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Burning Answers, #5
"Let's Be Natural"
BUT FIRST: With last week’s hullabaloo over “Now and Then” (here’s my take), my mind naturally turned to the single best source of Beatles Music not produced by the Fabs themselves. Sorry Nilsson, Badfinger and Emmit Rhodes, my vote is for the Beatle-adjacent comedy project The Rutles. Neil Innes and Eric Idle’s parody/pastiche/homage was so close to the real thing that The Beatles’ then-publisher sued and won in 1978. But that should only increase our admiration—this song, for example, is worthy of the White Album, and this one is one of the world’s great earworms (you’ve been warned).
Now that you’re properly distracted, here’s this week’s question:
”If you had a motto on your personal crest, what would it be?”—I Am Curious (Fellow)
Given my obsession with the Romans, Fellow, I think it would have to be in Latin. But also given that I took fully five years of Latin and never quite got the hang, my first thought is “Semper Ubi, Sub Ubi.” Twenty years ago I used this Latin class joke—surely centuries old?—in Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody, as the motto for the Hogwash School for Wizards and Witchcrap.
But let us be serious for a moment (and just for a moment): what springs to mind is “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.” This is an aphorism originally from the Greek (like the rest of Roman culture ooo burn) meaning, “Life is short, and skill takes so long.” I agree with that, and you would see why if for example you ever listened to me play my Rickenbacker. Or, if you sat next to me in Latin class where—for five solid years—I mis-translated this phrase as “Life is short, but Art lasts.”
That’s what I want on my personal crest, Fellow, because that’s how I’ve lived my life. Inspired by my own clumsy mistranslation of Latin. That really is your dear author in his purest form.
Because of my disability (cerebral palsy) (explains the terrible guitar playing, maybe?) I have always felt my grip on survival to be rather tenuous. Worse still, the deaths I’ve avoided are all so incredibly stupid—nearly tripping down a flight of stairs, or losing my balance on a sidewalk six inches from speeding traffic—these twice-weekly floodings of adrenaline explain a certain amount of jumpiness. Some days I think I should pick up polo, just to make a cooler exit. I’m not quite sure how I’ve been able to survive for 54 years, but it has given me a take the risk, do it now attitude notably absent in the rest of my gene pool.
With Life so chancy, you’d understand how I’d be drawn to something that lasts. The Medici family has been gone since 1667 (should’ve boinked more, ragazzi), but the art they commissioned still draws a crowd. So I do what I can, as paltry as it is, and hope that someone, somewhere will remember. I’d make a deal with you: if some University takes my papers, I’ll be sure to stuff some porn in there, like Michael O’Donoghue.
But, Fellow, there is a problem with this. Betting on immortality via art isn’t just a longshot, it’s not what humans were biologically designed to do—it’s like living on champagne instead of water. If you gotta, you gotta, and apparently I gotta; but to have any chance at success, one has to be a world-class weirdo as well—did you know Michelangelo never took off his boots? We might marvel at his David, but I shudder to think of his Chucks.
And the bottom line is this: not one of us, regardless of Ars, will ever reach the perfection of a pea. Much less an oak. Or a baby. If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve ditched the pen for a more scandalous implement; I think perhaps it is better to have a houseful of children than a shelf-full of books. Children do not need to be dusted.
I know, I know, spoken like a man who never had to get up because the baby was crying. Who knows, maybe on three hours sleep I would’ve fallen down those stairs? But for this life of mine—full of words, and champagne, and uninterrupted slumber—“Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” will have to do.
Every Friday—if he has managed to avoid An Incredibly Stupid Death—The American Bystander’s Editor & Publisher Michael Gerber answers questions from readers just like you. To add your question to the pile, email email@example.com and put “Question” in the subject line.