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October 23, 2014

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Columnist Joe Delaney: Christmas greetings in April from Duke

Joe Delaney's column appears on Thursdays and Fridays. Reach him at joe@ lasvegassun.com or 259-4066.

Duke Ellington and I exchanged Christmas greetings each year. Mine were sent in mid-December. Duke sent his when the spirit moved him.

Ellington's narration for his ballet, "The River," written for the late Alvin Ailey, was received on Good Friday one year. Ellington explained: "I always write the text for my Christmas cards, and last Christmas, I thought and thought and thought, not realizing I had already written it when I wrote the ballet 'The River.' " It is our pleasure to share it with you in Holy Week each year.

THE RIVER starts as ...

THE SPRING, which is like a newborn baby. He's in his cradle ... spouting, spinning, wiggling, gurgling, squirming, squealing, making faces, reaching for his nipple or bottle, turning and tossing and tinkling all over the place. When he hits the floor the first time out of his cradle, he is about to go into ...

THE RUN. Although he can hardly walk, he now feels compelled to march like his little toy soldiers. Throwing his shoulders back, he marches forward until he is attracted by a pretty puddle, which momentarily becomes the object of his affection. Recalled to duty and the march, he sets forth again, and is happily making his way when, over his shoulder, he sees a big bubble bearing down on him. He scrambles to get out of the way and escape, and finally does so just as the big bubble sweeps by and passes on down the run. With that, he feels safe again and continues the marching once more until it begins to grow boring, so now he is down on the floor in ...

THE MEANDER, where he is undecided whether to go back to the cradle or pursue his quest in the wake of the big bubble. There he is, rolling around from one side to the other on the floor, up and down, back and forth, until he sees the door, the kitchen door, and looks out into that big back yard. "This must be the biggest world in the world," he says. "Look at all that space out there!" So he dashes out of the door and now he's into ...

THE LAKE. The lake is beautiful and serene. It is all horizontal lines that offer up unrippled reflections. There it is, in all its glory, God-made and terribly touched, until people come -- people who are God-made and terribly touched by the beauty of the lake. They, in their admiration for it, begin to discover new facets of compatibility in each other, and as a romantic viewpoint develops, they indulge themselves. The whole situation compounds itself into an emotional violence that is even greater than the violence of the vortex to come. The lake supports them until, suddenly, they are over the top and down ...

THE FALLS. The falls always looks the same at the top and always sounds the same at the bottom. You can always hear the voice of the spirit that has gone over the falls and into the whirlpool, yelling and reaching to get back up the falls to regain the place of serenity that is the lake. But what is to follow is ...

THE WHIRLPOOL itself, an experience in which, of course, you must really immerse yourself to appreciate the hazards. From the whirlpool, we get into the main train of ...

THE RIVER, which gallops sprightly, and as it passes several inlets, broadens and loses some of its adolescence. Becoming ever mature, even noble, it establishes a majestic wave of monumental cool as it moves on with rhythmic authority. At the delta, there are two cities, one on each side, and there is always something on one side of the river that you cannot get on the other. Sometimes it's bootleg booze, or hot automobiles, or many other things. For our cities, we have picked ...

THE NEO-HIP-HOT-COOL-KIDDIES COMMUNITY and, on the opposite bank ...

THE VILLAGE OF THE VIRGINS, whose riparian rights are most carefully preserved. The river passes between these two cities and goes plunging into ...

THE MOTHER, HER MAJESTY THE SEA. At this point, the river is no longer a river. It has passed its point of disembarkation and here we realized the foundation of religion, which is THE HEAVENLY ANTICIPATION OF REBIRTH. The mother, in her beautiful romantic exchange with the sun, gives up to the sky that which is to come back as rain, snow or fog on the mountains and plains. So the next time we see it, it is like a newborn baby ...

THE SPRING. This materialization proves the validity of our HEAVENLY ANTICIPATION OF REBIRTH.

Enjoy your holidays.

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