Out among the breakers.


In 1970, the enigmatic Tim Buckley wrote a sad song called “The Song of the Siren.” He actually performed it on the television show “The Monkees,” which gives it a peculiar organic quality of sincerity, even though The Monkees is one of the first real examples of suits trying their best to manufacture something cool.

The Buckleys, like the Kennedys, suffered from a family curse, which expressed itself through the male line.  Tim died at 28, drowned by heroin addiction. His musician son, Jeff, initially ignored by his father would prove equally as sensitive, an iconic musician’s musician that specialized in making sad songs even sadder. Jeff made it only an additional two years before joining his natural father at the age of 30, drowning, literally this time, in the dark eddies of the Mississippi.

Tim Buckley’s other son, Taylor, was adopted. Taylor’s name in Tim Buckley’s Wikipedia entry is dark, which is to say un-highlighted, and so Taylor being a Buckley in name only may have escaped blood curses and the scrutiny of history. Obscurity can be a form of salvation. “Les gens heureux n’ont pas l’histoire,” a French phrase that the late Spaulding Gray once translated as “Happy people don’t make history.” (Gray, coincidentally, also drowned, having thrown himself suicidally into the less mythic, but no less notorious eddies of Manhattan’s East River.)

So why these dark morning reveries about the wonderful, yet ill-fated Buckleys? Self-pity. That and a line from the elder Buckley’s song, mentioned above.

I am puzzled as the newborn child
I am troubled at the tide:
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Should I lie with death my bride?

My own siren’s song, the gift of teaching, continues to call to me, but I am stuck on shoals and troubled at the tide. My own private Ithaca waits for me at a high school in Southern California. It’s a temporary position–they all are at first–but a chance to teach English. My shoal is a background check, fingerprint analysis, which must be done in Washington, DC.  My clearance, the official print-out of my conscience, is bobbing somewhere in between here and there, lost at sea because a small group of small thinkers in my government decided to shut that government down.

I’ve lived through several of these things and never take them personally, although I confess that this time, I’m feeling it much more personally than ever before.

So until the halls of power flip the “on” switch, I’m grounded and the view I had more clearly is now obscured by fog and may never return. “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.” (That’s a Sondheim quote. He’s neither dead, nor drowned.)

Still, it’s October and that’s the month for witchcraft, which, like curses, I believe in wholeheartedly.  (It’s belief in God I have trouble with.  If a distrust in God and a belief in witchcraft seems incompatible, I have some film of Germany in the 1930’s, Cambodia in the 1970’s, or modern-day Syria to show you.)