The general impression, I said, is that of “bright sadness.” Even a man having only a limited knowledge of worship who enters a church during a Lenten service would understand almost immediately, I am sure, what is meant by this somewhat contradictory expression. On the one hand, a certain quiet sadness permeates the service: vestments are dark, the services are longer than usual and more monotonous, there is almost no movement. Readings and chants alternate yet nothing seems to “happen.” At regular intervals the priest comes out of the sanctuary and reads always the same short prayer, and the whole congregation punctuates every petition of that prayer with prostrations. Thus, for a long time we stand in this monotony — in this quiet sadness.
But then we begin to realize that this very length and monotony are needed if we are to experience the secret and at first unnoticeable “action” of the service in us. Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed “bright,” that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us. It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access — a place where they have no power.
All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched “another world.” And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust. We understand then why the services had to be long and seemingly monotonous. We understand that it is simply impossible to pass from our normal state of mind made up almost entirely of fuss, rush, and care, into this new one without first “quieting down,” without restoring in ourselves a measure of inner stability.
—Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent
Picture: “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai (Public Domain)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent.” (Public Domain).
Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng Match.com and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor—you’ve had your turn—is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.
Roger Angell, “Life in the Nineties”
Painting: Thomas Cole, “The Voyage of Life: Old Age" (1840). Public Domain.
Rest in peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“Human beings with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired, and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them. When the corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as splendid accomplishments. People do this over and over again. It is as if a fool were to stomp on and break the tiles of his roof. Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution.”
Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
Photo: lyo-farm, The Fukuoka Family Farm (CC BY 3.0)
"Chaplin made a brief appearance as a Grimaldi-style clown in one of his final films, Limelight (1952), the last movie he made in America before sending himself into exile. Chaplin played Calvero, an aging alcoholic comedian who nurses a beautiful ballerina back to health after she has tried to commit suicide. The Grimaldian shade is the perfect complement to a film that has an entirely funereal feel to it, with its meditation on the passage of time, the waning of celebrity, and the diminution of comic potency. ‘What a sad business, being funny,’ says the ballerina as Calvero recounts the events of his life.
Is this true, or had Chaplin fallen for his own mythology? Does a talent for comedy necessitate a tragic life? Are comedy and happiness truly incompatible? Common sense says no—there are countless comedians who have lived normal, well-adjusted lives without succumbing to depression, insanity, or suicide. So why is it so hard to think of one? It would seem that Chaplin, like the many who followed in Grimaldi’s wake, found it hard to resist the powerful narrative that set expectations for his happiness. The comedian’s split personality reveals what we ultimately believe comedy to be. Whereas in the Middle Ages fooling was seen as an expression of the cosmic absurdity of being alive, the modern world views it as a symptom of personal distress. In Grimaldi’s day, misery was the grit in the oyster that grew the pearl and gave substance to the otherwise trivial world of pantomime. Suffering ennobles, and when comedians suffer, we are more willing to see their work as flowing from the same font as the profoundest art. We want our comedians to be tortured; only then can we really laugh.”
Andrew McConnell Stott, “Split Personalities”
(h/t Arts & Letters Daily)
The record marked the continuation of a change in direction for the Kinks after their string of 60s pop hits – You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon and the rest. It was, Davies recalls, a return to roots, “an attempt to make north London country music”. For infamously tortured contractual reasons the Kinks had been banned from performing in the States for the previous five years, a source of great frustration. The album was angry in a way that still sounds relevant: “got no privacy, got no liberty because the 20th-century people took them away from me,” Davies laments on the opening track.
"I was mostly angry about the change in the area, Holloway, Islington, the way streets and communities were being demolished and destroyed, new roads driven through them," he says. "20th Century Man is written in that spirit. But I wanted it not to sound just angry but beautiful so I developed this way of singing in my chest. It’s under-sung. It starts like a cowboy song just me strumming, and then the drums come in, and then you wait two minutes for my brother [Dave] to come in on the guitar, great surprising jangly chords, then finally the organ. It’s like the band is being built. I love that song."
There is too, a sense of yearning in the album, which includes a Johnny Cash-like ballad about the women’s prison, Holloway Jail, and blues about never going “anywhere south of Delaware, never saw a Kentucky moon”. “I think a part of me always felt like I should have been brought up in Appalachia,” Davies says. “People associate me with north London, but I always felt a bit surprised to have been born here somehow. We had this strange thing that because we were banned, there was literally no way of us engaging with America. There was no MTV, there were no international newspapers. We were making these pop songs and there was no way of getting them to America. I took the ban very personally.”
Tim Adams, “Ray Davies: ‘I’m haunted by the songs I have written but never recorded,’" The Guardian
Photo: Yves Lorson, Ray Davies, Koninklijk Circus - Brussels - 1985 (CC BY 2.0).