Monday, October 30, 2006

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart

I have always been a little slow, particularly in catching on to really cool stuff. So forgive me for this, but I had such a shock to find myself standing in front of Bruce Springsteen at that gig in Dublin and thinking, not only can this guy perform, but these lyrics are bloody amazing!

Seriously, I didn't know ! You can imagine the following days of rapture as I began to listen to all of Ian's albums. The other artists that came immediately to mind were Tom Waits and Billy Joel. But also this Yeats poem which still echoes in my mind when I listen to Bruce.

Initially the link was bound to be the mere mention of the circus (see my last post and the lyrics of that Springsteen song). Wild Billy is one of my favourite songs because it reminds me of being a kid of maybe 8 or 9 and listening to Billy Joel and realizing that songs could be about telling a story as well as about dancing or a catchy chorus (other favourites of the day included 'You're the One That I Want'- John Travolta and Olivia Newton John). But I also love Wild Billy's Circus story because I feel like I fit into it. I'm there in that circus (and before you say it, no, I'm not the man-beast lyin' in his cage sniffin' popcorn.... I was thinking a little less literal than that... although somedays....)

It helps. Songs like that help. The weirdness of all those circus freaks, the clowns waiting for a saviour, the hopes surrounding moving on. And there is so much colour in it too. I like how Springsteen and Waits can do that. Like there is some revelation of gold to be found in the darkest and most human of places.

And so onto this Yeats poem. It's about writing but (I think/ imagine) it's about writing as a human function of being. As if sometimes the act of writing can be so transcendent that you have to remind yourself that 'human' and 'writer' are inextricably linked, lest you find yourself unable to do the job at hand. Mike Ridell has this piece on his website (see title link and then click on 'articles') called 'Voiding the Void' which makes a pretty great job (in my opinion) of describing this sort of tension. He says:

'The writer can never be healed, but can be maintained through judicious palliative care. In writing there is a clumsy reaching toward the stars; a kind of outward movement of the Void, expanding into the world. It is unavoidable....and it is deflating. The words can never carry the weight of the eternal, and yet for the writer there is nothing else to transport it in.'

I can feel that in Springsteen and in Waits and in this Yeats poem. Here it is:

The Circus Animals' Desertion

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

What can I but enumerate old themes,

First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.

Those masterful images because complete

Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.


Awareness said...

How strange..........I too was a late bloomer to Bruce Springsteen. This time last year, I was working at the dining room table with my glue gun and various Christmas bazaar crafty things (alas no hygeine products at that point)....and my husband put on Devils and Dust. He had played it before, but for some reason it got my attention for the first time ever. There is not one bad note on the whole CD. I love it from beginning to end and back again.

I was a hold out all through Born to Run days in high school and all the way through University. Finally, at age 45 I got it.

I have since driven my family bonkers listening to it......and other Boss tunes over and over and over.

Hope the little geg's feeling better. Nothing worse than a snotty geg with a cossie on her head. :)

Variations On A Theme said...

Oh my. This deserves a few more readings. I love the line, "that raving slut / Who keeps the till." ANd this is the third "Listen to Bruce Springsteen" message that I've received within the week. Must do. Thank you!

Rainbow dreams said...

Bruce Springsteen brings back memories of exercise classes for Duke of Edinburgh, lycra, being sixteen(ish) and Born to Run - perhaps not the kindest memories to have of someone - but the more I hear from others, the more I feel I should rethink and give him a second chance!

Waits I have revisited recently and really listened to for the first time in years - memories and association play such a part in pushing some things away that shouldn't be.

mister tumnus said...


i love devils and dust too. think it's his best one for ages. i have tickets to see him in a few weeks. woo hoo! it's going to be all the pete seeger stuff (which i like but have to be in the mood for) and the venue is one i don't really like but he will be in belfast- BELFAST ! woo HOO!

the little geg is crying her head off. she is knackered but still won't nap. not good!


yes, i love this poem so much. apart from the last couplet i like the line 'players and painted stage took all my love/ and not those things that they were emblems of'. fab.

do heed the call to bruce!! 'devils and dust' is a good starter. my personal faves are 'the wild, the inoocent and the e street shuffle' and 'nebraska' but plenty of others would disagree. 'tunnel of love' is great too.


yeh, before i saw bruce in concert my abiding memory of him was of playing 'born in the USA' alongside dire straits' 'brothers in arms' on a youth club weekend. at the time i prefered the dire straits. at the dublin gig i went to he did a very beautiful acoustic version of 'born in the USA' as the opening song. it was very poignant as the war in iraq had just been started. wish i'd heard that version all those years ago!

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

been thinking what to write, but i'm running out of words - unlike you who has (as the lovely Mcleary says) managed to weave waits springsteen and yeats - and that my dear is no mean feat - your post to me is remeniscent of our friend mr darks writing, that's how good i think this is!

mister tumnus said...

wow, thanks!

mister tumnus said...

hmmm. you know, reading over my post again i can see definite evidence of masen/dark influence. heh. that's cool.

jdaviddark said...

well, masen and i are always pleased to note in our own scribblings and out-loud expressions a distinct milburnian/mcmillan-ishnessiness.
what can we but enumerate each other's old themes.

glad to be around these parts,