02 October, 2009

Ides Of March









































Take a breath of winter's last long wheeze

And Bring the largest hog into the yard

Daddy doesn't know about his dreams

Black horses seem to ride the Ides of March


I held you in my hand in Eighty-Three

Your mother's face trumped my lucky cards

But beauty isn't very hard to see

So, a pretty girl now walks the Ides of March


I panned for gold in the sands of Jordan Creek

And made a ring from the resulting shards

There is no place this river ain't too deep

To cross and still to see the Ides of March


A pretty girl accepts a golden ring

And hears a phrase as written by a bard

She looks across to see a teardrop stream

On my, her Daddy's face, this Ides of March


You worry that they've got enough to eat

You wonder if your too soft, or much too hard

You beg to know who will be their soul to keep

No answer here upon the Ides of March


A crocus breaks the crust of autumn's leaves

The brown grass drinks it's share of liquid lard

There is no way a Daddy guarantees

His daughter's happy on the Ides Of March


This song was my intentional nod to Haggard's "The Farmers Daughter", by way of my old man.  My Dad loves Merle Haggard, which is a gift to anyone who loves traditional American music.  Meaning Americana.  My Dad is an emotionally connected man, and I most definitely am brought to tears by stuff at times.  We used to sit out on our sunken back porch, with my Mom, and listen to "The Farmers Daughter" whilst smoking and drinking, of course.  On special occasions. My Dad would explain why the song meant something to him, and I loved to hear him feel for the farmer.  "The Farmers Daughter" is a simple tale of a farmer who is looking at the marriage of his "one possession", despite the fact that he doesn't really think anybody's good enough for her.  The magic of the song is its lyrical contraposition of the beauty and hope of the music and what the meaning of the marriage for the daughter is, with the mournful voice and history of the farmer and his beloved, but tragic marriage.  Haggard was in addition, never afraid to portray complex feelings through simplistic everyman rural idioms which can seem laughable to people who love their rock and roll.  In other words, the biggest critics of Haggard's characterization of the real world of rural america (and working class america) are folks who think "country" would be better off "suburban" and not that white trash crap.  After years of thinking about this, tons of friends who are baffled by my interest in (they might say) this faux authentic world, I really have settled into a greater admiration then ever of the beauty of the human spirit of the writers and performers of American Country Music. All of them. Even today.  Hit country.  To some extent.

The song begins in Spring, when I wrote it last year at this very desk.  "Winter's last long wheeze," need not be explained.  I am explaining portions of this song in a more lengthy manner than usual because I love this song and my Dad quite a bit.  And Haggard's music.

I have a friend John Pearson who is one the only people who ever really encouraged me in my writing once I left home from my parents.  John had been married to a Hungarian, who's family remained in Hungary, living pretty much the life they had, near Budapest, not in it, prior to the raising of the Iron Curtain.  Whether that was the reason that John was forced to help slaughter a hog at his future wife's home is not obvious to me.  I am a somewhat big fan, however, of assumptions.  John's wife was hungry for the city, and the West.  I resist puns here.  This led me to believe that while her parents had a kind of deeply nurturing intelligence, their taste for everything and the squeal, sort of sealed the deal for the best of all possible versimillitude: our farm is actually a city dear.
So, John used to tell me about the drinking rituals and the process of slaughter (which I had hungrily read about in the Foxfire series of books) he encountered in the Peace Corps, and at his wife's.
You think about these things, and--- I tell you.  The local catering places in Bloomington, that put on weddings, smell vaguely like high school cafeterias, which is a perfectly reasonable relief from the spectacle of the flashing lights and fog (talk about iron curtain).  We Hoosiers take a day, on which we lavish all manner of significance, and pretty much top to bottom, yawn our way through stations of metaphor.  For some crazy reason I'd just love to slaughter a pig right in the center of one of these circuses.  Not that that is remotely appropriate to the earnest tone of this discussion, but...  As marriage goes in America today, nothing say's it like a slaughtered pig.  So I said it...  "And bring the largest Hog into the yard."  Not some symbol of a pig.  The largest real pig.  About four five gallon buckets of blood.

I am no fan of dream analysis (the word analysis may be a combination of the word lysis: the disentegration of a cell by rupture; and Anal: need I tell you more.  A dream version of that keeps me up at night.) However, I love utilizing the fact that humans do this crazy irrational thing a lot: dream/ have nightmares.  Why?  Because it is a window that the perfect illusion of consciousness has a hell of a time covering up.  I think dreams are but a sign that the wizard is getting his feet tangled in the curtain back there.  But if you say that (consciousness is a bit less convincing than I would like), today, or God forbid, back when the Wizard of Oz hadn't been written, then some meanie might call you a friend of Dorthy.  So it's best to be as vague as experts in mind control have to be:  black horses ride.... you're getting very sleepy.  I mean, Scripture is a veritable Laf Pak of dream logic clip art.  They were very, very organized.

I'm talking about a Daddy here, so "Black Horses" is all I would feel comfortable mentioning in any case.  Haggard had his "candlelight and roses" and I got my "hogs and horses".

Needless to say, the Ides of March has been a date of foreboding for probably three thousand years.  It's also in Spring, which was the traditional time the bodies of the starved would have started to stink in prehistory, where burial wasn't possible due to illness and starvation.  Needless to say, it is one of my favorite dates all year.  The first moments of the warm season.  But death, and Narcissus, abound. A host of golden Narcissus, of course.

"I held you in my hand in '83
Your mothers face had trumped my lucky cards."

All children love to imagine (or if they had the chance, see) Mom or Dad holding their infant selves or siblings in the hand.  And it goes without saying that all the yearning of a pregnancy and labor (intentional or not) stand glorious and sentinel in the form of a child in it's parents hand.  I am tripping over linguistic allusions just brushing against the circumstances for this one line.  No child enters their future without being in the hand of their parent.  But this fathers tone is not one of mere delight, for he is remembering that his child, so intimately connected to him, is not exactly like him, due to the beauty of the child's mother.  This strange intoxication that beautiful daughters have on the man who helped bring them into the world is not only common, but has fascinating impacts on downstream perspectives the rough hewn male spirit ultimately lets prevail upon him.  For,  while compassion for others, humility and the intrinsic value of all people are somewhat opaque perspectives to most of us, at least some of the time, "beauty isn't very hard to see."

I chose '83 to affect the largest possible audience of my friends and loved ones: mother, father and child.

"So a pretty girl now walks the Ides of March."  There is nothing more impacting in foreboding than the factual arrival of the dreaded condition/state of being.  Wedding bells are heard in the sentence.  And it's less fancy than the prior hints. Maybe Mom was ugly... it's possible.

"I panned for gold in the sands of Jordan Creek."  A humorous attempt to speculate on the intelligence of prospecting on Indiana University campus or any three tier watershed of the white river.  Though I haven't looked into Bloomington's specific mineralogical history, the only precious metals or stones I am aware of come from truly unexplained Diamonds shooting straight out of the mantle in Northern Indiana, prehisorically.  Pipe Diamonds I think they are called.

"And with the shards I fashioned up a ring."  Why I felt inclined to have Dad doing this, is a mystery to me.  I think it was basically a mistake in logic.  But the next line, "There is no place this river ain't to deep, to cross and still to see the Ides of March,"   That line is so filled with koan like ambivalence that it became rather difficult to imagine gone.  So instead of panning for gold, maybe I'll just say he's skinny dipping in the current of...?

A pretty girl accepts a golden ring




And hears a phrase as written by a bard



She looks across to see a teardrop stream


On my, her Daddy's face, this Ides of March


Our rather cosmopolitan woman is having her wedding conducted to the fancy words of a bard.  And so once the dreaded deed, her acceptance of this marriage is done, she hears the dulcet tones of the one presiding over the ceremonies and looks up to see her father crying.  Tears of sadness or joy... no living person need pretend they haven't sometimes wondered themselves.

This next stanza:

"You worry that they've got enough to eat,"

Progresses from the self sacrifice/ self pity that a generation's structure intimates.

"You wonder if your too soft or much too hard,"

To the impossible quandry posed by the role a woman plays in the real world (especially as imagined by a parent.)  And of course the shame that discipline poses to parents who employ it (all parents; whether emotional or physical.  Except in those cases where a child is handed to it's parents and it promptly dies.)

"You beg to know who will be their soul to keep,
No answer, here upon the Ides of March."

This simply drives home the point that Haggard also intimated through cartooning his suitor as a longhair.  Dad doesn't really know the guy.  But his kid's about ready to know him Biblically.  There is no way to sugar coat this.  One would hope even the bride might agree with that.

Somewhat more to the point but almost hopeless at the age depicted here: will she depend on him for the things a father so desperately wishes her to have.  Trust and love ripened into fidelity and history.  Will the entirety of her private life sit happily one day in the contents of her purse?  The rest of her person contented happily to share this life (you might notice I have had some seriously graphic arguments with my mentors over this subject, so I have honed my domestic object rhetorical skills sharp.  Frankly I'd like her to have her own studio, solely her own realm, built by the sap.  But not for this argument.  I should mention, as well, that when Michael Pollan, the writer of The Omnivore's Dilemma, was designing the final touches on the architectural plans for his tiny writers shack (fancy writers shack, it's lovely) his wife quipped, "What are you guys doing, refining the place our kids are going to smoke pot?")  Needless to say, these are questions any father knows better than to even surmise (beyond grieve.)

"A crocus breaks the crust of autumn leaves,"

Take your pick of the rich allusions to renewal, and recycling of death to life, you'd like to draw from this frankly phallic bit of phrasing.  I wrote it and stopped for a moment, like you stop when you catch something you couldn't even see yourself dropping.  Just thank your brain for being something you'll never even begin to appreciate.  This is my second most favorite line in the song.

"The brown grass takes its share of liquid lard,"

What, like the "angels share?"  This is the point where thoughtful people remind me that folks who nod to Merle Haggard don't write songs about the lard, they write songs about the poor saps who ate the lard.  And they definitely don't anthropomorphize the brown grass.  Who gives a crap about the grass.  What is the grass doing?  Drinking?  Hello...Andy this is how you're ending your ode to Merle: lard drinking grass!

I really don't like that point of view.

 To me the meaning of this scene is not the supposed action of the grass.  That's poetry, rather like Belle in Sleeping Beauty probably would run off with the reformed beast even if her candlestick Lumiere were merely a device to light up aroom.  I actually like candles that do that.  However a magical candlestick is a poetic animation of frozen states within our impossible selves.  I told a girlfriend while laying in bed one night, "I don't know how to stop it, and you are too nice to say anything.  I just get going and I have so much I want to say."
"It's ok Andy," she told me, "but..."  What she meant is that she was having some fun, and I would never change.  I would like to be someone better than I am.  A magical candlestick might be employed to represent the light that I turn everywhere in the word (like the photons from a flame feel inclined toward, irresistably.)  An ackward metaphor, but I am making a point.  A magical object might represent the very thing that my girlfriend didn't really think a guy like me could work toward: maybe a happy confidence that some things aren't that interesting.  My magical candlestick would only be happy when you snuff him out, when his wax gets to keep the light we so want of it. (or something like that.  See how that animates a little better the frozen state of the impossible Andy (the one my girfriend didn't believe in.)  Aren't you glad I don't design magic candlesticks? "Look kids! it's happy when it isn't burning," I might exclaim with enthusiasm.  A subtle kind of magic, yes...

The brown grass drinks it's share because the ugliness of a transition from a beautiful intelligent animal (pig) to a corpus, broken like a mere object, and brought to temperature, for rendering, melting.... can only be a burden of duty. Or obligation, like handing your daughter over to her destiny.  The father is immobilized by his new role, heartbroken, and faintly nauseated by the lingering, hovering, bacchannalia that stands in the persons of his daughter and her husbands friends.  They have come to celebrate the pleasure and freedom and perhaps a hint of the ecstasy and connection of letting go and roaring with joy at this insanely great thing that is union of two human beings.  But that attitude is partly tradition and partly the abominable ignorance of the young.  Who is braver than a young person, when not confronted with the likely outcomes of their lives.  So they come together and party on the wedding day.  "She looks happy," they say, the father thinking, "I guess I am the only one who really knows."  Which is pretty much how Merle ended "The Farmers Daughter".

"He could be the richest man in seven counties,
And not be good enough to take her hand.
But he says he really loves the farmers daughter,
And I know the farmers daughter loves the man."


Here is the song I learned from my Dad:


"The Farmers Daughter"

Tonight, there'll be candlelight and roses,
In this little one room chapel
That's almost falling down.
There'll be tears in this farmer's eyes this evening,
When I give my one possession, to that city boy from town.

His hair's a little longer than we're used to,
But I guess I should find something good to say.
About this man who's won the farmers daughter
And who'll soon become my son in law today

Mama left eight years ago, December,
And it was hard to be a Dad and Mama too.
But somehow we made a home of this old farmhouse,
And love was all my baby ever knew.

He could be the richest man in seven counties
And not be good enough to take her hand.
But he says he really loves the farmers daughter,
And I know, the farmers daughter loves the man.


An absolutely wonderful song.  With at least two themes of extra note: loss of a wife and parent (biggie), and class (pretty big as well).  Both of those themes were not included in my song to any great extent, for they pose very little relevance to my personal situation beyond my empathy for Haggard's characters.  They are very effective themes, however, and it would be nice to not feel like a fool in my song employing them.  I should mention that my father really resonated with the notion that losing my Mom, and taking care of us kids, would be a hell of a labor (and a white hot heartbreak.)  I think the loss of Momma eight years ago was the central thing to my Dad.  I'll admit it sort of makes the song.  But not everyone can lose their Mother in a song, thank God.

4 comments:

Jenny said...

Andy,

These lines captured my mind and senses especially: “A crocus breaks the crust of autumn's leaves/The brown grass drinks it's share of liquid lard”. It could be interpreted on so many levels (as you so also mention in the text) and it is also great to know that you know the life of plants, working close to them in your wonderful garden. The song made me think of some of D. H. Lawrence poetry and of course the American traditional music.

Thanks for writing about your appreciation of Haggard. I must admit that I hardly know anything about this rich musical tradition, by some reason. When it comes to American traditional music, I have read (and listened) quite a bit about the history blues and jazz.

It is rewarding to learn more about aspects of the musical genre you illustrate so nicely here.

Ande said...

A beautiful song. Somehow I came to think of really old English folk songs. I was exposed to those when I lived in England and they where often centered around the same themes as your song. Hmm, I think I've heard something about ancient folk traditions from Europe surviving remarkable well in America (its something I heard someone say). But I guess they changed into something completely American. Your words

"Haggard was in addition, never afraid to portray complex feelings through simplistic everyman rural idioms which can seem laughable to people who love their rock and roll.
---
I really have settled into a greater admiration then ever of the beauty of the human spirit of the writers and performers of American Country Music"

is worth a quotation. The US seems to have such a fantastic oral LIVING tradition that it makes me ashamed of my country. I think I've mentioned I never been to the Midwest, but I have images of it from media and friends, like yourselves. I think it's quite a remarkable achievement to preserve the integrity of a place intact in these times, as you do. It was really interesting reading your comments of you made the song and quite fun reading about the girlfriends reactions; I kind of recognized this.

Andy Coffey said...

Jenny,

It was a great pleasure for me to write the lines, "A crocus breaks the crust of autumn's leaves/ The brown grass drinks it's share of liquid lard."

Crocus's gather a great deal of my interest in Spring. The are the brave pioneers.. as it were.

The natural world has a bad reputation among serious intellectuals as a place to lose oneself. I do not belong among such dissent.

Haggard, is of course, "Merle Haggard." He has become famous for many reasons. I could go on and on, but it is worth mentioning that Haggard was in prison when Johnny Cash made his famous concert at "Folsom Prison." Most Americans, at the time, thought prisoners were lower than the trash they threw in their cans. But Johnny loved Jesus enough to remember that Jesus himself loved people in prison just as much as us more regular folks.

Catcha' Later, Jenny

Andy Coffey said...

Ande,

Jeez, I'm sorry I didn't comment the other day on your wonderful thoughts about my song.
Thanks.
Yessir, Old English Folk songs were very much on my mind while writing The Ides Of March. Though, as you mentioned, these Old English Folk songs were one's carried across the Atlantic, and polished to an American sensibility. It is perhaps the fact that the sickle of civilization was stayed by poverty across large segments of the settlements of the Scott's Irish population in America, that might account for the lovely embalmed corpus, still available to American singers. Sometimes the dead and decrepit are very beautiful indeed.
Even when the subject is murder, death, loss, and the feeble hope for an afterlife more kind than the one we must live to die.
In my experience all cultures hold onto something, as a remarkable achievement. The US has perhaps been particularly sensitive about the youth of it's culture, and therefore clung to "country" as I do, as a way of not completely falling into the maul of progress. I don't know.
For the most part, as you know, we Americans despise the past as much as the next guy.
But, from the perspective of you, a person of a different place, if not time, I can see how the difference is not only made, but wrought beautiful due to your want of a lasting world. I feel that too.
Thanks.