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, November 20, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (29)—Bubba Shot the Jukebox

[a] Painholder RF
In last week's Hurtin' post we took a look at the notion of self-conscious pain-creation in various cultural forms. I argued that songs such as "I'd Be Better Off In A Pine Box" seemingly search around the vulnerable listener until the soft underbelly of loss and misery can be found. They often succeed and (as we have discussed in this series) cause people to burst into tears.

We began to explore a little bit about the Gisaro ceremony among the Kaluli of New Guinea, and found some parallels to our country music elicitation of melancholy. Today, I would like to consider a further angle. The classic ethnographic work on the Gisaro ceremony is Edward Schieffelin's The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers. It is well worth reading from cover-to-cover, whether or not you are an aspiring anthropologist (or a grizzled one who somehow missed it in your batches of reading). Last week we focused on The Sorry of the Lonely, and I would like to spend a few paragraphs here cementing that theme before proceeding to all that burning stuff. Here is what Scheiffelin has to say about the matter.
As evening falls, torches are lit in the aa. When word is received that the Gisaro dancers are ready, [the dancers and drummers]…cease and dismantle their costumes. With the end of their constant drumming, an awkward, restless quiet pervades the aa…Expectant tension fills the air. To feel more at ease, men seated on opposite sides of the hall laugh and shout jokes at each other. Presently, to the shouts of women on the outside veranda, the men of the Gisaro chorus quietly enter the front door. A hush falls over the longhouse as they move quietly up the hall and divide into two groups facing each other across a space of about twenty-five feet…[1]

Everything is set for the emotional intensity of the ceremony that will follow.
[c] Ceremonial RF
The four dancers are painted and costumed exactly alike, so that as one sits down and another stands up, throughout the course of the night, the figure moving in the middle of the longhouse remains the same…The effect is magnified by the dancer’s isolation. Moving in the firelight, the dancer seems to be the only living thing in the vast, motionless interior. When he suddenly leans forward and approaches along the torchlit dancing space, he seems larger than life amid his waving plumes and streamers. Coming through the avenue of lowered torches, he seems remote, archetypal, a figure emerging from an infinite distance, another time an place. His single voice sounds far away. But then, as the chorus breaks in, the sound swells to fill the whole house, surrounding him with song. The effect is powerful. A person is startled, Kaluli say, when the dancer approaches because in his masklike face he recognizes his dead brother (or other relative) who danced in Gisaros in times past. Only when the dancer has come close does one recognize him. When recognition comes, the figure has an immensely lonely quality that exerts a many-sided appeal to Kaluli nostalgia…[2]

And then, in waves of released frustration and despair, they take their torches and attack the dancer. They achieve a kind of emotional retribution that is no less visceral for its acknowledged (and anticipated) role in the ceremony.
[As the emotion in the audience builds, the dancer] is suddenly descended on by the torches. The men and boys stamping and yelling, the man with the cordyline thrusting it wherever he can, water being poured on from bamboo tubes, incredible pandemonium and stamping, some people waving axes. Others run to relight their torches to jam them again into the dancer’s back. During this time he hasn’t faltered or flinched, although he is sometimes shoved forward by the force of the torches in his back, an done grinning man holds a torch to his face to watch his reaction. Finally, the dancer turns back to his original spot. There is a smell of resin, smoke, and burned meat. Another torch is put out on his back. An older man throws his arms around him, bursts into wailing, and then runs out the back door to wail on the veranda. Finally, the dancer reaches the end of his song and sits down.[3]

I sincerely hope that you did not skip over the quotations (a bad habit, made even worse when reading history or anthropology...or literary analysis). If you did read the passages above, you understand something about the emotional fury and sobbing anxiety caused by song, dance, and appeals to lost and gone loved ones.

***  ***
[d] Pastflash RF
Well, it's sort of like a sad country song, and this week's Hurtin' post is not so much about causing new pain as understanding the emotional reaction to it. Once, during a difficult period in my life many years ago, a friend told me to be sure not to listen to country music. I thought he was kidding, but he was serious. "You're not strong enough for it," he said, matter-of-factly. Interesting.

I am thinking about something even more intense than sobbing quietly in the corner of a bar and nursing a stale beer while listening to echoes of Merle Haggard or Patsy Cline. I am thinking about burning the singers with torches to relieve my pain—something like the Gisaro ceremony you read about, above.

Do we have any parallels to that in the annals of country music?

Yes. Indeed, we do. You see, Bubba was sitting in Margie's Bar one evening when a song came onto the jukebox and roiled up a big ol' stew of misery. There were tears...and then there was anger. Finally, Bubba ran out to his truck and got his, er, torch, so he could "burn the dancer." Take a listen. This is my favorite kind of video. There is nothing on it. Just listen to the rather strange mix of reflexive lyrics and country rage. Please note that the person who posted the song mistook "Joe Diffie" for "Mark Chesnutt."

[e] Target RF
I should add that this song was chosen as an expression of emotional payback—a retributive volley reminiscent of the Gisaro ceremony among the Kaluli of New Guinea. I cannot argue for any particularly sublime qualities in the lyrics, but the song does provide a fine parallel to the idea of "...the burning of the dancers." Take a read.

     Bubba Shot the Jukebox
        Artist: Mark Chesnutt
        Songwriter: Dennis Linde
We were all down at Margie's bar
Telling stories if we had one
Someone fired the old jukebox up
The song it sure was a sad one

A teardrop rolled down Bubba's nose

From the pain the song was inflicting
And all at once he jumped to his feet

Just like somebody kicked him
[f] Mired RF
Bubba shot the juke box last night
Said it played a sad song, it made him cry
Went to his truck and got a forty five
Bubba shot the juke box last night

Bubba ain't never been accused

Of bein' mentally stable
So we did not draw an easy breath
Until he laid that Colt on the table

He hung his head till the cops showed up

They dragged him right out of Margie's
Told him, "Don't you play dumb with us, son

You know damn well what the charge is"
[g] Aim RF

Repeat Chorus

Well, the Sheriff arrived with his bathrobe on

The confrontation was a tense one
Shook his head and said, "Bubba Boy
You was always a dense one"

"Reckless discharge of a gun"

That's what the officers are claiming
Bubba hollered out, "Reckless, hell
I hit just where I was aiming"

Repeat Chorus +

Well, he shot the juke box, stopped it with one shot
Bubba shot the jukebox last night

Well, he could not tell right from wrong

Through the tear drops in his eyes
Beyond a shadow of a doubt
It was a justifiable homicide

Bubba shot the juke box, stopped it with one shot
Bubba shot the jukebox last night

There are no real parallels in East Asian poetry, so I will keep it very simple this week (especially since you have already endured a long set of passages from Kaluli ethnography). I have chosen a brief little selection of poems from Yang Wanli (1124-1206). Aptly titled, both poems give a sense of wistful and melancholic vacancy.

    Songs of Depression, Two Selections
       Yang Wanli (1124-1206)

       I don't feel like reading another book,
       and I'm tired of poetry—that's not what I want to do.
       But my mind is restless, unsettled—
       I'll try counting raindrop stains
                                        on the oilcloth window.

       I finish chanting my new poems,
                                         and fall asleep—
       I am a butterfly, journeying to the eight corners
                                         of the universe.
       Outside the boat, waves crash like thunder,
       but it is silent in the world of sleep.[4]
[h] Wistful RF
[1] Edward Scheiffelin, The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers Second Edition (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 171
[2] Schieffelin, 176-177.
[3] Schieffelin, 191-192. Quoted from Schieffelin's fieldnotes.
[4]  Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974), 150.

Schieffelin, Edward. The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers Second Edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Liu Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Sunday, November 27th
What Mattered Most
There are lessons in life, love, and...historiography in next Sunday's ode to cluelessness and loss.

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