As happens every year in this latitude, Autumn is a time of less sunlight and more shadow, and a chilliness that reminds us to bring the plants in from outdoors. We experimented this year with growing several varieties of hot peppers, some of which are very spicy indeed. I cannot eat them fast enough. The seeds from last year’s jalapeños yielded a bumper crop this year, just growing in planters and pots. Most ripened to redness before I could get to them—though there are worse problems to have.
Even the bite of the jalapeños, as well that as of the more fiery habaneros and ghost peppers, is not a sufficient distraction from the tragedies both world-wide and personal that characterize this season. Capsaicin is nothing compared to the news bulletin at the top of the hour. Each report provides a new jolt of vicarious pain and death which empathy makes vivid. The supposed comic relief is provided by our elected officials, a literal barrel of monkeys wearing flag pins. Vaudeville lives—on the floor of the House of Representatives. Yet no one will get the hook.
And just when you thought you were safely removed from the vortex of turmoil, the BBC published an article, “Climate change could make beer taste worse,” on October 11. The story, by BBC Climate and Science reporter Esme Stallard, states, “Global warming is changing the quality and taste of beer, scientists have warned. A new study reveals that the quantity of European hops, which gives beer its distinctive bitter taste, is declining. Hotter, longer, and drier summers are predicted to worsen the situation, and could lead to beer becoming more expensive.” Global warming makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into.
Meditating and self-medicating don’t seem to provide any answers, though there’s always home brew and pruno. For my own part, I believe that craft beers could cut back to about half the hops they inflict on the beer-drinking public. I know I reveal myself as a philistine with this assertion, but everything with any pretense of quality begins to taste like an IPA. Bitterness in one’s glass is an apt metaphor for everything else today. One might as well put down the beer and face the music.
As a respite from the noise of the various bandwagons on this street, I’ve begun to face my own music—which is to say songs that I wrote and committed to cassette tape thirty years ago. I keep forgetting that I’m a songwriter since so many people keep reminding me that I’m the janitor. I thought of my box of languishing cassettes when a dear friend was entrusted with a unique tape of his brilliant father, recorded a half-century ago, and he sought a means of preserving the audio. He consulted me, and I could offer no useful advice.
But I got thinking about my own “legacy” (that no one else is interested in) and I was determined to save my compositions from further decay. Having determined three cassette decks I own were either non-operational or worthless, I at last found one that would make a relatively noise-free transfer onto a digital medium. I’ve transferred several hours of tape and have plucked a few songs out of the audio for upload to YouTube. The curious may venture to hear them at their own risk by searching “carpaltunnelkid.” I offer them in the spirit of silliness as a counter-irritant to this dire reality. I make no guarantees as to their efficacy toward that end—they may leave you more depressed than before. All I can say is that they’re my children and I love the ugly ones as much as the cuties.
There’s “legacy” and there’s legacy. I was saddened a few days before this writing to hear of the death my friend (and friend to The Syncopated Times), Dr. F. Norman Vickers. Norman never stopped making a positive difference in the world of Jazz. Upon hearing of his passing, Lew Shaw wrote, “In all my years as a jazz advocate and writer, I can’t remember anyone more dedicated to the promotion and perpetuation of jazz than Norman Vickers. He was the president of the American Federation of Jazz Societies when I first joined the Board. First and foremost, he made a newcomer welcome and urged participation in the dialog. Secondly, he was skilled in bringing diverse opinions and interests together in resolving issues that would be most beneficial for the jazz community. Over the years, he was the mainstay and driving force for Jazz Pensacola and continued to be a highly-respected ambassador for jazz.”
Norman and Betty Vickers just moved house in September—my last communication with Norman was over a change of address. His last message acknowledged the receipt of the October issue, and said, “Many thanks for your friendship and many kindnesses to me and Jazz Pensacola.”
Norman, thank you for all you’ve done. I’m just getting started here and I have a long way to go. It feels like I spent the first fifty years of my life revving my engine without engaging the clutch. Looking back, yes, I did write some songs and poems and stories, and I produced a radio show that brought some great old records to new listeners. I guess that’s not nothing. But it’s not being a doctor or a determining cultural force in one’s immediate community. I look at my own Jazz Hero award and I wonder “How did I even deserve this?”
I’m here to amuse and entertain, and maybe educate. I can’t say that’s heroic or deserving of a statue or a proclamation. Legacy, shmegacy.
But in this grim world, we could do worse than to cheer each other up.