Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bruce, Borges and the Fountain of Youth

If youth is the period of hero-worship, so also is it true that hero-worship, more than anything else, perhaps, gives one the sense of youth. To admire, to expand one’s self, to forget the rut, to have a sense of newness and life and hope, is to feel young at any time of life.                 

                     –Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley     
I thought of the late Jorge Luis Borges, the writer, the other day.  Something popped up on Facebook that it was his 113th birthday and it amazed me that I had once been in the company of someone (besides my grandmother) who could be that old now. 

I clearly have trouble accepting this middle-age thing.

I didn’t really meet him.  I had read sections of his masterful Ficciones in college and thought it would be cool to see him at a lecture at my university. I was never really into hero worship but somehow I needed to go to that lecture.  As usual,  I went by myself, lest I be terrified to go with another student who might ask me questions that may have indicated I hadn’t read Borges’ text all that well.  Learning by terror was one way I made it through college. I don’t think I was the only one.

I still have the visual in my head. I was sitting in Cobb Hall only about 30 feet from him on the left side of the auditorium.  Borges was a very old man, seated at a table on stage, barely audible, his papery skin holding a cane with both hands. He whispered his answers to questions that I don’t even remember. I don’t think it even mattered.  It was the kind of interview that only really elderly people get.  Soft and respectful questions then mumbled answers. He spoke in Spanish, another barrier to my understanding.   But I do remember being in awe of someone who actually wrote the magically complex stories that we had studied.

I don’t go to many lectures or concerts anymore. There are the ones with my preteen daughter, but frugality tells me I can download most good music on my iPhone or iPod. Medical stuff aside, NPR now serves as my auditory education in the arts, politics, economics, sociology and the humanities. My minivan is my lecture hall.  Concerts are often a hassle, expensive, and bizarre going to alone. 

Bruce Springsteen was another must-see during college. I remember going to a record of three Springsteen concerts in one week in 1981.  My former roommate was enthralled (obsessed?) with him and although I was just a fan, her fervor was contagious.  I have to say that Mr. Springsteen put on quite a show. I would love to see if now, thirty years later,  he still has that enthusiasm. A recent Rolling Stone article about his nearly 4 hour marathon concert in Europe reported that Mr. Springsteen has not slowed down. Perhaps his fountain of youth is contagious too.

What do we really get out of being in the same room, concert hall or stadium with a famous person or act when their work can be experienced by other venues?

I confess I love biographies. I like to read that the famous and the infamous led real lives. Perhaps at the concert and lecture halls, we get the idea that these people, even with their amazing gifts, are human too.  They live, they breathe, they age, they sweat, they smell like Bengay, they take bathroom breaks, they make mistakes.  Just like us.

But I think Mr. Cooley also has a point.  We get a tiny bit of time back when we connect to those we admire. And not just the pun of the 1975 magazine cover.

Rereading Ficciones again will be easy. I still have the book. I am such a pack rat. 

Mr. Borges, I learned.  Although it seemed it was the very hard way as usual.

Now about seeing Springsteen.  He's appearing at the Meadowlands later this month.

Now that would certainly shed the years and make me forget the rut on many levels.

Logistics be damned.

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