March 27, 2010

What a difference a day makes

Apologies for the cliche title.  And it's actually more like a week that made the difference, but still.  Got out for a bike ride along the Potomac today near Hancock, 50 miles or so upstream of where I drove around Shepherdstown last week.  This area had the same flooding issues as downstream but, aside from a few sandy, scoured spots, there wasn't the same grim feel to this part of the river.  It was chillier today than last week by about 25 degrees, but Spring was apparent in the sprouts of grass and sticky little leaves.

The things I saw today reflected the countryside I rode through--  Cardinals and turtles, old tires and trillium.  The sun was warm, though the breeze was cold.  Spinning past the remnants of abandoned apple orchards that were once the main industry of this area, a very different tune popped into my head from the one that matched last week's mood...

Hey little apple blossom
what seems to be the problem
all the ones you tell your troubles to
they dont really care for you

Come and tell me what you're thinking
cause just when the boat is sinking
a little light is blinking
and i will come and rescue you

Lots of girls walk around in tears
but thats not for you
you've been looking all around for years
for someone to tell your troubles to

Come and sit with me and talk awhile
let me see your pretty little smile
put your troubles in a little pile
and i will sort them out for you
i'll fall in love with you
i think ill marry you

Flew home on the highway in the direction of an amorphous waxing moon, feeling that good old euphoric feeling.  It's a high that doesn't last any longer than one induced chemically, but the lack of nasty side effects makes it vastly preferable.  So I think of apple blossoms and try to hold on to it. 

March 21, 2010

I didn't feel so bad till the sun went down...

Drove along the river road downstream from Shepherdstown today.  At the height of the flooding a week ago, the river topped out at close to 25 feet through this area (this person up near Williamsport got some photos that give an idea of what it was like).  On a typical spring day, the depth of the water is more like 3 feet and the scenery along shore is sparklingly pretty.  This winter was damned rough, though.  If I'd driven up this way last weekend, the road would've been submerged in waves of cafe au lait.  Instead, I was dodging potholes where the water had churned at the pavement.  It's obvious this has happened before over the years, as most of the houses along the road are either raised above garages or built way up the hillside.  The only structure anywhere close to the water's edge is the ruin of an old mill from near a hundred years ago.

Up in town, there were daffodils cropping up in people's yards and buds beginning to sprout on the tips of tree limbs.  Down here, the ground was scoured by river sand, what bits of grass there are flattened by the surging water and the tree trunks dragged along through it.  On the second day of spring, there are no signs of
tender new growth, only river detritus and leftover mud.  Just dead leaves and dirty ground.

Dead leaves and the dirty ground
when I know you're not around
Shiny tops and soda pops
when I hear your lips make a sound
when I hear your lips make a sound

Thirty notes in the mailbox
will tell you that I'm coming home
And I think I'm gonna stick around
for a while so you're not alone
for a while so you're not alone

If you can hear a piano fall
you can hear me coming down the hall
If I could just hear your pretty voice
I don't think I'd need to see at all
I don't think I'd need to see at all

Soft hair and a velvet tongue
I want to give you what you give to me
And every breath that is in your lungs
is a tiny little gift to me
is a tiny little gift to me

I didn't feel so bad till the sun went down
Then I come home
No one to wrap my arms around

Well any man with a microphone
can tell you what he loves the most
And you know why you love at all
if you're thinking of the Holy Ghost
if you're thinking of the Holy Ghost

The scene by the river matched my mood today.  I think... that I'm becoming tired of being alone.

March 14, 2010

Random babblings: Of Elephants and things

Despite a gloomy pall spread across the mid-Atlantic states by four days of rain, the first morning of Daylight Saving Time found me feeling pretty good.  There's been much dukkha lately, much wanting to think about changes that should be made for future happiness and security, and just as much avoidance of thoughts on that subject.  The result has been a lot of time feeling anxious and sorry for myself, and then feeling annoyed at myself for sinking to such depths.

My current infatuation with Jack White has both helped and harmed in this situation.  His music's become, depending on the tune, a wonderful release, an escape, a comfort, and a distraction.  But learning about the man himself has been a tad confounding.  He's apparently a kinetic fount of creative energy with a work ethic that's renowned in the industry.  And there lies the rub.  I'd like to be inspired by him, but instead his example makes me feel ashamed of being such a lazy sod who can't get off her duff and figure out what to do with her life, who'd rather play than work at stuff that doesn't have at least some element of fun, or at least interest, to it.  I imagine White's photo in the dictionary next to the definition of "Type A personality", and that just ain't me.  But there are times when perhaps it should be.  

So today's indulgent escape was a drive up to Gettysburg National Military Park.  The US Civil War's been an interest of mine for years, ever since I moved to Maryland and began exploring the state.  Sitting as it does between Virginia & Pennsylvania, MD's surrounded by Civil War history and multiple battlefield sites:  Monocacy, Antietam, Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg are the most well-known of the bunch.  Amazingly, the area around Gettysburg hasn't yet fallen to the developer's axe.  In the years I've been going there, I've noticed the addition of a couple of shopping/movie complexes and a few industrial parks, but none of the rampant house building that's spread so virulently closer to home.  The place seems to still be largely agricultural, and that makes a visit to the battlefield feel, to at least a small degree, like a step back in time.

I hung out for a while at Devil's Den, within view of Round Top and Little Round Top. Some of the most brutal fighting of this three-day battle took place in the space called the Valley of Death, between the Den and the Round Tops, when Confederate troops swarmed over both the rocks and the Federals who'd been holding ground there.

Civil War soldiers spoke of going into battle as "seeing the elephant" and the elephantine, rain-slicked boulders of the Den fit the expression well.  Fortunately, the rain that soaked the rocks also kept the tourist crowds at bay and only a few were climbing about, having their photos taken to look as if they were holding up the gigantic formations with only a fingertip.  So I was able to wander and shoot and attempt to imagine the carnage.  I've read a bunch of books and articles about the Civil War, but I've yet to find anything that satisfactorily explains what motivated the men on either side of the conflict to engage in killing each other in such a barbaric manner.  I understand it from a psychological perspective.  It's fairly obvious that the vast majority of the lower troops just plain had no clue what they were going to face, that some atavistic, testosterone-driven urge excited them to sign up and serve the cause of their chosen side.  Imagine their surprise when the fearsome form of the elephant first came lumbering towards them.  Yet from an empathetic standpoint, I just don't get it.  The men leading the troops had all faced war before, and they didn't hesitate to do so again when Sumter fell.  Robert E. Lee himself famously stated, "It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it."  I think that Lee understood even less than I do.

Appropriately, I popped The White Stripe's Elephant into the cd player on the way home.  This is the album that apparently launched the Stripes into the stratosphere and it's a fantastic collection displaying the diversity of Jack's genius.  From angry to tender, bragging to entreating, these songs "dedicated to, ...for, and about the death of the sweetheart" cover a gamut of human relations.  Perhaps it's due to the subject matter, but these seem to be some of White's most direct songs.  He's apparently a big fan of metaphor, but the stories on this album are all clearly and coherently told, and his use of imagery is compelling.  Some highlights:

Apparently written about the issues that fame caused for him amongst the Detroit music scene, which prompted his subsequent move to Nashville, there's no mistaking the message that Jack's not to be trifled with-- 

And I'm talking to myself at night
Because I can't forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And the message coming from my eyes
Says leave it alone

I'm only waiting for the proper time to tell you
That it's impossible to get along with you
It's hard to look you in the face when we are talking
So it helps to have a mirror in the room

Absolutely unequivocal.  After this point in the album, though, the anger and cynicism begin to fade and Jack turns to longing for love.  

The sweetest moment of the album is contained in this song. Though the lyrics portray a man who suffers from a mild case of misogyny, the tenderness of Jack's simple vocals tugs at the heart-strings and turn it into a romantic ode to the desperation of love.

Nobody ever told you that it was the wrong way
To trick a woman, make her feel she did it her way
And you'll be there if she ever feels blue
And you'll be there when she finds someone new

One of my favorite things about this album is the track order. To follow the delicate romance of "...In Your Pocket" with the arrogant swagger of "Ball and Biscuit" is nothing short of brilliant.  This song, like "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" or "Death Letter", is a showcase for Jack's insane talent on the guitar.  But it also stands out as one of the few instances of blatant sexual braggadocio that he's indulged in.  Supposedly inspired by the "ball and biscuit" microphones used in the studio where the album was recorded, Jack very cleverly sings about "getting clean together" and then proceeds to get absolutely filthy on his guitar.

The final cut on the album is a whimsical little number with guest vocals from British singer, Holly Golightly.  While it could easily be dismissed as fluff or filler, the humor in the tune makes it a gem.  It's a nice touch, after beginning the album in anger, then traveling through yearning and boasting, to end things with a smile.