Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Gypsy Scholar’s message for this 236th Fourth of July

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2012 by Gypsy Scholar

“Welcome. Here comes the Fourth of July, number 236 since the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence and riders on horseback rushed it to the far corners of the thirteen new United States — where it was read aloud to cheering crowds. These days our celebration of the Fourth brings a welcome round of barbecue, camaraderie with friends and family, fireworks, flags, and unbeatable prices at the mall…. So enjoy the fireworks and flags, the barbecues and bargain sales, but but hold this though as well ….” (from Bill Moyers’, 236th Fourth of July 2012 Essay)

The GS, a bit conflicted and ambivalent on this defining national holiday celebration, not quite knowing what to say on FB about it (given the expectation that a lot of folks are going to be expressing something about it),  came across Bonnie K’s posting–thanks Bonnie!–of Bill Moyers’ poignant and sobering reflections of the moral complications/ambiguities of the Founding Fathers, most especially the author of the Declaration of Independence. What else can you say? I mean,  after this, anything I entertained about expressing on FB was kind of flat.

So I figured I would only use my  online blog and FB page to make a disclaimer as to why I did not, as I usually do for the Fourth, present my annual “Independence Day” essay, stating that–other than the weekly radio show fell on the 2nd and therefore too far away–“celebrating” the national holiday was getting more and more problematic (while staying within the restrictions of technically a “music program”). Therefore, this year the GS avoided the entire thing (even mention of the Fourth of July or playing a song in honor of it) and just went ahead with my current series of musical essays on the love affair of Abelard & Heloise (which already had been interrupted for a Summer Solstice special).

Yet this late afternoon, in the midst of the neighborhood’s and community’s celebrations, and after getting online to see what others were writing, the GS had second thoughts about not in any way offering a 4th of July sentiment and at this late time has decided to take a chance and put something out there for my fellow Americans to consider.

Therefore, the spirit of Bill Moyers’ “what’s behind this 4th of July holiday” the GS would add (“So enjoy the fireworks and flags, the barbecues and bargain sales. But hold this thought as well”)–this hope for today. (It’s a page or so out of the my 2011 Independence Day musical essay.)

______________________

The American Revolution, from which this declaration of freedom issued, will prompt an inquiry as to meaning of “revolution” and its attendant concepts of “freedom” and “democracy.” As opposed to the popular view of the American Revolution, Jefferson, Adams and the leading founding fathers had another view: the physical, political revolution was not the primary revolution; it was only the second. No, according to none other than John Adams, the real revolution was in the Imagination of the people:

“As to the history of the revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760–1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.” (John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 24 August 1815)

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations…This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.” (John Adams, letter to H. Niles, February 13, 1818)

This is far from what appears as today’s historical consensus on the meaning of political “revolution.” Yet, this alternate view of the Revolution is attested to by historian Clinton Rossiter (Senior Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University and Pitt Professor of American History at Cambridge) in his book, The First American Revolution (1953):

“The rise of liberty in colonial America owed much to the unfolding of intellectual and cultural forces. The spirit of liberty—whether political, social, religious, or economic—was more deeply embedded in the colonial mind than in colonial institutions . . . . Americans looked forward confidently to the rise of an indigenous culture. In all aspects of colonial thought, in science and education no less than in philosophy and political theory, the trend was to liberty, democracy, originality, and self-reliance. Yet the resolution for independence, the decision to fight as a “separate and equal” people rather than as a loose association of remonstrating colonials, was as much the climax of a revolution as the formal beginning of one, and it is this revolution—the ‘real American Revolution’—that I have sought to describe in this book.”

 

Given that Martin Luther King Jr. believed that “America is essentially a dream,” the main concern of this musical essay, given the desperate state of our “democracy” today, is to recall, through Romantic dreamers, the archaic, visionary, and ecstatic roots of American democracy (i.e., the federation of the indigenous tribes) from its near oblivion. I shall attempt to re-vision political revolution into a more essential and comprehensive phenomenon than most understand by the term. . . . for as I have stated in my Introduction, the outer revolution was only half the story, the program, of Romantic Total Revolution. From the last great struggle for liberty against imperialist warfare in the 1960s—marching with banners reading “All Power to the Imagination”—to the present struggle for liberty against on-going imperialist warfare, it has been the poets and writers—those “Singers & Keepers of the Dream” (and I include here songwriting poets, from folk-rockers to hip-hoppers)—who have once again transcended the narrow and bigoted national anthem of “patriotism” to identify with and give allegiance to a greater, transnational collectivity, and who have prophetically called forth an alternative vision for human social fulfillment.
. . . .
Those whom I’m identifying as Romantic Revolutionaries, then, sought to make a deep change in consciousness the heart of social transformation and, conversely, to make the interior heart the basis for on-going social transformation. This is the great political dream of the poet-dreamers (Blake’s “poet-prophet” of America: A Prophecy) to realize a utopian commonwealth (“a state or body politic in which supreme power is held by the people”). Perhaps, with this ideal in mind, we can now establish a truly new political “third party” in America, one based on Emerson’s nineteenth-century “Idealist Party” and its successor in the nineteen-sixties, “the Party of Eros.” Since it brings together ideas and social activism with spirituality, social justice with personal authenticity, and politics with love (the Platonic eros), we could call this alternative political party, “The Order of the Unified Heart” (L. C.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhtHDLeeAfE

Advertisements

Imagine There’s No Music Censorship: “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 by Gypsy Scholar

I’m writing this because  someone on FB today (1/2/12) posted a link to an article entitled New state bill could make it illegal to sing national anthem ‘inappropriately’. (Introduced by a Republican senator from Indiana, the bill would set specific “performance standards” for singing and playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at any event sponsored by public schools and state universities.)

Singing “inappropriate words” for the National Anthem reminded me of my response to hearing rapper Cee Lo Green’s perverted rendition of John Lennon’s anthem-song ‘Imagine,’ sung to the nation on NBC’s New Years Eve from Times Square. Instead of singing “nothing to kill or die for/ and no religion too” as Lennon wrote, Green changed the lyrics to “nothing to kill or die for/ and all religion’s true.” What about these “inappropriate words” [lyrics]?

Now I know that there are those who are going to think I’m overreacting and making a federal case out of this (à la the state bill on singing the National Anthem “inappropriately”), I venture to say that Mr Cee Lo Green committed a kind of CENSORSHIP regarding Lennon’s song (which is sort of an anthem for some of us). Of course, some will always say: “Hey it’s a free country and Mr Cee Lo can sing the song in any way he wants, so what’s the big deal?”

“A free country,” where you can say–or sing–anything you want. Really? The reason I call Mr. Cee Lo’s low-blow rendition of ‘Imagine’ a form of censorship is that I definitely remember that Lennon and the Beatles suffered the censorship of their music from 1966 on. So I see Cee Lo’s rendition is in this greater context. Speaking about the American social context of music censorship (of which Frank Zappa led the fight against), we need to remember–and those too young to remember need to be informed–about the history of rock-music censorship. The history of banned and censored music is, unfortunately, as long and varied as the history of music itself. Wherever there’s great art being made, the morality police are always close by. “Free country, free speech”?

Rock’n’roll was from the get-go censored; condemned as “the devil’s music” by the Christian reactionaries, including the KKK. Thus when Elvis was on the Ed Sullivan show his gyrations had stirred up enough controversy across America that CBS censors demanded he be shot only from the waist up only. When the Doors later appeared on the same show the CBS network censors demanded that lead singer Jim Morrison change the lyrics to their hit single ‘Light My Fire’ by altering the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” before the band performed the song live on September 17, 1967. However, Morrison sang the original line, and on live television with no delay, CBS was powerless to stop it. They were banned from the show forever. In 1963 Bob Dylan walked off the Sullivan Show when CBS censors balked at his song “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues.”

Though the Beatles appeared on the Sullivan Show in 1964 and never had to deal with CBS censorship, they certainly had their major share of it in 1966, when in an interview published in The London Evening Standard, John Lennon commented that “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” This was quoted by the American teen magazine, Datebook, five months later in August 1966. Taken out of context and twisted, his remark incited a worldwide frenzy of angry Christian religious backlash. The Beatles’ records were publicly burned, press conferences were cancelled and threats were made. The protest spread to other countries including Mexico, South Africa and Spain; there were anti-Beatles demonstrations and their music was banned on radio stations. The controversy erupted on the eve of the group’s US tour, their concerts were picketed (including the Christian Ku Klux Klan), and the anger and scale of the reaction led their manager, Brian Epstein, to consider canceling the tour. From the close of the 1966 tour until their break-up in 1970, they never played another commercial concert.

But this censorship wasn’t the end of the conservative Christian moral crusade–and its sympathizers in the media–against John Lennon. After the release of his song ‘Imagine’ in 1971, radio stations made it a practice to edit the song to remove or obscure the line “and no religion too.” One station even went as far as to change the line to “and one religion too.” I also recall that ‘Imagine’ was also one of the songs censored on radio stations after 2001. The biggest radio network, Clear Channel, included the song on its list of 150 “questionable” (i.e., banned) songs to its multitude of programmers in the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks. Then there was TV censorship. Fox’s American Idol censored the song in 2010; someone sang ‘Imagine,’ except for one line–“and no religion too.”

Thus, in point of fact, CEE LO’S HANDLING OF ‘IMAGINE’ IS ONLY THE LATEST EPISODE, ALBEIT ON A GRAND SCALE, OF THE NOTORIOUS SONG’S CENSORSHIP.

Don’t get me wrong, my problem isn’t that I would in turn censor those who have “religion.” Great for them! No, my problem is the censorship of those of us who want to be free not to have it and dare to say so–even in a song! Indeed, to dream of someday be free of having it crammed down our civil throats as social policy in a so-called “secular society.” If Cee Lo didn’t like the “message” of the problematic song, then he just didn’t have to sing it; he could have chosen another instead for New Years Eve –say, Phil Och’s ‘Love Me, I’m A Liberal.’ Cee Lo couldn’t understand why Lennon fans were outraged and tweeted: “Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys! I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted that’s all.”  At best, this excuse is hypocritical, since in the American “world” those whose beliefs have been historically repressed–and censored–have been atheists, or all those who don’t share the Christian worldview. And what about the beliefs of the John Lennons of the world? You can’t allow them to voice critical of your “religion”? (And, if it doesn’t sound too paranoid, given that this did go down for the start of the new year of 2012, could this be symbolic/prophetic of what’s to come?)

Again, I don’t want to be misunderstood in my position here. It’s not coming from an angry, intolerant atheist type. John Lennon’s song is not, as some fans would assume, merely a political manifesto (of “communism” and etc.); i.e., propaganda in the form of verse. It’s a work of art and, therefore, transcends merely literal interpretation. In the same way as, say, MLK’s “Dream Speech” is prophetic. Utopian religio-literary visions (“You can say that I’m a dreamer …”) of an “ideal society” are open to deeper interpretation. Now, my position on today’s thorny issue of religion vs. irreligion, or theism vs. atheism, is complicated; too complicated to go into here. Suffice to say that in an ideal world there is the “no religion” of the atheist, but there’s also the paradoxical “no religion” of the type that sees the fulfillment of “religion” (the best of human aspirations codified) in its disappearance–there is just no need for it, as life is lived in its fullest. Imagine that! But that’s another (Taoist/Zen/Blake: e.g., “The dark religions have departed and sweet Science reigns”) story for some other post.

So the legal question arises with Cee Lo’s censorship. Does this mean you can record any song, but you need special permission to alter the lyrics? Essentially, yes. Alex Holz at the music licensing and royalty service provider Limelight explains: “Artists can be afforded ‘some’ leeway in adapting a track to your band’s style (so long as you don’t alter the fundamental character of the work), though lyric changes/alterations typically require direct permission from the publisher as a derivative work. Every songwriter/publisher/song is unique and requirements vary.” Given that Cee Lo’s perverted rendition of ‘Imagine’ is against the entire spirit of the song and not just the letter of it (with one verse), I would assume (if the copyright applies to a TV performance too) that what Cee Lo did on New Years Eve was not only an artistic travesty, but technically “illegal.

Thinking about this disgusting December act of New Year 2012 musical censorship, one final reflection on the matter. John Lennon was murdered on 8 December 1980 by Mark David Chapman, who had become a born-again Christian in 1970, and was supposedly incensed by Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark, calling it blasphemy. But it wasn’t just this ancient history. Guess what song really provoked him? Chapman later stated that he was further enraged by the songs ‘God,’ and ‘Imagine’—even singing the latter with the altered lyric: “Imagine John Lennon dead.” It figures–this little song goes against everything Amerika has become. Did John Lennon die because of a song? “Nothing to kill or die for”–except a song! (This begs the question nobody wants to deal with: Was Chapman a manchurian candidate?)

So I dare venture this observation: First they have to assassinate the politically radical songwriter (preparing for a comeback and having the potential to arouse large numbers of people)–then make sure his message is likewise assassinated!

PS: As I finished writing this, I saw two TV shows emphasize the concept of “imagine.” The first was a highlight of the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade, which feature “Imagination” as its theme this year. The second was the Ebert Presents at the Movies show, which featured a rundown of the best movies of the year: “I think that if there’s one thread that runs through the best movies of 2011 … is that they’re all, to a certain degree, about imagination and about how we imagine ourselves.”  Something’s going on here!

cee-lo-green-outrages-john-lennon-fans-by-changing-lyrics-to-imagine-20120102

How The Gypsy Scholar Discovered A Very Odd Lughnasadh Ritual on the Way Home After His Program August 1, 2011, 3 a.m.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 2, 2011 by Gypsy Scholar

Celebrate Community. In an age where so many of us feel disconnected from one another, the high days of August are an ideal time to come together with friends and neighbors to foster a sense of community. Lugh, as the Celtic Mercury, presides over communication, travel, and gatherings where there is a creative interchange of ideas. –Mara Freeman, Celtic Folklorist & Storyteller

It happened during the late-night/early-morning hours of August 1, when the GS was driving home from just having presented his Lughnasadh/Lammas [pronounced: loo-nuh-suh] special for the Celtic cross-quarter festival. He suddenly had to pull off to the side of the lonely mountain road because of a flat tire. “Goddamnit!” he muttered to himself, as he got out of the car to assess the situation. This was definitely not how he had planned to spend his time on this festival morning. But it was either change the flat tire or walk the rest of the way home.

After some futile consideration about his unfortunate situation, he reluctantly found the jack and lug-wrench and took the spare tire out of the trunk. Then he checked himself. Remembering something he read while researching the spirituality of Celtic cross-quarter days, he thought he’d try to have a positive attitude and take his roadside misfortune as a learning opportunity. So, thinking about the alleged power of positive thinking, he asked himself: “What would Deepak Chopra do in this situation?” Answer: He’d take his gold-club AAA membership card out of his bulging wallet and have a tow-truck there in 20 minutes, or call upon his guardian angel—whoever shows up first! “Now stop that,” he chastised himself, “sarcasm will get you nowhere in this situation!”

So after this minor lapse into his old emotional patterns, the GS tried to make sense about why this was happening on Lughnasadh (of all days) and prepare himself to make the best of a bad situation. But he couldn’t help but wonder, out here on this lonely mountain road at this time of night on Lughnasadh: “Were there forces beyond his control that landed him here … like the Celtic faeries he had told about on radio? Were they more than just an old Irish fairytale?—mischievous faeries roaming about during this in-between time, beginning at midnight, the witching hour. [“Celtic Celebrations involved feasting, plays and processions in costume, music and dancing, and the all-around suspension of everyday rules. These were delicious but also dangerous times, when the gates of the Otherworld opened wide, faery hosts roamed abroad, and the adventurous—or foolhardy—could slip into their magic realms. The unwary traveler could be “taken” by the faery host ….”] In other words (or verses), whatever the reason for being stranded out here, the GS was determined to look on the “bright side … of the road.” [Name of Van song he had played on his program.]

As he sized up what it would take to get the flat tire off, he hit upon an idea—since this was happening during the first hours of Lughnasadh, why not make a ritual action out of it? (He was remembering his research—and he had done a lot on Celtic-Irish mythology—; how, at the end of describing the traditional rituals and blessings of the various Celtic cross-quarter days, the folklorist would suggest creative ways of devising one’s own.) This sounded good, but he could see the problem he was going to have in squaring the special ritual objects of Lughnasadh with a tire, tire-jack, and a lug-wrench. Undaunted, he proceeded to roll up his sleeves and put his metaphorical-thinking cap on his head. With some difficulty, he managed to get the damaged tire, with the big hole in it, off and the spare one on. (He had to get his other lug-wrench out of the trunk, the one with the longer arm for more torque in order to loosen the seemingly immovable lug-nuts.)

It was after replacing the final of the four lug-nuts and giving the wheel a spin that it struck him—the connection between what he had been describing on radio about the relationship between the cross-quarter days and the Celtic year. The year is split into dark and light halves. It also is divided into four with the two solstices and the two equinoxes, making the four arms of the solar cross inside the circle of the year. Finally, the four cross-quarter days, placed between these four, forms an eight-spoked figure called the “Celtic Wheel of the Year,” which turns through the seasons. He spun it again: “Yes, of course, the wheel!” The GS ruminated as he watched: “Lughnasadh, the festival of the Celtic sun-god, Lugh, the “bright shining one.” Four wheels to his sun-chariot as it courses though the heavens. Four wheels to this car, with its lug-nuts holding the wheels on ….” The car was still stationary, but the GS’s mind was racing. He began to recall what he’d read out over the airwaves about this cross-quarter festival and its god Lugh.

[Lughnasadh is, literally, “the assembly of Lugh.” Lugh (Lugus to the ancient Gauls) was cognate to the Greco-Roman god Hermes-Mercury, the guardian of roads and travelers. He has also been linked with the Norse god Odin. In Ireland Lugus became Lugh, a renowned hero of the Tuatha De Danann, the divine inhabitants of the western isles. Lugh is associated with hills and high places and is “high-king of the otherworldly hall.” Some scholars believe his name derives from the Old Irish word lug, “light, brightness.” Lugh was also known as “The Bright One with the Strong Hand.” Another name for him was “Lion with the Steady Hand.” This is probably because of the fact that leu in Irish Gaelic means lion, related to the Latin leo. Another of his epithets was “Lugh of the long arm.” Lugh is one of the chief gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann, where he was known as “Many Skilled One,” meaning, like Hermes-Mercury, he was master of many arts. As Lugh Samildanach, he is the “many-gifted god” who appears throughout Irish lore as a helper of heroes. As “Lug of the Long Arm,” he was the father of the famous the warrior-hero of the ancient Irish Ulster cycle, Cuchulain. As the Celtic sun god, Lugh represented the creative, masculine principle of the universe as symbolized by the “stone phallus,” at Tara.]

The crazy (or loony) Lughnasadh logic was relentless, with its wordplay and mythological allusions. It all seemed to fit together in an ironic way. [“An Irish folk-tale calls this season the ‘little lunacy week in August.’”] It slowly dawned upon the GS that he was actually working with all the symbols needed for a Lughnasadh ritualthe wheel, the lug-wrench (which is cross-shaped, like the four main divisions of the wheel of the year), and the lug-nuts (from the stone phallus of Lugh?). [The GS later searched for images of the Irish sun god Lugh. He found one from an Irish archeological site, where Lugh was carved on a stone wall. Although it was seriously deteriorated, one could still make out a staff or spear that looked something like a L-shaped lug-wrench!) These were, the GS realized, the lug-nuts of Lug! [His name derives from the Old Irish word lug, “light, brightness.”] These lug-nuts are essential, since they serve to keep of wheels on the vehicle for locomotion. [“A lug nut is a fastener, specifically a nut, used to secure a wheel on a vehicle.”] The GS also remembered what his car manual had pointed out about them; that they are in a “star pattern.” [“Lug nuts must be installed in an alternating pattern, commonly referred to as a star pattern.”] As the GS gazed up from the hill to the clear night sky, a pattern of weird associations played off in his mind: Star Patterns … the Celtic Wheel of the Year, with its cross-quarter festivals … Lug of the Long Arm…. [“Originally, these great turning points of the year were not precisely marked on a calendar but reckoned from the careful observation of stars … by Druid astronomers…. These Celtic festivals mark powerful nodes of the year, often termed “liminal,” from the Latin word limen, meaning ‘threshold’ …. These ‘cross-quarter’ days are particularly potent, being referred to as the ‘four gates of power,’ which are special ‘in-between’ times when the seen and unseen worlds intersected and everyday rules were suspended. The normal world was turned upside down ….”] Star Patterns … the Pentangle symbol of neo-pagan religion. Thus, to the GS, it truly seemed that he had crossed some “threshold” and everything, by some loony Lughnasadh logic, was turned upside down.

“Aum! Hek! Wal! Ak! Lug! Mor! Ma!” O Lugh!, guardian of roads and travelers, “Lion with the Steady Hand” and “Lugh of the Long Arm” and “Lugh the Bright One with the Strong Hand.” (Oh holy tire, I won’t have my back pulled!) O Lugh, bright tire-changer of the gods! O Lugh!, you are truly the “Many Skilled One.”

[Now you might think this is silly, but if, in Ulysses, James Joyce can have a father-god whose symbols include a bicycle pump (“He smites with his bicycle pump”), then surely the GS can have his father-god with a lug-wrench!]

Suddenly, it hit him, like the four headlights of a semi-trailer truck from around the bend. The GS said to himself: “This is a Lughnasadh ritual about changing one of the four main wheels of this soul. (As he remembered that the body-mind-soul was, both in ancient myth and modern dream, symbolized as a chariot or some other vehicle.) In other words, the wheel that represents the GS’s masculine energy has become deflated (i.e., depressed) lacking air (pneuma = spirit), and it can no longer carry him where he needs to go. He remembered that Lughnasadh is a particularly powerful and fruitful time of creative masculine sun-energy. Thus, he must use his strong masculine Leo-Leu energy to replace his depressed will power with a spiritually fulfilled will power. Reflecting on all this, the GS wondered if this realization could qualify as some sort of mini born-again pagan experience. (Would this mean the GS had become a lug-nut for Lugh?) Not on the road to Damascus, but on the road home (with “the god of roads and travelers”) to Bonnie Doon. (How’s that for a Celtic place-name?)

As the GS got back into his vehicle, he didn’t need to turn on the radio to hear music, because a song began playing in his head:

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go / where it will go / I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go / I’m taking my time for a number of things /  that weren’t important yesterday / and I still go ….

[He didn’t know why this song, but the GS did play a Beetles song that night: “The Sun King,” which he took to be about Lugh: “He is represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. As the Celtic sun god, his name is related to the Latin lux, or, ‘light’, and means ‘the shining one.’” The GS later looked up the history of the Beetles song “Fixing A Hole”: “Paul McCartney wrote this after fixing the roof on his farm in Scotland. McCartney said the song was ‘about the hole in the road where the rain gets in, a good old analogy.’” A good old analogy indeed!—“in the road” and “fixing the roof … in Scotland,” a Celtic country].

Back on the road toward home, the GS mused: “Now there’s a Lughnasadh ritual I hadn’t planned on!” Thus the GS discovered that the Celtic folklorists (whom he quoted on his program) were right: there are indeed powerful unseen forces on these liminal—in-between time—festivals.

Now the GS’s little story comes to an end. And the only thing left is for his readers to figure out is whether the GS is engaging in some sort of self-depreciating, anti-new-age humor, or is he getting at something serious about the festival of Lughnasadh? (It is necessary to point out here that this is in keeping with what is also said about Lugh: “He appears in folklore as a trickster, able to change forms.”) Before considering this, the GS suggests that readers first ask themselves whether James Joyce was getting at anything serious, or just pulling our legs, in his satire on Celtic and Indian mythology from Ulysses (Ulysses, who was encountering many obstacles on his quest toward home):

MANANAUN MACLIR: (With a voice of waves) Aum! Hek! Wal! Ak! Lub! Mor! Ma! White yoghin of the gods. Occult pimander of Hermes Trismegistos. (With a voice of whistling seawind) Punarjanam patsypunjaub! I won’t have my leg pulled. It has been said by one: beware the left, the cult of Shakti. (With a cry of stormbirds) Shakti Shiva, darkhidden Father! (He smites with his bicycle pump the crayfish in his left hand. On its cooperative dial glow the twelve signs of the zodiac. He wails with the vehemence of the ocean.) Aum! Baum! Pyjaum! I am the light of the homestead! I am the dreamery creamery butter.

[This last is a reference to the Hindu “Nectar of Immortality,” the Amrit. Joyce plays with Irish and Indian mythology in Ulysses when he has Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom quoting to each other. Furthermore, Ulysses Annotated (1988) documents Joyce’s scrambled free association technique based upon his knowledge of Irish mythology. And another study, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (1960), sees Joyce’s Sir Lout based upon “Lug of the long arm—the Ildana or ‘master of many arts.’”]

The Soundtrack: From Film to Essay

Posted in Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 by Gypsy Scholar

Ideas come along in the strangest way when you just pay attention . . . . The music has to marry with the picture and enhance it. . . . When it marries, you can feel it. The thing jumps; ‘a whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ kind of thing. –David Lynch, “Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity”

 Here’s to the best words in the right place at the perfect time to the human mind blown up and refined. / Here’s to long conversations and the philosophical ramifications of a beautiful day… / Here’s to the was you been, to the is you in, to what’s deep in deep and what’s down and down / to the lost and the blind, and the almost found. / Here’s to somebody within the sound of your voice this morning. / Here’s to somebody who can’t be within the sound of your voice tonight. / Here’s to a light buzz in your head, and a soundtrack in your mind / going on and on, and on and on and on—like a good time… –Sekou Sundiata, “Shout Out”

As listeners to the Tower of Song program know, the Gypsy Scholar’s radio essays are put to music, combining “Argument & Song”—thus the radio-text called the “Essay-with-Soundtrack.” (For an in-depth explanation of what this is all about, see the GS’s “Re-Vision Radio Manifesto & Visionary Recital” on his Program Guide, page 4, of his website.)  But what listeners don’t know is how the GS came to invent this unique radio-text. It was his interest and passion for the way soundtracks were used in films, which became elucidated when he began attending the history of film classes in college. Films of the late 60s and 70s, with their sixties music soundtracks, especially communicated the power and possibilities of the combo of image, dialogue, and music. (I should also just mention the initial influence of the poetry of the spoken-word set to background music—as in Jack Kerouac’s jazz-reading experiments—and later the spoken-word style of rap and hip-hop—especially the work of the late Sekou Sundiata, African-American poet and performer, as well as a teacher at The New School in New York City, whose famous students included musicians like Ani DiFranco.)

If my memory serves me well, the very first film that profoundly affected me with its 60s popular music soundtrack was Mike Nichol’s The Graduate (1967), which used songs from Simon and Garfunkel. But the first movie that really blew my mind was Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), because it actually had an entire music score adapted to it from the songs of my favorite modern troubadour, Leonard Cohen—awesome!

Through the intervening years, I found that the films I particularly enjoyed were those that not only had folk-rock and rock soundtracks, but those films that knew how to make the best of them—when and how they introduced the song. I mean, if a film introduced a song, like a love-song, at the perfect moment, potting it up slowly, and then taking over—no dialogue over it; the song is foreground and just plays, while the actions of the characters on screen become the imagistic background—, I would have something close to a mystical experience! Thus, I realized that the best way to use a soundtrack was to have the song connect and amplify the emotion of the scene as well as sum up its narrative content, driving the meaning home. (So films that used songs merely as interludes, which could have been any song, were much less interesting to me.) The last film that did this wonderfully was John Sayles’ Limbo, using Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day.” I have noticed that, in the last two decades of filmmaking, a few directors just love to use Van Morrison’s music for their love stories. I have seen at least three films in the genre of “Romantic Comedies” whose last scene of union between the two lovers goes out with a Van song, and into the credits—totally awesome! It makes you hear the song in a totally new way (which is what the GS tries to do with the way he con-textual-izes the songs for his musical essays). Therefore, I have been inspired by and learned a great deal from film soundtracks. (And I have even found new songs to play for my musical essays from film soundtracks.)

These days, what fascinates me is the way film and music seems to have perfectly merged—the soundtrack no longer secondary to the film. Once more, I love intellectual discussions about music’s relation to film. That is why, when I heard KUSP’s Robert Pollie interview composer Philip Glass, I listened with great expectation. I wasn’t disappointed. So I have transcribed a portion of that interview (7/25/11), which followed my program, and offer it here for your edification.

In August 2011, Glass will present a series of music, dance, and theater performances as part of the Days and Nights Festival, as well as a screening of Dracula with Glass’ score. In 1999, he finished a new soundtrack for the 1931 horror film, Dracula. Glass is commenting on this film and its score.

PG: If anyone’s interested in knowing what music does for film, it’s an interesting exercise to see Dracula without the music and then see it with the music. Then ask yourself the question, what does the music do, and you’ll figure that out right away.

RP: Well, a lot of the mass audience knows you at least as well from your movie scores as they do from, say, your concert works; going, you know, back to Koyaanisqatsi.

PG: That’s right! And that, of course, is the point—you’re two decimal points away from a concert audience. . . .

RP: When I think of what your music brought to that movie—I mean, that movie is inconceivable without your music. But even films that you could imagine without your music they get a layer of uh … emotional urgency and weight from your music.

PG: There’s that, and there’s another side to it too. Sometimes movies can be in deep trouble, because the actual structure of the film is so confusing that you can’t follow it. And, in that case, the music can actually work it out for you. Look at Hours: three stories, three different scenes, one after the other—abc, abc, abc. Three stories: one in Los Angeles, one in London, one in New York—that’s the whole movie. And what I was able to do with that score was to put one piece of music to run between the three scenes. . . . And that pulled the movie together. . . making it viewable and comprehensible. Mishima was another film, which had big problems with the structure because of the complexity of it. Again, the Mishima score. So one way that music can function—it doesn’t always, but it can—is to actually articulate the dramatic structure of a film. I mean, that sounds like a fancy way of saying it makes the movie make sense.

RP: Wow, that’s really interesting. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it that way.

Yes, that’s really interesting!—and the GS has actually thought of it! Well, at least in terms of putting his essays to music (i.e., entire songs interspersed, along with constant background music, that amplify their meaning—“the philosophical ramifications”). Now that I’ve heard what Philip Glass has to say about convoluted and therefore problematic films given coherence by music soundtracks—hey, I can extrapolate it to my own form of art (“scholarship as performance art”: the “ability to play with knowledge and create a collage of ideas or intellectual mind-jazz”) and rest assured that I have the music to fall back on for my problematic essays to “make sense”!

_________________________________________________________

Note: If anyone thinks I’m comparing apples with oranges in associating a modern classical composer like Philip Glass with popular song, I present the following relevant bio on him:

Aside from composing in the Western classical tradition, his music has ties to rock, ambient music, electronic music, and world music. Early admirers of his minimalism include musicians Brian Eno and David Bowie, who attended an early performance of the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1973. In the 1990s, Glass composed the aforementioned symphonies Low (1992) and Heroes (1996), thematically derived from the Bowie-Eno collaboration albums Low and Heroes (composed in late 1970s Berlin). Philip Glass has collaborated with recording artists such as Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, Mick Jagger, Leonard Cohen, David Byrne, Uakti, Natalie Merchant, and Aphex Twin. Glass’s compositional influence extends to musicians such as Mike Oldfield (who included parts from Glass’s North Star in Platinum), and bands such as Tangerine Dream and Talking Heads. Philip Glass and his sound designer Kurt Munkacsi produced the American post-punk/new wave band Polyrock (1978 to the mid-1980s), as well as the recording of John Moran’s The Manson Family (An Opera) in 1991, which featured punk legend Iggy Pop, and a second (unreleased) recording of Moran’s work featuring poet Allen Ginsberg.

By the way, I have the CD of the music Glass composed for Leonard Cohen’s poetry, Book of Longing (2006), some of which I’ve played on my program. (Following the series of live performances which included Glass on keyboards, Cohen’s recorded spoken text, four voices and other instruments, and as well the screenings of Cohen’s artworks and drawings, Glass’ label, Orange Mountain Music, released a double CD with the recording of the work, entitled Book of Longing: A Song Cycle based on the Poetry and Artwork of Leonard Cohen.)

Our Carnivalesque Life Forever in Love & Politics: Total Revolution

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2011 by Gypsy Scholar

Sandy the fireworks are hailin’ over Little Eden tonight / Forcin’ a light into all those stoned-out faces left / stranded on this fourth of July … / Sandy the aurora is risin’ behind us / The pier lights our carnival life forever / Love me tonight for I may never see you again … / Sandy the aurora’s rising behind us / The pier lights our carnival life forever / Oh love me tonight and I promise I’ll love you forever. 

This concerns the GS’s current musical essay, “Romantic Total Revolution: The Democracy Of Soul & The Goddess Of Liberty; An Essay in Argument & Song for the 235th Birthday of America. Part I.”

About the third song played, Bruce Springsteen’s “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” The GS has to admit that it wasn’t (except for the title) strictly keeping to the musical essay’s serious theme of “revolution,” but sometimes the GS has to make concessions with music selections. He means concessions in the sense of (1) his favorite Troubadour-theme love songs (which theme was last week, June 27, and which will start up again after this Independence Day series) and (2) ordinary kinds of summer 4th of July experiences of young lovers (especially when you live or visit a seaside town like Santa Cruz and its boardwalk—and most especially if your girlfriend’s name was Sandy!).  So the GS apologizes to listeners who may have found too much of a pop love-song to keep the theme of the deeper meaning of Independence Day.

The GS’s only excuse (besides a secret high-school nostalgia—and nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!) is that he was trying to maintain, as he sometimes does, a referential slender continuity going between different musical essays. (So a song is not totally out of place—out of context—in different essays and can serve a dual-purpose function. For example, in the previous musical essay series, “The Troubadours & Impossible Love,” the GS used a special lead-in to introduce some unrequited love songs. This was a thematic quotation, in the manner of a prose refrain, that the GS used for all three installments {6/6 – 6/27}. It began by talking about a revolution. {See below, ending sentence.*}) This unrequited love-song by Springsteen was, after all, set up by the GS alluding to the Troubadour theme of the previous musical essays (“Impossible Love”) at the beginning of this 4th of July musical essay with the last epigraph tacked on to the previous three of political import: “The Troubadours used the song as a news and political commentary device.” (As the GS has explained before, the troubadours not only invented the genre of Western love-song [canso], but also the genre of political or moral commentary song [sirventes].)

Now sometimes, like our finest sixties songs, the troubadours mixed the erotic and the social message in the same song.  So, for instance, if you have a lyric like “lights our carnival life forever” (not that Springsteen didn’t consciously intended as anything but a love lyric)—a the GS thinks back to his May Day musical essays for the beginning of the summer season (and don’t forget the 4th of July is, after all, a summer holiday) and the theme of Carnival. But what does “carnival” have to do with such a serious theme of this present musical essay of political revolution? Well, as the GS was at pains to point out, “carnival” was connected to the May Day festivities of turning the social order upside-down (literally, “revolution”) during this time of “rituals of social reversal” (presided over by the “Lord of Misrule,” like Robin Hood), which by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries became more and more of an occasion for spontaneous uprisings of the common people to give voice to their grievances against the nobility. This is why the ancient symbol of paganesque May Day, the maypole, became the lightening rod for popular uprisings, until they were finally outlawed in Puritan England in the 1600’s and by the Catholic Church in the 1700’s.  Carnivalesque defined a liberating time in the restrained culture of feudal Northern Europe when hierarchic differences in rank and status were suspended.

(Thus the sociological term “carnivalesque” was coined in 1929 and again in 1965: “an instance of merrymaking, feasting, or masquerading marked by an often mocking or satirical challenge to authority and the traditional social hierarchy;” “an instance that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humor and chaos;” “social hierarchies of everyday life—their solemnities and pieties and etiquettes, as well as all ready-made truths—are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies;” through the carnival and carnivalesque the world is turned-upside-down, and thus, fools become wise, kings become beggars; opposites are mingled.”)

To get back to the questionable Springsteen song, the GS plays on a double meaning of the lyrics, “our carnival [carnivalesque] life forever,” since this odd choice will actually serve to both go back and reconnect with the May Day program series (still available for listening on the “Archived Essays” page) and look forward to the further installments of this Independence Day series. So please stay tuned for the next installments of this Independence Day series, where the GS will move forward by going back to the previous musical essay series for May Day and bring out the significance of the carnivalesque maypole to see what it has to do with the vision and symbols of revolutionary America and its red-white-and-blue “carnival life forever” out of Total Revolution.

And now the GS is thinking of another meaning to the title of this piece, “Our Carnivalesque Life Forever in Love and Politics: Total Revolution.” (Politics and Love?) And he is remembering the following citation he used in the Independence Day musical essay to bring in the eighth song: “Emerson’s 1830’s Idealist Party in American party politics was made up of those who claimed the inseparability [a la Plato] of philosophy (philosophia), politics (polis), and love (eros).” Yes, revolutions in love and politics–the 1960’s “Party of Eros.”

You see, the GS lives in a Noosphere (“sphere of human thought;” a dimensional step up from the cybersphere of the Tower of Song website) where it oftentimes feels as if everything is connected to everything else kind of universe. So the question is: Was the GS making a concession with the love-song, or a subliminal connection?

*“There is no cure for impossible love when it revolutionizes our lives….” 

Carnivalesque

Summer Solstice & Neo-Pagan “Religion”: An Infernal Reading

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2011 by Gypsy Scholar

But I arose and sought for the mill, & there I found my Angel, who surprised, asked me how I escaped [“the infinite Abyss”]? I answer’d: “All that we saw was owing to your metaphysics; for when you went away, I found myself  on a bank by moonlight hearing a harper But now that we have seen my eternal lot, shall I shew you yours? …”

Note: This Angel, who is now A Devil, is my particular friend; we often rad the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense, which the world shall have if they behave well.

–William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

These are my reflections on the news story out of Great Britain about the Druids at Stonehenge (6/21) getting legal status for a bona fide “mainstream faith” (which I read on the air on 6/20 in the middle of my “Summer Solstice 2011” musical essay).

{“Rant Alert”}

As a student of religion & philosophy in college, I was taught an evolutionary hierarchical model of the history of religion that put “primitive religions” at the bottom and the axial-age religions (we know today) at the top. According to this model, the early tribal religions and the ancient polytheistic religions were all moving towards monotheism–the pinnacle of sophisticated religious systems.

Of course, what I wasn’t told was that this academic model remained beholden to the built-in bias of Christian theology (the original structure for the teaching of the history of religion in the early universities and not just the seminaries), since the early church fathers had to deal with the embarrassing parallels of the Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) pagan “mystery religions,” with their dying-and-reborn gods. Thus, these were seen as either mockeries of the One True Religion put there by the Devi or, at best, “mythologies” that were nice tries until Christianity finally got it right; until the real, “historical” savior appeared. This was religion at it’s best. This was the theological legacy in the secular establishment. However, by the time I graduated, this pre-1960’s model had been seriously challenged (by scholars like Mircea Eliade, with his work on archaic religions like shamanism).

As I have continued my interest in the phenomenon of “religion,” I have come to the view that the old model got it ass-backwards. Again, religions with many gods (polytheism) were seen as inferior to the religions of one God (monotheism). (I’m simplifying a bit, since there are different distinctions/kinds of polytheism and monotheism.) For instance, polytheistic religions systems have a richer and deeper psychological reflection in the human soul, and speak to the psyche in archetypal images and stories. Plus, polytheistic systems tend to make of a more pluralistic world view, whereas the monotheistic systems tend to demand one truth, one point of view, which stifles diversity. As an early pioneer in the history of religions, James Henry Breasted, put it: “Monotheism is imperialism in religion.” (This also has social implications for tolerance in what William James called a “Pluralistic Universe.”)

I now see that all nature-based religions (like the Celtic ones of Europe and like the ones which originated on this continent with Native Americans), are so much more spiritually complex and sophisticated that they almost seem to make the monotheistic big three, especially Christianity, look like religion for spiritual adolescents. Not only that, but they have the added advantage of being able to underpin with deep spirituality the kind of world-view that will foster and give spiritual meaning to the environmental movement. In this country, the neo-pagan religion of Wicca shows promise in this direction.

[I’m obliged here, in the interest of full disclosure, to point out that I say these things not as any kind of “believer.” I say them as a philosophical non-theist gnostic-agnostic and a “political” atheist. (I will the glad to explain myself here upon request.) This means, also, that the image tagged on to this post is not representative of my “religion”–ah, now that’s a term, depending on how you define it (based upon your model of it), which seems to be behind the whole crux/cross of the controversy in England (and America). In other words, I’ve never made a home altar and placed this image on it, nor have I ever hung one in my front window. (Though, admittedly, I might entertain the idea of one in, say, stained glass to bring out its pleasing aesthetic quality, to hang on my porch just to alarm the neighbors and passersby on Summer Solstice 🙂 I only attach it here to go with the news story. (And because I used it as one image among many for my radio program musical essay for the Summer Solstice. See entry below.) So I hope that what I have said about “religion” isn’t interpreted to be summed up in the this image (as provocative as it may be) and certain people get all, you know . . . cross with me and ride my ass about Christianity.]

It’s not my intention here to argue about whether or not the neo-Druids, or any other neo-pagan group in England, are in fact “serious” alternative religion (or “cult” as some would prefer to call them in depreciation; but let us remember that an organized world-religion, like Christianism, is just a “cult” (one among many in the Roman culturally pluralistic world) that made it big when its political fortunes turned with Emperor Constantine, who made this “Jesus cult” the state religion). But I can say that I believe that one thing this new legal ruling in favor of neo-Druidism in England means is that the corner has been turned on the cultural hegemony of having the market cornered; the old crypto-christian prejudice of “we have religion and you don’t”–and, “once more, we’re tax exempt.”

And it will remain to be seen if the neo-Druid “church” will abuse this government exemption as much as the Christian ones have–you know, the ones that cop to one of the main lessons of their founder. How does that go again? Something about “woe to you hypocrites” who would “cast the first stone,” right?) [Jesus Christ! Now I’m forced to slightly amend my disclosure above about not being a “believer.” Because, when I think of how this upstart Nazarene prophet’s special dislike for religious hypocrites matches my own, I wonder if that alone makes me a follower …]

But, then again, didn’t one of my favorite English poets (who I also studied as a Lit. major along with my Religious Studies) answer this question when this upstart poetic “Christian” (as he called himself–other “Christians,” as he noted, just called him “madman”–) complicated the entire issue? (1) A famous Poem-Argument relates to his readers what happened when an angel was sent down to show him his eternal punishment for his blasphemies (e.g., “Jesus died as an Unbeliever”. “I tell you no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments …. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules.”)–his “eternal lot”–and his trials and tribulations along the way. (2) At the very opening of “The Everlasting Gospel” he had to disclose his antinomian “religious” position. “Hear the voice of the Bard!”:

“The Vision of Christ that thou dost see / Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy . . . Both read the Bible day and night, / But thou read’st black where I read white.”

As is my style, I digress. My point here? In other words, when the GS dares to assert that the dominant model of “religion” has got its priorities “ass-backward,” this is what I mean. Now, keeping with William Blake’s critical model of “religion” (“Aged Ignorance / Does thy God O Priest take such vengeance as this?” i.e., not Witchcraft, as charged in the article, but “Priestcraft”), the big difference in the both the orthodox and fundamentalist readings of the Bible (which biblical interpretation of post-18th-century hermeneutics heavily borrowed from the principles and methods of “literary criticism”–thus the whole issue of “literal” vs. “metaphorical” interpretation and “one” interpretation or “many” interpretations of the Book–mono-theistic or poly-theistic styles of interpretation?) is that they have, metaphorically speaking, got the story of the new messiah-to-be come riding processionally into Rome on a donkey all wrong–they got him riding backwards! And, consequently, ever since we’ve been riding backwards along the historical road of civilization; a backwards attitude to our relationship to the world and its environment–as any true tree-hugging/worshipping Druid-bard/shaman or Native American shaman will be the first to tell you.

So, to be utterly optimistic, maybe at Summer Solstice, we’re all at heart neo-pagans for one day. So on this Summer Solstice 2011, who’s with me in giving a thumbs up and an encouraging shout-out to those neo-Druids at Stonehenge?

Excuse the GS, for he is going to find some pleasant green bank of a river to sit by and listen to music on this Summer Solstice day.

Supreme Court Justices’ Writing Tips …

Posted in Uncategorized on June 17, 2011 by Gypsy Scholar

How To Write Supreme Court Decisions In Favor of “We The People” Corporations

“How To Write Supreme Court Decisions In Favor of ‘We The People’ Corporations” is the GS’s response to hearing NPR’s Morning Edition (to which the GS does a promo before he leaves the air) at 3:00 am  (6/13). It was the story-segment about the new “Writing Tips from the Supreme Court Justices.” The GS, fancying himself as a kind of amateur writer (of “radio-text”), can’t wait to get some of these writing tips from such an august and sagacious body of our government—G-d knows he’s always trying to improve his writing (but is too lazy to actually study the super-thick Chicago Manual of Style)!

So driving home from the radio station, the GS hears the lead-in to this story—it’s about words on the page; something magical about words on the page: “Most of the U.S. Supreme Court’s work is in writing. The words on the page become the law of the land ….” Oh yeah, the passion for the word-on-the-page—I can’t resist! (Maybe even the music that’s resonating there to be found! “Rave-on John Donne / rave-on words on printed page / rave-on, rave-on, rave-on Mr. Yeats / rave-on, rave-on, rave-on….” A Van song and the “Rave-On Through the Night” title for the informational program the GS used to have on KUSP, 2 -5 am, before the program restructuring of 2008.)

Gee, the GS was surprised to hear that he had this literary passion in common with the Supreme Court Justices, even Scalia! (“Justice Thomas says a good legal brief reminds him of the TV show 24.” “Some justices, like Ginsburg or the retired Justice John Paul Stevens, find it easier to write a first draft and then let their law clerks have a go at it. Others, like Scalia, let the law clerks write the first draft, and then the justice rewrites, edits and refines.”)

As an old Lit. major, the GS is anxious about what he might glean from their legal “Opinions,” because these are justices who “refer to great fiction writers as masters of language,” and who admire and are inspired by such writers as “Proust, Stendhal and Montesquieu . . . Hemingway, Shakespeare, Solzhenitsyn, Dickens and Trollope.” (To her credit, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits that Vladimir Nabokov, her European literature professor at Cornell and author of Lolita, was one of the great influences on her writing. Ah, how racy for a Supreme Court Justice!)

Oh, the GS can’t wait to find out the Justices’ “Opinion” on, say, Dickens or Hemingway. (As a writer, Dickens developed an interest in social reform and began contributing to the True Sun, a radical newspaper. Although his main avenue of work would consist of writing novels, Dickens continued his journalistic work until the end of his life.) For the GS, the American writer Hemingway would be the most interesting to hear ruled upon. How about his anti-war writings?  I mean, aside from his general anti-war attitude, his special allegiance to the anti-Franco forces when civil war broke out in Spain: “Hemingway first encountered fascism in the 1920s when he interviewed Benito Mussolini …” (whom, as a journalist-reporter, he called “the biggest bluff in Europe”). Oh my, the “F”-word has popped up! (“F”—as in Fascism). Surely this should be of considerable interest to, say, justices like Anthony Scalia, right? The GS would bet there are some good writing tips here! (Would he give an opinion on Hemingway’s legendary understatement writing style when he called Mussolini “the biggest bluff in Europe,” or would he overrule Robert Jordan’s explanation of the threat of Fascism in his own country in For Whom the Bell Tolls?)

(Which makes the GS wonder if any of the Supreme Court Justices have any good writing tips about how to communicate sarcasm or irony, which are sometimes not easy to detect on the page. The GS just checked the Chicago Manual of Style for making such more explicit, and although he found no entry for “sarcasm” he found one on “irony” and one on “emphasis:” “Words used in an ironic sense may be enclosed in quotation marks.” “A word or phrase may be set in italic type for emphasis if the emphasis might otherwise be lost.”  So let me edit my above writing accordingly: how about his anti-war writings? “Fascism.” Surely this should be of considerable interest to, say, justices like Anthony Scalia, right? I’ll bet there are some “good tips” there!)

All this talk about the Supreme Court Justices and literature makes the GS ask this question: Have you ever thought of the “legal brief” as a kind of literature? It makes the GS think about the entire subject of “literature and the law.” It is, after all, all about textual interpretation (in the field of jurisprudence, the controversial problem of how to interpret the Constitution); the hermeneutics of literature and law and (thinking of the GS’s trade) maybe music. Due to contemporary, postmodern literary theory, legal theorists have been turning to literary theory for potential insight into the interpretation of the law:

In this chapter I will suggest that we will get a clearer insight into some recalcitrant problems of literary and legal interpretation if we face up to the need for counterfactuals in interpreting texts. Counterfactual conditionals are if-then statements, as in the song “If I were a rich man,” or in the claim of the young lad from Hahant: “If I would if I could but I can’t.” These contrary-to-fact speculations are just the sorts of statements that tough-minded thinkers and skeptical historians try to avoid.” –Levinson and Mailloux, Interpreting Law & Literature: A Hermeneutic Reader, 1988. [My Emphasis]

Not wanting to avoid these “contrary-to-fact” speculations (which not only “tough-minded thinkers and skeptical historians try to avoid,” but also NPR reporters), the GS wants to ask: If the Supreme Court Justices are interpreters of the founding text of our nation, the Constitution, then are they not terrible legal literary critics? Therefore, reflecting back on recent, landmark Supreme Court decisions, the GS has decided that he’s not interested in any damn “writing tips” from this august body of justices. These Supreme Court Justices have sworn to overcome their biases and render fair and impartial rulings on the law. In this case, what is a grammatical or stylistic error in writing legal opinions compared to an ideological one—an anti-democratic one? (And the ultra-conservative base for the “Opinions” for the majority of this Supreme Court decries liberal activist judges “legislating from the bench”! Again, the GS turns to the Chicago Manual of Style to get further help in making irony more explicit on the page.) Of course, the GS recognizes that there are those for whom nothing is more satisfying in style than well-wrought expository prose arguing for a totalitarian law!

Now, the GS admits he can be accused of unfairly judging all the Supreme Court Justices. But the GS is really only judging the majority—as in the most recent majority opinions passed down from on high that have grave consequences for our democratic system. Lest some of us who admire good writing forget, these are the same black-robed bunch who (1) in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000) decided the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush (which prompted dissent from Justice Stephen Breyer: “We do risk a self-inflicted wound—a wound that may harm not just the court, but the nation.”) and who (2) in January of 2010 ruled to wipe away limits on corporate and labor union spending in campaigns for president and Congress, thereby reversing 20 years of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. And let’s not forget Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s outrageous behavior at president Obama’s State of the Union address (January 28, 2010). Alito made a dismissive face, shook his head repeatedly and appeared to mouth the words “not true” when Obama publicly scolded the high court (“. . . reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”).

Fascism—now that’s a word that belongs on a page, a page of recent American judicial history. Since the GS has used the “F”-word in relation to the Supreme Court Justices, which may cause some readers to balk, feeling that he’s throwing this word around loosely, he’s obliged to justify it. The GS could spend a page of writing to make the necessary connections between the unrestrained power of corporations and political totalitarianism, or he could save time by simply turning to none other than Hemingway’s Mussolini, who idealized the Corporate State. He defined “fascism” thusly:  “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” (See Benito Mussolini, Stato Corporativo [The Corporate State], 1938, New York: H. Fertig, 1975.)

The GS doesn’t want to make a Federal Case out of this, but being familiar with all the writers listed in Morning Edition’s report he strongly suspects that none of them would feel comfortable with the make-up of this current right-wing Supreme Court and, thus, would object to being eulogized by them. To quote Adam Liptak (7/24/10), The New York Times Supreme Court correspondent, the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is “the most conservative one in recent memory.”

However, here’s the kicker—if you really want to get technical about it, it’s actually not just the ideological nature of their recent decisions that one can find fault with. Guess what else? It’s ironic! Yeah, whatever NPR reports, these masters of writing have been taken to task for their writing! In November of 2010 Liptak wrote that the Roberts court is not only the most conservative but also one of the most unwieldy in terms of its writing. In fact, the high court set a record last term for the median length of its decisions: “They’re writing very long. And they’re also written in this kind of institutional style where it’s hard to tell what the rule being proposed for lower court judges to follow is.” This is an argument for clarity. Liptak says there are several reasons for the lack of clarity in the court’s writing.

Therefore, the GS would suggest that a fascist Supreme Court “Opinion” is still fascist, whether or not it’s “good writing.” In the GS’s book, nothing could be any clearer than that—case closed! (Anyone for a NPR story entitled “The Supreme Court Justices’ Writing Tips … the Scales of Justice Towards Fascism”?) So, in closing my brief,  here’s the GS’s amateur “opinion” on the matter: For our “democratic” country, under the recent anti-democratic rulings of this Supreme Court, the warning of the “the threat of Fascism”—that it can happen here—is as clear as the clarity a great writer like Hemingway—through John Donne—brought to general awareness.

Each mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee…. 

I don’t know about you, but the GS loves these words on a page—Rave-on, rave-on John Donne!