Entry 113: Slow Burn (A Title For This Song)– 1963 was a memorable year: especially for poet Philip Larkin, as he records in Annus Mirabilis, Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(which was rather late for me) -/Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles’ first LP. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence, became a cause celebre at the start of the 1960s, and according to some, began the deterioration of faith and morals that attached, somewhat unfairly and inaccurately, to that decade.
The release of the Beatles’ first LP, Please, Please Me, in March of 1963, marked a musical revolution- here was a group that wrote its own songs and played its own instruments. Exploding out of the blocks with McCartney’s, I Saw Her Standing There, She was just seventeen, you know what I mean…(Yes, Paul, we know) and wrapping up with Lennon’s hoarse rock version of Twist and Shout, I was one of the first kids in Aruba to hear this phenomenal group, thanks to my older brother, who brought the LP out with him during his bi-annual visit for the summer holidays, courtesy of the oil company my father worked for.
Music started to permeate our lives as we attended the Seroe Colorado High School hops of a Friday night: I recall Tornado by the Telstars, Walk Like a Man by the Four Seasons, It’s My Party by Lesley Gore and My Boyfriend’s Back by the Angels. Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys were on high rotation at these popular functions as we shimmied, shook and twisted under the tropical night skies. Some of the cooler kids came back from trips back to the States with talk about the protest music of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan- but this music never made the playlists for the hops.
As I was thinking about those distant dances, Edmund Blunden’s The Midnight Skaters popped into my mind. How incongruous! was my initial reaction. A poem which describes a rustic pre-war setting among the hop-fields of Kent on a frozen pond seems a million miles from the affluent bubble that was the expatriate community of Aruba in the early sixties.
The hop-poles stand in cones,/The icy pond lurks under,/The pole-tops steeple to the thrones/Of stars, sound gulfs of wonder;/But not the tallest thee, ’tis said,/Could fathom to this pond’s black bed.
But as I pondered the intrusion of this poem into my reverie, I realised that the distance of age gave me perspective, as it did, with so much more effect, this wonderful English poet,
…then is not death at watch/Within those secret waters? /What wants he but to catch/Earth’s heedless sons and daughters? /With but a crystal parapet/Between, he has his engines set.
Aren’t we all earth’s heedless sons and daughters? And don’t you, like me, fall on your knees in thankfulness for our poets who tell us our innermost secrets and reveal to us a common language that we did not know we owned until they shared it with us? Over the years, I have heard the bell toll for so many of those who have shared that dance-floor. And not only my companions on that Caribbean crystal parapet, but those who have shared the dance with me in Ireland and Australia,
Then on, blood shouts, on, on, /Twirl, wheel and whip above him, /Dance on this ball-floor thin and wan, / Use him as though you love him;/Court him, elude him, reel and pass, /And let him hate you through the glass.
As I grow older, I become more grateful for the largesse bestowed upon me by those artists, present and past, who grow my soul. Of course, 1963 was known for darker deeds than racy song lyrics. JFK’s assassination in November of that year casts its pall over much of what was note-worthy that year: who now remembers the final project of NASA’s Mercury mission where,
The Faith 7 spacecraft carried astronaut Gordon Cooper into space for about 34 hours during which he orbited the Earth 22 times. The purpose of the mission was to test the limits of the Mercury space capsule. Cooper’s flight was about three times longer than any other human space flight that had been completed at that point in history. It also marked the final time that NASA launched a solo orbital mission.
That year also saw important landmarks which have not been forgotten, I Have a Dream, by Martin Luther King, was delivered earlier that year, the rhetoric of which still echoes down the corridors of history. And not wanting to push the from-the-sublime-to-the-ridiculous button too often, can I report that the release of the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand, one week after Kennedy’s assassination, was destined to chart at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and cause all of the tweens and teens in Aruba to throw theirs arms in the air in chorus as they joined the less-than-profound shout, I want to hold your ha-a-a-a-a-nd?