Am I Arthur?

Regrets, I’ve had a few
     —Lyric from My Way by Frank Sinatra

Are we still on this theme? The readers who saw my last blog post about the book The Midnight Library know I’ve been poking the topic of regrets for a week. Coincidence, or maybe fate, kept the subject front and center. Unsurprisingly, it started with a book and continued because of a band—reading and music: two of my three principal obsessions. But first, let’s spend a couple of minutes bashing Frank Sinatra.

I often start my blog posts with a lyric. I generally have a song playing on repeat in my brain. It could be the last song I heard—in fact when I go for a run, it’s always the last song I heard, a three or four bar clip, over and over, like a mantra or a fever dream setting my pace. Or the song could be put there by suggestion—a book, a band, a conversation, like Sinatra’s regrets line earlier. When I hear My Way in my head, I don’t think of Sinatra. I abhor Frank Sinatra. My entire adult life, at the end of parties, after last call, when they flip on the lights and pull out the push brooms, My Way is always playing. Somehow, Sinatra became the classy way to shut down the night.

I’m not a classy guy. In college, the frat guys who rolled their eyes at my sleeveless band-shirts and torn up jeans, would sing along with Sinatra. My group paid our tab and returned to the dorms to shout along with the Who or Deep Purple or the Clash. Sinatra’s My Way will forever be associated in my mind with collared shirts, pink shorts and loafers—the uniform of the fraternity crowd at Lynchburg College circa 1983. When I think of My Way, I think of the Sid Vicious version from the mockumentary soundtrack of the Sex Pistols’ Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle. While it’s Sinatra’s line, it’s Sid’s delivery. Splitting hairs? You decide.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been listening to a podcast about the album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by the Kinks. Let’s just call it Arthur. And no, I wasn’t familiar with it either. For the past month and a half, I’ve been listening to the podcast Discord & Rhyme. Eight music nerds take turns discussing individual albums. What’s good (and bad) about the music, what’s good (and bad) about the lyrics, the history of the band and the band members, and dozens of related or semi-related topics. Each episode clocks in at around two hours, so it takes a few days to finish one.

Every morning, I tap play, activate the flashing bike light on the back of my backpack and walk to work. My podcast buddies educate me. This week, I’ve learned about Arthur.

Regrets, I’ve had a few.

Arthur, a concept album, tells the life story of Arthur Morgan. I don’t plan to dwell on the plot, except to mention that Arthur was born in London near the tail-end of the Victorian era. At the start of the pandemic, I saw a meme about people born in the late 1800s. They lived through World War One, the Spanish Flu, Prohibition, the Great Depression and then World War Two. The gist of the meme was quit yer belly aching, you don’t know what it means to suffer. That’s an awful lot of trauma to endure over thirty years. We were all wigged out by isolating for three months.

Arthur’s story depressed the hell out of me. He spends his life working a menial job, making small gains, a tiny home, a telly, the pride of seeing his children grow to adults—although one dies in Korea. At the end of his life, is he filled with regret? The Kinks don’t say. If I was Arthur, I would be.

It makes me wonder what the point is. Why do we live? Someone on Facebook today derided the idea that the point of life is happiness. No, they said, the point of life is to leave your mark, to make a difference. That makes me wonder, if I’m happy but I don’t leave my mark, has my life been pointless? Arthur certainly never made a mark. He performed a job that anyone could do. His one surviving son doesn’t like him that much. The Kinks don’t get into the details, but they don’t mention civic engagement, friendships, or even a dog.  Is Arthur’s life pointless? Am I Arthur?

In my daily life, I interact with a bank teller. She’s impossibly young, probably eighteen. She seems more like a high schooler than a professional. Her whole life stretches out before her. What will she achieve? What mark will she leave? Does she go home to a tiny apartment with a hot plate instead of a stove? Does she have a cat? Is she happy? At the end of her life, what will she regret?

This podcast has doubled-down on the introspective mood left behind by the Midnight Library. It’s probably time for me to seek out some more cheery entertainment.

A few years before they released Arthur, the Kinks released a single called Dead End Street. It sums up Arthur better than Arthur does.

There’s a crack up in the ceiling,
And the kitchen sink is leaking.
Out of work and got no money,
A Sunday joint of bread and honey.

What are we living for?
Two-roomed apartment on the second floor.
No money coming in,
The rent collector’s knocking, trying to get in.

We are strictly second class,
We don’t understand,
Why we should be on dead end street.
People are living on dead end street.
Gonna die on dead end street.

Dead end street
Dead end street

On a cold and frosty morning,
Wipe my eyes and stop me yawning.
And my feet are nearly frozen,
Boil the tea and put some toast on.

What are we living for?
Two-roomed apartment on the second floor.
No chance to emigrate,
I’m deep in debt and now it’s much too late.

We both want to work so hard,
We can’t get the chance,
People live on dead end street.
People are dying on dead end street.
Gonna die on dead end street.

Dead end street
Dead end street

Watch Sid Vicious sing My Way (Content warning: murder, mayhem and some really bad language).

33 thoughts on “Am I Arthur?

  1. I haven’t seen or heard that Sid Vicious version of Sinatra in forever, so thank you!

    I had Missing Persons “Walking In L.A.” stuck in my head for a while.

    I don’t think the purpose of our lives is to leave mark. That’s a little narcissistic for my tastes🤷🏼‍♀️ I think we learn or don’t. I won’t drop all my spiritual beliefs cuz that’s not the point.

    My point is, regrets aren’t really good for anything. I choose to learn and move on. But I’ve been accused of being “Annoying” for my optimism so I also won’t drop all my Live In The Moment stuff either 😉

    How about a song

    Liked by 7 people

    • That clip is hilarious. Imagine the earthquakes if someone made that now. So on further reflection, you’re right. I agree that the point of life is to learn so we don’t repeat it in the next life. Sometimes I get caught up in the corporeal. I had forgotten about Missing Persons as a band. I’ll need to download some of their songs (which maybe I’ll regret). Recently I was browsing a record store and they were playing A Flock of Seagull’s debut. I immediately downloaded about 6 songs. That was one of my faves i the 80s.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That guy’s vicious alright. But at least he did it his way.

    Pfft, on making a mark. Life is change. Therefore, to satisfy the meaning of life, all you have to do is experience all the changes that constantly occur. Which can easily be done without doing anything. The marks we leave aren’t supposed to change, so don’t waste your time on that. Just be open to that which is new, different and unique.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t think the point of life is to leave a mark. I don’t think there is any point to life at all except that which we create. And if we don’t create a point – we live a pointless life – and the only person that can judge us harshly for that is ourselves because we are the only ones who know what the point, or conversely the lack of point, truly is.

    Liked by 3 people

    • All good points. That harsh judgement–AKA regret–is something to overcome. Angie from King Ben’s Grandma reminds me that the purpose of life is to learn. That can be done with or without making a mark. Of course as bloggers, we’ve all left a little stain behind.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder how deep the mark is. How long will my blog last unattended? How long will Amazon carry my books? What if my children don’t procreate. If I needed to chose between them, I’d pick happiness, although really, I can have both.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well that’s a depressing song. There’s nothing to cause despair like being stuck without any options.
    To leave a mark, or not. My nihilistic take is humans are just biology that has grown self-aware enough to wonder about such things. Nothing we do as a species matters a single bit to anyone but ourselves/life on planet earth. As individuals, same. Whatever we decide is meaningful, is. Make ourselves happy, make others happy, leave a mark or fade into oblivion (as almost all of us will do). You get to decide. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Uh, yeah, that is pretty nihilistic. Are you OK? I used to go to estate sales a lot. One of the things that really upset me is when the person who died was an artist hobbyist. I imagined thinking here this person thought they created something great, and I bought it for a buck because I wanted the frame.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well see, they created something that was (probably) meaningful only to them, and maybe they were fine with that, maybe not. But it’s nice to be thoughtful about the person who created it. (Marie Kondo it, if you need to.)

        Thinking of it this way. Where I grew up, people were big on journaling “for posterity” or the descendants who will eventually do their geneology and find us. I.e., it is a way to think of others and leave a mark. But I always journaled because it helps me process and sometimes it’s fun to look back and remember (or cringe, take your pick). I don’t care if no one ever sees it a hundred years from now and I’m probably not going to have descendants anyway.

        We are bloggers. Do we blog to leave a mark, or do we care if it never sees the light of day? Neither is wrong or right, we can choose the meaning of it. I think its beautiful that we can decide what our lives mean to us and where we want to focus ourselves, and make the most of our time on earth, if we want to. I prefer it to always wondering if I’ve missed the boat somehow. (Although I submit that either option is still better than sacrificing our finite lives on the “promise” of a better afterlife!)

        I’m probably writing way too much here. This conversation is fun. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

        Like

  5. I’ve never minded Sinatra–Fly me to the moon I especially like.
    Don’t know that much about the Kinks, except that I remember their song Come Dancing–that will be playing in my head for the rest of the day.
    Arthur seems to be a snapshot of another time–I suppose some people managed to eke out happiness in those times. Others struggled especially my paternal grandparents.
    My paternal grandfather was born in the 1890s and served in WW1. He died not too long after I was born. He was said to have “shell shock” after his service—which I think affected my father’s own mental health.
    I am still figuring out the point of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a great comment, so much here. In the podcast, they talked a lot about the PTSD the WW1 vets displayed. That war must have been a special kind of horrible. I love come dancing. IMO, not a bad song to be stuck with the rest of the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your writing style. I hate Sid Vicious. I like Sinatra. Me, me, me!
    That Monty Python song has been stuck in my head for days. Hilariously brilliant.
    Life is about how we can help others. That’s the point. Small stuff, you know? Like going through a tough time, then finding out that someone you know is now going through something similar. You are equipped to truly listen and support them. It’s amazing and cyclical and, I think, on purpose.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sid Vicious was a horrible individual, but I really enjoy his version of this song. I’m sort of stuck on the entire sex pistols catalog and I have been for forty-some years. That must say something about me (but I’m not sure what). I like your take on life. I think it falls in the ‘making your mark’ category but without any ego. Living for others may be the key. Thank you for your compliment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was once at one of those meetings that start with going around the room for introductions – and everyone has to answer one of those icebreaker questions. “Name your favorite Beatles song.” Luckily for the host, it was a room full of white people over the age of 40. My response: anything by The Kinks. I think The Kinks are sadly overlooked.

    I’m not much of a fan for Sinatra either. However – there is that song that goes, “At seventeen, it was a very good year…”. Incredibly poignant. I get very emotional hearing Sinatra sing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always sort of considered myself a Kinks fan because I like or love all the songs by them I know. But listening to this podcast, I realized that I barely know a dozen songs. I’ve started listening to Arthur now and will continue to expand my knowledge. My favorite Beatles song is either Don’t Pass Me By or Love You To. Those might have generated some puzzled looks in your meeting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, those were the guys I didn’t fit in with at school. Great song. One thing that’s interesting though, my daughter has been going to school in Burlington VT for 2+ years now. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a person in that preppy uniform running around town. I’ve always more associated the look with Connecticut.

      Like

  8. Having read your last post not long ago, I was looking forward to this one making an appearance, and it didn’t disappoint me. I’m not a great Frank Sinatra fan. However, at my Mum’s funeral, we had the song, ‘My Way’ (amongst others), not for the reason that most people would think (I think it’s often played at funerals). We had it because Mum, being her ever-independent self, always said (if we’d offered to make her a cuppa, wash up etc.), “No, leave it; I’ll do it my way.” This became a stock answer from her, and she’ll be remembered for that and many other things, of course, forever.

    As for leaving a mark, I’m inclined to agree with your reader, Sarah Cormier ( above); it’s how much we are there for other people (and the planet in my eyes). How we choose to be with others will impact them (hopefully, in a positive way) for some time. That said, what happens when they’re no longer here? I guess it will then be their impact on other people that will be remembered and on and on…

    Regrets – Sadly, I have more than a few. I married as a teenager and had my first child at 19 and my second at 20. I was far too immature to be a Mum and a soon-to-be-divorced single parent who had escaped from a violent marriage. However, I am making amends and having honest conversations with my children, friends and other family members. I don’t want to die full of regrets when the time comes. On that serious note, I’ll just add that I’ll be singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ for the rest of the week! Perhaps, I should play it on replay – LOUDLY – it might help where I’m at at the moment. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Jeff. It’s been lots of food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s great that you’re working through your relationships and making amends. I’d like to try to resurrect a couple of my old relationships. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to move to a new town and start again.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I love your questions, Jeff. Now you have me thinking. Maybe the point is just to be vessels, holding life. I’m not much for making points, and tend to be mistrustful of those who seem excessively focused on this goal. I think you do a fine job of holding life, in all of its strange and troubling fullness. Thank you for this : )

    Liked by 1 person

    • A vessel holding life brings to mind an earthenware jar in tucked in the corner of an underground tomb entrapping a soul for all eternity. That’s not what you had in mind, right? I’ve been thinking about this for days now, and all I can come up with is my goal is to enjoy the life I’m living.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. They’re a nice, rare treat for me (The Kinks) but often hit the spot. Afternoon Tea is a favorite track. That album was hard for me to engage with but I can see what they did and appreciate it. Cool you’re dabbling in that podcast realm. Fun stuff Jeff…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always thrown the Kinks in that pre-punk or proto-punk category with the stones and various other sixties rockers and had a lot of respect for them. I honestly didn’t know much about their personalities, etc until this podcast. It’s a great way to get to know a band — although I’m being heavily influenced by a bunch of ‘kids’ who grew up on teenage mutant ninja turtles.

      Like

  11. So, Bob and I have had the “when I pass away, this is what I want to be done…” Very morbid, I guess. But anyway, on his list is to have this song played at his funeral. Well, the Sinatra version. Might be a little bit more interesting if I play this version though!
    The Midnight Library did sit with me as well thinking about different life choices and their different respective outcomes but I do like the overall concept of their always being hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob *probably* won’t haunt you mercilessly if you play the Sid version at his funeral. A couple of other commenters said this (Sinatra version) is a popular funeral choice. I guess I should think of a song to play at my funeral–I never really considered the idea before. My ‘signature song’ as a spin instructor was Suicidal Tendencies’ Institutionalized…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know! I feel like Bob has this really long list and I’m still hemming and hawing over whether I want to be cremated or not. And that is the end of my list. But it might be a little fun (for me) to play this version – although it would clearly go against his long list of instructions 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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