On Saturday I posted an abortive little piece of non-writing mostly because I liked reading it when I found it on the computer. I was going to post this little piece yesterday, but then I realized that yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I figured Valentine’s Day deserved something special and romantic and for Janet. Nuts to all of you, I suppose, although truthfully I hope you did enjoy what I came up with. However, back to Saturday’s dated little bit of mental rambling; reading through that basic piece when I first discovered it a little less than a week ago, various topics I had written about got me thinking. I figured I should give some of those thoughts a chance before I moved on to other things (and back to Mantorville).
First off, I clearly made it up during the summer. If you remember, somebody was mowing. Of course back in those days summer would’ve been the only season I had time enough to sit around doing what I do all the time now. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed rereading this piece: it reminds me of some days now when I sit around attempting to be creative. Also I found it interesting that I was thinking of writing horror stories—how completely unlike the last two weeks.
Ah, the music
Second, when I wrote that piece for yesterday, I was fascinated with the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks Volume 3. According to my quick bit of research on Wikipedia, that double CD came out in November of 1995. If I wrote during the summer, that must mean this piece dates from 1996. At several different important points in my life the Grateful Dead came to the fore of my attention. For about a decade after Janet and I got married, I drifted away from listening to the Dead almost completely. I didn’t much like Shakedown Street (was I just not ready for Dead reggae?) or the thoroughly boring Go to Heaven. And I’m not sure why I didn’t really respond to the Top 10 worldwide, huge popularity of “Touch of Gray.” Just too cool to let the masses in to my own personal bliss, perhaps. Then two new releases of live material reignited my interest.
The first was the release of Without a Net in 1990. I can remember buying that still. Janet and I were shopping in Davenport and went down Kimberly east from the mall to K’s Merchandise—alas, long defunct now, although that is where I bought the school’s first digital camera for the drama department. I remember not just what Janet was looking for, possibly lamps (I can remember looking for lamps at K’s). But somewhere during the experience I got the time to go over and look through the CD rack, and there was a CD that I’d never seen before—Without a Net.
Maybe because it was from the 90s and a style of Dead I really hadn’t heard—that synthesized Garcia guitar sound I referred to in the piece but also the luscious sound of Branford Marsalis on saxophone for one of my favorite Dead songs, “Eyes of the World”— got me started on the band again. That album really is a fine collection of excellent Dead jams.
About a year later, I encountered the first From The Vault release. The early and mid-70s were prime Dead time, in my opinion, so that release of the first live performance of one of my favorite albums, Blues for Allah, was a nearly automatic success with me. The band was really cooking on that CD too, although in an entirely different mode than Without a Net. (I guess their year off and the new approach to composing music on the album had all the boys and Donna Jean excited.)
And the Dead stuff just got better through the 90s. Sure, Jerry died, and for any Deadhead—even me—that’s tragic, but for someone like me, who had never gone to a Dead concert, although I had been invited back in the early 70s by returning ex-military (and just home from Vietnam) friend Jim Albaugh to a concert in Des Moines, the Vault and Dick’s Picks releases opened up a whole new world of the Grateful Dead for me. I know Janet would agree that the 90s were a Dead time, far more than she would ever have liked.
Before we leave the subject of the music and the post, the “Van” is Van Morrison, whose music I’ve ignored for most of my life. One day when Janet and I were driving home from somewhere to the north, after dark, probably in the winter, listening to NPR, we got to hear a selection from Van’s then-new Hymns to the Silence album. To be utterly trite, it blew us both away. In the summer of 1996, the Morrison albums I was probably thinking of had to be Hymns, Enlightenment or Avalon Sunset. (I wasn’t sure which Morrison album cover to choose for this paragraph, but Avalon Sunset was the most interesting.) Van’s moody spirituality and cool soul sounds appeal to something very deep in me (and it doesn’t hurt that Janet likes him too). Unfortunately, even though I thought about Van in the writing, I don’t really sense his music coloring that piece at all.
I’m also fairly confident that I lie in the piece about remembering that I had played “Tangled Up in Blue” to the Iowa Wesleyan College campus from the top floor of the Chapel—out the window of the light booth. I have a vivid memory of the first time I heard that Dylan song, and I was no longer a college student when it happened. I was in Cedar Rapids, visiting my second major girlfriend, the one I was thinking about in the piece for yesterday (the one who went unnamed), who was attending Coe College. She headed us downtown on Second or Third Avenue for lunch one Saturday to a vegetarian restaurant (I’d never eaten vegetarian before, at that point), and I heard this song while eating there. That would have been in late ‘75 or early ‘76, during my second year of teaching, a good while after I had left IWC.
So what was I thinking? Did I have some vague plan I don’t remember now to turn yesterday’s post into a story, possibly a story about a writer? I don’t know at this stage. Everything else in it is entirely true to my life (on the other hand, according to comments to this blog, some people have trouble distinguishing my fiction from my reality).
Two more things
My memories of the attic in the Chapel are especially precious to me, and although only a paragraph or so in yesterday’s piece, are a place I visit in my mind and imagination—not often but with great feeling. Strangely, I even felt nostalgic for the Chapel attic back when I was there, going to school, lighting plays and events, imagining travel through time from the woody, dusty vastness. When people talk about the “best days of their lives,” they’re often thinking back to high school. Not me. The best days of my life would either have to be pretty much now or my college years. And the best thing about my college years in many ways was the time I spent in the Chapel attic. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can tell for you, gentle readers, all the reasons or experiences or events that lead to that statement about my college years in the Chapel—modesty and a sense of decorum inhibit me. But some may remember and understand…
Memory is the greatest time travel device of all. It only leads one way, of course, to the past, but as King Arthur tells Mordred in Camelot, “Sometimes the only real vacation spot is the past.” (I wanted to check my accuracy in that quotation, but the script is not available online—how strange for copyrighted material—and I discover that I was mistaken to believe we owned a DVD of the movie. I am not about to watch our VHS version of Camelot to locate one line almost at the end of the film—besides Janet made noises that she wants to watch it soon.) Of course the time travel of recollection is what I’ve been getting off on in this blog all year. Discovering old poems, reviewing old favorites, revisiting fond and cherished memories (and boring all of you to boot?).
And then there’s the not-exactly-an-ending to Saturday’s piece. Just before quitting in the middle of nothing in particular, thinking about winter, I indulged myself in a fantasy of driving around the county. Being in transit is a marvelous feeling for me. Suspended between responsibilities, one has the freedom to enjoy one’s existence, but it always has to end, and the journey is always so short. Or as I said Saturday…
“There is your ideal lifestyle. Driving. You love that. Especially on a day like this, out in the country on some backroads highway dipping up and down through fields and woods. Surrounded by green and blue. Like you’re suspended between earth and sky. Suspended. Perfect…. Going nowhere, caught between obligations. In transit. Nothing you have to care about or worry about. Wouldn’t be like that in winter, though”
No, it wouldn’t be like that in winter at all.