I have set myself a blogging challenge. I’m going to try to find a link between my latest iMac recording (this time about the difficulties of weaning a child off swaddling) and two figures who have haunted my week – Arthur Rimbaud and Carlos the Jackal.
Before I do that, and before you listen to the track (should you choose to), I should confess to a dark secret that will help make sense of what you are about to hear. As a youngster, I used to enjoy a touch of the old Ultravox. In 1984, my brother bought a best of double cassette called The Collection (the second cassette was 12″ versions of their more popular numbers). He and I shared a room and would often listen to cassettes while we were doing our homework. We had to be careful though, because if you accidentally bumped the power cord while a cassette was playing, the power sometimes dropped out for a second and the cassette would end up be stretched at that point, leaving a short, but permanent, dead spot in the song. I remember one of our favourites, Songs from the Big Chair, ended up having about ten to fifteen of this little stretch points.
Anyway, if you happened to walk past 3 Killarney Street, Mosman at any point in 1984 you may have heard me singing Dancing with Tears in My Eyes at the top of my adolescent lungs while I tried to submerge as much as I could of my coltish frame in the large, square basin that we called a bath.
All of this is an attempt to explain (excuse?) the track that follows. I wrote the ‘lyrics’ almost a year ago now when we were trying to wean Tilly off swaddling. For the unitiated, swaddling is where you wrap up your baby for its sleeps so that it can’t move its arms around. You do this because it replicates the feeling of being in the womb, and because they are born with an extreme startle reflect and so can wake themselves up with their flailing little arms. Once they are able to roll over though, you are supposed to stop swaddling them, because while being face down on a mattress with your arms strapped to your body and your mouth full of latex might sound like fun if you’re a Tory MP, for a baby it’s a massive SIDS risk.
Anyway, you can play the track now while you read my attempts to make some kind of connection between the poet, the terrorist, the baby and her father.
Carlos the Jackal has haunted me for the past three weeks as I have been watching a five hour French biopic called Carlos ( spoiler alert – not his real name) screened in three parts on ABC2 (though it had the kind of racy multi-lingual vibe you normally associate with SBS).
Arthur Rimbaud has haunted me this week, because of a review I just read in the New Yorker (I was given a subscription as a gift, so back off) of a new biography of the man. It’s hard not to be haunted by a man who managed to usher in a new literary age before he had reached the legal drinking age (boom! boom!), but that’s not really what spooked me about his life.
Both these men have haunted me because of how powerfully drawn I have always been to the kind of crazy, transgressive life that they both lived in spades. I won’t bore/excite you with the transgressive details, since that’s what Wikipedia (and SBS) are for. Suffice it to say that neither of them would have ever written a song about weaning a child off swaddling. They were both way too busy overturning the existing social, political and moral order.
Now, I’ve never really attempted to overturn the existing social, political or moral order. I may on occasion have given them a tiny nudge, so that they rocked back and forth, almost imperceptibly for a second or two, but the overturning of orders of any kind never appears on my CV.
However, with the help of a therapist I have realised that there is an unexpressed side of myself that is very interested indeed in transgression and the overturning of orders, hence my attraction to Arthur and Carlos (did I mention that that wasn’t his real name?). Why is it unexpressed? Because even though I am a second son, and the prodigal impulse is strong in me, I was never quite brave/stupid enough to really let it out of the bag. I blame healthy attachment.
All this is why, when we tried to free Tilly from her swaddle, and she experienced such distress, I (half)joked to myself that, at only six months old, she was already following in her father’s footsteps: expressing terror in the face of freedom.
As an aside, it occurs to me that weaning off swaddling is a great metaphor for many of our human ills. Something that serves us at one point in our development, ends up as a serious threat to our wellbeing in the next, and yet so often we would rather wilt in the known than thrive in the unknown. When it comes to change or die, it is surprising how often we choose die.
Not that I think Mr. Rimbaud or Mr. the Jackal are good role models when it comes to having a healthy and courageous relationship to change. Rimbaud turned his back on writing at 21 and ended his life working as an arms trader in colonial Africa. Carlos the Jackal is currently serving a life sentence in France after being betrayed by one of his closest ‘comrades’ (not to mention the intensely non-role model type qualities he possessed, like being a narcissist, a misogynist and a psychopath).
So where does this leave the fortysomething father with unexpressed transgressive impulses? Well, my therapist said that I need to find a middle way between the destructiveness of passivity and envy, and the destructiveness of the kinds of transgressive expression that will leave me dead, or alone, or in jail, or trading arms in Somalia.
This is where life becomes a work of art, I guess: working out how to give safe expression to dangerous impulses, what to preserve and what to abandon, which freedoms lead towards life and which towards death.
Step one is, of course, to start recruiting musicians for that Ultravox covers band that I’ve always wanted to front. I refuse to swaddle my inner Midge Ure any longer.