Sips and Sounds: a Retrospective

NOTE: This was first published August 21st 2016.

 

NOTE: This was first published you-know-where August 21st 2016.

Last week I posted number five in my “Friday Night Sips and Sounds” series. The idea came to me because of the arbitrary association that I have between the song Bell Bottom  Blues and Tom Collinses.  There is also another blog that long paired belts and booze, which proved to be an inspiration, although I am a suspenders-man myself.   

I learned a few things from the experience.

First I learned that the series didn’t meet a pressing need in anyone. Pairing cocktails with old poems or songs seemed quite natural to me, the way pairing cocktails with cheese might be for someone else. The issue may be that I am quite picky with art and love cheese rather uncritically, and the opposite impulse is far commoner. And, whatever the case, nobody told me that their life had been transformed by the pairings, which might be for the best.

Second I learned that I had a lot of thoughts on these things already and I had unconsciously associated them in my mind long before I wrote them down.

Third I affirmed what I said in the first installment about bringing people together. I made each of the drinks for friends before I wrote about them and I tend to make them a little over-strong, and sometimes people would get a little tipsy, or maybe ever tiddly, but never so far as forschnookered. It may be that we are getting old. It may be that people don’t trust me to hold their hair. I suspect, however, that it has more to do with the social and indeed the ritual that comes along with these things. After all there are many elderly pukey-haired people out there, but they didn’t come my way.

 

 

A Drink and a Song (Bloody Caesar & Barrett’s Privateers)

NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.

NOTE: this was first posted on my old blog July 1st 2016.

Ten or so years ago I lent my copies of The Beautiful Losers and The Selected Poems of Leonard Cohen to a friend. When last I saw them a few years later they were on her bookshelf, which is as a good a place as any for them. I have so many books now that my living quarters are cramped and, no matter how hard I try, I really can’t stop new books from finding their way to me.

Still I would like to consult the Beautiful Losers every now and again. When I read it it seemed like all of Canada in a single book, and not in anyway that encouraged me to go there. If you have read the book you understand.

A few years after that I found myself at a New Year’s Eve party in Montreal with a Québécois Nationalist named Pierre, both of us literally moved to tears over the beauty and independent spirit of the province shackled to the brute and philistine Anglo-phonic world, while my much more sensible (and Canadian) friend calmly explained how independence would lead to social and economic ruin, not that we were listening — we were tipsily crying and calling out for freedom. That was, and will be, my last foray into foreign politics.  

Whether the book is definitive or not, Cohen, more than anyone else, represents Montreal but we didn’t sing Cohen’s songs going up (we had to sing naturally it being a road trip and all)if for no other reason than his songs are too personal and there is something a little skeevy about other people singing many of them. For instance “Famous Blue Rain Coat” not only is the only song written as a heart-felt thank you note to the man that who seduced and lead away his wife but is signed “Sincerely L. Cohen.”  For the most part his songs are his and we should be happy to keep them that way.  Whenever I have heard other people sing them it sounds tactless and intrusive.

More sensibly, we drove about singing “Barrett’s Privateers” by the great Stan Rogers. It is a boisterous mock sea chantey. It is perfect for people (at least one of whom needs a flawless memory for lyrics as there are many of them), to sing in groups, as it was written to be sung.

It should be dumb and kitschy, after all it is a 70s faux-folk tune about privateers and sea battles, but it is neither. There is something in the darkness of the lyrics and the rowdiness of the tune that has always agreed with me, ven touched me.  When I am listening to the album I sometimes have to skip the track because it can be too much, especially since it was written in the 70s and there is always the war in Viet Nam lurking behind it.

Our war for independence and freedom was just another imperial expedition for the boys on the other side, but we never really think about them.

We also never think of putting clams in our cocktails.  But that is also a very Canadian thing. The same friend who was trying to talk sense to me at that house party introduced me to the pride of Canadian cocktails: the Bloody Caesar. Clam Juice, Tomato(nonsensically you can get these two disparate liquids bottled together), Celery Salt, Worcestershire Sauce, and pepper, with a glug or so of vodka. The last time I made it an acquaintance from New Hampshire demanded hot sauce be added, and he added quite a bit.  I had half a glass and wasn’t sure that it improved the taste, but he had a pitcher-and-a-half and seemed quite pleased, so take it as an alternate recipe.

There is a bit more in common between “Barrett’s Privateers” and Bloody Caesars, than their pseudo-historical names. They are strong, bold, flavorful, and are the best remedies for those off-moments when the imagination strays north of the border and the body has to stay south for work the next day.

Notes:

* One may imagine from this article that I can speak French, and, while I was there, I imagined it too.

* The version of Famous Blue Rain Coat that I linked to is signed “Sincerely, A Friend.” But what does it matter,if one were to write the same letter over and over one would certainly make a few changes. I pretty sure the audience knew who he was anyway.

* I didn’t give the measurements because I don’t measure ingredients — it’s bourgeois.

*I may also add that the song was released in ‘76 — the year of our bicentennial. Maybe that is just a coincidence.

* There was also the war in the Falklands ahead of it. Things didn’t seem like they were getting better and they weren’t, but we are still hoping. 

 

A Drink and a Poem (Red Eye & Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965)

First Published on my old blog on June 23rd, 2016

Note: First Published on my old blog on June 23rd, 2016

Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965

The swell foams where they float and crawl,
A catherine-wheel of arm and hand;
Each head bobs curtly as a football.
The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore.
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years
Shuttle through space invisibly.
Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
The queen’s clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in
The salt suds where the wave has crashed
Labour in fear of flesh and sin
For the time has been accomplished

As through the shallows in swimsuits,
Bare-legged, smooth-shouldered and long-backed,
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.
–Seamus Heaney

I have never seen this poem reprinted or anthologized. After it appeared in one of Heaney’s collections, A Door in the Dark (1969), it sort of just disappeared. I don’t know if it is because the poem was deemed politically uncomfortable. One might — just because of the title — claim that the poem objectifies women even if that is exactly the impulse it is rejecting. Or it could be the totally unknowable reference to the Irish goddess. Or maybe people just didn’t know what to do with it.

Heaney came of age between the poetic eras of dense Modernism and authors’ embarrassing contemplations of their own genitals. The taste-makers of those days were infamously tasteless,  so it is hardly surprising that they missed good things when they saw them — this poem included.

Like all sensible people, I don’t enjoy going to the beach.  I do, however, enjoy the depictions of bathing in art. I suppose everyone does, because in life beach-going is always a disappointment, but one never gets sun-burned, coated with greasy sunblock, or abraded by sand when contemplating a painting in a museum. It is a pure ideal experience — well almost. The closeness to the ideal always depends on the artist’s skill and situation. It is a classical ideal after all, and Ireland doesn’t lend itself the ideal of the Greeks and Italians, at least not at first glance.

Back in ‘07, and far from the shores of Galway, I briefly worked for the local Italian American Club as a daytime bartender, and took a liking to a group of elderly men who would come in early and hang out with each other. Every now and again one would order a Red Eye — a beer and a tomato juice. I think that they just wanted something to sip on without having to really drink. There would be no sense in asking them why they did it because they had this strange, almost aristocratic, attitude and assumed that people in-the-know knew and that everybody else was an idiot. They were not believers in any sort of explication, and never deigned to do so. As a person who explains things for a living I have come to admire this attitude.

Where Red Eyes came from, I have no idea. It certainly isn’t Italian and I doubt it is Irish. But it is the perfect thing when stranded on a beach, sitting in the shade, and waiting for a goddess to arise from the water.

Or not waiting for her to arise, although she might anyways.

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Notes:
* After writing this post I took the time to google the poem and found that it is commemorated on a plaque at the beach where it was written. I suppose that I should change the opening paragraph, but I doubt that I will.
* A rhyme is two different words phonetically alike from the last stressed vowel to the end of the word. Anyone care to guess which one bothers me?
* I do understand children liking the beach: I care nothing for swimming as an adult but what child doesn’t love digging giant holes in the sand? After the discovery of the periwinkle and the starfish the strand holds no wonder — and all that is left is the battering of each of the four elements in their least agreeable states.
* The old timers will hopefully get their own post later.
* The Internet thinks a Red Eye is something different, but the Internet is generally wrong.
* Let me preemptively not care that any of you self-righteous nudzhes object to my beginning sentences with the word ‘or.’
* Canadians add clam juice and call it “Clam-and-Beer.” The Canadians and their clammy tomato juice will return next week.