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, April 15, 2012

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (47)—Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down

[a] Downbottle RF
We're back to themes of drinking and memory. It's depressing stuff, but that, of course, is the whole point of this series. Let's think about misery in the world of mind-altering substances. It's all about the thinkin', and memory weaves its insidious web around Merle in this song. Take a listen.

     Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
         Artist: Merle Haggard
         Songwriter: Merle Haggard
            Each night I leave the bar room when it's over
Not feeling any pain at closing time
But tonight your memory found me much too sober
Couldn’t drink enough to keep you off my mind
Tonight the bottle let me down
And let your memory come around
The one true friend I thought I'd found
Tonight the bottle let me down

I've always had a bottle I could turn to
And lately I've been turning every day
But the wine don't take effect the way it used to
And I'm hurting in an old familiar way

Tonight the bottle let me down
And let your memory come around
The one true friend I thought I'd found
Tonight the bottle let me down
Tonight the bottle let me down
[b] Empty RF
Hurting in an old familiar way... This country ode to neural pathways has a message that can be seen in the best hurtin' lyrics. The combination of medication and misery forms the all-too-common central prescription at the lonesome clinic down the street (the one with, barstools). Have a headache? Take an aspirin. Have a heartache? Take a bottle...and stop thinking. This is not an ennobling equation, but it is certainly a common one. The problem is that, like many short-term solutions, it doesn't last. Once it wears off, all that's left is memory—sometimes acute, but always chronic.

Merle is on to something here. Couldn't drink enough to keep you off my mind. The rest of the song plays upon the implications of this idea. There is the disease (since I speak of the world of the song, I mean memory) and there is the treatment. The treatment ain't workin' like it used to, and tonight the treatment let him down. The metonymical resonance here can be extended to all sorts of ways we employ to talk about our worlds. The bottle let him down, and but he probably still can remember the day when he wore the ring. Now he's celebrating his forty-proof anniversary.
I'll bet you won't be surprised to hear that there are plenty of drinking and thinking lyrics in the Chinese poetic tradition. I have chosen a combination of scenes written by Wei Zhuang (836-910), just as the lyric (詞) form was taking shape. There is nothing derivative or simple about this set of images. From the perspective of drinkin', the third one will obviously dominate. Reading the entire series—and reflecting on travel, time, and physical space—provides a resonant contrast with Merle Haggard's song.

Tune: "Deva-like Barbarian," Five Lyrics
Wei Zhuang (836-910)
     The night of our parting in the red tower is enough for sorrow;
     By the fragrant lamp, the tasseled screen is but half rolled up. 
     As I leave the moon is just fading;
     She says goodby mixed with tears.

     The guitar is ornamented with gold and kingfisher feathers;
     From its strings come the caroling cries of orioles.
     Urging me to return soon, 
     She is like a flower in the window!
     Everyone says it is good to live south of the Yangtze;
     The traveler can but stay there until he grows old.
     The spring waters are more blue than the heavens;
     On the painted boat drowsily I listen to the rain.

     The girl who pours wine is like the moon;
     Her wrists are as bright as frosted snow.
     If you are not yet old, don't return home;
     To return home is to be broken hearted!

[d] Tobacco, tea, liquor RF
Today I still remember my happiness south of the Yangtze;
Then I was young, and my spring robe was light.
On horseback I would draw near the slanting bridge;
From the towers red sleeves everywhere beckoned me.

Golden filigree and kingfisher feathers adorned the curved screen;
Drunkenly I entered that grove of flowers and stayed the night.
Now whenever I see a blossoming branch,
I vow not to return until my hair is white!

            I urge you to get very drunk tonight;
            Don't talk of tomorrow in front of the wine jar!
            I greatly appreciate your sentiment;
            The wine is deep, but my feelings are even deeper!
            Only grieve that the spring night is so short;
            And don't complain that your cup is full!
            When there is wine we can laugh
            How long does human life last?

[e] South RF
Spring is bright and splendid in the city of Lo-yang;
But the man of Lo-yang grows old in another land.
The willows darken on the Prince of Wei's embankment;
At this time I am confused and bewildered.

Alongside the blossoming peach, the spring waters run clear;
Mandarin ducks bathe in their freshness.
My regret gathers force in the setting sun;
I think of you, but you do not know it!

[1]  Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974), 283-284.

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

Sunday, April 22nd
Harper Valley PTA
Although it's not exactly a hurtin' song, it is a fightin' one—and it's simply too good to pass up. Conflict theory meets cultural capital, and the theoretical sparks will fly. Talcott Parsons won't have a clue.
[f] Travelin' RF

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