I wrote this letter to ediotor of “BBC History Revealed” during my lunchtime today upon reading an article about the Wild West. A prospect of its publication is beyond the pale, outside the boundary of even the slightest hint of flattering hope and vain wish. Yet, I was egged on by to express my opinion on it as a new frontier-woman in California with the literary advice from Henry David Thoreau and Horace Greeley that the West is where we can start anew because of the Pacific Ocean, a terrestrial version of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness.
The article about the Wild West in this month’s issue was particularly interesting, since I am a recent immigrant from the East to the West: the restive nature, the swashbuckling gunslingers, the outrageous outlaws and the ruthless vigilantes were all embroidered on the popular Hollywood-generated image of the West that became something of a factoid to people living outside the West.
Even though the U.S. Census Bureau declared in 1890 that no more western frontiers were left to conquer, I believe that the culture and ambiance of the West remains here in California. As someone who lived many years in New Jersey and the New York City before moving to Camarillo, the most distinctive characteristic of California is its unsullied beauty of nature in replacement of the skyscraper jungle as I see every day on the commuter’s railways.
Surely, there’s no more John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, or Paul Newman with Robert Redford walking in the streets. Yet, the spirit of eternal youthfulness is still nuanced by a combination of its beautiful rusticity of nature and a diversity of people interacting with the special aura surrounding the land. For this reason, the West has not lost its charm with its continuous saga of immigrants in search of better future and the timeless beauty of nature.
I had thought Joe Meek as an imaginative character in the eponymous title of electronic music by Matmos until I came upon an article about the real Joe Meek from this month’s History Revealed. Since I liked the music, I read it with relish, which was also a great pleasure entertaining a long commute time on the last train home after work. It was indeed worth the reading because the article was both informative in telling about this highly sensitive artist who was ahead of his time and reflective in leaving the reader to ponder about what rushed into to cancel his own fate in his own hand.
Joe Meek was an innovative and unique record producer in 1960s, but he was more of a maverick figure in the music industry because of his uncompromising individuality in musical taste paired up with his blazing volatile temper, which were attributed to his thespian epilogue. But according to the article, the most capital assumed factor contributing to the tragedy of Meek was said to be his homosexuality in the time when it was an illicit tendency of warped minds and degenerate souls that belonged to Sodom and Gomorrah. That is to say, shoehorning obsession with sexuality into the sine qua non of a man’s demise is a non sequiter without considering other evidentiary elements.
It seems that Meek had cultivated the trauma of violently depressed, pitifully unstable childhood into a grand unified theory of self-loathing that in turn became self-indulgence to an inordinate measure. It was more of a lack of parental love and support in his childhood that fueled Meek’s high-strung disposition like an unquenchable prairie fire in wilderness. It is a precipitately formulated hypothesis that Meek’s tragedy ensued from his paranoia of persecution of homosexuals in his time. For a panoply of unpleasing manifestations, including alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive copulation, enduring guilt, and an inability to form a lasting emotional relationships, are also shared with heterosexuals. To me what Joe Meek suffered from was his inner conflicts with his unhappy past, his sovereign artistic sensibilities that made him uncommunicative and estranged, and his sense of insecurity, all pitchforked in existential reality of life where he as an indie producer had to constantly worry about what to do next if his records did not produce lucrative results. To corroborate this hypothetical theory, Joe Meek was said to have a Janus personality, redolent of the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because he was also a very affable person with polite manners and a sense of good humor in to the bargain.
Such a man of complex inner world is often prone to fatal mental breakdown, which happened to Joe Meek. What carried Meek over the last sacristy of his sanity was his being interrogated by the police for the infamous “Suitcase Murder,” an epochal murder plastering the headlines of the media in January 1967 when the raped and dismembered body of 16-year-old Londoner named Bernard Oliver was found in two suitcases near the city. The police was hell bent on investigating all homosexuals in the city, especially the high profiles ,one of whom was the unfortunate innocent Joe Meek. Consequently and patently, the Inquisition let loose his sanity, resulting in his shooting his landlady and ending his own life thereafter. He was only 37 years old.
Therefore, to conclude that it was all about his homosexuality and nothing more causing his tragic end seems to ignore other more mental, spiritual, and existential matters that Meek must have struggled with. A spiral of loneliness, insecurity, frustration, and disorientation was Joe Meek’s quagmire, and from this quagmire in turn came his own killing field. “See though fear. Face the fear. Recognize a lie or a masquerade for what it is and deal it with a mortal blew,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson during his lecture to young men. But sadly, Joe Meek was too beaten down in harsh existential life where he felt unwelcome all the time despite his great artistic achievements. Thus, to end himself seemed to be the only escape from emotional turmoils, “for who would bear the whips and scorns of time… the pangs of despised love… when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?” –Hamlet, Act III, sc I.
Author’s Note: This writing is based upon my review of an article about Joe Meek from this month’s historical magazine History Revealed. Normally, I would bypass an article of similar nature, but this one held my attention for the following reasons: (1) Joe Meek’s dilemmas ensued from his inability to cope with the demands imposed on daily tasks in life due to a constant grip of depression and anxiety; and (2) application of Freudian psychoanalysis on his miserably repressed sexuality in public to the proximate cause of his tragedy disregards the more essential elements of humanness. For these reasons, I felt pathetic toward his life, and thus wrote this writing.
All would have been well if the truth had remained buried under the dusty files of forgotten letters from the past in the bottom drawer of History. Alas, it happened – a recent revelation of the letters delineating Charles Dickens, a literary great whom I admired, concocting a plot to send his sane wife to a mental institution in order that he and his 18-year old paramour could be forever together.
How and why these forgotten letters have been brought into light out of the blue are clandestine from my reading of the article about such letters from the recent issue of a history magazine. Besides, the possession of the letters is curiously divided between the Atlantic Ocean because some of the letters are held by Harvard University in the U.S., while the others by the University of York in the U.K. The article does not provide the reader with more detailed information as to whys and wherefores of such divisional custodianship of the letters, not to mention the background of such uncovering of the provocative textual artifact that would certainly do no good on Dickens in any way. Methinks it would be a possibility that a descendant of the estranged wife Catherine Hogarth or even of their eldest child might have staged this rather dramatic publicity of the letters revealing the other side of the great writer out of indignation as comeuppance for his sins of adultery and perjury, which in a twist of whimsical irony befits the ethos of #MeToo Movement.
The content of one such letter written by a neighbor of Catherine Hogarth details the following: (1) Dickens at the age of 45 fell madly in love with 18-year old actress named Ellen Ternan: (2) it was the death-knell of the marriage, pace Dickens’ complaints about his legal wife; (3) his wife confronted him when a bracelet meant for the young actress providentially was delivered to her, after which she separated from him by moving to a house in Kent with their eldest child. The rest of the children were in the care of their aunt, while Dickens continued his relationship with the actress until his death; and (4) after the separation, Dickens tried to seek for divorce from the court by trying to prove that his wife was mentally unstable and that she would be sent to an asylum. However, the attempt to seek such remedy was foiled by the absence of proof of her insanity.
The whole scandalous charade of this great literary figure reminds me of the axiom by Ralph Waldo Emerson that the admiration of great works of geniuses should not become the worship of idols. That is, one must disembarrass the idea of a story from the person of the author, who is only a fallible, whimsical, temperamental human. The works of writers, I believe, are a separate reality based upon their epistemological knowledge magically alloyed in imaginativeness, ideals, and dreams in the peculiar alchemy of literature that deserves of distinguished approbation and recognition. In this regard, my disappointment with Dickens as a person should be kept separate from my admiration of the humane characters he created and the benevolent stories he entertained. Sometimes, it’s better not to know much about whom you like lest his follies and faults should dishearten you against your wishes and imaginations. For these reasons, I am more in sorrow than in anger upon reading this troubling article about Dickens, one of my all-time favorite writers, which leads me to the lamentation of Et tu, Mr. Dickens?