Sunday, January 14, 2018

On the Rails of Old Memory


Memories linger mysteriously in our minds, sometimes like precious old photographs, sometimes like skeletons in the closet; they can hang around being stubbornly unpleasant and fearful, or they can shine happy and hopeful like a walk in the park in springtime.

I suppose most memories are intimately personal, but not all of them.

I feel we have collective memories, especially in this modern atmosphere of media saturation, where public events pry deeply into our private imaginations.

My g-generation, the baby boomers—we were the first to grow up with this thing called TV. Now our kids are the first to grow up with this thing called the worldwide web. These media—TV, Internet, radio, cellphones etc. fortify and intensify our memories, especially the collective ones.

Most of us American boomers remember, for instance, where we were and what we were doing on the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

And we and our children remember, most of us, where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001—9/11 when the twin towers came down.

These collective memories are potent; they latch on to us; and while they do recede into dark tunnels they can be easily brought to the surface at the mention of those circumstances.

And we have, of course, powerful  personal memories from our own youth. Most vivid perhaps, are those that surround a first love or romance. These vague vestiges of the past are capitalized upon by our songwriters and movie-makers. Here’s an excellent example of a very special song about the mysterious aspect of memories.  It was popular when I was a teenager, Dusty Springfield’s Windmills of Your Mind.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKV9bK-CBXo

But there is another kind of collective memory that goes back even further than modern pop-music or movies. It is tucked away in the crevices of history itself. And I find that certain settings or objects can serve as talismans through which human memories are passed from generation to generation and possibly from age to age, even from century to century.

You’ve heard of deja vu, haven’t you? That’s the feeling you can suddenly experience sometimes in a situation that you could not have been in because it took place before you were born.

This deja vu, which is French for “already seen”  is a feeling I get whenever I’m near or in an old train.

So yesterday I was uncovering some serious deja vu when I toured the North Carolina Transportation Museum which is located at an old, obsolete railroad service yard in Spencer, NC, near Salisbury.

http://www.nctrans.org/


There is, for me, something very special about these old trains . . . something that stirs intensely in my soul pertaining to days long ago, in past centuries, when these steaming iron beasts roared across the vast landscapes of that hastily-industrializing age. The feeling that I get has something to do with retrieving past memories that I myself could never have experienced, almost as if the locomotives themselves were mnemonic repositories of 19th-century passengers who embarked to ride in those ancient passenger cars.

In the 2014 novel I wrote, Smoke, I attempted to capture this feeling in the story I was composing at that time. The collective memory, mentioned at the end of the scene described below, is implanted in Philip's mind when he grabs a brass handrail on a French train passenger car. The scene takes place in 1937, in Paris.  It depicts the beginning of a journey being taken by a young American and an old Frenchman who are about to travel from Paris to Lille, in northern France:

Half a morning later they were boarding the northbound train. By that time, whatever it was that had brought together this aged Frenchman and  his young, attentive American charge had been uncorked to its full expression.  The old fellow was intermittently pouring out his life’s vintage in a slow trickle of memory;  its balmy flow had begun to endow their embarkation with a kind of therapeutic anointing, the beneficiary of which was neither the young man nor the old, but that Man of the ages whose fermented wisdom percolated through deepened souls of both men.

Now they were walking beside the train, small luggage in hand. Pausing in mid-stride, Mel managed to recap, in the midst of crowd and bustle, a simple advisement that he had begun last night and had already landed upon this morning. “Half the battle in this life, I think, is deciding what to keep and what to let go. You have got to know when to hold them.”      

They arrived at the railcar to which they had been billeted. Philip appropriated Mel’s briefcase, collecting it with his own, both in his left hand. Placing his right gently hand on Mel’s lower back for support, he waited patiently as the old fellow carefully climbed  onto the steps to ascend into their coach. As Mel’s bony, spotted hand grasped a vertical brass handrail inside the little stair, it seemed to Philip that the ghosts of ten thousand French souls were lingering there. The rail’s brass patina had been worn to a dullish sheen as ten thousand reaching hands had, in the beginnings of their ten thousand journeys on this train, taken hold of it.


I felt like I, or somebody, had grabbed this rail before. The worn brass summons up a kind of  old, collective memory from days gone by.

I guess you'd have to be there . . . Maybe I was, in a sense, there, yesterday when I visited the Railroad museum.

Smoke

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Hot and Cold


In 1920, Robert Frost wrote very this famous poem,  Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire, 

Some say in ice. 

From what I’ve tasted of desire 

I hold with those who favor fire. 

But if it had to perish twice, 

I think I know enough of hate 

To say that for destruction ice 

Is also great 

And would suffice.

Since I too am an American poet, I have taken the liberty to update his musing on the world’s imminent demise.

Here’s my 21st-century version; it’s called:

                    Hot and Cold

Some say the climate change is toward hot,

yet why are we so cold?

Our carbon emissions have increased a lot;

We thought we would be getting hot.


But if we’re breaking record colds so old,

I think I know enough of change

to say this global warming's  bitter cold

is within the range,

or so I’m told.

Glass half-Full



Glass half-Full

Thursday, January 4, 2018

This thing's all crossed up.


So now it’s come down to this:

a global schmobile electric hectic dyss-topia,

each faction nursing its own myopia

manifesting all the genetical heretical traits known to man,

in the clashes of history clashing again and again.

We’re racing down a  four-way street—

devolving in a  manic humanic socialistic beat

boiling in amped-up dead religion defeat

escalating in jihadi mahdi sunni shiite heat

leaving the deceased at a Roman soldier’s feet.

So now it’s come down to this:

That holy man lugged a rugged cross for you and me

exposing all our genetical heretical cruelty,

revealing our relentless senseless dysfunctionality

then abiding in the tomb for one, two, three. . .

Then by the light of that third day’s dawn

he’s shown us life’s insistence to go on and on,

whereby your assent to his demonstration

enables your ascent to his resurrection.

Now if that’s not enough simplicity

to provoke your complicity

Then feel the gravity

of our depravity

and the immensity

of his intensity

to dispense

eternal sense.

Hence,

It’s an old rugged cross, you see,

a stubborn damned thing

you cant kill his accomplishment there cuz he’s already been

beaten to death

you cant derail his train of believers cuz history

did already nail that good news

to an eternal signpost that is hewn

in the midnight star and the midday noon

at the crossroads of the old world and the new

to be seen by all the many and the few

at the intesection of ancient empires

at the apex of a million rising spires

you cant make it go away cuz its sign was forever staked

midway between Moses and Mohammed

a big blood-red light at the intersection of Torah and Q’ran,

a stopping point between Plato and Plutarch

the apogee of history’s arc

the fulfillment of the covenantal ark

the most convincing kabalistic spark


and the greatest subject of great art

history’s liveliest encore part

world stage’s greatest curtain call

the rising to recover from our fall

an uprising  beyond Robespierre

a tragedy to provoke your tear

a word in every ear:

Death, where is your victory?

Nailed to a cross, you see,

by the light of that third day’s dawn

we continue on and on.

We were a fallen pawn

but only until that third day dawned.

Got it?

King of Soul

Monday, December 18, 2017

Minnie Meets the Raga


Back there in the baby boomer timeline long about 1967, we were informed that George Harrison had made the trek to India.

As a consequence of that Beatle lead guitarist’s visitation to the the ancient land, the strange soundings of sitar were suddenly showered upon our young and tender rockn’roll sensibilities. When the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album burst into our consciousness, the musical world changed forever.

George’s exotic Within You and Without You chant  on the album featured a multilayered montage of multi-chromatic musical exploration unlike anything we had ever heard.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2dMSfmUJec

And ’twas no accident that on the same LP John Lennon’s lyrical odyssey within and through the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds metaphor turned our thrill-seeking minds toward previously unexperienced states of druggish space travel.

Subsequently in our baby boomer history, the legendary Sgt Pepper’s went down as a landmark in our freakin’ freefall toward collective short-lived synthetic nirvana.

Now we all know that all that flower power psychedelica and counterculture cannabishia  later disappeared into hippie hokum smokem when most of us finally grew up in the ’70’s and learned, like our parents and grandparents before us, how to work for a living, raise children and have a good time without depending on the lysergics and cannabis for our inspiration.

Meanwhile, life happened while we were waiting for something else to happen. The years fly by; even whole centuries pass into oblivious forgetfulness as we dreaded the world falling apart at Y2K and then it actually did, or began to, blow apart at 9/11.

As it turned out In the aftermath of the 1960’s, corporate America appropriated ’60’s blooming garmenture, cleaned it up and sharpened the edges into managably rebellious fashion, while the 8-miles-high music of our juvenility morphed unpredictably into disco, new country, punkish angst and new wave whatevah.

Now the full extent of Establishment America commandeering our trend-setting rebellious impulses was brought to my attention a day or two ago when I happened to witness this scene at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


Minnie meets the raga in a theme park! Go figure.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1tPFomrlUI

I never thought I’d see the day . . . I mean, this is some serious change, bro, no Mickey Mouse stuff. Are you trackin’ with me, dude?

I guess I never took my rose-colored glasses off after all.

King of Soul 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Consummation to Coitus to Coercion


I was born in 1951 and so I have seen a few changes in my lifetime. One major change is the difference between how we thought about sex back in those rose-colored 1950’s and how we think about it nowadays.

Back in the day, a man and a women would marry and and try to make a go of it— a lifetime of extreme one-on-one intimacy and— if they were good at it and lucky enough— parenthood.

Nowadays, not so much.

Seems now everybody’s hung up on the sex part of it. Who’s screwing whom, whether he was raping her, who’s consenting, or not, to whom. And who’s coercing whom into sexual acts. Socialmedia world is all about what he did to her, or he did to him. Whereas it used to be about mama and daddy retiring to the same bed every night, then something mystical happening between them, which would result in a new human  entering into this wonderful life.

But now that long-lost world of lifetime love and fidelity is going the way of the buffalo— which is to say. . . near extinction.

Mom and Pop are hardly even a part of it any more. The public obsession that’s been drummed up is all about what Harvey whoever did to so-and-so how many times on his studio couch, or about Roy’s groping the girls, or Kevin’s coercing the boys or even Prez pants-down Bill’s spurting on a blue dress in the very shadow of his privileged oval office hegemony.

Now some of us ole geezers are wondering how the hell did we get here. What happened? Funny thing happened on our way to the millennium, we lost something along the way.

We lost some healthy constraint somewhere; we forsook some beneficial bonds on our way to tearing down all those old taboos, pushed the envelope beyond beneficence.

It seems we Boomers overdid it in our campaign for Free Love.

As it turns out, free love is not much more than cheap lust.

And mere rape, be it sardonic, sadistic, or sodomic.

I think it’s time we blaze a path back to where we were before we lost our way in the wilderness of wantonness.



King of Soul 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Birgitta's Historic Book


If you’re an early baby boomer like me you grew up with a sinister presence in the background of our American life—the threat of nuclear war with the USSR. On the distant edges of all that fear we could almost hear the low rumble of a Cold War; it was perpetually being waged somewhere in the world between “us’ and “them.”

We young Americans were told that those Russians over there in the Far East were perpetrators of terrible, repressive political system called Communism.

In 1956, the Premier of the USSR, Nikita Khruschev, began to talk about the widespread abuses that were heaped upon the a Russian people through Josef Stalin’s cruel network of surveillance and prisons.

It was said that many, many citizens, perhaps millions, of  Soviet citizens were unjustly persecuted, arrested, imprisoned and executed without due process of law. American paranoia about the threat of Russian aggression and enslavement grew more and more intense through the 1950’s and ’60’s. We generally heard and believed reports from our Western news-gatherers, both military and journalistic,  warning us about the nefarious presence of a horrific Communist empire on the other side of the world.

In 1973, Alecksandr Solzhenitsyn managed to publish to the world his voluminous report on the Soviet system of imprisonment. His book, Gulag Archipelago, was written from personal experience. Its IronCurtain-busting contents became for the world generally, but also for the Soviets, a basis for a widespread re-evaluation of the Soviet Union and its immense network of prisons and slave camps.

In 1989, the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fomented a revolution in which they overthrew the old communist system and began to replace it with something new and far more democratic than Russians had ever known. The great thrust of this revolution was powered by the people being sick and tired of communist oppression and cruelty.

In 2017, I learned that a woman in my hometown is daughter of a man who survived eleven years in the Soviet gulag, in a slave camp in Siberia, above the Arctic Circle.

Having heard about this stuff all my life, I was amazed to meet someone whose life had been directly affected by that infamous gulag archipelago.

In her historic book, Years Stolen,  Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard releases to the world her father’s own written account of his enslaved life, which was imposed on him by Russian soldiers in Bulgaria in 1944. That long imprisonment included months of miserable train transports, years in Lefortovo and Lubyanka prisons in Moscow, and ultimately Arctic imprisonment at Vorkuta slave labor camp in the faraway, frozen Siberian north.


Yes, Virginia, there really was a Siberia. And it was absolutely as bad as anything you ever heard about it. This terrible tale was not made up by yankee Red-baiters.

Birgitta’s account, obtained and documented meticulously from her own father’s memoirs, is a truly amazing testimony of his survival saga through unimaginably cruel, cold conditions. Roland Gottlieb wrote and spoke of his real life experience there after his release in 1955. Birgitta’s writing about his ordeal is laced with the tenderness of a daughter’s love; it is also strengthened with a visceral thoroughness that painstakingly communicates the immensity of Roland’s achievement in surviving eleven years in the gulag.

If you have ever doubted all those post-WWII reports of Soviet oppression and cruelty, this book will dispel your doubts. Thank God the people of the former USSR have seen, since 1989, the light of freedom and are now following that hopeful star of democratic reforms instead of the old Red Star of communist enslavement. One reason that beacon burns brightly in our world today is because of the testimony of survivors like Roland Gottlieb, as reported by his daughter, Birgitta.

The book is, as they say, a good read. Buy it now and you will be much the wiser after this textual journey into the hell of suffering that some humans have historically imposed on other humans.

Glass half-Full

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kiss George goodby


You can kiss ole George goodbye.

He was great as a Father to our country. He was courageous as Commander of the Continental Army, when they ran King George’s redcoats back to England.

He performed wisely as our first President. Washington’s dignified leadership tempered the contentious impulses of our first politicians,  Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, et al.

As a legendary figurehead  of American leadership he has served well for over two centuries.

Young George’s honest admission about the cherry tree incident  still inspires us to honesty and integrity.

But as the face on the dollar bill, his days are numbered.


Most of your purchases are (are they not?) far beyond the 1-$2 range. And, think about it, what can you buy with a dollar bill these days?  A sugar drink at a convenience store? Probably not. They’ll supersize you into greater quantities of go-juice with your gas and you’ll be whipping out the plastic stripe.

These days all that used-to-be-money is just  swiped stripes and inserted chips and electrons flowing around the globe.

And that old greenback—what is it really? Used to be a silver certificate, then a Federal Reserve Note. Now the Fed has got the legal tender’s stability all figured out, so that the value of a buck walks a fine line between what it was last year and a what the CPI will allow you now.

Which isn’t as much as it used to be.

So these days we have, and have had for quite a while now, a comfortably numb currency inflation. That Federal Reserve Note in your pocket appreciates at a predetermined rate of 1-2% per year, and this calculated depreciation compensates for the variability of our paper dollar’s value since we ditched the gold/silver standard back in the 1960’s.

But I think this waffling Dollar will be with us for only a little while longer.

How much longer?

Washington’s greenback will probably float around until such a time as BrettonWoods doth move against Dunce’nGame for the last time. Then the weight of the world will be too much to bear.  Tensioned Tectonic shifts in the world’s monetary plates will render our legal tender to disability status, and those Federal Reserve Notes slipping in and out of international accounts will no longer be the world’s reserve currency.

’Tis then the Treasury will nudge Ole George into retirement. He’ll be on Social Security like the rest of us, with direct deposit, never even seeing the checks, never handling the cash, merely reaping the debit presence of those positive credit numbers. ’Tis then they’ll gently compel Ole George into retirement.  Maybe they’ll give him a gold watch for old time sake.

So long, George. We’ve felt so fat and happy having your pocketbook visage to enable our consumer shopping excursions. Your accomplishments have been Notable, expansive and historic, like Norman Rockwell scenes from our magazine covers and dime store excursions in all those bygone petrol-fueled Main Street purchase excursions.

Fare thee well, George. But I’ll never forget the smooth, crisp feeling of your fibered texture between my digits. Ah, those were the days, the dollar days!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KODZtjOIPg.

King of Soul