Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. -Dante's La Commedia Divina
Time & Tide, Pt. 1
Dante nailed it for those looking more toward the dusk than the dawn. But it is the odd and efficacious nature of humankind that one can, still, take another turn, and will, given the opportunity, take that “road-not-taken” even after the journey may seem fruitless or inane. (Bytheby, the above is from the John Ciardi translation. There have been many since, and maybe better, but first loves die hard.) Now, contemplate the visage of Marty McFly when you think on the work of Florence’s (belated) favorite son. This may appear an exercise in “meta”-type logic—using a classic of Western Civ. canon to lend gravitas to a popcult icon—but, y’know?—like, one man’s inferno is another’s comedy…divine or otherwise, yah? Over the course of the “Back To The Future” trilogy, this lad got to see his past and future (with the Doc along as his Virgil, you might conjecture), his parents as unformed personalities as hapless and hopeless as his own, and, later, himself as an adult exhibiting the same sort of mistakes they made and suffering the same fate. And worse: to see another possible world entirely wherein “Hilltown” has descended into “Helltown” (actually painted over the municipal welcome sign).
Yes. I know: Dante had to cross Styx in Charon’s Ferry, not a DeLorean. Whadda ya want?
However, the time-travelling saga aside, there is another way of looking at the above passage, one probably not considered by the Poet: that the crooked, even curved, road, might just be the proper one, and the dark wood merely dark matter.
A number of events have given rise to this rumination, chief among them the announcement of the discovery of the “Higgs-like” boson by two teams working out of CERN.
Then there are the books that have chanced upon mine Kindle in recent days. The two science tomes are “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene, and “In Search of Memory” by Eric Kandel. On the not-so-logical front, “The Collected Short Stories of Phillip K. Dick” and a collection of lesbian pulp novels from the ‘50s—most recently, “Women’s Barracks”—along with the semi-logical (if not semiological) philosophical (if not Theosophical) tract of P.D. Ouspensky from the early 1900’s entitled “Tertium Organum”, have been coloring the moods.
Be it as it may, a rather ‘eclectic’ selection, it behooves and moves me to mention all in fairness for who knows from whence the muse emerges?
Then there are the personal “events”, shall we say? Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings wrote a song called “Old Age and Treachery” which aptly described how one uses what remains to overcome the confusion of limitless choice, the vigor of youth, and a sense of alienation from a world grown less accommodating to advancing years. By which, these outlaw bards meant to say, as much as one may interpret their work, that cunning and experience is just as valuable a tool to getting over as vitality and energy. Or, as the old saying goes: “El Diablo saba mucho, porque es Viejo.” (No, I’m not going to translate it. Sounds better this way. And you can figure it out, easy.)
In recent days, having attended the Procol Harum/Yes concert at Westbury Music Fair out on Long Island, and the following night spent at the Centenary Celebration of Woody Guthrie in Central Park, the attitude of Willie and Waylon seemed to be embodied in both, but more.
And now, after these introductory remarks, it is probably a good idea to establish what the title means.
From the Greene book, a new view of Special Relativity and General Relativity has crystallized in the mind, due to the author’s neat talent for using stupid little analogical examples to illustrate complex theoretical physics. It would profit neither of us to detail them here; suffice it to say I think I really understand E=mc2 at last.
I had originally written “for the first time” to end the last sentence, but realized that the next paragraph would use the word as its theme because that’s the other bit of revelation: what Time and Space really are (is?), as well...basically two sides of the same “thing”, as much as the whole “particle vs. wave” duality in Quantum Mechanics as anything else. But this is (conveniently if not downright serendipitously) simultaneous with the above-captioned flyer and the realization that another one of those pop milestones has passed. And this is just the day before Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” re-opens in Manhattan, for brief run.
The “Tide” part is both the “tide in the affairs of men” and the tides off Fire Island, another attraction that has impinged itself upon the immediate consciousness…along with the cut “Feel Flows” from the 1973 Beach Boys album, WHATEVER. And while the conceit as a whole may seem to be spun off of the olde aphorism “Time and Tide await no man”…well, it is. And it isn’t.
But before going off on the arcane parts, it is best to set such Think Piece in an experience common to most, if not all, of my generation: the Rock Concert. Never having attended a show at Westbury Music Fair before, I was struck immediately by the intimacy; you are almost as close to the performers as any seat at the late, lamented Bottom Line. And, as well, that it is in the round, with a stage that revolves like the laziest of lazy susannes, makes it even more a chance to see a different show with every song and solo.
Digression aside, it is age that makes the deepest impression. Few still hippie-freak slender and most of burgher-girth, but all swaddled in beloved tourshirts faded and greyed as their heads; skin mottled and spotted or burnt to deep-water red. And as for their gaits at the gates? Roly-poly would be kind. But not the “bands”, or what’s left of them To look at Gary Brooker, alone, tells the tale: brush back scalplock and beard white as Gandalf’s second act. But the voice? Ah, nary a tone missing from the first note to the last, and made more remarkable by the revelation—during intermission—from a fellow fan who informed that his stage anecdote about cracking his skull in South Africa last week was not a joke. What made it even better was the reach into the old book for such gems as “Outside the Gates of Ceres”. An obscurity becomes a more treasured gift than the Top 40 crossovers.
As for Yes, the headliners, their new Jon Anderson stand-in—John Davidson(?)—lost no time in establishing himself as an interpreter of the back catalogue, issuing forth every hemidemisemiquaver known on our journey from vinyl to 8-track to CD. And it was necessary to do so, as Jon no longer has the pipes, nor the Pre-Raphaelite ephebic beauty to carry the day. But the original codgers—Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White—more than carried the torch: they burned the barn. However, lest you think this merely another geezer kicking over the traces, there is one key revelation to mention. With full knowledge aforesaid that classic ‘60s/’70s stadium-fillers may be even more antiquated than the doo wop shows of septugenarians in matching suits hitting falsettos, the difference is that this particular brand of music—progressive—was never about girls and guys and dances and cars. We’ve all heard the jokes riffing on “ ‘In and around the lake/Mountains come out of the sky/You stand there/24 before my love and I’ll be there’…like, what does that mean, anyways?” (If you saw the Roger Dean cover art in the original 12-inch album format, especially with the gatefold sleeves, you might not have to ask.) While hoary cock rockers are still prancing about without mentioning that the tiger in their tank runs on Viagra, the above two bands represent today as they once did—as much as could be understood by stoned teens and twentysomethings—a timelessness. It is easy to get a laugh talking about suites and song-cycles and “operas” in a culture where a series of tweets could become a book and even optioned for a TV show (“Sh*t My Dad Said”, if you blinked and perchance missed it). Punch lines work well on stationary targets, don’t they?
But it is another thing entirely to encompass views of a grander design (intelligent or otherwise) and to express that in some form where science borders on the philosophical, if not downright mystical. Which brings up, Part 2.