T. S. Eliot, the Four Seasons, and Politics Today

If you’re ever bored and have nothing to do (as if), just sit there and ask how what is in your mind at this moment got there.

As you know from previous posts, I love doing these psycho-archeological brain digs, trying to figure out how the mind makes all the curious associations and fuzzy-logic links that make up our everyday consciousness.

Here’s one.  For weeks, something was bothering me about the tone of so much political discussion. I’d be listening to a caller on the Diane Rehm show, or a guest on Bill O’Reilly, or reading a columnist in the Dallas Morning News or the New York Times, and I would just pick up this unpleasant, corrosive, disuniting vibe.

So what else is new? Well, tickling the edges of my mind, just outside of conscious control,  was this foggy half-thought: There is some line of poetry from some famous poet that sums up  much of our political catfighting today….But what is it?  For weeks I just couldn’t call it up.

Then, on the 20th Anniversary trip to New York last week, it came to me. We were sitting in the theater watching Jersey Boys, which is a ton of fun if you ever cared even a little about the Four Seasons. Early in the show, the budding band has just met Bob Gaudio, the young songwriter who would go on to pen most of their big hits: Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry, etc. Gaudio, who was the only one of the streetwise Seasons to get any kind of formal education, is sitting in a bar trying to explain one of his songs to a Joisey gal. She asks something about the song, and he explains: “It’s what T. S. Eliot called the objective correlative.” As the crowd breaks up, the girl says, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Then, as the band launched into the next big hit, there it was: Eliot. Bang. The line instantly sprang to mind: “A tedious argument of insidious intent.” That sums up so many political comments today: Tedious and boring, and at the same time insidious, malevolent. A potent combo.

The line comes from Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Here’s the stanza:

Let us go  then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats         
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …         
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And so on. So there it is: a “Tedious Argument of Insidious Intent,” or TAOII. Listen, and you’ll hear them everywhere.

Bonus trivia: Gaudio also wrote (at age 15) “Who Wears Short Shorts” and, later, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” for the Walker Brothers.

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