Put a candle in the window, cause I feel I’ve got to move…
I started to read Ernesto Grassi’s “Rhetoric and Philosophy” but I had to stop. He started an analysis of Agamemnon by Aeschylus, and I haven’t read that play. Another trip to Barnes and Noble, hoping they have it. I’m terrible that way. If I encounter references to things that I’m not familiar with, I always stop and read the primary text involved. This gets time consuming, and it may explain why I’m usually reading a dozen books at a time. Every time I go into a bookstore, it gets more expensive and my apartment is getting really cramped with books and records and CDs.
I was just at Barnes and Noble yesterday. After successfully resisting it for a couple of weeks, I finally succumbed to the urge to buy the Fantasy Records box set of all the original Creedence Clearwater Revival albums. Ben Fong Torres called them “American Music 101” and I suppose that might be true; they developed both inside and outside of a tradition. They defy placement in an arbitrary label of genre classification. It’s been eerie today, watching Anthony Hopkins play Nixon with the sound turned down on the TV, while listening to this music.
Like Bakhtin’s distinction between speech that reifies and speech which personifies, Creedence does both. It generates an image of the American blues and gospel tradition, a living breathing and shouting music going back for centuries, and a personification of a particular moment of crisis in this country, where people were dying— and dancing and having a good time. Grassi’s essay on rhetoric is a claim that the original structure of language is not rational, but rhetorical. We are inextricably bound to language which moves, which is immediate, not deductive or demonstrative, illuminating and purely indicative. The moods shift from “It ain’t me, It ain’t me / I ain’t no fortunate son” to “Don’t look now someone’s done your starvin’ / Don’t look now, someone’s done your prayin’ too” is sheer genius. The complexity of these simple pop songs is just astonishing. They show, they don’t tell, and like any good history lesson they indicate a slice of where we were without preaching about where we should be.
“Ramble Tamble” is the perfect lesson in the American tone.
Oooh, oooh, down the road I go…
Another of Grassi’s points is that the function of transposition, of metaphor, is essential to our use of language. I suspect that it goes deeper than most theorists propose; we transpose not just the concepts, but the tone into our deepest being. In my opinion, the tone of the American experience is old gospel blues, and it’s a mournful sound which compels us always to be on the road, to move onward to something that we still haven’t found yet.