Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Song Remains the Same and Other Reflections on a Velvet Revolution 50th Birthday

Scenes from Nov 17, 1969 Atlanta GA.
Early 1970 in Mexico with Mom.

November 17, 2019 in Brooklyn NYC.

   Joyous Sun Cycle Ben!Charras 1999/2000
 — with Fly Orr and Benjamin Heim Shepard.
photo by Aresh Javadi
No shirts in '79 or '89 in Atlanta and Dallas. 
Showing off my new tattoo in '89 in Claremont, Ca. 

Clinic and garden defense 08.

Family and kids November 2019

Midway though Flannery O’Conner’s Southern  Gothic short  story,  “The River”,  the reader is invited into the woods:
“They walked on the dirt road for a while and then they crossed a field stippled with purple weeds and entered the shadows of a wood where the ground was covered with think pine needles… [H]e walked carefully, looked from side to side as if he were entering a strange country.  They moved along a bridle path that twisted downhill through crackling red leaves, and once, catching  at a branch to keep himself from slipping,  he looked into two frozen green-gold eyes enclose din the darkness of a tree  hole.  At the bottom of the hill, the woods opened suddenly onto a pasture dotted here and there with black and white cows and sloping down, tier after tier, to a broad orange  stream where the reflection of the sun was  set like a diamond.”

Reading on the couch transported back to the Georgia of my childhood where I  was born five decades ago, it's hard not to think our whole lives is a journey through a "strange country." This space that Flannery knew, the woods behind our houses, walks on the farm, by the creek, finding secret places, bits of mystery, wonderment, like the “reflection of the sun” in the water from the story, my illuminations here and there.  The story published in 1955, 14 years before I arrive, November 17th, 1969. 
On a Monday, our family in Atlanta.  
Dad practicing law.
“I was exilerated,” Mom recalls, thinking of the day before Nov 16, 1969.
Grandad and Grandmom were around for my Christening,
As were Mama and Dad’s best friend Rod.
President Nixon and the US were in the SATL I nukes negotiations,
US bombs dropping on Cambodia.
“The bastard’s top-secret plan to get us out of Viet Nam was to bomb Cambodia?” lamented Dad.
Monty Python's Flying Circus on TV.
The day before, Janis Joplin played a concert in Tampa,
cursing at the police, charged with public obscenity, posting at $504.00 fine. 
Seven months later, she’d be gone. 
I had a whole life ahead. 
Dad bought her greatest hits later that year.
“Somewhere”, “Come Together”, and “Suspicious Minds” in top ten.
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.
But people had a lot to lose, a lot to remember. 
In Prague, the Socialist Union of Youth held a mass demonstration
Commemorating the deaths of students, fifty years prior, November 17, 1939. 
when the Nazis stormed Czech Universities in Prague responding to demonstrations over the killings of Jan Opletal and Václav Sedláček.
All told, nine Czechs were killed that day, another 1,200 sent to camps.
Five decades later a Velvet Revolution would bring freedom November of 1989
“Die mauer muss weg”  Caroline chanted,
After taking train from Munich to Berlin.
She heard the wall was crumbling.
The wall must fall.
She had to join.
Thirty years later on  another November  17, this time 2019, 
 students in Hong Kong facing off against another communist government,
As I join environmentalists shutting down the Cricket Valley Energy plant
 “…impacted residents and supporters from across the Northeast, including local farmers, used a tractor blockade and climbed a 275ft tall smokestack to halt construction of the Cricket Valley fracked gas power plant.”
Life flying through time.
With activists and students past,
Stories, hikes in the woods, wondering about it all.
Driving through the country roads, back to Poughkeepsie
Talking with Rob on the way home.
Recalling adventures in Thailand.
Stories that found readers in strange places,
“What’s your favorite Flannery short story?”
“The River….” he replies.
“You could write about beginning your writing with concert reviews,” suggests Rob.
It all grew from there.
Music reviews without music.
Book reviews without books.
Thoughts without thinkers. 
Through countless forms.
From essays to non-fiction,
aspiring to write novels,
sociology to surrealism,
 memoirs and novels.
Friendships and fighting.
Poems without prose.
Sentences  without periods.
Stories without meanings.
Walks in the woods.
Stumbling into strange domains.
Where light illuminates the water.
All weekend, that feeling accompanies me.
Thinking of ’69 with Mom  in Georgia.
’79 back in  Georgia after the Princeton debacle,
biking through the woods, discovering a city.
By then Rod was gone. 
Mama had only a few years to go.
’89 in Dallas, Ten Hands, Tiananmen Square, 
Claremont hopes.
Grandad gone.
Mom and Dad’s marriage another casualty.
Before the world sent me West to Cali,
East to Vassar,
Back West
By way of Chicago,
North East toward home.   
’99 Anarchist dreams, wanderlust, buy nothing day Nov 29 NYC.
Grandma gone.
Where I'd stay.
’09 still biking,  still discovering a city, a place where Truman lived. 
’19 Brooklyn,  kids growing past us, into their own adventures,
holding  with an open hand before they  depart for their own lives.
Perhaps Tokyo or LA?
Dad had been going. They were coming. 
Reading about Truman who lived nearby.
“I live in Brooklyn by choice,” he declares
“Gothic as this glimpse is, the neighborhood nevertheless continued to possess, cheap rents  aside, some certain appeal that bridges  of the gifted -  artists, writers – began to discover…. Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe,  … At one time, a stretch of years in the early forties, a single, heaven knowns singular house,  on Middau Street boasted McCullers, Paul and Jan Bowles, the British Composer Benjamin Britten, impresario and stage designer  Oliver Smith, an authoress of murder entertainments – Miss Gypsy Rose Less and a  Chmpanzee accompanied by trainer….”
I live down the street.
Still writing book reviews and novels.
Academic tombs and tracks about organizing.
Blogs here, stories there.
The song remains the same plays on the radio as we drive back to Brooklyn:
“I had a dream
Oh, yeah
Crazy dream, uh-huh
Anything I wanted to know
Any place I needed to go
Hear my song
Yeah, people don't you listen now?
Sing along
You don't know what you're missing, now
Any little song that you know
Everything that's small has to grow
And it's gonna grow, push push, yeah.”
Emily makes a mix of songs for the party.
Illuminations on 50th Street.
Rebel turns 50.
Gene DJ’ing.
“I quite  got  off on  that revolution stuff,” sings Ian for Mott.
Steve and LAK,
No shirt.
“Why can’t I get one fuck?
Day after day, I get  angry and I say….”
Everyone bouncing up and down. 
Passing the Mescal.
Caroline gives me a book,
The Children of the Children of the Raven and the Whale.
An epigraph reminds us.
The song remains the same:
“Nothing changes, through much be new-fashioned… In the books of the past we learn naught but of the present; in  those  of the present, the past. All Mardi’s history – beginning, middle and  finis – was written out in capitals in the  first page penned,”
Penns Melville in Mardi, and a Voyage Tither, 1849.
What of the revolutions you thought were going to happen, I ask Jess.
“Like  banning fracking and stopping Port Ambrose?
We thought we were on a roll.”
We felt the same way after Seattle.
Then history intervened.
Bombs  fall.
Buildings crash.
It always does.
Dancing till midnight when the stereo crashed.

Rememberring Dad's 50th.
Joe and Judy and Babs the last to leave.
The little one and I make our way to animecon in the AM.
Exploring the space between fantasy and pop.
Where global culture reminds us there are always places for us.
Off to  169 Bar.
Where the lights sparkle in Chinatown.
Over the Manhattan Bridge.
 Nothing remains the same.
Five decades of Novembers. 
Sweet November. 
Riding my bike
Into the woods.
Song remains the same.
Into the domain.
Before the river takes us.

Photos by Catherine Talese

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