This past weekend, I had the pleasure of going to see the rock exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a brilliantly well done exhibit, with comfortable layout, easy traffic flow and informative plaques and videos. What struck me, however, was how emotional the experience was. The guitar featured in the above video was there. The video is from Joni Mitchell’s 1983 world tour and is a song I have loved all my life. I wasn’t born at the time this video takes place, but I know that guitar and recognized it before I read the plaque next to it. When I stood near it, I felt like I was closer to her, whose music has had such influence on me throughout my life. And in that moment understood the act of Pilgrimage and just how much objects associated with people can resonate with us. I love going to museums and enjoy looking at historic objects, but never before have I felt such visceral awe just standing near something. If you, dear reader, have the time and enjoy rock, go on Pilgrimage to the Met before these objects go, and may it have the safe effect on you that it did on me.
This part of the reading really reminds me of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “the Last Prayer.” While the first part of the reading was full of visceral sex, this portion feels much more stark and full of dread. “The Last Prayer” (Prayer hereafter), has that same kind of stark feel to it, even though it is being delivered a rock concert. The absence of sound behind the speaker evokes the stark horror in the poem itself, which I very much felt in our reading. It is interesting that the speaker of Prayer is a white man, and I don’t think he has the same life experience of horror that we find in the reading, and that he speaks to in the Prayer itself, “give us this day our daily dread, at least three times a day…” In our reading, there are so many instances of “daily dread,” horror that is not only known but also expected. The juxtaposition between what is holy to the author and the real world is also mirrored in both places, although it doesn’t stay long in this passage, nor does it stay long in Prayer. There’s a bitter tone that comes into Prayer, that I felt very strongly in our reading, that said, I felt like the bitterness in our author comes from the expectation of dread and horror as described in the experiences of our reading; it’s not just the author going through harassment, her father was beaten by police and she and her siblings knew it. This lived experience of the dread and bitterness that pervades our reading, while it reminds me of Prayer, also illustrates how different it is when a poem has authenticity to back it.
“Chest Fever” by The Band is an unusual song with an almost disjointed sound that I’ve been connected to ever since I first heard it. It starts off with a bit of Bach’s “Fugue in D Minor” played on the electric organ, and then goes into the main riff of the song. This is a very long introduction, lasting over 40 seconds, and really draws the listener into the song, both by giving you the sense of the familiar, in Bach’s “Fugue,” and putting a different twist on it, through the use of the electric organ and the almost manic playing of that piece. One interesting thing about the classical introduction piece is that whenever they played it live, they never played the same piece of classical music. The style is the same, however, with manic playing on an electric organ, moving to the main riff. The rest of the song has a similar disjointed feel, with the main riff going through the song, but with almost jarring bursts of manic playing. It comes off feeling like a very raw, almost painful song, and one that is full of aching passion. The lyrics describe a man who is enthralled by a woman, here again is our familiar theme. However, the way they are both portrayed, through the lyrics, for the time, is very different. At the time, 1968, women in music were rather passive in sexual relationships. In this song, the woman is described as “a tracker,” and “a chooser,” while the man is the one who “just can’t refuse her.” She’s portrayed as pursuing sexual partners and doing drugs. “She’s stoned, says the Swede…” She comes and goes as she pleases, (“she was just there/but then/she can’t be here no more..” and the man, from whose perspective we hear about her, is left pining for her. “I just can’t take it very much longer.” There aren’t many songs like this one, and it uses the music to create in the listener the feeling that the singer experiences, of being caught up, overwhelmed, and left suddenly, full of longing. Listening to it closely has given me a greater appreciation for this song, and made me much more connected to it, as aside from the drugs, I have been this woman, and have left my partners wanting more. One final note about this song, is that you hear no moral judgement about the woman in this song, like you find in Rick James’ “Superfreak.” This elevates the story from stereotype to being a tale of the human experience. It made me feel like I was normal, which isn’t something that happens often in music for me. All in all, this is a really neat gender swap of the more traditional “bad boy/sweet girl” stereotype, which breaks the stereotype by removing moral judgement, and uses music to create and enhance the feelings of the singer. It is certainly one by which I will happily be overwhelmed.