Last year, Joel Miller posted a charming encomium of C.S. Lewis on the occasion of his death in “Giving thanks for C.S. Lewis.” Here is a wonderful story from the article:
My father, an English teacher, once told me a story that might illustrate just how good natured Lewis was. Another teacher he heard at a conference recounted how she once assigned her college prep students a book review. They could pick any book, and one of the boys in the class chose something by Lewis.
The teacher was excited when the student filed his report. She was a big Lewis fan and had read everything he’d written to that point. But the problem was that Lewis certainly hadn’t written this book. She was convinced the kid made up the report. So–much to the boy’s horror–she sent the report to Lewis.
Six weeks later, the teacher received a response. Lewis was famously serious about answering his correspondence. Inside the letter was a sealed note to the student. She gave the boy the note.
With more than a little fear, he opened it to find words to these effect: “I want to thank you for the review of a book I may someday write.” Lewis went on to say that if the imaginative boy should ever write a book of his own, to please send him a copy.
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’ leave-taking. To celebrate this wonderful man, let us read some of his work over the weekend. Memory eternal!
I survived my Friday return from the Belle & Sebastian concert. I took the 915 commuter bus from the American Indian Museum to Columbia Mall next to the Merriweather Post Pavilion. It only cost $4.25, and a kind lady gave me the quarter when I asked if she could make change while we waited for the bus. I arrived at the gate around 6:15 PM, thinking that the opening act by Yo La Tengo would start at 6:30 PM. Unfortunately, the doors opened at 6:30 PM, and I had ninety minutes to tour the grounds. I had never before been to the Merriweather Post Pavilion, and I found it very agreeable. The place is huge with many subclimates in the various niches of the campus. For the venue, there is a wide lawn, then a large covered arena with stadium seating, and finally the floor or “pit,” which is where I was headed, having purchased my ticket within four minutes of the concert’s pre-sale opening in February. I was fortunate that my browser crashed because I originally was assigned a seat for “best seat available.” When I tried a few minutes later, the seat offered was farther from the stage, and I cursed the fates in a manner quite unworthy of Homer. Then, however, I discovered the floor option by luck or divine guidance, and I was thrilled . . . and somewhat awed that I had narrowly avoided missing out on such a wonderful opportunity. Small blessings like that seem to happen all the time. Anyway, it was a tumultuous four minutes back in the winter.
I waited in the rear section of the floor for the show to start so that I could lean against the wall above which the seats began. When Yo La Tengo commenced, the crowd was immediately into it. It was a very different environment from the Belle & Sebastian concert three years ago at Constitution Hall. Maybe the increased energy level was due to the facts that M.P.P. was an outdoor venue, that it was Friday, and that it was summer. Regardless, this crowd was ready to dance, sing, and make merry. I liked the change. Though the opening act had a large and appreciative fan base in the audience, I felt ambivalent. Georgia Hubley had a lovely, soulful voice, and some of the numbers were quite complementary to a Belle & Sebastian setting, but Ira Kaplan’s possessed antics made me uneasy. I know that musicians tap into a Dionysian flow, but it is rather revolting to witness when you do not fall under the same spell—it has an effect similar to the smell of eggs or fish for someone who is not eating them. I did find the lead’s assortment of guitars fascinating, and then I read later that I am not alone. I spent Kaplan’s orgiastic moments figuring out the pattern for the light show and people watching, and I was happy for the intermission to arrive.
When I returned to the floor for our beloved Scots to start, I placed myself close to the stage—very close. I could have been in the center had I stationed myself there at 6:30 PM, but I knew that I would not have been able to hold my ground alone given nature’s occasional requirements for me to leave the venue. Still, I was quite happy with my space—close enough to touch the side stage but away from the center so that I did not feel like I was blocking anyone’s view. Here is a snapshot by my pitiable phone camera:
The show was excellent! Bands have good days and bad days with performances, and this was a very good day for Belle & Sebastian. They charged onto the stage and started out with the energetic yet ornerily titled instrumental “Judy Is a Dick Slap.” Murdoch, Jackson, and Martin all sang better than they did three years ago, with studio recording quality at times. In a moment of doubt during “Another Sunny Day,” I even wondered if they somehow were using pre-recordings, but they were clearly live. It was fantastic. And the members seemed happy, too. Their vacation from band life over the last few years while Murdoch had been busy with God Help the Girl has been good for them. They were enjoying being there and being together. As I mentioned, the crowd’s vibe was enthusiastic and participatory, and the crew obviously felt comfortable being so welcomed and celebrated by the audience. Indeed, it is striking to notice how the youth from Glasgow have matured into a confidant live act. See, for instance, the following rendition of “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner” in what appears to be their first televised gig. I love the song, but Murdoch and Campbell come across a bit unnerved.
They are long past that. Murdoch and company now know that they are adored by their audience, and they show love in return, much to the perturbation of the security detail. It has become customary for Belle & Sebastian to invite people to dance on the stage, and such happened tonight. I resisted the urge, though I could have done so given my location. Once the stage was rather full (and I was worrying about all those wires and the potential for accidents), more folks from the floor tried to get onto the stage. Those poor bouncers, trying to maintain order and everyone’s well aligned vertebrae, while Scotland’s finest indulge in heedless pop star generosity and partyishness. After “The Boy with the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man,” the dancers shook the hands and patted the backs of the band, and even the serious Bobby Kildea was smiling brightly. It was a good time, though far too short. Two hours with B&S is just an appetizer. It makes me want to become a short term roadie just to be able to travel with them across the country.
After the show, reality reasserted itself, and I had to find a way back to D.C. I was able to share an overpriced taxi with others to the Silver Spring metro. The red line was closed between Silver Spring and New York Avenue (er, hm, “NoMa-Gallaudet”), and they were running free shuttles to New York Avenue. Once I got to “NoMa,” I just decided to walk home, wishing to save a couple bucks after shelling out my ticket’s worth in cab fare. I do not regret it, though. I listened to my Belle & Sebastian album collection for the rest of the weekend.
This evening, I am journeying way out to the Merriweather Post Pavilion in bufu Maryland to see Belle & Sebastian again in concert. I have no idea how I shall return to civilization (defined quite liberally, of course), but maybe I can hitchhike back to the District with some other towner tramps. Why would they build a venue so inaccessible and then offer no transit options that run late enough to take after an evening concert? Howard County, what are you thinking?
Anyway, here is one of B&S’s proudly amateurish videos for “Come on Sister” from Write about Love:
Career fantasies—and Stevie is a butcher?!?!? What a crowd!
This past weekend, I attended the Panegyri Festival while visiting home. I had not been to the Greek fest for many years, and I was surprised by how much it had grown. Besides the food (the food!), the main entertainment consisted of music and dancing. At the end of the evening, the musicians and dancers welcomed the audience to participate in the communal dancing. While I watched the revelers, I thought about the communal aspect of the dancing. Everyone participates in such circle dancing; it is a group oriented activity. While there may be individual or coupled dancing, the chief Greek dances are communal. The same seems to be true for many other ethnicities. This appears quite unlike the somewhat exclusive coupled dancing of the Anglosphere, though square dancing and other forms of complex dances that use couples as their base units tend toward the communal. I wonder if communal dancing reflects the more communal social tendencies of certain peoples whereas our American focus on coupled dancing results from our WASPy nuclear family model society.
The late, great Lawrence Auster would often remark on the synchronicity that he frequently experienced. I thought of him last month when I encountered the word Brobdingnagian. I had recently downloaded a hangman game application on my Blackberry and was playing it in the morning before I started the day. During the game, the hangman word was Brobdingnagian. My little digital man went swinging. I looked up the word. I have never read Gulliver’s Travels, and I do not remember ever seeing the word before.
About twelve hours later, I came upon the word in Middlemarch. What are the chances?
Now, I recognize that we seem to make note of a new word once we learn it. It seems to pop up everywhere, and it is possible that we just never noticed it before when we were ignorant of it. Yet, Brobdingnagian is such a queer word that I am sure that I would have remembered it. I live for years without encountering the word and then learn about it, and then it shows up in the novel that I am reading just hours later. Weird.
Crist is arisen!
My friend Andrew sent me a Western hymn for Pascha of which he is quite fond—“Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I had never heard it before, but it is catchy and earthy. Here it is sung by the choir of Ely Cathedral:
Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
In the grave they laid him, love whom men had slain,
Thinking that never he would wake again.
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green,
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain.
Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
Christ is risen!
I wish you a great festive season for the feast of feasts! To celebrate, here is Светлый праздник, one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s many gifts to the world:
Have a lovely Bright Week!
I recently learnt of the Beuronese School, which was a nineteenth century attempt to reorient, literally and figuratively, Western liturgical art. You may read of it at the New Liturgical Movement. The linked article has some lovely photographs, as well. The style is what results, I suppose, when one expresses piety with Belle Époque aesthetic sensibilities.
What a century!
I have a theory, probably garnered somewhere now unknown to me, that human societies experience creative explosions in moments of civilizational crisis wherein cultures or ages collide. There are many counterexamples, but the high points of human civilization seem to occur at such moments. Take fifth and fourth century ancient Greece, the Hellenistic period throughout the Near East, the chaos at the end of the Roman Republic, the transition to Christianity in the empire, the first centuries of Mohammedan expansion, the High Middle Ages, the swan song of the Eastern Empire, the Renaissance, or the consequent ages up until the world wars. I do not know if one may see a similar pattern in South and East Asia, though such seems true of Mughal India. The 1800’s—that tumultuous century of revolution and reaction—gave the world remarkable literature, music, architecture, urban planning, and painting. Please forgive an indulgence in Hegelianism, but it seems that the nineteenth century resulted from a somewhat hostile dialectic between tradition and modernity that nevertheless created an extraordinary age. Perhaps, though, we should not be surprised that the coming together of opposites begets life.
I recently discovered Beautiful-Libraries.com, which showcases, unsurprisingly, beautiful libraries in various categories. I recommend a visit. The site also reminds me why I love the internet. Why not create a compilation of the world’s loveliest libraries?
Have you ever wondered if you were tone-deaf? Jake Mandell has created an online test that you may take: Tone-deaf Test. The test consists in playing sets of two short pieces of music, and you must choose whether the pairs are the same or different. My test resulted in a “very good performance,” though I suspect that I marked some that were the same as different because something seemed different but I was not sure how.