Early this mornin’ when you knocked upon my door
Between now and tonight, I’ve got time to write about that droll old fellow the devil. Later I go to Claremont to see the Walkmen, and tomorrow John Darnielle comes out of hiding and becomes The Mountain Goats. The weekend is shaping up big, too: there’s gonna be beer around a bonfire. So far this week, I’ve been helping twenty students with their papers.
What a strange year ends next Wednesday. In the little bits of free time I’ve been able to gather, I’ve been reading in Mystery Train, Greil Marcus’s book on the origins of rock and roll. I’ve found, to my great relief, that Marcus is able to describe things buried in the heart of the music, sensed but not quite translated into words, which explain why I never gave it all up for Mozart and Beethoven.
The first couple chapters are on Robert Johnson and The Band. I’ve never really liked The Band, and I’ve barely begun with Johnson, whose best-of arrived in the mail last week. But here’s what Marcus says about Johnson:
“Johnson’s vision was of a world without salvation, redemption, or rest; it was a vision he resisted, laughed at, to which he gave himself over, but most of all it was a vision he pursued. He walked his road like a failed, orphaned Puritan, looking for women and a good night, but never convinced, whether he found such things or not, that they were really what he wanted […] There were demons in his songs, and Johnson was often on good terms with them; his greatest fear seems to have been that his desires were so extreme that he could satisfy them only by becoming a kind of demon himself.”
I think it must be true that, in reading these words and feeling what they did to my heartbeat, I’m getting closer to myself than I’ve ever been. This is going to stand as the year I tried, less and less ably, to hold on to the sentimentality which for much of my life has been the basis of my ideas and plans — and which, unless I have time to fix things today, continues to muck up my myspace profile. “eachfallenrobin” appears to be the work of the Rainer Maria Rilke Overdrive.
I feel like now I’m being pulled and led along, heedless. The only possible story of this school year is how I tried to keep that from happening, in the worst cases by watching a lot of TV. I like Marcus’s term for this pulling: being on good terms with a devil.
At times I tried to be straight edge. I’d knock off drinking and even drinking coffee for a few days, or a week. I’d eye the harder stuff with horror. Last year I did this for a few months. But then I’d break all those promises, barely even understanding why I’d made them.
It turns out, at year’s end, that the time has been marked by random encounters with people who twelve months ago I didn’t know at all. A lot of them have been wonderful; I’ve made new friends all over the place, though all those friendships are limited because I’ve moved around so much. Plus, a majority of the most interesting nights have involved strange surroundings and drunkenness, so much so that the whole experience seems to be one blurred dream of familiar pleasures and new people. When I would try to settle down, home in Irvine, I would quickly get bored. I’d either kill time or I’d head back out for dizzying changes of scene.
After all, how is it really possible that on a given night I’m in downtown Manhattan, talking about Italo Calvino? That on another night, I’m somewhere in Philly, sprawled out at a house party, listening to a beautiful girl play “Moon River” and bossa nova? The best sleep I had all year was sleeping in the bushes next to a sidewalk. The only possible response is a sort of reckless honesty, a nakedness undertaken in awareness of the fact that everywhere has become the same. Oh, come now, not literally. But literally too.
In a recent lecture, J. Hillis Miller commented that the most important type of person today, the backbone of every modern community, is the stranger. Possibly this is because we are so thoroughly connected to each other now (without yet knowing each other) that the conversation with the stranger is the only one which satisfies our desire to know where I, the individual, and we, all of us, are heading.
But to return to the wonderful change in a terrible mask. Here’s what Marcus says about the Band:
“To be free is not to get what you want or to settle for what you’ve got, but to begin to know what you want and to feel strong enough to go after it.”
I’ve been a lot of things this year, but most consistently I’ve been tired. That’s over now. I know what I want. I want to be faithful to that unsatisfied feeling, like in the old, great Replacements song, or in Robert Johnson’s blues. You can live, young and hungry, on that feeling. A lot of the people I care about share it.
Those are my thoughts at year’s end.
Oh and the way I feel tonight
Well I could die and I wouldn’t mind