Entry 54: The Younger Son– What is there outside the skin, the eyes, the ears, the tongue and sense of smell? Smell, oh, yes, your man Proust would validate that ticket. But books I do love. The Bible, Shakespeare, the canonical poets and great authors; but add to that the songwriters and storytellers who grab you by the lobe of your ear and say- listen, listen, are you deaf or what? Can’t you read? No matter, just sit or stand here and listen.
And don’t presume for one minute that it is all about you, despite your uniqueness. Just like you, there are billions of skins, noses, eyes, tongues and ears who yearn for the warmth of the sun, the cooling draught of water, the caress of the breeze, the sweetness of honey and the smell of flowers that makes life such a fine and various thing. But are you the younger son, the lesser sibling, the undervalued one, the person who has failed to find favour? Whether by gender, politics, primogeniture or…whatever…are you feeling on the outer? Maybe an outsider? Maybe a misunderstood member of a despised group?
Perhaps just someone who decided that, hey, I don’t want to think, I don’t want to work, I don’t want to explain, I don’t want to engage, I don’t want to figure in any of your classifications? Who would ever want you? Or to be you? The great bluesman B.B King sang, No-one loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too. Or another King, Albert by name, reminded so many of us that, if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have no luck at all. I subscribe to a streaming music service and the song-lists, left to their own are randomised.
I drink to try to keep a tightrope traversing run possible within the bravado imparted by alcohol and the buzz generated by the sound bouncing off the walls as I stab at the keyboard, five-fingered, as stuff that miraculously coheres into semi-meaningful text blossoms onto the screen in front of me to the sonic hammer of, for instance, The White Stripes’ Ball and Biscuit as I marvel at the serendipity of the lyrics moaned by Jack White, Let’s have a ball and a biscuit sugar/And take our sweet little time about it/Let’s have a ball girl/And take our sweet little time about it.
The ball-cocaine and biscuit-MDMA are “right now” while the future promise of getting clean serves as an excuse for the persona’s “seventh son” to excuse present-day excess, We’ll get clean together/And I’ll find me a soapbox where I can shout it. Sure you will! While the desperate among the affluent flagellate themselves with drugs and despair there are other, more desperate people seeking some sort of solace. Huge movements of dispossessed and persecuted men, women and children reach their hands out to the promise given by the enticing siren images of the Western World’s illusion of peace and plenty as they flee from unspeakable barbarities. Let’s have a ball, baby.
Thirty years ago, Seamus Heaney wrote a poem entitled From the Republic of Conscience for Amnesty International where we discover that we are all ambassadors by virtue of dual citizenship of our native land and the Republic of Conscience where their sacred symbol is a stylized boat./The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,/the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye. We learn that we must act rather than turn away and, rather than remaining silent in the face of injustice to speak on their behalf and…no ambassador would ever be relieved.
The Bible provides one of the richest sources of material for writers. The parable of The Good Samaritan clearly applies here. Yet it seems to be a conundrum to the adult political world, largely, although most children get it without too much of a struggle. I have never been inspired to transmute it into song. This is not the case, though, with another parable which inspired the song at the end of this entry. In the gospel of Luke can be found the parable of The Prodigal Son. And lots of artists, musicians and writers have found this strange and beautiful story. And made something of it.
Here’s a stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s take on the parable:
My father glooms and advises me,/ My brother sulks and despises me,/ And Mother catechises me/ Till I want to go out and swear./ And, in spite of the butler’s gravity,/ I know that the servants have it I/ Am a monster of moral depravity,/ And I’m damned if I think it’s fair!
The Wild Rover, by The Dubliners, was a favourite single of mine fifty years ago and I have sung it off and on in a variety of venues in the decades since: I’ve been a wild rover for many’s the year/ And I’ve spent all me money on whiskey and beer…these lines are more autobiographical than I’d wish, alas. The last verse references the parable, I’ll go home to me parents, confess what I’ve done/And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son. Of course, all I do is sing the song, drunkenly.