Posts Tagged ‘Ella Fitzgerald’

This Mortal Coil

August 28, 2020

Adam and Eve by Edvard Munch

In Love Medicine, a novel by Louise Erdrich, young Albertine Johnson is tasked with protecting the pies by her grandmother, who leaves a family gathering before it descends into drunken mayhem:

“They can eat!” Grandma yelled once more. “But save them pies!”

During the melee that ensues, Albertine heroically manages to prevent her cousin King from drowning his wife Lynette in the sink. But she can’t save the pies:

All the pies were smashed. Torn open. Black juice bleeding through the crusts. Bits of jagged shells were stuck to the wall and some were turned completely upside down. Chunks of rhubarb were scraped across the floor. Merengue dripped from the towels.

Later when she wakes up, Albertine does what she can for the pies:

I spooned the fillings back into the crusts, married the slabs of dough, smoothed over the edges of crusts with a wetted finger, fit crimps to crimps and even fluff to fluff on top of berries or pudding. I worked carefully for over an hour. But once they smash there is no way to put them right.

With the possible exception of Ella Fitzgerald singing Blue Skies, there’s no perfection in this world. We’re all broken in some way, just like those pies.

Christians tell us we’re living in a fallen world as punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve. I don’t believe this, but it’s a useful metaphor for the human condition.

It’s important to accept Existence on its own terms. Everything in this world is flawed. There’s a lot you can do to make life better for yourself and others, but you can’t fix the world; you can’t fix your friends; you can’t even fix yourself.

Like Albertine Johnson, you can try to make things better. If you try really hard, you might be as heroic as Albertine — you might even make the world a little bit more beautiful. Making the world a little bit more beautiful is a monumental achievement.

The Past Is Not the Future

How do we make the world a little bit better when human beings are so full of greed, stupidity, pettiness and cruelty? Well, it ain’t easy. But trying is all we have.

For example, we can learn from the past, but don’t get stuck there.

Sheryl Crow was right: Every day is a winding road, a new opportunity to try to do better.

The past is not the future; don’t make it a prison.

As T.S. Eliot reminds us:

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

East Coker

You’ll never fix the world, but there are some helpful strategies for facing this mortal coil with dignity. You can start by taking a deep breath and letting it out really slow.

by Richard W. Bray

Let’s Face the Music and Dance

May 22, 2016

wwhauden

The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it,
Not to be born is the best for man;

W.H. Auden, The Dead Echo

Wow. That’s pretty depressing. In fact, I wrote that listening to Auden read “The Dead Echo”* from The Voice of the Poet series makes me want to lie down in the fetal position and turn out all the lights.

Is our human existence, as Auden suggests, so meaningless that we would be better off without it? No. Because Love.

In his famous soliloquy Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Shakespeare’s Macbeth complains that

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

As an ardent nonbeliever, I don’t see how human existence signifies anything beyond itself. But our existence is nonetheless pretty awesome when considered on its own terms.

I’m pretty sure that there isn’t any anthropomorphized God up in outer space listening to all our prayers, a god who cares about every little thing that happens in the universe, including the death of every sparrow.   Yet I see reason for hope in this terrifying realization because it informs me that human beings must rely upon one another instead of inventing a god in order to assuage our cosmic loneliness.

However, Auden makes another claim in “The Dead Echo” which haunts me to the core of my being:

A friend is the old old tale of Narcissus

In other words, our hunger for Love is merely a manifestation of ego since we are only capable of viewing the world through the prism of our own interests and our own self-perception. As Auden explains in his collection of essays called “The Dyer’s Hand” :

Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both partners run out of good.

This is true, of course. But it hardly renders Love meaningless.  The act of caring about others is selfish and selfless at the same time.  It’s one of life’s many paradoxes.  Our lives are full of paradox not because that’s how the universe is designed; we see life as being full of paradox because that’s how our brains are designed.

When Samuel Goldwyn complained that a script she had submitted “ended on a sad note,” Dorothy Parker noted

“I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn, but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”

So what should we do about this whole being alive thing?  Well, in addition to depressing the hell out of us in “The Dead Echo,” Auden provides us with some practical advice:

Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.

And as another poet notes, between birth and death, It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.

So the loveliest and most courageous thing we can do is acknowledge the hurt and ugly in our lives and still manage, somehow, to face the music and dance.

* Auden elsewhere refers to this poem as “Death’s Echo”

by Richard W. Bray

My Top Ten Favorite Song Covers

August 20, 2014

Sarah Vaughan

I Fought the LawThe Clash

Police and ThievesThe Clash

(Note: It was hard to leave out Pressure Drop and Brand New Cadillac)

Blue SkiesElla Fitzgerald

Blue SkiesWillie Nelson

Over the RainbowSarah Vaughan

Power to the PeopleBlack Eyed Peas

Give Peace a ChanceAerosmith featuring Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

(Note: It was hard to only choose two songs from this John Lennon tribute album)

I Feel PrettyLittle Richard

Tumblin DiceLinda Ronstadt

Wild WorldJimmy Cliff

by Richard W. Bray