Thursday, September 16, 2004

Your Boyfriend May Drive a Porsche, but I Can Make Fire with Sticks

For at least 8 years now, I've read "To Kill a Mockingbird" every spring, and I've listened to Lou Reed's "New York" album several times every fall. There's no intrinsic relationship that I can see between the two, and God knows they each have their weaknesses. Still, when crabapple trees explode into pink, it reminds me that I need to hear why Jem's arm was badly broken at the elbow when he was nearly thirteen. When the sun starts losing its grip, I know I need to hear Lou's stories about humanity in all its filth and beauty.

I started thinking about this today. Why do I feel compelled to read the same book every spring, and listen to a particular CD every fall? I eventually started thinking about the differences between routine, ritual, and sacrament... but first, the novel and album.

Each carries with them some serious stigmas. Modern literary critics, may God damn them all to hell forever, tend to slam "To Kill a Mockingbird" for its condescension towards blacks and Scout's uncannily accurate memory. They take the Dill-is-actually-Truman-Capote argument to the extreme, some claiming he actually wrote the novel and let Harper Lee, his childhood friend, take the credit.

Then there's Lou Reed. "New York" came out in '88 or '89 and is absolutely peppered with pop culture references which, to some, serve only to date the album. Many don't like his singing style, and while I admit it sounds like Lou might come right out of the speaker and lick your face with breath stinking of cigarettes and booze, there's a certain grittiness to it which I think is entirely appropriate given the context. And Jesus, who else could write about homeless vets without sounding preachy?

Sam was lying in the jungle/
Agent orange spread against the sky like marmalade.
Hendrix played on some foreign jukebox/
They were praying to be saved.
Those gooks were fierce and fearless/
But that's the price you pay when you invade.
Christmas in February.


I don't care if Scout's memory is a bit too observant, or if mid-20th century condescension toward race relations intentionally plays on our emotions. I like the book, okay, smarties? And don't go blaming Lou Reed for singing about hookers, drugs, and failure, either. He's only reporting the facts.

Hmm. Where was I?

I meant to write about the difference between routine, ritual, and sacrament. For some reason I'm interested in how and the degrees to which they differ. They each mark time, but it seems like only ritual and sacrament help us cope with time. So: routine is what we do to pace ourselves, but not to address any misgivings we have about the passage of time. Ritual is somewhere in between; it's a repeated action, but there's something more meaningful in it too. That meaning isn't necessarily about our relationship to the divine, but one of a ritual's specific purposes is to confirm order in a seemingly chaotic world.

And here's where sacrament comes in. I'm using the term "sacrament" fairly loosely here. For my purposes, all I mean is a ritualized behavior that happens in worship. I think sacrament is our spirit's way of confirming a particular order in this world, while ensuring passage into the next.

Man. That sentence is perhaps the most hippy-dippy piece of crap I've ever committed to print. Oh well.

Anyhoo, in terms we can all understand:

My morning coffee is a routine. Without it, I'm off my game for a few hours but I don't wind up pondering my existence because of it.

Harper Lee and Lou Reed are rituals. I associate each of them with a change in seasons, which only naturally prompts us to think about the passage of time.

I once made fire with sticks. How far back does this one go in our collective consciousness? At the time, I felt good about doing it, but I didn't let out a barbaric yawp or anything. Only after thinking about it and really wondering why I'd felt compelled to do it did I start bragging about it. "Hey baby. He may drive a Porsche, but I can make fire with sticks."

Heh, heh. God, if only I had the chance to use that line.

4 Comments:

Blogger mary ann said...

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my mother's three "life and parenting manuals" (along with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Little Women). She used to read one each per year; I don't know if she still does. Whether the critics agree, I'm sure you have my mom's endorsement.

11:34 PM  
Blogger ertandberni said...

I've never been able to make fire with sticks!

11:42 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

There *must* be a name for when something crops up in life from several different directions at once that normally doesn't crop up at all. (Maybe serendipity, but not really.) I got an e-mail from a friend this morning saying that he can't have lunch with me tomorrow because he has rehearsal for "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I last saw it on stage a year or so ago, so perhaps it time to pick up a copy.

Thank you!

11:54 AM  
Blogger Pratt said...

"New York" great album.."and fly fly away..."

10:04 PM  

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