The Rocking Chronicles
by Tim Van Schmidt
On one of my trips to downtown Harvard- to buy comic books, bubble gum cards, get candy or look at toys and various stuff at the five and dime store- I remember hearing the 1965 Herman’s Hermit’s hit, “Henry the VIII,” over the radio in the store. I liked the song- and it was handy that it repeated things so much. Once you learned the basic couple of lines, you were off to the races. Plus, the pronounced British accent in the recording fit right in with the idea that there was a British Invasion going on in music.
Hearing something on the radio, however, was just happenstance for me- like hearing “Henry the VIII” at the store, or in the car or even in the school bus. But at this point, I don’t remember the radio being much more than just another toy.
But television was a different story. With Dick Clark shows like “American Bandstand” and the new 1965 show “Where the Action Is,” bands gained plenty of exposure. But they also appeared on variety shows, most famously on the Ed Sullivan Show. Guys like Roger Miller, Johnny Cash and Jimmy Dean ended up having shows of their own, which included lots of guest performances. Throw in a little Shindig here and there and other random exposure and you had a lot of the commercial music scene represented.
For example, I’m really not sure how much of the Beatles’ early work I became familiar with because of radio or because of the new 1965 Beatles cartoon show. Each episode featured singalong sequences with Beatles’ songs- in between goofy cartoon antics.
I associate an image of Roger Miller singing his 1965 hit “King of the Road” and that had to be a TV influence. I also knew what Sonny and Cher looked like singing their 1965 hit “I Got You Babe.”
The most important band that television introduced me to in 1965, however, was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Because of multiple sightings on TV- and a big, bright, energetic music- I decided that I wanted to play the marimba in the school band.
But when everyone in my school was polled as to the instrument they wanted to play, it turned out two people wanted to play the marimba- me and a girl. The school, however, had only one marimba and it was decided to give it to the girl. Years later I would find out that the girl went on to become a state marimba champion, so, at least, I gave up my slot to someone who did something with it.
The big Tijuana Brass hit of 1965 was “Tijuana Taxi” and while the goofy horn sound punctuating the chorus section was fun and distinctive- and the horns were plenty lively- what I liked about the recording was that light fluttering sound the marimba was making in the background, hence my interest in the instrument. On TV, the marimba was often prominant on the screen, adding to its appeal.
The best overall exposure to pop music wasn’t television, however, but direct contact with the records themselves. In my case, this was aided by two older brothers who were ahead of me by a few years and already of record-buying age. Somewhere around this time, too, my oldest brother went to a boarding school. He would be away from home for weeks at a time, but when he returned, he would bring with him some of the records he had collected.
Records were a time tested way to get into music. If you liked what you heard, you could play it over and over again.
That’s how I turned onto the Mamas and the Papas- “California Dreamin'” was a big powerful recording to me with a dramatic ending. That’s also how I grew to love the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” I had no idea what they were singing about, but I liked the big chunky riff the song was based on and the hard edged vocals- pretty much shouted rather than sung.
But my favorite single in the record collection from 1965 was Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd.” It was a record like no other in the stack because first of all, it was an instrumental. But in the background you could hear some people having fun- all the while the piano is tinkling away.
45 records- or “singles”- were still the main musical currency in 1965. The chunk of 45s I pulled from my dusty stack of records was hefty indeed and I enjoyed the flexibility of being able to throw one tune after another onto the turntable and sample more than thirty 1965 artists. Ironically, in 2012, singles- song downloads- are the main musical currency once again.
The best of the 1965 stuff was the rough and ready recordings of the Animals. “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” are both tremendously dramatic and distinctive records. Vocalist Eric Burdon sounds much older than his age and the rest of the group throw in on each tune with plenty of aggressive intent.
However, the Animals’ records in 1965 aren’t just good tunes. They are also full of working class restlessness. The speaker in both songs comes from a tough place to survive- he can see it in how his parents have had to live and it inspires a defiant independence. That independence and rebellion against a rigid class-oriented society fit right in with the political unrest that the world was experiencing at the time. And the Animals presented their feelings about the matter with straight-shooting accuracy.
This straight-shooting accuracy is also present on another greatest hit from 1965- that is, Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” It sounds a lot like Bob Dylan’s lyrical honesty had some influence on this song, but this one does not stand by idly playing any kind of word games. “Eve of Destruction” is quite clear about its angry stance and McGuire’s strident delivery seals the deal, making this a recording of lasting emotional and political value.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m not just stuck on serious stuff. However, the above records transcend the usual congenial confines of pop music and become something else- a touchstone of thought and raw emotions.
1965 also produced some great dance records- like the Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” Jr Walker and the All-Stars’ “Shotgun” and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run.” All of these records come on strong with an irresistable beat before anything else. Add in Len Barry’s “1-2-3,” Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and Otis Redding’s “Respect” too.
The beat is also the primary element in 1965 hits like The McCoy’s “Hang On Sloopy” and the hilariously raw “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs- proof you don’t have to have cohesive lyrics to make an impression.
Going deeper than all of that in 1965- relying almost entirely on a funky beat and little else- was James Brown. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” features a crisp, precise arrangement with a fully percolating sax solo- and no excess. Brown’s voice was a little grating, but expressing plenty.
In comparison, Wayne Cochran also had a sandpaper funky voice, but his 1965 records, “Get Down With It” and “No Rest for the Wicked,” are big and loud and bursting with horns.
The best of the big production pop stuff in 1965 includes the Beach Boys’ busy and ultimately joyful “Help Me Rhonda.”
But my favorite in the stack was most certainly Tom Jones’ 1965 hit “Thunderball.” Not only did I love this because “Thunderball” was the first James Bond movie I saw, but it is a dramatic, forceful and expansive recording. There’s the full power of an orchestra in there, but the main attraction here is that Jones is a vocal monster, turning in a riveting performance. The record makes an excellent twin to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” recording- big, classy, musing about greed and power while reaching for a full-bore musical climax.
And what was Elvis Presley doing while all of the above was going on? Presley’s 1965 hit “Crying in the Chapel” is a delicate and deliberate recording, quiet, slow and very reverent.
“Tired of Waiting for You” – The Kinks
“This Diamond Ring” – Gary Lewis and the Playboys
“King of the Road” – Roger Miller
“Engine Engine No. 9” – Roger Miller
“I Got You Babe” – Sonny & Cher
“I Ain’t Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore” – The Young Rascals
“Barbara Ann” – The Beach Boys
“I Like It Like That” – The Dave Clark Five
“Wonderful World” – Herman’s Hermits
“Ferry Cross The Mersey” – Gerry & the Pacemakers
“Ask the Lonely” – Four Tops
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” – Mel Carter
“Keep on Dancing” – The Gentrys
“You Tell Me Why/I Want You” – Beau Brummels
“Yeh, Yeh, Yeh/Who Are You?” – Lorie Burton
“Make It Easy On Yourself/Doin the Jerk” – Walker Brothers
“A Groovy Kind of Love/Love is Good” – The Mindbenders
In pulling out the 1965 albums I have from my dusty stack of records, I made a discovery. Apparently, 1965 was the first really good album-collecting year for me. Instead of pulling out just a handful or even just two or three albums as I have done for all the previous years, I ended up with a sizable stack of albums and a diversity of music. Sure, The Beatles make up a big chunk of those albums- my God, how many products can the Beatles fans buy?? Apparently a lot…and Dylan put out not just one, but two landmark albums- “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited”- but there’s more.
“The Kinks Kontroversy,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” and classic comedy- Bill Cosby’s “Why Is There Air?”- plus two Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums, “Going Places” and “Whipped Cream and Other Delights.”
Now, of course, this is not a function of my record buying habits in 1965. I had not yet purchased a 45 single let alone an album in 1965. Instead, this is a reflection of what my eventual sense of good music would be in the future- these are records I thought I should collect from “the old days.”
Of the 1965 albums I listened to for this study, the most refreshing album was a surprising one- “The Fugs First Album.”
Now, let’s not say I think “The Fugs First Album” is the most pleasing music- it’s not that at all. I enjoyed the record because its INTENT was completely different from anything I had heard before in pop music. The intent here may actually have been to create really awful pop music, but in the process make some outrageous art.
That includes morphing some William Blake poems into a pop song structure. The “Swineburne Stomp” is just hairaising, raw expression. I had to laugh while listening to the final track on the record- “Nothing.” It’s just a rant on the word “nothing,” but it builds in intensity as the vocalist gets more and more agitated. When he gets to 1965 he says “a whole lot of nothing.” The proverbial thumb to the nose to everything.
I would have loved to have seen the Fugs at a performance- I bet it was challenging stuff live.
Even to this day, I have not seen the blockbuster, number one box office hit of 1965- “The Sound of Music.”
But I have viewed the number two movie of 1965, “Doctor Zhivago,” several times. The first time I saw it, however, was not until many years after its release, while in college- I went to a campus showing of the movie. This epic mixed the vast sweep of historical events- the Russian Revolution- with deeply personal and romantic notions. “Doctor Zhivago,” directed by David Lean, won five Academy Awards and starred Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, and Alec Guinness.
In “Doctor Zhivago,” I was especially entranced with the country home the characters escape to in the dead of winter- the inside just as frosty and frozen as the outside- and that scene became the backdrop for a very early poem I would write in a college writing workshop. I also have recalled how the poet Zhivago would often look up from his work to observe something as simple as the wind in the tops of the trees when I have found myself in a similar reverie.
However, in 1965, at nine years old, I wasn’t very interested in the Russian Revolution or lovesick poets. To me, there was nothing cooler to go to than a James Bond movie and I finally got my chance: I would get to see my first James Bond movie in 1965- “Thunderball.” The movie was playing in the theater on the town square in Walworth, Wisconsin and there was a summertime bus ride available to the theater from my hometown, Harvard. It was delicious to go to a matinee, get swept up in the action on the screen, then come out into the sunshine on the square, just a little bit bewildered.
Another 1965 movie memory is seeing “A Patch of Blue” at the drive-in theater. It was a drama, following the relationship between a blind woman, her mother and a black man. It wasn’t exactly a James Bond movie, but I can remember the feeling of tension some of the scenes provoked- perhaps my first truly adult-oriented viewing experience.
According to this biography, Hollywood in the 1930s was a rough and gritty place. It was the kind of place girls like actress Jean Harlow got blacklisted in if they didn’t put out sex for the directors. Despite an abusive and cynical industry culture- and one terrible job after another- the young actress achieves her dreams of becoming a star. But more, she becomes a sex symbol with a curious mix of intense sensuality and a kind of girlish innocence. The result, however, is not happiness, but a fractured personal life.
Actress Carroll Baker plays Harlow as a smart and strong person who nonetheless succumbs to the pressures of living the weird life of a star. It’s now a common story- how fame rips people up- but compelling nonetheless, because the way Baker plays Harlow, you are really rooting for her to succeed.
Directed by Gordon Douglas…1965…125 min…featuring Carroll Baker (as Jean Harlow), Red Buttons, Raf Vallone, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford, Mike Connors, Martin Balsam, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Hansen.
Godzilla Vs Monster Zero ****
I have given this movie an elevated rating because it is very entertaining. That is, it is very entertaining for a person who enjoys classic Sci-fi stuff like flying saucers, other worlds, alien races- and monsters. Cheesy- yes. Fakey- yes. Clumsy overdubs- yes. I even laughed at what was going on at times, but that’s just it- it’s a fun ride. In this case, a mysterious planet is discovered and its inhabitants want to borrow some of Earth’s super-monsters, Godzilla and Rodan, to fight a monster plaguing their world- Ghidorah.
That’s right, that’s Ghidrah, the three-headed monster from director Ishiro Honda’s previous outing in his monster series. This time, Godzilla and Rodan are back to being truly destructive bad boys. Fortunately for the puny humans, they hate Gidhorah more than any standing structure. This is a vast improvement over the previous movie- “Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster”- and hangs together well- if you like that kind of thing. The only American on the scene is actor Nick Adams as an astronaut.
Directed by Ishiro Honda…1965…81 min…featuring Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, Jun Tazaki.
Planet of the Vampires ***
Understated hard science approach for another 1965 Sci-fi gem- there’s plenty of drama in the storyline without unnecessary characterizations or sub plots. This movie does well with its own constraints of spare, utilitarian sets and dialogue limited to supporting the action. It’s a horror/Sci-Fi mix, including some crude attempts at gore, and some convincing writhing from the actors to suggest physical challenges as a space ship crew confront invisible powers on another world. The tight-fitting space suits help set the scene as much as some inscrutable looking machines. A fore-runner of “Star Trek”?
Directed by Mario Bava…1965…86 min…featuring Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Ángel Aranda.
The Agony and the Ecstasy ***
Artist vs Pope- who’s going to win?
There is an unbelievable scene in this movie where Michelangelo appears on a battlefield and distracts the Pope from giving the order to attack. Instead, of paying attention to the battle at hand the Pope is bumping heads with Michelangelo with boyish passion over the project plans to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In the background, a guy gets blown up from a cannon ball while an officer waits for the order to advance. This is supposed to illustrate the close relationship between the Pope and Michelangelo, but instead it reveals weak film making, taking wartime death too lightly- even making it a kind of joke.
Directed by Carol Reed…1965…138 min…featuring Charlton Heston (as Michelangelo,) Rex Harrison, Diane Cilento, Harry Andrews.
Dr Terror’s House of Horrors **
A low grade thriller featuring five slightly creepy vignettes:
2- Creeping Vine
4- Disembodied Hand
The set-up is that five guys in a train compartment fall for the mysterious antics of an old codger who reads fortunes with a Tarot deck. Of course, each fortune is a dire prediction of unexplainable situations and the whole thing plays out like an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” but without the production or acting quality.
Christopher Lee appears here in a distinctive role- he’s an extremely annoying art critic who thinks he knows everything. Peter Cushing plays the Tarot reader with the right amount of creepiness. A young Donald Sutherland also appears as one of the ill-fated commuters.
Directed by Freddie Francis…1965…98 min…featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Roy Castle , Max Adrian, Bernard Lee, Donald Sutherland, Jeremy Kemp.
Called a masterpiece, this movie plods along until the mental disintegration of the main character- a young Belgian woman- becomes an exercise in sick fantasy. It ends up in murder, but what is actually real here is not clear. The scenes where the apartment she shutters herself away from the world in becomes the antagonist- hands reaching out of the wall to grab her- are inventive, but my feeling is this movie reveals more about the horror living in the brain of the director than a compelling portrait of the character. More disgusting than shocking, more confusing than illuminating, “Repulsion” at least lives up to its title.
Directed by Roman Polanski…1965…105 min…featuring Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux, Patrick Wymark.
More 1965 Movies
Alphaville, (Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution’)
Battle of the Bulge
The Bedford Incident
The Cincinnati Kid
Dr. Who and the Daleks
The Family Jewels
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Ferry Cross the Mersey
The Flight of the Phoenix
For a Few Dollars More
Frankenstein Conquers the World
The Great Race
The Greatest Story Ever Told
How to Murder Your Wife
I’ll Take Sweden
Inside Daisy Clover
Invasion of Astro-Monster
The Ipcress File
Juliet of the Spirits
The Knack …and How to Get It
Life at the Top
The Monkey King
Once a Thief
Sands of the Kalahari
The Satan Bug
Ship of Fools
The Shop on Main Street
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
That Darn Cat!
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
A Thousand Clowns
Von Ryan’s Express
What’s New Pussycat?
Though I was in full control of the prime time television schedule in my head by the 1965 season- and had my favorites- I was still subject to the tastes of my family- particularly my older brothers. That’s how new 1965 shows “I Spy” and “The Wild, Wild West” became TV staples in our house- my oldest brother especially was a fan of both shows.
“I Spy” featured an inter-racial team of undercover American agents, played by Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. The story is that Culp was a pro tennis player and Cosby was his trainer and their cover got them to exotic locations, wisecracking all the way. But there was always some serious danger lurking underneath as the pair completed assignments of international intrigue.
“The Wild, Wild West” was much more cartoonish. The series followed the adventures of a Wild West era James Bond- James West- and his partner Artemis Gordon. Not only did West and Gordon- played by Robert Conrad and Ross Martin- share mysteries and danger like Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, but they had various gizmos like James Bond- and a cool private train car.
I was more a fan of the new “Hogan’s Heroes,” a comedy about the underground work of an international group of POWs in a German prison camp during World War Two. I remember that there was a controversy about the show at the time, that it was being disrespectful to real POWs who probably didn’t think their situation had been funny in the least.
The good thing about “Hogan’s Heroes” was that despite the rather light touch on the interactions between Hogan’s crew and the Germans, somewhere underneath it all was a plan to undermine the enemy in some way- if in no other way than to snag some supplies. The Germans were laughable and ridiculous at every turn and the large German guard Schultz added something to the contemporary lingo too: “I know nothing!”
Another big 1965 debut show for me was “Lost in Space.” It was a Swiss Family Robinson story, but in space- literally. The family members were even named Robinson. The first episode was gripping with the thought that here was this brave family blasting off the Earth for oblivion- with enemies lurking in the shadows. But, once shipwrecked, the series becomes lighter in tone. Like Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes,” the robot on “Lost in Space” also added something to hip lingo: “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”
Also new on television in 1965 was the Petticoat Junction spin-off, “Green Acres.” To this very moment, I could sing you the entire theme song for the show- including both the husband and the wife parts sung by stars Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor. But what’s telling about the show is that one of the most distinctive characters in this urbanites-in-a-rural-environment comedy is a pig named Arnold.
Another new 1965 comedy was “I Dream of Jeannie.” Even though I was just nine years old, I couldn’t help but be attracted to Jeannie, played by Barbara Eden, for not only her skimpy harem-style outfit, but also her perky energy. It seemed inscrutable why Larry Hagman’s astronaut character had any hesitation about getting something going with Jeannie.
Another new favorite 1965 comedy was “Get Smart,” simultaneously taking advantage of and making fun of the spy craze. The “secret agent” here was Maxwell Smart, played by Don Adams, a numbskull that was as full of himself as much as being clueless- kind of like the inspector in the “Pink Panther” movies. He had gadgets- like his famous shoe-phone- and an attractive sidekick- Agent 99 played by Barbara Feldon- and a very thick skull. My favorite feature in “Get Smart” was “The Cone of Silence”- a big bubble that would be lowered from above when the characters really had something secret to talk about.
At about this time I took it upon myself to write away for some TV stars’ autographs- and I even got some back. I received an autographed photo from David Hedison of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”- and two from actors on “Peyton Place”- Ed Nelson and Ryan O’Neal. It was fantastic that a youngster in small town Illinois could be in touch- briefly- with TV stars!!
Other new shows in 1965 include “Where the Action Is,” a teen-style show mixing appearances by various popular groups with antics by Paul Revere and the Raiders, the big regulars on this Dick Clark production. Again, this was my oldest brother’s idea since he also happened to be a staunch Raiders fan.
Also premiering in 1965 was “The Dating Game.” Now, I really did not have any interest in dating whatsoever- it was a foreign concept. But I still found “The Dating Game” very curious indeed. I think it had a lot to do with each one of the contestants being put on the spot- and what wouldn’t be more nerve-wracking than being put on the spot on television? Their answers really did make a difference in how you felt about them and the show kind of begged the question: what would I say?
I also enjoyed the new 1965 show “The Big Valley”- a kind of “Bonanza” but with a strong matriarch. The Barkley family was headed up by widow Victoria, played with a strident sternness by Barbara Stanwyck. There’s an illegitimate son in the mix, played by Lee Majors, and a pretty daughter- Linda Evans- along with a couple of other Barkley boys.
Not only would I be a fully informed TV fan in 1965- collecting autographs!!- I was also becoming somewhat discerning in what I wanted to watch. Two dud shows from 1965, as far as I was concerned: My Mother, the Car” and “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.”
By 1965, our family had moved from the “farm house” next to the greenhouse business they had sold to a house in town. At one time, the house had belonged to a banker in Harvard named Axtel, so the big, multi-storied brick house became “the Axtel House.”
The Axtel House had an old-fashioned elegance of a sort, with a cool, “secret” staircase leading from “the maid’s room” upstairs down into the kitchen. There was a laundry chute down to the basement and even a dumbwaiter to the kitchen. There was a hatch in the back end of the house, in the separate pantry area, where ice used to be delivered for the “ice box.” There was a separate “carriage house” that had a big, open upstairs. But our favorite haunt, so to speak, was the big attic of the house.
The stairs up to the attic were broken up by a landing and a tiny little room, then more stairs up to the attic. With a plenty high ceiling and a wide open area- as big as the house below- it was a perfect place for my brothers and I to hang out with our comic books. I used to throw my GI Joes out the window, then run all the way down to see how they landed.
But the attic wasn’t a good place to be caught at night. The lights in the attic hardly reached every corner and a prickly urgency always accompanied having to be the last one out of the attic and having to turn out the light. If the task fell to me, I would switch the light off, close the door quick and hurry down the stairs as if the darkness was hot in pursuit.
I mentioned that the attic was a great place for our comic books. I mean that, because between the three of us boys, we had a lot of comic books- everything from Superman, Batman and Legion of Super Heroes comics to the latest Marvel stuff including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and The Avengers. We had stacks of Classics Illustrated comics as well as TV show and movie spin-off comics.
We bought our comic books at the smoke shop in downtown Harvard. Since we had moved into town closer, we could just simply walk over a few blocks and pick up the latest books. It wasn’t much of a store- a long, dark joint where a couple of gristled old guys always seemed to be hanging around the register. But they kept a full stock of comics, among the other magazines and newspapers.
Easy access to buying comics lead to buying lots of comics. My parents even remarked on it, being shocked at the amount of money being spent. (However, at 12 cents apiece, it was pretty easy to buy a couple each week.) I remember on one occasion, after a trip to the comic stand, I hid a handful of comics under my shirt to gain entry to the house- but I was busted and that called for a ban on comic books for a while.
The comic books served as good entertainment, however, as we each poured over our favorite titles- and read each others’. However, the comic book collection would become so ponderous, and we would leave it in such a mess up in the attic of the Axtel House, that the bulk of the collection was eventually scooped up and disposed of- the old “if you don’t clean them up, we’ll get rid of them” threat come true. Of course, that story is what makes collectibles worth money.
“The Astronomers” by Edgar Bowers, 1965, Alan Swallow, Denver, second printing.
While researching the literature of 1965- specifically the published poetry of that year- I ran across a listing that stopped me short. It was “The Astronomers” by Edgar Bowers.
I took several courses from Bowers as a student at University of California at Santa Barbara. Shortly after I graduated from UCSB in 1978, I found a hard-bound copy of “The Astronomers” in a used bookstore in Tucson.
Some short time after that, I revisited UCSB and stopped in to say hello to some of my favorites professors, including Bowers. Bowers told me that at that point, “The Astronomers” was out of print- and he’d gladly pay me for the copy. I did not end up getting the book to Bowers, but I did keep it, offering me the opportunity in 2012 to read Bowers’ work.
I have run into mention of Bowers before this in my research for “The Rocking Chronicles.” In the January 1957 issue of Poetry Magazine- a landmark issue featuring the first appearance of Sylvia Plath in the magazine- there is a review of Bowers’ first book, “The Form of Loss”- and it’s a positive one.
“The Astronomers” is a thin, even sparse book with a grey dust jacket and only 36 pages. I thought that it would be a breeze to read it- maybe take a half hour tops with so few pages and such a small amount of print. But I was wrong- I found the poems dense indeed. I got lost to Bowers’ intent and meaning within only a few lines of any given poem I turned to in the book. In order to read it, it took perseverance and imagination- like, what is this guy talking about?
Still, after multiple readings, I’m not sure I’ve got Bowers’ poetry down. I get a general feel for it, though. That is, that Bowers was a strongly solitary individual, alternately blessed and cursed by a high level of self-consciousness. He seemed to find depth and magnitude in the immediate world around him, but it is strangely distant and cold- just out of reach. Death is imminent in Bowers’ work, but this seems to be what best warms the bones inside- that crisp consciousness of the fleeting moment of life.
But the strongest feeling I get from reading “The Astronomers” is that I wish I could talk over the work with Bowers himself. I am now so sorry that I didn’t take better advantage of the opportunity of learning from this writer when I could.
It also makes me feel just a little bit proud. At some point during or after the classes I took from Bowers, I stopped in to see him. During that visit, he paid me a compliment. He told me that of all the students he had, I was one of the very few who could make poetry a career. He then wondered what it was I was going to do with my life. I certainly didn’t know and maybe it disappointed the man that I didn’t really have anything much to say. However, just that tiny spark of recognition is a lot to hold onto in my memory of Edgar Bowers.