It Calls Me On and On

[Image: audio-animatronic scene at the 1960s-era Disneyland “Carousel of Progress” display. See for more information and a larger version of this image.]

From whiskey river:

The Bones

…Shells were to shut out the sea,
The bones of birds were built for floating
On air and water, and those of fish were devised
For their feeding depths, while a man’s bones were framed
For what? For knowing the sands are here,
And coming to hear them a long time; for giving
Shapes to the sprawled sea, weight to its winds,
And wrecks to plead for its sands. These things are not
Limitless: we know there is somewhere
An end to them, though every way you look
They extend farther than a man can see.

(W. S. Merwin [read the whole thing here])


We clutter the earth with our inventions, never dreaming that possibly they are unnecessary — or disadvantageous. We devise astounding means of communication, but do we communicate with one another? We move our bodies to and fro at incredible speeds, but do we really leave the spot we started from? Mentally, morally, spiritually, we are fettered. What have we achieved in mowing down mountain ranges, harnessing the energy of mighty rivers, or moving whole populations about like chess pieces, if we ourselves remain the same restless, miserable, frustrated creatures we were before? To call such activity progress is utter delusion. We may succeed in altering the face of the earth until it is unrecognizable even to the Creator, but if we are unaffected wherein lies the meaning?

(Henry Miller [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Parable of the Dove

A dove lived in a village.
When it opened its mouth
sweetness came out, sound
like a silver light around
the cherry bough. But
the dove wasn’t satisfied.

It saw the villagers
gathered to listen under
the blossoming tree.
It didn’t think: I
am higher that they are.
It wanted to walk among them,
to experience the violence of human feeling,
in part for its song’s sake.

So it became human.
It found passion, it found violence,
first conflated, then
as separate emotions
and these were not
contained by music. Thus
its song changed,
the sweet notes of its longing to become human
soured and flattened. Then

the world drew back; the mutant
fell from love
as from the cherry branch,
it fell stained with the bloody
fruit of the tree.

So it is true after all, not merely
a rule of art:
change your form and you change your nature.
And time does this to us.

(Louise Glück, from Meadowlands [source])


The Beatles

I never really understood why The Beatles
broke up, the whole
Yoko Ono thing seemed an excuse
for something deeper.
Sure, she was an irritation
with her helium screech, her skimpy
leatherette skirts, those tinted ovoid glasses
eclipsing half her face.

But come on, Hey Jude
was putting caviar on the table, not to mention
those glittering lines of cocaine. Beatle music
was playing for moats dug out with a fleet
of backhoes circling the stadium-sized perimeters
of four manicured estates. Why Don’t We
Do It In the Road was backing up traffic
around the amphitheaters of the industrial world.
Yoko’s avant-garde art projects and op-art
outfits were nothing against the shiploads of lucre
I’m Fixing a Hole and Here Comes the Sun
were bringing in.
So why did they do it?
They had wives, kids, ex-wives, mortgages,
thoroughbreds and waist-coated butlers, lithe
young assistants power-lunching with publicists
in Paris, Rome. And they must have loved
one another almost as much as John
loved Yoko, brothers from the ghetto,
their shaggy heads touching
above the grand piano, their voices
straining toward perfect harmony.

Maybe they arrived
at a place where nothing seemed real. A field
bigger than love or greed or jealousy.
An open space
where nothing is enough.

(Dorianne Laux [source])

Maybe I’m, well, twisted. But I love that the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” had its inception in a bout of domestic malaise. Wikipedia, quoting John Lennon:

I was lying next to my first wife in bed and I was thinking. It started off as a negative song and she must have been going on and on about something. She’d gone to sleep and I kept hearing, “Words are flowing out like endless streams…” I was a bit irritated and I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than, “Why are you always mouthing off at me?”…

The words are purely inspirational and were given to me — except for maybe one or two where I had to resolve a line or something like that. I don’t own it; it came through like that.

Lennon was justifiably proud of the song itself, although not of the version on the Let It Be album — the version which I and probably you know best. (He apparently preferred the one behind this YouTube video.) I’m sorry, O ghost of John Lennon: I think this sounds just wonderful.

[Below, click Play button to begin Across the Universe. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:47 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Across the Universe

Words are flying out like
endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
are drifting through my open mind
Possessing and caressing me

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Images of broken light which
dance before me like a million eyes
That call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Jai guru deva
Jai guru deva


* According to various sources, the Sanskrit mantra translates, loosely, as something like “Hail and glory to the great guru.” Guru Dev was the name by which Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — of whom the Beatles were adherents — referred to his own teacher.

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  1. For some reason, that version of Across The Universe keeps sticking half-way through (probably just something to do with me having to use a VPN tunnel through Cincinnati to access almost anything at all on the Net at the moment, rather than a general glitch).

    I especially like this version, with accompaniment by Ravi Shankar.

    As you know, John, I’ve also became very fond of the cover by Fiona Apple, from the film Pleasantville.

    And then, of course, there’s oddball Slovenian “art rock” collective Laibach‘s take on it – although I can see that wouldn’t at all fit with the mellow mood of a Whiskey River Friday!

  2. I knew that picture before I read the credits. Ah, the Disney vision.

    The Merwin quote is trying to remind me of something–it is right there but I can’t call it in.

    The Beatles reminds me of a conversation I had with a coworker who thought the Beatles were overrated and didn’t do that much for music. It was a lively conversation…. Wonder if he’s changed his mind?

  3. The Miller and Merwin quotes seem so apt to the events of the last week. The dove poem and the song make me think of the Buddhist concept of radical acceptance that I am trying to work on in my own life. Today I am focusing on mindfulness meditation, and your blog brings much richness to all of my senses.

  4. Well now, isn’t Henry Miller on to something? Or wasn’t he, rather. I keep meaning to read him….Keep meaning to.

  5. froog: I loved the way you tied all those versions together in your post of a few months ago.

    And that Laibach version still gives me the willies.

  6. marta: All those audio-animatronic things do have a characteristic look, don’t they? Especially when in motion: just a liiiiiitttttle too smooth. Here’s a 1964 mini-documentary about their history, narrated by Uncle Walt himself:

    I like the cavemen threatening the wooly mammoth with boulders. And threatening… and threatening… and threatening… over and over, without actually launching the things.

  7. Squirrel: I think those Miller/Merwin quotes appeared on whiskey river after the Japan quake/tsunami; wouldn’t be at all surprised if that blog’s proprietor — fond as s/he is of Zen principles and practice and, presumably, of Japan itself — chose them for that reason.

    (Thank you for that last sentence, btw.)

  8. jules: *whispering* I’ve never read Henry Miller either — at least, never read anything complete by him… novels and such. Somewhere around, I do have a compilation of quotations and excerpts, whose name I can’t remember. (But I’m pretty sure it was none of these.)

  9. @John – Having grown up down the road from Walt Disney World–I even got to go the first year it was open–it holds a place in my heart. And my heart is a complicated place.

    Weird now to go back to Disney and see the changes. I was sad at the decline and eventual death of the 20,000 Leagues ride. I’d loved that as a kid.

  10. marta: a first-yearer! When your first book is on the shelf, I hope you manage to work that into the “About the Author” page.

    But see, this is the generational thing — I didn’t get to Disney World until the mid-’80s, but remember (actually a little acutely) the 1964-65 World’s Fair which the video referred to. Went twice, once with family and once with my 8th-grade class. Another advantage of growing up in NJ (even southern NJ, a two-hour drive away)!

    And I do know what you mean about the demise of that ride. By the time 1966 rolled around, I couldn’t believe they’d shuttered the freaking World’s Fair. Seemed like they should have been able to keep it going indefinitely, or at least until I personally reached uncaring adulthood. :)

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