Pokémon, Don’t Go: A Poem

PokeballPokémon, go.
but only that I might hop on my skis
or mountain bike
or kayak
and look for you.

When I find you,
let’s hang out
and play Xbox games,
and Snapchat with our friends,
who are across town,
also playing Xbox games,
because the serious things in this life
have become WAY too serious …
and scary.

What is your signature song?

johnhancockA few weeks ago, a friend posed the following question on Facebook:

What is a song that speaks for you in some way? A song that means a lot to you. A song that you would want played at your memorial. Your signature song.

Now, if I was just an ordinary casual music listener, this might be an easy task.

Rather, I’m an obsessive music geek, who has collected and studied and enjoyed thousands and thousands of songs over many years, over numerous genres, songs that speak to and/or for me on a variety of levels, from emotional to spiritual, from soothing to rage-venting, with lyrics simple and sweet, to abstract and esoteric, to direct and political.

To be asked to choose just one song, then, well, I don’t think it’s possible. And yet, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend a great deal of time pondering it, trying to narrow down the list, trying to determine what the phrase “signature song” really means to me.

The question was posed on January 27th, it’s now February 17th, a day has not gone by without my having thought about this, and the only thing that has become clear is that the crux of this question, the thing that makes it unique, as opposed to the typical “what’s your favorite song?”, is the phrase (my emphasis added in bold) “a song that speaks FOR you”. This, I suggest, is WAY different than asking what song “speaks TO you?”

All songs, especially those we like, speak TO us, by their very nature. Music is a form of communication, after all. But, only so many songs speak FOR us, communicating what we see, what we feel, what we experience, what we believe in, or what we don’t.

And then there’s my personal conflict, a conflict between what I experience and what I believe and aspire to.

If the purpose of a song, chosen to be played at one’s memorial service, is to represent the kind of person that we were, encapsulating not only what we felt about the life we lived, but also what we had hoped for, for ourselves, for others in our lives, or perhaps even for all humanity, in other words, an honest expression of what life was truly like for us — a Song Of Today — as well as an idealistic picture of what we believe is possible if elusive — a Song Of Tomorrow — then, in my case, it calls for two songs, two very different songs. If I’m to be authentic, I would like to be remembered for both.

Even then, picking just two songs is painfully difficult, and so I’d say that the two I’ve chosen for this post represent a snapshot of what seemed to fit today, what messages mean the most to me right now, and it’s very likely that if I try to answer this question again in the future, even days from now, that I might very possibly choose two very different songs.

The Unifying Theme

A Song Of Today: Love Reign O’er Me
I think it’s safe to say that when most people long for something in their life, something that transcends material needs, if we think about it long enough we really do wish the same for all. And yet, in the immediate expression of personal longing, especially for something so fundamental as love, it’s understandable that it may be expressed with “me” language.

And so lyrically, yes, this first song — Love Reign O’er Me by Pete Townshend, performed by The Who, from their epic 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, which I wrote about a couple of years ago — sounds somewhat self-interested.

And yet, there is the suggestion in the lyric, however subtle, that longing for love is universal, in the line (my emphasis added in bold):

Only love can bring the rain that make you yearn to the sky.

But then there’s the music, music that transitions from a gentle rain of tender love to a thunderstorm of longing, a longing for love to reign down, not just rain down, on one and all. And, as I struggle day to day with how the news is dominated by all of the most horrible things going on in the world, this song speaks for my deep, desperate, urgent longing for love, rather than hate, to reign.

A Song Of Tomorrow: Box of Rain
Keeping with rain as a symbol, perhaps because I live in Bellingham, I turn to Box of Rain, from the 1970 album American Beauty by the Grateful Dead.

The music for this song was written by bassist Phil Lesh, in honor of his dying father, Phil had asked longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, to write the lyrics, and Phil has said that he was amazed how perfectly Hunter had captured the sentiment he had hoped to express to his dad.

It’s a beautiful gesture of love, and the lyrics are filled with images of love’s healing power, not necessarily divine love, but maybe more importantly the love of one human being for another:

What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through.

Gone, here, is The Who’s anthemic angst, and in it’s place a sweet melody and lovely, loving imagery, a beautiful hippie song, really, in all the best idealistic ways, filled with hope for tomorrow.

And, in terms of a song for a memorial, you couldn’t do much better, given its origins, with a line that speaks to how precious and brief life may be:

Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

I just hope that these two songs won’t be needed for my memorial for quite a while longer. 🙂

(I couldn’t find a video that had the lyrics, and so here’s the song, followed by the full lyrics.)

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
This is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago
Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you’ll find direction
Around some corner
Where it’s been waiting to meet you –
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you’re sleeping?
Well please don’t be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
I know it’s been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It’s all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A a box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain –
Wind and water –
Believe it if you need it,
If you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower –
Wind and rain –
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
But it’s just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

The Paradox Of “F**K It!”

(Disclaimer: This post contains the “F Word”. I apologize to any of my readers who are made uncomfortable by it.)

I was walking across campus this morning and saw someone smoking a cigarette and the phrase “Fuck It!” just popped into my head, for it seemed to me that this is what smokers must say to themselves when — despite the indisputable truth and common knowledge that smoking kills — they choose to start smoking, and they must say it again, regularly, at least subconsciously, every time they light up.

It might sound something like this:

Fuck it! I’m gonna die someday anyway!

At least that’s what I did, when I smoked for a short time during my college years.

From that one example, you could extrapolate that “Fuck It!” is purely a bad thing. And yet, as I’ve deliberated on it, I’ve come to the conclusion that “Fuck It!” can be a force for good or bad, and it all depends on the choice it accompanies.

The Bad of “Fuck It!”
“Fuck It!” can function as a foolish and futile deferral of unpleasantness.

There’s a long list of actions we take that don’t necessarily have immediate significant negative consequences: smoking, eating poorly, eschewing exercise, cheating on your wife, cheating on your taxes, embezzling, etc.

However, inevitably, these things catch up with you. And, while I don’t have personal experience with all of those examples, based on similar experiences I have had, I think the deferral of unpleasantness expires somewhere between 45 and 50-years of age.

For instance, on the topic of health, your body can handle only so many instances of the following:

  • Fuck it! I’m going to order that sixth pint of 7+%ABV beer!
  • Fuck it! I’m going to watch the entire 4th season of Battlestar Galactica in one sitting!
  • Fuck it! One more pint of ice cream won’t hurt!
  • Fuck it! I’ll start riding my bicycle again when the rainy season ends! (Bellingham inside joke.)
  • Fuck it! I’m going to ski this Double Black Diamond run even though my knee has been bothering me.

The Good of “Fuck It!”
Sometimes “Fuck It!” moments can be liberating, usually marking the choice to feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear can be a mighty prison, within which, the longer you’re an inmate, the phrase “I can’t” becomes a knee-jerk reflex, increasingly making life smaller and smaller and less fulfilling, possibly even dangerously so.

Therefore, it’s not hard to see the possible benefits of any of these:

  • Fuck it! I’m going ask her to the prom!
  • Fuck it! Screw withdrawal symptoms, I’m going to quit smoking!
  • Fuck it! To hell with my fear of flying, I’m going to take that 15-hour flight from Seattle to Sydney, Australia!
  • Fuck it! I really don’t need that iPad and I’m cutting up my credit card!
  • Fuck it! I know it will be hard being a single mother, but I’m gonna take my kid and leave my abusive husband and go to that women’s shelter I heard about!

Now, I won’t go so far as John Parkin and Gaia Pollini and hyperbolically assert that “Fuck It!” is, “The Ultimate Spiritual Way“.

From the Amazon.com description of the book:

Saying Fuck It is like massage for the mind – relaxing you, releasing tension, giving up on things that aren’t working. Just starting to say Fuck It can transform your life. Saying Fuck It feels good – to stop struggling and finally do what you fancy; to ignore what everyone’s telling you and go your own way. John C. Parkin argues that saying Fuck It is a spiritual act: That it is the perfect western expression of the eastern ideas of letting go, giving up and finding real freedom by realising that things don’t matter so much (if at all). This is the Fuck It way.

Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I’m well aware of the eastern idea of non-attachment, and when I read that my mind easily rushes to the many bad manifestations of “Fuck It!”, only some of which I mention above, and I just can’t see how “Fuck It!” can even come close to being the ultimate spiritual way.

I’m totally ok with the playful, irreverent tone that Parkin and Pollini employ. It makes more accessible a great and potentially life-changing subject that might otherwise be dry and woo-woo and a big fat turnoff.

It’s just that a student of eastern philosophy understands ideas like karma, whereby bad actions we take can come back and bite us, and yin-yang, whereby bad and good coexist.

Now, I haven’t read Parkin’s and Pollini’s book, so perhaps I’m wrong and they get around to addressing the possibility of “Fuck It!” manifesting badly. In acknowledgment of that shortcoming, I hereby conclude this post with a video that they produced in order to explain their philosophy: