A definitively not friend was Arthur. Arthur’s view of language was that of a prescriptive grammarian. Most of my English teachers would have failed a course taught by him. On the other hand, I embrace the vernacular in word and grammar and with gusto. While not a precise mapping of English, I’ve always felt that it pleasantly enhances our life.
I hadn’t thought about Arthur for years. But last night, I was erasing old bookmarks to dead links on my computer. I came across a small folder with links to video files on a gentleman called Lord Charles Buckley. But, of course, in reality, Buckley was not a lord but an outstanding stand-up comedian. His genre was the Hipster argot of the jazz clubs and very clever wit. I would never have gotten introduced to his work in the ordinary course of events.
I worked nights as a folksinger in New York’s Greenwich Village and days as a messenger. One of my regular customers was Lenny Bruce, a famous and controversial comedian. I would frequently get assigned to shuttle paperwork between a lawyer’s office and home. Bruce was one of my favorite comedians, but I only rarely had the opportunity to meet him. Instead, I often dealt with a woman I assumed to be his wife. However, once in a while, when Bruce was in a good mood, I’d be asked in.
It was at Lenny Bruce’s that I was introduced to Lord Buckley. Arriving one day with a valise of documents, I had to wait while Bruce signed material that was going back to the lawyer. On the record player was Lord Buckley doing one of his well-known Hipster routines – “Jonah.” Seeing me involved in listening to it, Lenny Bruce took me through the dialogue and humor of Lord Buckley. After that, I was hooked and got into the scene.
As a habitue of the Village, I used many of Buckley’s words. They were part of the argot of the Jazz and Blues performer’s world. In turn, that world had influenced the Beat and Folkie world that I inhabited. But now, I listened with new ears and incorporated new tones into my speech.
And that’s where we return to Arthur. Arthur could not stand by and merely look uncomfortable at “poor English form” he felt compelled to correct every mispronunciation, poorly conjugated verb, and impropriety. He had been a thorn in my side since high school, and meetings with mutual friends still brought us into contact. Finally, one night Arthur got on my nerves enough that I let him have it with a full blast of digs, hip, cool, cat, and as many hipster motifs as I could remember off Lord Buckley records.
The cat could not get hip to the scene and freaked. Like he did a fade.
It was that evening that convinced me that language has power. Are you hip, man?