Writing about the life and death of my father proved to be an arduous task. Before tackling The Blues and the Abstract Truth, I revisited previous posts on the man: from his birth in extreme poverty to his tragic death, his life was a sad one. If you were to pick up his biography in a book store, you would tag the work as fictitious and overdramatic. I failed to come up with a gleeful reexamination of his life, so I wrote it as I remembered it. Dad would have made a great Johnny Cash song.
The years that followed his suicide are a blur. I have gathered scraps from that time: drugs, booze, and the occasional moments of sobriety where I thought about getting high and drunk. And then there was jazz, exclusively. I lived vicariously through jazz, and I brought my dad along—together we created vivid aural memories. Through writing, I could try and give a second life to my blues… perhaps these posts would find a readership.
The idea was to write freestyle, and to let the words flow with the music. Each jazz style would convey an emotion, or at least, a period of my grieving: the initial shock, the anger, the shame, and the acceptance. I would play songs from a genre, and improvise. I would write a sentence, close my eyes and imagine the sentence dance, and then rewrite the sentence until it moved to the music. As ethereal as it may sound, the words grooved. In a phrase words would swing in unison, while in another words would dance unaccompanied, soliloquizing between two commas.
…There was a time when my father’s death made as little sense as John Coltrane’s music—I knew both made me feel, but I could not identify which exact emotion it was.
…I attempted to rationalize his suicide, as I tried to intellectualize free jazz.
…I discovered the music of Ketil Bjørnstad, but I was embarrassed to admit it, because it sounded more like new age than pure jazz.
…I was the son of a successful artist, but few knew that my father was a janitor who put an end to his life.
…The first time I listened to Keith Jarrett’s Köln concert, I cried. Around the same time, I started making peace with my father’s life and death.
These snippets would produce some of the most hermetic posts yet on A Clown on Fire. I have received heartfelt feedback from readers, while attracting little traffic. As grueling as the topic of suicide may be, The Blues and the Abstract Truth is one of my proudest blogging accomplishments.
Questions: Have you ever played with different writing styles? Have you ever used writing as a form of therapy? What place does music have in your life?
ADDENDUM: I’ve been asked about the musical compositions mentioned in these posts. Here are links to these songs, including those I have listened to while writing the series.
- John Coltrane: A Love Supreme;
- Sonny Rollins: Blue 7;
- Miles Davis: Footprints;
- Oliver Nelson: Teenie’s Blues;
- Eric Dolphy: Out To Lunch.
- Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz;
- Peter Brotzmann: Machine Gun;
- Matthew Shipp: Greensleeves;
- Albert Ayler: Ghosts – First Variations;
- Dave Douglas: The Inflated Tear.
- Jan Garbarek: Dansere;
- Ketil Bjørnstad: The Sea II;
- Kenny Wheeler: Deer Wan;
- John Surman: Running Sands;
- Terje Rypdal: Ghostdancing.