When I heard a cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" the other day, I thought to myself that I'd heard it before in some classical piece. I got into an argument about this with my girlfriend, who claimed it wasn't of classical origin at all, but from a rock band called Procol Harum. I thought that if so, they must have "borrowed" it from Bach or someone.

So, I set out to find the original. I compared it to Air by Bach, Adagio by Albioni and Canon by Pachelbel, but although all three have some resemblance to the melody I was looking for, none of them matched. I asked a lot of people if they could help me out, but drew blank again.

So I did what I should have done in the first place: I searched on Google. And hit jackpot, of cource. I found several pages entirely dedicated to explaining why "A Whiter Shade of Pale" sounded like Bach, but wasn't.

The song is made up of two melodies. The vocal R&B melody, which is composed by Gary Brooker, and the organ background melody by Matthew Fisher. The chords of the song are actually the same as those of Air by Bach, but it is usually the organ melody that makes people connect the two. This is not so strange, since Fisher was influenced by both Air and Sleepers Awake by Bach when he composed the tune. But make no mistake: the melody is not a copy of anything in any of those pieces, it merely has the same mood.

AWSOP has been covered a lot afterwards. I've found versions by Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings, Sarah Brightman, Van Morrison, David Lanz, King Curtis, Sammy Hagar & Neal Schon, Doro Pesch, Glenn Hughes, Percy Sledge, Helge Schneider and Uriah Heep. Presumably I've just uncovered the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

You can read more in-depth explanations at these internet pages:

Or, you can hit Napster and compare the pieces yourself.

It's been for the vestal virgin guarding the matches. All for her.

"Be careful with your heart and what you love."
Peaceful World
John "Cougar" Mellencamp


Couple things to consider. Workload. Lack of sleep. Too incoherent. Notes I no longer understand.

Helicopters come and go with ever decreasing regularity. The sun behind ice clouds, the air is gray with gloom. The glacier's stopped calving. The met station broke down. Wind speed's unknown. Radio chirps in the background. Survival operations. Condition one. We're maneuvering in this hut like submariners. Always touching and bumping. Smiling.

Long time ago, I stopped knowing anything, and you were too polite to say anything.


This trip, not much drinking. Had a glass of wine and a finger of scotch. That's my alcohol consumption for the entire trip.

Lost a belt loop of fat without trying.

Things I've learned: Antarctic Fast Scrabble.

Antarctic Fast and Dirty Scrabble

Blast products are bad to drink.

The blimp business is inhabited by criminals.

Wear long underwear to keep your feet warm.

I don't know how to tell you this.

Sometimes I think we make our way through life like fish in a bowl, turning circles and telling ourselves each lap is different. Sometimes I think the way it was supposed to be, couldn't ever be. A kid's pipe dream. A television soap opera painted solely in primaries. Overly melodramatic and as interesting as reading a coloring book.

This morning I woke up in a small tent on a hill in Antarctica. The wind was gusting and my breath had condensed on the inside tent walls so that wherever I touched it, I got wet. It was very hard to think about anything. My mind was frighteningly Zen blank. Now I know why the Tibetan monks are so high in the mountains. Now I know why bears don't live in high rises.

But there was all this feeling still buried in my gut. My nephew was just born. A friend's sister just died. All while I was sleeping on that hill.

I was thinking that maybe the Buddah was just tired of thinking getting in the way of thinking. Maybe Jesus was just so sick and tired of everything dying he had to try to do something to stop it.

Instead of what we thought, we get what is. And it's bright and gives us headaches from squinting. Gives us backaches lifting. Hurts our souls from the endless crying.

There's no way to know what any of it means, so we tell ourselves it all means something, because Jesus and Buddah aren't available for coffee.

Worrying about what happens after seems to cheapen the pain we feel here now. Maybe John the Baptist was an existentialist.

I don't know how to tell you this, but I'll try.

When you're far away and everything is sharp and dispassionate it's easy to think about dying even though you're not close to that. Hundreds of years ago people lived in conditions like this. Those guys from Norway and England lived here with a fraction of the supplies we have.

"Remember when there was no network?" one asks.

"Remember when there was no hut and we lived in tents? Remember when all we had to eat was what we carried in on our backs? Remember when we were shitting and pissing into poly buckets? Remember when we cooked potato soup over camp stoves and there was only us and the Navy who didn't want to be here. And then later, came the science and the women. And now look--

--you can't escape your e-mail."

But we lived anyway.

All engineers start off as children dismantling things. Bicycles and appliances. Bugs and roadkill. We're all looking for the ticking. And so why not look somewhere just a little more obvious?

Maybe it was never about adventure. Maybe it was never a personal reenactment of the great expeditions of the nineteenth century. It probably wasn't any of that. Likely, an experiment. More likely, an escape. Get the boy out of the culture and the infrastructure. Get out of the framework. Strip away as much as has accreted through these years of living to see what was really there in the first place. A ticket to the valley of the shadow of death was too expensive and who wants to travel economy class?

At last there's eventually.

Remember when we sat on the kitchen floor before gutted toys, cradling metal parts in greasy hands. Remember when we thought we could find the heart inside the clock and it would be something worth seeing itself?

There is no goddamned adventure. Never was. There's only heart.

That's what I was thinking, sitting here with the vestal virgin, and all the frozen cold parts that won't go back together.

Lake Hoare Station, Antarctica, 2004

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