It seems that I tend to post this once in a while, and there’s usually good reason each time. Aside from the fact that this is one of my all-time favorite poems, for me it also calls up a reality check. I’m not alone in that fact, either. And, I have always loved the version that Joni Mitchell arranged, so today I am posting that with the text of the poem. Read deep.
We humans have enough of a history that shows how clearly we are capable of existential damage to each other, as well as our environment. I don’t believe there is anything particularly prophetic in this poem/song, but there are some huge reminders.
The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The KING, the MICE, and the CHEESE, by Nancy and Eric Gurney is a book I read at least 40 years ago, and I’m just getting around to telling you about it now. It was absolutely in the top 10 favorites I would reread. It’s illustrated with fantastic cartooning, especially the mice. I absolutely love how expressive their faces are.
It’s a lighthearted tale of your usual self-important, rich white guy who has a series of problems he needs to solve. In typical fashion, he throws his weight around and until he can get someone else to satisfy his petty whims.
His subservient advisors go to outlandish lengths to please their tantrum-prone Mucky Muck. They begin to bring in everything from cats to elephants in order to try to solve the latest problem. Yet each new catastrophe is really nothing more than the growing happiness of these animals as they begins to relax and settle in to the new home they’ve found themselves in.
Each one is brought there for a specific reason, with never a moment’s thought given to its well being or happiness. He would use them only for what he needed, and after they’d outlived their usefulness to him he would quickly mark them as the next problem his kingdom must eradicate.
The book itself is of course, a work of fiction. Nothing more than childhood stories of the outlandish. I mean, could you imagine the leader of a country being so self-aggrandizing, and so hyper-focused on only his own comforts and whims, yet so blind to the suffering of everyone and everything he can’t use somehow? Thanks just crazy talk.
That’s whackier than a mouse eating a nice cheese dinner, with very good manners.
During the mid to late 80’s I was in school full time for graphic arts, along with a permanent side track for Grateful Dead tour whenever possible. I was also one of those people who occasionally sold things in the parking lot at those Dead concerts. Sometimes I sold food, but more often than not I sold art-related things, shirts and posters mostly.
Back in the spring of 1988 I had started working on an idea for a t-shirt based off of a line in the song “The Eleven” by the Grateful Dead. The words as they are sung are, “Six proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow”. I absolutely love the imagery of those words. Robert Hunter was by far the biggest influence to my writing. He had a unique ability to invoke powerful imagery, yet somehow leave the images formless so that they must be completed by the imaginer. Upon his death I posted this small, simple haiku that reads so plainly as to escape detection for the art it is meant to be. It was my personal ode to my mentor, and a master wordsmith. Simple, honest words, polished like a golden bowl – the finest ever seen.
Back to the shirt… So, I conceived of a piece of art. It would be bordered on all sides by ivy. And then, coming from the back and arcing toward the front would be the rainbow, but like a bridge being traversed by the walkers themselves. Each walker would be carrying a hand bell, shouting their message to the rooftops. All but one walker, he alone carried the jingle bells. It was an homage to an old friend who himself had to leave this world just to be able to once again walk the jingle bell rainbow.
Now, about the walkers themselves… Since it was the 80’s I drew a lot of eyeballs, little eyeballs with arms and legs. Yep, that was my thing. Most of the eyeballs in this piece looked pretty much the same, except for two of them. One of those two stood out in the crowd, he leans on a cane and has donned an Uncle Sam hat. There he stands, one foot on his soapbox, preaching his word to all who will listen. Every parking lot had a few of these folks, spreading their philosophy like Vegemite. The remaining eyeball was my friend Ken, his pate wrapped snuggly in a bandana, hawking some t-shirt in the parking lot (in my mind, it was the very shirts I was drawing).
Having letters that spelled out “Six proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow” were also a part of my concept. Done in 60’s concert poster style, the letters snake and intertwine, leading the eye to new places.
When I came up with the design, I didn’t have the ability to do multicolor screen prints, but I could create single color screens. So, using what I had I decided to make the art to be a black and white line-art base that I would screen print onto the shirts first, adding additional color on top later. You can’t have rainbows in black and white!
Eventually, what I ended up doing was to using my airbrush to individually spray each individual color into the piece. Each leaf in the ivy had to be sprayed in green. Each color of the rainbow had to be sprayed along the arc of my rainbow road, each in perspective, hopefully coming from smaller point and getting larger as I went. And while I was spraying all that color onto my rainbow, I wasn’t supposed to be spraying it all over those cute little eyeball dudes walking along my rainbow road. In order to get around that problem, I tried to fashion cutouts that I could place over each eyeball to protect them from getting painted as I sprayed away. It sort of worked with mixed results, but it was a huge pain.
I think I only ever made one or these two shirts that I was happy with. So, after giving up on that method of coloring the art, a tie dye artist friend named Chris created some rainbow dyed versions, which certainly was in keeping with the spirit of the rainbow. But, in the end I sold a lot of black and white versions of the shirt. And after I had drawn it and made the screen, the original art was put in a portfolio and forgotten about, never to see the light of day again for another 32 years. In fact, until recently when my friend Andy sent me an old picture of him wearing one of these shirts (below is a blurry, partial shot of Andy wearing the black and white version), I hadn’t seen the art in decades.
Well, I was recently on one of those covid lockdown tangents/projects when I came across the original artwork for the “six proud walkers” piece in that old portfolio. I decided to scan it in so I would at least have a digital copy finally.
And then I got to thinking… You know, aside from one or two shirts that probably disintegrated decades ago, I never had a finished copy of this piece to keep. So dammit, with the help of technology I am currently airbrushing the color on to my black and white art as it was originally conceived to be done (see below, again). But I am also trying to do it in a way where I can be shared with others, and that maybe it will give a few other people a smile, I hope.