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Sun Mar 23, 2014, 03:15 PM

Life is a Crashing Plane, Peter Hammill's "Flight"

Warning! Long thread ahead! Travel at your own risk.

"No looking back on tomorrow...better think on today."

Peter Hammill from "Flight"/Black Box

If you choose to read this, please listen to the music at the following link simultaneously. And if you don't want to read this, please listen anyway. This song is about a million times better than what I am about to write.

Peter Hammill performs the song "Flight" from his album Black Box, this is a live solo version, Hammill doing vocals (duh) and accompanying himself on piano. Video is someone's compilation (not live).

Now, on to the topic, which is...

Mammon or muse?

"Mammon and Muse walk into a bar..."

Just kidding.

I have been listening to lots of Peter Hammill on You Tube recently. Which raises the question, where is the Peter Hammill Needs Money Police? You know, the folks who spend their time shutting down Internet bootleg? Apparently, Mr, Hammill is too busy writing, recording and performing to do it himself. Good for him. He survived his heart attack. May he live forever---meaning long enough---and keep writing and recording. Praise Gog.

And now, to the---no, not the, a ----as in one of many point(s), which is, how do we juggle the need to create art with the need to eat? This is an extremely loaded topic, right up with there with 1) Religion and 2) Politics on the list of Things Thou Shalt Not Talk About at the Thanksgiving Dinner Table Unless You Want a Food Fight.

I do not want to precipitate any food fights, so I am going to move this discussion to the far side of the Pacific Ocean. In Japan there is another term for mangaka. It is "richer than Croesus." Meaning that the people who create manga make a whole lot of money. Not like the US where DC and Marvel (now Disney) own your characters. That is why so many people create manga. So, consider two of the most successful mangaka, Rumiko Takahashi (Inuyasha) and Takehiko Inoue (Vagabond). It helps if you are familiar with their work. But if you are not, Rumiko's is sort of cutsie, shoujo-shonen-esque with so-so art, Takehiko's tends to be more mature, takes more risks, extremely inspired/technically competent art even by western standards. Now, Takehiko Inoue is on record as saying he does not care who posts his stuff on line and he even posts manga himself for free for fans (Buzzer Beater was an online manga). Rumiko Takahashi, on the other hand, has a rep as not tolerating any form of piracy--and that is saying a lot for a country that does not tolerate piracy. Keep in mind that both of them have more money than they will ever spend.

Where is this all going? The same place we are all going. No where. But, just to pass the time until we get there, I will step out on a limb and hazard a guess. I suspect that when Takehiko Inoue pens another chapter about swordsman Musashi learning universal truths from watching rice grow (Vagabond) or describing the struggles of wheelchair basketball players (REAL), he has a deep sense of personal satisfaction that makes the box office grosses ( I don't know if there is an equivalent term for this for manga) irrelevant. But when Rumiko Takahashi churns out another bit of Inuyasha clone, she is just going through the motions--in which case that royalty check is the carrot. But that could be----no, that probably is just my personal bias.

(And if you are not listening to Peter Hammill perform "Flight" please go click on the link.)

Now, for the counter argument. Think about Alan Moore, probably the most talented English language author alive today now that William Burroughs has gone off to the Western Land. Think about how the Comic Book Industry has used him. Think about Hermann Melville, whose Moby Dick, the greatest American novel of the 19th century was trashed by the British critics---who were not amused by the novel's themes of God-killing which is another form of anti-colonialism---and who therefore died in near obscurity. Think about William Blake, whose poetry was rescued by the merest chance---his Free Love agenda coincided with that of Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne. And no, I am not going to argue for a state subsidy for starving artists and poets. These writers received support----not financial support, moral support. They were and are the "Voice of honest indignation" (to quote Blake) which we so revere---

But you've gotta wonder. Worry and wonder. What Donnes labored and died in the cotton fields of Alabama, their words of beauty and wisdom lost forever, because it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and write? What Yeats are going unheard at this very moment, because they are too poor to afford a computer, and even if they had one, they don't have electricity in their third world hovel? All those rebels with a cause I mentioned above, those were and are all white guys with educations and good health and supportive families. When your life is a plane crash, how do you make yourself heard? What do you do if society does not give you a black box?

Ok, now read the lyrics to Peter Hammill's song that I hope you have listened to at least once or twice by now. But do not read the lyrics unless you have listened to him sing them, because he is a singer-song writer not a poet and the delivery is three parts of the poetry. (In keeping with the four paragraph rule I'll post two stanzas, I urge you to go read the rest yourself, the lyrics are from the album version, the live version is a little different):

It was then that I knew I'd been thoughtless -
something had slipped my mind:
I'd strapped myself into the Fortress
but the Fortress was flying blind.
We got full clearance, so someone down there
ought to know the truth of our disappearance -
If even that still shows it accuses and blames me,
but nothing was quite what it seemed


No looking back from tomorrow,
no, there'll be no looking back on today;
better be looking on to tomorrow...
better think on today.


What the hell did any of that stuff about mammon and muse and voices of honest indignation have to do with Peter Hammill's 1981 version of a song about a plane crash as a metaphor for life? If we did not have people willing to do art for art's sake, then we would not have so many works of art waiting to touch that nerve that needs to be touched when the proper moment arrives. As we do our forensic investigation, read the tea leaves, examine the entrails and consult the stars for the answers that will keep something like this from ever happening again, I suggest that we also examine ourselves, because if we do not know ourselves we can not hope to know anything. And because life is so very fragile and so very fleeting and because so many people with such beautiful stories were not gifted with beautiful voices, I recommend that we take time to listen and then tell those stories. If every work of art strove to be Grapes of Wrath rather than---say---Twilight---think about what the world might be.

"I can't tell you nothin'. You got to go there." John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath

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Reply Life is a Crashing Plane, Peter Hammill's "Flight" (Original post)
McCamy Taylor Mar 2014 OP
mr blur Mar 2014 #1

Response to McCamy Taylor (Original post)

Sun Mar 23, 2014, 05:39 PM

1. Been listening to - and watching - PH since 1972.


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