I find myself at the end of a long and harrowing layout process (which may be characterized as the maraschino cherry perched atop my annual September stress sundae) with the inexplicable urge to celebrate. To be specific, rather than taking inventory of my own miseries and publishing a catalogue of them for your amusement, I feel compelled to rejoice in the good fortune of another. There are enough bringdowns in this world, most of which make my own (to me, severe) bellyaches very paltry indeed.
Since grim tidings blare out at us constantly via television, radio, and the internet, my objective has been to make The Syncopated Times a source of good news. It’s my vocation to cue the banjos rather than the violins. I won’t bewail human nature and partisan squabbles that masquerade as discourse among those of different factions.
It’s so easy to get roped into strife; I find I am not altogether able to steer clear of controversy. I waded into it last month, and I was scolded for it. (People do like to scold. It may be a boon that I offered them a fair chance to chastise one so obviously in need of a lecture, and so work it out of their systems.)
All points taken, then. I’m well aware of my foibles (thank you very much!) so there’s no need for a recap. No, what I wish to consider here is the nature of our fondest wishes—what we want to be when we grow up even when we are grown up and have been for some time—and even when we’re solidly in the fourth quarter of the game and we cannot help but see the clock running out on us.
When I hear people somewhat older than I am speaking of extravagant things they intend to do and achieve, my response can only be compassion. I will not dump on their dreams, as absurd as they might sound. In what now seems a previous lifetime I used to bomb around playing minor gigs and working as an accompanist. I worked with a marvelous bass player who could not stay sober, and who was hyper and weird when past a certain point of inebriety. Before he reached that stage, he might say that we should be on the Johnny Carson or the Merv Griffin show (both of whom had retired by then) or that we should go to France, because that’s where they really appreciate jazz.
What could I have said? Everybody has ambitions that they cherish, and telling people the stark truth isn’t always doing them a favor. I was less charitable toward one of the terrible singers I used to accompany, who thought he should try out to sing on the “Love Boat.” I suggested he audition for the tug boat instead. I regret saying that, now. Who was I to dismiss and diminish his dream?
I’m well aware of what it’s like to try something and fail at it, and fail miserably—and yet hold the hope that my talent or my creation isn’t in itself lacking in quality; my masterpiece just hasn’t found the right audience to appreciate it. Those editorial gatekeepers, those corrupt agents, those venue bookers, those record company types—they’re just jealous, that’s all. They don’t know quality when they see it or hear it. I’ll show them!
And yet, against all odds and the lessons of millennia of experience, that is exactly what does happen. You score a touchdown, or hit a grand slam home run, in the last quarter—or inning—of the Game of Life. You may, in fact, not even be striving that hard anymore. You just go on, doing what you always do, not expecting anything to be different—and there it is.
Ed Clute, of Watkins Glen, New York, is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for almost a decade and I have always found his musicianship to be jaw-droppingly remarkable. But on another level, he’s always been Just Ed. Having a world-class talent is no guarantee of being world famous. Ed has played piano at the top of his game for decades, knows many thousands of songs and compositions (most of which he can play after hearing them once), and has nonetheless been sitting up in Watkins Glen, tuning pianos.
All that changed three weeks ago when, at the age of 76, Ed became famous overnight. The thing about something suddenly clicking and catching on does happen. As stated on our below-the-fold cover story, he was tuning a piano at a local bed and breakfast, the owner requested a song (and captured it on camera), uploaded it to YouTube, and it caught fire. To date, Ed’s romping rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” has been viewed more than 7.6 million times.
I tend to oblivious of most things, but Joe Bebco, who was monitoring our website traffic, noticed that my February 2016 story about Ed was getting a huge number of views. Ed was becoming a celebrity, and my story was the only piece about him online.
So, in spite of my own aches and pains and discontents (of which a full and detailed list will be provided upon request), this month I am most happy to revel in the great good fortune of one for whom it has been a long time coming. I also think it may be time to dust off those long-dormant dreams and aspirations of my own: that “unpublishable” novel, that “unmarketable” song, that “unconventional” poetry.
You really do never know.