Growing up, my Dad used to drive us around in our battered brown Toyota Corolla or (later) the battered white Toyota truck. Neither of those cars came with a tape deck, so one weekend Dad popped the dashboard off and we (by which I mean he) added a tape deck so we could listen to something other than the radio as he drove places with me.
I listened to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Traveling Willburys, Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Blossom Dearie, and more. But we also listened to a lot of audio books. I’ve nearly memorized, still, the whole audio for The White Deer by James Thurber, and Dad used to shout “Tell me no tales that Tocko tells!” in a perfect mimic for years.
I’ve also listened to hundreds of hours of Jack Benny, an audio special on Danny Kaye (which was stolen when someone broke into the Corolla and took the briefcase we used to store the tapes) and of course The Point by Harry Nilsson.
I don’t know how to explain “The Point.”
The basic story is that there’s a land where everything is pointed. The leaves, the trees, the roads, and the people. Except this kid, Obilo, who had a round head. His parents made him a knit cap to make it look like he had a point. Still, Oblio had to overcome hurdles, like playing Triangle Toss.
That was the big ‘game’ in town, where you throw a triangle as far as you can, and run after it and catch it on your head. Of course, Oblio had no point on his head, so his dog Arrow would jump on his shoulders and together they’d play.
One day, the son of the evil count plays against Oblio and loses. The count is so pissed off, he convinces the king to banish Oblio. So Oblio and Arrow, because the good dog is the goodest dog, go to the Pointless Forest.
But in the forest, they meet all sorts of people, like The Pointed Man (who tells them “A point in every direction is the same as no point at all”), the dancing sister, bees, the Rock Man, and finally a walking tree. And it’s from the tree that Oblio realizes everyone and everything has a point, so he keeps walking and returns to the Land of Point, where he explains about his travels and concludes with “Everything has a point. So I must have one too.”
And on this revelation, everyone’s points on their heads melt, so do the buildings, and they all became round, but they all had a point.
Now. When asked, Harry Nilsson said this was his thought:
I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, ‘Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn’t, then there’s no point to it.’
As a kid, this never occurred to me. I took the story at face value, that everything and everyone has a point.
In many ways, it’s a lot like Rudolph and the misfit toys (which I’ve seen once, maybe), where someone is strange and different, they’re ostracized for it, but in the end we learn that our differences make us interesting. For Oblio, the story is more about understanding that a symbol is not the same as what it represents, and he asks what is a point? What does it mean to have a point? Who gets to decide what is and is not pointless?
But the answers for me came from the Rock Man (a hippy stoner, yeah) who said “Hey man, you don’t have to have a point to have a point.”
He also had an exchange I can hear in my head today:
Rock Man: Hey babe, there ain’t nothing pointless about this gig. The thing is, you see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear. You dig?
Rock Man: You ever see Paris?
Rock Man: You ever see New Delhi?
Oblio: Well … no.
Rock Man: That’s just it right there. You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear.
The point of the story is that Oblio doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. He just has to be. He has to exist. And that’s enough. More over, we should question why things are what they are. Are we confusing the symbol for the point?
If that made you look at the recent political drama in the US, it should. That is, in fact, the point. That we have lost the meaning for the symbol.
That’s a lot of words for this.
Dad died two years ago today. But he taught me the point. He taught me to look at the meaning of it all and not just the symbols. So I guess the point of all this is that my Dad was a great Dad. And I miss him, and I can’t listen through things like The Point! or play a lot of music without crying still because there’s this symbol and meaning of a thing missing in my life still.
But also you should listen to the The Point!
You can buy it from Nilsson (along with a lot of other music you might like), and I think you should.
Because this is the town and these are the people, this is the town where the people all stay. That’s the way they wanted it, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.