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Thursday, August 18, 2005
“Macushla, Macushla your sweet voice is calling
calling me softly again and again
Macushla Macushla I hear its dear pleading
my blue eyed Macushla I hear it in vain”
That’s an old lyric, not one of mine.
A lyric you may never hear, one of many in progress from a song I’ve been working on:
Floated off alone along the slow green hours
Searching through a song to find my fathers’ face
Idle while I traced a fingertip
Along a long ellipse of tiny stitches
holding his stars in place
This “eh” lyric concerns frequent nights in the recent, distant past when I’d sip glasses of absinthe alone at the junction of solitude and isolation. On the wall of that room where I’d partake, the flag from my Father’s coffin holds pride of place. It is folded, as per military custom, into a tidy triangle. The dark blue field and the stars… a wedge of blank infinity. It suggests to me the dignity of such formal traditions – so deeply appreciated by Dad - as well as an implication of continuity. I’d hold it and weep, listening to “Farewell! But Whenever You Welcome The Hour” by Thomas Moore. The song reduces me to sobs when I’m sober; on absinthe it would physically possess me, wrenching my soul with a power so absolute that there was a kind of convulsive satisfaction to it. This is not hyperbole, though it might sound nonsensical to anyone who’s never come up through black depths of sorrow toward the light of a song: light, ocean, velocity, the bends. And you want it all, it’s intolerable, and you want it never to end. The dull ache of ordinary grief, the banality of daily routine, the numbness resulting from tamping down a life’s yearnings and losses all replaced by an ecstasy of sorrow. It is very, very close to the holy abandon of hysterical laughter.
This is why I don’t dismiss the sentimental, but I abhor every version and variation of “cool.” And I don’t give a flying fuck if it all makes me sound insane or dorky.
“Farewell, but whenever you welcome the hour
That awakens the night-song of mirth in your bower,
Then think of the friend who once welcom'd it too,
And forgot his own griefs to be happy with you.”
That was my Dad.
“Let Fate do her worst, there are relics of joy,
Bright dreams of the past, which she cannot destroy,
Which come in the night-time of sorrow and care,
And bring back the features that joy used to wear.
Long, long be my heart with such memories fill'd,
Like the vase in which roses have once been distill'd.
You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will,
But the scent of the roses will hang 'round it still.”
The scent of the roses briefly filled the air those nights, but this little ceremony was also an act of selfish brinksmanship; it DID make me insane. And I can’t be insane. I have two tiny children. I see Dad in them, and they show me the part of Dad that’s in me. They deserve better than Syd Barrett for a Pappy. Their Mom deserves a healthy, full partner. In attempting to get past the losses I’ve so long been mired in (wallowing in the tar pit is SO Pleistocene Epoch… I mean, really…) and become for them something like the Dad I was so blessed to have, I’ve corked the bottle and petitioned Seamus to help me.
So I’m watching this mediocre movie “Million Dollar Baby” with Mom and Brother Brian one night a while ago, at the beginning of a period of genuine healing, which continues. I used to think that “healing” was a joke doctors told each other over piles of money, but I believe it more now. A few days prior, after many entreaties to Dad, I found, happenstance, an old picture of us at Greenwood Lake, a place the folks took me for a lovely little getaway when I was a kid. There we were on a diving board, me looking just like my boy Miles will look in a few years, Dad smiling with his arm around me then, waving to ME. Now.
Hi, Dad. I’m good… me and Shelley and the babies are good.
So I am feeling Dad’s presence all over the place lately, and not in that depths-of-sorrow way the absinthe and Moore engendered, but in a “the sun is shining and the fence is fixed” way. There's a story for that reference, but not tonight. But dig...
Miles used to stare at the space above Mom’s chair, which was where Dad would sit and watch the tube in his final years here with us. Miles’d act happy and excited, staring at that same spot in mid-air above Mom’s head. Hi, Grandpa. He stopped doing it some months back, when he shed much of his otherworldly baby aloofness and became the laughing, kissing, chattering little boy he is. But one day recently he looked back up there and pointed. “Poppop!” Fucking amazing. The kid was one month old when the old man died (and there is an incredible moment, starring Lily, from that awful day, but that's a whole 'nother glory trance for a whole 'nother time). I don’t care how it sounds… I reject hoodoo of all sorts and aim to explain nothing, nor look for explanations, but there are things you know, and I knew what Miles was seeing.
So anyway, we’re watching “Million Dollar Baby,” a film about which I knew nothing except that Morgan Freeman is always worth watching. The pic was a well-made, pat tale of no consequence, but I thought to myself at one point “Dad would like this. Well, Dad probably does like it.” It concerns boxing, and Dad did some of that – Golden Gloves – and used to take me to some local bouts when I was the squirt in that photo. Just as I thought the thought, Clint Eastwood’s character whispers to the female boxer he’s managing: “Mo Cuisle.” Whoah! I said out loud: “Dad!” My Mom said “What do you mean?” in an eerie, aware voice. This heartbroken woman felt it too, but held her thought, unsure that I had that same ZOT. The light in the middle room suddenly went out. The light Dad would always get up out of bed to turn off in the middle of the night. This wasn’t a “chills” moment, this was all-pervasive warmth. I fucking knew and I still know. Mo Cuisle! The song (title anglicized… which means you phonetically announce the pronunciation of an Irish Gaelic word to facilitate contemporary understanding, since the goddamn brits pretty much did in the language except for the efforts of cultural preservationists like my Dad… “Macushla”) that John MacCormack recorded when Dad was a little boy, a record I’d heard all my life, and love for the tear it brought to Dad’s eye:
Macushla, Macushla your white arms are reaching
I feel them enfolding, caressing me still
fling them out from the darkness my lost love Macushla
let them find me, and bind me again if they will
Macushla, Macushla your red lips are saying
that death is a dream and love is for aye
then awaken Macushla, awake from your dreaming
my blue eyed Macushla awaken to stay.
Dad sang in a poorboy choir that accompanied MacCormack on stage, years and years ago (“Fado, fado” as Dad used to say)when he was a Dublin kid who looked like me in that photo where I looked like little blue-eyed Miles is gonna look. His voice remained strong and beautiful, and he sang Macushla all through his life. He sang it that night as the light went out and Clint Eastwood became the vehicle for Dad telling us all he was here, and I heard you Dad. This is how he says he heard me and all my pleading. When we wish to tell those we love that we hear them, we let them hear us. We move through an impossibly complex universe, and we adopt a cheap cynicism to cover the ignorance and hurt that often defines our experience of the “tangible” portion thereof. Some of us, Griced beyond all redemption, hear only the dull buzz of our own idiot obsessions and desires, and make only the screech of feedback as our call. Some of us hear something of the infinite, and that’s a lucky thing worth bleeding to keep hold of.
Let us view the duality in terms of my own religion:
Some of us glimpse the sublime, and know it when we do. This is the Brian Wilson beatification.
Some fall to the side of all things small, cheap and ugly… arrogance and stupidity… allowing the Mike Love leviathan to overtake all.
Are we destiny-bound to go either way? Do the little beGriced children ever see Grandpa hovering in mid-air or only those enMurphyed chosen?
Must little Wilsons suffer and strive while little Loves reap and laugh? Grim questions with no answers, but anyhoo, which life is worth living? Your answer will reveal whether your soul’s song spirals heavenward in sweet clear falsetto, or plods farting through the swamp, like that smirking lord of darkness who, for all his meditation, couldn’t transcend his odiosity for even the one second stop-time that kept “The Little Girl I once Knew” off the charts.
What the fuck is Mike "Sport" Murphy talking about?
Ah, whatever. Shelley and I took Lily and Miles to a play center today, and at some point “I Get Around” sounded forth from a hitherto silent jukebox. Still my favorite record of all time, hands-down. Still futuristic, fresh, thrilling and PERFECT. So Brian is on my mind. So is Van Dyke Parks, and SMILE and SONG CYCLE and all of it again.
My portal to Great All-Unknown, and my direct line to everything that means something more than the loud fuck-it-all that otherwise surrounds. The type-A void, pounding like the wretched, hateful, stupid hip hop that blasts from the automobiles of a billion little American twats with goatees and baseball hats. Today, while Shelley and I... in love... watched our little children gamboling, that Brian Wilson song thrilled me the same way it did when my Mom and Dad... in love... gamboled with me at Greenwood Lake. Fado, fado.
I felt obliged to mention these high things and low things, if only in a confusing little sketch like this entry. Absinthe and agony, for all the trouble they caused, opened a door. Now the absinthe’s gone, the doorway may be entered. I’m in. I see Dad smiling in mid-air, above that chair where he read the French reviews of Uncle, beaming with pride as I stood amazed, never even knowing the old man could read French, let alone ever suspecting my work would give him cause for pride. Well, Dad, thanks. I’m making music again. Mo Cuisle! My heart!
We will attempt to reflect some sense of all the above and more at Knitting Factory. If you’re there, you can tell me afterwards if we succeeded.
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