Liner Notes to The Yellow PrincessI humbly dedicate this, my eighth record, somewhat autologically to a memory I have of one morning hour spent with a lost friend (and to her) near Mount Jackson, Virginia, circa July 1, 1953. I, who later chose to be free, do here present in lieu of anything else to present, on record and off, some of my illegitimate, miscegenate, but elder offspring - mothered by all sorts of varigated and promiscuous experiences, raised by hardy emotions and brought to maturity primarily by a necessity, but also by a curiousty to hear what I sound like these days; what I have become, am, have been and perhaps shall be. That which I hear disturbs me and at times promises me, but the listener need not concern himself with the problems in the life of the creative artist. And, in fact, these songs are among my best and most recent compositions.
I am tired (tonight anyway) of writing humorous record notes. And, I am told, such publicity stunts are no longer necessary. Nor have I any more personal grudges, secret messages, jokes or private allegories to convey or to inflict, concealed beneath the humor of a vile irony, upon anyone in particular, nor upon the public. I am bored with these tricks. I hope that my music can stand alone without the assistance of such parasitic crutch-columns. I am reconciled to what must be, and to all those who must be with it, and not be it. This contemplation sometimes makes me happy. At other times I wilt. But so what? Well, this is what.
There is a pulp-mill somewhere in Maryland. And this mill pours its refuse into what is now, but was not always a land-locked lake. And in that lake lived an enormous turtle, (only one) very old, very large, his shell painted by moss and pulp. You can (or at least I can) hear his voice, or rather cry, sometimes late at night when everything else is still. He was there long before the mill came. The water is bad now, but there are still a few carp and cat-fish on the bottom for him to snap up and chomp on. For some reason no one else has ever seen him, and as an amateur herpetologist I should like to say that he resembles no species that I have ever seen or heard of elsewhere. There he spends his days confined to the polluted water. There is no outlet. He cannot make it to the sea. Nothing ever gets out of that lake.
He basks and sounds, half conscious, half asleep, half alive, the first and last of his kind. The workers in the mill do not bother him; they mistake him for an old log. He waits for death in the dirty water but doesn't even think about the waiting. He is an old turtle, and having seen the horizon on all sides, there is not much more for him to think about.
I used to go and watch him. He saw me too, I think. Sometimes I imagined we understood something of each other. But I could never tell what it was.
In a sense the turtle used to "entertain" me. And now I find myself in that position, rather involuntarily. It all seems quite strange. "Musician," in a sense, I don't mind as an adjective, not as a substantive, since all the sensory or empirical reasons which may be adduced, do not appear to me to be sufficient, much less necessary to indicate why I create what is created, or how or why what is created is in or through me more than it is through anyone else. I am consequently driven to assume that my music has a source which wants to say something. Many people have asked me what it says (or what it does, if anything, depending upon your aesthetic point of view).
There are many questions which seem to admit of no answer. But a rather special sort of "No answer." It is not like a closed door, but much more like a silent , certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though some one shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like someone saying, "Peace, child; you don't understand." Or perhaps the questions, rather than expressing a lack of meaning, express something nonsensical, or contain hidden nonsensical assumptions. How many hours are there in a mile? Is red round or square?
Or perhaps the question is properly put. My music does mean or do something. But the answer would be quite unpopular and, as I said previously, I am a coward. Besides, as an entertainer and/or musician I'm not supposed to be unpopular.
Re / the songs:
The Yellow Princess:
I once managed to copy the main theme of a passage from "The Yellow Princess OVerture," by Camille Saint-Saens. THis is a stabilized improvisation upon that passage. I began it in 1954 and completed it in December 1966, in Bastrop, La.
The Yellow Princess was a magnificent Clipper ship with golden sails, ivory prow, jade hull and jeweled mast-head; a vessel I saw setting sail at Orkney Springs, Virginia, in 1953. She was headed East and so was I. I was offered passage but took the dry-land route. Last I saw her (June, 1956) she was dry-docked on some tributary of the Anacostia. Having no appropriate wares for commerce upon the high seas I left her there. But such a well made ship! She still sails the Atlantic, I have recently been informed, prosperously laden with valuable cargo, having been quite productive all these years. She was last sighted by R. Grubbert Gardner, late 1966, in the thriving seaport of Lanham, Maryland.
The composition is played in standard tuning, and modulates between the keys of G and E major. The song thus transports itself through the Ionian and Mixolydian modes, and through this and other devices, motion suggests itself. While the motion continues the modulation is quickly executed (one should never be modally indeterminate) and the first mode hitchhikes along the road East (Md 410) to the Atlantic Ocean where it waits to see the sunrise and watch the ships go by. But the morning is cloudy. It gets depressed and collapses in the sand. Gulls and crabs are probably still there. The other drives West to the Pacific where it is caught and trapped by the sunset. Soon nightfall will come.
I did not go East. I took the wrong passage. Still, I thought, maybe I had gotten somewhere. Maybe I did. Who knows? But I am reminded of a quotation from Whitman which seems appropriate:
. . .where is what I started for so long ago?
And why is it yet unfound?
I know the answer to this question. The Yellow Princess still sails majestically out in the Atlantic, her golden sails billowing gently in the clean easterlies. I sit on the shore of the Pacific (Facing West I watch the sunset and try to think up new modes. I do not watch the ships go by. Those golden sails are on the Atlantic.) and will not venture upon that bay.
The Yellow Princess is not a canal ship. She cannot go around the Southern continent, much less circumnavigate the globe, any more than we can travel back through time. She is under a long contract to the John H. Meyer shipping firm in Lanham.
And contracts are contracts. I know that the shipbuilder made her for the Atlantic. I knew him a little. I played cards with him a few times-for money. He made her to sail in the clear water, and the Atlantic is still clean I hear. I swam in it when I was young. It is a better ocean. But no one told me this (I should have known) and now it is too late. There is no craft available in the whole Pacific Ocean on which I can find that kind of passage.
But then too the Pacific is not stagnant. And, when I stop to think about it, neither am I. Perhaps the answer to Whitman's question is "right around the corner."
One must choose his modes of transport and his oceans with care. He must choose between the present and the past. And then if he wants to gamble he must choose between the past and the future. The whole thing is very confusing. But I hear that out there where I live, hidden by the Venice seawall, an occasional sea-turtle comes up the cold current to see if things have changed. Some of these turtles are indigenous only to the Pacific. I want to see them and hear their voices. But I have trouble for whenever I try to listen, the rumbling voice of the land-locked turtle comes to haunt me. Sometimes it is loud, sometimes very faint. Perhaps there will come a time when I will not hear him anymore. Perhaps the saw-mill turtle is already dead and when I think I hear him it is merely imagination. But I cannot write a requiem for him until I am certain that he is dead. Recent events indicate that he may well be dead. But that's another record. Story of my life.
View (East From the Top of the Riggs Raod / B & O Trestle):
I had a dream once, and I'm not an old man. A lot of people have had much more significant dreams. In this dream I was standing on the trestle looking East where Hyattsville, Md., is actually situated, -at very green, fertile valleys, houses and happy people, where, perhaps the Yellow Princess was moored. Unfortunately, Hyattsville is just like any other suburb of a large city, and there are no shipyards there. But this was just a dream, or to quote St. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, xxi (my translation) "-it is one thing to see the land of peace from a bridge - and another to get there." Open G tuning 6th. Keys of G major and E minor.
For fifteen years my orange tom-cat. Died early 1966. Open G, Key of G.
March! For Martin Luther King:
Why didn't we all? Maybe some of us will now; maybe it's too late.
The Singing Bridge of Memphis Tennessee, or Concerto for guitar, singing bridge, electric bassoon and old phonograph record:
Pan chases away the assassin, but the city remains unredeemed.
Raga of the Inhabitants of the Invisible City of Bladensburg:
East of Hyattsville, even farther than the bridge that does not sing. But then you can't see anybody there because the people are all invisible.
Charles A. Lee: In Memoriam:
Noted icthyologist who accidentally saved the lives of thousands of people through his research. Father of my best and oldest friend, Flea. C.A.L. was murdered in Brazil in 1966. I hardly knew him, but I knew enough. Open D minor.
One died, but one still lives. Standard tuning. Key of E minor.
Commemorative Transfiguration and Communion at Magruder Park:
It never happened, so don't worry. See notes to next Takoma album, The Voice of the Turtle. Open C.
|The Yellow Princess|