From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (10)—Kentucky Rain

[1] With the rain in my shoes...  RF
Quest is in the air. The song (by two storied writers) combines Odysseus, Sir Galahad, and Frodo Baggins into a 1950s trek through a cold November day in Kentucky (as I imagine it). On the surface (the way the song plays out), he wants her back. He doesn't understand what went wrong, and he wants to bring her back home. It is an inversion of the Penelope story. I would not be honest if I failed to say that it is difficult to read the lines today without a vague and sacri-Elvis feeling of stalking

One hopes not.

Kentucky Rain is a beautiful song, and I am assuming the very best of motives (this is fiction after all) on the part of writers, singer, and seeker. Over the course of the next few weeks and months, we will begin to explore more "quest" images in literature and music. It has been with us as long as there have been cave paintings and campfire stories. Quest tales probably predate fire itself.

Let's take a listen.

[b] Myth  RF
The lyrics are excellent, if a little "myth-like" in a way that borders on cliché (but is not—this is my professional opinion). Instead, I think that the writers, Eddie Rabbit and Dick Heard, are tapping into shared cultural images ("seven lonely days and a dozen towns ago;" "old gray bearded men;" "preacher man") in precisely the way that myth works. We have village elders and a high priest; the weather is stormy, and the hero endures hardships.

We'll explore this theme in future posts, too. You see, Claude Lévi-Strauss would know exactly what do do with this song. It is a myth, and a powerful one at that.

If, by chance you associate the word "myth" with "not true," we still have a lot of work to do on Round and Square. Keep reading. Short answer—myth is one of the most powerful forces of social knowledge in the history of mankind. The everyday definition is seriously lacking. For more on how myth "works," take a look at Theory Corner. In the meantime, this is one of the best songs ever performed, and Elvis's rendition brings to mind a kind of campfire myth-telling mixed with shamanistic determination.

       Kentucky Rain
          Elvis Presley
          —Eddie Rabbit and Dick Heard
           Seven lonely days and a dozen towns ago 
           I reached out one night and you were gone 
           Don't know why you'd run, what you're running to or from
           All I know is I want to bring you home

           So I'm walking in the rain, thumbin' for a ride

           On this lonely Kentucky backroad
           I've loved you much too long; my love's too strong
           To let you go, never knowing what went wrong.    

           Kentucky rain keeps pouring down,

           And up ahead's another town that I'll go walking through
           With the rain in my shoes, searching for you
           In the cold Kentucky rain, in the cold Kentucky rain.

           Showed your photograph to some old gray bearded men

           Sitting on a bench outside a general store
           They said "Yes, she's been here"
           But their memory wasn't clear.
           Was it yesterday? No, wait the day before.

           Finally got a ride, with a preacher man who asked,

           "Where you bound on such a cold, dark afternoon?"
           As we drove on through the rain, as he listened, I explained
           And he left me with a prayer that I'd find you.

           Repeat Chorus
           Kentucky rain keeps pouring down,

           And up ahead's another town that I'll go walking through
           With the rain in my shoes, searching for you
           In the cold Kentucky rain, in the cold Kentucky rain.

[c] Contemplation  RF
It is not difficult to find quest images in other parts of the world—not at all. The "problem" is choosing just one that will contrast enough with Kentucky Rain to make comparative literary study such as this worthy of the name. As I say every week, we seek not to "echo" the country songs with similar East Asian lyrics (this is possible, but not something that will help us see the deep nuances coursing through both sets of lyrics).

This week, we are going to signal a striking contrast with the song...or not (you decide if they're similar or different). It is a Ming dynasty poem about one person's heartthrob who is going into the realm of the Buddha. Enjoy the contrast, and think about what "myth" and "quest" might mean in starkly different contexts. Enjoy the fine translation from Jonathan Chaves.

      Saying Good-bye to a Singing Girl 
                      Who Has Decided to Become a Nun
          Mo Shilong (Ming; 1539-1587)

          You have called at the gate of the True Vehicle
                                        your worldly self is no more.
          You have said farewell forever
                                         to the golden chambers,
                                                         the wind and the dust.
          Lightly you wield the yak-tail whisk;
                                         your singing fan lies on the floor.
          You learn to adjust to the meditation cushion,
                                         and laugh at the dancer's mat.
          No more resentment when rouge fades
                                         like red flowers;
          no longer will the feathered hairdo appear in your mirror
          Mist, light, water—quiet Zen mind:
          I know a springtime 
                                         will bloom
                                                       in the realm of emptiness.[1]

[1] Victor Mair, The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 285. Translation by Jonathan Chaves.

Mair, Victor. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Sunday, July 10th
Amarillo By Morning
Next Sunday we'll explore a country classic and its relation to the geography of life and change. He'll be lookin' for eight when they pull that gate...

No comments:

Post a Comment