The most wonderful thing has come into my life: a new Powerbook laptop. My friend, who’s not a Mac person, inherited it from a friend of his, and generously (miraculously!) passed it on to me. Among its many benefits is that I am now using the newest operating system, which has led me through portals that were previously barred by my superannuated software.
For instance, my birthday present was to go to iTunes and download a couple dozen songs, almost all of them things I formerly owned on vinyl, now long gone. I burned them onto a CD and listened to it during a long, winding, green journey I took earlier this week. Or shall I say a journey through my own consciousness and sensibility?
Friends, I was truly impressed (and a little embarrassed) by my total and evidently perpetual allegiance to the aesthetics of longing and desire. Three hours of old Rolling Stones ballads (“Angie,” “Winter”), Jeff Buckley covers of Van Morrison and Dylan songs, old Springsteen (“Drive All Night,” “Bobby Jean”), “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” “Stand By Me,” even Velvet Underground doing “Pale Blue Eyes.” The first cut is Tim Hardin singing “Misty Roses,” which I could probably play continuously for a day or two without tiring of it.
Whew! I feel I must specify that this mood of syncopated yearning is not something uniquely personal. To the contrary, many of these songs were hits or if not exactly commercial successes, favorites of a very large cult comprising a lot of my age cohort. But “Angie” is playing right now, and the feelings it creates in my body are pretty personal: a sweet ache in my shoulders spreading toward my heart, floating images of embrace and isolation, a resonance—a certain vibration—along my legs, rhyming with Mick Jagger’s vocal cries: “I still love you baby/Everywhere I look, I see your eyes.”
The difference between hearing this now and lying on my bed decades ago, hearing it in the aftermath of lost love? Well, in some ways, there’s no difference at all. Now Bonnie Raitt is singing “Since I Fell for You,” and when I close my eyes, I can remember the dark room, the feel of the bedspread against my cheek, the black sky and bright stars beyond my window.
But here’s what I’ve been thinking: what has been the effect on my life of all this cultivation of longing? What does it mean that deep in middle age, I drive along listening to “Misty Roses,” feeling a point of pain and sweetness below my breastbone, feeling tears gather behind my eyes? What does it mean to nurture a lifetime of desire and come to a point where I see the great likelihood I will not get what I want?
Some of my disappointed desires are painful to contemplate. “I Shall Be Released” is playing now: “They say everything can be replaced/Yet every distance is not near…” The twists and tumbles of experience sometimes separate us, I see; those who once were close may now be very far away. Listen to Bonnie Raitt singing “Love Has No Pride”: “I’ve had bad dreams too many times/To think that they don’t mean much anymore.” I see that I have chosen a life that revolves around taking part in the Great Conversation, and that has integrity. But it seems pretty clear I won’t have the effect on the Conversation I’d hoped my words would carry.
Some of my disappointed desires are grandiose or unrealistic, but still hurt (and not just me). Like every Miss America candidate, my wish for world peace has as yet gone unheeded. In this morning’s New York Times poll, slightly more than half of my fellow Americans approved warrantless wiretaps when the President says they are “necessary to reduce the threat of terrorism.” It seems that slightly more than half of my fellow Americans are determining the shape of our social contract, and I am almost always in the other half, the one a few percentage points light of a majority.
Mick Jagger is singing again, “Winter,” “It sure been a cold, cold winter/My feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground/And the fields has all been brown and fallow/And the springtime take a long way around…. Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you….”
Have you ever gone to a park with giant Sequoias and seen one of the cross-sections of a great tree labeled with dates? Here’s where the Magna Carta was signed, here’s where Columbus landed…. I wonder what my story might have have been if the rings of my life were marked by something other than this lifelong longing?
The Band is singing “Tears of Rage”: “And now the heart is filled with gold/As if it was a purse/But, oh, what kind of love is this/Which goes from bad to worse?”