Saturday, November 09, 2013

`It Has Now Stopped Flowing Forever'

My oldest son and I spoke of public deaths and their impact on us. Lou Reed, a performer both of us had met, was the spark, but our awareness of the impending half-century anniversary of President Kennedy’s murder also moved the conversation. Always the more dedicated Reed fan, Josh asked how I expected to feel when Bob Dylan, now seventy-two, was dead. My head is full of his lyrics. I speculated that I would experience his death only incrementally, in time-delay fashion, when I found myself singing “John Wesley Harding” or “From a Buick 6” (“Well, she don’t make me nervous, she don’t talk too much / She walks like Bo Diddley and she don’t need no crutch”). Also, Dylan the man and image has never interested me. He always seemed profoundly uninteresting and probably unpleasant. Only the music, and only the best of it (c. 1965-1970, a period that corresponds to my teenage years), holds my imagination. I was never a fanboy, just an enthusiastic listener. 

“What deaths really hit you?” Josh asked. Kennedy’s, certainly, though I was only eleven when he flew to Dallas. Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk. Orson Welles and Sam Peckinpah. Unexpectedly, Robert Mitchum. No other politicians or statesmen. John Berryman, for the needless horror of it. Nabokov, Beckett and Bellow, but above all, Guy Davenport, whom I met once and corresponded with for several years, so his loss was at once public and private. I was more than his admirer. He was my best teacher. Only now have I found this happy match of writer and subject – Eric Ormsby on Guy Davenport. Ormsby’s tribute was published just eight days after Davenport’s death on Jan. 4, 2005.  In his first paragraph, Ormsby identifies why Davenport’s death reached me, unlike so many others: 

“Davenport's own prose was always tolerable, but it had many other qualities as well; his prose was dapper and fastidious, austerely whimsical, laced with cunning allusions and echoes, arch and playful and grave all at once. In fact, the only intolerable aspect of Davenport's prose is that it has now stopped flowing forever.”

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