- Gradual Progress
“Girl With A Blue Guitar” by Cotton Mather
Might Get Fooled Again
I have a long history of misreporting the weather due to my natural optimism. I only listen to the part of the forecast I like, and then scramble the rest. Just today, for instance, I packed my kids off to school with extra layers announcing that it was going to be “dropping into the 50s by afternoon!” They were so excited. It’s actually going to be dropping into the 50s next Sunday night after they’re asleep but I heard differently somehow. They could be miffed when I pick them up, but at least this particular dysfunction comes with a natural scapegoat. I can always blame the weatherman. So with apologies to KUT staff meteorologist, Burton Fitzsimmons – better you take the fall than me, friend. It’s like the time Cotton Mather left balmy Austin, Texas for a show in Norman, Oklahoma, and by the time icy precipitation began to come down in Dallas, I was the only one not outfitted with hat, gloves, and coat. So we had to stop at Walmart to clothe the bandleader, whose personal weather channel is based more on hope than hard data.
I probably understand the weather better than I do women, and that’s fine by me. Don’t worry, I’m not one of those “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” guys. I can live without ’em, don’t want to, and furthermore find them fascinatingly foreign and that’s the thrill of the thing. In spite of what you may think about my interest in ancient texts and eastern mysticism – I’m actually just a dude who likes SEC football, fishing, beer, and action adventure movies, AS WELL AS vegetarian Indian cuisine, Robert Lowell, The Tao Te Ching, and Fellini films. My first girlfriend was a great starter girlfriend for me who taught me very little about the road ahead, because she was what people used to call a “tomboy”. She liked to throw the football, go on all my favorite rides at Six Flags, burp out loud when she finished her beer, and punch me in the shoulder when I said something funny, which happened a lot. So I thought dating was a snap. I managed to get through almost my entire first year of college without a single date until the first year class held their Sadie Hawkins dance. That’s the tradition when the girls formally ask boys out for the evening. I thought it sounded perfect because up until that point in my life I’d only ever gone out with girls who’d pursued me and this didn’t seem to be a naturally occurring event in my college career thus far. The night before the dance I was still dateless when some well-meaning dorm mates drafted a young woman at the cafeteria for the honor after, unbeknownst to me, pointing me out to her. She must not have been too repulsed by what she saw. So I was feeling pretty good about myself the next night, crossing the quadrangle bound for the women’s dormitory modeling new jeans, a yellow oxford shirt, topsiders, and the tan sports coat with dark brown elbow patches that my mom had bought me the Spring before at Gayfers for the high school sports banquet.
But I felt immediately out of place on my date and vehemently uncool when she opened the door, festooned in scarves and beads, wearing a tight purple halter-top and enshrouded in a cloud of reefer smoke. “Hi, I’m Sara, come on in, we have to wait for the scream”. It was hard to hear her because The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was playing at a crushingly loud volume. So I was led by the hand into cannabis central and plopped on the end of her bed while she fiddled in front of the mirror with her ensemble. Meanwhile, Townsend, Entwistle and Moon fiddled with the end of their song, which I was hearing for the first time. The scream we were waiting for was Daltry’s. Then as the room came into focus, I was shocked to see that every square inch of her painted cinder block walls was plastered with pornographic images of male genitalia – at full salute. At which point the words that should be emblazoned on the eventual tombstone of my life with women flashed through my mind: What Else Don’t I Know?
And so I did what every well-heeled Presbyterian lad would do under the circumstances – I complemented the furniture. And then began to babble incessantly about church camp until Daltry’s scream (and what a scream it was) put a merciful end to my nervous chatter before I got the part about agape love. She lifted the needle off the record, turned to me smiling and said with an air of pity, “You’re a good boy, aren’t you”?
The dance itself was a stiff dimly lit affair held in the first year dining hall. She was completely uninterested, and quickly suggested we make our way over to the gymnasium where a reggae band was playing. I doubt I even knew what reggae music was at that point, but I played along as she talked our way past the door guy. Once inside, she told me she needed to find the girls’ room and that was the end of my date, though it took me waiting around 30 minutes to figure it out, which I did after spotting her across the room talking with the dreadlocked bassist.
I remember that walking home my immense sense of relief quickly gave way to indignation. Instead of thanking Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that I’d been spared initiation into some dark tantric ritual and enshrinement in the temple of the erectile, I preferred see myself as someone who’d been grievously wronged, jilted, dumped, thrown overboard – yes I could work with that and did for a time. I decided to pretend that I was deeply wounded because it sounded far more romantic than the truth. I recall arranging my frisbee throwing session the next day squarely in front of the women’s dorm in hopes that she would walk by and I could say something clever, but she never did. The point is, that even though I’d dodged God only knows what, I was far more interested in the fiction of despair.
That was a long time ago. I still have to contend with the same clamoring ego that assailed my thoughts on the walk home that night, though I’m happy to report I’m better at identifying it’s machinations and to holding it in check. What do we really want and need from the other? Companionship? Forgiveness? Acceptance? A witness? Yes! All that. And I’d say for myself – someone with and through whom I can touch the very ground of existence. The 53rd hexagram of the I Ching, Gradual Progress, concerns itself with the development of a love relationship using the imagery of swans flying and nesting. The final changing line of the reading, apropos to the atmosphere of this song, talks about the loftiest kind of love we can experience with another, signified by a single swan flying high in the clouds, whose falling feathers bless all below. My interpretation of this line is that it identifies a most powerful love which emanates from a place of elevation: the vertical dropping into the horizontal plane; timelessness entering time to render stillness; the eternal revealing itself through a momentary dissolution of the ephemeral.
The night before I wrote this song, just before dawn, I dreamt I was lying in my bed, holding and looking at a gold-framed oil painting of my life that looked like a Dutch master. Then suddenly the muted colors on the canvas began to crack and all the paint began flaking off until I was staring at a radiant palace that was washing me in light. I held the frame before me and let the light engulf me. It felt so amazing. My arms began to tremble, and I noticed I was waking up but didn’t want to. I didn’t want this to ever stop! Then my eyes opened to the sight of a drab popcorn ceiling, which I stared at for a while.
But that – was a good dream!
“Girl With A Blue Guitar” – recorded by RH, WW, Darin and George at The Star Apple Kingdom, mixed by Paul Stacy, mastered by Lars Goransson