Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stoney & Durrell

JERRY JEFF WALKER lyrics

This excellent piece in The American Scholar regards Lawrence Durrell. The article's author, Charles Truehart, writes that he "first encountered Durrell, in my early adolescence, drawn by the clothbound pastel editions on my parents’ shelves, by the idea of a quartet of novels, and by the aroma of decay and sexuality they managed to exude."


My first encounter with Mr. Durrell and subsequently his Alexandria Quartet, was in the parking lot of an A & P Warehouse distribution center in central Jersey. I was just out of college and rather than slipping right into the work equated with my degree, I opted to become a Teamster so that I could work the late night shift at a grocery supply warehouse, loading semi's. The pay was about twice what I would have been getting if I'd worn a suit and tie, even when you consider the considerable union dues taken out each month. Worked out well for me. Late night work negated the amount of money I could spend (luckily Amazon didn't exist back then) and I was able to sock away quite a bit of cash so that the goal of backpacking in Europe with my girlfriend of the time was easily funded.
One particularly hot 'n humid evening, a bunch of us were sprawled around a co-worker's Mustang, car doors splayed open. Like 80% of the night crew, he was a dreamer as well. One fellow was saving his money to buy a truckload of pinball machines that he was going to drive out to Oregon where he had all intentions of becoming the bar game king. This guy, with the music blaring from his Mustang, was a musician and we all know what kind of dreams these folks have. His musical tastes were broad but his preferences were for Wainwright, Parsons, and Jerry Jeff. That night we were treated to Jerry Jeff's "Stoney". Jerry Jeff's seductive voice, so similar to Guy Clark's (especially noticeable if you've seen one of Michael B's favorite DVDs, Heartworn Highways), eased through the song. One line, "He had a gray pillowcase full of books by Durrell" stuck out.
I asked my fellow parking lot listeners if they had any idea who this Durrell character was.
"Maybe one of those Westerns writers", I suppose said one especially well-tuned guy.
"You know, like Zane Gray or Louis L'Amour?"
Hmmm. Well, back in early adolescence while spending some time in the Old Country, I'd gotten hooked like quite a lot of my cousins on Zane Gray. Only, his name was pronounced Tzan Ay GRRRRay.

I picked up a well-thumbed copy of Justine at the local library and was smitten. The balance of my year at the warehouse was taken with completing the Quartet. It was a short year. I ended up buying paperbacks of each book and scribbled throughout, with the last two blank pages completely filled with new words fished out of the book and their definitions. The trip that I was working toward, unfortunately, took on more importance than it should have. Whether it was my own hellbound train of thought or the propulsion set off by Durrell's books, I'm still pondering. There were some very memorable moments as we went through Iceland, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia but our constant movement dotted only by stays of 2-3 weeks in any one place prevented the full effect of any one place from setting in.
Unlike the Alexandria of Durrell's quartet, the cities and towns we stayed in never became one of the main characters. It was, in the end, a rush to a relationship breakup without the pleasure of the fall.

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