Desolation Row

Thanks to Mrs Murphy, my high school music teacher, I appreciated the poetry of Bob Dylan from a relatively early age. As much as I did as that of Dylan Thomas, and the works we were fed of the classic writers of sonnets epics and odes.

Not being steeped in American culture a great deal of Dylan’s chaotic and surreal imagery went over my head in the sixties. But I knew the opening lines of Desolation Row referred to something dark.

They’re selling postcards of the hanging…

It was not until the advent of internet and Wikipedia that I learned about the shameful lynching of three alleged rapists in Duluth, Minnesota, not far from the Zimmerman home where Dylan’s father lived as a child at the time. Postcard photographs of the hanging victims were sold.

Dylan’s reference to the Titanic, on which the passengers ask “which side are you on.” seems almost prescient, given the current Situation of the world, and America.

In fact the whole song seems to me an ironic acknowledgement of the surreality and ultimate futility of existence.

I just had to jot these notes to show that I can appreciate poetry even while I take the piss.

Bob Dylan

Desolation Row

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
A perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row”

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row

BOB DYLAN

Pain

I can’t stand the pain
Spondylosis
Pinching back vertebrae
I can’t stand the pain
Knee arthritis
‘Cause I’m not who I used to be
Hey bloody knees
Tell me, do you remember
How sweet it used to be
When I could walk for miles
Everything was groovy
Now my joints are grating
And that’s one sound
That I just can’t stand
I can’t stand the pain
Of spondylosis
Aching thighs, aching knees
I can’t stand the pain
Of gravity on me
‘Cause I’m not who I used to be
When I was a young man
Everything was so grand
Now that I’ve grown old
There’s just one thing
That I just can’t stand
Can’t stand the pain
I can’t stand the pain
Of my leg muscles
Taunting me with memories
Of when I could walk free
I can’t stand the pain
And I can’t walk far
Unless my walking stick’s with with me
When we are together
I can make it round the shops
Like Woolworths. Oh sweet memories
But it’s just so wrong
That I just can’t stand
I can’t walk alone
Without a trolley to lean on
I can’t stand the pain
The spondylitic pain
That just keeps on haunting me
Hey hey pain
Get off of my back, please
‘Cause I can’t stand the pain
I’ll jump out a window
‘Cause I can’t stand the pain.

The Beautiful Blue Danube

Sometimes I wonder about how my mind works. My neighbour’s morning coughing spell today sounded to me like The Blue Danube.

Cough, cough, cough, cough cough

Cough cough, cough cough

Cough Cough cough cough cough

Cough cough cough cough

Cough cough cough cough COUGH

Cough cough COUGH

Cough cough cough

Cough cough

cough cough

AHEM

Johann Strauss II

Gave me an earworm.

The First Cup

I would have given you all my Oolong
And I know you like to drink tea that’s strong
But I’ve just drank up all that I had
So if you want, I’ll try to brew again
Baby, I’ll try to brew again, but I know
The first cup is the weakest, baby, I know
The first cup is the weakest,
And when it comes to making coffee, he’s cursed
When it comes to making tea he’s worse

I still want you to to try some Earl Grey
Just to take the taste of chamomile away
And I think you should give chai a try
So. If you want, I’ll boil the jug again,
Baby, I’ll put the kettle on again,
but I know, oh
The first cup is the weakest, baby, I know
The first cup is the weakest
And when it comes to making coffee, he’s cursed
When it comes to making tea he’s worse

Spotify

Today I’m listening to a Collection of Beethoven’s sonatas, played by various artists. Right now I’m listening to my favourite, Sonata no. 14, Opus 27, in C sharp minor. Also known as the Moonlight. Or mondschein.

My Spotify account is one of my treasures. For eleven dollars a month it gives me access to a Collection of music I could never afford to buy on CD. I have found almost all the music I liked in my youth. Classical, folk, rock, I have expanded my Celtic folk collection beyond anything I could afford to buy. Now, I am exploring what I missed. Spotify allows me to try new musical genres and artists. My musical appreciation development was stunted in the eighties but I am at last catching up.

Sad to say most modern music, especially hip-hop, leaves me cold but there is still some wheat amongst the chaff.

By clicking on the links above you can listen to my playlists, though you’ll have to put up with advertising unless you have an account.

The Swimliness of the Long Distance Loner

My Mondays are set around attending the Really, Really Fat Person’s Support Group for the next few weeks.

Today we learned how to read nutrition labels in order to understand what we are putting into our bodies. I try to sit quietly and not be a know-it-all, having been through all this before. And having worked with food labels for years. Hell, I worked with ANZFA (now FSANZ) on this very subject. I reminded myself constantly not to be a prick. But I probably was one anyway. It is hard to sit quietly when the expert in the room is repeating discredited food myths. Still. I tried.

I was back on Bribie and in the pool by 16:15. It is still School Week. In fact, School week is actually four weeks, so late afternoon swims will be the routine for a while. This afternoon over half the pool was still taken up by youngsters doing their thing so I shared a lane until after five.

I had loaded a lot more music onto the MP3 player over the weekend. It now has something like 50 hours of music to randomly play. So why does it keep playing the same tunes over and over? The algorithm that randomly selects is defective.

Because the player is cheap, and must be waterproof, one cannot see what is on it unless it is connected to a computer. There is no screen to tell you what is playing. You can’t actually choose a track except by scrolling through hoping to come upon it. For controls the device has the usual on/off button, volume up/down button, and a next track/last track button. In such circumstances, unless you want to constantly interrupt your swim to choose another track, it is vitally important not to put any music on the player that you do not really really want to hear quite often at any time at all. Because if you do, that is the one the player will choose to repeat over and over.

I love Janis Joplin. I love her rendition of Ball and Chain. But not over and over while I’m swimming, thanks.

The Curragh of Kildare

JThe winter it has passed
And the summer’s come at last
The small birds are singing in the trees
And their little hearts are glad
Ah, but mine is very sad
Since my true love is far away from me

And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For it’s there I’ll finds tidings of my dear

The rose upon the briar
By the water’s running clear
Brings joy to the linnet and the bee
And their little hearts are blessed
But mine can know no rest
Since my true love is far away from me

A livery I’ll wear
And I’ll comb back my hair
And in velvet so green I will appear
And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For its there I’ll find tidings of my dear

All you who are in love
Aye and cannot it remove
I pity the pain that you endure
For experience lets me know
That your hearts are filled with woe
It’s a woe that no mortal can cure

Songwriters: CHRISTY MOORE / DOMINIC BEHAN / HAROLD SHAMPAN

The Wrens of the Curragh’

In 1856 The Curragh Military Camp had been established on the plains of Kildare, and attracted a community of Irish destitute women. The women, mostly in their twenties, lived on the plains about a mile from the camp. Outcast by society, they supported each other within their community and lived difficult lives in furze-covered shelters dug in the ground using any protection from the weather they could find.

Because they mostly iced in ‘nests’ in the ground the women became known as The Wrens. Their choices were limited to either living rough on the Plains of Kildare or in the workhouse where they would have no control and no dignity whatsoever.

Their only means of income was the oldest profession. They sold their bodies to the soldiers of the camp.

The women were ostracised by society, the church, and the local communities. Many had young children living with them but such was the nature of society at the time that they received little compassion. They were beyond the pale of so called ‘respectable society’. They were stoned, spat at, and beaten in the the local communities. Shopkeepers refused them service. Only one business, run by a widow, would allow them to enter and be served.

The army permitted them to buy necessities twice weekly at the camp store and sent water wagons out to the ‘nests’ twice weekly.

There are accounts of gangs of local men who considered it sport to terrify the women and burn down their nests.

There are accounts of incidences of gang rape by groups of soldiers. An incident reported in the town of Newbridge concerns a local priest who attacked one of the Wrens, tore the thin shawl and gown from her shoulders and beat her with his riding crop until her blood splashed all over his riding boots. Though witnessed by many locals, no one voiced any protest.

Another priest was known to attack any Wren he encountered with scissors he carried for the purpose. He would cut off their hair, marking them with the “shame” of the Corinthian prostitutes. No one ever objected or tried to help.

For fifty years, until the end of the nineteen century, the Wrens of the Curragh lived in the ditches of the Plains of Kildare and died there of from disease and exposure. When they fell ill the workhouse usually refused to take them in and those few they did were kept away from sight in conditions no better than those they had left on the plains.

Because of the hypocrisy of religion we Irish, usually renown for generosity, could be just as uncharitable as anyone else.

THE CAMP, C 1860