Saturday, May 24, 2008

Trick of Shapes and Light and Movement

I'm Booked for At Least a Month
Got another batch of books in the mail today--god-dammit, I'm screamin' as I pull out a snatch of thin hair from my fevered head--of course the first book I unwrapped was a book I'd been wanting to read for years, Frederic Ramsey, Jr., and Charles Edward Smith's 1939 Jazzmen, which starts off with a "Letter to the Editor" from Willie G. "Bunk" Johnson--"Now here is the list about that Jazz Playing, King Bolden and myself were the first men that began playing Jazz in the city of dear old New Orleans and his band had the whole of New Orleans Real Crazy and Running Wild behind it."
Bunk blowing strong.

Oh, golly roaring horned Moses, I gotta read it and read it now--this after being in bed for the past two nights with Charlotte Bronte--she wrote Jane Eyre under the pseudonym of Currer Bell (which could refer to "church bell" or Recurring Bell or "ding-dong," as Lester Young would put it), a manish kind'a name, though, trust me, Charlotte's quiet a warm-bodied woman--and she's charming me with the constantly changing seasons of poor little rooked Jane Eyre--hey, come on, I love Charlotte and Jane both, though I know they're the same girl kids--though Charlotte didn't grow up really an orphan--she was half-an-orphan (like Lester Young called Peewee Marquette a half-a-motherfucker) since her mother died when Charlotte was quiet young--like 11 maybe--but Jane is certainly an orphan and what an orphan--I'd adopt her just because though she says she's dumb as a board she's not--in fact, I'm fascinated to the point of traveling on with Charlotte due to Jane's persistent "good" observations--I gotta see where the hell she's leading me--toward some kind of Calvinist moral--God, I hope not--Jane's already said she finds it hard to believe in a God--a "thing" she just doesn't understand--especially as she's in bed with her spiritual friend, Helen Burns, who's tragically dying in a typhus epidemic that hits Lowood School for Orphan Girls, though ironically Helen doesn't have typhus but is suffering from consumption--and Jane climbs into bed with fevered and coughing deeply Helen--and they converse, it's great, read: "'I am very happy, Jane; and when you hear that I am dead, you must be sure and not grieve: there is nothing to grieve about. We all must die one day, and the illness which is removing me is not painful; it is gentle and gradual; my mind is at rest....'" Jane responds by asking, "'But where are you going to, Helen? Can you see? Do you know?'" Helen answers, "'I believe; I have faith: I am going to God.'" And Jane asks, "'Where is God? What is God?'" That hooked me right there, anti-Christian that I am (anti-desert religion). Where and what. Good questions, and Helen Burns answers them like a good trusting orphan; God to her is "'My Maker and yours, who will never destroy what he created. I rely implicitly on his power, and confide wholly in his goodness: I count the hours till that eventful one arrives which shall restore me to him, reveal him to me.'" Jane though still not sure of it all, grills Helen some more: "'You are sure, then, Helen, that there is such a place as heaven; and that our souls can get to it when we die?'" Helen blabbers on about how she's sure there's "a future state" and God is good and love and bullshit like that. Jane asks after this God-is-love testimony, "'And shall I see you again, Helen, when I die?'" And I love Helen's answer (I spelled her name "Hell-en" and then I caught it): "'You will come to the same region of happiness: be received by the same mighty, universal Parent, no doubt, dear Jane.'" And, Jane, what a babe, is still not sure and thinks, "Again I questioned; but this time only in thought. 'Where is that region? Does it exist?'" Skeptic Jane. And she then cuddles up against the dying Helen; they kiss and then fall asleep. The next morning: "When I awoke it was day; an unusual movement roused me; I looked up; I was in somebody's arms; the nurse held me; she was carrying me through the passage back to the dormitory. I was not reprimanded for leaving my bed; people had something else to think about: no explanation was afforded then to my many questions; but a day or two afterwards I learned that Miss Temple, on returning to her own room at dawn, had found me laid in a little crib; my face against Helen Burns's shoulder, my arms round her neck. I was asleep, and Helen was--dead." In the last paragraph after that piece of slam-bang writing, Jane says, "Her [Helen's] grave is in Brocklebridge churchyard: for fifteen years after her death it was only covered by a grassy mound; but now a grey marble tablet marks the spot, inscribed with her name, and the word 'Resurgam.'" [Chapter Nine, Jane Eyre, 1950, Nelson Doubleday edition.]

RESURGAM. Latin: "I shall rise again."

Charlotte caught me with this line: "She [Helen Burns] sat down on the ground near me, embraced her knees with her arms, and rested her head upon them; in that attitude she remained silent as an Indian...." "Silent as an Indian." What the hell did Charlotte think an Indian was? I'm curious. Another word she uses caught me eye: "Cuyp like groups of cattle." You know what a Cuyp-like group of cattle is? I didn't either, but, shit, seems Charlotte knew something about art, Albert Cuyp, a Dutchman she certainly could have learned about while studying French in Belgium.
"Cuyp like groups of cattle."

How about this use of the word "Canadian" by a 19th-century young woman isolated in the pits of Yorkshire, England, though like I said, she did venture over to Belgium for two years--where she fell madly and fatalistically in love with the man of the family she and Emily lived with while studying French--Emily not going back the second year--but Charlotte did, mad with love and direct intentions. Gutsy babe that Charlotte. I like her. "... the nights and mornings no longer by their Canadian temperature froze the very blood in our veins...." Her image of Canada was one of coldness--mine, too, and I've actually been to Canada a couple'a times.

And I started reading Ramsey and Smith's Jazzmen: "A FANTASTIC and wonderful city. A city with a hundred faces. The hard face for commerce and the soft face for making love. Scratching figures on the back of an envelope where the girl with the deep dark eyes waits on the counter. Smell of burnt coffee and sound of ships. The deep face for a sad life and pinched face for poverty. Marching, singing, laughing. The silver and copper laugh of the prostitute, and the toothless chuckle of the old man who remembers Buddy Bolden at Bogalusa." Oh shit. I'm reading yet another book--that means I'm reading Gunther Schuller's two books on the history and musical meanings of Jazz, Early Jazz and The Swing Era; and I'm reading Jane Eyre; and always my little Phillip Wylie bible is handy: An Essay on Morals; then there's two new books of Ez's poetry from City Lights--both collected poems--one collected Cantos; and Ted Joans's book of poems, BLACK POW-WOW--marathon reading while listening to all these new CDs I've gotten, listening now to Prez live at Birdland in 1951, with John Lewis, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones--with an occasional appearance by Lester's trumpet-discovery Jesse Drakes--Jesse's trumpeting much more clever than history gave him credit. Ask a hundred people at random if they know who Jesse Drakes is and I'll bet you my car and dog all 100 won't know who the hell Jesse is--nor care who he is.

And then, god-dammit, in the mail yesterday came Toni Morrison's novel Jazz--and my girlfriend, a black chick, had told me I'd never be able to finish Jazz since it wasn't what I thought it was--she thinks I'm white dumb about everything black--and she's right about me and Toni Morrison, no, I'd never read her. I started reading Jazz--Toni pushed little orphan Jane out of my life for a whole afternoon--from Jazz: "Little of that makes for love, but it does pump desire. The woman who churned a man's blood as she leaned all alone on a fence by a country road might not expect even to catch his eye in the City. But if she is clipping quickly down the big-city street in heels, swinging her purse, or sitting on a stoop with a cool beer in her hand, dangling her shoe from the toes of her foot, the man, reacting to her posture, to soft skin on stone, the weight of the building stressing the delicate, dangling shoe, is captured. And he'd think it was the woman he wanted, and not some combination of curved stone, and a swinging, high-heeled shoe moving in and out of sunlight. He would know right away the deception, the trick of shapes and light and movement, but it wouldn't matter at all because the deception was part of it too. Anyway, he could feel his lungs going in and out. There is no air in the City but there is breath...." [p 34, Toni Morrison, Jazz, a Penquin Plume book, 1993.]

Jesus, good writing drives me into a crazy state of inward isolation. Does that make sense?

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

"Jesus, good writing drives me into a crazy state of inward isolation. Does that make sense?"

Yes, it does.