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 24, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (13)—Nothing But the Wheel

[a] Night  RF
Driving and memory. Driving away a memory. These are concepts that we accept as almost second nature, but many hours of country music (not to mention other lyric forms) attest to the fact that it doesn't work all that well. We have already explored some of these themes on Round and Square. This week, we have the miserable pleasure of hearing one of the best country artists ever to pick up a guitar—with the exquisite name of Patty Loveless—driving away (from) a broken dream. Take a listen, and note the imagery, from "driv(ing) you off my mind" to the almost perfect title line.

The songwriter, John Scott Sherrill, has written a stimulating array of lyrics for a varied set of artists. This one links the music with the lyrics in surprising ways that recall the origins of the Chinese verse form called "lyric" (詞). The peculiar blend of instrumentality, rhythm, and words can be seen in the lines below, and I can almost imagine Sherrill and Loveless working out the details over heated plum wine in a thirteenth century Nashville in southern China.

Nothing But the Wheel
—Patty Loveless
(John Scott Sherrill)

Way on past the boulevards
Out here underneath the stars
I've been flying past the houses, farms and fields
Leaving all I know back there
Rushing through the cold night air
And I'm holding on to nothing but the wheel

Staying clear of the interstate
I'm seeking out those old two lanes
Trying to explain the way I feel
Till all at once it's half past three
And it's just the trucks and me
And I'm holding on to nothing but the wheel

I've been trying to drive you off my mind
Maybe that way baby I can leave it all behind
And forty-one goes on and on
And the lights go winding in the dawn
The sky's the color now of polished steel
And the only thing I know for sure
Is that you don't want me anymore 

And I'm holding on to nothing but the wheel

And the only thing I know for sure
Is that you don't want me anymore 

And I'm holding on to nothing but the wheel

I'm holding on to nothing but the wheel

[b] Foremost
It will not be surprising that there are no precise analogies to driving a memory away (in a car) in Chinese lyric poetry. The possibilities for rich juxtaposition are everywhere, though, and it was not easy to arrive at a final choice. Note both the similarities and the contrast in the poem below. Li Qingzhao (1083-1151), is often referred to as China's foremost "woman" poet. I like to think of her as one of China's best poets, period. She also has a warm spot in my heart because I am especially attached to the eleventh century (she was born in it)...the world over. This poem provides a wonderful contrast with the Loveless (note the irony) song. If you learn a little about Li Qingzhao's biography, the contrasts and resonances are deeper still. Take a look at "Spring at Wuling."

          To the Tune of: Spring at Wuling
          (Li Qingzhao 1083-1151)

          The wind dies down—a smoky fragrance
                    of freshly fallen flower petals
          It is already evening—too exhausted even
                    to comb my hair
          Matters of the world remain—but he is gone;
                   everything is gone
          Wanting to speak, tears begin to flow

          I have heard that springtime at Paired Streams 
                  is as beautiful as ever
          I wish I could board a light boat
          I only fear that at Paired Stream
                    my little "grasshopper" boat
          Would be unable to move 
                    beneath my bundles of despair.[1]

李清照 (宋)

 [1] Li Qingzhao. "Wuling chun" [武陵春]. Quan Songci [全宋詞] Translated freely by Robert André LaFleur.

Li Qingzhao. "Wuling chun" [武陵春]. Quan Songci全宋詞

Sunday, July 31
Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) 
All the cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole. Garth's much too young to feel this damn old.

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