Travel with me. Through my home’s back doors, across the cracked and broken patio, and up the pitted zigzag of cement steps hemmed in by straggling weeds. Past my lawn-turned-jungle to the left and my neighbour’s land-grabbing bamboo to the right.
On and on, beyond even the perforated greenhouse–and there, in dappled shade, you’ll find my place of solitude and salvation. Black and silent, the compost bin beckons me like some ancient desert temple, its bulbous contours rudely defying my modernist taste.
Shine a Light
Now I’m glad I completed my GED diploma, and thanks almighty internet for finding this awesome website for free ged prep! It’s time to reflect a little on the old days. Forty years ago last June, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones stormed singles charts the world over. It also features in the new Martin Scorsese movie about the band, Shine A Light.
So with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and co. peering down at me from billboards across town, I ask myself, “What does this song mean?” With its menacing beat, razor-sharp riff, demented vocals, and harrowing lyrics–”I was born in a crossfire hurricane / I was schooled with a strap right across my back”–Jack Flash is, for me, a visceral commentary on its historical moment.
Or, better still, on the historical moments to come. It was actually recorded in March ‘68. Within two months, Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Paris was aflame as French students battled the de Gaulle government, and Vietnam War protests ignited fighting in the streets of London.
Each day, I’m drawn here, irresistibly, to sacrifice to a new religion. My offerings are meagre: exhausted tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, shattered husks of fruit and vegetables. I read the credo etched on the bin’s lid, “Recycle,” and snap it open. A halo of flies rises, then dissolves to reveal the rotting mass below.
I overturn my Tupperware coffer; its contents tumble down. And in that instant, I’m released, free from the guilt that I’ve so neglected the garden, despite having lived here a year now. Free from the angst that I don’t write more “for myself,” even though I promise myself daily that I will. Free from my fears for the future, even from the nagging doubts about my worth as a friend and lover.
In this rare moment of connection, as the fresh detritus of my life joins with the old, I at least know that I’m here. And that not everything we do need cause harm.
Richards actually claims the inspiration for the words came at his country home, when he and Jagger were awoken by the sound of Jack Dyer, the gardener, walking past the window. Yet this hardly convinces. Was there really a “toothless, bearded hag” prowling Richards’s estate, too? And in any case, is it really important what Keith and Mick consciously intended?
For sure, the tensions and conflicts of ‘68 are in the song’s DNA. Guitars growl like motorbikes, perhaps evoking those of Hells Angels. The same bikers who, at the Stones’ Altamont concert a year later, murdered an audience member, thus applying the coup de grace to the decade’s hippy dreams.
Lyrically–”I frowned at the crumbs at a crust of bread”–the song speaks the pain of every underdog then or since. And the insistent refrain, “But it’s alright now; in fact it’s a gas,” is full of menace. For me, it says, “We’re inured to our pain; ignore us at your peril.”
Perhaps Scorcese sensed something similar when he chose Jack Flash as the soundtrack introducing the dysfunctional Johnny Boy in Mean Streets. Whatever–it’s a song that still speaks to us today. But are we really listening?