They were sitting in the living room, sharing stuff.
– Your man Roddy Doyle has a new book.
– I don’t have a man.
– It’s just an expression. It’s Irish.
– Are there any Sheas in the new book?
– That’s El Porto Irish.
– What’s my man’s new book about?
– Your man Jimmy Rabbitte is back.
– How old is Jimmy, now?
– Pullin’ 50.
– I might have known. Does my man have a woman?
– He does, and children, too.
– Sounds like a family affair.
– And Imelda is back, too.
– Who is Imelda?
– That’s what Aoife wanted to know.
– Aoife, Jimmy’s wife. It’s an Irish name. I had to look it up. It’s pronounced EE-fa, long e followed by f then schwa, the a the schwa sound, you know? The upside-down e.
– And is the F word back as well?
– It is, but somewhat diminished. Though it climbs toward the end. Not a main character in this one like it was in The Commitments, the F word.
– So Jimmy’s a wife, then?
– And children.
– Is it good, then, your man’s new book?
– It is. I’ve never read anything by Roddy Doyle that was not good.
– But didn’t Roddy dis your man James Joyce?
– Roddy Doyle did not dis James Joyce. He was merely pointin’ out there are other Irish writers besides James Joyce.
– Includin’ Roddy Doyle.
– Roddy uses the Joyce style quote marks, no quote marks, the dash to start off dialog, you know? And he’s a master at the stream of talk.
– Is there music in this one, like in The Commitments?
– There’s music, yes.
– Is Van Morrison in the new book?
– No, I don’t recall mention of Van the man.
– Your man Roddy probably thinks of Van Morrison the same way he thinks of Joyce.
– Maybe. I don’t know. But I get your point.
– So what does Jimmy Rabbitte do in Roddy Doyle’s new book?
– Come here. I want you to read it, Roddy Doyle’s new book.
– Come here?
– It’s another Irish expression, apparently. But I think it’s only used when you’re on the phone. It’s like a head’s up you’re going to get some request for a favor, or it’s a signal that something serious is about to be said. I’m not sure. But like Jimmy’s on the phone to his Da –
– His who?
– His Da, his Dad, his father. Fathers are what happen to young lads. And Jimmy says, Come here. Can I borrow your car for the weekend?
– He’s pushin’ 50 and he’s after borrowing his father’s car?
– Isn’t that very El Porto Irish of you. They’ve only one rig, and they need two to drive to one of those outdoor concert festivals.
– So music is what this new Roddy Doyle book is all about?
– No, not first and foremost. But come here. I want you to read it.
– You haven’t told me what it’s about yet.
– Remember that movie we watched, The Pope’s Toilet?
– No. Is your man the new pope in Roddy’s new book?
– Never mind. Your eyes are a pretty blue, a powdery, baby blue.
– Compliments will get you nowhere.
– Fair play. Jimmy has no friends, either.
– I might have known. You and James and Jimmy and Roddy should all get together for a pint.
– Wouldn’t that be something?
– You think your man Roddy reads your blog? You going to post a review of his new book?
– He first self-published The Commitments, you know.
– But he’s not still self-publishing.
– I guess not.
– You think he reads blogs?
– There’s a funny scene in the new book, where Jimmy goes back to work after being away for a time, and he’s got like hundreds of emails waiting for him, and he deletes all the distractions he’s subscribed to, without looking at them. That’s the Internet. Subscribe to something, like you’re following it, but never look at it except to delete the update. But there’s mention of blog, I think. I forget. But yeah, there’s mention of a blog.
– You usually circle that sort of thing.
– No marginalia in this one, dear. I didn’t want to mess it up for you. Come here. I’m after askin’ you to give it a read.
– I don’t know.
– What’s it called, Roddy’s new book?
– The Guts.
– The Guts? So what’s it about, finally, The Guts?
– It’s about courage, maybe, the courage of the ordinary.
– Is courage getting good reviews these days?
– There are plenty of regular reviews of The Guts out there readers can check out. I’m going to post this.
– Our conversation.
– That ought to nail it.
– I love the ground you walk upon.
– Go away. Go blog or something.
They were sitting in the living room, sharing stuff.
I bought two books at the Rose City Used Book Fair last Saturday, the Li Po of the previous post, and “Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘N’ Roll Music,” by Greil Marcus (1975). The Marcus is a first edition hardback in excellent condition, though it’s apparently not worth much to a book collector; I paid $5 for it. In his “Author’s Note,” Marcus says he felt an affinity for history writers who felt through their work that they belonged to a part of the struggle they wrote about, even if that struggle was long past. “Mystery Train,” Marcus says, was written from “the fall of 1972” to “the summer of 1974,” a time when the struggles of the past merged with the struggles of the present. I’ve not read it, but I’m putting it on the top of the stack. I don’t know why I didn’t read it at the time it came out. I suppose because at the time I was struggling with a few other writers, and, like Dylan said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (“Subterranean Homesick Blues,” 1965).
I have read Marcus, though. I liked his “Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads” (2005), 225 pages on a single song written and recorded by Dylan in 1965. The song is on the “Highway 61 Revisited Album,” which I listen to almost every day if I’m out in the Ford, since it’s usually the only tape in the car. “Once upon a time,” the song begins, and you know you’re in for a story, and the rimshot gets your attention. Dylan said, though I can’t remember where, either in “Chronicles” or in the 60 Minutes Interview, it might have been, something like, that guy [Marcus] went a little far. Sure he did; that’s what’s so great about Greil Marcus.
I’ve also enjoyed Marcus’s “Real Life Rock Top Ten: A Monthly Column of Everyday Culture and Found Objects,” his Believer magazine article that began, according to Marcus in a Powell’s interview (2006), in The Village Voice “around ’86.” It moved from Salon.com to The Believer, I believe, in 2008. Anyway, I started reading it regularly in The Believer at some point, though I confess I don’t always get the contemporary references (“You never understood that it ain’t no good, you shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you…,” Dylan again).
I like the way Marcus blends culture and music, and though he probably doesn’t think about it as literature, he might be a kind of contemporary American Roland Barthes. He certainly does not think of rock lyrics as literature. In a 2002 “Online Exchange with Greil Marcus” at RockCritics.com, Marcus had this to say about his “approach”:
“You’re right about my approach, which is a matter of affinities – what I’m drawn to – and learning to follow affinities where they lead – in other words, to trust your affinities. I have no background in poetics. The difference between poetry and ‘rock lyricism’ – if by that you mean song lyrics – is obvious and complete: except for people who think they are poets, like Paul Simon, lyrics are meant to be sung, come to life when they are performed, take their weight and muscle and ability to move from music, and true songwriters understand this. They understand that the most intricate allusive subtleties will be lost in performance, superseded by another quality altogether, and that the most impenetrable banalities can reveal infinite possibilities of thought and emotion when sung. In this sense I think the best songwriters are less afraid of words than poets can afford to be.”
In the film version of Roddy Doyle’s “The Commitments” (1987), in a scene not in the book, Jimmy, who frequently fantasizes success by interviewing himself, toward the end of the film, has his fantasy interviewer ask him what he’s learned from his time as manager of the rock band The Commitments, and he replies with a quote from Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” When asked what the lyrics mean, the particular sticking point, according to a BBC analysis, being “the light fandango,” Jimmy responds, “I’m fucked if I know” (the film faithfully captures the flood of F words that fills and overflows the pages of the book).
Words have meaning, too much meaning, suggested Lewis Carroll. Indeed, one should not let another get one’s kicks for one, which is to say one should follow one’s own affinities. Just so, whenever I come across lyrics or poems I can’t seem to get, even after giving them the old college try, I think of Humpty Dumpty’s conversation with Alice about the meaning of things.
“I can explain all the poems that were ever invented – and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet,” Humpty says, and he helps Alice unpack the portmanteau words in “Jabberwocky.” Then later, Humpty offers this:
“‘The piece I’m going to repeat,’ he went on without noticing her remark,’ was written entirely for your amusement.’ Alice felt that in that case she really ought to listen to it, so she sat down, and said `Thank you’ rather sadly. `In winter, when the fields are white, I sing this song for your delight – only I don’t sing it,’ he added, as an explanation. `I see you don’t,’ said Alice. `If you can see whether I’m singing or not, you’ve sharper eyes than most.’ Humpty Dumpty remarked severely. Alice was silent.”