Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Learning Curves 2

Learning Curves 2 - Trev Teasdel

After moving into the 'New Block' in 1966, we had The Rev (Jack) Williams for English and Current Affairs in the classroom in that block.

Learning Curve A
Current Affairs
Skellern Farm
One of my memories of the Current Affairs lessons was staring out of the window at a tractor peacefully ploughing the field beyond the Rugby pitch while Jack discussed the latest atrocities on the world stage and the napalming of the Vietnamese. By comparison, our little world was peaceful, in spite of the bullying and corporal punishment and I felt thankful for that at least. The adult world out there seemed a mix of optimism and creativity coming from the music put out by the Pirate radio stations and the youth movement campaigning for a better world and the atrocities of war zones like Vietnam and the racism of apartheid. There seemed to be an optimism back then that the youth movement would change things for the better, inspired by songs like Dylan's The Times they are a Changing and the Beatles All You Need is Love. Lots of things changed of course but overall, in the final analysis, it's even worse now. By 1965, thanks to the pirates, you could get your current affairs awareness from pop music as illustrated by Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction.

According to Wikipedia  " Eve of Destruction is a protest song written by P. F. Sloan in 1965. The best-known recording was by Barry McGuire. The song is a grave warning of imminent apocalypse, and considered to be the epitome of a protest song. It expressed the frustrations and fears of young people in the age of the Cold War, Vietnam, the nuclear arms race, and the civil rights movement. The song had initially been presented to The Byrds as a Dylanesque potential single, but they rejected it. The vocal track was thrown on as a rough mix and was not intended to be the final version, but a copy of the recording "leaked" out to a DJ, who began playing it. The song was an instant hit and as a result the more polished vocal track that was at first envisioned was never recorded."


Learning Curve B

Shakespeare and All That..

Of course, in English we studied the immortal bard. Romeo and Juliet with Mr Harper and Macbeth with 'Jack' Williams. 

'Jack' would dictate endless notes on the play which we would write down, stopping every now and then while he told us a moral story from his life experience and which gave our wrists a welcome break. We'd do a synopsis of the play, act by act and character studies, analysing their motives, social and moral psychology as can be seen in these surviving pages from my school notebooks. In 1990, we went up to the Black Isle in Scotland as my (then) partner's father came from there and took the time to visit Cawdor Castle, only find, after doing the tour, that it had nothing much to do with the 'Historic' Macbeth, only the Shakespearian character.

Cawdor Castle

'Jack' delivered his lectures in his commanding, no nonsense, Welsh voice. Once, going into the classroom early after lunch, Jack had written on the board "What are the people from Greece called?" for a previous class. I wrote on the board "Greasers" thinking he would appreciate my wit. That evening I waited outside his room for six of his best!

Vocabulary Books
Jack encouraged us to keep a vocabulary book and I worked hard at this, even writing down words I'd heard in pop songs like 'Subterranean' from Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues . Sometimes we had to write mock letters and I'd use my wit to create spoof and witty names and addresses for which I managed not to get the slipper! About then, in 1966, I wrote my first song lyric at 15. I used to buy Record Song Book which had the lyrics to current pop songs. In one issue they juxtaposed The Dangling Conversation by Paul Simon next to "With a Girl Like You' by the Troggs. Simon's lyric was an amazingly eloquent poem, working on several levels of meaning, while every other line of the Trogg's hit (although i loved it too), was bab a ba ba ba... I figured a sheep could have written that and although I didn't think I could match the eloquence of the Simon song, thought i could do better than the Troggs (notwithstanding that Reg Presley later came up with the poetic Night of the Long Grass a bit later on. I'd internalised the various structures of pop songs by regularly reading Record Song Book and wanted to test my wit to see if I could come up with a lyric. It was just an experiment. My first effort was influenced by a current Walker brothers hit and was called Baby I Can Tell, I wasn't trying emulate Simon, just create a basic pop song lyric but I did nick "Superficial sighs' from Simon! It wasn't a lyric I ever used but just to see if i could do it. It came out of the creativity i had employed in writing spoof letters in English! I didn't take up lyric writing regularly until I left school, one of my first being set to music by Pete Waterman in long before he was famous and somewhat more poetic than the dance hits he later produced. I did write a good dozen at school, one called Lonely Valley, one night camping in the middle nowhere in Wales while on the Initiative test, another called Revolution, written in 1966 in Prep after reading about the Industrial Revolution but with a more modern twist on the down side of technology and in the style of Spencer Davis Group. A little while later the Beatles came up with a song of the same title which i considered much better than my effort, but it was all grist to the mill and another learning curve that would later lead to me teaching Creative Writing and developing an infrastructure for local budding writers in county Cleveland. And yes, I have used the dangling conversation lyric in classes sometimes in classes. Amazing how students always discover something new in the lyric - each verse takes a different art form, the images reinforce the superficiality and shallowness and the passing of time inherent in the relationship described etc. 'Still  life water colour', 'shadows wash the room'...

The Dangling Conversation - Written by Paul Simon
It's a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
And the dangled conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes, we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
You're a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation.
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.

Paul Simon's song was influenced by the 1944 Saul Bellow novel Dangling Man
"Written in diary format, the story centers on the life of an unemployed young man named Joseph, his relationships with his wife and friends, and his frustrations with life. Living in Chicago and waiting to be drafted, the diary acts as a philosophical confessional for his musings. It ends with his entrance into the army during World War II, and a hope that the regimentation of army life will relieve his suffering. Along with Bellow's second novel The Victim, it is considered his "apprentice" work."

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