“Memory Man: Living the Blues” — a story by Michael L. Newell

July 7th, 2020

.

.

“Man Smoking Pipe” by James Brewer

.

Memory Man:  Living the Blues

by

Michael L. Newell

.

…..He is an old man, a tired man wearing patches and rags and shoes whose soles flap step after step, a man who carries ghosts inside him up and down the hills he trudges, alone but accompanied by hundreds of faces and voices he has known.  Who, he asks himself, is that lass walking on the far side of the street; I know her, no name, no place, but I know her, the gait, the sway, the roll of hip and thigh, and the boys walking by she ignores.   I see her everywhere I wander through this town, and yet I am sure we have never spoken, nor has she ever noticed my passing.  She is a prototype for a dozen others, flagship for a fleet of young women eyed by many, known casually by most of their age group, known well by few, if any.  They are echoes of visions in the old man’s memory.

…..    My passing, he thinks again.  When will that be?  How long until this weary, weary stride slows to stillness, to an exhausted slipping into earth to feed future, bush, tree, and hungry plant.  Others worry about burial or cremation.  I don’t worry about this old rag I have become.  Wherever it is planted, however it is disposed of, I will neither feel it, nor care about it.

…..      Whose voice is that echoing from the church on the corner?  I could swear I have known it before, often before, but I can not put to it a name, a face.  I could walk into the church and see if I know the speaker, but there would be a hundred faces, and I would wish to put a name to them all.  It seems, though, that I have forgotten names, forgotten what places to associate with faces.  All faces are familiar, no names mean a thing, and all sources of meaning float on the wind like vagrant clouds or lost raindrops.

…..      The old man slips through streets and lives of passing strangers like a discarded wrapper floating on a breeze down a suburban side street, rising and falling, settling to earth, lifting off again, a final resting place nowhere in sight, and a source of laughter to children and teenagers in search of entertainment.

…..      In the attic of his head, there is an encyclopedia of people engaged in activities he once shared.  He remembers faces, bodies, activities, but names have faded.  Was Paul really John, was Thomas actually Bill, did Sally and Mary have one another’s names, or wear names long forgotten?  Do names matter?

…..     Whoever she was, she gave him the best kiss of his life.  Whoever he was, he bestowed on the old man the greatest act of kindness he ever received.  Strangely, all those he once cursed have faded into smudges on the edges of his mind’s pictures;  those with whom he has laughed and shared curses at Fate are clearer in his memory than today’s breakfast or his reasons for taking this walk carrying him hither and yon through this small town which is as strange to him as the couple driving past in a pickup truck shouting imprecations at the world.  His past is more his present than the world through which he moves.  Reaching home he collapses onto a couch and visits a dozen times and places retained in memory, that unreliable zoo whose creatures keep reforming, renaming, replacing themselves.  Unreliable, true, but deeply comforting, and a haven from a world the old man understands less and less.

…..       From a nearby house, some youngster tries to make his dobro sing the blues.  Thinks the old man, your chops are pretty good, lad, but you’ve still got a few years to live before you can make that instrument really sing.  Also, you need a mouth harp to create a fuller sound.  As the old fellow hovers on sleep’s edge, he realizes he would like to hear the player in about ten years.  Just before he drifts off, he laughs and murmurs, I’ll be dead in ten years.  Pick up the pace, laddie.  His snores fill the room.

.

___

.

Michael L. Newell lives in a small town on the Florida coast.

.

.

Listen to a 1953 recording of Duke Ellington playing his composition “Reflection in D”

 

.

.

.

Share this:

3 comments on ““Memory Man: Living the Blues” — a story by Michael L. Newell”

  1. A nice one, Michael. I have read pieces of it in many of your poems it seems. Pick up the pace, indeed. But not too fast or it all slips by –

  2. “Also, you need a mouth harp to create a fuller sound. As the old fellow hovers on sleep’s edge” I’d love to be that mouth harp playing the voice of that fuller sound my friend! This is a beautiful piece Sir Newell>

  3. A very good look into memory, and how memories are remembered. “his past is more
    his present …” Really nailed it down. It is strange at 73 how you remember things
    clear back in your 20’s. Very good story.

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Painting of Clifford Brown by Warren Goodson
The 43 poets who contribute to the Summer Collection of jazz poetry communicate their heartfelt passion for the artistry and inspiration found in jazz music, and help readers, in the words of Art Blakey, “wash away the dust of everyday life” – a special gift to share during this restless summer of discontent…and hope.

Interview

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Publisher’s Notes

Grant Park, Portland, Sep 16, 2020
On a challenging summer in Portland, the passing of Stanley Crouch, and upcoming opportunities for writers

Great Encounters

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Will Friedwald, author of Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole, writes about the 1940 Lionel Hampton/King Cole Trio RCA Victor recording sessions.

Interview

photo of James Baldwin by Allan Warren
In our interview with Nicholas Buccola, author of The Fire is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America, the author tells the story of the historic 1965 Cambridge Union debate between Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and Buckley, a staunch opponent of the movement and founder in 1955 of the leading conservative publication, National Review. The evening’s debate topic? “The American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”

Poetry

Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. 14 poets contribute to the first volume of collected poetry.

Poetry

photo by Russell duPont
The second volume of poetry reflecting this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season features the work of 23 poets

Short Fiction

photo FDR Presidential Library & Museum
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #54 — “A Failed Artist’s Paradise” by Nathaniel Neil Whelan

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin are featured

Poetry

Frits De Jong / CC0
“Nocturne in a Whirling Fan” — a poem by Joel Glickman

Humor

painting of Louis Armstrong by Vakseen
In Dig Wayne's "Iconolast," Louis Armstrong is responsible for saving the lives of every man, woman and child on the ball bearing line at the Radio Flyer wagon factory...

Poetry

photo by John Vachon/Library of Congress
“Climate Change” — Ten poems in sequence by John Stupp

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #140

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Although he had success as a bandleader in the 1930’s, he is best known for being manager of Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse (where Thelonious Monk was the pianist) during the birth of bebop. Who was he?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Coming Soon

photo of Erroll Garner by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
The historian and most eminent jazz writer of his generation Dan Morgenstern joins pianist Christian Sands -- the Creative Ambassador of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project -- in a conversation about Garner's historic legacy. Also…an autumn collection of poetry; Will Friedwald, author of Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole is interviewed about the legendary pianist and vocalist; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction, poetry, and lots more in the works...

Contributing writers

Site Archive