Melancholic moments – three songs from the 1960s

 Those who dismiss popular culture as being without value have not looked carefully at, for instance, the lyrics of songs.  Yes, much is disappointing.  But the jewels are there.  Extracts from the lyrics of three songs from the 1960s  reveal depth for me, albeit a melancholic depth.  I offer some thoughts.

I got one foot on the platform

And one foot on the train

I’m going back to New Orleans

To wear my ball and chain 

–  House of the Rising Sun, Tim Hardin for The  Animals 

These lines look at the knife-edge moment, poignant and tragic, between healing and continued slavery (addiction of some kind?).  It seems to ask whether our fate is inevitable or whether we have a choice.  The vast sadness of this song is probably the answer to the question.

Stopped into a church

I passed along the way

Got down on my knees

And I began to pray

You know, the preacher digs the cold

He knows I’m gonna stay

California Dreamin’

On such a winters day 

 –  The Mamas and the Papas

For me the image of the preacher being fond of the cold weather that drives the passer-by into the church laments the political agenda of the church (gathering more people for suspect reasons) rather than having a spiritual intention.

 Eleanor Rigby died in the church

And was buried along with her name

Nobody came .

–  Eleanor Rigby.  Lennon/McCartney for The Beatles

 Somewhere I read that McCartney and/or Lennon took a shortcut through a cemetery in Liverpool and saw a badly-neglected gravestone, probably forgotten.  The name engraved there was Eleanor Rigby.  These lines depict the tragedy of loneliness, of social isolation, of abandonment, a theme that characterized their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Internet lyric banks



My graphics, published by RockCloud





I looked over the Bosphorus at the cityscape of Istanbul and I admit that it took some years after that before I understood more fully what it was that I had seen — one of the pivotal points of global history.  The Hagia Sophia mosque/museum was at the heart of it.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

This immense building was constructed from 532 to 537 c.e. under the rule of Justinian I. Designed by Greek architects, the Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in Europe for 1000 years.  Its dome, damaged by earthquakes through the years, but repaired, has been describing as changing the history of architecture.  In the year 1453, after historical upheavals, Hagia Sophia which had been a Greek Orthodox cathedral, now became a Muslim mosque.  In 1935 it was opened as a museum, though when I visited the place forty years later I saw people in prayerful activities with a few of the 3.3 million tourists per annum filing past.

Hagia Sophia interior

I stood in the vast encompassed space looking at the huge Koranic texts suspended from the high roof.  I believe that since 1935 Byzantine mosaics have been uncovered from certain walls.  These predate the mosque era from as early as 800 c.e.  and probably served as models for the mosaics at Ravenna.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Later I visited the Blue Mosque, another memorable experience.  It is Hagia Sophia though, that remains vivid for me.  I remember how the filtered light made the high roof of that dome seem slightly unreal, lending a sense of the sacred.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia:  Hagia Sophia



Hagia Sophia –

Interior –

Blue Mosque – source lost






Founded in 1089, the Melk Abbey or Stift had been a castle given to the Benedictine order by Leopold II.  The baroque character came in the early years of the 18th-century.   The Abbey, perched majestically on a high outcrop,  overlooks the Danube.  The onion spires on the twin towers are characteristic of many churches in Austria.

High up on a hill

In its history, we were told by the tour guide, there were serious threats to its continuation as an abbey in the Napoleonic wars and in World War Two.   It is known as one of the great monuments to baroque architecture.

An interior of magnificence

After the baroque splendour, the painting, the architecture, and Austrian baroque has a characteristic beauty,  I remember after many years the tour guide’s closing words to us.  He spoke with deep feeling, probably too, because this elderly man might well have been a child during the war:   “So much magnificent European patrimony was destroyed in the war.  I thank God that what I have shown you was preserved for us – the Melk Abbey.”

Melk Abbey and the Danube


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia:  Melk Abbey



Abbey  –

Abbey interior  –

Abbey and Danube  –




HEIN WAGNER, a living legend


Hein Wagner

It defies expecations to look up the name Hein Wager on the internet to see the list of his incredible achievements.  He has climbed the ten highest mountains in the Western Cape, he has participated in many marathons, both in South Africa and abroad, and he has held the land speed world record.  And he was born blind.

I mention but a few things.  The list goes on, dwarfing what most sighted achievement-seekers have attained.  It makes him a living legend, one of the most remarkable South Africans and certainly one of the most remarkable blind people in the world.

I met him in the Drama Department at Tygerberg College, Panorama, Cape Town.  It was 2003 and, after stroking his guide dog, the most beautiful I have seen,  I was faced with a request that seemed impossible:  teach me to act, he said.

From a motivational speech by Hein

I pushed the impossibilities aside and together we devised ways for him to handle the space of a stage.  He would be barefooted and I laid lengths of twine across the floor.  There were knots in the twine which he could “read” — single, double, treble  — and this would tell him where he was.  The show was called “Bat Magic” and dealt with his life as man born blind.  It was unbelievably funny, and, as a consequence, deeply moving and inspiring.  That year it was the talk of the National Arts Festival at Grahamstown.

It is mind-boggling that a prominent computer company employed him where he worked for a number of years.  He sat with me when I had dysfunctions on my computer and fixed the problems.  He had memorized the software!

Poster for his motivational programmes

Once, I led him to a painting of a nude in my lounge.  I guided his finger-tips over its surface, saying, This is the forehead, this is the nipple, here is the hip and this is the foot.  I tried to “colour in” my words by referring to  natural phenomena like wind and cold, and sensations.

He was moved.  “Beautiful,” he said.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia Hein Wagner



Hein Wagner –

Can’t Can –

Hein –






I return to the realm of music.  Some time ago I heard a snippet of The Final Countdown, the song by the Swedish group Europe released in 1986.  Looking it up on You-Tube, I was met with a surprise.  When I compared the Rolling Stones’ No Satisfaction  (38 million plus views) and the Beatles’ Yesterday  (10 million plus views, together with its number 1 slot in the world of covers – 2000 plus covers), I found them dwarfed by the views on The Final Countdown — a whopping 412 million plus.

Is it that, after an initial popularity (Countdown  reached number 1 in 25 countries),  there is a further groundswell over time?  The phenomenon prompts me to speculate.

Europe, the rock band

Is it the lyric?  It deals with the blast-off to Venus (of the last citizens on earth?) the return of which is questioned.  There is a sadness, perhaps regret.  Is this song a defiant lament?  Does it touch on hidden thoughts of death?  The word “final” could suggest this.  What are our unconscious associations here?

The song has a triumphant spirit — in those suspended chords, we are ecstatically suspended above the curve of the earth.  Could the millions who have bought the song and those listening to it on You-Tube find some kind of comfort against the dark inevitability of our fate?

Joey Tempest

The hypnotic vitality of Joey Tempest, the lead singer, swirling his long blond hair like a flag, helps me realise an interpretation of this song — an assertion of life with dionysiac passion.  Through his performance and the catchy apocalytptic trumpets,  our arms break the crust of death’s enervation and we reach beyond the petty finitude of life on earth.   Maybe the 412, 664, 405  and I feel that.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Wikipedia: The Final Countdown


My heart



Europe  –

Joey Tempest –







PAUL KLEE – the otherness of art

Bern, Switzerland

I remember the clock tower in Bern, Switzerland, the trams and the almost Piedmontese arches in the architecture.  On the way to the Paul Klee Foundation, I grabbed a cup of coffee at a café where there was an unusually large photograph of Albert Einstein on the wall.  It is in Bern, the café owner informed me, that Einstein rounded off the Theory of Relativity.

Albert Einstein, 1904

In the Paul Klee Foundation I stood before the original paintings.  As a twelve-year-old I saw them in an art book, the beginning of a lifelong interest.

Blue Pyramid

A Swiss-German, Paul Klee was a musician, poet, academic and a philosopher in art theory.  His work has been linked with various art movements, but, as has often been said, his work resists any simplistic opinions.  His art is an otherness.


His book “On Modern Art” (1925) has been compared with the writings of Leonardo da Vinci.

“Senecio”, 1922

When his art was mocked, along with many other “decadent” artists in 1937 in Nazi Germany, Klee returned to Switzerland.  This rejection weighed heavily on his mind until his death in 1940 at the age of 61.

Paul Klee, 1911

With Klee’s paintings and especially his drawings you are never far from irony, even a playful spirit.  The captions of his canvases are cryptic, witty.  And for me — I’m supposed to be colour blind — he is a master of colour.  The calling to colour came to him during a reconnaissance in Tunisia.  He became a leading figure amongst modernists in the creative use of colour, breaking long traditions.  Picasso himself had great respect for what Klee did.

The Garden at Lu – , 1939

I sat for a long time looking at “The Garden at Lu – ”  The icon forms rising from dream blue is for me one of the most peaceful images in the storms of modern art.

Fire in the Evening, 1929

“I will not be understood in this world,” he said, probably depressed by the events of the late-1930s, the last years of his life.  But if appreciation and love of his work may be seen as understanding, then Paul Klee was, with respect, wrong.

Nocturnal Growth


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

January, 2018



Werner Haftmann :  The Mind and Work of Paul Klee.  Faber and Faber. London, 1967.

Will Grohman :  Paul Klee.  Lund Humphries.  London, 1969.




Paintings by Klee from Will Grohman : Paul Klee

Bern – TourismSwiss

Albert Einstein –





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