random music “fridays” : closer to fine

God damn.

Remember the Proust Guy? I didn’t like him, and he’s no more appealing in retrospect, but he wasn’t wrong. Yes, yes, I have more or less put Proust on pause, because it’s hard for me to enjoy staring at my iPad over  a physical book. Perhaps the Kindle, with its gentler light levels, will change that. But speaking of Amazon, they just had a deal where you could get three months of their streaming service for a dollar, and because I become incandescently angry when ad after ad on Spotify comes between me and the songs (“AT THE CORNER OF HAPPY AND HEALTHY, WE GET IT, JUST CUT TO THE GODDAMN CATCHPHRASE ALREADY”), I took the offer. I know, I know, I’m a traitor, a millennial walking right into the trap of “no I’m not going to keep lugging this zipper pouch of CDs around all my life; I’ll either never listen to that again or I’ll download it somehow” that they banked on. Spare me your hot takes.

But so, with this newly-widened music library now open to me, I immediately started seeking out songs I’d lost over time, and one thing led to another, and I ended up at “Closer To Fine.”

Damn. Damn. Hats off to you, Proust Guy. Young me had no goddamn idea how on-point this song would be, decades later.

Oh she thought she knew, sure. Who doesn’t? I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard this song, but I taped it from the radio onto a cassette, if that’s any indication. Even then, it was played as a flashback, since the song itself is almost as old as I am. It’s the first folk song I remember liking, for so many reasons — the brief familiar flicker of a hornpipe, the unlooked-for harmonies, the the way she bites off “clarity” like she’s mocking herself for thinking she might ever find it.

And it’s also the first song that led me to read an article (or maybe listen to an interview?) about a band, and to realize I wanted nothing to do with that kind of fandom. Something about the Lilith Fair, and fans rejecting them when they went for more instruments than just acoustic guitars, and worse, some fans turning on one of them when she turned out to be bi rather than gay or something? Fuck you, fans. Even as an as-far-as-I-knew-gay teenager, that curdled my tongue.

But even the in-person interviews, which again I now knew I could seek out, frustrated me. I don’t want you to simplify something that means so much to me to one night or a string of nights you had out with some friends at a bar, I thought. (I was, full disclosure, terribly dubious of the supposed merits of alcohol, as a kid.) I didn’t want to hear about how they came to write this or that line, or who it reminded them of, or who they dedicated it to, or even to hear how their voices changed when they sang it live here or there or over time. I wanted none of that extraneous detail that distracted from how the song, in its cut-and-dried, reproducible form, spoke to my solipsistic dumbass teenage self.

And it did! Oh, it did. But I took it in with so many corollaries.

I spent four years prostrated to the higher mind

got my papers and I was free

Yes, well, that won’t be me, I thought. Those four years were to be my freedom! And I did not anticipate having any qualms about being prostrate to any higher minds, since, free to study what I wished (as opposed to, say calculus), I couldn’t imagine anyone loving the things I did, and wanting to bring others to love them, to be disappointing. At their jobs, or as people, or as harbingers of wonder.

Oh you foolish, foolish child.

The best thing you’ve ever done for me

is to help me take my life less seriously

it’s only life after all

Good luck with that. Like everyone else (in the 90s and 00s? surely ever) I was told the most important thing in a mate was to find someone who could make you laugh. And I mean, I had no interest in finding a mate, at the time, but damn. You do realize you’re going to be in dark places even laughter can’t light up, right? You’re gonna need more than some wisecracking Puck at your side, girl. Someone who’ll drive you for hundreds of miles between brown mountains and the sea with your head burrowed into his side, no music on because any and all of it reminds you of your dead mom somehow. Laughter is great, but it is not always what you need. Sometimes you need silence and space. Get you someone who can give you that.

And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket

Honey, you had no idea. You’re going to wear it not even like a blanket but like a cape, some great billowing red thing people should respect you for wearing, like Superman. You’ll flap it and it will make a snapping sound and everyone will be reminded of your loss and its creep in your blood, and they’ll become awkward and uneasy or just silent, which is the worst, because it’s what you said you wanted and it is not, in fact, enough.

There are zero things that are enough, because you don’t get her back; you don’t get to be fine. Just closer to it. And lo, even your puns will become so dark people don’t know if they should laugh or not.

The less I seek my source for some definitive…

Yep. Pretty much.

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night chats with sotha sil

Sotha Sil is arguably the least accessible of the Tribunal, whether of the character’s own volition or just as a function of the organization of the games. So to get to see so much of him in the Clockwork City DLC is a treat, not the least of which because, of all three of them, he is the most given to pedantry.

(Cut for large number of images. We’re talking a Tumblr-level cascade of images here, people. Also, um, spoilers!)

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always the wrong reaction

What am I supposed to do with the ending of Gilead?

Because whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing it.

Ames gave the fuck up. I’m sorry, but he gave up. He didn’t say a damn word to Boughton, didn’t ask even himself if young Boughton’s plan would have worked out in this town. He didn’t say a word. And that’s…it’s giving up. I don’t care if he’s dying. I don’t care if he’s tired. He doesn’t even ask himself. If he did, he’d say it in this, his last text before his death. And he doesn’t even ask himself. How disingenuous. How disloyal. To young Boughton, sure, but more relevantly, to his cause, and to himself.

I’ve been thinking about this for days. I kept returning to pages I had marked, trying to make something of them:

img_5183

–because, yeah, I loved Ames, and identified (narcissistically at times, grossly indulgently so, I know, I get it) the hell out of myself, with him. But that doesn’t say a whole lot of good about me, now, does it, when at the end all you’ve got is a bunch of pretty ruminations but no action taken — one of the few powers left to the old man, and he takes no action. He says not a word. How could he do nothing? He and we spend the whole second half of the book in a sneaking, sinking dread of how he is about to be hurt worse, at the very last. A life spent mostly in mourning and then the brilliance of love and now that will be dimmed and dulled and taken from him, we think. He tries to prepare himself for this. We (I) beseech him not to. To say any damn thing, instead of just sitting there in his chair writing about how terrible it will all be.

But he’s wrong! And we’re wrong! And it’s something else entirely that drives that asshat young Boughton to his doorstep day after day! It’s something Ames has the power, if not to fix, at least to pave the way forward for. Say a word. To the community (which holds him in esteem!), to old Boughton. Say something. Is his silence his lack of forgiveness? He said he never could forgive young Boughton for the fatherhood he squandered the first time. Is this that grudge still held? Because I get the sense that we are supposed to look at Ames’ last words, and his sorry-ass farewell and blessing (right, because that helps anyone but himself) and think “ah well, he tried, and now he’ll say some pretty things and go off and die peacefully now,” and well, no. The hell will I clap you on the back for doing exactly nothing, buddy. You bothered to pursue the issue far enough to figure out what it was, now at least make an effort to help this guy. Not because he deserves it, necessarily, because he’s kind of an ass. But is your grudge against this man going to damn his family too? If yes, is this supposed to be our lesson here? “The people who could fix things in America won’t, so we’re all fucked forever, amen.” Great. Awesome. Thanks.

If I wanted to hear that I’d, you know, be living my life in the world, not reading a damn book.

This is what that ending could have said: both Ames and young Boughton grew up in the shadows of great men, men lauded by their communities. Ames had his grandfather, whose unrelenting vision of divine justice both built him into the towering figure he was, and destroyed him when the world failed to follow him into the flames. Boughton had his dad, who people keep calling a saint so, okay, I guess he must be a good guy, though we don’t see much of his tenderness the way we see Ames’. (Except maybe when he trots the name of the child out, surprising Ames. Maybe there.) But Ames was able to deal with growing up in that shadow because, maybe, he saw what it cost the generation between them to reject it. He saw how it wrecked his father to see how much he had harmed his grandfather. Boughton doesn’t have that space, sure — it’s only him and then his dad, and it’s the son doing the wrecking — but Ames could have helped. He’s seen all sides of this; he could have helped. Tried to. Said something.

Here is another thing that ending could have said: Ames held the power he did, both in his community and, via word of mouth, as far away as Memphis, because of his grandfather. His grandfather who, while clear of mind in his younger days, descended, visibly (and so infuriatingly to me, upon encountering it) into a kind of feverish religious dementia that nevertheless strengthened his image and fed into it the kind of reverence that made the Ames name recognizable as a bulwark of the abolitionist movement, years after its end. What I’m saying is that the very disease that made me fling the book down in frustration is what enabled the youngest Ames to occupy the spot in the world he did. The last gift, of sorts, of his grandfather.

And he wastes it. You don’t waste that, fuckwit. You loved him. He’s dead. He gave you his name and, thanks to him, your name means something to people you’ve never even met. And you wasted that gift.

And now, then, what is the point of my marking all those beautiful passages of his, of mourning him, when he just kind of shrugged and rolled over and died in the end? You had one job. And you could have laid it aside but no, no, you insisted on continuing to do your work, to try and lead people toward something like a better understanding of the world and their place in it. But when, admittedly, an asshole comes to you in his hour of need, you mumble about not knowing, and then, without even asking yourself if it would have worked out, you let him go. Send him off into misery. Congrats! That one job you had? You blew it.

I don’t think I’m supposed to be having this reaction. I think we are supposed to consider Ames as having made the best of a bad situation. But that’s settling. This is all he said:

“But I can’t give you any assurances about this, one way or the other. I’d hate to be wrong. You’ll have to let me reflect on it.”

and

“He said, “You have influence here.”

I said that might be true, but I couldn’t promise to live long enough to make much use of it. I mentioned my heart.

Oh come on. You could have at least tried.

Then, while preaching, Ames finds himself thinking:

The fact was, standing there, I wished there were grounds for my old dread. That amazed me. I felt as if I’d have bequeathed him wife and child if I could to supply the loss of his own.

This too-late regret is not enough. It does nothing. It helps no one, not even Ames. And he doesn’t writhe in it long enough for poetic justice, either, since shortly thereafter he goes home and dies. This guy, then, whom we (I) have been brought to love over some 200 pages, throws in the towel and goes back on every beautiful thing he said. What a waste.

If we were meant to over-identify with him, and then to feel slapped in the face by his impotence and thus moved to be move active in the world in precisely the way he was not, that would be one thing. But I kind of feel like that’s just me. That I willfully smudged the lines between myself and this guy because it felt good and eloquent, and like I could imagine being able to say things I won’t be able to, when I’m old. But that most people won’t have had cause to slam the book down in fury when dementia raises its head within its pages, or to feel chastened by the tenderness Ames brings to the observation of his grandfather that was, perhaps, lacking in the reader.

You might wonder about my pastoral discretion, writing all this out. Well, on one hand it is the way I have of considering things. On the other hand, he is a man about whom you may never hear one good word, and I just don’t know another way to let you see the beauty there is in him.

That’s about Young Boughton. But it’s not enough. Sure, huzzah, it turns out Young Boughton is still a jackass but was not, in fact, trying to replace you as husband and father. But you calling him beautiful, in thought or in deed, is not enough. When would it ever be enough? You acknowledging to yourself to this person you’ve disliked his entire life — “that is not my child!” — is not in fact all bad, is not enough.

And I think we’re supposed to feel like it is. Or like “welp, the world didn’t allow interracial marriage back then so, tough luck, I guess it was out of his hands.” Fuck that. He didn’t say one damn word. He knew he was respected enough for his words to matter and he said nothing. That’s not beautiful, or grand. That’s cowardice. Not even that — he was too secure in his position even to have cause for fear. He was just plain lazy.

How are we supposed to applaud that? Or not look at everything we applauded earlier, and bookmarked and underlined, and think “well, fuck?”

justice

How will you ever find justice if you won’t get off your ass and look for it?

And is he saying he outlasted his sense of grievance? Because if he is, he’s lying. If he really forgave that boy he would have done something. Anything. And he didn’t. Not one thing.

Edit: Yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy in lambasting a guy for doing nothing when more or less implying that the whole reason I was sitting reading this book was to look away from the ugliness of the world for a minute (versus, say, trying to fix anything). And that someone’s well-meant “yes but you’re allowed that” is no less applicable to Ames.

And also that apparently Jack Boughton is an alcoholic? Which is written in the advertisement for Home on that last page, which advertisement I never read despite noting all those page numbers around it. So, okay, if that’s true then maybe that’s why Ames didn’t do anything to help him? Because Della and their son would be better off without him? But if that was Ames’ thinking, shouldn’t he have noted as much in this letter to his own son? Because without clarifying that it still just looks like he didn’t bother helping because, like he said in a passage I took a picture of a few posts back, he can’t imagine how he’d ever forgive young Boughton. And that’s so frustrating, because as baleful as I am when wronged, I blurred the lines between myself and this character because I thought he was better than me, and he’s being just as selfish here as I would be, and that sucks.

Be better, dammit.

double-take

Holy shit, he trips up onto the source of his anger so effortlessly. It’s like when I realized why I became so instantly furious when ever someone starts whining about their mom calling or texting or being, you know, cognizant and alive. In retrospect it’s as obvious to me now as it is to Ames here. But it’s such a parochial kind of fury, the kind that belongs in character backstories and not in life, that you don’t always expect it. I am more sensible than that, you think.

But you aren’t.

hark

In a similar vein as the “I’m not a Christian but–” Gilead posts, the old holiday songs are just amazing.

I have always loved them. Especially the loud choral pieces that almost seem to threaten you with glory. Like O Holy Night, for example, at the “fall on your knees” part. It’s not a suggestion — it’s a command. Fall on your goddamned knees. I have always loved that. They’re trying to tell you something good, but it should bowl you over. I respect that, and can see it in so many places beyond just a religious context. When the old man in Home Alone cries seeing his daughter sing it on the fuzzy TV, I was sold forever on this song.

(…If I were someone else, in some other time, I could have been such a fierce believer, both because I set so much stock in the power of story (and less so in the facts of history, malleable as they are), and because I am unfailingly loyal, unfashionably so, past all sense says to abandon a person or cause. But…the same mechanisms that cause me to revile academia operate in organized religion, and have always done so. And in a world where you can receive knowledge and the constant questioning of it in other venues, without those superfluous and damaging trappings of hierarchy and status, I cannot do it. I cannot pretend to ignore all the crap they dump on top, between you and what matters.)

And spirals! Where one section is going up and another is going down and they pass each other along the way. Like Angels We Have Heard On High. I sang that once in a choir, because my friend was devout and in a choir and when she left my school I didn’t want to lose her, and man. That song. Singing it as part of a huge group. Our music director was a skeevy guy; his children were alternately skeevy like him and nakedly desperate for his affection; he was everything that was wrong with that church wrapped up in one thick-necked package. But being part of that tide of voices rolling out over an audience, like Gandalf’s river horses in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s magnificent. It feels magnificent, to be a part of.

I know, I know, it’s designed to be that way. What did Sam Sykes tweet the other day? That most of art history is fanart; it’s just that for a long time Jesus was the only fandom? If you were brilliant with your voice or your brush, for most of history you were probably using those tools to praise one god or another. I get that.

(But I also recognize that I’m that annoying person who goes around listening to movie soundtracks half the time. Because they’re epic! But also because, maybe, it makes you a little epic, listening to them? For however long they last, anyway. The fastest mile I’ve run in the past decade was while listening to First Class from the X-Men soundtrack. I don’t even like the X-Men. I mean, at all. But that song. Or, right after it, on the same playlist, Audiomachine. They came into existence to score trailers, and that’s exactly what it sounds like, and I don’t care. I’ve never run faster. Maybe it’s a narcissistic millennial thing. That instead of letting someone else’s words form the backdrop to my efforts, I choose wordless orchestral pieces, as though it were a training montage, something people shot and edited with purpose. But I only mention this to point out that I’m intimately aware of the allure of art, not even earnest art but mass-produced marketing art, telling you you’re important, and how easy it is to overlook or ignore all that’s attached to that movie or song in exchange for the momentary sense that that theme is for you. Even when it’s not and never will be.)

I mean, listen to Julie Andrews sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When she tells you to join the triumph of the skies, it is a party you definitely want in on. And O Come All Ye Faithful? Who doesn’t want to be joyful and triumphant? Pre-nazi Germany sure as hell did…oh. Right.

And maybe that’s another reason for my distrust of that kind of group-based joy. It’s too easily harnessed and manipulated. The best I can manage is a kind of mental cosplay of grandeur and fellowship, listening to these songs, before I remember that after that swell of voices dies down, everyone in the choir will go home and vote and say terrible things to their kids, and cause those kids to grow up and go out into the world and carry that poison with them.

That’s, I guess, what I keep expecting to hit in Gilead. But so far his humility has managed to keep him from seeming manipulative. Not just his humility but his bending what remains of himself toward small moments of beauty — hoping his son sees such moments to be beautiful — rather than toward harsh lines drawn in the sand past which one must not cross. Even if some people need strict rules to live by, like those bars that keep people from falling out of beds in hospitals, still, for your primary source of identity to come from the enforcement of those rules, rather than from helping people see what matters in the world that crafted them…you’re kind of a charlatan, at that point. You may go on about angels singing yes but you’re here to say no, over and over. And that’s shallow. People deserve better.

If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t be shepherding them across a street, let alone through the dark chasms of their lives.

well hell

Seriously? Does dementia have to be in this too? Can I not enjoy one damn thing out of its shadow?

If you have ever wanted to tell me to shut up about it, and I never do, this is why. It’s everygoddamnwhere.

Fuck.

*nodnod*

I swear half this book leaves my head dizzy from nodding agreement, and the rest twists my heart in recognition.

How many parents have fucked this up? (Spoiler: lots. The answer is lots.)

And:

And:

I wonder if people grow tired of the random odes to benign things that strike him as beautiful. If that is a criticism leveled at the book. Are we supposed to be tired of this? Because I’m not. Even when they lead us smack-dab into a sermon-y bit, I don’t mind. I can’t imagine this needs reiteration, but I am no Christian. But you don’t need to give two figs about a dead guy in a toga to recognize the fleeting nature of things and thus the necessity of your awe. You don’t need any religion to see that.

According to all the blurbs all over this book though, it was very well-received. Where are people who did so? Where is the world that praised this? What happened to it?