That’s what the seventies felt like.
Sun blasts and foul clouds of something burning. Happy town—wherever your happy town was—simultaneously shining and black with shadows. The Viet Nam war stampeded sense and honor and justice pretty much off the map, beating up the second half of the decade with the horrors of the first.
And yet, there was Leo Kottke guiding us through the fog with his “geese farts on a muggy day” voice and intricate guitar work. Nixon bludgeoning the presidency, which had had plenty of pounding before the Watergate scandal. The Hite Report spilling our sexual beans while a talking seagull taught us all to individuate.
It was a mixed bag, the seventies, a wheel with half its spokes broken, a chaotic field of change that has helped open the entire world to overweening greed. I don’t long for the seventies but I wish we had the years back, in order to do less harm.
Revisiting the decade of my twenties today reminded me of the brain of the purple mountain. I read Guest’s novel propped on the couch with a sunny view of Mt. Olympus out my window--a violet mountain against the blue sky. Leo Kottke named an early song of his “The Brain of the Purple Mountain,” and I’m guessing not many people know that his title is taken from a great line of poetry.
When Alfred Lord Tennyson was twenty-one, he spat out a beautiful curse against sophists, over-thinkers, worldly experts, wise men, the clever. His poem is called “The Poet’s Mind.” It's from 1830. FYI, the merry bird is the poet:
In the heart of the garden the merry bird chants,
It would fall to the ground if you came in.
In the middle leaps a fountain
Like sheet lightning,
With a low melodious thunder;
All day and all night it is ever drawn
From the brain of the purple mountain
Which stands in the distance yonder:
It springs on a level of bowery lawn,
And the mountain draws it from Heaven above,
And it sings a song of undying love;
And yet, tho' its voice be so clear and full,
You never would hear it; your ears are so dull;
So keep where you are: you are foul with sin;
It would shrink to the earth if you came in.
I love it that this poet gets preachy. That he dares to smack at the powerful, who've lost their respect for beauty and the still small voice in them which marvels, which waits, which adores.
The best definition of sin I’ve heard is “missing the mark” (hamartia in Greek). We are all foul with sin if we do not marvel at purple mountains, if we drive through days ignorant of the water drawn from heaven singing its song of undying love.
The water is not a metaphor. Its song is everywhere water flows freely. A ditch, a gully, a city creek, a faucet, your garden hose, a stream. Turn on your irrigation system if that's all the water nearby you. If you cannot hear it--hear and feel and receive it--read more poetry. Listen to Leo Kottke. Listen again. Let Judith Guest take you through hell to reach a moment where a father and a son connect. Find your mark. Because, to bring Joni into the mix, "we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."
I know this is a tad stream-of-consciousness, but so were the seventies!
Wish I could have found a link for "When Shrimps Could Whistle." Any Kottke is good Kottke, so enjoy what I did find!