Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009

Titus Turner, Sticks and Stones.
Junior Walker and the All-Stars, Clinging To the Thought That She's Coming Back.
The Pretenders, Mystery Achievement.
Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels.
Willie Nelson, Bandera.

Sometime around 2001, for some long-forgotten reason, I made a series of CD mixes that were imaginary soundtracks to John Updike's four Rabbit novels (and the neglected novella). As the Rabbit books are all set at the tail end of a decade, the CDs were basically compilations of 1959, '69, '79, etc. songs. (This is the sort of sad thing I would do before starting "Locust St.")

Included here as a tribute are the last songs on each mix--the songs that my youthful self imagined would best end each novel (say, if each novel had been filmed in a very faithful adaptation). I'm not sure why, in some cases, I chose them, but here they are.

Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this little side-street is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy; the steps and window sills seem to twitch and shift in the corner of his eye, alive. This illusion trips him. His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.

Rabbit, Run, 1960; Titus Turner, "Sticks and Stones," ca. 1958 (Soulville.)

Thirty-six years old and he knows less than when he started. With the difference that he knows how little he'll always know. The six o'clock news is all about space, all about emptiness: some bald man plays with little toys to show the docking and undocking maneuvers [of the moon launch], and then a panel talks about the significance of this for the next five hundred years. They keep mentioning Columbus but as far as Rabbit can see it's the exact opposite: Columbus flew blind and hit something, these guys see exactly where they're aiming and it's a big round nothing.

Rabbit Redux, 1971; Junior Walker and the All-Stars, "Clinging to the Thought That She's Coming Back," 1970 (not on CD).

Running out of gas, Rabbit Angstrom thinks as he stands behind the summer-dusty windows of the Springer Motors display room watching the traffic go by on Route 111, traffic somehow thin and scared compared to what it used to be. The fucking world is running out of gas. But they won't catch him, not yet, because there isn't a piece of junk on the road gets better mileage than his Toyotas, with lower service costs. Read Consumer Reports, April issue. That's all he has to tell the people when they come in. And come in they do, the people out there are getting frantic, they know the great American ride is ending.

Rabbit Is Rich, 1981: The Pretenders' "Mystery Achievement," from Pretenders, 1980.

From his expression and the pitch of his voice, the boy is shouting into a fierce wind blowing from his father's direction. "Don't die, Dad, don't!" he cries, then sits back with that question still on his face, and his dark wet eyes shining like stars of a sort. Harry shouldn't leave the question hanging like that, the boy depends on him.

"Well, Nelson," he says, "all I can tell you is, it isn't so bad." Rabbit thinks he should maybe say more, the kid looks wildly expectant, but enough. Maybe. Enough.

Rabbit at Rest, 1990; Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels, 1989.

The blazing beauty dwindled to a shrill spark, a needle of angry discontent lost in these streets lined with row houses and aluminum awnings and little front porches where the patient inhabitants sit and soak in the evening heat and wonder where it all went. The television goes from selling you perfume and designer jeans to selling you Centrum and denture adhesive as used by aged movie stars. It is a mistake to be beautiful when young...

Rabbit Remembered
, 2000; Willie Nelson, Night and Day, 1999.

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