Lamenting the loss of innocence

Saturday, 24 February 1996

If you knew that a rose would scream, would you still pluck it?

CHILD ABUSE is one of my psychological buttons. I suppose my reaction to someone who is accused of doing any such thing is along the lines of religiously-crazed Iranians when told that Salman Rushdie has committed blasphemy.

My gut reaction is to throw due process to the winds and join the rampaging masses in screaming for castration or worse of the offender. The facts of cases are relegated to the background.

Bad luck for the defendant if he happens to be innocent.

But back to the rose...

It was James Bond in Ian Fleming's Moonraker who first introduced me to the idea of the scream of the rose. The theory is that plants register emotion and that a rose screams when plucked.

Primordial sounds. Friend Roger was mentioning these above the buzz of mosquitoes at a farm near Hartebeespoort Dam early last month.

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"Did you know," he said, "that composers make use of some sounds that are embedded in our subconscious?

"Like Beethoven's Fifth, `dah-dah-dah-dum' - is the musical sound of a child calling `Ma-ma'?"

I could think of other examples. Like John Williams haunting score from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his mantra chanted by hundreds of saffron-robed monks on an Indian hillside: "Ah-yah-veh-ah-yah".

Coincidentally, that was a Steven Spielberg production, and Spielberg happens to be one of the closest friends and supporters of Michael Jackson.

But I was talking about child abuse... Michael Jackson was accused of child abuse not so long ago. The case was settled out of court, presumably for a large sum of money.

Jackson has never really escaped the stigma associated with the case and has been largely ostracised ever since.

The media have never forgotten to remind the public of the fact that those claims of child abuse were once made. At a personal level, I judged on what I had read, found him wanting, and shut him out of my mind.

Two weeks after the conversation with Roger, I swung a borrowed car into a snowed-under hotel parking lot in freezing Nottingham, England.

The weather was dismal. Robin Hood and his Merry Men were nuts to live in a place like this, I decided. I was reluctantly contemplating climbing out of the car and staggering back to the hotel.

And then I discovered the CD player. I randomly punched a button and six speakers of German engineering wrapped me in strings, pipes and birdsong. A wondrous nine-note piano sequence filled the frozen landscape. And he sang:

"Aaaaaaaaaaah. Ooooooooooh."

I was filled with a marvellous sense of well being. Peace, tranquillity. And then he screamed:

"Aaaaaaaaaaah. Ooooooooooh."

Six minutes later, I found myself calling South Africa on the car phone with tears streaming down my cheeks. Kate noticed the tremor in my voice and wanted to know what was wrong.

"This is," I said playing the song back again. "It's Michael Jackson. It's called Earth Song. And I don't believe in my gut that anyone who could produce something so beautiful could be evil.

"So I'm wondering how many other things I believe are wrong?"

I've been thinking a lot about this since then, especially about the scream of the rose. Can something beautiful be only born of trauma? Is it not possible for us to experience happiness without pain? Is this why we sometimes intentionally hurt those we love?

British writer Alan Moore once wrote: "The black soil is rich in foul decay, yet glorious life springs from it. But however dazzling the flourishes of life, in the end all decays to the same black humus.

"Perhaps evil is the humus formed by virtue's decay, and perhaps it is from that dark sinister loam that virtue grows strongest? I do not know..."

So I bought the album and took it back home. Aura, my two-and-a-half year old daughter heard the beginning, climbed onto Kate's lap, and hugged her close while listening, wide eyes glistening with tears.

When the song ended, she looked at me with the innocence of a child. "He's going to sing again, hey?"

I really hope so.