Tag Archives: Fiddler on the Roof

Wish I knew, oh baby

At the end of your life you will groan,
    when your flesh and body are spent.
You will say, “How I hated discipline!
    How my heart spurned correction!
I would not obey my teachers
    or turn my ear to my instructors.
And I was soon in serious trouble …”
—Proverbs 5: 11-14

The 1973 song “Ooh, La, La” by the British rock group Faces has been covered many times, and gets

Folder of Folderol

resurrected from time to time in pop culture by inclusion in movies, TV shows and commercials. [1] No surprise, I suppose, since — in short select snippets — it has a pretty upbeat melody and palatable message:

“I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger.
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.”
— Faces, 1973 (Lyrics by Ronnie Lane & Ronnie Wood)

In reality the song is bitter-sweet at best, its balance consisting of regret, remorse and wistfulness.  It’s actually part of a big club; there’s a pretty substantial list of songs that sound pleasant yet can pain one’s heart when you listen carefully — or read the lyrics.

Consider Abba’s “Mama Mia”, the Spinners’ “I’ll be Around”, The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” and Elvis Costello’s “Allison.” Or even previously mentioned “Happy Anniversary, Baby.” These all come off OK as elevator music and even party music; but they all have a bittersweet and even dark side.[2]

I suppose Rod Stewart might want to have known in 1973 what he learned a few years later.  When Faces cut their last album “Ooh, La, La” with the eponymously named single, well, Sir Stewart already had a very large and growing personal music career outside of Faces, even though he was also simultaneously lead singer for Faces for most songs.

Stewart and Faces were already falling out when he decided that “Ooh, La, La” was a crappy song and beneath his dignity.  It would never go anywhere.  Or so he thought. The producer insisted it stay on the album, and convinced co-writer Ronnie Wood to do the lead vocals.

The song was a winner, and has been ever since. It reached #1 in the UK, and #21 in the US.  Stewart finally covered the song himself in 1998, and his raspy voice is often associated with it, although “Woody” did the original and classic version.

Simply read the lyrics and the song’s meaning is fairly clear, although open to some interpretation, as all good works of art are.  My interpretation: a man is reflecting back on a chat session with his grandfather from very long ago.  Grandpa seems bitter and gives him only a few hints about women, perhaps as a metaphor for life.  Then gramps sort of stops and says something like: “oh, you won’t really listen anyhow. You’ll just have to go out and learn by yourself.  I was the same way.  Good luck with that. Be prepared.  It will probably hurt.”

And then the man reflects: … wish I knew then what I know now … now that I’m older.

It is an old message. An old story. See Proverbs.

_____________________________

I’m going through a lot of old “crap” that we’ve saved over the decades.  This is partly to simplify my life, partly to make it easier for our kids when we move on, and partly to refresh some memories.

A few weeks ago I came across a sheet of paper that staggered me. Notes I’d made to myself a very long time ago.

I’ll try to shorten the backstory. But from 1969 to 1979 I was practically illiterate.  Turns out that I had a rare form of epilepsy that, among other things, made it almost impossible to read intently for more than a few minutes at a time.  I just learned to fake it, listen closely in class, and passed all my courses, although I recall “earning” a grade of D in one high school literature class.  Mercy was in play. I tried to hang around the smarter kids in lit classes (usually girls) … if and when they would put up with my stuttering and facial ticks.

Coming out of grad school in late 1980, now treated with medication, I was determined to catch up.  I read everything I could. Motivation? I felt culturally lost.  I stayed up very late on many nights. Went through piles of books.

I picked up a faddish book of the time: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I really struggled with that book.  What a waste of time. Or so I thought.

Several months later, in November of 1981 {when I thought there was still a chance with Miss Summer of ’81 (See Happy Anniversary, Baby)} I spent many hours in deep reflection and self observation. Revelation: Clearly  Joe, you have some problems.  But, what are they? And what would motivate me to dig critically deep and make some changes?

I scribbled some motivation.  Growing old together.  Just time at the mall, or on a beach. Sledding after a surprise snowstorm. Or lingering over a morning cup of coffee.

Now, dig Joe.  Dig down where it hurts. For some reason some paragraphs from “Zen” came back to me.  I went back to the book.

There is a section in “Zen” on Gumption Traps worthy of review.  I copied some sentences. Then, as memory becomes clearer, I spent hours and days thinking about them.  How could they be expanded and applied?

I really wanted to be worthy. In “Zen’s” words: exhibit Quality.

The Gumption lessons apply mostly to setbacks and struggles. Now slightly expanded, slightly edited and made more blunt by time, these can be simplified to:

  1. Develop patience and fortitude — the good things in life are worth waiting and working for.
  2. When there is a conflict or a setback: step back, mentally slowly walk 360 degrees around the issue to consider all points of view. (i.e. eliminate “rigid thinking“).
  3. Be open to the possibility that others have a good reason (to them) for why they do what they do.
  4. Make yourself a subject of study.  Especially: Know your weaknesses and personality flaws. Then: manage your life and behavior appropriately. If you think you have no serious flaws and weakness — then pride is the first one to identify.
  5. Seek and accept counsel of elders.
  6. Be creative in finding things to be grateful for; and be creative in expressing gratitude.

[* By the way, most of these lessons were in play while courting the wonderful Miss Audrey soon thereafter, although I wasn’t a very good student

** I’ve always thought about the topic of candor, but haven’t included it.  I’ll just say every relationship needs it, and from the beginning.  Too much, too soon is dangerous. And too little too late is dangerous too; in fact, catastrophic.  Be careful out there.  It’s a timing thing.]

Portion of “Notes to Self”, mid-November, 1981

Sad, I suppose, but I have to keep re-learning all of these.  I had only a vague recollection of even writing them down. I had stuffed them in a box with a bunch of other notes of folderol I was accumulating from all that reading.

I nearly wept upon finding them and the decades of memories they brought.  How … could … I … always … be … so … dense?

And … of course … my wonderful mother had been telling me all of these lessons since my earliest memories.

Guess I’m just like the old proverbs, stories and songs: You’ll just have to go through life and learn it on your own. And oh, it will often hurt.

Q: “What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?”

A: “Now they must learn from one another …
Day by day”

— Tevye asks; Golda replies. From the  song Sunrise, Sunset, from  Fiddler on the Roof.

I’m also going through piles of stuff from my parents that have been haunting me in the years since they’ve moved on.  Time to thin all this down too, for the same reason: our kids shouldn’t have to do this.

Came across one more gem from my mom’s collection of notes.

Be nicer to everyone than necessary — nearly everyone is fighting some kind of battle.

It’s now my tagline. The only really significant regrets I have are that I’ve hurt others.

Wishing you all peace and strength in dealing with your battles and foibles.

Cheers

Joe Girard © 2017

 

Footnotes
(1) “Ooh La La” has been featured in the following movies: Rushmore (1998); Without a Paddle (2004).  In the following TV series: Grass (2003); Blackpool (2004), Entourage (HBO) and Californication.  It’s also been used by Nike in a 2005 commercial that used images of a very young Tiger Woods playing golf.

(2) Some insightful lyrics [I’ve added the words in brackets that I think can be inferred]
Mama Mia:
“Look at me now, will I ever learn?
I don’t know how but I suddenly lose control
….
“Yes, I’ve been brokenhearted
Blue since the day we parted
[Oh] Why, why did I ever let you go?”

What a Fool Believes
“The sentimental fool don’t see.
Tryin’ hard to recreate what had yet to be created”

No wise man has the power to reason away … [what a fool believes he sees]”

Allison
“Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
when I hear the silly things that you say.”

Oh, Alison, my aim is true.”

I’ll Be Around
“You made your choice, now it’s up to me
To bow out gracefully

and yet …

“Whenever you call me, I’ll be there
Whenever you want me, I’ll be there”

Happy Anniversary Baby
“…when I look back baby
…look back to what we had.
And I know I’m countin’ good times,
But there were just as many bad.”