Chrissy Hynde curses the furies!

To my thinking, the greatest intellectual contribution of the Ancient Greeks  was the way they wrestled with the one of the most confounding existential mysteries of the human condition: Man’s inability to escape suffering, and more pointedly, the uselessness of righteous living as a talisman against tragedy.

For hundreds of years considered a core component of a good education, modern educators have determined that Greek philosophy and theatre are not very useful for Marxian didacticism, and hence the material is accessible to most only in elective college classes. Ancient Greek thought has much to offer us, as its sophistication, comprehensiveness of topic, and remoteness in time (2,500 years ago) provides insight into the universality of the human condition, occasionally doing so with a sublimely dark ironic wit.

Significant in Ancient Greek theatre was the notion of man mightily struggling against his fate.  The Greeks imagined mythical Fates and Furies who used their godlike powers to torment man, and explored the notion that man has a fixed and pre-determined fate that he is powerless to escape.

Classics professor William Arrowsmith suggested that Greek Tragedy posits that in man’s struggle, and inevitable defeat at the hands of fate, we behold that which is most noble and heroic about human existence.  While not an uplifting philosophy, it is very durable in the face of disaster, and is distressingly difficult to dismiss.

Whether she knew it or not, Chrissy Hynde, singer for The Pretenders, devestated by her  fate, cursed the furies, proving herself the equal of any ancient human hero of Greek mythology.

The Pretenders, a British band had some success in the early 1980s. In their prime, they created a number of catchy New Wave tunes and moved a lot of vinyl. However, to me their crowning achievement was the 1982 ballad Back On The Chain Gang. Peaking at #5 on the US charts in 1983, the song is said to have been inspired both by Hynde’s relationship with Ray Davies, of Kinks fame, father of her daughter, and also the 1982 overdose death of The Pretender’s guitarist. I also hear anecdotally that Hynde doesn’t like to perform it live, due to the painful memories it invokes.

But as is often the case, human misery is a cradle of creative brilliance, and Chrissy’s powerful and original metaphors transcend the trite writing that often plagues lamentations:

I found a picture of you. What hijacked my world that night. To a place in the past we’ve been cast  out of. Now we’re back in the fight.

A circumstance beyond our control. The phone, T.V. and the News of the World*. Got in a house like a pigeon from hell. Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies.

Building to the penultimate moment whence she defiantly curses the furies:

The powers that be force us to live like they do. They bring me to my knees when I see what they’ve done to you. But I’ll die as I stand here today, knowing that deep in my heart, they’ll fall to ruin one day for making us part.

 

* The News of The World was a british newspaper.

The Visiting Hawk

Back in the day, I used to participate in Sweat Lodges with some American Indians. If they saw a hawk or eagle fly overhead before the sweat, they were extremely pleased, and explained such a thing was a very good omen. In fact, any time you see a hawk or eagle fly by, its a good omen.

Recently, a few miles down the road from my house, but a short distance as the crow flies (so to speak), a housing development began on some platted land. Putting in the access road meant uprooting many trees, and apparently destroyed the habitat of a couple of eagles, or at least made their home turf feel uncomfortably un-private. Driving by this new road the other day, I noted a hawk sitting on a power line right by it–a hawk I had never seen there before.

A few days later I was sitting in my living room and noticed something white flash back and forth past my window a couple of times. I checked around the front of my yard and saw a hawk standing on a branch high up in one of my trees at the edge of the yard. I guessed it was from the developed area and looking for a new place to call home.

As I surveyed my yard, along with the hawk, I noticed that the usual squirrels, rabbits, and crows were nowhere to be seen. I then saw another very large bird near it with different coloring–maybe a mate (I know next to nothing about birds). I was equally pleased with the grandeur of these raptors and the fact that their diet consisted of the pests in my yard (except for deer, regrettably).

The next morning I woke to the sound of tiny birds chirping as opposed to the cacaphony of crows that had greeted each new day for the two years I have lived here. The usual murder (flock) of crows were nowhere to be seen.

I would gladly spend a princely sum to convince these hawks that they were welcome to live in my yard with my complete protection and support, but I know of no way to do this.

While I haven’t seen the hawks since then, I think and hope my yard is on the list of places they hunt for food every day, as I haven’t heard or seen crows in my yard for several days. I saw a squirrel a bit ago, but he was discreetly slinking by rather than the usual running all over the place.

(Updated 9/10/2012 to reflect the identification of the birds as hawks, not eagles.)

Can you tell me how to get to the Emergency Room?

While at work at HCMC the other day, walking back from a meeting, a woman pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair asked me “Can you tell me how to get to the Emergency Room?” She and the woman in the wheelchair appeared placid, and I gave her directions: “Ok, take the elevator to 2R, go down the hall to the bank of elevators, go down to the first floor…” HCMC covers three city blocks with tunnels in the buildings to accomodate city streets, containing a labyrinthine network of hallways.

We got on the elevator. After the door closed, the elderly woman in the wheelchair said, to no one in particular “Will somebody help my neice?” I noticed the eyes of the woman pushing her teared up for a second, then her placid expression returned. I stopped giving directions and escorted them to the Emergency Department.

It occurred to me that while my trip to the hospital represents nothing more than the drudgery of another work day, for many a trip to the hospital means one of their nightmares is coming true.

Disrespecting the Sweet Science for 7 seconds

I hope my sons treasure the memory of times I took them to professional boxing matches as much as I do. Its impossible to convey how proud I was showing up at fights with my two man posse–both of them taller than me.

We want to one boxing event at the St Paul Armory some years ago. On one of the undercard fights there was a bit of humorous controversy. The now highly accomplished super middleweight Phil “The Drill” Williams was matched with some clown from Iowa. Dude entered the ring wearing only some shorts style underwear made out of cartoon character print. The ref would not let him fight in his undies and sent him back to the locker room. Dude emerged a bit later and had somehow gotten a boxing groin protecter on underneath his comic strip underwear.

Well, this was still extremely disrespectful, and the ref didn’t like it, but I guess he got the nod from the promoter Tony Grygelco, and the ref agreed to let it go forward. Dude was exhibiting all sorts of arrogant, and disrespectful behavior, much to the amusement and derision of the crowd.

Well, the bell rang and dude charged Phil. I thought it was the first punch Phil threw, but my sons said it was his second one, and cartoon dude took a canvas ride. The crowd loved it. I think the official disposition of the fight was KO seven seconds into the first round. Phil deserved better opponents, and he got them in subsequent fights.

The Inner Game: Let the contest decide

Watching a professional boxing match some years ago, I saw that a boxer I knew seemed to be fighting far below his ability and I was convinced he should be easily beating the guy. But he ultimately lost the fight in a decision. I mentioned this to another boxer from the same gym. He said “He had it in his mind that this guy would win. He lost the fight before he left the locker room.”

***

When I was in High School track, the mile was by far my first love, but I often ended up assigned to the two mile run. At one track meet in Minneapolis in the year 1976, there were three of us running the two mile. One runner had some pretty good times (race duration), and the other was quite a bit taller than me. The tall guy commented “We don’t even need to run the race, we know the outcome, 1, 2, 3. At 3, he pointed to me, and I glumly accepted his judgement.

The two mile run is typically 8 laps on a quarter mile track. I ran the first part of the race in third place, and at the middle I noticed that the tall guy ahead of me was dying (really hurting). I ran a little harder and started to catch up to him. As he heard me coming, he sped up a but, but I kept after him, and once I passed him, he sort of gave up and slowed down.

I finished in 2nd place.

***

Moral of the stories: Cast your fate to the wind and let the contest decide. Fate is often kinder to us than we are to ourselves.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s–A wry torcher from 1995

While the quality of pop/rock music probably peaked in 1967 and was running on fumes after 1985, we do find the occasional nuggets.

A couple of brothers from Texas, Todd and Tony Pipes, formed Deep Blue Something in 1992. They charted their one hit Breakfast at Tiffany’s, released in 1995, peaking at 5th on the American charts and number one in England in 1996. Song writer Todd Pipes reported the song was inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s performance in the film Roman Holiday, but thought one of her other movies would make a better title. I have always liked it for its touching and wry understatement. The protagonist’s girlfriend wants to dump him, stating they have nothing in common. He responds:

And I said what about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
She said, “I think I remember the film,
And as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it.”
And I said, “Well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.