Every now and then, a young man’s (and even a middle-aged man’s) mind turns to thoughts of…. what was that, again? Oh, yes – how fractured and random thoughts become when July rolls around.
I was pondering this, as well as a couple of unrelated ideas (hence, the title of this piece), while walking home from my semi-weekly marketing trip. Every couple of days, I head out with my trusty and reliable wheelie and collect our fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables from several disparate local greengrocers. Part of the allure is not only the obtaining of the goods but also the time it allows me to meditate. This is what I was doing that morning.
First: Gordon Matta-Clark. Mr. Matta-Clark was the son of the famous surrealist painter Matta. He rose to fame due to his predilection for acquiring and then literally slicing up old buildings, and he died of cancer at the age of thirty-five in 1978 (two years after his twin brother, Sebastian, committed suicide). I thought of him because he seemed to be acutely clairvoyant about the condition of the world forty years on. What looked like an insane, if grandiose, artistic gesture then now feels to me like a perfect metaphor for the great divides of today -- the divide between instant communication and total misunderstanding, between expensive technologies and the impoverishing costs of basic subsistence, between liberation and repression of all kinds (sexual, literary, political).
From this random observation, my mind (often attuned to my own private radio station) switched to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’. This song, recorded in 1966 but not released until 1968, on the duo’s iconic album ‘Bookends,’ has always struck me as striking a perfect balance between angry optimism and damned resignation.
The refrain is simple enough:
I look around
Leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.
But against this plainness, Paul and Artie (if I may) sing against a relatively hard rock beat (for them) and a persistent drumming that suggests restlessness and a deep sadness. In the middle, when Art alone sings ‘Won’t you stop and remember me?” the song turns into something more than a meditation. It is a cry for help. Simon wrote this song over fifty years ago, but it is still relevant.
Finally, the Cross-Bronx Expressway. You might ask: how in hell did we end up here? Well, this, too, devolves from my market-to-home-wanderings. Every trip produces another incomprehensible and idiotic tee shirt. I can’t help it; I like to read other people’s clothing. And here in the Czech Republic, there seems to be an unusual propensity for shirts (always in English) that no one who can actually read English would wear.
Over the course of, say, two weeks, I’ve seen shirts printed with foul obscenities (directed to who?), shirts that have babblings like ‘L.A. My Homey’ (this on a middle-aged white man), or ‘Save The Planet, Rabbits’ (I don’t quite follow, but then I suppose even interviewing a rabbit, if this were at all possible, wouldn’t enlighten me any further).
The prize for me (so far) must go, however, to the young man I spotted wearing a shirt that had a black and white photograph of what appeared to be an ordinary four-lane road, topped by the words ‘Cross-Bronx Expressway’ in a newspaper-headline sized font. Okay. I suppose if you had no idea where this expressway was (having never heard of the Bronx) it might seem chic. But still, I would never think of wearing a shirt celebrating the worst (and shortest) interstate highway in America.
Anyway, my ending to these random thoughts comes with a bit of advice: listen to what you mind is telling you as you walk around your hometown, and take it as a bit of surrealist entertainment. This is the way the world works, after all. It presents itself as little pieces of reality, mixed in with memories from your past, interpretations of song lyrics, unconscious mood swings evinced by subtle chord changes, and visages of old buildings in ruins or new buildings under construction.
I say it’s all part of the big picture. Or, as the one-hit wonder Icona-Pop put it, in a song overheard on yet another morning walk:
I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone
I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn…
I crashed my car into the bridge…
I don’t care.
I love it.