THE DOUR OF MUSIC

 

THE DOUR OF MUSIC

by Peter Brav

 

I went to a Jackson concert one Friday night last month in an old Loew’s movie house so grand they named it the Kings Theatre when it opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1929 less than two months before the epic stock market crash. Abandoned in 1977 while the city teetered on the verge of collapse, and taken over by that same city six years later for non-payment of taxes, it reopened earlier this year with all the shine and restored art deco that 95 million new American dollars and rehabilitation talent can bring.

Kings Theatre 9-25-15

It wasn’t Michael. He’s gone years. Nor was it Janet, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, or even Joe Jackson at the piano. It was Jackson Browne, he of the soulful wails that brought at least one young man to his knees in that wellspring of emotion, dreams and future nostalgia known as the 1970s.

 

After picking guitar in relative obscurity with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and building his rep as a writer of powerful songs, Clyde Jackson Browne arrived in my life in 1972 with a bang and his debut album Jackson Browne, sometimes referred to as the Saturate Before Using album. I was in 11th Grade and more than ready to leave for somewhere. Doctor My Eyes and Rock Me on the Water foretold for careful listeners the misery to come if their eyes were open when the water came in a flood. Not for me though because those two singles were just melodic and upbeat enough for a suburban kid to whistle to while he waited for his college ticket out. It turns out that I should have paid more attention to the hints of resignation in Something Fine and the simply elegant relationship ender and difficult choice opener laid out in My Opening Farewell.

 

I arrived in Ithaca autumn of 1973 with vague ideas of becoming a doctor (soon to be dashed, for the benefit of patients worldwide) and expectations of a more exciting and fulfilling life than I’d left behind. Instead what I got was frigid cold and difficult adjustment. JB’s sophomore effort For Everyman made its way to my turntable to ease it all. He lamented the common man’s struggles and prayed for people to get it together and I was on board with that. Take It Easy, his easy take on the song he’d co-written with Glenn Frey that had launched the Eagles the year before, and These Days, one of the finest songs I have ever listened to. Other melodies almost as beautiful completed an album unlike any other I had ever heard, with gentle guitars that cried as much as the anguished words they accompanied.

 

As I began to shift more attention from mandated high school science to the world at large, this For Everyman album was there for this Everyman. It was there for the withdrawal from Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East and the start of the Watergate hearings. I had yet to learn that this world at large was really a world at worry, and always would be, but in any event it took a distant second place to the real questions of my own life. How would I find someone and something to connect with? And manage to keep whomever and whatever around long enough to even get to what will be will be? For an hour, for a week, for, dare I say, ever?

 

And then along came Jackson in the fall of 1974 with perhaps his greatest masterpiece, Late for

the Sky, to answer all these questions with the resonant message that I was indeed screwed, along

 

with him and everyone else, both in relationships that were failing and would continue to fail,and an awareness that the end of everything wasn’t all that distant. Late for the Sky, The Late Show, For a Dancer, Before the Deluge, and four more, all so magnificent, and so sad. Even now it’s hard to know whether this music was sent to soundtrack my life or relationships failed for me to accompany the music.

 

I was leaving college when the fourth album arrived in late 1976 after the suicide of Jackson’s first wife. With The Fuse, Here Come Those Tears Again, Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate, it seemed more about getting away from sadness than living with it. Daddy’s Tune to a father and The Only Child to a son. Your Bright Baby Blues, Linda Paloma. Almost upbeat, relatively speaking, until the last tune, the title song The Pretender, which let me know that all finding love would do was help me sell out, endure malaise and watch my dreams disappear.

 

Ah, the laughter of the lovers

As they run through the night

Leaving nothing for the others

But to choose off and fight

And tear at the world with all their might

While the ships bearing their dreams

Sail out of sight

 

I’m gonna find myself a girl

Who can show me what laughter means

And we’ll fill in the missing colors

In each other’s paint by number dreams

And then we’ll put our dark glasses on

And we’ll make love until our strength is gone

And when the morning light comes streaming in

We’ll get up and do it again


When I met my wife, a lover of Motown and music with a beat you could dance to, my Jackson Browne LPs found their way out of sight and ear. Life was busier, and pretty good too, the joy of children and a happy marriage making sadness elusive. Sure, I knew the world out there was changing for the worse in so many ways. Many people from my generation, sometimes people I knew who were smart but not that smart, seemed to be making so much money which was hard to comprehend while so many others were suffering. Folks seemed to yell at each other about everything and CNN and this Internet thing made it easier to yell long distance and actually be heard. We seemed to find enemies everywhere, not just in the Middle East, but everywhere. And don’t get me started on the environment. Sure, GE was no longer openly dumping daily in the Hudson but they were telling anyone who would listen that cleanup was impossible.

 

I lost touch with Jackson Browne completely and had no idea that he was now much more focused on songs about plastic and bloodshed than love shed and performing in one good cause benefit after another. I, on the other hand, was resigned because I was Everyman and not someone singing about him. This Everyman grew older but more accepting and happier and didn’t think of himself as The Pretender. Knowing that you can’t change the world and that the world can’t change you is freeing.

 

Then came Friday night at the Kings. Those chords, that finger picking, that pedal steel, those poetic visions.

 

How long have I been sleeping?

How long have I been drifting alone through the night?

How long have I been dreaming I could make it right?

If I closed my eyes and tried with all my might

To be the one you need

 

Where was she, that girl to let me down gently? She was home, in New Jersey, same as she’d been for the past 32 years, with no intention of letting me down gently or otherwise.

 

Where was that belief that someday I was going to say something, write something, think something, maybe even do something that was going to make that world at large a little more magical? How had I been so comfortably numb for forty years, thank you Roger Waters and David Gilmour, wandering as long as Moses and sleeping twice as long as Rip Van Winkle? No idea.

 

Only when the house lights came up did it dawn on me that the encore Our Lady of the Well, from For Everyman of course, was indeed the end of the evening.

 

But it’s a long way that I have come

Across the sand to find this peace among your people in the sun

Where the families work the land as they have always done

Oh, it’s so far the other way my country’s gone

 

Across my home has grown the shadow of a cruel and senseless hand

Though in some strong hearts the love and truth remain

And it has taken me this distance and a woman’s smile to learn

That my heart remains among them and to them I must return

 

I looked out at many of the three thousand 50 and 60-something faces and the philosophical smiles that mirrored my own. Gray hair, sagging skin, bulging bellies. Nicer clothes, finer jewelry.

 

Tired eyes, very tired eyes, Doctor. Verging on tears.

 

Thank you, Jackson.

Peter Brav is the author of the novels THE OTHER SIDE OF LOSING, SNEAKING IN and ZAPPY I’M NOT.

https://www.facebook.com/ZappyImNot

http://www.jacksonbrowne.com/home

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1360

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorPeterBrav?fref=nf

 

© 2015 Peter Brav (all cited lyrics are © Jackson Browne)

 

Source:  Baret News

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