Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
I was reading some of A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes the other day and thought the following section might be of interest to those like Sterling, thinking about songs to those who are absent.
The Absent One
absence / absence
Any episode of language which stages the absence of the loved object - whatever its cause and its duration - and which tends to transform this absence into an ordeal of abandonment.
1. Many lieder, songs, and melodies about the beloved's absence. And yet this classic figure is not to be found in Werther. The reason is simple: here the loved object (Charlotte) does not move; it is the amorous subject (Werther) who, at a certain moment, departs. Now, absence can exist only as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is in a condition of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is, by vocation, migrant, fugitive; I - I who love, by converse vocation, am sedentary, motionless, at hand, in expectation, nailed to the spot, in suspense - like a package in some forgotten corner of a railway station. Amorous absence functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves: an always present I is constituted only by confrontation with an always absent you. To speak this absence is from the start to propose that the subject's place and the other's place cannot permute; it is to say, "I am loved less than I love."
2. Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other's absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he is inverted but because he is in love. (Myth and utopia: the origins have belonged, the future will belong to the subjects in whom there is something feminine.)
3. Sometimes I have no difficulty enduring absence. Then I am "normal": I fall in with the way "everyone" endures the departure of a "beloved person"; I diligently obey the training by which I was very early accustomed to be separated from my mother - which nonetheless remained, at its source, a matter of suffering (not to say hysteria). I behave as a well-weaned subject; I can feed myself, meanwhile, on other things besides the maternal breast.
This endured absence is nothing more or less than forgetfulness. I am, intermittently, unfaithful. This is the condition of my survival; for if I did not forget, I should die. The lover who doesn't forget sometimes dies of excess, exhaustion, and tension of memory (like Werther).
(As a child, I didn't forget: interminable days, abandoned days, when the Mother was working far away; I would go, evenings, to wait for her at the Ubis bus stop, Sevres-Babylone; the buses would pass one after the other, she wasn't in any of them.)
4. I waken out of this forgetfulness very quickly. In great haste, I reconstitute a memory, a confusion. A (classic) word comes from the body, which expresses the emotion of absence: to sigh: "to sigh for the bodily presence": the two halves of the androgyne sigh for each other, as if each breath, being incomplete, sought to mingle with the other: the image of the embrace, in that it melts the two images into a single one: in amorous absence, I am, sadly, an unglued image that dries, yellows, and shrivels.
(But isn't desire always the same, whether the object is present or absent? Isn't the object always absent? -This isn't the same languor: there are two words: Pothos, desire for the absent being, and Himeros, the more burning desire for the present being.)
5. Endlessly I sustain the discourse of the beloved's absense; actually a preposterous situation; the other is absent as referent, present as allocutory. This singular distortion generates a kind of insupportable present; I am wedged between two tenses, that of the reference and that of the allocution: you have gone (which I lament), you are here (since I am addressing you). Whereupon I know what the present, that difficult tense, is: a pure portion of anxiety.
Absence persists - I must endure it. Hence I will manipulate it: transform the distortion of time into oscillation, produce rhythm, make an entrance onto the stage of language (language is born of absence: the child has made himself a doll out of a spoon, throws it away and picks it up again, miming the mother's departure and return: a paradigm is created). Absence becomes an active practice, a business (which keeps me from doing anything else); there is a creation of a fiction which has many roles (doubts, reproaches, desires, melancholies). This staging of language postpones the other's death: a very short interval, we are told, separates the time during which the child still believes his mother to be absent and the time during which he believes her to be already dead. To manipulate absence is to extend this interval, to delay as long as possible the moment when the other might topple sharply from absence into death.
6. Frustration would have Presence as its figure (I see the other every day, yet I am not satisfied thereby: the obejct is actually there yet continues, in terms of my image-repertoire, to be absent for me). Whereas castration has Intermittence as its figure (I agree to leave the other for a while, "without tears," I assume the grief of the relation, I am able to forget). Absence is the figure of privation; simultaneously, I desire and I need. Desire is squashed against need: that is the obsessive phenomenon of all amorous sentiment.
("Desire is present, ardent, eternal: but God is higher still, and the raised arms of Desire never attain to the adored plenitude." The discourse of Absence is a text with two ideograms: there are the raised arms of Desire, and there are the wide-open arms of Need. I oscillate, I vacillate between the phallic image of the raised arms, and the babyish image of the wide-open arms.)
7. I take a seat, alone, in a cafe; people come over and speak to me; I feel that I am sought after, surrounded, flattered. But the other is absent; I invoke the other inwardly to keep my on the brink of this mundane complacency, a temptation. I appeal to the other's "truth" (the truth of which the other gives me the sensation) against the hysteria of seduction into which I feel myself slipping. I make the other's absence responsible for my worldliness: I invoke the other's protection, the other's return: let the other appear, take me away, like a mother who comes looking for her child, from this worldly brilliance, from this social infatuation, let the other restore to me "the religious intimacy, the gravity" of the lover's world. (X once told me that love had protected him against worldliness: coteries, ambitions, advancements, interferences, alliances, secessions, roles, powers: love had made him into a social catastrophe, to his delight.)
8. A Buddhist Koan says: "The master holds the disciple's head underwater for a long, long time; gradually the bubbles become fewer; at the last moment, the master pulls the disciple out and revives him: when you have craved truth as you crave air, then you will know what truth is."
The absence of the other holds my head underwater; gradually I drown, my air supply gives out: it is by this asphyxia that I reconstitute my "truth" and that I prepare what in love is Intractable.
ILM had been inundated with lists lately, but I like the point to this one from Jess. I tried one of my own; like all my lists it seems kind of boring to me.
I do find this list interesting in one way, though, and that's that I'm not that uncomfortable with choosing these songs as "life-affirming." I don't like that phrase, probably because it's usually used to disparage music that I love as somehow being inimical to life affirmation (that would mean that it denies life, I guess, but putting it that way should just make it even more clear what a stupid way of talking that is - this is music that people make and love, dammit). So maybe I'm offering the list ironically, or ultrasubjectively, although I think people would tend to agree that a lot of these are life-affirming in the conventional sense. Whatever. They are my-life-affirming, is the key thing. And most, but not all of them, I took notice of especially in the past year.
Of course, I've known about some, like "Back and Forth," for plenty of time. Even then I was treating it sort of ritually, accorded the kind of respect deserved by something that makes me so happy and gives me so much hope. I remember a time earlier this fall, which I unfortunately didn't write about, when I was walking home at night from the first time I had been out walking and exploring in St. Paul. I chose to listen to Emergency & I not really out of any definite plan to affirm life or anything like that, but hearing it, especially the ending sequence starting with "You Are Invited" and ending with "Back and Forth," I realized that I was probably starting to use it sort of ritualistically for that, in a very loose sense. I mean, often I'll just put it on to hear it or feel good, but I could tell that it had begun to have more deliberate uses too, deliberate and also backed by a small and growing personal tradition.
Of these other pieces of music, maybe "Eclipse" and "Get Up" are closest to "Back and Forth" in the above way. There are family resemblances between all of them, so that I don't treat everything on the list the same way, but there are some songs I treat similarly to others, some which I treat more ceremonially, if you will, others which just make me feel good.
On tracks like Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose James Brown sounds overwhelmed by the band. I don't mean just that they're a lot louder than him. On studio recordings from around this time, he's in control. Here, it doesn't sound like the band is following him. Everything is frantically keeping up with the groove that the band as a whole is setting.
Technically I don't think Jess's project need present him with many difficulties - he's always writing about old records anyway - but maybe making the cutoff 1984 will force him into thinking things he wouldn't normally write about. I certainly wouldn't want to try it!
First song played this year: "Here Comes the Sun", followed by "Because" which I have been repeating since then. I saw "Because" mentioned in a magazine and really wanted to hear it, and when I sat down at the CD player, hearing "Here Comes the Sun" sounded like a really good idea, too.
"Because" I wanted to hear mostly because I re-watched American Beauty last week and there's a beautiful remake of the song over the closing credits. The original doesn't have the same sacred feeling of that remake, but it's still doing it for me right now. It's a weird song - all intro.
I'm glad to see that Mel has started a music writing site, and even more glad that it's very good.
The first track on Not for Nothin' really sounds like it ends 5 minutes in, then starts again. I haven't yet paid enough attention to notice how they get around this interesting problem, if it even is one.
I wonder if Coltrane started using so many slow codas (often combined with slow entrances) because they acted as a cadencing device with all the modal or otherwise not-normally-resolving midsections.
Mystikal, Tarantula. I think I heard him being sensitive in the midst of all the howling and grunting. Awww.
John Coltrane, Stellar Regions. The first time it came on, after the Holland, it kind of scared me, but only because it was loud. Really. I still can't get over how beautiful this is despite the way it sound.
Dave Holland, Not for Nothin'. I don't hear Billy Kilson doing as much direct drum-n-bass borrowing as on Prime Directive (not that that album was overrun with it), but it does pop up here and there during parts, which makes me think that he's just integrated those rhythmic ideas (ooh, what a five dollar phrase) into his playing more thoroughly.
Prefuse 73, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives. A Christmas gift from Dave! The CD here I am the least familiar with so far, and that doesn't help since it's been a curious listen so far. I was expecting more hip-hop, I guess, or at least hip-hop that sounds less like "downtempo" (ha, take that Ethan). I did catch myself enjoying what I took to be a boring track earlier though, so this one bears listening (as with most things I first hear).
Erik Truffaz, The Mask. A compliation, which means that there's more traditional trumpet-drums-piano-bass small group post-bop, as well as something in between with the pianist on Fender Rhodes (and tending toward very guitary sounds, so maybe he plays a Clavinet too or something, but I didn't think he did) and the band playing something more like early Miles proto-fusion. And also of course what Truffaz is known for, a live band playing drum-n-bass-meets-jazz. Based on Revisite I wasn't expecting to be that impressed, but so far I've liked it quite a bit. I think those who criticize Truffaz for apeing Miles too much, and also for just sort of blankly playing his long tones over the rhythm section without interacting, may have some point, but I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to care when the band is playing some really right drum-n-bass and Truffaz seems to be filling his role quite well in that respect. Maybe the band is open to criticisms of not putting enough jazz into things, I'm not sure. The music feels a lot more electric to me, probably because of the tiny variations perceptible that are due to the band playing live. I'll have to think about it some more.