Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eden / Maddox Table

Eden (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time in Eden)

We are the roses in the garden
beauty with thorns among our leaves
to pick a rose you ask your hands to bleed

But what is the reason for having roses
when your blood is shed carelessly?
it must be for something more than vanity

Believe me, the truth is we're not honest
not the people that we dream
we're not as close as we could be

Willing to grow but rains are shallow
barren and wind-scattered seed
on stone and dry land, we will be
waiting for the light arisen to flood inside the prison

And in that time
kind words alone will teach us
no bitterness will reach us
reason will be guided in another way

All in time...
but the clock is another demon
that devours our time in Eden
in our paradise

Will our eyes see well beneath us
flowers all divine?
Is there still time?

If we wake and discover
in life a precious love
will that waking become more heavenly?

______________________________________________

Maddox Table (from the 10,000 Maniacs album The Wishing Chair)

The legs of Maddox kitchen tables
my whole life twisted on a lathe
in a foreman's torrent
my first English was
"faster boy if you want your pay"
barking commands
loud and simple
we could all obey

Then I was forever pulling silvers
rubbed the sawdust always
deeper in my eye
varnish vapor that could linger
on my skin
it held tight
the whine of spinning blades
still echoes to bother my sleep at night

See that ox
stamped dead center
on the letter head of the company mail
four decades a spitting image
of the animal I portrayed
at Maddox Table a yoke was carved
for my neck

Sun through the window oil spattered
and in mason jars
tricked plenty seeds thrive
the standing joke
around the shop was
with my green thumb
anything'd grow
my part was to laugh
show and ornery jig had
cut it at the knuckle bone

See that oxen
trade mark burned
into every stick of furniture
from horn to tail
four decades a spitting image
of the animal I portrayed
at Maddox Table a yoke was carved
for my neck
was tailor made

Oh, my Dolly was a weak
not a burdened girl
treat her to a piece of vaudeville
a Wintergarden moving picture show
Bemus Point on July Sundays
by trolley we'd go

To your benefit we'll strike a bargain
with the waving fist of a union man
not just for
smokes
spirits
candy and cologne
but for
automobile keys
cash in the bank
and the deed
on a place called home



A few weeks ago I went to visit a friend in a nursing home. As I was leaving, I passed through a room where several residents were gathered around in their wheelchairs. I surveyed the faces. For the most part, their expressions were painfully similar - the vacant stares of people who no longer know where they are or perhaps even who they are. But from the back of the room was a sound, the only noise in that room that was louder than the small radio blaring You Don't Bring Me Flowers by Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand, louder than the TV's game show contestant cheers. It was the sound of an old woman sobbing.

There was only one person in that room conveying any emotion and the emotion she was conveying felt so...right. It made me sick to my stomach. And it also made me feel oddly comforted. I felt like there was another person in that room who understood how awful this all was, how cruel and unjust that people should spend their final years in such a miserable condition. I hoped that if I was ever in her situation someday, I would have the presence of mind to know I should be crying.

Eden, I suppose, is a song about imperfection - the imperfection of humans, of our surroundings and of life itself, perfectly symbolized by that thorn-filled rose. Pain and beauty are intertwined in this life and no one gets away with only joy and no sorrow. But the lyric that defines the song for me is this one:

but the clock is another demon
that devours our time in Eden
in our paradise


I live eternally in the future. I have no concept of this "be in the moment" business. I'm trying to learn. I can't tell you how frustrating it is when in the middle of a beautiful, joyful moment in my life, I start thinking about when the moment will be over, about how I'll feel if I can't have this joy anymore. I start feeling depressed halfway through a vacation because I'm already anticipating having to go home. Instead of fulling immersing myself in a great concert, I end up thinking during every song, "I hope this isn't the last song, I'm not ready for this to be over." It's infuriating to be inside my own time-traveling mind. So this lyric in Eden about the demon clock that steals away those perfect moments in life, it resonates with me very deeply. I don't know many people my age who think about how they'll feel when the are in a nursing home. I wish I was like them. But I'm ever aware of that clock. I may not live in the moment very well, but I don't take things for granted either.

While I don't dwell on my own past much, as I get older I find myself more and more nostalgic for things that are no more, for things that have been no more since well before I was born. It's this sense of longing for forgotten things that has fueled my recent obsession with record-collecting (as I type this, I'm listening to 1951's The Provocative Erroll Garner and wondering when the word "provocative" started being used primarily in reference to naughty things.) This nostalgia caused my recent willingness to get rid of almost all of my possessions so I could afford to live in a neighborhood established around the turn of the century and soak up its feeling of history. It is perhaps this same nostalgia that makes me love the song Maddox Table so much.

Maddox Table was founded by William Maddox in 1898 in Jamestown, New York and operated into the early 1980s. Furniture manufacturing was at the core of Jamestown's livelihood and when that all started going overseas, it must have felt like the city went with it. A quote from Natalie:

"It was probably a great place to live in 1920. There's still two or three factories operating, but it's really bad, veneer-coated stereo components, those kind of things. That's what they're reduced to making. It's incredible. You can go to the second-hand shops and antique stores and find specimens of this beautiful woodworking that used to be done there. When someone was first married and they bought a bedroom suite it was like for royalty it seemed, but it was something everyone could have."*

I think Maddox Table is far and away the best song on The Wishing Chair. This song really foreshadowed the lyrical style Natalie Merchant would make her own as she progressed in her career. She slips so easily into the skin of this factory worker, describing the things he sees, hears and smells as he slaves away. I love the level of detail she includes, like the description of the Maddox Table logo, which you can see a poor image of in the picture below:


Here are two more quotes from Natalie:

"I met an old man who used to work at Maddox Table. I told him I'd written a song about the company, and I gave him a copy of the record. I never thought I'd meet someone like the person in the song."**

"I have a ridiculous level of nostalgia for something that maybe never even existed. But growing up around my grandparents and spending a lot of time sitting around the front porch with their friends, everyone was always saying it used to be so much better."*

I really love this quote. Maybe Natalie hit upon what this form of nostalgia really is - not just a longing for the past but a longing for the idealized version of the past. While there are obvious dangers in idealizing the past, it seems like we have such a deep-rooted need to do so.

I can acknowledge the fact that the woman I saw crying in the nursing home may have been just as mentally lost as everyone else in that room. She may have had no idea at all why she was crying. But in my idealized version of that moment, she was crying because she was mourning her better days, mourning the memory of what she used to have, real or imagined. There is beauty in that, no matter how sad it is.


Click here to watch the music video for Maddox Table

Download Eden from Itunes - Eden - Our Time In Eden

Download Maddox Table from Itunes - Maddox Table - The Wishing Chair

*Los Angeles Times - August 1989
**Vegetarian Times - March 1989
Bottom photo source

6 comments:

  1. Thank you. Your comments on Eden make me wish you would take one future post and fully expound-line by line- on this beautiful work by Natalie and the Maniacs. The lyrics are not fully appreciated until one reaches a certain age and has experienced loss and the passage of time. Phil

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  2. Hi Philip -

    I agree with your sentiments about Eden and the passing of time. As you could probably tell by my post, I think it's a great song.

    Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Thanks for doing the research on Maddox Table! It's cool to see what the logo looked like. I went to Jamestown last month and walked around the old factories and brick alleys in the rain, and I feel like I gained a new appreciation for the inspiration behind much of The Wishing Chair.

    I love your blog, by the way :)

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  4. Hi Elizabeth -

    I'd love to visit Jamestown one day...or any other area of Western New York. The closest I ever got was a few days in Rochester, a place which I enjoyed greatly.

    Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment, I really appreciate it!

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  5. Great job in the blog, with Natalie Merchant, my regards
    from Spain.You can also visit my blog about natalie.
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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey that's so cool that you have a Natalie blog too! I will plug it on my next post. Keep up the good work!

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