Constructing a Tangent to a Bubble

Not feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

Not feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.

My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

Looking back, a really smart kid would have jumped at such a father’s suggestion that the best adventure book ever written was “The Royal Road to RomanceThe Royal Road to Romance” by one Richard Halliburton. My brother and I weren’t to be fooled, though. We sure weren’t reading any book with the word ‘romance’ in the title! In his usual laissez faire fashion, he let the matter rest until one of us discovered on our own that, back in the 20s when the book was written, ‘romance’ meant adventure! That sold us.

In the late 20s, young Richard Halliburton fled his boring classes at Princeton to go out into the world in search of adventure. Just as a warm-up exercise, he and a friend, with no climbing experience whatsoever, climbed the Matterhorn.

During his trek around the globe, Halliburton spent the night on the grounds of the Taj Mahal (a capital offense for a Christian in those days) during which he swam in one of the sacred lily pools (a capital offense for anyone.) Years later, when someone challenged the authenticity of his published account of the incident, he returned with photographic equipment and repeated the offense in front of his camera.

Unable to resist the possibility of seeing the stars from the top of Gibraltar, he stayed inside the grounds of the British fortress overnight after spending the day taking pictures of the highly secure establishment. He was robbed by pirates on a ferry from Macao and thought it “a jolly adventure”; he was the first foreigner to ever climb Fujiyama in the winter. He climbed the Himalayas to the province of Ladakh in Kashmir, just because he couldn’t believe the reports of the practice of polyandry – the shortage of women in the village of Lamayuru had led to the practice of a woman marrying, not one man, but a man and all his brothers.

Halliburton was likely certifiably insane. Who else would climb Olympus and spend the night on the top in a thunderstorm? Who else would jump into a 70-foot deep well in Mexico, just to relive the experience of ancient human sacrifice? Who but a crazy man would buy an airplane, hire a pilot, and set out across the desert to Timbuktu without any real hope of getting there?

Whatever his mental state, Halliburton fit more life into his few short years than most of us could fit into a hundred years. At the age of 39, while attempting to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Halliburton disappeared during a storm.

Are 40 years of Halliburton’s lifestyle worth as much as 80 years gathering dust? I’ve already outlived Richard by 10%. It must be time for something.

One song I distinctly remembering listening to while reading “The Royal Road” as a teen was “South Side of the Sky” from the Yes album “Fragile by YesFragile.” While so many of their longer tunes are more akin to orchestral works than hard-edged rock, two-thirds of “South Side of the Sky” couldn’t be classified as anything but rock. Hard driving, blues-based; making excellent use of Chris Squire’s heavy bass, Bill Bruford’s sharp drumming style, and Steve Howe’s guitar. The middle third, though, is a very pensive piano piece, which eventually grows to include muliple layers of vocals, and finally the whole band, in a melody and rhythm completely different from, but complimentary to, the primary tune.

The lyrics, about walking into a blizzard in the mountains, and accepting the inevitablility of death, when combined with the almost peculiar middle bars, have given rise to an idea for a science fiction movie in my head. If anyone’s got Harrison Ford’s number, I’d be glad to discuss it.

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