Now I’m Very Big, I’m A Big Important Man

March 17, 2008

I had been planning on penning a piece about the new Presidents of the United States of America album before real-life interrupted. A friend of mine died tragically today. All deaths are tragedies, but this one was made all the worse for its randomness. An accident. A truck. He was one of the most welcoming people I’d ever met, and one of the smartest. Grad school is a place that encourages people to isolate themselves and to stay away from others. But that wasn’t my friend. We never talked about a lot of things even though we talked about a lot. I found out tonight that he used to write for The Forward but he never talked about it with me, nor did I ever talk to him about my various writings, no matter how insignificant they might have been, even though I always dreamed of inviting him to contribute to the Salad or to our as yet unprinted print companion, Fortnightly Salad. He was a man of diverse interests, and in tribute I’d like to mention two of them, two poets: Saul Tchernichovsky and They Might Be Giants.

Tchernichovsky was a man of the Hebrew renaissance. In my mind, Tchernichovsky, even more than Bialik, was the Hebrew renaissance. He translated the classics into Hebrew, be they from English (Longfellow) or from Greek (the Iliad). He made everything into Hebrew culture, and made world culture a part of the Hebrew rebirth. He even tried to turn the country around him into Hebrew culture, writing such “Canaanite poems” as “My Astarte.” My friend wrote his thesis about Tchernichovsky and his research cuts infinitely deeper than my curt introductory remarks. For me Tchernichovsky is a street more than a poet, an intersection with Bialik and Allenby, and a place of overpriced cafes. Somehow his words became history, became reality, an unbelievable feat.

For a different view on history, consider They Might Be Giant’s “Purple Toupee.” The song is a brilliant reworking of twentieth-century history, a comic inversion of the inversions in society. For me, the song is incapsulated by the brilliant line, “I shouted out, free the Expo 67!” One 60’s event so quickly turned into another. But for my friend the best line was, “Now I’m very big, I’m a big important man.” I never figured out why. Was it the double assertion? The posturing? Or just the great vocal inflections? I’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

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