A day off while on tour in Europe? Who wouldn’t want one? Perhaps Mike Watt best addressed the advisability of a “day off” on tour when he said: “If you’re not playing, you are paying.” Though a day off on the continent may provide an opportunity for sightseeing, resting vocal chords, and watching MTV Europe, these leisure activities are ruined by the feeling that one is paying to do something unrelated to what one came to Europe to do. Every day my band does not play in Europe still costs 140 Euro for gear and van rental—-a small amount, but one that can still break our budget. I cannot imagine what a day off costs for the reunited Stooges, as I suspect that their members have more equipment and larger appetites than I do.
Still, I took advantage of my day off and read The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, published in 1920, details the emotional crisis of Newland Archer, a bourgeois who struggles with the stifling norms of 1870’s New York capital-“S” Society. Though Newland is engaged to May Welland, a vapid debutante from a “good” family, he has fallen in love with her cousin, Countess Olenska. Olenska, a free-thinking Bohemian, has fallen from grace—-trapped in a bad marriage to the openly unfaithful Polish Count Olenski, she refuses to play the good wife and ignore her husband’s scandalous behavior. Instead, she leaves Europe for New York, seeking a new life. Though Olenska loves Archer as he loves her, their affair de amour is doomed—-after much ado, neither proves strong enough to resist Society’s expectations and follow their hearts. Three decades after Newland marries May, she dies, and he is given the opportunity to see Olenska again. Heartbreakingly, Newland refuses, realizing that he cannot resurrect his chance to find happiness with his beloved. Here, Wharton’s monument to melancholy ends.
Some may find it unusual for a 30-year old male to read a novel of manners while on a rock and roll tour. Those who doubt my literary tastes may wish to visit the English-language section of a typical European bookstore to see what is available beyond “the classics.” Here is a partial list of books I have read while in Europe:
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen Anna Karenina by Fyodor Dostoyevksy The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway Hemingway: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers
To those interested in The Age of Innocence who do not wish to read it: Edith Wharton’s novel was later made into an Oscar-winning film by American visionary Martin Scorcese starring Daniel-Day Lewis (Newland Archer), Michelle Pfeiffer (Countess Olenska), and Winona Ryder (May Welland). Though The Age of Innocence is often overlooked by those who fetishize Scorcese’s uber-violent gangster pictures, the film is a triumph of actorly restraint and costume design.