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, December 4, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (31)—Diggin' Up Bones

Click here to read the introduction to the Round and Square series "Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin'..."
[a] Archaeology RF
Randy Travis has been digging. Actually, the heaviest spadework was done by one of the most talented songwriters in Nashville, Paul Overstreet, along with help from Nate Stuckey and a good ol' boy from Tennessee, Al Gore. No, not that one. You'll hear more from Al in a few weeks on our featured song about drinking and memory. For now, though, I want you to consider a theme that I have covered in some depth in the introduction to this series.

I speak of archaeology, of digging for love. Over the years, a whole bevy of songs have treated the sorting, sifting, creasing, tearing (in at least two senses of the word), and recovery (usually in only one sense) of the residue of love gone cold.

It hurts. Randy Travis's distinctive voice give the lyrics a man-lost-in-the-archives-of-divorce sort of feel. There is anger. There is resignation. Randy is on a five stage journey, and he's wrapped up in all of the first four in this song.

[b] Once fierce RF
Take a listen to both Travis's rich tonality of hurt and the cultural specifics in the lyrics. In an otherwise solid song, calling to (my) mind Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doomed Romance, there are a few clunkers. I'll just point out the unfortunate and unnecessary rhyme of "drawer" and "four." It is still worth the effort to ponder the scholarship of longin', so click for the video (and, as always, don't watch it).

     Diggin' Up Bones
        Artist: Randy Travis
        Songwriters: Paul Overstreet, Al Gore, Nate Stuckey

         Last night I dug your picture out from our old dresser drawer
         I set it on the table and I talked to it till four
         I read some old love letters right up 'til the break of dawn

         Yeah, I've been sittin' alone diggin' up bones

[c] Tools RF
         Then I went through the jewelry and I found our wedding rings
          I put mine on my finger and I gave yours a fling
          Across this lonely bedroom of our recent broken home
          Yeah, tonight I'm sittin' alone diggin' up bones

I'm diggin' up bones

          I'm diggin' up bones
          Exhuming things that's better left alone
          I'm resurrecting memories of a love that's dead and gone
          Yeah, tonight I'm sittin' alone
          Diggin' up bones

         Then I went through the closet and I found some things in there
          Like that pretty negligee that I bought you to wear
          And I recalled how good you looked each time you had it on
          Yeah, tonight I'm sittin' alone diggin' up bones


          I'm resurrecting memories of a love that's dead and gone
          Yeah, tonight I'm sittin' alone
          Diggin' up bones

          Chorus 2x 

[d] Past RF
So what is up with all of this digging? You know what I mean. We have all done it at one point or another. We've opened up the long buried cache of letters, and various odds-and-ends. Sometimes we hold the fragments of a broken relationship, as in this week's song. Other times we stumble upon reminders of an earlier era less fraught with the sense of an ending. High school or college yearbooks can do this for people of a certain age. One moment we are dusting the shelf and the next we are paging away minutes and hours as we reconsider that high school basketball team that went 8-10 but learned a lot about "who they were" in the course of the season. And then there are the haircuts. These will never cease to puzzle those of us who thought all earlier generations were stupid, but that we had finally gotten it just right.

[e] Stuff(ed) RF
Sorting through the archive of our lives can be difficult, charged. It is also inevitable, and usually occurs at quite inconvenient times—during transitions. The last thing you need when packing for a new home...or a new the record of the past getting in your way. Transitions are weirdly relevant to the situation, though. Think back to Randy Travis's song. As long as life is stable, and the old love letters or family photographs are packed away in boxes, they mark time unobtrusively. We rattle the ghosts of the past when our own lives are in tumult of one sort or another. Just like museum directors, we need to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss. Museum language uses the term "deacquistion," which could be a charming addition to the daily life of the file cabinet or basement crate. I could stand to deacquisition some old VHS tapes and a whole passel of old power cords (not to mention some dreadful high school pictures).

The record of our own life is a little like what you would find in your local historical society—but usually much more chaotic. And it is that combination of the record of the past (whether wedding ring, yearbook, old letters, or a dusty negligee), memory, time, and transition that I wish to juxtapose with an East Asian lyric today. This is one of those Sunday Hurtin' posts in which I really want to "echo" the country music theme. One can do just that (changing a few details from rings and pictures to silken official gowns and exquisite hairpins), because the Song dynasty lyric (宋詞) plays upon relentlessly similar and unflinchingly human themes of loss, longing, and the archive of lost love all around us.

[f] West Loss RF
Yet I resist. The whole point of these posts is to contrast, to juxtapose. I have chosen paired lyrics by the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) poet Pan Lang. There is just enough imagery teeming with memory to make it a useful contrast in our Hurtin' lesson for the week. The West Lake of which he writes (in the city of Hangzhou) is among the most beautiful and storied locations in all of China.

       Tune: "Song of the Wine Spring," Two Lyrics
       Pan Lang (d. 1009)

                    I always remember West Lake—
          On the lake, when spring comes, there's an endless view:
                   The girls of Wu, every single one a goddess,
                   Vying with one another in rowing their magnolia boats.
          Clusters of pavilions and towers that look like the Magic Isle—
          There, and onle there should a rustic grow old.
          Since I left, it's been twenty years already.
                   Gazing eastward; my eyes will soon wear out.

                   I always remember West Lake—
          All day long leaning on the balcony and gazing:
                  Fishing boats in twos and threes
                  Islets in the clear autumn air,

          The vague sound of a flute among flowering rushes,
          A row of startled white birds, suddenly rising.
          Since I left, I've repaired my fishing rod at leisure;
          My thoughts penetrate the cold water and clouds.
                                  —Translated by James J.Y. Liu

[1]  Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974), 307-308.

Liu Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.
Sunday, December 11th
Thinkin' Problem
David Ball can't stop thinkin' about all the stuff that went wrong. He'll lay out his twelve-step formula next week, on Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin'.

1 comment:

  1. Yes ... and as Beaudelaire says:They become Allegory .....

    "Mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs":

    "Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie
    N'a bougé! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
    Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie
    Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs."

    Le Cygne de Charles Beaudelaire.