Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fleshwork

“That is the eternal folly of man. To be chasing after the sweet flesh, without realizing that it is simply a pretty cover for the bones. Worm food. At night, you’re rubbing yourself against worm food." -- Excerpt from American Gods by Neil Gaiman. 

1899 photo of unidentified young woman
One morning Paul rolled out of bed with a tune in his head. If he was not still sleepy he would have thought it remarkable that he had dreamed an entire song, and it was still playing in his mind, sort of jazzy, the sort of music his dad used to play. He went to the piano by the bed and found the chords -- "Sort of G, F#m7, some B in it ..." he would recount later. "It could not have been mine because it was a fine little tune and I just dreamed it."

He went the rounds asking his friends if they knew such a song, humming a bar or two, or, if a guitar was available, he played it for them, improvising the lyrics, because he was not familiar with soft jazzy songs at all. He gave the  tune a provisional title, "Scrambled Eggs." It was probably what he had for breakfast that morning.

Scrambled eggs
Oh my baby how I love your legs,
But not as much as I like scrambled eggs.
Oh, we should eat some scrambled eggs.

Paul's dream became the first solo act by a Beatle, because the song cannot be accompanied by Ringo's drum or another guitar by John or George. He sang it in a concert, with just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment, the guitar and its strings upside down because he was left handed. John, George, Ringo stayed behind the curtains. Yesterday became the most covered song in the world, about 3,200 versions at last count. Another of the many record-breaking firsts, literally and figuratively, the Beatles had given the music world. Paul's version of the song's story also metamorphosed as it traveled from one artist to another. Eventually Paul wrote down a neat copy of the Yesterday lyrics. That piece of paper should cost a lot today. John Lennon's A Day in the Life lyrics, penciled in Lennon's handwriting on a piece of paper, some phrases crossed out and corrected, sold for $1.20 million at a Sotheby auction in New York in 2010 June 18.

Lyrics in Paul's handwriting
It's a coincidence that the Sotheby auction happened on June 18, Paul's birthday. In 1965, when Paul wrote and sang Yesterday, he was 23, young, handsome, famous and wealthy. This year he will be 75, with the sort of memories that afflict people who have had a very good life. Age tends to take away the good looks, the smooth and supple skin, leaving painful memories as you see in the mirror the turkey neck of today. Surely Paul had thought of the dozens of sexual fans who are grandmas now; some had gone to the ground and been burped up by worms to be finally melded with the earth. His wife, Linda, had succumbed to cancer complications in 1997 at their farm in Tucson, Arizona (Y'know, Jojo left his home in Tucson, Arizona, and bought some California grass. Get back ...) and her ashes were scattered at another McCartney farm, in Surrey, England. American particles in English soil.

"Two of us" was about Paul and Linda (written during their trip to still another farm, in Scotland). The song had nothing to do with John, who was gunned down in December 1980, ten years after the Beatles went their separate ways. His ashes became part of Central Park in New York, where now stands the 2.5-acre Strawberry Fields Memorial. Dead also was George Harrison, of cancer of the lungs which had spread to his brains. In 2001 he was, like Linda McCartney and John Lennon, cremated. His ashes now flow in two rivers in Varanasi, India. John and George had escaped the worms, and their music lives on, and each earn, every year, millions of dollars from the royalties their old music bring. They had worked when flesh had adhered to their bones, now they are dead but still earn huge amount of money which the average, untalented and living working-stiff cannot hope to see in a lifetime.

A day after Paul's birthday, on June 19, we commemorate Jose Rizal's birth anniversary. Except for a few government officials who will lay wreaths on his monuments nationwide, and Rizal cults who upgraded him to god status, other Filipinos will not remember: classes and work will go on as usual (unless the day falls on a Saturday or Sunday), his day not a holiday at all: What did he achieve as a newborn baby? However, the day he was killed is a convenient holiday, December 30 being between Christmas and New Year. That day in 1896 his corpse was not given to his family, as Rizal had assumed. His corpse was secretly buried at the Paco Park. On 1898 August 17, just a few months after the Spanish were driven out of the Philippines by the Americans, his skeleton was exhumed. The flesh, along with his last message to his family (hidden in his shoes), had long been consumed by the earth. His bones were interred finally on 30 December 1913 at the site of the Rizal Monument at the Luneta Park. Haunting is an eerie photograph of old Doña Teodora holding her son's skull at their home in Binondo. The skull of an ex-filibustero, poet, ophthalmologist, a tragic genius.
Mother and son in Binondo
The unidentified young woman in the portrait far above, taken in 1899, crossed Rizal's timeline: Was she one of those who went to see his execution in 1896? Except for the fact that she was pretty, nothing else is known about her, not even her name, age, or location. That she wore a ring might have indicated that she was engaged or married. The bulge in her tummy meant she was in the family way or just had a big lunch. The big volumes of books in the background could only be found in the residences of the educated classes of her time, a time when men debated whether women had souls, too. All the same, she had been thrown into a different era, under different colonizers who brought along with their technologies their rifles with which to exterminate the rebellious faction of the islanders. After a few years Manila glowed in electric lights, far north a delighful summerplace was constructed up through the excavated zigzag road in Baguio, movie theaters introduced the little brown brothers to Hollywood, while American politicians exchanged the corrupt Spanish ways with the thieving American ways. In 1906 the first Rizal postage stamp appeared, commemorating the memory of a hero who espoused assimilation with the colonizers and discouraged violence and dissension. Our hero, for better or worse, parted by death.

Another genius, more prominent because of his achievement, was Albert Einstein. Did any of the thousands of books written about him mention that his birthday was pi day, March 14? π is approximately 3.14, the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle. Anyway, Einstein showed that light can be bent by massive gravitational pull; that matter disintegrates into light, and light condenses to matter, and a small amount of mass contains a huge amount of energy; that space and time are not constant, as Newton and all other humans had thought 300 years ago; and it's okay to marry your double cousin. He was born in 1879, eighteen years after Rizal, and died in 1955, ten years after Hitler, who hated Jews and exterminated millions of them, shot himself. Einstein, who died of abdominal aneurysm in the United States, far from Hitler's reach, was cremated and his ash placed/scattered in an undisclosed place. Hitler and his wife, after committing suicide, were burned, according to his will. Thus in different ways do mortals -- the famous and the infamous, the pretty and ugly, the rich and the poor, the beloved and the scorned -- return to Mother Earth, after their brief work of the flesh is done.


Einstein's birthday is March 14 or 3.14

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