THE BLOG
09/20/2005 10:55 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ordinary Blues

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If you want to know how far gossip travels, do this-- take a feather pillow up on a roof, slice it open, and let the feathers fly away on the wind. Then go and find every single feather and re-stuff the pillow. Perhaps you will find that you cannot locate every single feather. This is because the feathers have traveled far and wide, and God only knows where each and every feather has gone. “Aha!” says the famous folk tale to which this is the punchline. The same is true with gossip. God only knows how far the gossip has traveled, and into whose heart it has infiltrated. I was sitting around the doctor’s office reading a gossip rag. It was very compelling, and it felt difficult to tear myself away when it came time to see the doc. “It’s funny,” I thought of the article’s famous subject, “ this person was so beloved in the press last year. And now, well, he is not.” I was reminded of this story:

My friend just produced a now famous artist’s record. He told me how she had flown over to the UK to make a guest appearance on the hot British TV show, “Parkinson”, but at the last minute, two key players in her band had had to cancel. She went to the “Parkinson” rehearsal with her diminished band, played, but the show’s producers apologized and said that she didn’t sound enough like the record without the players, and could they re-schedule? Sure, she said. Even though she had taken the time to fly all the way there, leaving a hectic touring schedule, and losing money to boot, she took it all in good humor. The next thing she knows, she is lambasted in the press for “walking off the set of Parkinson, the diva!”

I suppose it makes for a better story than, sorry, performance cancelled, but golly jeepers!

Everybody knows the lure of gossip. When we are about to gossip we say, “I know this is just gossip but…” Rabbi Mordecai Finley says, what if we did the same with murder? “ I know this is just murder but…” He says gossip can be soul murder. We can destroy a reputation with just a flick of a poison tongue. Easy. He says it is important, however, to have a “gossip partner,” a concept I have found very useful.

A “gossip partner” is someone you love and trust, with whom you may go through the day’s events with impunity, and with whom you may air your feelings, without them falling asleep. And that person may say, “You are absolutely right darling, I couldn’t agree more. There, there,” or, “I’m not sure you’re thinking clearly honey, let me fix you a martini, a nice cup of tea, let me put you in a regenerative yoga inversion, or some such other comforting remark of a similar ilk. A sounding board, a confidante, one’s right hand man, a Tonto.

But wanton gossip in a group is a no- no. “ What then do we talk about?” I hear you cry. Study up. You’ll think of something. What about politics? How can one discuss politics without reverting to insults, just out of pure impassioned outrage?

Virginia Wolf says it’s important never to write when one is angry. Maybe that’s a good rule for speech too. While anger can be proper for large, life and death issues (combating evil for example), outrage and emotions perhaps cloud the issue most of the time, causing sane, thoughtful, compassionate people to revert to hurling abuse, instead of making a clear, reasoned argument, that may change an opinion.

In the Talmudic debate between the house of Hillel and the house of Shammai, Hillel was considered the winner, not because their arguments were any better (indeed the Talmud lists both schools arguments in their entirety) but because they were the more civil in the debate. These are all teachings of Rabbi Finley, and I like them, so I’m passing them on.

Getting back to my gossip rag, and thinking of the profanity of gossip, I also began to think about the allure of covetousness. That’s what these mags sell. The idea is to imaginatively leave the doctor’s office and go on a fantasy trip of desire. Desire this girl’s body, desire that celebrity’s life, (but thank god you’re not them when they’re down), desire that plane, car, dress, holiday, jewelry, sandwich. Desire anything but what you have. It’s an addiction to desire. An addiction to covetousness. It makes one quickly forget any sense of gratitude for one’s life, and replace it with a sense of having been wronged. We all have it to some degree. That’s why there’s a commandment against it. The antidote? Next time bring a good book. Contemplate the good things in your life, and be grateful for them.

This week’s song is called “Ordinary Blues”. It’s about the call of the devil on your shoulder. The players are; Larry Klein on bass and keyboards, Dean Parks on guitar, Billy Preston on Hammond organ, Jimmie Wood on harmonica, Scott Amendola on drums.