The Song Journal

Miscellaneous news and writing by Bob Franke, mostly about songs as a portable art form, and the process of creating them and enabling them to do their work in the world.

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Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

from Bob Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Whipped cream and jello

I just had a very funny dream, the meaning of which is slowly revealing itself to me (and may partially reveal itself to you by the time I finish this post). In my dream, the curvature of the earth, which no one had quite noticed in this way before owing to the wide use of the Mercator projection (you may remember those rectangular maps of the world that made Greenland look much larger than it is), revealed that Texas was actually quite close to Northern Italy, in fact only a short drive away. Rod Kennedy, the founder of the Kerrville Folk Festival (whom I regard with a great deal of respect, affection, and gratitude, while recognizing that for various reasons these attitudes toward Rod may not be universal), has retired from the festival. In my dream, in my short drive from Texas to the mountains of northern Italy, I discovered that Rod had opened a small, elegantly appointed bistro there surrounded by glass walls, which was the center of a small community of transplanted Texans and was also a Methodist mission. I was treated to a sumptuous meal there, the only details of which I remember were the drinks, served, Freudians may note, in three narrow cylindrical glasses: a glass of red wine, a cappucino drink, and a dessert somewhat magically topped with three very large, Texas sized, red, yellow and green cubes of jello stacked one on top of another, like a very sweet traffic light.

Now, those who know me know that my own Christianity was transformed by an Episcopal coffeehouse ministry in Ann Arbor during my college years. What fascinates me about this dream are its contrasts of ascetic and sensual images, and its insistence on their closeness to one another. I'm also fascinated by the three drinks, each, I am sure, with its own meaning, and working together. Alertness, sensuality and conviviality, and the sweetness coming from an icon of regulation.

One of the many things I am discovering about Judaism being married to Joan is that there is a tradition of eating sweets during Torah study, to emphasize the sweetness of the study itself. The commandments, the mitzvot, give sweetness and purpose to life, even as the study of them is sweet in itself. In Greek mythology, the marriage of Zeus and Hera continually worked out the tension between unbridled divine sexual/creative energy and the need for interpersonal justice in family and home.

My dream was an art dream, I'm pretty sure. Artists need awareness and alertness, they need to experience sensuality and love, and they need enough stability in their lives to do their jobs, and to recognize the sweetness as well as the fragility of that stability (I think the giant cubes of jello may have been mortared with whipped cream). In fact, we all live within a tension of opposites; artists commit themselves to being aware of this tension, and we see it as beautiful.

In college I learned that poetry is more exact than everyday literal speech, not less. Musicians understand that pitch itself is not defined by the keys of the piano; every time you hear two notes trilled on a blues piano, they're searching for something in between that the human voice and players of other instruments that imitate the human voice know instinctively. Poets speak in the cracks between the keys. There are indeed Christian, and Jewish, and Muslim artists, but I doubt seriously whether there are fundamentalist artists of any faith worth spending time with.


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