Saturday, June 28, 2014


I'm reading Paradise Lost.  Not for the first time, either.  I read it out of a sense of obligation the summer before I started grad school, in Sierra Madre, in 2000.  I had some idea that since I was going to grad school in poetry it would be expected, when I got there, that I had some sense of Milton.  In fact, Milton was referred to only one time during my entire tenure in grad school, by a student describing how a teacher had told him that he wrote like Milton. Which, I question if he did.

But anyway, Milton.  He was a poet.  He wrote, oh, Henry IV, Prometheus Bound, Ode on a Nightingale.  And, of lesser importance--a piece of juvenilia many have called it--Paradise Lost.

Anyway, my previous rencontre with Milton had been, let's say, unappealing.  (There's a much quoted Samuel Johnson line about Paradise Lost--nobody ever wished it longer--that came to me often then).  And I'd sort of accepted that Milton and I were never going to really gibe, as it were, until, somehow, in the last few weeks, returning to PL, I'm awe.  It's like the most jacked up, over-the-top parts of Shakespeare had been filtered through an incredibly convuluted syntax, and then weighted down with a metric ton of massively esoteric Classical allusions.  And yet for all that, it's amazing. It almost makes you want to become a stern judgmental Calvinist Christian.

Here's a taste.  It's in Book Two. The fallen angels are trying to find one of their number to attempt the perilous journey out of Hell, to earth....

all sat mute, [ 420 ]
Pondering the danger with deep thoughts; and each
In others count'nance read his own dismay
Astonisht: none among the choice and prime
Of those Heav'n-warring Champions could be found
So hardie as to proffer or accept [ 425 ]
Alone the dreadful voyage; till at last
Satan, whom now transcendent glory rais'd
Above his fellows, with Monarchal pride
Conscious of highest worth, unmov'd thus spake.
Progeny of Heav'n, Empyreal Thrones, [ 430 ]
With reason hath deep silence and demurr
Seis'd us, though undismaidlong is the way 
And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light;
Our prison strong, this huge convex of Fire,
Outrageous to devour, immures us round [ 435 ]
Ninefold, and gates of burning Adamant
Barr'd over us prohibit all egress.
These past, if any pass, the void profound
Of unessential Night receives him next
Wide gaping, and with utter loss of being [ 440 ]
Threatens him, plung'd in that abortive gulf.
If thence he scape into whatever world,
Or unknown Region, what remains him less
Then unknown dangers and as hard escape.
But I should ill become this Throne, O Peers, [ 445 ]
And this Imperial Sov'rantyadorn'd
With splendor, arm'd with power, if aught propos'd
And judg'd of public moment, in the shape
Of difficulty or danger could deterr
Me from attempting.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

We Get So Strange Across The Border

Watching the generally ridiculous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony last night on HBO, I saw Chris Martin introuce the venerable Peter Gabriel into the hall.  Now in my long ago youth I was quite the Peter Gabriel fan, but it's been a long long year since I really listened to his work.  But then he came up and did a few songs--a duet with Martin on "Washing of The Water", a version of "In Your Eyes"-- and I thought to myself, watching: Jesus Christ.  Peter Gabriel is no joke.  (Meatwad: "Boxy don't play")  I mean, here he is, at what, 70, and he's still up there crushing these songs.  I thought I could never again hear "In Your Eyes" and get anything out of it, but there he was, up there on stage, bopping around and just...emoting.  He has a unique ability to be vulnerable without seeming naive or fatuous.  Which is...first of all, amost impossible, but also... deeply insprisng and moving. 

I've also now acquired a new respect for Chris Martin.  His intro speech was quite impressive.  (Contrast it to the indignant and idiotic intro that Michael Stipe delivered on behalf of Nirvana.  That speech I think made me like Nirvana LESS than I had before hearing it).

So now I'm on a Peter Gabrel jag.  I've been listening all day to Peter Gabriel III ("Melt"), an album I loved in high school but somehow lost track of.  Why did I lose track, I wonder?  Partially I think it's because I associate him with a really terible person I knew in high school, and partially I think it's just, I forgot about him.  He suffers, Gabriel, from the same ubiquity that makes, for example, the Beatles start to seem unexciting.  His songs are so familiar they come to seem contemptible.  

But in case anyone doesn't already know this: Peter Gabriel is amazing.  Even leaving aside how good his voice is--and honestly, you could listen to him sing "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" and be perfectly happy--he's a top notch songwriter.  Especially powerful to me right now are the songs one rarely hears on the radio--the ones that haven't been repeated past the point of having any power.  So, for example, "Biko"; "I Don't Remember"; "Family Snapshot" (has there ever been a better song told from the vantage of an assassin?  I know--small category--but still). 

"Snapshot's" the one I'd urge you all to go revisit.  "Friends have all gone home. And there's my toy gun on the floor."  I actually started to tear up. Listening to that song. 

"I need some attention...I shoot into the light."