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06 March 2006 @ 04:29 am

"The whole visible universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value; it is a sort of pasture which the imagination must digest and transform."   - Charles Baudelaire

When I was 17 I started reading the works of the 19th Century French poet Charles Baudelaire.  Some people considered  him a genius. I considered him a syphilitic, narcissist with an amazing eye for detail...  6 of one, half dozen of the other.

The copy of 'Les Fleurs du Mal' (Flowers of Evil) that I had was translated into English by Edna St Vincent Millay, TS Elliot, and other poets.  I had never read anything as disturbingly imaginative as the dark concepts and complex netherworld descriptions he presented to the reader as commonplace.

Apparently, the book was considered scandalous and had shocked the literary world of nineteenth century France.  While I understood how the stuffed shirts would have gotten their pantaloons in a bunch over his descriptions of taboo subjects such as lesbianism, obsessive sexuality, sexual depravity, and embracing death; what grabbed me was his ability to describe the beautiful as grotesque and the repulsive as magnificent. He questioned even the beauty that most of us take for granted when he said:

"If a given combination of trees, mountains, water, and houses, say a landscape, is beautiful, it is not so by itself, but because of me, of my favor, of the idea or feeling I attach to it."

While I didn't necessarily agree with  everything he was saying, his work was very instructive in allowing me to view things in a way that I hadn't before.

The quote that stayed with me that best summed up his talent was in a biography where the author said of him that "he had an intuition for things half seen behind the barriers of reality".

People who set out to paint or write or sculpt or perform, I believe, are generally trying to express something urgent within themselves which needs to be expressed, but which cannot be expressed, or released, otherwise. That may not always be the case, but I do think it is the primary impetus that spurs people on, starting from the time they're babies and are only able to communicate by crying.

Maybe all the talent a person has is there from the time they are born, and it is just cultivated without acquiring any more. Our surroundings and experiences are merely coincidental to how we express what we observe – good or bad.

Of course, Baudelaire didn't feel this way. He said:

"Nearly all our originality comes from the stamp that time impresses upon our sensibility."

Who knows what's right. You live, you die, and in between you believe some things.  Or you don't believe anything at all…

I will say this. I think Rock n' Roll had the potential to be greater than it was. It could have strived to offer more, and it could have cultivated greater depths of thought and expression than light shows and pseudo-intellectual blather.

But who knows. Maybe there's a reason people like Charles Baudelaire never wrote Rock n' Roll songs. Maybe, as much as people tried, Rock n Roll could never get any better than 1957.

 "While I'm far away from you my baby
Whisper a little prayer for me my baby
Because it's hard for me my baby
And the darkest hour is just before dawn"

- 'Dedicated to the One I Love'
   Lowman Pauling
    The 5 Royales

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