To the Core

No need to select a U2 song for this book, as the band has already produced one with lyrics taken directly from the text. It was that song of the same name which lead me to read The Ground Beneath Her Feet, my first foray into the imposing works of Salman Rushdie. This would not be the first collaboration between Rushdie and U2, it should be noted. During the ZOO TV tour Bono (in his Mr. MacPhisto persona) called Rushdie, who defied the fatwa levied against him by appearing on stage with the band. I got the distinct sense that the exorbitance of the ZOO TV tour provided some inspiration for this novel (particularly toward the end), a rock n’ roll retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

In retelling the myth Rushdie also retells the history of rock n’ roll; thus Elvis Aaron Presley becomes Jesse Garon Parker, (Carly) Simon & (Guinevere) Garfunkel is a female duo, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”  is attributed to John Lennon rather than the Rolling Stones (U2 is respectfully omitted from this rearranging). The Ground Beneath Her Feet is one great mash-up of music and history, recognizable yet unreliable. The reader knows it to be an alternate reality, but the only character who perceives the existence of realities other than his own is the poet-prophet-rockstar Ormus Cama.

He’s able to see through the rifts into the otherworld as it collides with his own, causing tremendous earthquakes. The whole world is rocking and rolling, and standing at the epicenter of it all is Vina Apsara. She is the love of his life from the age of 12 until her catastrophic death. Ormus is seven years her senior, but he vows not to touch her until the day after she turns 16.

“He loved her like an addict: the more of her he had, the more he needed. She loved him like a student, needing his good opinion, playing up to him in the hope of drawing forth the magic of his smile. But she also, from the very beginning, needed to leave him and go elsewhere to play. He was her seriousness, he was the depths of her being, but he could not also be her frivolity. That light relief, that serpent in the garden, I must confess, was me.”

The confessor/narrator is Umeed “Rai” Merchant, who also loves Vina for the same span of her life, although he is three years her junior. Like Ormus he too waits for Vina and eventually enjoys physical intimacy with her, but it does not encompass the metaphysical intimacy she shares with Ormus. Their bond supersedes his extreme fidelity and her equally extreme infidelity. Thus, as in Another Roadside Attraction, we have a love triangle between the mystic, the beauty incarnate, and the chronicler of momentous events.

Ormus is the Visionary and Vina is the Voice in this version of Orpheus and Eurydice. She liberates his music and together they form the immensely popular band VTO. Orpheus could induce the rocks to dance with his lyre; VTO makes the earth shake with their guitars and amplifiers. Technotronic tectonics, if you will (and I surmise Rushdie would; he employs terms such as “magnificentourage,” “Camamania”, and “Vina Divina”). Ormus tries to warn everyone of the impending cataclysm, but he’s dismissed as an eccentric artist. When the quake does hit Ormus is proven correct in the worst possible way; Vina is swallowed by the Underworld.

Ormus does everything in his considerable power to retrieve her:

Let me love you true, let me rescue you
Let me lead you to where two roads meet
O come back above
Where there’s only love
And the ground beneath her feet
And the ground beneath her feet

Orpheus swayed Hades and Persephone with his music and was permitted to lead Eurydice back above, provided that he did not look back at her while she remained below ground. When Orpheus reached the surface he looked back too soon and lost Eurydice forever. In some accounts it was not Eurydice, but an apparition sent to taunt Orpheus. Ormus makes no literal descent to the Underworld in search of his lost love, although he does undergo a moral and physical descent. He is tormented by apparitions of Vina in the form of impersonators, one of whom he convinces to go on tour playing her role. The pretense fails, and Ormus must accept that he cannot create his own alternate reality.

Conversely, Vina plays her own apparition in an alternate reality. She appears on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a holodeck projection of herself, programmed to sing for an enamored Lt. Worf (my favorite Trek character). That has to be the ultimate in alternate reality!

Rushdie is a genius at shifting realities. There are tremors in his writing; paragraphs jostle and chapters drift like continents. Mythology, philosophy, and religion collide, melding into new concepts. Fault lines form, assumed notions crumble, and uncharted possibilities are thrust up into once familiar landscapes. It’s disorienting, but there is a constant core at the center of all of these realities: love.

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One Response to “To the Core”

  1. jaclemens Says:

    Reading about the fan reaction to Vina’s death prompted me to think about the mortality of my favorite band, U2. Coincidentally, Bono (who recently turned 50) injured his back and had to have emergency surgery. His recuperation necessitated the postponement of the June 3rd concert in Salt Lake City and the rest of the North American tour. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but he should recover!

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