Friday, October 29, 2004

I'm Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong
See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door………..




This Beatles song is a blast from a past which can never return except in the minds of those of us who were There At The Time, although it is doubtless still cascading through the Milky Way, destined to resonate in the course of its journey to Infinity with the eardrums of innocent babes and sucklings on some planet called Oz somewhere in the galaxy.

While the song has become immortal, those of us who were There At The Time in 1967 aren’t. As we lumber into our sixties our numbers will begin to dwindle as the fatty deposits in our arteries, the legacy of all those breakfasts of fried eggs and bacon in our youth, begin to accumulate and accumulate until one day………………….

Even though I was There At The Time I didn’t pay much attention to this song until quite recently when I purchased a CD of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. And it was quite fortuitous that I did, since I had simply been riffling aimlessly through the CDs one evening in a little record shop near where I live, when my attention was caught by the cover of arguably the most famous record album of the twentieth century.

Yes, there they are. John, Ringo, Paul, and George, bedecked in their psychedelic-coloured nineteenth-century British army outfits. In the extreme left of the picture stands Sonny Liston with boxing robe and menacing scowl. I also see Diana Dors and Marlene Dietrich and WC Fields and Fred Astaire and Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando and CG Jung and Teddy Roosevelt and Karl Marx and Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford and Gene Autry and Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman and TE Lawrence and……………………


* * *


It is a drizzly winter evening in London where he has stopped over in the course of a journey to visit his Native Land which lies in one of the nether regions of the old Empire far, far to the south. He stands in the doorway of a shop in Earls Court Road to keep out the rain. He can see across the road into a pub out of which waft the distinctive twangs of young Australians and the other Children Of Empire as they guzzle down their pints of Bitter.

They laugh and drink and talk and joke. Their faces are unlined and uncaring. They are on the cusp of their young lives and the world beckons. Confidence and braggadocio ooze through the pores of their skin. He remembers when he, too, had laughed and drank and talked and joked in this very same pub. But it was over thirty years ago, in the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, when the strains of the Sgt Pepper album, as well as Penny Lane, and Strawberry Fields floated through the scented air of those long-ago evenings in Earls Court Road.

He realizes that the young revellers in the Pub across the road weren’t even born when he had revelled there those years ago. Huddled in the doorway of the shop he feels like a time traveller. The young revellers are unaware he is looking across at them. But even should any look over to where he stands, they would only see through him, for he has become an Invisible Man…………………..



* * *


Carrying my just purchased CD of Sgt Pepper, I run back home, for I cannot wait to play it and go back to that summer of 1967. The more I listen to it, the more I’m caught by the words of I’m Fixing a Hole, for although they seem so inconsequential, something tells me there is more to them than I think.



* * *


A Saturday somewhere anywhere. A deliciously warm October afternoon and the sky is blue, the sort of blue it can only be on a cloudless afternoon in the Fall. Outside, the autumnal leaves rustle on lawns and sidewalks whenever a breeze blows.

Inside a house on a quiet street a plain ordinary guy, wearing a T shirt, pads around in his basement doing routine repairs to his house to prepare for the first chill winds of winter. He notices a tiny hole in the base of one of the walls where water could trickle in from outside should it rain. There is also a small crack in the door leading to outside.

He’ll fix these, using the caulking compound he bought earlier this afternoon at the hardware store down the road. It won’t take long. When this is done he’ll go back upstairs to the kitchen and take out a beer from the fridge. The first game of the final of the World Series will have begun just a few minutes ago. He will go into the living room and turn on the TV. He’ll sit down in his favourite armchair to watch the game.

All will be perfect in his little Shangri-la…………………………………….



* * *


What, then, is “I’m Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In” all about? At first I think it is about fixing a hole where the rain gets in to stop ourselves wondering where it, the rain, will eventually go; and also about filling cracks running through a door to stop ourselves wondering about how far the cracks might extend if they weren’t fixed. By doing something practical we fix our minds on the task at hand, on the present, so we don’t begin worrying about all the terrible things which might happen to us.

Then I think: Isn’t this the story of my life, and of the lives of most of us? We scurry about busy busy busy, to stop from worrying. Even when we are at a loose end, we turn on the radio or TV to provide background noise, to distract us from getting depressed thinking about where everything will go, or where we will go.

I idly read the words of the song from the booklet which accompanied the CD, when I notice that the song isn’t about stopping the mind from “wondering” where it will go, but is about stopping the mind from “wandering” where it will go. Because “wondering” and “wandering” sound so alike when sung, I had assumed - because “wondering” goes better with “where it will go” - that the word the Beatles sang was “wondering”.

But perhaps John and Paul had intended to write “wondering” but had written “wandering” by mistake. Hmm. Then I read the lyrics down to their last line where I see the word “wonder”, where people “wonder” why they don’t get in the door. Perhaps John and Paul had meant to write “wander”, but had written “wonder” by mistake, or as a joke.

But “wander” wouldn’t be appropriate here, since, while we can “wander” through a door, we can’t “wander” why we get in a door, or in this case, why we don’t get in a door. We can only “wonder” why we get in, or don’t get in a door. It appears, then, that John and Paul were right in using “wonder” in the last line.

After pondering the lyrics some more, I conclude that John and Paul had written the words as intended. It is we who “wonder”, but it is our minds which “wander”. Now the meaning of the song becomes clearer. But still not absolutely clear, since John and Paul’s use of the word “wandering” from lines 2 to 6 continues to give me trouble. But I will just have to accept that I haven’t developed the level of consciousness to fully understand why John and Paul used “wandering” the way they did.

So I must take it on faith that they knew what they wanted to say.



* * *


On playing “I’m Fixing a Hole” on my new CD when I returned home from the little record shop down the road, I almost felt I was hearing it for the first time, probably because I hadn’t heard it since the summer of 1967.

Then was when I should have paid attention to it, not thirty-five years later. Had I had done so then, my life might have turned out differently. I would have realized that in my scramble to reach the security of middle class life, I was stopping my mind from wandering where it would go. Instead, I closed my ears to what my mind was whispering to me.

So it came to pass that I became a Well Respected Man about town, doing the best things so conservative-ly.

I send you greetings from my little Shangri-la.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Creatures Who Walk Among Us

Whitley Strieber’s latest novel, “The Last Vampire”, narrates the continuing adventures of the beautiful she-vampire, Miriam Blaylock, last heard of in “The Hunger” more than twenty years ago. Miriam can appear lusciously beautiful, looking about twenty-five, despite having been around long enough to have known the likes of Kings Thutmose (Tut) and Louis the Fourteenth.

Men – modern New York men, modern Parisian men, modern men the world over – when they see Miriam are overcome with desire, and so lose all their critical and discerning faculties, making them easy meat. She lures them to her boudoir and, while they are savouring the delights of her exquisite body, she digs her teeth into the sides of their necks, draining them of their blood until they are mere dried out husks which Miriam can then neatly roll up and dispose of in the nearest incinerator.

Besides appearing beautiful, Miriam is also blessed with the physical strength to beat up any man; has a fleetness of foot to easily escape the most resourceful of law enforcement officers; and has recuperative powers sufficient to recover from bullet wounds and disfiguring burns. Having been around thousands of years, Miriam has had ample time to accumulate the funds to buy a huge but discreetly located nightclub in New York City, whose patrons – including supreme-court judges and members of the Bush clan – can revel in bacchanalian orgies of an intensity which might have made even Caligula blink. All this to a backdrop of pulsating heavy metal rock music, strobe lights, revolving screens, the jangle of chains, the cracking of whips, and much else.

You’d think that having a lifespan of many thousands of years and being in effect, Superwoman, and able to be an object of desire of any man she might want, Miriam would be supremely happy. But somehow she isn’t. For starters, being genetically different, she can’t enjoy the food ordinary people eat. In fact the only food she can ingest is blood, which she develops an absolute craving for every couple of weeks. So, like any predator, she must keep finding prey.

Miriam is riddled with anxiety because, being a vampire and having no soul, she is terribly afraid of dying, since her physical being constitutes all she is. She also knows that, being able to live so long, the statistical probability of her having a nasty accident is so much greater than for normal mortals. Even so, unless someone blows her to pieces, she will never completely die, for, when Whitley Strieber’s vampires do finally get too old, they go into a death-like state, their bodies becoming withered, which their fellow vampires put into coffins. But the withered bodies never completely die, and, too weak to move, will lie in their coffins for all eternity, but always fully conscious. They become the un-dead.

Having read this far, you may now be thinking that Miriam seems much like any garden-variety vampire you’ve read about. But now the script takes a turn, because the species to which Miriam and her fellow vampires belong – called the Keepers - once upon a time ruled the earth. They developed advanced technology and were able to manipulate the genes of the higher apes, by which means they created the human race.

Having created humans, the Keepers sat back and took it easy, but their human creations didn’t. The new human species increased their numbers and developed technology, then began to hunt down and kill the Keepers – their creators who, outnumbered and outgunned, had to hide.

This is the backdrop to “The Last Vampire”. The secret services of the countries throughout the world are continuing their search and destroy missions against the vampires, among whom Miriam Blaylock is a prime target who, because she is a mistress of disguise, is able to remain at large.


* * *


Whitley Strieber has written approximately twenty novels, almost all in the horror genre, and are about menacing alien forces that are hidden, and are the more dangerous for that. The insidiously possessive demons in “Holy Fire” and “The Night Church”, the prowling pack of wolves with cunning human-like intelligence in “The Wolfen”, the vampires in “The Hunger” and now in “The Last Vampire”, are all essentially the same – disquieting alien beings. Why did they all spring out from the psyche of Whitley Strieber?

It is because since he was a boy, Whitley has been an object of the attentions of what appear to be extra-terrestrial beings. But, as he tells us in his memoir, “Communion”, he only became aware of this relatively recently when stick-like humanoid beings with large heads invaded his home one night and transported him outside to a waiting flying saucer – the classic alien abduction experience which has happened too many times to too many normally credible people around the world to be simply dismissed as products of over-heated imaginations. Whitley’s experience triggered other memories which told him clearly that similar things had happened to him ever since he was a child.

When last I heard, Whitley was continuing to have unwelcome calls from the Visitors. And he also frequently spots them on the street, seeing through their attempts to look like everyone else. The implication is that they are everywhere. So the next time you see someone in the supermarket or on the bus, who is quite small, and is oddly wrapped in a shawl, or is wearing wrap-around sun glasses for no good reason, like on a dark overcast day, you could well be looking at a Visitor.

Whether Whitley’s experiences are real or delusional, they are absolutely real to him. Of that I have little doubt, having read his accounts and seeing him talk on television. And it is clear to me that his fictional writing gets its power because it springs from his own experiences. The vampires, alien but able to blend in on the street because they look human, now begin to make sense.

“The Last Vampire” postulates the Keepers as the creators of the human race. The notion of the human race having been created through genetic manipulations carried out by superior species of beings isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. Since the Darwinian Theory of Evolution fails to explain credibly how humans evolved, we must look at other explanations of our origins. Ancient writings carved on clay tablets dug out of the deserts of Iraq tell of gigantic reptile-like gods who ruled the earth and created humans. Are these clay tablets necessarily wrong?

Of the countless thousands of people who have reported being abducted by aliens, many have told of medical probes performed on them, of the sort which suggest the alien abductors are using them as vessels to produce human/alien hybrid beings. Perhaps the forefathers of these aliens were our creators, and their descendents continue to tinker with us until we come out exactly the way they want.

Another theme touched on in “The Last Vampire” is aging – the vampires living to be thirty thousand or forty thousand years old. Our Men-Of-Science are already saying that all of us, within a generation or two, will live to be at least one hundred and twenty five. But, like everything else our Men-Of-Science bring about, our longer live spans will present us with new problems.

For instance work. The realities of economics are that the longer we live, the longer we will have to work. This is fine if you are a concert pianist, rock musician, creator of abstract art, or even Man-Of-Science – someone doing well paid work which is creative and fulfilling, who belongs to what John Kenneth Galbraith has called the Contented Class.

But what about vast majority who, by cleaning the latrines, digging the roads, laying the linoleum, cooking the food, making the beds, serving the wine, fighting the wars, catching the crooks etc etc, do the laborious, ill-paying, unpleasant, and often dangerous work for the delectation of the Contented Class? If you work at something you don’t like, aren’t you comforted that you can stop at sixty or so and won’t starve? How would you like it if you had to continue your boring and soul destroying job until you are over one hundred?

In addition to becoming unutterably bored, living to one hundred and twenty five would make us as fear-ridden as Miriam because, like her, we would have so many more years of life to lose were we to become careless. And, because our Men-Of-Science have told us as a fact that we are no more than a collocation of atoms in a cold and meaningless universe, we increasingly believe them and so, like Miriam, we live with the added burden that death, being our ultimate extinction, is the most terrible thing imaginable.

Whether we will actually live to one hundred and twenty five is debatable, but we do now live somewhat longer on average than our parents and grandparents. However this is only in the “developed” world. But what about the ninety percent of humanity who live in the third world? What about Russia and sub-Saharan Africa where average life expectancies have fallen steeply over the past decade? I suspect that, on a worldwide basis, we die on average sooner than did our parents and grandparents.

Another sub-text of “The Last Vampire” is persecution. Because they are a minority, and different, it was inevitable that the vampires would become yet one more minority which has been hounded to death throughout history by a dominant majority who projected on to their victims all the unacknowledged unwanted unconscious stuff lurking in their psyches.

This may explain the chief CIA investigator's obsession with exterminating the vampires, for he may have suspected he wasn't the 100% human he thought he was..........

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Subjugation of the Feminine

On reading my composition of a few days ago, called “The Imminent End of Us All”, one of my acquaintances pointed out that many of our world’s have-not societies discount fifty percent of their resources – namely women. She referred to studies which have shown, time and again, that an educated economically viable woman can raise her whole family out of poverty. Societies ignoring this valuable resource therefore cut themselves short. My acquaintance forgot to add – so I’ll correct her omission – that educating women also leads to declining birth rates – a necessary condition if humanity is to have any chance to survive.

The subject of gender also reminds me that the exponentially growing global imbalance between the intellectual and emotional sides of our collective psyche can also be described as the imbalance between our feminine and masculine sides. When we look at today’s world we can see that our intellectual masculine side – represented by the marvellous but pernicious gadgetry we have invented, but which has taken on a life of its own – has far outstripped our emotional feminine side – represented by our intuitions and feelings, but which is evolving hardly at all.

I don’t see how this intellectual technological juggernaut can be stopped other than by it blowing up in our faces. Right now we have enough nuclear bombs and other explosives to split the earth in half. With more and more groups of the ill-intentioned acquiring the means to set these devices off, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens, unless we are in the meantime done in by something else – like by global warming through the fossil fuels we burn.

Perhaps only when we are huddled together on mountaintops or on rapidly diminishing small islands as we watch the rising waters - as anxiously as a timid woman standing on a kitchen chair watching a mouse - will we see the light. But it will be too late.

The current crisis of terrorism – caused in large part by the west's need to control the supply of oil in the middle-east – provides a wonderful incentive to develop an alternative to gasoline. In the manner of John F Kennedy pledging in 1961 that we would land on the moon before the decade was out, so George W Bush could pledge that by, say, 2010 we will no longer need gasoline to power our automobiles. But Big Oil would never allow this.

Thus our world will continue to get warmer, and geo-politics will germinate more terrorists who could explode hideable nuclear devices in our big cities, or release deadly amounts of smallpox germs or other viruses.

If you mix in the consequences of our growing numbers, you will see that our prognosis isn’t good at all. But its ultimate cause is that we have become dangerously unbalanced. In short, our collective masculine side has subjugated our feminine.

I find it of interest that much of science fiction – whose creators have more prescience than most of us – is set in worlds devastated by apocalyptic wars, or it depicts cold joyless societies whose inhabitants live fearfully and docilely, being spied on all around, and otherwise controlled by their rulers by means of the wonderful gadgets at their disposal. These are worlds where the masculine principle has triumphed – and may be why the favourite reading matter of men is usually science fiction.

No-where have I read that the denizens of these devastated and unhappy societies gained any real insight as to why they became this way. Neither will we, since, for the most part, we go through life as sleepwalkers.

Monday, October 04, 2004

A Meditation on Richard Nixon



Events like 9/11, and the War on Terror which it has spawned, have assumed such importance in our imaginations that we find it difficult to believe how we could ever have got so excited about the many other happenings which had consumed us over the previous years – like Watergate. And it is difficult to believe that thirty years has passed since Richard Nixon, as a result of Watergate, resigned in disgrace as president on August 9th 1974.

The Nixon resignation was an event - like the Kennedy assassination, or 9/11 - whose enormity was such, that we, all of us, above a Certain Age, remember where we were and what we were doing when, on that day, Tricky Dick - sweat pouring from upper lip, jowls heaving with suppressed sobs, with ashen-faced family hovering behind - bid a rambling farewell to his small band of noisily weeping staff and supporters gathered in the White House press room.

I had watched, transfixed, almost every minute of the senate Watergate hearings shown live on TV. The cast of characters - senators Howard Baker ("what did the President know, and when did he know it?") and courtly Sam Ervine; silver-tongued prosecuting attorney Arthur Leiman; burglars J Gordon Liddy and E Howard Hunt; Nixon cohorts John Dean ("there is a cancer on the presidency"), Jeb Stuart Magruder, Alexander Butterfield, John Mitchell et al, as well as faithful gate-keepers Haldemann and Ehrlichmann (or was it Ehrlichmann and Haldemann?) - had become as familiar to me as my own family. And over them all hovered the-man-who-wasn't-there, the Godfather, Richard Nixon himself.

***

Please, come now, back to that August day in 1974 – a day burnished irreparably in my soul – as I watch the TV newscasts of Dick, who, with Pat, is waving a final farewell before boarding the plane which will fly him to exile in California. I am so overcome by the magnitude of what has happened over the past few hours that I can no longer work this day. I have to be alone with my churning emotions.

I get in my car, to drive to a restaurant to eat enchiladas for supper. While I listen to my car’s tires humming on the tarmac, I squint at the slanting rays of the late-afternoon sun as it prepares to descend behind the mountains, setting off in shadows the arboreal terrain for as far as I can see. But I don't take it in. In the restaurant I eat my enchiladas. But I don't taste them, for I have gone elsewhere, down a time-tunnel to the Eisenhower 'fifties, when, as a boy, I saw at the movies one Saturday afternoon, a newsreel of Vice President Nixon crossing swords with the feared Nikita Khrushchev in the "Kitchen Debate".

At this juncture I’m unable to go further back down the tunnel because I’m at a place in it where I’m not old enough to remember what happened before this. So I must rely on the printed word and the recollections of others about the years 1946 to 1952, when, following war-time service in the Pacific, and then practising as a lawyer in small town California, Nixon went to Washington to become a commie-hunting congressman and spear-carrier for "Tail Gunner" Joe McCarthy. Then came Nixon’s ascent to the senate where he was brought to the notice of Ike, who, aspiring to be president, was persuaded that Nixon should be his running mate. So it came to pass that Senator Nixon became Vice President Nixon, but only after having convinced the nation in the "Checkers" speech that he wasn't the crook everyone thought he was.

Now, in the time-tunnel, I change direction, forward to 1960 where I watch Nixon, now candidate for president, matching wits with John F Kennedy in the first ever televised presidential debate, a debate which buried Nixon - his unshaven jowls and patent unease a poor contrast to the cool and poise of Classy Jack. Now forward again to 1962 when, at a news-conference, defeated California gubernatorial candidate Nixon declares to assembled reporters that they "........won't have Nixon to kick around any more, for, gentlemen, this is my last press conference".

On again along the tunnel, and on, and............nothing. But wait, yes, now I see. Nixon has exited the public stage, has gone back to being the lawyer he once was, only now he's working out of corporate offices in New York City. However it is merely an interlude, albeit a six year one, during which Dick continues to shake hands and schmooze with cigar-chomping Republican king-makers doing deals in smoke-filled rooms in all the gin-joints throughout the land.

I arrive at the dawn of 1968 when Nixon, the New Nixon - who has wrestled the demons from his youth and early adulthood, and sent them packing - is seeking once again to be president. This is his moment, for the America of Mother, Home, and Apple Pie, is no more, is in agony. Thousands of America's boys are returning from Vietnam in body-bags, those who live in the ghettos are burning them down, students on campuses are tearing up draft cards, tuning in, dropping out, and otherwise fanning the flames of nation-wide dissent. Nixon promises to "bring us together", and is elected.

I continue forward along the tunnel through Nixon's presidential years, seeing him triumphantly visiting Russia and China, signing epoch-shaping treaties with their leaders and, at home, finally abolishing the military draft. It appears that Nixon, the quondam Cold War warrior, is escaping his political past.

But Nixon can't ultimately escape himself, for the demons in his psyche, which he thought he'd banished for ever, show signs of having merely hidden. They creep out of their closets as the pressures of presidential office grow, to manifest themselves in paranoia, causing Nixon to see all his opponents as enemies, ready to plunge their knives in his back and twist them with relish. He compiles a list of enemies whose telephones are tapped, and their homes watched by black-hatted, shade-wearing spooks. His gets his men to burgle the offices of those he doesn't like. A guard catches the burglars one night in the Watergate Complex in downtown Washington DC. Nixon's carefully wrought world begins to collapse..............

***

Suddenly I'm back in the Now, August 9th 1974, in the restaurant. While in the time-tunnel I had, unbeknownst to me, finished my enchiladas, and the waiter had brought me coffee. Through the window beside my table I see the sun has finally set. I hear softly from somewhere in the restaurant - probably from its piped music system - Linda Ronstadt singing "Heart Like a Wheel". Otherwise all has become quiet, as if, everywhere, people are still too stunned to speak of what has happened this day.........................

Could the young man I was then, ever have imagined that Nixon, seemingly banished for ever in obloquy, would, a few years later, rise from the ashes to write acclaimed books, be listened to respectfully by a younger generation, be received reverently by world leaders, and, at his funeral, be eulogized by all the prominent former and present leaders of the land?

***

It is ten years now since Richard Nixon left for ever in April 1994. Since then, I have never ceased to feel that a part of me is missing. For a long time I couldn't figure out why. Then I understood. It is because for the first fifty years of my life, Richard Nixon was there, in public life in some way or other. He had become a part of me, and when he died, that part of me died too.

Richard Nixon lies buried in the grounds of his presidential library, next to the house where he was born, in Yorba Linda, California. He is indeed gone, but a part of him will always live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who were shaped by the times in which he held sway.