Thursday, January 20, 2011

`We Were Intently Listening'

Here is Nige ghost-writing a remote chapter of my autobiography:

“And yet, drug-soused though we might have been, we were intently listening, experiencing the music (and the words) with an intensity that is much harder to achieve in these days when whatever music you might want is instantly available and the technology makes it so much easier to flit from track to track and artist to artist than to settle down with one big piece of work and really get to know it.”

There was a quasi-religious devotion in the way some of us listened to music, popular and otherwise. Dope might intensify the absorption but the music was central. This leads to a thought I’ve entertained before but never articulated: Is it possible that listening intently to so many albums for so many years, puzzling out encrypted meanings in lyrics and dissecting the minutiae of Ginger Baker’s drumming, helped ready some of us to an approach to literature resembling explication de texte? At its worst, this led to Paul-is-Dead paranoia and magical thinking, but some of us didn’t take that seriously even in 1969. Rather, Dylan in particular encouraged us to toy with his words, heft them like rocks, plumb multiple levels of meaning, and wonder at the starkness of his best lines. Words, he suggested, are sometimes more than mere words. The leap from this:

“`No reason to get excited,’ the thief, he kindly spoke,
`There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.’”

to this:

“At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.”

is almost effortless for those of us with practiced ears.

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