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What I Love About Jack Bruce

Been listening to a lot of Jack Bruce's work since he passed last weekend. I've always loved the whole palette and package of his talent, but what I keep coming back to is not the unparalleled virtuosity of his bass-playing whether rock, blues or jazz-inflected,, but Jack as songwriter and especially Jack as vocalist. It's the Jack Bruce-Peter Brown compositions like "As You Said" that have been blowing me away more than anything. It's the only song he ever played cello on in the whole Cream catalogue and it sounds and feels like nothing else, before or since. The melody is so haunting, the vocal filled with such passion. When he sings the last line--As you said, I'll never come again, again, again--with such unearthly emotion, it's like some shattering truth about life itself, how fleeting and beautiful it is…

RIP Jack Bruce, his like will certainly never come again...


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Wavy Gravy at the City Winery, New York 10/20/14

He came on stage at the City Winery walking his rubber fish. Not at all unusual for Wavy Gravy, of course, who has been walking that fish on a leash since the Grateful Dead asked him to lead a Mardi Gras parade decades ago--and, as Wavy explained to his audience, "I didn't want to go first!"  This audience duly laughed because they get the humor--even the logic--of Wavy walking a rubber fish on a leash, but I've seen him walk that fish clear across the United States, and the expressions of complete befuddlement on the faces of people who don't know anything about Wavy and his humor. People who just see this old tie-dyed clown walking a rubber fish on a leash down Fifth Avenue...

Once I was  with him in a Seattle TV station where he was going to be interviewed on an early morning talk show, and some very straight-laced elderly ladies from a local  gardening club also waiting to go on in the green room were puzzling over just what the hell this guy thought he was doing with that fish anyway when all of a sudden the fish went bolting across the room to the TV screen, dragging Wavy right along with it. See, it was raining that morning, and the local weatherman was doing his broadcast in rain gear on a dinghy in a lake...and yes, the guy next to the weatherman was fishing.

Do I have to explain that the fish Wavy was walking just suddenly went berserk after the bait on that hook? It's hard to even describe the expressions on the faces of these ladies when he did this. That was when I truly realized that Wavy Gravy isn't just doing the character of a man who would walk a rubber fish everywhere he goes. He IS that character. That's what makes him so special, so funny, so touching. This 78-year old "Hippie Icon, Flower Geezer, and Temple of Accumulated Error" is like hearing about Santa Claus and then having to face the startling realization that Mr Claus is very real indeed, so what next?

I hadn't seen Wavy since the Woodstock Festival of 1999--the one that was set on fire. Of course he's gotten old but he's lucid as hell and was in great form. His show was a joy, There was no particular order to the material though his wife, Jahanara--"Mrs. Gravy" as he calls her-- did make him write themes and subjects down in a book he had with him onstage.  His style has always been freeform with segues that cut up his life into bite sized nuggets of memory. Call them what you will--anecdotes, routines, stories he's been  telling for years--and what gradually emerges over the course of a performance is a hologram of his life and times. And what a life and times it was that transformed Hugh Nanton Romney into the person that BB King would call "Wavy Gravy"...

It was all there in the performance in one form or another: his boyhood walk with Albert Einstein (and the smell of the great physicist that he would never forget), the early years as a poet and stand-up in the Village, the folkie days at the Gaslight, the Pranksters and the Acid Tests, the Hog Farm and the era of the great bus caravans, the anti-war movement, Woodstock, the trek to India, the Nobody For President Campaign, the anti-nuke demonstrations, becoming a clown, all indelibly rendered with figures like Dylan and Bill Graham making cameo appearances.

There were bits that were new even to old hands like the time Marlene Dietrich came to see him at the Gaslight and left a perfect red ring of lipstick around a coffee cup, which Gaslight owner John Mitchell then carefully put up on the shelf. A Dietrich worshipper, Mitchell was going to preserve the cup forever as a treasured souvenir, never in a million years imagining that the guy who cleans up would just, well, clean it up. The story ends with Mitchell chasing the janitor down MacDougal Street with a scimitar. As Wavy likes to say in conclusion to some of these bits, "You had to be there,"  And now we were.

Almost as an aside, Wavy mentioned his work with the Seva Foundation, which he founded with Ram Dass and Dr. Larry Brilliant to combat preventable blindness in the third world. He does this never to blow his own horn but merely to illustrate what people can do when they put their minds to it--"putting their good where it will do the best," as Ken Kesey described it. To date Seva has saved the sight of three and a half million people, and I found myself thinking, not many people can say something like that. We're very fortunate indeed that he's still alive because so are his good deeds. That's what he's always been about.

Savor that Gravy while you can. I hate to think of a world without him.

 




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Welcome!

Welcome to my blog!

You might say, to paraphrase the Cracker song, What the world needs now is another blogger, like I need a hole in the head. Of course, Cracker was talking about folksingers. I happen to be a folksinger too...but lucky for you I’ll spare you that. There will be no clips of me singing Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” I promise.

I have a new website, so why not a blog? It’s part of an overhaul that will include Twitter, Instagram et al. designed to get me more into the social media game. My wife Laura and her coterie of digital media advisers have been strongly encouraging me to do so. You might even say she’s been up my ass about it. They tell me, “Digitize, then monetize!”

Of course, my nature is to isolate, remain completely silent and hide from the world (which is probably why I became a writer in the first place) so I’m innately resistant to all of this kind of self-revelation and promotion. I can’t help that it all seems terribly crass to me, but it’s a new world and I like to think I’m one old dog that can be taught new tricks. I also think it will be a very good way to get back into the habit of daily writing and connect with people.

Of course, whether or not anyone gives much of a fuck about anything I have to say is entirely another matter. As for my subjects, anything will be fair game. I will write about my work, my passions for things like music, books and film, what’s going on in the world, and anything about my personal life that strikes me as interesting... 

So, again, welcome to my blog, and bombs away...!

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