The other day I turned on the kitchen radio and after a slight pause heard the opening notes of Mythical Kings and Iguanas, the title track to Dory Previn’s 1971 album. It was as if I had just pressed play on my CD player:
I have flown to star-stained heights
On bend and battered wings
In search of mythical kings
Sure that everything of worth
Is in the sky and not the earth
And I never learned to make my way
Down, down, down where the iguanas play
I’ve not heard Mythical Kings and Iguanas – the song nor the album – in perhaps twenty-five years though scraps have played in my head from time to time and I still have the vinyl LP.
I first heard it around 1987 or 1988 in my early 20s. Last week it was as if it was playing to me for the first time:
Singing scraps of angel song
High is right and low is wrong
And I never taught myself to give
Down, down, down where the iguanas live
Stopped in my tracks, I put down my plate and my tea-towel, pulled up a chair to listen and for the first time found I understood.
Without any effort on my part, the words arose from the speakers and made utter sense as if they simply couldn’t help themselves. I realised that, like it or not, I have lived enough to know what the song means instinctively.
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Lying with iguanas
Mythical Kings and Iguanas is about embracing the often despised ‘lower’ aspects of being and not losing oneself in fruitless flights of wishful fancy towards unobtainable heights. Fundamentally it’s about gaining self-acceptance, becoming embodied.
In my 20s maybe I simply liked the sounds the words made, the overall sense of philosophical musing which, in a way, is what she is railing against:
Curse the mind that mounts the clouds
In search of mythical kings
And only mystical things
In 1987 or 1988, without realising it, I laid a trail between then and now. Rediscovery in 2017 meant connecting with my younger self and gaining awareness of a kind of unknowing, a certain confusion perhaps, which I couldn’t perceive at the time.
I think there’s real value in this kind of experience which goes way beyond nostalgia. The feeling of connecting across time, is vivid and poignant, the sense of unlocking meaning without even trying, so powerful.
Had I heard the song for the first time last week, I would have ‘got’ it, been a little moved by it. But there wouldn’t have been the discovery of buried treasure and finding it richer than I could ever have imagined. And of feeling a kindness towards the moment of acquiring it so many years ago and someone I once was.
Cry for the soul that will not face
The body as an equal place
And I never learned to touch for real
Or feel the things, iguanas feel
Down, down, down
Where they play
The seeds that you once planted
This epiphany is a little akin to experiences of religion as a child and which organised religion possibly exploits for its own effectiveness.
The words of The Lord’s Prayer or of a particular hymn are planted in young minds at a time when they can be barely understood. A seed of meaning is sewn with the potential to bear fruit many years later, when an old idea is revisited and subsequently accepted, modified or rejected.
At that point there may be the strong sense of time, growth, a journey, change and impermanence an awareness of being caught in life’s unstoppable flow. And of a kind of learning which is natural, uncontrived, inevitable.
Could it even be wisdom?
Teach me, teach me
Teach me, reach me.