01 October, 2009

Highway 46







Rising fate you'd stake who?
And You'd Carry
My belief was easy
To say....
All I...
Lord the day....... in Mourning
As I.......
Got that stage in the way


Oh my trail
So loaded down
In the morning come around
Salvation hawked
In how
The facts can see


Oh then night
On the bowl inside
They throw the whims
They've found..
But Baby that don't mean
That much too me


Hey there sweets
How you Lookin'
Don't you want
To Go on Down


Bathed in light
And to call that
Crazy down....








Rappin the nail
Spent for the waste
Just get it nailed down
Then the walls
That are not blue
Get around


Walking with late little not right
Outside the Sunday mass
All the windows line up the wall
To the worst this world has passed.
With your right hand on a casket,
With your right foot up to fate....
Walk down the aisle with your old friend
In a pine box:
And he's dead...


Walking a mile
Won't go far tonight
So can't we go around


Bathed in light
And we'll call my
Crazy down


My belief was easy, to say...
My belief was easy... to say.


(This post is especially long, even by my standards.  It is about the virtues of grief among other things, and is one of my favorite things I have ever experienced/ written. I love my Mother and her family very much, and this post was always meant to be for her. And my Grandfather.)


This song is about four things.  My love for the Ohio river and everything between it and here (Hwy 46, for example).  The strange confection I have been offered my entire life (but was unknown for much of human history in the form it's been offered me): belief.  The death of my Grandfather and what that means to my Mom, therefore myself, and my family.  Also what it means to me personally.  And the odd rising way a woman wants to remind you of the endlessness that you and her can't help but gesture toward, whether by the biological implications of your love, or the cultural implications of your relationship/ marriage.  I have more than once been tickled physically by a woman exasperated with my desire to think about some things (what you might call "bonks" to my head).  When this happens, when I am not angry, I can laugh at what a big baby my spirit can really be.


The other, but somewhat less resonant issue that the song touches on is the imagery of walking beside a coffin.  While I think my subconscious served the image up (I know it played a large part at least) due to my Grandpa dying, it cannot be denied that I have been shocked by the feelings within me at the death of our soldiers at war.  And my friends who have lost friends just come to mind, pretty much the way I painted it in this song.


The song begins by very loosely sketching (through the tonality of my voice and the words.  The two are inseparable.) a fake belief system that has something to do with catching a rising fate.  Such a belief being nothing but a feeling, needless to say it might just be victim of the fickle winds of other feelings.


So where I become "so loaded down" mourning has turned to morning (a typical trick of faith) and Salvation is hawking facts that I can see, like a newsboy might his paper.


These gestures in the song are meant to paint the atmospherics of my place in Christiandom.  I hate to use that disgusting word.  Especially as an Atheist.  However, it is a decent description of the overwhelming reality on the American scene.  And it affects me in bad and good ways.  Needless to say, if you know me and my family, you will not see me celebrating Christianity over another religion.  Probably just the opposite.  For example, I was with my family one time and I opened a beer with a cross on my keychain (given to me by my old friend Dennis, way back).  I heard one of my extended family members mutter innvoluntarily, "but that's blasphemy."  I wasn't thinking about the cross, since I have never utilized a cross as a strong object of meaning in my life, but once, the one my high school girlfriend gave me to put around my neck.  I have made comments I will not repeat in this place, as to the probable calculus of my character toward that woman's "gifts" such as a cross, to me.  She was a protestant in any case, and basically a kid.  I was the kid part as well.  So, no, I hadn't been thinking of the keychain I keep in my jeans as the locus of the globe changing symbol that I know Jesus to be.  Sort of thought of it as a memento of one of the best friends I ever drank with, or had.  Sorry family member.


All of this should go to show you that what a lot of people regard as Christian themes in my music, are fairly enough called that, but also might be seen as artifacts more of the habitat of this man then his habit.  Folks are kind to take any interest in my writing at all, and I am not in the habit of correcting them.  I also am not, for the record, presently in the habit of practicing Christianity.


Now that the horse is dead, I suppose I will turn to those subjects I mentioned above, that for some reason I forgot all about.


The song is something of a triptyque, offering passport to my fantasy life and the matrix it composes with the world that is not my community and my subconscious.  As a Westerner and American my cars are magical vehicles of both physical and metaphysical transport.  The statisticians remind me that most of the time I am going to the corner, or just a small distance from my home when I drive.  But the cognitive scientists tell me that when driving I am not even experiencing the vehicle as a physical embodiment moving through my real world.  So when I go to the store, I apparently engage in something of an altered state (which is a good thing given what it's like when you walk in the convienence store.)  I believe this altered state thing because I can feel the combination of my inner ear freaking a little and the deep sense of control of the world that driving gives me.  It is disembodied and yet pushes our rat brain to ask for more at the same time.  Maybe that's why people so often, including me, fly off the handle at least a little when they are forced to give it a rest by the circumstances of their commute.  The illusion of your potency, of your different state of mind, is broken by the "jerks" and red lights.  But there are realms available to the dreamer known as the open road.  And I am a little embarrassed to admit that I am among the fans and junkies who like a long uninterrupted dose, now and again.  Just another slice of apple pie, ala mode.


So in Highway Forty Six I am in a strange altered state of mourning for my Grandfather's death, whilst going on Highway Forty Six to Madison, Indiana for a Habitat for Humanity project (and secretly a reunion with my own nostalgia.  I fantasized about an evening I had in Madison two years ago, and that fantasy had as much to do with going to Madison as Habitat.)  To say the least, I dig driving a long distance for any reason at the drop of a hat.  The ridge-top beauty of the drive on 46 to Interstate 65, and then the continuing highways the rest of the way to Madison, an unbelievably picturesque jewel of Indiana's cultural and architectural beginnings....  there was an edge of guilt, or at the very least, flight, in my traveling down there.  In Bloomington people kept asking me how I was doing.  I like that, it means everyone cares about me.  But, also in Bloomington my life had been rearranged around family obligations for a few weeks, and while that makes me intensely happy in all the ways it should, there was a disused corner of my soul I couldn't seem to convince it was almost springtime.  So, one day, after repairing a number of ceramic tile problems a customer of mine had, I, in the rapidly fading light of a February evening made my way down to Madison, once again bewildered.... in the etymological sense of the term.  Be Wilded.  Be...I am, Wilded... made Wild.  Pretty silly formulation for a dude slurping his throwaway Starbuck's as he slaloms the ridge-tops to a tourist town.  Drink your Kool Aid, and I'll drink mine.






"Oh then night, on the bowl inside, they throw the whims they've found.  But baby that don't mean that much to me."  This is an instance of stargazing if you will.  I've never loved someone in my life where the bowl of the night did to reveal to my loved one and myself the forms thrown to the heavens by the gods.  At least half of the reason I love that imagery is the insult it presents to the world view of Christianity, which seems to prefer that the body of the universe stay as cladded as the flesh that has so much to do with its God.  God forbid anyone see what's before them.  Crazy book learning.  Or as is the case for people even today, visual learning.  To be a good Christian (and people so much better than I could even dream of being cut themselves and drain their happiness for a failure to be this) one must shut down their powers.  The greek gods are certainly somewhat more demonstrative of their preferences, good and bad (so very many bad) then the Big Guy (Jesus obviously was a more modern hep cat with the touchy feely lingo and gift for the metaphor.  But Jesus ain't the reason your feeling like a jerk most of the time).  When the Greek Gods liked something they threw it into the heavens not to float off into infinity like every school child in our strange modern world would no doubt imagine, but up against the Euodoxan bowl made of aether that the Greeks assigned to each of the components of the sky that had any kind of independence.


Baby that don't mean that much to me is a way of countering folks (especially close friends and women) who claim that the natural world and science comprise some kind of working religion for me.  I love the stars like a child loves the stars.  Appreciate them like a man.  But who appreciates an ice cream cone. The stars don't mean that much to me, I just like it when they run down my chin.  Sorry.


The basic premise in mentioning the stars at all is that people forget the profundity of an atheistic world view.  People think you are taking some low level faith in God and imprinting on science, like some college kid that's lost their religion has about a billion other causes (bless their hearts, I might add. I've learned a lot from them, and I'm just getting started.)  But that isn't how it's working with the person that doesn't believe in an animating moral force in the universe.  Those of us who don't have the pattern of our bedroom carpet still denting our knees from the eighteen years of praying each night to the God who is and always has been there, are often assumed to in fact be closet "spiritual" types: read believing in God secretly.


I was talking with my mentor the other day (I see him once or twice a month, depending: Hi Jim!) and we were talking about how great my parents are, and how ceaselessly they seek out an appreciation of me and the world around them.  No thing is too great or small.  These people are my cultural lodestones.  They were the representative humans I had around me.  I couldn't have known any better than to look at everything as if the scales would fall from my eyes...eventually.  And for most things that don't have first middle and last names that change when they reproduce, the scales do seem to move from my eyes to the ground.
My parents love classical music and motorcycling and used to go to Dead concerts and love to read literature and poetry and would sometimes run half marathons with me and frequently would drive me across town for ice cream and make me a vegetarian dinner whenever I wanted (if they hadn't beat me to the punch with their own.)  They are fabulous gourmands without completely saying that themselves.  You ever notice how much people love to talk about their tendency toward gourmet or foodieness?  My folks stress about food more than necessary, but they never flat out seem to believe that it's a class thing or a matter of being better than another person:  they just love the novelty of other cultures and the odd sensation of those cultures being executed pretty perfectly in your kitchen while listening to the Dead.  I told my mentor this and yeah, he's heard it before, but it is a bit hard to believe, even for me.  My poor children.
Then it occurred to me to say, "You know Jim, it might play into my parents full bore lust for life that they are not expecting an afterlife. To them each moment is merely a fraction of their last.  I'm not sure people of faith can really comprehend the difference.  And really I mean this as a kind of humorous aside to go with the impressive list of their appetites and passion.  For them Heaven on Earth is Earth."   I'm pretty sure I came close to saying it that way, and in any case I had hinted the same before.  How I an Atheist cannot be expected to have values unaffected by the firm knowledge that the dead will never speak again to me.  And please do not imagine that I reflect on some absurd alternative.  As a six year old I knew a six foot hole was not a guy with a grey beard holding out his hand.  I guess I figured that was a near death experience.
  I love the sort of afterlife presented in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" precisely because it so skewers the tricks of the range of potentials intimated by "life" and "afterlife" and that squirrely little mime, Mankind, who so loves the suckers game the two words invariably become.  Which came first anyway?  Call it Chicken soup that's a feedback loop.
Jim is kind enough to find these philosophical forays into my family's world view interesting.  Kind of an amazing guy as committed to his faith as he is.


There was a woman a few years ago who I really liked.  She seemed like she was similar in her interests to me and everything.  Then one day while we were really enjoying ourselves, I think I heard from my Mom that a Grandparent was sick.  Somehow after comforting me she let it slip that she wouldn't want to be there if there were a funeral.  It was funny the way the blood drained from my heart.  I felt zero sadness.  In fact, I almost felt a smile on my lips.  My God, I thought, I might never have asked her and fallen completely in love.  There are times my walls have come in handy.  To this day she has never explained in even a slightly rational fashion what the hell kind of attitude that was.  Too bad really.  For every reason you could imagine.


So the lines, "Hey there sweets... how you lookin', don't you want to go on down..." delivered in a leering and overtly sexual growl might not be construed by the listener of this intensely soulful and bluesy song as having to do with a disagreement I seem to have with all kinds of people about the fact that funerals, wakes, remembrances and other full stops of the human condition feel at times like they bathe me in light.  Even you, without rereading that, can vaguely agree:  yeah, some folks might not be bathed in light at a funeral.  I mean that didn't even happen in Harold and Maude.  Somehow, perhaps because I am not a religious person, and traditionally did not take for granted a community of people to share our communities occasional deaths and births with, I have developed an exaggerated sense of the importance of weddings and funerals I suppose.  And certainly tend to dwell on the spiritual implications of appreciating life:  whatever that might mean.


"Rappin' the nail,
Spent for the waste,
Just to get it nailed down,
Then the walls that are not blue,
Get around."




This is my little meditation on all the seemingly logical idioms that involve nails and coffins.  Why are they logical.  What box could possibly need to be nailed closed less then the one that will never be opened again?  "The walls that are not blue," is a description of enclosure and another way of bringing a creation to life in this song by speaking the facts of death alive.  This stanza of the song does not explicitly name a coffin, but the words all have deep connections with a journey that might be death.
  
"Walking with late little not right,"


This line begins my journey during a particularly meaningful interlude in Madison, where I left the Ohio and listened to almost an hour of Hymns that rang from one of Madison's lovely old churches (I think it was the Presbyterian Church playing at least a few Methodist Hymns.)  "Late little not right," represents an old acquaintance, grief.  Not the kind you might be thinking of.  More like an overwhelming sense of love for my mother.  An overwhelming sharpness of feeling.  A hunger for the dusk covered town to give me what I needed to ruminate.  I had known this feeling in quantities that were disabling when I was younger.  But now I was a grown man, and I had been waiting a long time.


"Outside the Sunday mass,  All of the windows line up the wall, To the worst this world has passed."


Now we are at a Church in Madison in which service is just ending.  Their Catholic Church, the faith my Mother grew up in.  I have been walking upgrade to the dying of the other Church's bells in town.  The weather is in the upper 50's, which is important, given that it's February. This would turn out in fact to be the first great thaw of Southern Indiana's typically pathetic winter.  Hades has Persephone in his chariot, and Demeter has lost the will to keep Narcissus from bursting alive.  I stop before the outside brick exterior of the Sanctuary with "all of the windows line(d) up the wall."
The old windows of the probably 160 to 170 year old Church (the entire area of town near the water is even older than that) glow softly with the lights still burning from service.  It doesn't take a genius to know these windows have seen and postured to "the worst this world has passed."   From the Civil War to Iraq isn't a statement that makes a ton of sense in Bloomington, should you be looking at one spot rather than two.  This Catholic Church, in Madison, has seen the Civil war and Iraq.  And the Ohio, not five hundred steps away, from which I just stopped walking uphill, has fed both Wars gunpowder and Bourbon.  Today the river carries white crystalline bauxite, from Brazil or Jamaica for the smelting of aluminum at Alcoa. But you can't really tell, especially now that it's dark, for it looks just like sugar, which went to both American Wars, and to these fine worshippers and me.
Around me flow the townspeople, stepping out of mass and into their surrounding houses, some of them into their cars, but it's a mix.  The small parking lot is lighting up with mostly older and disabled individuals cars, slowly.  People are talking quietly with laughter and surprise mingling in the unseasonable warm.  I want to stand there forever with them.  My Grandfathers people, at the tip of the Ice Age's moraine.  They look so different then they would if I knew every last one, and I am a visitor like death itself, upon them, rather than amongst.  I circle the Church looking for signs of original glass (not that I know what they would be.) then disappear into the darkness.
Now I am walking to where I'll be staying at the Methodist church.  My mind is still back with the Catholics after mass, but they are being assimilated by memories, like the face of a long lost friend, fading.  The long rectangular Church I just left, is quite similar to the far more modern one we had my Grandfathers funeral in.  I can feel that service coming through me, and while I couldn't say exactly why, it is a good feeling I feel no small gratitude to Madison for midwifing.


"With your right hand on a casket,
With your right foot up to fate...
Walk down the aisle with your old friend
In a pine box:
And he's dead.."


I can feel the entire service over again with my endlessly wonderful extended family.  Every one of us is alert to how we might honor the man who we so love as much as humanly possible.  It occurs to me that my memory either looks, or in fact represents a reality that was very beautiful.  As the last patches of ice between my footsteps and the small Methodist Church where I will be welcomed disappear with the full presence of night I give my last thought to those Churches, now as one in my imagination.  The funeral of my Grandfather, with my family, all of us by no means glad for the reason we must gather, was indeed filled with beauty and light for me.  The portion from the Church, as separate from the man and his family I will make no effort to calculate.  Their totality are beauty and tonight they called my crazy down.  


9 comments:

Ande said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ande said...

You really wed grief and splendor here; a very moving song. Its really interesting and fun reading your comments after the songs; your life and world is different but also recognizable for me. The US has great interstate highways and roads; I see why you adore driving. When I was a teenager I often fantasized about driving these roads, but I never gotten into the joy of driving (Europe is not a good continent for driving; all those endless forests up in the North and congestions down in the South. It's better to go by train here; the trains are great). I guess your highways are sort of sacred for many Americans, and I see why from your depictions.

It was fun reading that your parents where deadheads (?!) once and drive motorcycles. I think my parents would need a break from normal small town routine sometimes (and buy motorcycles); or am I projecting myself on them?

I guess I can see how you feel as an atheist among religions people. It must be liberating making this statement. Most friends I know says it's a dead gloomy thing being an atheist, they often worship the almost all-encompassing northern European religion called

"There Must Be Something Out There, But I don't Know What!"

I am definitely an agnostic at the moment, but hadn't had the energy to think too much about this. It would be fantastic if it was possible to commute really intelligently with something outside the human or animal sphere.
Ande

Jenny said...

Andy,

Potent and thought inspiring song. It is also very rewarding reading your reflections on the meaning in a wider context. A very generous characteristic in a writer.

Interesting what you say about religion. Sweden is such a secular “middle-of-the-road” country, while Christianity has such an influence over politics, society and culture in USA. The connection to highways feels interesting too.

I am an agnostic, spiritual non-religious kind of person; I suppose my religion is the Imagination. Organized religions have never appealed to me and I have never believed in gods.

Your discussions stretch far and wide and at the same time you never loose track of the subjects you are dealing with. This is a rare progressive ability that I admire about you.

Andy Coffey said...

Ande,

Everyone in America knows that Europe's public transportation makes America's seem like the third world effort it really is. Amtrak, our train company, is so poorly funded that it has to stop and wait for freight trains to go in front of it. This is due to the fact that most of the track laid down for passengers is no longer in use, so Americans who go by train, travel as a kind of commodity, like chemicals, or grain. Take it from me, it's horrible.

Americans don't like to work together, and are suspicious of national efforts, so we do consider a chance to be completely cut off from others and thinking only what we want to think about, to listen to, and ultimately to interpret the world as: sacred. And sometimes, as you know, solitude can be welcome.

My father in particular always loved Jerry and the Dead until Jerry died. Once the live concerts ended (I went to four or five in high school with my parents; and they are pretty darn amazing.) for the Grateful Dead, my parents sort of lost interest. My Dad still has many, many recordings, and maintains a kind of subconscious Dead head quality: his hard drive was named Dark Star for years (for a number of years, my Dad's favorite Dead song.) So yeah, motorcycling, The Grateful Dead, ect. are a big part of my early life. And I appreciate that about my parents, and my country.

You should project yourself onto your parents. Love can be so painful, but more painful still is to realize one day that you never asked yourself how you are different or the same. Being appropriate to friends and loved ones seems to me to be one of the biggest reasons we let them alone. And regret it.

Almost all Westerners, and apparently most Western Europeans, fall into the hilarious category you so humorously intoned. How could it be otherwise?We want God.

I live in a culture of a cartoon God, who has forgotten all about the wonderful Jesus Christ. I can live with an awareness of Jesus without "fearing" God and punishing folks around me with thousand plus year old prejudices that Christ is said to have died to put to rest.

But I know what you mean. There is an animating force in the universe it seems. I have no idea. But personally, the billions of years that I did not exist before 1974 didn't hurt of cause me suffering at all, and I believe the same will be true of the time after my death. I am afraid to die. But I am not afraid to be an Atheist, at all. Perhaps I am a fool.

I agree that communications with the divine are something to aspire to. I also, as an Atheist, pray. So go figure Ande, perhaps I am simply crazy.

Andy Coffey said...

Jenny,

Thanks, for you kind words.
It is interesting that what feels self serving, and must be self serving in some sense, is interpreted by you and Ande as generous. It's nice to know I have a lot to learn about how to view writing, ect. How to live life with less judgement.
I suspect that a slim minority of Americans have never believed in gods. And when polled, Americans fulfill my suspicions. So I have more in common with you then my own countrypeople in that sense.

You and Ande encourage me to bravely imagine my mind, throughout my day as a carpenter, and businessman, as a deep secret pleasure. To share this pleasure has been a happiness I hope to translate to simple love for others: regardless of whether they "understand" or read me at all. Thanks.

Wine and Words said...

Where can your songs be "heard" (I hear them here...hear your heart) because the melody means much, communicates in notes, phrasing, etc. uTube???? MySpace??? Yeah, ok...you can just send me a CD. That works too :)

Andy Coffey said...

Wine and Words,

I deeply thank you for your interest. However, I am somewhat new to recording, and have only recently found a solution to recording my songs myself. With the new hardware I have acquired, it has been my constant refrain to tell those interested that I will have a link to something within the next thirty days.
Your desire to hear my songs is, of course, a deep pleasure to me.
In the meantime (terrible word) I will enjoy reading more of your output, and the connections you have made due to your bravery in this new art: blogging.

Jukka said...

I have always wanted and will always want to travel the highways of the mid west. I would like to take a car and live at motels all over this place. For the moment I have to wait.
Some day, when I start a new diving school over the sea.
Or at a vacation.

Andy Coffey said...

Well Jukka,

Your welcome to start a diving school at Lake Monroe here in Bloomington. As long as you don't have to see anything under the muddy, and discolored water.
I'm afraid motels beat diving, hands down, in the Midwest. The American Road is a narcotic beast not unlike television in it's ability to fascinate despite the fact that you know better. Even living here, I constantly fantasize, simply not making the next turn, and not stopping at all, preferably till I'm nearly out of gas. I've only done that once or twice. And inevitably, the planned instances, like all fantasies, are failures to launch.
Thanks.