Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's in a name?

I recently checked out two of my favorite rock concept albums from the public library that I currently only have on LP (that's long-playing records for you young'uns): Tommy by The Who and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis. After reading the liner notes, I noticed a connection between these two albums that I'd never noticed before.
One of the early titles for Tommy was going to be Rael, a longer song that appeared on the previous album The Who Sell Out.
From Wikipedia: "Rael" is an excerpt from one of Pete Townshend's early attempts at rock opera. The plot is not clear from the excerpt, but it apparently involves a heroic "Captain" who is betrayed by his crew during a clandestine attempt to save Rael from a looming invasion by the Red Chins. The dramatic instrumental section in the second half of the song shows up as a dreamy sequence in both "Sparks" and "Underture" of the later rock opera Tommy.

Here's a link to the lyrics of "Rael"

Years later (1974), when the British progressive rock group Genesis made its own attempt at rock opera, the hero of their rambling, nonsensical tale is a Puerto Rican New York gutter punk named, you guessed it, Rael.

I've done some cursory Internet research and found nothing that connects Tommy and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway via this name, Rael, which is a play on "real." Was Peter Gabriel inspired by The Who when he chose that name for Lamb's main character? Although I found an exhaustively researched site about that album, The Annotated Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I still have not found anything more about the Tommy/Lamb Rael connection.
Here's what that site says about the name:
"In some ways it was quite a traditional concept album - it was a type of Pilgrim's Progress but with this street character in leather jacket and jeans. Rael would have been called a punk at that time without all the post-'76 connotations

Rael was [Peter] Gabriel's made-up name. It was similar enough to the popular Spanish name Raoul to fit in with the character, but English enough to suggest both reality and fantasy.

And what of the significance of "Rael"? Transpose the "a" and the "e" and you get "real", which is referred to in the end of "It": "it is Real, it is Rael".

The juxtaposition of "is" and "Rael" is interesting, since it forms the word "Israel" at the climactic point of the album. Since this album is full of metaphors and references to everything under the sun, it is not out of order to assume that this was intentional. If we go along with this, then we're talking about the children of Israel. According to the dictionary, the Hebrew word "yisrael" means to struggle against God. Judeo-Christian references played a major role in the music of Gabriel-era Genesis, starting with the band's very name. The Lamb's songs might be considered within the context of the New Testament. Some things may begin to fall into place. Carrying the metaphor further, we can assume Real is a Christ figure. "The lamb lies down on Broadway" would then mean "Jesus Christ dies in New York." At the end of the story, Rael sacrifices his life for his brother John, in spite of the numerous times John had forsaken him, and he loves him anyway. This is a very Christian attitude. On an unrelated note, "Rael" spelled backwards is "Lear", which may be an intentional reference to the mad king of Shakespear. "

Let's not bring in the weird clone cult, the Raelians, who have no connection to concept albums except for the incomprehensibility of their beliefs. As any fan knows, rock opera plots are equally as difficult to make sense of. Maybe I could start a cult devoted to deciphering the lyrics...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Memento Mori

There's been a lot of connecting threads between the things I've read and seen. Some have been planned, like the back-to-back viewings of 300 and Troy. It was clunky-dialogue over-the-top violent ancient history drama week on my Netflix queu. But here's a couple wild coincidental connections that bear notice.

I read the following quotation two nights ago. From Sweet Thursday, by John Steinbeck, in the chapter entitled “There’s a Hole in Reality Through Which We Can Look If We Wish.”

The seer looked downward at an angle into Doc’s face. “I live alone,” he said simply. “I live in the open. I hear the waves at night and see the black patterns of the pine boughs against the sky. With sound and silence and color and solitude, of course I see visions. Anyone would.”
“But you don’t believe in them?” Doc asked hopefully.
“I don’t find it a matter of belief or disbelief,” the seer said. “You’ve seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it’s an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it? Don’t you see visions?”
“No,” said Doc.
“From music, don’t forms of wishes and forms of memory take shape?”
“That’s different,” said Doc.
“I don’t see any difference,” said the seer. “Come along -- dinner’s ready.” (59)

Which segues nicely into another favorite author, Jack Kerouac, and visions he had by the sea. I lucked onto this passage last night. It’s from Dharma Bums, but I quote it from The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters. The Pacific Ocean dominates, as do visions and the bliss of moments, music in the head, etc.

" I bade farewell to the little bum of Saint Teresa at the crossing, where we jumped off, and went to sleep the night in the sand in my blankets, far down the beach at the foot of a cliff where cops wouldn’t see me and drive me away. I cooked hotdogs on freshly cut and sharpened sticks over the coals of a big wood fire, and heated a can of beans and a can of cheese macaroni in the redhot hollows, and drank my newly bought wine, and exulted in one of the most pleasant nights of my life. I waded in the water and dunked a little and stood looking up at the splendorous night sky, Avalokitesvara’s ten-wondered universe of dark and diamonds. “Well, Ray,” sez I, glad. “Only a few miles to go. You’ve done it again.” Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running -- that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the beach out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters."

Considering the Steinbeck quote, I saw an episode called "Sounds and Silences," about an annoying, loud man who goes over the edge and gets poetic justice. Click on the link above for a synopsis.

And while we're on The Twilight Zone...

Last Friday I woke up at the ungodly hour of 3:45 a.m., so popped in a The Twilight Zone DVD and watched an episode entitled "Long Live Walter Jameson." It is from the first season of the series and is a simple, Dorian Gray-like story about a man who is immortal and is planning on marrying a new bride, but is gunned down by an old lady, the previous wife, and turns to dust. The DVD liner notes talk about how the aging process was achieved, a very simple change of lights.

From a Wikipedia article about the episode:

The scenes of Walter Jameson's aging was performed by using an old movie-making trick. Age lines were drawn on actor Kevin McCarthy's face in red make-up. During the beginning of the scene, red lighting was used, bathing the scene in red and hiding the age lines. As the scene progressed, the red lights were turned down and green lights were brought up. Under the green lights, the red age lines were prominent. The lighting changes were unseen by the audience because it was filmed in black-and-white. The ultimate result is the appearance of a complete make-up change with no cuts to the scene.

Pretty clever...

So, after seeing that episode, I was feeling a sense of my own mortality. I read the liner notes to the DVD and learned that the episode's writer, Charles Beaumont, died of a mysterious Alzheimer's -like disease that rapidly aged him.

From Wikipedia (again?!): When Beaumont was 34 and overwhelmed by numerous writing commitments, he began to suffer the effects of a mysterious brain disease. His speech began to get slower, he seemed to age much faster than normal and his ability to concentrate and be creative quickly disappeared.[1]. While perhaps Alzheimer's disease or Pick's disease, as commonly assumed, the disease may have been related to the meningitis he'd suffered as a child.

I then went on to read Of Mice and Men later that morning with my freshmen, the very heart-wrenching part of the book where Carlson shoots Candy's dog. That section of the book showcases how Candy's dog was once useful -- "he was the best sheep herder" -- but now that he's useless there's no room for him in the world of work and he is quickly dispatched, a fate Candy fears deeply because he is old and disabled.

Interesting how this basic theme of mortality came up twice in two different mediums with no prior planning. Throw in the death of Charles Beaumont for extra emphasis.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Recent pictures

The first batch of pictures are from Oct. 19, 2008 at the Fabyan Forest Preserve just south of Geneva, IL, on the Fox River. The preserve contains a functioning windmill, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (you can hardly turn around in Chicagoland without running into one), and a Japanese garden.

The one picture of my family is from a barbecue at my house Sept. 28, 2008.

Following that picture are some pictures from the Day Out With Thomas event in August at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL.

Another group of pictures were taken about a month ago at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin.

The last picture is of Jonny at my place.

NOTE: I tried to put captions next to each picture, but after multiple attempts to space things so the captions did not appear as single letters down the side of each photo, I gave up. STUPID BLOGGER! (AHH. STUPID ME, TOO, PROBABLY.)

This picture is at my place. Jonny wore this t-shirt as nightwear and liked chasing me around, yelling "Boo!"

Monday, November 03, 2008

10 minutes of mayhem

Yeah, 10 minutes. That's all I'm giving myself to post this blog entry. Just keep the fingers moving. That's what I tell my students in free writes. Keep the fingers moving and let the magic flow. Sometimes, it does. It pays to ignore your inner editor.

Favorite Halloween moments....

Just going door to door with Jonny. He was a stop sign. "I stop" on one side. "For candy," on the other. His idea. He painted the red. Mom took care of the words.

I kid you not, walking by Elmwood Cemetery in Sycamore, shortly after dusk, a line of old grave stones, some eerily lit in memorium, a line of pine trees in silhouette, and rising above it, large and slightly in mist, a crescent moon. I told my dad, who was along for the walk, that the only thing missing was a witch riding by. He said willow trees blowing in the wind would be a good creepy touch.

Halloween is for kids. Having a kid allows me to enjoy the innocent fun of trick-or-treating. And this was the first year Jonny was really into it. Afterwards, back at Esther's place, going through the loot, Jonny put his arm around all the candy. "My candy," he said covetously. And as he continued to sort through it I noticed the package of gummy Lifesavers. Ooh, I really like those, I said. Later, just before I left, he reached into his pile for them and gave them to me.

Yeah, Halloween was a lot of fun.

When I was a kid I used to rent creepy movies and watch them all night. One of my all-time favorites is still the 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead. Only years later did I realize why. The movie is claustrophobic, taking place almost entirely in a house. And then, when morning comes, the zombies are still about, but the hero, a black man, a revolutionary concept in its day, is shot down by white hillbillies and unceremoniously added to a fire.

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!!!"