Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another September Song.

Fall is here, the tag end of our year, the equivalent to the sunset of our day.  On the album scanned above, Dinah Washington sings of it in a voice that is ethereal and timeless:

This bitter earth
can be so cold.
Today we're young,
too soon we're old.

I like those other September songs too, such as the Kurt Weill composition most often heard in the voices of elderly men such as Willie Nelson or Jimmy Durante.  Tex Ritter with Stan Kenton's strings behind him.  The aging Frank Sinatra.

Oh it's a long, long while, from May to December
But the days grow short, when you reach September.
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame,
One hasn't got time for the waiting game.

Oh, the days dwindle down

to a precious few:
September. . .

November. . .
And these few precious days I'll spend with you.
These precious days I'll spend with you.

Metaphorically, fall is the conclusion of our lives, the diminishing of our powers, the dying of the light.  This metaphor is everywhere in the human universals of classic literature, sunset and autumn, the fall.  William Faulkner put the title Twilight on his greatest work, but he later changed it to The Sound and the Fury with a nod to that traditional fall tale, Shakespeare's MacBeth.  Cormac McCarthy's subtitle for Blood Meridian was The Evening Redness in the West, which of course is twilight or sunset.

We hate to see that evening sun go down.

Death is at the end of the fall, as we are each personally kicked out of paradise, in a metaphorical relationship to biblical and other mythic lore.  Legends of the Fall.  The fall starts in September and ends in December--just before Christmas as it has evolved now.  Poe was writing about this in "The Raven," to those with ears to hear it:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

In this country, it is the holiday season.  First there is Halloween, the death before rebirth, the nightmare before Christmas.  Halloween is our day of the dead, our celebration of that which we constantly deny.  That is, we live in denial of our pending personal death yet in the constant logical certainty of it.  It is the fear of death and its simultaneous denial which drives western material civilization, causes our wars, and inspires our greatest Art.

All night sheetlightening quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a blueish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear."
           --Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Not stone but fear.  And what are we afraid of?  Lots of things, and we give them names such as the Red Threat or Weapons of Mass Destruction, but all of them, imaginary or real, are but projected substitutes for what lies at the end of them:  Death itself, the Sunset Express, and the unknown void beyond.

In this country, betwixt Halloween and Christmas, we are blessed with another wonderful holiday, Thanksgiving.  That note of love and hope at the end of Dinah Washington's This Bitter Earth, the end stanza of Kurt Weill's September Song quoted above--these belong to that spirit of gratitude connected with Thanksgiving.  I've much to say about this in relation to certain books, and I hope some readers will stick around for that.

In the meantime, I'm going to begin daily reviews of books, movies, and songs which speak of the seasonal spookiness and death, such as Adrian McKinty's Dead trilogy, John Connolly's Every Dead Thing, David J. Skal's Death Makes a Holiday, and many others.

Happy Fall, Y'all!

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