Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We're not Worthy

A few weeks ago, I posted something called "heavy metal blunder". There was a quote from a band called Steppenwolf, whose first hit was "Born to be Wild". This song was featured on the soundtrack to Easy Rider, which made Jack Nicholson a star.
Steppenwolf was a painfully relevant group, given to political ranting. They later devolved into a front band for whoever owned the name. As the attached handbill indicates, they once played at the Great Southeast Music Hall. On the next Monday, I was on a Trailways bus for San Francisco. I spent a week in a moonie camp and came back.
"Steppenwolf" was also a novel by Herman Hesse, which I am reading for the second time now. I did a bit of research on it while putting together the earlier post, and was surprised at how little of it I remembered from 1978. I decided it was time for another go through.
There was a girl at my high school, a very pretty cheerleader a couple of years older than I. One day after she graduated, she went downtown, and took an elevator to the 22nd floor of the Regency Hyatt House. She left a copy of "Steppenwolf" on the atrium balcony and jumped into the lobby.
Later in high school, I noticed some of the hippie crowd reading this same book. I said something about "Hess" and was corrected " That is hess-uh, illiterate".
A few more years down the path, I was at the I-85 flea market one sunday morning. A Drive In theatre would rent out space to people selling stuff on sunday morning, and this sabbath I got a copy of "Steppenwolf". A dear john letter and a copy of a birth certificate were inside the book. The introduction was written in 1963 by a professor at Berkeley. The band Steppenwolf was from Berkeley.
The book is about a man named Harry Haller, who is probably a stand in for Herman Hesse. It is set in 1920s Germany. Mr. Haller had been a critic of World War One, which probably had a different name in 1920s Germany. He was not well liked as a result.
Mr. Haller feels himself to be half man half wolf, and does not fit in well with society. He is set to go home and kill himself when he meets Hermine, who breathes life into his putrid existence. There is more to the story, which may or may not be a future post. Maybe the war will end and a candidate I can tolerate will emerge, and I won't have anything else to write about.
The book is full of episodes of synchronicity. I am certain the French have a good phrase for this, but I couldn't pronounce it. I was casting about for an english phrase, which could be applied to these incidents of "fantastic realism". I thought of "yowza". It was used by the Gig Young in a movie, and was repeated in a disco song. So the book has yowzas in it.
The one that got me was the death of Herman Hesse's father. This was in March of 1916, and was two weeks after my father was born. Now, dad was in neutral North Carolina, which Mr. Hesse was in war torn Germany. This struck me as profound, as did other similarities between Mr. Hesse/Haller and your reporter.
There is an episode in the book where Haller meets Goethe in a dream. (And why is Goethe pronounced Gert-tuh?) Mr. Goethe says something uncomplimentary about the times Haller lives in, and Haller immediately tells Goethe that he is correct, that the oldies were great and the moderns are garbage. When I read that, I flashed to the scene in "Wayne's World" where Wayne and Garth bow in front of Alice Cooper, saying “We’re not worthy”.
hesse- Hess, hose, hassle, Jesse, these, hiss
sunday- sundae, sundry, sunray
hermine- heroine, ermine, herman, hormone
yowza- yews, yaws, Iowa, dowse, ooze, doze
Gert-tuh- get up


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