Only Another Writer Will Get This (and, yes, that is a pun)

Why is it, whenever I hear Tony Banks’s keyboard riff at 9:09 – 9:16 on “Supper’s Ready” on Genesis’s Foxtrot (released UK Charisma 1972), I get an image of Dam Square and the Royal Palace of Amsterdam (Paleis op de Dam) back when it was the city hall? 

 De Dam in Amsterdam (c. 1670-75)  Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheijde

Anybody else get this too?

I have no idea where this is coming from, but it’s been coming for awhile.

This isn’t because I was recently in Amsterdam.  I’ve been getting this image from this particular seven seconds of music long before I made that trip.  And no, it didn’t work in reverse.  I tried, but this turned out to be a one-way evocation.  All I heard on the actual Dam Square were people chatting in different languages, pigeons, rain, and traffic.  Meaning cars and buses, not the centuries-old sound of trade.  The world was there as it is in all large cities – that is all.  I might have bought a broken souvenir.

Anyway, when I listen to Genesis’s “Supper’s Ready” at 9:09 I keep seeing the city hall from the late 17th century, and then feeling this inexplicable rush of  – yes, that’s what capitalism felt like when it got born and still had purity and promise – like something open and inevitable widening the culture.  Then the music moves on and I get this mental pastiche of early international trade, complete with images of coins, scales, ledgers, and comfortable domesticity, like the concept of home just got invented.  By 9:40 it’s over and the music is saying something else.


Usually when I get an unexpected image that won’t leave me alone it turns into the inspiration for a work of fiction.  But this one isn’t like that.  If it were I wouldn’t be public about it.  I’d be keeping it close to my heart, reading everything I could find about the Dutch traders in the Golden Age, surrounding myself with period images, and pretending to have no interest in the subject.  When you talk too soon about what inspires you it bolts like a committment-phobic lover and you feel gut-punched by your own thoughts.  You can get unhinged for weeks and sometimes the scars never leave.  At least that’s been my experience.  Early dreams are a delicate business.

But this one doesn’t feel inspirational.  It’s just an insistent image that recurs with a dollop of passionless feeling.  Something fascinates without any pull.  It’s like a street seller’s song that seriously charms but fails to beguile.  You pass.

But it’s swathed in what — I swear — is somebody else’s passion.  So it’s also like I found a pile of foreign currency in my backyard, have no idea how to spend it, and really need to find the owner.

After visiting Amsterdam – OK – maybe before, I also started randomly getting this surreal image of two Dutch women.  One is in her forties.  The other is an older teen.  They are possibly, but not necessarily, a mother and daughter.  They are related in some way, but I don’t know how.  I don’t know them.  I don’t know their language. The older woman is pouring tea from a Delft Blue teapot.  (I actually bought such a teapot in Amsterdam, but like everything I’m trying to say here, it’s a bad copy).  

There’s nothing remarkable about the women, except where they are.  That is the surreal part. They are seated at table on a flat, bright, spotless extension of land that falls out of eternity and into the sea. In some way that I’m too lazy to understand, that sweep of land is supposed to be both the northernmost point of the Netherlands and, at the same time, doesn’t actually exist.  It’s sheltered by wide, almost living sky.  Sky like you see in the paintings, where the clouds are nearly spiritual, and speak an invisible language you swear you used to know.  There is no time here.  It’s  like everything you ever knew or could experience or could imagine has become insanely hyper-focused and is happening all at once.  It’s forever.  Or perhaps it’s the bend of a moment in history as seen from forever. 

It’s also like somebody extracted the essence of a point in history into a symbol, a reverberation of something important that really happened, that spilled and spread like imported dye in a color nobody’s seen before down the centuries and over the western world.  Except now it has congealed into an image that’s bouncing around in the ether. 

Oh, the ladies? Their clothes are a pastiche of different centruries, starting with the 17th and ending with ours.  The younger woman has a bicycle leaning somewhere in the background (OK – it’s the Netherlands – no surprise) – but it isn’t obvious what it’s leaning on and you can’t always see it.  You just know it has to be there if you look.  That is, if you want it to be.

They have male relatives who are out somewhere in the world, somewhere on that timeless sea, trading.  They might be worried about them, but they have much to do themselves at home.  And looked at another way, they are symbolic of the world in which those traders have gone missing.  Or rather, of the world changing.  You can hear a windmill creaking as if you are inside it, but you don’t see it.  What you see, informing everything, is the energy of the windmill, of the spirit of industrialism, creaking through sea and sky and flat land, pouring steam out of the teapot and infusing the women’s smiles.

This is not my novel. I don’t feel like these seedbed images are mine to develop – I don’t love them enough.  But I’ve got them so I’m playfully throwing this out to the world.   If there’s another writer out there who is missing an image – somehow I’ve got yours.  I’ve kept it safe, enjoyed it for what it is, played with it a bit, and would now like to return it to its rightful owner, as there’s really nothing I can do with it.  And if nobody claims it, well, then, I’ll offer it for trade.

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