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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A strange business this in America....can you imagine?

"It is quite settled. I am to leave Mansfield Park, and go to the WHITE HOUSE, I suppose, as soon as she is removed there....The EAST ROOM, as it had been called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny’s, almost as decidedly as the white attic...three transparencies, made in a rage for transparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station between a cave in Italy and a moonlight lake in Cumberland, A COLLECTION OF FAMILY PROFILES, thought unworthy of being anywhere else, OVER THE MANTLEPIECE…”

I could not help but think of our favorite authoress (who, even from beyond the grave, has been the subject of a not insignificant British Invasion of the early 21st Century) as I happily watched and listened as Sir Paul McCartney (sitting next to the American president & First Lady, surrounded by an intimate band of true friends, in the East Room of the White House) was first serenaded with his own songs by a succession of talented performers, before he himself took the stage for a spirited set of his most beloved hits, and was awarded the Gershwin Medal for contributions to American culture.

It wasn't just that the concert took place in the "East Room" of the "White House" (was there an East Room in the White House which the British burned only a few months after the publication of Mansfield Park?), with Stuart's George Washington presiding over the festivities frozen in the perpetual bow of a most elegant Master of Ceremonies.

What reminded me, strikingly, of Jane Austen, were the LYRICS of two of Sir Paul's greatest songs. It made me realize that, in a strange but powerful way, Sir Paul and our own JA are alike in having written so many words which have touched the hearts and souls of millions.

And so here, to honor Sir Paul and Lady Jane (well, she was a lady, right?), are the lyrics I heard sung tonight which suggested to me that in his youth Sir Paul very likely was a closet Janeite as a youth.

First, when Elvis Costello sang the following words written by Paul McCartney….

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs of every head he's had the pleasure to know, and all the people that come and go stop to say hello. On the corner is a banker with a motor car, the little children laugh at him behind his back, and the banker never wears a "mac" in the pouring rain---very strange

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes Wet beneath the blue suburban skies I sit and meanwhile back in Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen. He likes to keep his fire engine clean, It's a clean machine

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my ears Full of fish and finger pies in summer meanwhile back behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray And though she feels as if she's in a play She is anyway. In Penny Lane, the barber shaves another customer We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim And then the fireman rushes in from the pouring rain--very strange

….I could not help but think of the following atmospheric portrait of another lane, which perhaps inspired it:

Emma went to the door for amusement. Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury; -- Mr. Perry walking hastily by, Mr. William Cox letting himself in at the office door, Mr. Cole's carriage horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's little bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door. A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.

And then, when I heard Sir Paul himself perform, with great poignancy and power, the following song, which, along with Yesterday, was perhaps the first rock music to dare to aspire to be treated as art…

Ah, look at all the lonely people Ah, look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door Who is it for?
All the lonely people Where do they all come from? All the lonely people Where do they all belong?
Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there What does he care?
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name Nobody came.
Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave No one was saved.

….I could not help but think of what Emma, ingenious imaginist as she was, could not image to herself, when she looked at Miss Bates and saw only a silly middle aged woman:

“Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille. She lived with her single daughter in a very small way, and was considered with all the regard and respect which a harmless old lady, under such untoward circumstances, can excite. Her daughter enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. Miss Bates stood in the very worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her, into outward respect. She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quick-sighted to every body's merits…”

Cheers, Arnie

P.S. Just imagine--if Mrs. Norris had been asked to provide a curtain for this gala amateur theatrical, it would certainly have been a curtain "over which she [would have] "PRESIDED" with such talent and such success, that the Obamas would surely have parted with it to her to take back to her cottage, where she might even now still be particularly in want of green baize.

P.P.S: You want to talk about a romantic moment, imagine what it was like to be Michelle Obama having Paul McCartney singing "Michelle" especially for her!

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