Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What the thought of death brings out in me

It's been a strange week. And it's only Wednesday.

I was driving around yesterday when I heard on the radio that Hank Jones died. All I could do was take off my beret and salute him. It's sad - he's the last of three Jones men of jazz to go, with brothers Thad and Elvin before him. But then, Hank was 91 years old. And he played like he was 60. I saw him last year at the Detroit International Jazz Festival and although he did sort of look his age around the eyes, he was eternally young around the fingers. All I can say is I'm glad I caught him before he split.

Of course, the world lost Lena Horne last week too. There's no need for me to rehash what's been written about her over the past week, but suffice to say, she was always one of those artists that I just kind of took for granted. I never owned any of her albums until about eight years ago when I found two RCA records at a flea market. Whoa, goddam. That's what I felt after listening to her. She's freaking amazing, with a ton of fire power. No wonder Cecil Taylor loves her.

Plus I love the fact that she was on Sesame Street a few times and once, she helped Grover overcome his shyness and he told her she was a great kisser. Lucky monster.

Tonight I finally wrote a review for Blurt of Susan Cowsill's latest album, Lighthouse. Normally I wouldn't tell you anything about it here and urge you to read the online review. But for one thing, I haven't sent it to them yet. (I always sleep on it, unless I'm right on a deadline.) For another thing, there's one song that's been heavy on my mind lately that I feel the need to write about. "River of Love" was written by Susan's brother Barry who was in the Cowsills with her. The song has a lost-love theme where the singer hopes they'll be reunited again by the river of love. But considering the theme of loss that runs through this album, it's clear that the song is now more about Barry, who drowned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and wasn't found for about four months. His own song is a tribute, a wish to him. That's heavy enough but Susan got her surviving brothers Bob, John and Paul, and sister-in-law Vicki Peterson Cowsill (yes, that Vicki Peterson, my fave Bangle), to join her on the chorus and lift the bandstand.

And boy, do they ever. The song makes me fucking cry every time I hear it. It's like "The Bleeding Heart Show" by the New Pornographers, except that this time the emotion is based on real events. And the music has all the trappings of a perfect pop song.

Death has been on my mind lately. I was worried that if death always comes in threes, who would be the next jazz person to leave? Please not Sonny Rollins. Not Cecil either. Then I remembered Ronnie James Dio was gone, making Hank #3. Small consolation, but I needed it.

Last night a longtime friend was telling me about going to Lillydale and trying to communicate with her dead grandparents. It sounds like she did, but it wasn't the conversation she had hoped to have. It was just kind of typical, average conversation. There were no over-arching pearls of wisdom, just some random everyday observations.

While it bothered her - and me, in a way - it did make me think that these methods of communication can probably happen but that we can't expect to get major insight from talking to the dead anymore than you could've gotten immediate changes in yourself from talking to John Coltrane when he was alive. He wasn't an actual God. He was a guy, albeit one that was extremely talented. And the dead... are the people who loved you and you love them. They're just in a different place now. That sounds sad, but the best was to keep from feeling sad is to go on living.

1 comment:

stephen said...

You are a fine critic.
That was a lovely post.