Friday, April 11, 2014

La Chanson des Vieux Amants ( Judy Collins )

"La Chanson De Vieux Amants" (The Song of Old Lovers) 

by Jacques Brel

Of course, we have had our storms
Lovers for 20 years, it is a crazy love
A thousand times you have packed your bags
A thousand times, I have taken flight
And each piece of furniture remembers
in this room without a cradle
the claps of old thunderstorms
Nothing is the same anymore
You have even lost the taste for water
And me only the taste for conquest

But my love
My sweet, my tender, my marvelous love
from the clear dawn until the end of the day
I love you still, you know I love you

Me, I know all your sorceries
You know all my magic tricks
you have kept me safe from trap to trap
I have lost you from time to time
Of course, you have taken a few lovers
You surely have to pass the time
The body must know rapture
Finally finally
It took us a lot of talent
To become old without becoming adults

Oh my love
My sweet, my tender, my marvelous love
from the clear dawn until the end of the day
I love you still, you know I love you

And the more time marches on
The more time torments us
but isn't it the worst trap
for lovers to live in peace?
Of course you cry a little less easily 
I tear myself apart a little more slowly
We protect our secrets less and less 
We take fewer chances
we don't trust the stream of water
but it is always a tender war

Oh my love
My sweet, my tender, my marvelous love
from the clear dawn until the end of the day
I love you still, you know I love you

Something about this song broke me open today, left me not just weeping but sobbing, in the way that tears can open the soul, creating a kind of wonderment. Floods of pain, raw and reeling, though I can't determine whether it's the sheer pulsing beauty of the cello arrangement, the melancholy sweetness of Collins' voice, or just how I feel today, full of contradiction.

It's not true, you know, that you "get old", though the body wears down, the mind may work a little slower, and it's easy to feel that you are falling hopelessly behind and don't particularly want to catch up. I heard it said, many times, when I was younger, "oh, but you stay young inside," and I regarded those words with the special contempt I reserved for "old people". Now I find I am on a collision course with time, that the wall seems to hurtle towards me and that there is little I can do to make it stop. I certainly can't run away.

But the old woman, the "vieux amant" who spoke to me, she was right. We don't get old. Emotions only deepen, despair becomes unbearable, funny things make you feel happy and dizzy, moments of awe are heartstopping. And sex, desire, that whole province, no, it most surely does not go away. It changes. The hideous stereotype of a randy old lady putting on her army boots and chasing after repulsed young men is a lie, an insulting, life-hating lie. Because it isn't like that at all.

When I first heard this recording, I think I cried, maybe even sobbed as I did tonight, and I was only fifteen years old. God knows what I was going through then, but the terrifying thing is, much of it I am STILL going through, things I know I will never resolve. I thought the song was tender, wistful and very beautiful. I knew enough French to string together meaning: "Finalement", "tourment", "tendre", "toujours", "je t'aime" - and the rest was made evident just by phrasing, that this was an "old" couple (and in my fifteen-year-old mind, they certainly must have been old) who had been together TWENTY YEARS. I don't know how old Brel was when he wrote this - didn't he die young? - but his perceptions of age were probably similar to mine.

I've been with my vieux amant for FORTY years and counting now, twice what it says in that song, and I swear to God I do not feel "old" (though HE is an old coot, of course). Maybe it's just that sixty is the new "whatever", the new 59 or something. When I Googled the song title to look for images, what I saw just horrified me: there were all these embarrassingly whimsical pictures of toothless people in their 90s, coyly kissing or wobbling down the street together. "Old lovers". If they had been together 20 years, they must have met in the nursing home at age 75.

Time is weird, life is strange, a mixed bag for me who has a dark personality, something you really can't change, and a feeling of always being on the outside, partly by choice, but also by dislocation and a kind of chronic square-peg syndrome. I hate it, and it goes by so fast. I have thrown myself at my goals, and largely fallen short. I am bullheaded enough not to stop, don't even know how to stop, to give up. I want to. I want to let it go, forget about making any sort of mark, because if I've come this far and haven't, I won't. 

So I tell myself. The war goes on. I want this! I want someone to read my story, be grabbed and moved by it. I see it slowly sinking into the quagmire it seems to have arisen from. I have no idea what to do. Fretting, emotional, I find music triggers floods of weeping, which a part of me secretly enjoys. I realize I have had bits and pieces of success, just enough to keep me writing but never enough to feel satisfied or worthy. So the battle never ends: toujours, c'est la guerre.

BLOGGER'S NOTE.  OK, so I've had a few more thoughts about all this. Writers necessarily tear themselves apart in the service of their work, so I must analyze. 

I think one of the reasons the song affected me so wrenchingly is that I hadn't heard it in 35 years. That's a lot of heartache, a lot of gain and loss, richness as well as periods of abject wretchedness. And golden gifts, sometimes unrecognized. Isn't that kind of like the song of the "vieux amants"? When  I looked at it more closely, I realized that this was hardly a song of tragedy. It was all about a couple who are devoted to each other even after some fierce storms, including infidelity and deception (thus, all the references to trickery, sorcery, not the kind of "magic" we associate with romance).

In other words, this ain't such a bad deal. This is a couple, still passionate about each other, never indifferent, together because they still want to be. There are poignant references, almost disguised (the "room without a cradle", which implies a childlessness they may nor may not have chosen), and the casual affairs which help pass the time, but such biting sarcasm almost borders on the humorous. 

I'm reminded of a Catholic priest I used to know who was ticked off because people constantly referred to the sufferings of Jesus. "He had a bad week at the end," he liked to say, "but aside from that, he had a pretty good time!". I feel this way about the old lovers (who, if they're really old, must have met when they were well into their 50s). There is a richness here that is in contrast to the tragic, sobbing tune, which seems to be talking about death rather than devotion.

I can't really listen to Brel sing his own stuff. I just made an attempt to watch him sing this on YouTube, and the problem isn't his voice. The arrangement is pure elevator music, sudsy, with those high cheesy strings I haven't heard since I threw out my old Ferrante and Teicher albums .I don't know why a legend like Brel would allow such fromage, and I will admit Collins' version is far superior, but OH is it mournful, funereal almost, whereas Brel's is just oversentimental, and a little sad.

Another thing that popped into my head: the more I listen to this tune, the more I realize it's actually a tango. Just change the tempo, the rhythm, and you can see the "vieux amants" in black silk and spangles, performing the oddly jerky eroticism of old Argentina on the dance floor.

River Deep, Wall of Sound

I picked this version of River Deep Mountain High because it's the one where she truly nails it. I spent an incredible amount of time in the early '90s, when I was dealing with agonizing sexual abuse issues in therapy, listening and listening to this song. I did know something about the surreal Phil Spector "wall of sound", the densely-packed audio that seems to have no discernible crack in it, so that you had no choice but to be deeply immersed, if not drowned. Seeing Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do with it only intensified my exploration, my craving to understand this incredible, almost volcanic song, the way the sexual frenzy builds and builds until Tina screams the kind of scream you might scream if you saw your mother's ghost.

The lyrics are so turgid they're ready to explode: 

Cause it grows stronger, like the river flows
And it gets bigger baby, heaven knows
And it gets sweeter baby, as it grows

It just gets bigger, yeah, and stronger and sweeter as it grows, until the primordial thunderblast that shatters the world. It's a rhapsodic description of something that is, after all, physiological, in and of the body (that place we all live in - remember?).

I just listened to some (not all, as it was 40 minutes or so) audio of the sessions that led to this incredible song. Mostly it's just the chopping away, take after laborious take, directions, corrections, slower, faster, louder, softer, that you'd hear in any recording session, but this one was done back in the day, when the only special effects were echo chambers that lent a surreal quality to the sound. The studio was small and the musicians extremely tight. 

We hear certain individual components: the percussion and brasses forming the thudding primal underlay, then the strings, somehow blended together into one "thing", not even stringlike any more but like an organic, horsehair-and-wood synthesizer, and then the chorus folded together and eerily blended into a sheen of song. Spector liked to work his musicians until they were so exhausted they lost their individuality and had no choice but to became overwhelmed by that immense, reverberating wall. It's a kind of musical totalitarianism, but it worked.

It's interesting to listen to Tina, who seems to be saving herself in many of these takes, singing to keep the musicians on track. She never receives a word of direction: she's Tina Turner, for God's sake, and who needs to direct Hera or Venus or Cleopatra? In the final version, full-on passion leaps forward, and we hear an emotion that is almost agonizing, no doubt shot through with violence and despair as she tries to live and work beside her humiliating sadist of a husband. 

When I listened to it late at night after not having heard it for, uh, I, uh - twenty years - damn if the song didn't go and change on me, as so many things do. It was still about sex, of course, and orgasm so powerful it catapults you into another dimension, even transcending love, but it's also about the weird, underwater, distorted, echoing world I was dragged into, the Wall of Sound. It hadn't been heard before and won't be again, because no one is as crazy as Phil Spector - I don't think I have ever seen a more demented human being in my life - and those times, primitive times in a technological sense, won't come again. Tina has long since retired, and though some say Beyonce is her successor, I don't believe there will ever be one.

Tina Turner was a force of nature, rippling, muscular, fleshy, intimidating, with a voice almost as extreme as Janis Joplin's, a howl of abandonment and grief. It takes courage and mesmerizing devotion to throw yourself into that canyon, and people usually do it only because they have no other choice if they are to avoid going completely insane.

I haven't described the eeriness of the Wall of Sound, because it's like listening to overtones, the strange whistling and fluting, sometimes theramin-like sounds that can pop out of an ordinary tone: they can't be there, but there they are, and we're swimming in it, it's rippling and echoing all around us. Dreamlike, even a little nightmarish. If you try to imagine the musicians clustered around and sweating and playing, you can't, because what they've played has been transformed and transfigured and rendered almost unrecognizable. They're just the source material for Something Else that can't even be easily defined.

Order The Glass Character from:

Thistledown Press


Sex and arthritis

This incredible display is from a site (which I can't find now, sorry) called Sex and Arthritis. The drawings are so beautful on their own, I hesitate to sully them with my usual blatherings. I have no idea how these seven line-drawings of sexual postures, like some pen-and-ink Kama Sutra of the internet, are supposed to help people with arthritis. I don't even HAVE arthritis, or not much, maybe a couple of flareups a year, and I'll tell you, I could not manage many of these positions. Figures 3, 4 and 7 involve pillows, which is a nice idea when you're past a certain age, though I might do something else with them entirely. Figure 6, probably my favorite, depicts the male partner crushing  his girl friend into a footstool: she appears to have been pressed flat to about 3" thick. (Or maybe it's a stair-step, which is even kinkier.) In Figure 7, however, it's not the poor steamrollered woman but the man who is prone (prostrate, NOT prostate) with his concerned partner leaning tenderly over him, perhaps as they wait for the ambulance to arrive.

Aurora Borealis February 18, 2014 Fairbanks, Alaska