Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake"

You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe. The title has become a neat and tidy response to those expressing the magnetic pull one's home can exert. The idiom enjoys widespread appeal: It says a lot with few words; it simply wrenches at the heart. However, this excerpt from You Can't Go Home Again, while a bit cumbersome, is far more potent, far more devastating. Wolfe informs us that the journey to "return home" is an absolute dead end.
You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake, back home to aestheticism, to one's youthful idea of “the artist” and the all-sufficiency of "art" and "beauty" and "love," back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.
I've long wrestled with whether or not Van Morrison shares such a belief on Astral Weeks. Does he also accept that one can't go home again, back to that place that was lived in and loved, back to that most sacred of settings, "back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting?" I blow hot and cold; I'm certain and uncertain. And then I hear Morrison's otherworldly chant from "Madame George"—"In the backstreet, in the backstreet, in the backstreet / Down home, down home in the backstreet"—and the conjured images of Belfast are so vibrant and sharp it's like the Irishman is there, on Hyndford, the backstreet, his home before he even knew what a home was.

And it's then that I believe Morrison is telling us that you can search the world over for what you truly need, but you will only find it when you return to the old forms, the old systems of things, to where you cataloged the most delicate and enduring moments. You will only find it when you go back home again.

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