The massacre and death that so marked World War Two
Left Americans racked with bad shell shock and sorrow.
But progress in the sciences and especially in flight
Led all of them to believe in a much brighter tomorrow.
The problem was that airplanes just could not break Mach One,
Or the invisible barrier known as the speed of sound.
The Aircrafts combusted the closer they got
And put pilot upon pilot in a burial mound.
The PhDs warned of an infinite drag
As molecules stacked up in front of the plane
And test pilots would faint as G-force moved their blood,
So to approach the sound barrier was deemed flat-out insane.
But one captain among the brand new air force ranks
Beheld not a wall, just a steep hill to climb.
If bullwhips and bullets could pass through the drag
Then for man and machine it was a matter of time.
He knew with jet engines, if a man could hold on
And climbed super steady, he could slowly ease through it,
But would need a young pilot with no wife or child
‘Cause no sensible human would say they would do it.
Along comes Chuck Yeager who’s hand-eye was legend
Through violent shaking and blackouts and red-outs.
He’d clutch fast the yolk no matter how the plane shook
His only thought being to get the damn lead out.
October fourteen, nineteen forty-seven,
Chuck turned up to fly with a hairline cracked rib.
He fell off a horse on a ride with his wife
But for fear of a grounding decided to fib.
The PhDs on the ground thought he would die
And hugged him too hard as he boarded the plane
Which was bolted to the belly of a B-twenty nine
And climbing in caused his rib all sorts of pain.
The Bell-X1 nose was shaped just like a bullet,
Liquid oxygen sloshing and frosting the rear,
Not built for control nor outfitted with chutes,
Just two minutes of jet fuel to get through the fear.
Only forty-four years after Kitty Hawk’s test,
Yeager dropped from the bomb bay and opened the throttle
His head snapping back with gargantuan torque
Just like riding the cork of a popped champagne bottle.
But at point nine six Mach, only four shy of sound,
His instruments started to spin and crap out.
His blood was now gathered in back of his body,
It was all he could do not to puke and pass out.
But something inside him knew he now had a choice,
A steady climb upward would no longer work,
He could either now quit, and just glide back to safety,
Or slam down the gas and give the yolk a big jerk.
Thirty seconds of gas now remained in the tank,
Not quite enough really to blast through the wall,
But a voice, deep inside him, at that point said “Fuck it,
If I die now, at least I’ll be having a ball.”
A far less well known instance of a man who said fuck it
Happened in the forlorn late career of a man
Who’s post-impressionist paintings eventually rocked the Paris arts scene
But almost killed him in the process – his name? Paul Gauguin.
And before I get too far in let me say very quickly
That despite being breastfed, I went to state school for college.
So when people at nice parties name their favorite post-impressionist
I say “ahhh of course” but I’m just feigning the knowledge.
So on behalf of any readers in the crowd from UMass Boston,
I have Bing’ed post-impressionism so we could all up our game,
And in order to use it well at a fancy cocktail party
One must understand its origins or risk appearing lame.
First Freud said that humans were a product of our mothers
Influenced by environments, less nature more nurture.
And the Realists began to look for clues in our surroundings
Every simple noun now fodder for a would-be soul searcher.
Then the Symbolists felt this was completely on the nose
And rather they preferred to lift and highlight certain things,
A vase in a painting made emotionally radioactive.
For THIS was the way for us to tug on heart strings.
The Impressionists were like that shit is juvenile drama.
We aren’t who we are because of cups and wheel spokes.
WE’LL paint stacks of hay and watch behavior of light
And we’re only going to use tiny, visible brush strokes.
And then the post-impressionists said “oh, aren’t you so honest?”
We’re going to make skin blue because FUCK YOU…
And that’s where our man Paul Gauguin would finally land.
“Art is either plagiarism or revolution” he famously said.
He was the patron saint of egomaniac artists who die penniless,
But turn out to have been right about the talents in their head.
His greatest enemy of all was the Paris arts scene,
which taunted him for mediocre work and endless hustling,
“I’m a great artist” he once said to his wife, who couldn’t stand him,
“It’s because I am that I have had to endure so much suffering.”
Routinely, he’d depict himself as Jesus in his paintings,
To signal to the world that he was basically doomed
To suffer at the hands of philistines who didn’t get him,
Because of his specialness … And ruin loomed.
He longed desperately for a time before his own,
Before colonization polluted paradise to the palm frond,
And he knew his chance was here with the world expo in Paris,
perhaps otherwise known as “l’exposition du monde.”
He built a stall next to the entrance the way an uninvited rockband
Would play the foyer of a Quizno’s at South-by-Southwest,
He made enough Francs to set sail for Tahiti
Leaving everything behind that made him feel so oppressed.
Everything was great for a couple of solid years
But by the end of eighteen ninety-seven his body began to fail.
His hand would often jerk as he stood and tried to paint
He’d cough up blood onto the canvas, and if he stood too long, grow pale.
And finally… riddled with debt, and abandoned by his friends,
Swindled by art dealers and extorted by his wife,
A broken ankle would not heal, and syphilis run amock,
Gauguin brought arsenic up the mountain to take his life.
But it didn’t work, the next morning he woke up in a daze
Under a palm tree with the worst hangover in the world,
He stood up slow and dragged his sorry ass back down the mountain,
To his studio where he flopped into a chair, and then hurled.
The mail had come, a book, sent by his frenemy Van Gogh
Sat on the table, maybe it contained some inspiration,
Clutching his gut he heaved himself across the room to grab it,
and opened it but found some horrifying information.
It was by the now forgotten English poet Gerald Massey,
Played here by Christian Bale, it was about Egyption gods,
And One of them, named Horus, had uncanny similarities
To Jesus but eight hundred years earlier which was odd.
His father was a carpenter, his mother was a virgin,
Angels foretold his birth and he was born in a manger,
Three distant kings followed a star to see this little NICU
And the Horus story as a grown-up only gets stranger.
He healed the deaf, the blind and lepers, taught in parable,
He loved the poor and prostitutes, and even led a chorus
Was crucified, between two thieves, then rose from the dead,
And on the third day entered Egyptian heaven… HORUS!
And the whole December twenty-fifth birthday thing was total garbage
Made up by Constantine in A.D. three twenty-five
Who wanted to draw box office away from Pagan Solstice
To insure his brand new Christian faith would survive.
And Gauguin, when he read this, about lost his damn mind
He’d been a good French Catholic since the day that he was born,
This messiah he disguised himself as in his paintings was a reboot,
Jesus. Wasn’t even. A Capricorn.
He sat in his hut, catatonic, not moving.
The empty bottle of arsenic still sat on the table
Even in suicide he was a mediocre failure
And now this book had made his whole existence unstable.
But then out of nowhere, a childhood memory returned,
His schooling was parochial, his parents were religious,
A lecture on existence by the famous French arch bishop
Felippe Antoine Filiberre D’upan-loup, played here by Lloyd Bridges.
A religion, he had taught, must answer three basic questions,
Answer them and feel free to start your own one too
Where do we come from, why are we here, what happens when we die?
“If you can tackle those conundrums you are free,” said Dupanloup.
Gauguin was decimated by the book Van Gogh had sent him,
Losing his religion left him morbidly bereft,
But now this memory made something feel so incomplete,
He realized that maybe he had one last painting left.
It would be called “D’ou Venons Nous, Que Sommes Nous, Ou Allons Nous”
He’d paint the answers to these questions, his suicide prolong,
and with a sudden surge of energy he put the brush to canvas,
And recklessly it led him to a glorious swansong.
In those days painters would spend months preparing for a work,
Color wheels, perspective studies, essays and tableau.
But Eschewing a sketch, Gauguin just blast his wet brush to canvas
Rather than his usual careful plan to zing Van Gogh.
The unanimous notion of his own mediocrity
Had been his constant enemy in the Paris arts scene
But now he let that go and howled to the moon “fuck it”
Blast through his self-mythology and emerged completely clean
It was the sum total of everything he’d ever done,
And when he finally finished got a lump in his frail throat.
He felt its magnitude could be compared to the gospels.
He rolled it up and made off on two canes to meet the mail boat.
As he watched it float away taking his masterpiece to Europe
He realized he was no more a man who must rely
On others to answer for him life’s most important questions
Where do we come from, why are we here, what happens when we die.
And in that moment on the dock, his body a broken shell,
Gauguin the redeemed man decided not to kill himself.
He’d said the words and shed his ego, painting from the truth…
Back in his hut he put the Massey book up on the shelf.
Parisian critics had the sense this painting was a triumph
But accolades from Paris were simply now no longer needed.
He had his mojo back because he and Chuck Yeager knew
When you are down, and say this phrase, you cannot be defeated.
The PhDs on the tarmac, they all heard together
The giant boom they all figured meant Chuck Yeager’s end
But the funny thing is, when you decide to say “fuck it,”
The universe turns out to be your best friend.