5. An Inane, Dream-Like Progression

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Tim,

As I’ve spent the last several minutes reconfiguring my laptop’s screen, I’ve taken the time to read through the lyrics without queuing up the song, and I think I’m going to approach this part of our correspondence with Mike Scott on mute.

It’s already led to some disconcerting revelations, one being that when listened to as a song, this ten-minute ballad really stretches itself out. When read through on a Word document, however, “A Wild Holy Band” left me with a few jarring narrative gaps. I don’t think this is a detriment necessarily, except maybe to those like ourselves, who’ve taken the song to such rigorous task. Because I feel as though I’m having to reconsider a lot that we’ve already discussed, and, as is typical for Sean, recant what I previously held as a conviction. But to provide some meat to this, a look at structure:

“A Wild Holy Band” is five major verses anchored with a chorus that readers are probably sick of hearing about. Reading through the lyrics tonight, I got the itch to put on my favorite Dylan song, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” as I was noticing a sort of inane, dream-like progression in the verses that I never noticed. In your prior post, you note the quite stark shift in direction from when our narrator briefly meets our “Venus in a V-neck sweater” and subsequently heads out Kerouac style in search of what I previously called this “eternal truth.” Our mutual chorus-probing has rightly dubbed this mysterious female a major player in this song. Yet, we aren’t actually introduced to her until verse three, and she plays no other role in the greater narrative.

“A Wild Holy Band,” much like Dylan’s “115th Dream,” is, instead, a series of odd vignettes. Except unlike Dylan, nothing in Scott’s song directly connects the scenes. I’m forced, in a way, to abandon what I previously held as the crux of the song: the mysteries of the relationship between our narrator and the elusive woman. It’s as though my love of Venus, in her V-neck, dominated my sense of the song’s logic. As I read through the chorus, the prescription doled out by our narrator, I’m not quite buying his advice, or thinking to myself, so what!? I don’t feel any closer to any eternal truth. Scott, I want to say, you had me duped. (I think much of this stems from stripping the lyrics from Scott’s voice, which wraps the song snugly with a reassurance that I’m not taking the time to appreciate.)

But to expand on this feeling, I think a turn to your query about him being alone is in order. As if anticipating this, Scott seems to have delivered the perfect line:

“Like Dean Moriarty’s ghost / I came in quest of secret knowledge.”

Up to this point, I have interpreted this solely as a plot-forwarding device. But it’s Dean Moriarty, man, Kerouac’s paradigm of Beat livin’. The Kerouac tradition leaves me a bit underwhelmed, or more specifically, I feel it carries a cultural significance that I don’t feel is reinforced by his work. Mostly, there is the fact that “Dean Moriarty’s quest,” as a way of living, is such a recipe for disaster. The only knowledge Kerouacian characters seem to accrue comes in the form of shattered friendships. And now, “A Wild Holy Band” seems to be taking the same road. Granted, our narrator is blessed with the ability to reflect on his life’s trajectory, delivered via the chorus. But still he leaves out the golden nugget. The only thing that seems to really matter at the end of “A Wild Holy Band” is what he told her. What that is, however, remains unspoken.

I’m okay with this. Golden nuggets of wisdom often turn to brass when spelled out. But I want more than the instruction to “keep the river on my right, and the highway at my shoulder.” Because for me, as the song indicates, life on the road doesn’t hold much promise. I’m no pioneer.

Sean

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6. Luck, Grace, Fiction

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