Thursday, 06 April 2006

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Murglarizing American History the Reginald Kenneth Dwight Way Two posts about The Battle of New Orleans on one blog? Insanity! And yet: As I watched the underrated Elizabethtown recently, I made a mental note of the fact that Cameron Crowe has now had two films in which Elton John songs figure prominently. Like every kid who came of age after Say Anything premiered, I fancied myself "a Lloyd" and sought out heartbreakers so I too could hoist a stereo above my head and "serenade" my Diane with "In Your Eyes." Alas! Instead I ended up heavily medicated in a tree outside my first love's window alternately bawling and asleep. (I had an excuse . . . and a head swaddled such that I had a gauzy half-leia thing going on. How could she have resisted?) But I digress. The Say Anything soundtrack—like its taste-making compatriot Singles —took pains to prove that despite being married to a founding member of Heart, Cameron had chops: Peter Gabriel, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Replacements, Fishbone, Depeche Mode, Living Colour &c. Now that was a soundtrack . . . typical of a time and a place and an attitude I sheepishly emulated. Same logic applpies Elizabethtown. Right down to the Elton John song "My Father's Gun." Lyrically the song is typical early '70s Taupin-penned bombast [.mp3] From this day on I own my father's gun We dug his shallow grave beneath the sun I laid his broken body down below the southern land It wouldn't do to bury him where any Yankee stands I'll take my horse and I'll ride the northern plain To wear the colour of the greys and join the fight again I'll not rest until I know the cause is fought and won From this day on until I die I'll wear my father's gun I'd like to know where the riverboat sails tonight To New Orleans well that's just fine alright 'Cause there's fighting there and the company needs men So slip us a rope and sail on round the bend As soon as this is over we'll go home To plant the seeds of justice in our bones To watch the children growing and see the women sewing There'll be laughter when the bells of freedom ring When I initially listened to the lyrics I thought them slyly brilliant. Taupin's narrator longs to head south and fight in one of the few major engagements unknowingly fought after the peace treaty ending its war had been signed. You know: "The Battle of New Orleans." So we have the British-to-the-bone Reginald Kenneth Dwight inhabiting the voice of an American who wants to fight in a war already over because he hears "the Company needs men." The Americans lost 13 and had 58 wounded; the British lost approximately 700 and had 2000 wounded. What would the Americans have done had Taupin not sent intrepid Elton to the rescue? Would fourteen have fallen? Perish the thought! Then I realized the talk of "southern land" and its partner-in-rhyme "where any Yankee...
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"'The Option' Days" Are Here Again I have a writing routine. So does every successful writer. In my class today—the second of the quarter—my students were treated to guest appearances by New York Times best-selling author Joshua Wolf Shenk and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Barry Siegel. (And damn did they ever handle it with aplomb.) Joshua talked to them about his writing routine—a mandatory three hours slaving and flailing daily—and as he did the contours of my own routine became more apparent. (What can I say? Contrast has a way of creating reliefs.) My routine is more ambitious than his by the very degree to which I'm a lesser writer. I don't tie myself to the chair for three hours daily but six. Had I Shenk's skills I wouldn't need to. (Only I don't. So I do.) Over the course of the conversation I inadvertantly revealed to my students the existence of "'The Option' Days." What are "'The Option' Days"? Besides an excuse to indulge my love of awkward quotational apparatuses, "'The Option' Days" are those entirely comprised of six or more hours staring at a Word document which contains only the words "the" and "option" (in that order) and being dunderstruck trying to complete the sentence. Do I want a verb? "The option considered by . . ." would make for a fine sentence. As would one in which "the option" introduces a prepositional phrase: "The option before the . . ." That would also work. Whichever one I choose will determine the argument and tone and structure of all that comes after it. So I sit there. Paralyzed by "the option." Haunted by "the option." Aware of the irony inherent in feeling paralyzed and haunted by all the options "the option" provides but unable to appreciate its ironical exquisiteness for the foul mood into which I've descended. So I sit. Frustrated. I stare dumbly. And brood. Over the dead end that is "the option."

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