March 14, 2010

Random babblings: Of Elephants and things

Despite a gloomy pall spread across the mid-Atlantic states by four days of rain, the first morning of Daylight Saving Time found me feeling pretty good.  There's been much dukkha lately, much wanting to think about changes that should be made for future happiness and security, and just as much avoidance of thoughts on that subject.  The result has been a lot of time feeling anxious and sorry for myself, and then feeling annoyed at myself for sinking to such depths.

My current infatuation with Jack White has both helped and harmed in this situation.  His music's become, depending on the tune, a wonderful release, an escape, a comfort, and a distraction.  But learning about the man himself has been a tad confounding.  He's apparently a kinetic fount of creative energy with a work ethic that's renowned in the industry.  And there lies the rub.  I'd like to be inspired by him, but instead his example makes me feel ashamed of being such a lazy sod who can't get off her duff and figure out what to do with her life, who'd rather play than work at stuff that doesn't have at least some element of fun, or at least interest, to it.  I imagine White's photo in the dictionary next to the definition of "Type A personality", and that just ain't me.  But there are times when perhaps it should be.  

So today's indulgent escape was a drive up to Gettysburg National Military Park.  The US Civil War's been an interest of mine for years, ever since I moved to Maryland and began exploring the state.  Sitting as it does between Virginia & Pennsylvania, MD's surrounded by Civil War history and multiple battlefield sites:  Monocacy, Antietam, Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg are the most well-known of the bunch.  Amazingly, the area around Gettysburg hasn't yet fallen to the developer's axe.  In the years I've been going there, I've noticed the addition of a couple of shopping/movie complexes and a few industrial parks, but none of the rampant house building that's spread so virulently closer to home.  The place seems to still be largely agricultural, and that makes a visit to the battlefield feel, to at least a small degree, like a step back in time.

I hung out for a while at Devil's Den, within view of Round Top and Little Round Top. Some of the most brutal fighting of this three-day battle took place in the space called the Valley of Death, between the Den and the Round Tops, when Confederate troops swarmed over both the rocks and the Federals who'd been holding ground there.

Civil War soldiers spoke of going into battle as "seeing the elephant" and the elephantine, rain-slicked boulders of the Den fit the expression well.  Fortunately, the rain that soaked the rocks also kept the tourist crowds at bay and only a few were climbing about, having their photos taken to look as if they were holding up the gigantic formations with only a fingertip.  So I was able to wander and shoot and attempt to imagine the carnage.  I've read a bunch of books and articles about the Civil War, but I've yet to find anything that satisfactorily explains what motivated the men on either side of the conflict to engage in killing each other in such a barbaric manner.  I understand it from a psychological perspective.  It's fairly obvious that the vast majority of the lower troops just plain had no clue what they were going to face, that some atavistic, testosterone-driven urge excited them to sign up and serve the cause of their chosen side.  Imagine their surprise when the fearsome form of the elephant first came lumbering towards them.  Yet from an empathetic standpoint, I just don't get it.  The men leading the troops had all faced war before, and they didn't hesitate to do so again when Sumter fell.  Robert E. Lee himself famously stated, "It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it."  I think that Lee understood even less than I do.

Appropriately, I popped The White Stripe's Elephant into the cd player on the way home.  This is the album that apparently launched the Stripes into the stratosphere and it's a fantastic collection displaying the diversity of Jack's genius.  From angry to tender, bragging to entreating, these songs "dedicated to, ...for, and about the death of the sweetheart" cover a gamut of human relations.  Perhaps it's due to the subject matter, but these seem to be some of White's most direct songs.  He's apparently a big fan of metaphor, but the stories on this album are all clearly and coherently told, and his use of imagery is compelling.  Some highlights:

Apparently written about the issues that fame caused for him amongst the Detroit music scene, which prompted his subsequent move to Nashville, there's no mistaking the message that Jack's not to be trifled with-- 

And I'm talking to myself at night
Because I can't forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And the message coming from my eyes
Says leave it alone

I'm only waiting for the proper time to tell you
That it's impossible to get along with you
It's hard to look you in the face when we are talking
So it helps to have a mirror in the room

Absolutely unequivocal.  After this point in the album, though, the anger and cynicism begin to fade and Jack turns to longing for love.  

The sweetest moment of the album is contained in this song. Though the lyrics portray a man who suffers from a mild case of misogyny, the tenderness of Jack's simple vocals tugs at the heart-strings and turn it into a romantic ode to the desperation of love.

Nobody ever told you that it was the wrong way
To trick a woman, make her feel she did it her way
And you'll be there if she ever feels blue
And you'll be there when she finds someone new

One of my favorite things about this album is the track order. To follow the delicate romance of "...In Your Pocket" with the arrogant swagger of "Ball and Biscuit" is nothing short of brilliant.  This song, like "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" or "Death Letter", is a showcase for Jack's insane talent on the guitar.  But it also stands out as one of the few instances of blatant sexual braggadocio that he's indulged in.  Supposedly inspired by the "ball and biscuit" microphones used in the studio where the album was recorded, Jack very cleverly sings about "getting clean together" and then proceeds to get absolutely filthy on his guitar.

The final cut on the album is a whimsical little number with guest vocals from British singer, Holly Golightly.  While it could easily be dismissed as fluff or filler, the humor in the tune makes it a gem.  It's a nice touch, after beginning the album in anger, then traveling through yearning and boasting, to end things with a smile.


bikesncoffee said...

That photo of the tree in devils den is awesome... Recognized it before I even read where you took it - great atmosphere!

KaliDurga said...

Why, thank you. The atmosphere was provided courtesy of rain drops on the camera lens.