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Monday, June 30, 2008

Taught me to sing the notes of woe

Ben's wife Kate asked her friends to send her favorite poems she could share with her students in the literature class she's teaching. More than one person sent in T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." When I read that poem, I always think of how my tenth grade math teacher told us he was going to record a country & western version of it. His slow, twangy version of it is the default voice (with dobro backing) I always hear when I read it: "let us go then, you and I / when the evening is spread out against the sky..."

My math teacher that year was a cool guy who didn't seem to mind that I was a terrible math student. He was very into lateral thinking as a way of life--he was also an inventor and a Buddhist and an outdoorsman--so he had us do writing assignments sometimes to show the different ways that math can work. Inspired by his C&W Eliot, I created a recurring character of a country chanteuse who was very good at intuiting scale problems; obviously, the country chanteuse part of it soon took up more effort than the actual solving math problems part...

For some other assignment, I created an imaginary metal band: Metal William Blake. From the band's grunge period, "The Sick Rose" (in the promo materials I created, Mark Romanek did the music video for this one. It was 1996 and Chris Carter's follow-up to The X-Files, Millennium, had just premiered with an episode about William Butler Yeats and strippers [of course]... I feel like the aesthetic was all over the place in the '90s):

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

And "London" fits into that period, too:

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

Given the band members' introduction to Blake via Huxley, there's obviously a few psychedelic experiments in the band's catalog.

Then they made a questionable swerve into emo with "The Chimney-Sweeper":

A little black thing among the snow,
Crying! 'weep! weep!' in notes of woe!
'Where are thy father and mother? Say!' -
'They are both gone up to the church to pray.

'Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smiled among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.

'And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and His priest and king,
Who made up a heaven of our misery.'

(Really, "they clothed me in the clothes of death, / And taught me to sing the notes of woe" is as good as an encapsulation of metal as there could possibly be. Or emo. Yuck.)

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Blogger Ben on Tue Jul 01, 08:46:00 PM:
And are gone to praise God and His priest and king,
Who made up a heaven of our misery.

Now that's what I call Taking Back Sunday!
Anonymous Anonymous on Tue Jul 15, 12:31:00 AM:
Mr. Hause! My favorite!

Blogger Alice on Tue Jul 15, 05:50:00 PM:
My dad called the other day to point out that Leonard Cohen's "The Stranger Song" is in a similar meter to "J. Alfred Prufrock" and offered these lines as evidence:

"Well, I've been waiting, I was sure
we'd meet between the trains we're waiting for
I think it's time to board another
Please understand, I never had a secret chart
to get me to the heart of this
or any other matter
When he talks like this
you don't know what he's after
When he speaks like this,
you don't know what he's after."

That was a prescient suggestion because Leonard Cohen's is the voice I imagine singing the musical version (if it's not entirely C&W). Leonard Cohen and my math teacher are basically the same person, based on what I've seen from I'm Your Man.

I also reminded my dad that he really wants Robert Plant to cover Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"--he said maybe that should be on the next Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration.