Live and Learn
An Album by Jack Murphy
Having been thrown clear of the car upon impact, I floated down towards the Pacific Ocean which was rushing up at me due to the accelerating nature of gravity. My girlfriend, Gloria, yelled something to me as she hurtled passed to my left clutching the dazed goat, amid a shower of windshield shards. I think it was a continuation of the conversation we were having just before we struck the goat and careened into the retaining wall only to move on through the windshield — I clearly remember thinking how surprising it was to learn that, in addition to her penchant for provocative clothing, Gloria possessed such extraordinary powers of concentration and this almost childlike curiosity. You see, we had been deep in a discussion of Jack Murphy’s new album and how unsettlingly eclectic, haphazard in fact, the songs are — my position, not Gloria’s. She maintains there is a sort of mystical connection that binds the disparate elements together, charming the ear into hearing continuity and the heart into embracing the notion that some sort of an actual belief system informs the lyrics. "They all kinda sound the same in a true way," was what she actually said. Right before the goat wandered in front of the car, I screamed at her, "It’s all a cheap trick, can’t you see that?" She did not see that. I did not see the goat. At about two hundred feet above the quickly approaching waves Gloria’s question reached my ears with unexpected clarity: "He wrote good stuff with Frank Wildhorn, didn’t he? All those Linda Eder songs … they were good weren’t they?" The rest of Gloria’s declarations were intermittent due to the high winds, sounding like a radio with a bad tuner — "Tony nomination … record alb … Fillmore East … all can’t … cheap trick!"
When Gloria and I awoke in the cheesy hotel room we had rented below 26th Street somewhere in Chelsea, the goat was not there. I looked around. The bathtub had overflowed and there was water all over the floor an inch deep, but there was no goat. Oh, how I missed the goat who, at least in my drunken disjointed dreams, represented some sort of touchstone for musical truth, instead of the main course at the Middle Eastern restaurant where we had dined the night before, awash in Oozo. We turned off the water, emptied the tub, began mopping up, and continued discussing Murphy’s album, Live and Learn.
The title song was one that we both agreed had merit. However, I felt it’s unbridled optimism was out of character with Murphy’s fundamentally dark world-view. Gloria thought it had a good beat and said it gave her "marionette feet." The Picture Show was so obviously inspired by Cinema Paradiso that I thought an infringement of copyright lawsuit couldn’t be more than a goat or two away. It was then that I found out that in addition to her penchant for provocative costumes, her powers of concentration and childlike curiosity, Gloria was also a paralegal. She informed me that a lawsuit was unlikely due to the murky nature of copyright law. She smiled and said she liked movies a lot and could we please get some more Oozo? A bit early, but all in all not a bad idea.
We checked out. The clerk at the front desk eyed us suspiciously but said nothing as I offered him my Discover Card — the only one that had not yet been confiscated due to the slowness of the computers used by Sears. I felt the need to say something haughty to cover my embarrassment about our wet shoes squishing shadowy footprints on his faded carpet and the fact that we had no matching luggage, but I couldn’t think of anything. Gloria, sensing my predicament, tossed her head back like Bette Davis and spat out "What a dump!"
We hit the street. Finding Oozo at nine in the morning can be problematic so after some debate, we settled for a six-pack of Budweiser from a bodega on eighteenth and sixth. This was when we explored the "fall songs" as I refer to them. It seems so obvious when one looks at the titles on the album dispassionately: Katey Fell … If I Fall — same verb, different tense — as if Murphy’s imagination was defeated immediately after plagiarizing the idea for The Picture Show. Both of the "fall songs" deal with the uncertainty of romance, but the second is far more adolescently full of hope. Katey Fell, on the other hand, encourages the listener to jaded pessimism — a knowing wag of the head, a rueful smile — until the last couplet rescues the heart. Shameless sentimentality. Gloria said it made her "so angry to think that Katey was gonna make the same awful mistakes she always made, falling for the same transparent lies from the same shallow losers—" she stopped suddenly, suspecting that an autobiographical tone had crept into her voice. Gloria popped open another Budweiser and we continued on towards Greenwich Village where we had parked the rented Geo Metro the night before. What can one say about Holiday? Maracas, puffy sleeves, swaying palm trees … you’ve got a lot of splaining to do Mr. Murphy. Gloria simply squealed, grabbed her right elbow with her left hand, threw her head full of pink hair back and did a series of mambo-like pirouettes before becoming too dizzy to continue.
We found the car on Bleeker and Lafayette as it was being hooked up to a Police tow truck. My pleadings and protestations notwithstanding, the Geo Metro was impounded. They said it was going to some place in Brooklyn. Gloria and I sat on the curb in the space formerly occupied by the rented car. Brooklyn was out of the question, so I borrowed Gloria’s cell phone and called the car rental agency to inform them of the car’s whereabouts. They seemed very upset.
Sitting there — head in hands, asses on the curb and feet in the gutter — Gloria and I looked like the personification of the last four songs on Murphy’s album, known collectively as The Black Oxen Suite. All of these songs smack of rear-view mirrors and reverse gears, casting about in an effort to see how our lives lead us to where we wind up. As far as I’m concerned this is true Murphy territory: lonely, bleak, longing for a redemption he suspects will never be found:
"The years like great black oxen tread the world
And god the headsman goads them from behind.” —Yeats, 1913
Gloria’s analysis was somewhat different. "Under The Shelter Of Youth has a really cool middle part and I like the Background Ooos on Forever Young. Everything Comes and Goes is pretty just like Jack’s wife, but Hurricane creeps me out a little."
— Jimmy The Gent, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2003