Posts Tagged ‘Pete Atkin’

National Guitar

For years, Paul Simon’s line about the “Mississippi delta, shining like a national guitar” had me thinking about the idea of a guitar for the nation, represented somehow in the shining delta. I could picture the delta from the air, or from space, glinting in the sun. I couldn’t quite see the shape of a guitar in the shape of the delta, but never mind. Lyrics can be obscure, and that’s OK, I thought.

I didn’t know then that there actually was such a thing as a “National” guitar: a type of guitar called a National. I don’t know much. But I discovered it through the Pete Atkin song National Steel. They’re metal: shiny. They glint in the sunlight. Like a delta. The Mississippi delta shines like a National guitar. I think there may be one on the album cover of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (but be careful, you really shouldn’t trust me on that).

It happens a lot, and I don’t mind, that I discover that whole chunks of what I think are actually based on ignorance, misunderstanding, inattention, deafness or stupidity. It’s reassuring to see that it happens so much to me, because that means it isn’t so shocking when I see it happening with other people. They’re fools, but that’s OK: so am I.

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The lost chord

Sitting in the supermarket cafe thinking about the lost chord and imagining the 1950s I noticed the aisle signs: DVD, mobile phone, frozen chips. This is not the 1950s. But it’s funny how quickly what we are thinking can speed away from the first idea that set us off. Why was I thinking about the ’50s when The Lost Chord was written in the 1870’s? And so often, for me at least, that first idea turns out to have been a misunderstanding. Trains of thought that were set off by a line from a song, which turns out to have been a misheard line. So your long internal perambulation on a theme from a song by Pete Atkin turns out to be based on a line that never actually was, other than in your faulty ears. But now, for me, that non-line remains the inspiration for a distilled thought. Clive James (sticking for a moment with the Pete Atkin example) wrote “most of our knowledge will drop away after we have condensed from it the principles which will connect into a view” (Cultural Amnesia, 2007). But it wasn’t necessarily “knowledge” from which we condensed the view. And when whatever it was – perhaps a misheard lyric or a misread sign – does drop away, and all we are left with is the viewpoint that we have distilled from it, what status does that viewpoint have? I can’t recall the music, but I know I like the tune. These are dangerous times.

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