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CCF95F5A-32C0-406F-9649-C5EE4E982B3F.jpegNote: This piece was originally published on thekyotokibbitzer. The original piece is called “a breakdown.” For the collected works version we have changed this to “a close reading.” They basically mean the same thing.

In this piece we will breakdown Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat the Devil.” A breakdown is basically what the young folks these days call a “deep dive.” Only we’re not spending days falling through interweb rabbit holes to get there. That kind of action is reserved for Tusk and matters of that ilk. Tusk ilk is pretty thin on the ground.

Instead, a breakdown is just a close look at an item of interest. We’ll start with a couple of songs, see how the method wants to evolve.

To Beat the Devil appears on Kristofferson’s self-titled debut album from 1970 on Monument. It is, by any standard, an astonishingly good record, featuring “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and “Just the Other Side of Nowhere,” along with the ol’ Devil. That’s four absolute classics right there for ya.

{Sunday Morning features an opening quatrain that most other songwriters would trade their career for:

Well I woke up Sunday morning/ with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt/ and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad/ so I had one more for dessert

I could play this game all day—Jason Isbell’s Southeastern features another couple life-work worthy couplets:

The first two lines of “Super 8”:

Don’t wanna die in a super 8 motel/ just because somebody’s evening didn’t go so well

And from “Different Days”:

Time went by and I left and I left again/ Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin.

We’ll do a Different Days breakdown a little later on. If I’d written a song that great I’d call it a career and sip martinis on the house for the duration.}

Sunday Morning and Bobby are probably objectively better songs than To Beat the Devil, yet what I like about this one is that Kristofferson states very clearly a kind of founding intention for his life in song and art, right out of the gate. The only parallel I can think of is Craig Finn’s The Hold Steady, whose first album Almost Killed Me kicks off with “A Positive Jam.”

Here’s the master telling it like it is:

I got bored when I didn’t have a band/ so I started a band/ we’re gonna start it with a positive jam/ hold steady.

Rock on Craig baby.

Anyway, let’s get to the focus of this piece. And if you’d like to experience it sans interpretation, here you go:

TO BEAT THE DEVIL

Kristofferson opens with a spoken intro.:

A couple of years back I come across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio. And while he was reciting some poetry to me that he had written, I saw that he was about a step away from dying, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me.

Here the singer is looking up at his idol who is both “great and wasted.” I wasn’t around quite yet in 1970, yet I can easily imagine Ginsberg’s “best minds” line hanging over talented folks across a lot of zones. Klosterman wasn’t quite there either (June 5, 1972–a mid Gemini of course), but he was close, and to indulge not for the last time in a little Klostermania, the zeitgeist seemed to be making people thirsty.

The singer receives some scraps of poetry, shards of shattered inspiration, and a song “occurs” to him. He doesn’t state it directly, however we imagine the song arrives fully formed, like “Pancho and Lefty,” or “Kubla Khan.” Thus, To Beat the Devil is also both an answer and an offer of redemption to his idol, who here is John(ny) Cash.

I’m happy to say he’s no longer wasted, and he’s got him a good woman. And I’d like to dedicate this to John and June, who helped showed me how to beat the devil.

The singer takes up the mantle of the master, and in so doing opens a possibility window onto redemption for his senior. This is no exaggeration—Cash also recorded To Beat the Devil in 1970 and we are basically stipulating that Kristofferson’s genius, descended from Cash while also original to himself, helped rescue Cash from addiction and the whole deal there. We won’t be deep diving into the archive on this one—as we said we’re just keeping it local and breaking it down, so you’ll have to take my word on it or search it up your own self.

Here’s the first verse, and we’ll tread a little lightly from here and let the words speak for themselves:

It was wintertime in Nashville
Down on Music City Row
And I was looking for a place
And to get myself out of the cold
To warm the frozen feeling that was eating at my soul
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar

A classic down and out in the big city piece of scene-setting. The singer is physiologically and psychologically frozen, a cold wind gusts across his art. The man needs a break. Read the rest of this entry »

maj01Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Note: This post originally published at jungianintimations.wordpress.com, and introduces our serial investigation of the works of Carl Jung.

I

Toward the end of his life on earth, Carl Jung worked with Aniela Jaffe on a semi-autobiography titled, in English, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (MDR).  While the exact nature of the origins of the text continues to be a matter of controversy (Shamdasani, 22-38), this work is, by any standard, one of the most remarkable works of self-reflection on record.  As Jung’s work has seduced me, once more, into an extended contemplation of telos as a universal governing principle, and forced me to ask hitherto avoided questions about the nature and possibility of free will, it is only appropriate that we begin with the end, namely the second to last page of MDR, written when Jung was in his mid-80’s.

Looking back over the course of his life, Jung writes/ dictates as follows:
“A creative person has little power over his own life.  He is not free.  He is captive and driven by his own daimon.  ‘Shamefully, a power wrests away the heart from us,/ For the Heavenly Ones each demand sacrifice;/ But if it should be withheld/ Never has that led to good,’ says Holderlin.  This lack of freedom has been a great sorrow to me.  Often I felt as if I were on a battlefield, saying, ‘Now you have fallen, my good comrade, but I must go on.’  For ‘shamefully a power wrests the heart from us.’  I am fond of you, indeed I love you, but I cannot stay.  There is something heart-rending about that.  And I myself am the victim; I cannot stay.  But the daimon manages things so that one comes through, and blessed inconsistency sees to it that in flagrant contrast to my ‘disloyalty’ I can keep faith in unsuspected measure” (MDR, 357).

Here, Jung’s daimon is also his muse, a fickle yet demanding goddess, possessed of little mercy.  Here too we see Jung playing with telos, and also recognizing that creative work never comes without a price.  And yet, Jung is not railing against his fate–while apparent disloyalty, inconstancy, faithlessness, restlessness, and driven arrogance may have plagued his personal relationships, Jung hove true to his inner compass in a manner and to a degree which would have permanently flung most mortals far the other side of sanity, fellowship, and comprehensibility.  When Jung writes that “I can keep faith in unsuspected measure” he is referencing the overarching centrality of intuition as a guide to his life’s work, and building on forty years of reflection on the central orienting elements of personality.  The relentlessness and courage of his six decades of work, even as he came increasingly to fear for the reception of his ideas (pace Answer to Job), attests to his faith, and to his  larger constancy, even as from a smaller bore perspective his alleged lack of intellectual coherence and questionable allegiance to science as commonly understood has led lesser minds to accuse Jung of prophecy, shamanism, and outright oddness (cf Shamdasani, 83).  In order to counteract such limited understandings of Jung, understandings based almost certainly on shallow or incomplete readings of the Collected Works, it behooves us to take an extended look at the textual evidence.  This textual evidence, as we shall see, while voluminous, circular, and even repetitive, signifies in the final judgment nothing short of the most remarkable, daring, and far-reaching bodies of work to issue forth from a single human intelligence since Augustine.  It is our pleasure to place ourselves in the service of this intelligence, to reflect, if even in the smallest way, a sliver of the numinous with which Jung wrestled throughout his life, as Job wrestled with his angel.

===== =====

II

One who has no god, as he walks along the street/ Headache envelops him like a garment.

(Cuneiform tablet, late 2nd millennium B.C.  Cited in Jaynes, 225)

An idea is something you have.  An ideology is something that has you.

Morris Breman

It is well known that older people tend toward one of two poles in their attitude toward certainty, and that the degree of apparent confidence with which those in the second half of life hold forth on subjects to which they claim authority or expertise is directly related to the degree to which they suffer from an inflated, runaway, usurping ego.  On the one hand the dogmatists, those in whom opinion has ossified into ideology, whose “conversation” is always monologue ascendant.  On the other hand, those at least somewhat mellowed by time, those who have come face to face with their own limitations, whose ego has been able to absorb the blows apportioned by father time, and to grin in the face of impotence (cf Slater, 115).

There are certain professions, however, where egocentricity in the form of professed certainty is positively rewarded, where the fawning of acolytes, the plaudits of the mass media, and the material rewards issued forth from committees and councils depend in large part on stating and holding a single position, and defending such position against all comers.  The expert industry is ever at work, animated by the simple fact that very few people actually have any real idea of what they should be doing, of what the “truth” is in a given situation, or, least of all, on what basis to make a decision. Read the rest of this entry »

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