In Which the Prof Serves as a Gentleman, a Scholar, and a Dork

(Not necessarily in that order.)

I spent yesterday in Real City, doing a variety of things, culminating in a visit to the Berries’ former haunt of Art Bar to see contemporary garage faves the Woggles. But I’ll get to that later.

I had an appointment down there at 10:30 yesterday morning, but since that’s about a 40- to 50-minute drive from Mondoville, I decided to make a full day of it rather than make two trips. So after lunch at my favorite low-budget Chinese buffet, I went over to the library at Flagship University and did a little work gathering sources for my contribution to the annual Chaucer bibliography. That didn’t take long, but I had plenty of time to kill, so I wandered into the stacks and read some work from Phyllis McGinley (about whom I blogged last week). Specifically, I took a look at  Times Three, the early-60s collection of her poetry that features a warm introduction from W.H. Auden.

The book contains 300(!) poems, and is divided into decades: “The Fifties,” “The Forties,” and “The Thirties,” but it took me a moment to realize that she was talking about her fifties/forties/thirties, rather than about the decades of the 20th C. that we associate with those labels. I chose works more or less at random initially, like the literary version of Dippy the Drinking Bird, but eventually found myself returning to her thoughts in her fifties, as that’s the decade I’m in as well.

Some of the work was topical, but has worn well. There was a poem noting that although humanity has developed new technology for mass slaughter, we’ve always had quite a bit of talent in that field, whether we used guns, swords, or clubs and rocks. Another poem discussed the novelty of color TV, but wondered what difference it really made if the content wasn’t any better. (I particularly nodded when she said it wouldn’t even matter if a screen were fifty inches, if it still showed the same old thing. As it happens, that’s the size of the TV here in my den.)

[Side note: As I was looking up the poem I linked above, I found a blog post about McGinley from the Paris Review. It strikes me as a pretty good summation of why the literary establishment has ignored her — and why the public has increasingly come to ignore the literary establishment. It works in both directions, you know, and the next time you hear someone talk about the decline of poetry, this might be a nice place to start. Anyway…]

But the one that really hit me was this one, which I’ll share with you:

Midcentury Love Letter

by Phyllis McGinley

Stay near me. Speak my name. Oh, do not wander
By a thought’s span, heart’s impulse, from the light
We kindle here. You are my sole defender
(As I am yours) in this precipitous night,
Which over earth, till common landmarks alter,
Is falling, without stars, and bitter cold.
We two have but our burning selves for shelter.
Huddle against me. Give me your hand to hold.

So might two climbers lost in mountain weather
On a high slope and taken by the storm,
Desperate in the darkness, cling together
Under one cloak and breathe each other warm.
Stay near me. Spirit, perishable as bone,
In no such winter can survive alone.

That’s worth keeping, I think. So I think I’ll pick up a copy of Times Three before too long.

From there, I went to the local used media emporium, where I traded a couple of books I hadn’t sought for Two Kinds of Truth, the latest of Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch novels. I’ll probably read it this evening.
After that, I bought a couple of burritos at a Del Taco and made my way to Art Bar. The venue usually only hosts bands on Saturdays, so this was the first time I had been there on a Friday, and I was surprised to discover that it was open when I got there a little after seven. Turns out that on weeknights, they open at five, rather than eight.
When I went in, the Woggles were setting up for a sound check, even though they were the headliners. It made sense to me — find the settings you like in advance, rather than lengthen the transition between bands (it was a three-band bill), and set the board back to there when you’re up.
After a couple of minutes, I chatted a little with “Mighty” Manfred Jones, the band’s frontman (and the afternoon DJ on the Sirius XM Underground Garage channel). He and I are Facebook friends, and we’ve swapped a few e-mails over the years. And despite having heard the Berries, he still talks to me, so go figure. They had played in Savannah the previous night, so it was a relatively short haul for them. I let him get back to setting up the merch table, and relaxed while we waited for the Capital City Playboys to open the show at 9:30.
I’ve been on the bill with the Playboys on a couple of previous occasions, and I’ve mentioned that they’re rated as one of the area’s top live acts. They still are, and they blasted the crowd with their revved-up rockabilly, stoking everyone up for the rest of the night.
Next up were Boo Hag, a two-man, guitar/drums local outfit that define themselves as swamp punk, which seems pretty accurate to me. There was a definite Cramps-ish vibe to some of what they were doing, but they were more goth and less cartoonish than the dearly departed Lux and gang, and they’ve developed a pretty significant local following in a short time. By the time they were done, the walls had begun to sweat.
While Boo Hag were conducting a highly amplified voodoo ritual, I noticed something going on right in front of me. There was a young woman there — I’d guess her as mid-20s, and she was standing in front of me enjoying the show when a guy came up to her and started talking. I couldn’t hear what they were saying because the music was just too loud and my hearing is less than spectacular anyway, but the body language indicated that she wasn’t enjoying his company as much as tolerating it. He’d edge over, she’d edge back — you likely know the drill. But she didn’t seem hostile or confrontational either. So after a few minutes of this, she left the crowd in the performance area and headed into the room with the bar. I followed her, and as she got a drink, I tapped her on the shoulder.
“Do you know that guy?”
“Yeah. I’ve known him for years. He’s just kind of abrasive sometimes.”
“Well, is he bothering you? Does someone need to do something?”
“No. I mean, he’s being… well, him. But no, it’s okay.”
“You’re sure you’re all right?”
“Yeah, But thanks.” So I faded back to the performance space and listened to a little more Boo Hag.
As they were doing their thing, I bought a DVD from Manfred, an indie movie called Stomp! Shout! Scream!, a “Beach Party Rock and Roll Monster Movie.” The Woggles contribute to the soundtrack, and Manfred lends his golden tones to an off-screen but diegetic DJ part.
But then it was time for the main event, and as always, the Woggles gave the crowd their money’s worth. I don’t know how many of the people there were fans when the band started — I had spoken to a few folks, and they hadn’t heard of them before. But I guarantee that the audience was made up of fans after the first thirty or so seconds of the opener. Manfred is one of the most energetic frontmen I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, and the band has been together for years and are a crack 60s-style fratty R&B outfit. I suspect it’s impossible to watch them without having fun. In fact, after the first number, a guy I had spoken to just earlier said “You were right — they’re amazing!” That earned me a fist-bump.
At a break between songs, Manfred intro’d a Chubby Checker cover. “It’s even better than the Twist! It has karate, and it has a monkey. And when you put those together, what do you get?”
“‘Karate Monkey!'”, I yelled from the crowd. Hey, I’m a fan.
“That’s right!” And the band tore into it.
A little later, he introduced a recent number. “You guys are probably too young, but do any of you know anything about a show called The Prisoner?” I gave the customary crowd-member whoop, discovering too late that apparently, I was one of the very few who had. Manfred looked at me and said “Of course you have.” I shrugged. Remember, a professor is simply a dork who has turned pro.
They also did terrific versions of two of my favorites of theirs, “What Kind of Girl” and “Baby, I’ll Trust You When You’re Dead.” But all good things have to come to an end, and so it was for this particular scorching set. It was after one a.m., and I still had to get back to Mondoville, so I headed for the exit.
As I did, the young woman from earlier and I saw each other. “Have a good rest of the night,” I said.
“You too,” she said, then added. “And that was really nice of you earlier. Thanks.”
“No problem,” I said. “I just wanted to be sure you were all right.”
“Well it was really nice.”
“Hey,” I said. “I have a daughter.”
And that daughter was still up when I got home at about 2:20. I told her good night, and then crashed until about 10:30 this morning. I think I still got up before she did.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to In Which the Prof Serves as a Gentleman, a Scholar, and a Dork

  1. Andrew Stevens says:

    I’ve always thought it was rather interesting and just like humans to be suddenly concerned about our ability to destroy ourselves right at about the same time we no longer can. Atomic bombs are pretty destructive and all, but the human population is now so large that even a full-scale exchange almost certainly wouldn’t wipe us out. Throughout history, man pretty much has had the capability to destroy itself, but probably can’t any longer. Basically, agreeing empahatically with Phyllis McGinley with the only caveat that she doesn’t go far enough. Modern man probably has a lower destructiveness to vulnerability ratio than more ancient types.

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