Entry 18: Diving for Pennies- Most people know the trope: I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when…(Here you can supply your own memorable event) Well, I can remember two such instances from my own life: the first is the assassination of JFK on November 22nd 1963. I was in Junior High at Seroe Colorado High School in Aruba, a small island in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. Its claim to fame was that, at one time, it was the largest oil refinery in the world. It was afternoon and a girl came screaming from the student parking lot “They’ve killed Kennedy, they’ve killed Kennedy”. As you might imagine, the routine of the school-day was shattered- as was everybody, staff and students.
The other event was the destruction of the twin towers by terrorists on September 11th 2001. I was lying in bed preparing for sleep and listening to the radio when the first reports came through. I was tired, rather puzzled at how a pilot could fail to see such prominent edifices, and drifted off as the radio droned on. The next morning there was nothing on TV but reports of the atrocities involving those aircraft and I sat transfixed, watching the coverage all morning. That afternoon, I remember driving to Sydney airport in a daze to collect my brother-in-law and his wife who were returning from a holiday in Ireland.
It wasn’t until the February of 2002 that I was able to write a song connected with these events. I later put this song with others into a collection I entitled Letdowns: after the millennium. I wrote a post-apocalyptic message to accompany the collection. Like so much else of my oeuvre, I put the idea in a drawer and forgot about it until I decided to write these journal entries. Here follows the overly-pessimistic text I wrote then and a song about letdowns from the collection:
“Letdowns should be more poetic. But they’re not. Letdowns, if they are really doing their job, should let you down in every department or else they’re not really… Letdowns. Which leaves songwriters like me in a real quandary- why even bother? Are the songs Letdowns, too? In which case, why this gloss? In this the fifth, and (I would think, on the medical evidence available to me) final album (what a quaint word this is, don’t you think?) that I am likely to write to, perhaps, no one but a distant descendant eager for family-tree minutiae, what can I say? Like a poem carved upon an ancient bone. So then, to the eye that may not ever be there to see, and the ear that may never be there to hear- Greetings! I don’t know if your age will be one that is keen on pinning down time; nevertheless, let me give you a point of reference. It is now my birthday- 10:30 p.m. on the 31st of October, 2001 A.D. (if such an hour-and-date nomenclature has meaning in your time). I am living in an outer-western suburb of Sydney, Australia called Werrrington (if such a geographical reference means anything to you). And I have been drinking (I’m sure, however straitened your circumstances, some form of potable liquor still has a place at your tables or around the fires at your campsites.)- I have been drinking Scotch whisky mixed with Cola– a syrupy and fizzy soft drink popular at one time. As an anthropological aside may I say that many considered such a combination to be a barbarism in our era. To those arbiters of taste around me who made such disparaging references to my imbibing predilection, I answered, only, that, having lost sight of any civility around me, I couldn’t fail but to agree with them. Such was my attachment to the ironic voice. An antique relic of the 20th Century, alas. But this lapse in taste on my part was eclipsed by other departures from civility by others… so, unfortunately, this barbarism didn’t hold a candle to the sorts of atrocity that enveloped the world in the first year or two of the new millennium. Read your history books. If any exist. Of course, songs need no explanation. If they are sung they live. The words are only ash- smudges that are merely remnants of the real thing. However, if your era is anything like ours, we need the crutches of explication- if only to impress by our borrowed erudition. This process was miscalled education while I was alive. I leave, instead, a poem for your contemplation.
Explication: Like a poem carved upon an ancient bone/Dug out of an ash-pit,/An outline of a heart in bog-oak/Dragged up and in to the open air,/The remnants of an ancient tune/Whistling through the shaking leaves/Of the last stand of native trees/Left on a fissured plain,/Let my voice, telling of love/And letdowns, carry across/ The fields of time spread/ To the shimmering edges/Of eternity fringed with/A sparkling circlet of stars/Before they wink out/One by one,/Swallowed by the incurious/Blankness beyond.” Dive with me.