sense of place. And so, it is fitting in this song about mist and memory, to end with a recollection of one more thing forever gone. The wrecking ball also creates as it destroys. It destroys the thing, but it creates the thing in memory, a different kind of existence. Perhaps this is all about realities you can only access after the wrecking ball has ended them.

We never know why the song’s character has too much trouble to shake, or why the high riding stopped after the ’89 quake. Did the market for the weed dry up? Or is Gillian just laying wrecking ball images one on the other because it’s so damn much fun to do it? Or what? And we never find out anything about the weather and the blinding ache. That impenetrability and allusiveness is, to my mind, the essence of the beauty.

Archives

© 2011 Documented Life Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha