Tuesday, April 3, 2012
But before I talk more about the "Fool", I must say Adieu to two great artists who
completed their own Fool's journey last week: Earl Scruggs, perhaps the greatest
banjo picker of our time and Adrienne Rich, a poet for the ages. Adieu is French for
"farewell", but in Occitan (which is a Romance language still spoken in the Charente,
where I live) it is the same word for farewell and hello. Occitan comes from lenga
d'oc, which comes from oc, the Occitan word for yes. The poet Dante was the first to
record the term lingua d'oc. He said a few other things in Latin about the three major
Romance literary languages, but I think it can be boiled down to a lot of ois and ocs
and oil, which somehow makes me think of Olive Oyl, Popeye and Chips Ahoy. It's a
very hard language to wrap the tongue around. I've been taking french lessons from
the Deputy Mairie, Michel, in our little village--a native Occitan speaker-- and I can
understand only about half of what he says (still $$ well spent!)
How grand to say goodbye and hello at the same time, and that is what I did today,
because, truthfully, I'd forgotten about E. Scruggs and Adrienne Rich for a very long
time. And as is so often the case with remembering, it was bittersweet. Foggy
Mountain Breakdown, Flatt and Scruggs' tour de force banjo background for Bonnie
and Clyde reminded me of an ill-fated drive-in movie date to see Faye & Warren--
hot dogs, cherry cokes, sticky groping & copious amounts of Country Club Malt liquor
resulted in my throwing up on my date's leather jacket. I like Steve Martin's memories
of Earl a lot better. "Some nights he had the stars of North Carolina shooting from his
fingertips," he wrote in the Jan.12th New Yorker. On YouTube, I became the
4,275,999th person to hear him play, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". Earl did have
"stars shooting from his fingertips" and so did Steve Martin, who was playing along
with him. That's the sweet part.
Adrienne Rich held a much bigger slice of my history. This evening I reread her
"Diving into the Wreck", written in the early 70's. Reading that poem brought back the
Vietnam War and all the attendant antiwar poets/writers and their acts of conscience:
Levertov, Bly, Vonnegut (Catch-22, Slaughterhouse 5), Ferlinghetti--too many to list.
And through a dusty, yellowed, lens I saw myself against a backdrop of Gothic
buildings, on the Quad of Cornell University, looking past the blooming cherry trees to
a podium, cheering on the brave, articulate souls who bore witness to their beliefs.
Later in the night, I would trudge home and type till the wee hours (on a standard
Smith-Corona) the annotated bibliography of the Chanson de Roland--a graduate
wife putting her radical, articulate husband of conscience through school. And then
came feminist literature courses (bonjour Mme Bovary), Ithaca's Lavender Hill mob,
the first openly gay theater, Moosewood Cookbook, communal living, open marriage,
open minds, open hearts. You see what happens? You pull a thread, it all unravels.
Through it all Adrienne was a ship charting a brave, unknown course--writing poetry,
rejecting awards, while I, a small pilot fish, swam alongside.
They have nothing of harm to dread
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
Or before his Gorgonian head;
Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth
In white triple tiers of glittering gates,
And there find a haven where peril's abroad,
An asylum in the jaws of the Fates!
So here's the bitter part: A conformity of thought kept many of us in our places. For
you must truly be a "fool" to make this journey. Good news is you can start anywhere
along the road with the innocence of a wise "Fool". Merci Earl & Adrienne for
your music, songs, poems and books. But mostly for your "foolish" courage.
The door itself
makes no promises
it is only a door. adrienne rich
"Open the book of tales you knew by heart,
begin driving the old roads again,
repeating the old sentences, which have changed
minutely from the wordings you remembered."