Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Music...

NetFlix has brought home the waning years of the Cold War, Smiley-style, to our house these past few days. Of course I'm referring to the seriously wonderful adaptation of John Le Carre's book, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that aired in 1979, starring the inimitable Alec Guinness as John Smiley. The pace is deliciously slow, the dialogue at times poetic, banal, philosophic, arch. Very British. Very late 1970's, dripping with cynicism and a sad kind of nostalgia for days when honour meant something, even among spies.

But the crowning glory, in a very real sense, is the music that plays over the ending credits of each episode (there are six). Sung in English by a Cathedral choirboy of twelve at the time (Paul Phoenix), the heart-rending words of Simeon, an aged prophet of the Jerusalem temple, float across the landscape of London as white clouds slowly drift in a deep blue sky. Simeon says these words (as recorded in Luke 2:29-32) after he has witnessed the "Presentation at the Temple" of the child Jesus by his parents, Joseph and Mary.  

Here is the text used for the song, originally scored by composer Geoffrey Burgon; it is part of the Evening Prayer in the Catholic Daily Office, said by all priests, religious, and many laypersons every day, and is a soft and beautiful prayer of resignation and grace received:

Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace
According to Thy word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
Which Thou has prepared before the face of all peoples
To be a light to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Thy people, Israel.

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.

If you want to hear this truly, deeply, spiritually enchanting song, go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFS6lO6WaaM .

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On The Road with Jack Kerouac - and "Bop" Music

I can't believe I haven't read this book already! Way back in the early 1960's, I was reading Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, even William Burroughs (Naked Lunch, anyone? which brings to mind the great Simpsons take on that, when Nelson, the school bully, and his buddies are seen walking out of the movie theatre where the marquee reads "Naked Lunch" and he says, "I can think of two things that are wrong with that title!"). Anyway, so I never read "On The Road", and I'm reading it now. And liking it quite a bit, too. 

The story starts in 1947, quite a bit earlier than I had imagined it would, so that's interesting right off the bat. When Jack (or "Sal Paradise" as he is called in the edited version, more on that later) gets to Chicago, he says, "At this time, 1947, bop was going like mad all over America. The fellows at the Loop blew, but with a tired air, because bop was somewhere between its Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another period that began with Miles Davis. And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which bop has come to represent for all of us, I thought of all my friends..." It makes me want to learn more about how jazz started out being called "bop" (related to be-bop?) and when it started being known as jazz.

Kerouac's style is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, plain talk stitched together with beauty and grace, like when he says that Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) "stood bobbing his head, always looking down, nodding, like a young boxer to instructions, to make you think he was listening to every word...." In the "pre-edited" edition, or the "scroll" edition, which a friend of mine bought when I got my own book, all the names are the real people Jack wrote about: Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Cassady - the whole Beat generation from New York to San Francisco (and yes, he calls it 'Frisco' - oh well). The word "beat" by the way, comes up a lot, but seems to mean different things. I've decided to track all the uses of the word "beat" in the book, and see how and if it changes - it may not, it's just an idea I want to follow.

I wish I were about to go across country on a long road trip, but for now I'll read Jack's story.