February 26, 2010
Beyond The Farthest Star
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Review by R.E. Prindle
There’s a kind of a hush all over the world.
Sadness all over again. The agony of another world war. Tears and sorrow. One would say that it was with a weary pen that ERB wrote the tale of dreary events to come were it not for the fact that he claimed that the story was transmitted across the eons from the farthest star as his typewriter keys began mysteriously clacking by themselves. One almost believes him as the story was completed in only eleven days from 10/24 to 11/05 in 1940.
It must have been with some fear and trepidation that his generation faced the horrifying repeat of 1914-18 in 1940. In that earlier conflict ERB expressed his thoughts in an equally short novel titled Beyond Thirty. As a result of the Great War he forecast an abandoned England, a Europe invaded by Africa and turned Negroid, an Eastern empire ruled by a beneficent China and the New World of North and South America governed benignly and peaceably by the United States.
Faced with the grim reality of possible total destruction from the air he now drew a much more dismal picture. His old rival H.G. Wells in The Shape Of Things To Come was even more desolated. Burroughs’ agent of destruction was accurately projected. It was the great air fleets of, as it turned out, B-29 bombers that flattened whatever they flew over.
“Planes!” said Yamoda’s mother bitterly, “Planes! The curse of the world. History tells us that when they were first perfected and men first flew in the air over Poloda, there was great rejoicing, and the men who perfected them were heaped with honors. They were to bring the peoples of the world closer together. They were to break down international barriers of fear and suspicion. They were to revolutionize society by bringing all people together, to make a better and happier world in which to live. Through them civilization was to be advanced hundreds of years; and what have they done? They have blasted civilization from nine tenths of Poloda and stopped its advance in the other tenth. They have destroyed a hundred thousand cities and millions of people, and they have driven those who have survived underground, to live the lives of burrowing rodents. Planes! The curse of all times, I hate them. They have taken thirteen of my sons and now they have taken my daughter.
So ERB projects a view of planes and that was before the B-2 bomber was constructed or the A-bomb perfected. At that dim far off time at the beginning of the twentieth century when the Wrights flew the first heavier than air craft the hope was that it would eliminate war but now forty years later after a rapid series of improvements the airplane was the ultimate weapon of destruction. Of course both Burroughs and Wells had foreseen such a development. Burroughs in his great Martian air fleets and Wells in his sky darkening flotillas in The War In The Air.
The great B-29 fleets were already being discussed so that Burroughs merely projected what within a few short months would be a reality in Frankfurt when bombs and incendiary devices rained down creating a fire storm with such intense heat that hydrogen and oxygen molecules in the river separated with the inflammable hydrogen being fed by the oxygen.
Forty-three thousand people- men women and children- died in that fire storm that devastated several square miles creating winds of 150 miles per hour. The devastation was unequaled until the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. The level of destruction was almost equal in each.
It was almost as though Burroughs had the image of the firestorm before his eyes as he wrote.
As the scene of this great air war that had been fought non-stop for over a hundred years he selected the planet Poloda part of the stellar system beyond the farthest star indicating that war was so endemic to humans that even beyond the farthest star there was no escaping it.
At that time Burroughs placed the farthest star 450,000 light years from earth. One is astonished at the low level of astronomical knowledge of the times. The truer figure for a farthest star would be well over 12 billion light years but that would have been incomprehensible at the time. One is startled to think that the vast knowledge, still a fragment, we now possess was unknown even as the fifties began when I was a child. Everything I learned in school was invalidated by the time I graduated. The novel geologic idea of tectonic plates whereby all the continents had been connected and drifted apart was ridiculed while I was in college in the mid-sixties but shortly prevailed. Astronomical horizons were pushed further out as everything that was believed to be true was transfigured before your eyes, nearly on a daily basis. Today the Hubble telescope penetrates space as far as it has even been penetrated yet has still to find the farthest star. Burroughs farthest star was pretty close. At any rate it made a great title.
In many ways Burroughs’ description of the two competing political systems on Poloda, those of Unis/Athens and Kapara/Sparta more anticipated the post-war struggle between the West and the Communist East rather than the Nazis and the West even though the Kapars seem to be clearly based on the Nazis. Burroughs old hatred of Germans stemming from the days of athe Haymarket Riot in Chicago through the Great War was now reactivated and cast in concrete.
The war on Poloda mirrored the reality on earth projected into a distant galaxy. Nor was ERB wrong as WWII morphed into the Korean War and from thence into Viet Nam and now into the great conflict with the Moslem States. We’re not too far from the centenaryof the beginningof the Great War- a full hundred years.
On Poloda as a result of the constant bombing raids from Kapara the Unisans had created retractable cities. When the air raid sirens went off whole cities were hydraulically lowered beneath the earth until the raid was over. Then the cities were elevated while work crews went out to reconstruct the terrain into livable space again.
In Kapara, somewhat like in North Korea during the incessant bombing of the Korean War, the Kapars had tunneled into their mountains in steel reinforced redoubts.
The Kapars had subjugated a race somewhat as the Spartans had the Messenians who had returned to the lowest subsistence level actually having reverted to cannibalism.
While thus portraying life on Poloda ERB was giving intimations of his fears for his own planet. The devastation of the ensuing war was not quite so complete but it came very, very close.
Of ERB’s wide ranging interests astronomy was one. As I indicated earlier the level of astronimcal knowledge in the first half of the twentieth century was fairly primitive. At the time man first walked on the moon in the sixties outer space was still largely a mystery. It is only since then with the huge arrays of radio telescopes on earth and the Hubble stationed in space above the earth that some of the mysteries of the universe are becoming more clear; even then compared to what there is to be known little is that clear.
Thus ERB imagined a solar system in which a ring of eleven planets circled a smaller sun from a distance of a million miles through an atmospheric tube shared by all eleven planets. The pollution from the incessant warfare on Poloda would be shared by all eleven planets in the tubular atmosphere returning back on Poloda.
Titillating stuff. ERB was always inventive.
I, of course, scoffed at the idea of more than one planet being in the same orbital plane but then all my notions of regularity and order were blasted when the Hubble found two gas giants close to each other on the same orbital plane, close to their sun, completing a revolution in three days. A three day year, think of it, something a million of their light years away would be right next door.
I imagine ERB would be having a field day if he were still alive.
The True Story Of John Lennon’s Final Years
Review by R.E. Prindle
Green, John: Dakota Days- The True Story Of John Lennon’s Final Years, St. Martin’s Press, 1983
The book should perhaps be subtitled: A True Story. John Green has crafted very nice portraits here of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, especially that of Yoko. She was very superstitious being dedicated to the occult from witchcraft to Japanese numerology to Tarot readings. It was the last that brought Green within her ken. She not only wanted a reading of the Tarot cards but she kept Green hopping day and night giving her readings on whatever little problem that pressed her mind. So for six years Green made a very good living reading for John and Yoko while developing a profound familiarity with their characters; in other words, he knows whereof he speaks.
Neither he nor the Japanese numerologist who he mever met were the only occultists Yoko was consulting but Green seems to have been unaware of the others. He is very careful and doesn’t overstep the bounds of what he knows first hand. There was a great deal that Green wasn’t privy to making this A rather than The true story.
While I know that many people know what the Tarot is I will give an explanation for those who don’t. While I don’t participate in Tarot myself I do have a deck of cards on hand to study for historical reasons.
The Tarot is a deck of 78 cards of some psychological subtlety. It arose as a means to preserve the Egyptian religion when after the various invasions of the first millennium BC the matrix of the religion was shattered. The Tarot was devised as a means of perpetuating the religion. The various spreads of cards provide means of interpreting responses to a problem.
Over the centuries many different decks have evolved representing various time periods. I have the Egyptian deck. It would be
interesting to know which deck Green used. He fails to tell us.
To be able to read well one must have an implicit understanding of each of the cards as well as being a subtle enough psychologist to apply the meanings to he or she for whom you read. Green apparently had both qualifications. Thus over thousands of readings over the six years he became very familiar with the characters and personalities of his subjects John and Yoko. Still, they seem to have been very successful in letting him know only what they wanted him to know.
As he apparently didn’t take notes, limiting in itself, he relies on his memory and familiarity with the Ono’s mental processes to reconstruct a continuum of the six years. While one may question the veracity of his method he seems to capture the mental and vocal traits of both John and Yoko. I have no trouble accepting the portraits while as the details can be corroborated elsewhere I see no reason to question Green’s general accuracy. Otherwise there is no one who doesn’t make mistakes in fact or interpretation.
His two portraits while revealing conflict with other accounts such as that of May Pang or Fred Seaman the obvious reason is that
the Onos are only letting him see what they want him to see. For instance, in their 1980 interview the Onos state that Yoko had brought the estate up to 150 million dollars yet Green has Yoko spending so fast that they are always on the brink of insolvency. At times expenditures seem to exceed cash on hand.
Green believes himself to be their only investment advisor but that isn’t the case. Just as Yoko had her Japanese numerologist who Green didn’t come into contact with and other occult advisors she must have had other financial advisors.
The picture Green paints of Yoko is far from pretty while he never openly denigrates her yet as he creates his layers of detail she not only becomes but goes beyond eccentric. Her dependence on the occult is such that when someone advised her of a ‘genuine’ witch in Colombia she dragged Green along on the trip to South America to visit the woman. Always lavish in her expenditures, she gave one medium a blank check for her to fill out, she gave this woman 60,000 dollars for her ministrations. When Green protested that the woman had meant pesetas rather than dollars Yoko was unfazed.
Thus while Yoko denied any dependence on John she only was able to realize her vision of herself through the former Beatle’s wealth and influence.
This was no more evident than in Yoko’s competition with her mother. For two successive summers John and Yoko visited Japan. According to Yoko the intent was to establish some rapport so that her son Sean wouldn’t be cut out of the family fortune that was considerable. The trips were conducted on such an extravagant scale that according to Green the Onos were cash poor as a result. Nevertheless Yoko went on spending so either they had funds of which Green knew nothing or they got money from somewhere.
The fact that they always seemed to have enough cash to do anything from spending a few millions on dairy farms and cows to Japanese vacations that it seems strange that when they received an extortion attempt for 200,000 dollars Yoko said they had no money. The extortion attempt seems to have been a protection racket- pay and live or go the police and die. As the extortioners told Yoko that if she went to the cops they would only protect her for a while. When they left whether a year or two later the extortioners would strike.
The Onos refused to comply calling in the FBI. The FBI advised them to substitute newspaper for money and they would arrest the pickup man. Strangely the pick up man was able to elude the FBI. And then two years or so later Lennon was hit by exploding bullets and killed on his doorstep. While one cannot say the two events are connected yet the assassination followed the extortionists plans. Chapman did make a stop to speak to an unidentified party before he pulled the trigger. But nothing is clear.
Yoko first contacted Green during Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend.’ While Lennon believed, and it seems clear, that Yoko had informants watching John while he was in LA, Green has her denying this saying that it was his card readings that kept her informed of John’s doings. In all likelihood she checked her spies’ information against his readings.
From ’75 to ’80 Lennon was in a severe depression being unable or unwilling to function in a normal way. Of course there was no reason for him to act ‘normal’ as he was able to deal with his funk in his own way. Who is there to say that ‘normal’ was better? As he told Green his muse had left him leaving him unable to write. As he said, call it writer’s block or whatever, he couldn’t work. Enough reason for depression in an artist.
Then in 1980 when he came out of it being again able to write, Yoko in her desperate attempt to be his equal insisted on being part of the new record she called Double Fantasy. John adamantly refused to let her perform on his own tracks while she didn’t want her tracks all on one side for fear that no one would listen to side B, so they alternated tracks.
Thus, even though Yoko insisted that she was the most talented artistically and musically of the two she was forced to hitch her wagon to John’s star.
I found Green’s treatment of Lennon to be more sympathetic than his treatment of Yoko. The inevitable conclusion one comes to about Yoko is that at best she was a pathetic human being while at worst an obsessive-compulsive and a dangerous one at that.
The portrait he depicted of John is that of a man with a completely disintegrated personality entering the mid-life crisis. During this five year period he begins a process of reintegration. Actually his course is that of the mythological hero who experiences his ‘madness’ at this period of the mid-life crisis.
During this period Lennon is essentially egoless. Part of Timothy Leary’s LSD mantra was that one should abandon the ego. Of course to abandon the ego leaves one defenseless and a prey to sharpers who use their ego only too well, nevertheless Lennon bought in and abandoned his ego, or so he says. As he abdicated his identity to the use of Yoko Ono this was obviously the case.
So, he allowed himself to be manipulated by Yoko spending long periods of months over years ruminating naked in his bed, totally exposed as it were protected only by the good will of Yoko. Then, for whatever ulterior motive, Yoko sent John on a solo trip around the world. This was her mistake.
While in Macau, China Lennon had an epiphany in his hotel room. This is a fairly common one but self-revelatory. One might name it the peeling of the onion. In Lennon’s case he obviously felt that he had multiple personalities acquired through various traumatic events in his life.
As he described it to Green he was in his hotel room when he succeeded in peeling a layer of the onion, a personality, off which appeared as real and visible to him as shirt or a suit of clothes. He draped the personality over a chair then began to peel off layer after layer hanging them about the room or draping them over the furniture. When he awoke the next morning he could see them just where he put them. He then conceived the notion of leaving them there as he ran away from their influence.
This is a beautiful little fantasy. But then he turned the corner and there was oneof his selves waiting for him. Visualize the Rock And Roll cover and I think you begin to have it. He then realized he couldn’t escape in that fashion so he went back to his hotel and said ‘C’mon’ to his personalities and continued on his journey. However having identified his ‘problems’ by name, as it were, the seeds for resolving those problems had been sown.
He then returned to the Dakota and while he confined himself to his room rather than merely sinking into depression he began working through those layers of fixations or depression gradually recovering his muse and removing his writer’s block enabling him to compose again.
It would seem that Yoko preferred John psychologically incapacitated so that she could either control him or make herself believe that she was the more talented. Green notes that as John improved Yoko seemed to deteriorate. He quotes her as saying that she had heard some of John’s new songs and they were not very good while hers were.
Dissociated from reality as she was then she couldn’t let John record an LP of songs that might be a hit while anything she recorded on her own would be relegated to the garbage. She even refused to record one side all John and one side all her for fear that no one would listen to her side so she demanded they alternate tracks. I presume that is one reason the LP is entitled Double Fantasy.
While Yoko actually believed in the Tarot and her Japanese numerology, witchcraft and whatever John intelligently disregarded the occult aspects while he might have seen the utility of the Egyptian religous aspects to reveal character and motivation. In fact the innumerable readings of the Tarot might have led up to the revelatory epiphany in China and hence the lifting of his depression.
If that were the case then there would have been little difference between the Egyptian system of Tarot and psychoanalysis. But, as I say, I have no idea of which deck Green was using although the principle remains the same.
After having been on 24/7 call for six years as the Onos moved into what seems to have been a new phase Green lost his usefulness to Yoko sitting by a phone that never rang.
Green had succeeded too well. As he has John explain to him when Yoko first employed him she set him seven tasks. He had successfully completed all seven being now redundant. While John promised to look out for him, of course events eliminated any such possibility.
Regardless of whether the Ono Lennons were the subject of Green’s book I found the whole concept interesting. I like the way Green told his story, his tone and his outlook. His telling made me take an interest in himself. Unfortunately his name being so common makes it too difficult to search out anything of his subsequent career other than he moved to Washington DC.
Perhaps he could write a sequel to Dakota Days from another angle and with more detail. Pressing issues might not be so pressing now. I’d be interested.
February 11, 2010
Exhuming Bob 24: Bob And Expecting Rain
…or else they’re expecting rain.
My recent essay Exhuming Bob 23a: Bob, Andy, Edie And Like A Rolling Stone posted on the Expecting Rain site drew a few comments. As I’ve been excluded from the site I was very surprised to find the site published the essay. I’m not going to sign up for the discussion board so I’ll respond in this way. If it gets posted, fine.
I consider Exhuming Bob 23a a pretty good piece of scholarship so I’m pleased to have elicited a response that wasn’t all that negative.
The chief criticism came from CL Floyd so I’ll concentrate on his. Some of Floyd’s objections I consider worth answereing but some I find curious.
Floyd began his criticism: this is an incredible piece of reductionism… Yeah? What’s the problem? One has to begin somewhere. Dylan has said that he had this 20 pages of ”vomit’ tentatively titled Like A Rolling Stone. Right on. So he’s got twenty pages of inchoate kvetching that Edie Sedgwick catalyzed into several verses that while it applied directly to her as a symbol, what it symbolized was ‘this pain in here’ that centered around Dylan’s childhood. Thus as Warren Peace perceived, even though the central kvetch precedes Sedgwick the context centers directly on her person.
Floyd relates the whole to the title: ‘I especially enjoyed the in depth analysis of where the use of the phrase “rolling stone” came from.’ Muddy Waters had nothing to do with it. I doubt if Dylan had even heard of Waters’ song before he came to NYC if he did then.
The meaning of the phrase ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ is obvious while its use must go back very, very far. Apparently Dylan thinks being a rolling stone is a curse too hard to bear. His own understanding of the term goes back to Hank Williams’ not Muddy Waters’ song ‘Lost Highway.’
I’m just a rolling stone
All alone and lost
For a life of sin
I have paid the cost…
I’m just a rolling stone
On the lost highway.
I don’t mean to be rude but there were millions of us who related to Williams’ lyric in exactly the same way as Dylan.
But Floyd seems especially offended by the twist given to the meaning by my correspondent, Robin Mark. She has thought about the problem for some time. She realized that Stone was his mother’s maiden name so that there was a double entendre in Beattie Stone and a rolling (Bob) stone. Now, Mr. Floyd (or Miss, perhaps, CL is indeterminate) is apparently unaware that one can only be considered Jewish through the female side. If your father is Jewish and your mother isn’t then you are not a Jew, thus Jewishness is matrilineal not patrilineal even though your Jewish name may be Moishe Ben Avram- that is Moses the son of Abram. So, Dylan can claim the Stone name also. I thought it was a clever application and a neat double entendre.
Now, a major concern of my writing is to place Dylan within a context of his place and time. Shelton, Heylin, Sounes and others have done an excellent job of organizing the details of Dylan’s career to the exclusion of the other participants such as, for instance, Albert Grossman.
As Peter Yarrow says, without Grossman there would be no PPM and no Dylan. I have always been mystified as to who Grossman’s connections were that allowed him to finance the organization of PPM and get them a WB contract without a single performance.
I broached this subject in my essay, Exhuming Bob XVII My Son The Corporation. Since then I have learned that Grossman was aligned with Mo Ostin of WB and that the financing came from that quarter. That the group was immediately successful must have been gratifying. With the success of PPM the promotiuon of Dylan became possible.
That’s a start.
Mr. Floyd finds it coincidental that the key participants are Jewish. He apparently does not recognize a Jewish cultural and political influence directed to the realization of Jewish ends. If he’s complicit, so be it, but as an historian I have an obligation to note motivations from whatever quarter they come from. You don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. I have no sacred cows and that is as it should be.
And finally, I believe that I have uncovered or illuminated, take your choice, a signficant and important sub-text of Dylan’s history. I dig the term ‘NY gossip’ that Mr. Floyd uses to discredit the facts. In point fact, David Bourdon who was there gives an almost gang like division of NYC. As he saw it Dylan was ‘pope’ of Downtown, Warhol ‘pope’ of mid-town and something vague uptown.
After BOnB in mid ’66 Dylan hadn’t abandoned Manhattan. The motorcycle accident with concussion and three cracked vertebrae changed his plans. After he had healed he in fact moved back to MacDougal St. to begin having his garbage searched by Weberman. By then the sixties were essentially over. Warhol was shot in ’69 changing the direction of his career, while Altamont put the period to the whole sixties fantasy. Shortly Dylan would be releasing an album called New Morning. Optimistic.
So, I certainly appreciate the kind attention of those who commented. If Matchlighter’s ‘mouth popped’ from 23a I hope he finds 23b just as entertaining. It has been posted.
Thank you and you’re invited one and all.