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River Rocks #2: “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Melissa,” and Empyreal

I’ve enjoyed writing for many years. I'm dedicating more time to the craft in my retirement days.

River Rocks #2

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River Rocks installments feature a tidbit each from the vast universes of literature and music. Sometimes included, too, is a researched word, term or expression you might not have heard before.

Bobby Bones Described The Same Phenomenon

While listening to The Bobby Bones Show one morning last week, I heard part of a segment called "Bobby’s Mailbag." One of the things they talked about was how there is so much media out there now, so much to watch on TV, so much streaming, etc., that if we're left to our own devices, we might never be able to decide what to watch, read, listen to, and so forth. Information overload can be debilitating, if not downright incapacitating. Bobby and one of his co-hosts agreed that, in the main, shows, movies and other entertainment they consume is limited primarily to those items recommended by people they know—friends, family, the like. How else to winnow the myriad masses of all things media? I mentioned this phenomenon briefly in the first edition as my general conception for River Rocks.

What I didn’t mention in episode #1 was the struggle I had coming up with a name for a recurring digest such as this. Indeed, all files, documents, pictures, folders associated with this periodical are right now stored on my computer in a folder called Hump Day Hors D’oeuvres. That was the original title idea, but on the day of first publication, I decided to abandon it for at least two reasons:

1) I wasn’t sure I could make it routinely to publication on Wednesdays.

2) I couldn’t get the GEICO commercial out of my head. Much as I absolutely love that camel, I didn’t think I wanted these works forever to be associated only with that.

So, even though I’d put quite a bit of thought into the 2XHD (Hump Day Hors D'oeuvres) idea, I canned it at the last minute, decided on Media Morsels as the main title instead...and then I changed my mind again.

I thought I liked the name River Rocks better. It seems like a good name, maybe a tad more indirect but still apt: the immeasurable collection of media and information out there is like a gigantic flowing river, each rock on the bottom along the way a potential destination if only we stop, pick it up, give it a look. As mentioned in week #1, this digest can and will lift a few of those rocks in each edition with these objectives: awareness, admiration, appreciation, assessment, analysis, advancement, advocacy.

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.

— Louisa May Alcott

The River Rocks Promise

I offer the reader no guarantees save this one: if it’s featured in River Rocks, I’ve consumed it. I’ve read it, watched it, listened to it, researched it, wrote about it previously, engaged with it in some way, shape or form. That’s the only guaranteed offer in this digest. In general terms, then, when I write about it, I've been there, done that to some degree. I can offer no more than that.

Consider this an invitation to join me, if you're so inclined. No RSVP required.

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Literature: Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Much of Ray Bradbury's early work—short stories, poems, etc.—was prefatory, preparatory kind of work that built up to one of his most famous novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I commend the novel to you, sure, and that's clear by its inclusion in this week's River Rocks. But more than that, I'd offer that Something Wicked is a book you should read for the prose as much as the story line.

Prose like this: "A calliope began to play oh so softly, grieving to itself, a million miles away."

And this: "Somewhere in the recumbent solitudes, the motionless but teeming millions of books, lost in two dozen turns right, three dozen turns left, down aisles, through corridors, toward dead ends, locked doors, half-empty shelves, somewhere in the literary soot of Dickens's London, or Dostoevsky's Moscow or the steppes beyond, somewhere in the vellumed dust of atlas or Geographic, sneezes pent but set like traps, the boys crouched, stood, lay sweating a cool and constant brine."

Words, phrases, clauses of this 'magnitude,'—and I use that word deliberately, here, because I think the prose comes out of the mind and fingers of a huge talent—language like this is used throughout the book to wonderful effect. A random glance into the center of the book might give a reader pause, might make the read seem inaccessible, but such a notion is a far cry from the reality. Indeed, to me, the lyrical, magical words serve as a nice offset to the spooky, creepy tale.

Something Wicked is the second book in what's come to be known as the Green Town novels. The first, Dandelion Wine, is essentially autobiographical in nature, though it is wholly fiction. That book seems to present an idealized "summer in the life" of a couple of young, innocent boys growing up in the Midwest, chasing fireflies and imagining what it's like to get older.

Something Wicked, on the other hand, has a cast of unsavory characters who, by book's conclusion, bring to life an end of innocence for two different young boys...and for many others in town as well.

Good news for time-budgeters: you don't have to read both books to get a full appreciation for one or the other. In other words, you could read Something Wicked and not feel like you've missed anything. Still, here's what Bradbury himself had to say about the pair of books:

Dandelion Wine is a rather gentle leading-up to a little more complex novel, which the second one will be. It's about the real testing of a boy at the end of the summer when too much knowledge has been gained too quickly.

Something Wicked is about the same town and almost the same boys. You might say it carries these same people forward with an even bigger jump into fantasy, into allegory. [1]

It's been said that Bradbury has "never written with more unrestrained abandon than in this gothic fantasy, whose highly wrought fabric of imagery received a mixed critical reception." The book was called a "stupefying bore," due to "festoons of purple rhetoric" and "pseudo-poetic prose" by Orville Prescott, who was otherwise a fan and admirer of Bradbury's. Wayne L. Johnson, though, called it a work where "Bradbury uses all of his talents to their fullest advantage, resulting in a thoroughly polished work of entertainment."

As David Mogen said, then, "[Something Wicked] will undoubtedly [delight] some readers while exasperating others." [2]

While I came to the book as an old man, I found myself in the delighted group. Maybe that made a difference, but I don't really know. I found myself reading the book with a pen/pencil in hand and a stack of note cards nearby. My paperback copy of it has sentences underlined, note cards stuffed in pages as a result.

I've said it before: I think the title of my first novel might very well come from this book. That idea, after all, was one Bradbury used on more than one occasion himself. If it's good enough for one of the most celebrated American writers of the 20th century, perhaps it's good enough for me.

By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.

— The Witch, Act IV, Scene I, "Macbeth," by William Shakespeare

Song: "Melissa," by Gregg Allman and Featuring Jackson Brown

Jackson Browne was one of my favorite singers when I was in my last two years of high school and first couple years of college. He's featured on the version of "Melissa" I included here, and that's why I used it: I love this rendition of a great old song by the Allman Brothers band. The crowd in attendance loved it, too.

I said, other people can write songs, let’s see if I can. So the first 400 or 500 wound up on the floor somewhere. Then I wrote one called Melissa.

— Gregg Allman

"Melissa" is a nice mellow song, atypical of the rocking music the Allman Brothers put out in their time. But if you've not listened to it before, just do that. Close your eyes, sit back and enjoy. It's really good stuff.

If that's not good enough reason, though, the back stories definitely make the need to listen even more compelling:

Greg Allman wrote this song, one of hundreds he'd tried to write and complete, as a young man. He penned this one while using his brother's guitar, and had not quite settled on a name yet. He'd been tossing around "Delilah," but had not finalized it. The story is told in full detail on Wikipedia, but here's a short summary: after working on the song late into the evening, Gregg went for milk to a mostly empty grocery store and had an encounter with an older woman and her unruly granddaughter. While trying to reel the little girl in, the grandmother called out her name—Melissa—and Allman thanked the confused old woman profusely and left the store with what would become the title to this song.

I imagine Gregg thought of his brother Duane every time he sang the song Melissa, too. He not only wrote it on Duane's guitar, but Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971. The band dedicated the song to him when they recorded it on Eat a Peach in 1972. All of that puts a bit of a lump in my throat every time I listen to this song.

So turn out the lights, click your BIC, hold up your cell phone flashlight, sway for a small fraction of your day to this wonderful classic. You won't regret it.

A Word You May Not Have Heard

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Empyreal

Empyreal (preferred pronunciation = em-pie-real) has two main definitions:

1: of or relating to the heavens; celestial

2: sublime

A third, less commonly known (and used) meaning relates to something being formed of pure fire or light.

It's a Medieval Latin word, an adjective, that comes from Empyrean, that place in "Highest Heaven" occupied by God and pure light or fire.

All these definitions, then, have some relation to the "highest heaven," and also to that place of God's otherwise known as the firmament.

For the most part, poets and sappy lovers might use this word nowadays, though you can probably find it included in some scientific and technical writings, as well. It is possible one might have seen the word in writings about Comet NEOWISE as it passed through the night skies in July 2020.

Empyreal Used in a Sentence:

"His treatise upon Air and Fire appeared in 1777. In this remarkable book he tells of his discovery of oxygen - "empyreal" or "fire-air," as he calls it - which he seems to have made independently and without ever having heard of the previous discovery by Priestley."
— www.cosmovisions.com/Williams040204.htm

"We have previously mentioned that one star of the stars spread in this wide sky is seventy million times bigger than the earth! But, however, this limitless and immeasurable sky which none knows how great, empyreal and high is it except its Creator and Maker: there shall be one day when it will sunder by one order of its Creator."
— www.foboko.com/sentence-dictionary/english/empyreal

"Night after night, the comet shone brightly against the empyreal tapestry of the sky."
- m-w.com

Photo used with permission of Molly Wakeling, AstronoMolly Images

Photo used with permission of Molly Wakeling, AstronoMolly Images

empyreal:

1 : of or relating to the empyrean : celestial

2 : sublime

— m-w.com

Until Next Time, When We'll Be Picking Up "River Rocks"

Those are the last of the River Rocks for this go 'round. If you haven't yet but want to read Bradbury's book, Something Wicked This Way Comes, it's likely you'll find more than one copy of it in your local library. You can also buy it in paperback on Amazon—and you can get an e-copy for the Kindle, too, I'm sure—or you can probably pick it up at a local bookstore if you're lucky enough to still have one in your town.

As for the song "Melissa," you can obviously get it on YouTube, and artists do receive remuneration from that venue. One other thing you can do, though, is something I also heard suggested on The Bobby Bones Show the other day:

Bobby talked about how to best support singing artists and get the best deal for you at the same time. The best deal for consumers, in his opinion, is to pay for a streaming service like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.

iTunes is dead, Bobby said, and so saying your song is number 1 or whatever on iTunes is not a big deal anymore…there’s only like 10 people on iTunes these days (again, those are his words, not mine). I don’t know if that exaggeration is all out of sync with reality or not, but I do know it is an exaggeration, just unsure of the magnitude. I also know I pay for Apple Music myself, listen to it pretty routinely, and I also play the ad-encumbered version of Pandora on my phone quite a bit.

Bobby explained why a paid streaming service is the best deal: even though you are just “renting” music, and you’ll never own it, you have unlimited access to all the artists, all the songs on the service. If you pay for each song you listen to (the iTunes model), you’ll either have a much more limited library or you’ll go broke. He likened it to renting to own furniture, for example, where after you’ve rented it for however long it takes to pay for it…well, then you own it and only it. If you could have a furniture renting business model like the streaming music model, you could have a new couch every week. Seems cumbersome to me, but Bobby got his point across, I think. I can tell you this: after I listened to him talk about that, I went into my closet and looked up at the hundreds of CDs sitting up on the top shelf. Two things came to mind:

1) I haven't listened to more than half-dozen of them in the past five or more years.

2) Think of what I could buy with all the money I spent on those things!

Good week, everyone. Be safe, be well and be good.

References

[1] David Mogen, Ray Bradbury (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986), 113

[2] David Mogen, Ray Bradbury (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986), 119-120

© 2021 greg cain