Sorry I haven’t posted of late, but between some dental issues, various anniversaries related to the murder of my folks, the summer minipalooza of grading, and a general sense that we should be checking Bethlehem for rough beasts, I just haven’t had the desire to say much. I’ve been writing several thousand words a week this month, but they’ve been in the form of online discussions of the writers and works in the summer term’s BritLit survey, and this blog has served primarily as something else to feel guilty about. But tomorrow is the final day of my summer classes, and I’ll likely get the grades in by Friday, and then presumably I’m off to new horrors.
Technically, I suppose my sabbatical doesn’t start until August, but from a practical standpoint, I guess it really gets going once I turn in the grades I just mentioned. And I’m unnerved.
I’ve said in the past that there are few things that terrify me quite like an opportunity. One never knows how many of those one gets, after all, and so when I have one, I fear that I’m going to waste it, and I fear that the sin of wasting my opportunity or my talent will humiliate me in front of the world, or at least that portion of it that I encounter. I try to reassure myself with the quote attributed to Bear Bryant, that win or lose, “There’s 800 million [Chinese] who don’t give a shit.” Indeed, these days, I guess it’s more like 1.3 billion or so.
And it reminds me again of Dr. Johnson, who wrote Rasselas in a week, composed the Dictionary almost singlehandedly, wrote the magnificent Lives of the Poets. . . and constantly reprehended himself for idleness and wasting his gift:
Sober is a man of strong desires and quick imagination, so exactly balanced by the love of ease, that they can seldom stimulate him to any difficult undertaking; they have, however, so much power, that they will not suffer him to lie quite at rest; and though they do not make him sufficiently useful to others, they make him at least weary of himself.
I’m no Johnson, of course, but I can see parts of myself in him. And part of me already fears that I’m going to screw this opportunity up somehow. I try to remind myself of the times I have accomplished what I set out to do: I finished the Ph.D.; I earned tenure; I’ve done creative work that has earned positive attention from people I respect. Most importantly, I’ve helped to get the Spawn to the point where she can make her own promising life. If I can do those things, I should be able to do this, right? RIGHT?
Yesterday, Mrs. M and I headed down to Real City to do a little shopping, and she dropped me off (appropriately masked) at the used media emporium. I picked up a couple of books, and read one of them — Donald Westlake’s The Ax — last night. Westlake was known for writing both ultra-hardboiled crime fiction and funny caper novels — The Ax may be both, or neither.
The book’s protagonist is a fellow who has lost his longtime job due to downsizing, and he eventually realizes that there are things he has to do in order to maintain his family, his career, and even his sense of identity. Upon reading it, I realized that it covers similar ground to a recent story of mine, but does it with a lacerating sense of satire that I think Swift would have appreciated. And as we see the current pandemic-connected recession eat through our society like a canker blossom, and as we remember that the Schumpeterian “creative destruction” of capitalism does indeed involve collateral damage, the book may be more appropriate than ever. Because too many of us live in a Red Queen’s Race where we run as hard as we can merely to stay in place, the middle-class suburban dystopia of Westlake’s novel may feel a little too current, although it was written 22 years ago. It’s worth your time.
On the upside of things, I’ve started to do music again, with two other former Berries and a colleague from the department. We’ve gotten together a few times now, and things look promising. Details as the develop.
For Father’s Day, I received the second set of Numero Records’ collection of what my middle and high school peers called “acid rock” (as in, “I like hard rock, but I don’t like that acid rock.”) These days, that particular subgenre of music is called stuff like proto-metal and (my personal fave) “bonehead” rock, and Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares gives us 18 slabs of the stuff. From a review of the similar Brown Acid compilations, this blogger offers a decent definition:
If it sounds like the band was listening to Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad, MC5, and/or Led Zeppelin, and the band released a single without the backing of a big label between approximately 1968 and 1980, it’s ripe for inclusion.
Without the intent to fulfill the requisites of a genre, what compelled these bands to sound like this? Drugs, mostly. But there were other, structural factors: the dashed hopes of the counterculture; the failures of the antiwar movement and the desolation caused by the US war in Vietnam; the coming of the vast shift in political economy away from unionized, manufacturing jobs; the successes of the civil rights movement; second-wave feminism; and the rise of the new Right. On the whole, if I had to slap a label on this music (of course I have to), I’d call it the music of the disorganized white male working class. If anything organizes it, it must be the loss of the possibilities of the counterculture and short-lived hopes of hippiedom. For their gender-bending appearance, communal living, anti-establishment politics, and interracial and queer social and sexual mingling, hippies faced strong and widespread state repression—as well as retaliation by regular folks who might have just as easily joined their ranks. What followed was either a wish to have been a part of the action by those who missed out or a wish for what might been by those whose routes to new dimensions of libertine ecstasy were thwarted. Hence the comedown. Hard drugs and motorcycles offered recompense.
This track is a pretty good example of what we;re talking about, and a pretty good example of why I didn’t date much. The “nice girls” I knew couldn’t have stood this stuff, and the “hood girls” who might have dug it scared me to death. The Purple Sun were a four-or-five-piece (Apparently, the four guys in the band occasionally brought in a girl to sing and play organ.) from League City, TX, who released one single during their run from 1969-72. This track is “Doomsday.” Black light not included.
See you soon!