|Archive Kitchen in a cold-water flat on Perry Street, Greenwich Village (Gettyimages.com)|
A winter evening in Montreal two years ago. My wife and I are invited for dinner at the home of a friend and musician in the great Canadian north. The other guests are musicians, writers and journalists, a good time being had by all.
Half-way through the meal, a late guest. Our host is overjoyed that she has arrived. She is in her seventies, well kept but with that sense of ‘dues’ about her face; those lines of chiseled experience carved deeply in her cheeks.
I was unaware of her identity.
She was his partner for over twenty years: he, the Dead Famous musician, Poet and composer who had recently past- away. They gathered around her animated whisky-throated laugh. She was full of nervous energy, someone who had lost someone and needed to be with others.
I sat back like a good stranger and observed.
She gulped down two shots of whiskey and the stories began. The journalists had their memories tuned up.
There was an article here for the next edition of whatever they wrote for. The questions came as if she were not at a party but at an interview. She was becoming uncomfortable.
Then I realized who she was, not from her time spent with Mr. Dead Famous, but from a picture of her I’d recently seen in a magazine article about a record sale for one of her paintings.
My wife was in the kitchen helping out with the mess. I remained on the couch. She looked over at me with a curious smile. “I know you.”
I responded. “No you don’t.”
She walked over to the couch accompanied by her whisky-throated laugh. “No, what I mean is I know who you are.”
I returned. “Why?”
“Because in 1974, I was at the Summer music festival in Central park. You were the guitarist and violist with Tim Buckley. I talked with you in the dressing room while you were warming up your bow arm. I never forgot the fact that you played guitar and viola with Tim. It was really beautiful.”
I was stunned. I was having a vague recollection of that afternoon forty years ago. (Did I just say FORTY years ago?)
She sat down with me and we began to recount the old days. She and I were the ancient ones in attendance. Two or three others gathered a chair and sat around to listen in. We talked about the Village when it was affordable. She mentioned that she had rented a coldwater flat when she first arrived in the late fifties for sixty-five dollars a month. One of the listeners questioned. “What the hell is a coldwater flat?” She and I looked at each other and smiled. You had to be a certain age to know that one.
As the evening rolled by and it was time to retreat she offered to drive my wife and I back to our apartment in Vieux Montreal. The road was icy from recent snows. She navigated slowly saying very little on the road home. She asked me if I were still playing music. I said yes but that I was writing and had just finished my first novel searching for a publisher.
We arrived at our front door on St. Paul West and as we hugged and said goodnight she gave me a wry smile. “After you get your first book published you may want to write one called Coldwater Flat”. We both laughed and she drove off taking her uniqueness with her: a boomer with much history under her belt.
If you are still with us and perchance reading this blog; just to let you know—
I’m working on it.
(Copyright - Art Johnson, Monaco - 2014)
|Bob Dylan, en concert en novembre dernier à Londres. Paris Match 2014|
Perspective makes the world go ‘round. We listen to the same music, view the same movie, taste the same food and opinions vary: the perspective varies.
My thoughts on aging are influenced by my perspective, unique to me because of my experience, my trials and tribulations, successes and failures. We each see things the way we do from our point of observation.
Poets are the great observers of all times.
They assimilate objective events and subject them to their perspective (there’s that word again!). Along the way these thoughts are put into words from a language that the poet is familiar with. They might chose their own or perhaps a foreign dialect that they’ve mastered.
Samuel Beckett’s poems in French, comes to mind.
The writer/poet/essayist expresses their concept, their perspective to share with others.
Now, the other day I was leafing through ‘Paris Match’ which is roughly the French equivalent to ‘People’ magazine in the U.S. I landed on a page where there were two photos. The first appeared to be a homeless person well nigh seventy years old, destitute in appearance with a sad expression on their face. I read the caption. It was a recent photo of Robert Plant, the voice of Led Zepplin.
Next was a photo of what I assumed to be an old retired butcher or shoe repairman. Wow, Bob Dylan…a double for Moses.
It occurred to me at that moment that the aging process just fell upon the Boomers like a huge boulder from a high cliff…bam!! All of the sudden everyone went from “…looking pretty good.” To “My God, what the hell happened?
As a touring and recording musician during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, I’ve been interviewed quite a bit recently for online and print magazines because of the stars that I performed, toured or recorded with, like Tim Buckley, Judee Sill, Lena Horne, Randy Crawford etc.
The twenty-something interviewers are always fascinated when I describe to them a world they’ve only encountered in history books.
Over the next few weeks I will share some of my “old geezer” perspectives with the hopes that those who weren’t there then, but wanted to be, can get a sense of what was, which they can have for the now.
(What did he just say?) Later…Art
(© Copyright - Art Johnson - Monaco 2014)
Here’s a remarkable short film of the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grappelli and their band the Quintette du Hot Club de France performing on a movie set in 1938. The film was hastily organized by the band’s British agent Lew Grade as a way to introduce the band’s unique style of guitar- and violin-based jazz to the British public before their first UK tour. As Michael Dregni writes in Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing:
The Quintette was unknown to the British public, and there was no telling how their new music would resonate. So, Grade sought to educate his audience. He hired a movie crew to film a six-minute-plus promotional short entitled Jazz “Hot” to be shown in British theaters providing a lesson in jazz appreciation to warm up the crowds.
That would explain the didactic tone of the first two and a half minutes of the film, which plods along as a remedial lesson on the nature of jazz. It opens with an orchestra giving a note-for-note performance of Handel’s “Largo,” from the opera Xerxes, which the narrator then contrasts to the freedom of jazz improvisation.
But the film really comes alive when Django arrives on the screen and launches into a jazz arrangement of the popular French song “J’attendrai.” (The name means “I will wait,” and it’s a reworking of a 1933 Italian song, “Tornerai” or “You Will Return,” by Dino Olivieri and Nino Rastelli.) Although the sequences of Reinhardt and the band playing were obviously synchronized to a previously recorded track, Jazz “Hot” is the best surviving visual document of the legendary guitarist’s two-fingered fretting technique, which he developed after losing the use of most of his left hand in a fire. To learn more about Reinhardt and to watch a full-length documentary on his life, see our August 2012 post, “Django Reinhardt and the Inspiring Story Behind His Guitar Technique.”
Reposted from Open Culture
This series of undetermined length shall be part story, part essay, part philosophy and a smattering of my observations regarding the flower-power generation and its seemingly overnight process of aging.
Granola one day: Grandpa the next.
If you were born between 1940 and 1950, there may be something here for you. If you were born before or after these decades, there might be something here for you.
I would also like to mention that since the ‘Devil’s Violin’ blog began over six months ago many persons have been appreciative of the contents, and the thanks must also go to Chi-Li Wong from Los Angeles who I have been extremely fortunate to have as my research assistant and blog poster. I could not continue these projects without her valuable assistance and unfailing energy.
The kitchen clock showed 9:57. Soon it would be ten. …Time for senior citizens like myself to be in bed praying for a good nights’ sleep. Those days of hanging out in bars until one in the morning then coming home, smoking a joint, downing two more shots of whisky and diving into an old Bogart movie on television until 4:00 am—those days are over: aren’t they?
There’s our problem.
The desires drawn upon to feed those moments of jubilant excess still persist.
Age does not change the interior of a person.
That one realization can ruin everything.
The body becomes feeble, limbs uncooperative, digestion intolerable in its pace. And then there are those constantly occurring breathless moments experienced during the day when the slightest physical effort reminds you that death is inching closer.
The continual awareness of your physical decline haunts your every thought.
But still, inside, you are anything but that mass of decaying flesh which stares back at you in the bathroom mirror.
All of your hopes are pinned on the premise that one night without premeditation you will leave your apartment, go to a bar downtown, drink yourself silly, laugh with strangers over nothing then return home to smoke a joint, do more shots of whiskey and watch “The Maltese Falcon” until the sun rises.
These are the thoughts I have as the ambulance speeds down 5th avenue, sirens roaring at 10:30 with me strapped to a gurney. Two nervous paramedics who seem, to my failing eyes, to be about fifteen years of age, smile nervously at me brandishing the ‘thumbs-up” sign.
Who the hell do they think they’re kidding?
I don’t have the slightest idea what happened. One moment I was looking at the clock in the kitchen, just before ten, and now I’m racing to the emergency entrance of Mercy hospital with the Gerber baby twins overseeing my well being.
The ambulance pulls into a driveway lit up by intense yellow lights; the ones that are supposed to ward off moths yet when you look directly at the bulbs they are engulfed by those grey-winged creatures.
Why is everything backwards?
Why do they have to put “…do not take internally” on boxes of products which are marked poison?
When did they start doing that?
When I was growing up in the 1950’s, people didn’t have to be warned to not drink from a bottle of rat poison, or not to stick their head inside a plastic bag and seal it around their neck!
No, no-no…I’m sorry this just won’t do.
It’s moments like this when you realize that life, after a certain year, varying from individual to individual is pointless. The ‘twins’ shot me up with something before we left the apartment in the ambulance.
I’m probably going to die, but I feel great.
Just like coming home from a bar at one in the morning, smoking a joint and….
(© Copyright 2014 - Art Johnson – Monaco)