I saw Pink Floyd’s The Wall when I was twenty-seven. Most of my friends had seen it in their early teens. The impression it had left them was this: cool. They wore Pink Floyd tees and smoked all their weed listening to the album over and over. They weren’t dumb, nor stoners. Most of them are doing better than I am today, but they were still too young to swim in the many chaotic currents of the movie. Myself, I was probably too busy trying to figure out if Tin Man was gay, and if it was best to begin my ascension to world wide fame in New Orleans or L.A. I missed the whole “making sausages out of children” thing, and was way too fucking flaky to smoke pot. It was only later, at the age of twenty-seven–when karma had knocked me in the teeth a many good times–that I rented the famous movie. Partly because I felt culturally retarded for not doing so earlier, and partly because the video store clerk who’d adamantly suggested it, was crazy sexy. I watched the movie alone, then spent the rest of night thinking about it. It had delighted me and disturbed me. But the word cool didn’t come to mind.
My point ? There are some classics out there–poems, movies, plays, books–that are sometimes read, or seen much too early in the game. The first time I read Plath’s Nick and the candlestick, I thought it was lame. I read it again last year and it moved me deeply. One of my favorite poems now.
I’m having that experience with Whitman these days. I used to read his words diagonally in English Lit class, but I recently picked him up again. As I read through Song of myself, or Poem of the body, I am in awe of his gentleness. His absolute adoration of “us”. If I’d have to pick a religion and go with it, he’d be it. I suppose I wasn’t broken down enough to appreciate his message. Maybe I was in denial of it. Back then, I was moved by Michael Jackson lyrics and thought Kurt Cobain looked a little like Jesus. But, that was beautiful too. It wasn’t anything to stomp on. Yet, as I grow older, I realize that my soul is so much cleaner than it was when I was innocent. I always thought it would be the other way around.
Innocence is not the state in which we begin. There is not bending backwards towards the end.