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The Numbers Lead a Dance

Taking on the five question meme, questions from sovay. Happy to ask questions of others; leave a comment indicating said desire.

  1. Whose mask would you hang on your wall? (Why?)
  2. On the whole, I'm not fond of masks. I do have a pair from Baguio, but they lean up against the bookshelf behind the couch and don't come out to play.

    There are the masks of the Commedia dell'arte; but the only reason I'd consider them on the wall is to remember being an adolescent. The mawkish, bookish sort that read whatever SciFi he could get his hands on, and unfortunately due to time-and-space constraints, this was largely Michael Moorcock. Living overseas, I'd have to buy books when we went home for R&R. Now that I look back on it, I blame Erol Otis' illustrations for the "Deities and Demigods" compendium for TSR. His stark, bizarre, and airbrush-friendly artwork made me want to look into this Lovecraft character, and the Elric series. Lovecraft's estate was being haggled over at the time, so the few books I could have bought were WAY beyond what I could afford. But I did get hold of 1/2 the Elric series and a paperback omnibus of the Cornelius Chronicles, and read it avidly as only an almost-teenager can. Horrible, adolescent, mawkish stuff from a a horrible, adolescent, and mawkish era. But I did get an appreciation of the love-triangle archetypes that Moorcock constantly obsessed about. But honestly, no. I don't like the Commedia dell'arte nor the Eternal Champion and his coterie of dancers at the end of time. But I still have a craving for Tanelorn, and I'm sure I'll find my way there someday.

  3. What piece of technology do you feel most nostalgic about?
  4. Somewhere, and I have long forgotten where, I learned that the old english/saxon word for "single-bladed knife" and the Eutruscan word for "stone" were the same, making me wonder if this was a left-over early stone age word for "flint blade". I would love to uncover a complex vocabulary that I imagine revolved around the ancient art of knapping, the words for antler and hide as tools, what words stood for different sizes, shapes, and uses of cast-off flecks, and what kind of stone hammers were used and what their names might have been. But to be honest, I have a great love of good tools of every kind, from jute rope to curved paring knives to perl-compatible regular expressions. It's one of the parts of humanity that I revel in.

  5. Which oracle would you take your questions to?
  6. Well, I've been reading the Tarot cards since I was thirteen-ish. About the time I was reading Moorcock, to tell the truth. Professionally for a couple of years after college, off and on at public fairs and by private appointment when I was looking for work and times were hard. Twenty years ago, my wife bought me the Mediaeval Scapini deck, and I've been using it since, and it's grown very tattered. I don't like to read for myself much, though, since I generally know what it's going to say and I don't like bringing into consciousness that which is waiting to emerge on its own. The great oracles are gone. But I like the Tarot because it concentrates on where you are going and what is possible. It's the traveller's oracle. And pocket sized. Tools again, see.

  7. What was the first language you wanted to learn?
  8. Arabic. And later, Urdu. I wanted to know what the local kids were saying on the playground and at school. But instead, I was told I had to learn French, and six years of the same curriculum from "Je m'apelle Jacques" to passé composé, same again the next year, ruined pretty much any enjoyment of learning French, or any other structured language training, I ever had. All the Arabic and Urdu I ever picked up can be separated into "taxi" and "obscene", like a tourist. But the French eventually came in handy. Somewhat.

  9. What song reminds you of four in the morning?
  10. Well, there's only one possible answer when you phrase it like that. Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" of course. It's one of the most powerful love triangle stories I've ever run into. I first heard it when I was into reading Saul Bellow and Russel Hoban, so I was attuned to the literature of the time the song was written and how it often dealt with neurotic long-term histories between men and women. The story of a man finding himself having to thank his "gypsy thief" brother for the affair he had with his wife, Jane, that somehow awoke some freedom to be independent and carefree in the woman he loved, but couldn't see this spirit in her. And yet this same brother is now shuffling off into obscurity and age while, I assume, his marriage to Jane is now free of some emotional tangle that might never have been lifted... Powerful stuff. Complex cat's cradle of heartstrings. Which takes me back to question 1 and the appreciation for love triangles. But now not mawkish and adolescent, but touching on those truths that we don't like to look at from day to day, yet that carry us like the ground under our feet.

    One other detail, though. I'm not fond of Cohen singing Cohen. He's like Bob Dylan. There are a few songs that suit his voice, but on the whole, other people do his songs better than himself. Case in point, Jimi Hendrix' "All Along the Watchtower" or Sharon Robinson's vocals on "Boogie Street". So my version of "Famous Blue Raincoat" will always be Tori Amos'.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
I do like Cohen singing Cohen, but I think it's in part because I associate it with my very small childhood. Or maybe it's a voice that knows pain, and that doesn't seem true of all (or even most?) singers. But anyway. That famous blue raincoat. "Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes; I thought it was there for good, so I never tried." That, for me, is heartrending: the realization that one's love isn't enough, isn't capable of reaching a person in the way the person needs to be reached. Bumping up against one's own limits. I can love you sincerely and deeply, but not necessarily in the way you need to be loved. Augghhh!

It's a great song. I didn't know Tori Amos sang it; I'll have to find it and listen.

(I don't want five questions but I'll take one, if you've got one.)
Jun. 1st, 2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
Or maybe it's a voice that knows pain, and that doesn't seem true of all (or even most?) singers.

I grew up on Nina Simone's "Suzanne," so Cohen's version will never sound definitive to me, but I can't imagine anybody else on "I'm Your Man." Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling do a very nice "First We Take Manhattan." I heard it live first.

I didn't know Tori Amos sang it; I'll have to find it and listen.

Jun. 2nd, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
Thank you for that!
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:27 am (UTC)
Strangely enough, I didn't have any recordings of Suzanne until AFTER I'd heard Peter Gabriel's version (on the same compilation as the Tori Amos one). I love how Gabriel's atmospheric effects transform the song (which in Cohen's version always reminds me of the film Harold and Maude) into something approaching a numinous experience.

Nina Simone's voice is unmistakable. Just last year, I encountered a version of "Sinnerman" that had not heard even once since I was six or seven. It was a rare experience, having all the six-year-old thoughts around the song suddenly flood back as if a door had been thrown back.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:30 am (UTC)
Nina Simone's Sinnerman is the crowning jewel in, and the impetus for my creation of, my Sinnerman CD--which has seven different versions of the song.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:31 am (UTC)
Kewl! I didn't know there were so many.

And why don't I have a music icon?
Jun. 2nd, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
and the impetus for my creation of, my Sinnerman CD--which has seven different versions of the song.

Who's on there? On my computer, I only have Nina Simone (plus Verve remix) and 16 Horsepower.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
Sinnerman (Nina Simone)
Downpressor Man (Peter Tosh) (same song, same tune, but uses Downpressor Man in place of Sinnerman)
Sinner Man (Bob Marley)
Sinner Man (Danny Darrow)
Babylon/Oh, Sinner Man (Peter, Paul & Mary)
Sinnerman (Felix Da Housecat--that's the Verve remix you're talking about)
Sinnerman (16 Horsepower)

Jun. 2nd, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
Nina Simone's voice is unmistakable. Just last year, I encountered a version of "Sinnerman" that had not heard even once since I was six or seven.

Her version of "Sinnerman" is the best I have ever heard. The season two finale of Sherlock won great favor with me by deploying it at precisely the correct point in the plot.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
It has an excellent energy, yes. I don't know how the two got mixed together, but I remember Paul Robeson's "John Henry" being mixed in with "Sinnerman" for some reason in that summer in DC before we shipped out.

Which means I was actually five, not six.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:21 am (UTC)
the realization that one's love isn't enough

Yes, I think you've explained it much more clearly than I did with that one observation.

Of the songs that I DO like Cohen's voice singing his own songs, I think "Anthem" must be the best match. I also prefer him in "In My Secret Life" and "The Stories of the Street".
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
Do you like him in "The Stranger Song"?
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:37 am (UTC)
I do. But like "Suzanne", the first time I ran into it was written down like a poem, and preferred it in that format. I like the way he rhythmically layers his voice through it, though, and I certainly don't know of any covers, let alone any covers I'd prefer.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:43 am (UTC)
bouncing along from tangent to tangent
I came across some books of his poetry too, once. There were some lines in one poem that have stuck with me ever since--about bugs at a picnic:

we will feed you all, my dears
tomorrow or in later years

Oh yes.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 03:08 pm (UTC)
Re: bouncing along from tangent to tangent
I "discovered" Leonard Cohen in print. During some time off in the-haunted-schoolhouse, I was digging around in some old textbooks that had been retired from daily use, mostly because the material was dated. In one section, they had songs by Leonard Cohen alongside part III of Howl for Carl Solomon by Alan Ginsberg, and some sampling of something by Carl Sandberg.

Come to think of it, it was a kind of turning point for me. I began writing a lot of poetry around then. Very political, with plenty of symbolism and angst. Horrible stuff.

But later on, I heard "So Long, Maryanne", and realized it had been playing on the radio in Princeton, when my dad moved us there for a year on sabbatical while he wrote his as-if-modern analysis of Byzantine political power in the Mediterranean. It was '73. The college students all had beards or bandanas, and everyone was so idealistic. There's something in that tune that reminds me of that clean, unencumbered by the past, modern feeling of the sixties that proved to be so much transient apricot blossom.

Still like the song, though. And "Howl" Part III.

"They broke their backs lifting Moloch to heaven!"
Jun. 2nd, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
Re: bouncing along from tangent to tangent
Man, your past. I want to be at a dinner where you get to tell stories of your childhood and adolescence.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
Re: bouncing along from tangent to tangent
Pish! You're always welcome up here if you pass through. And Cara Sposa will be available to moderate and keep me honest. Or at least to be the credible accomplice in the tall tale.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:29 am (UTC)
(I don't want five questions but I'll take one, if you've got one.)

Let's see. How about this?

1. Do you have any advice that you'd like to give a child but don't because you don't feel like you should?
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:32 am (UTC)
This will take some thought :-) I'll get back to you.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )