He Ain't Heavy
Last night I was watching a BBC documentary I'd recorded, about four ground-breaking jazz albums, all recorded in 1959. They were Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, Mingus-Ah-Um by Charles Mingus, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, and The Shape of Jazz To Come by Ornette Coleman. And I got to thinking about my big brother, who died two years ago yesterday, and whose influence on my musical taste - and on so much else in my childhood - was huge. Martin it was who took me to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, and a year or so earlier to see the Ornette Coleman Trio. (That was my very first experience of live jazz, which as in-at-the-deep-end experiences goes must surely be the jazz equivalent of encountering classical music via the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen.) And of course, as I have posted elsewhere, he took me to see Dylan on the night someone yelled "Judas!" at him. Thanks to Martin I saw Phil Ochs, Ravi Shankar, Delaney and Bonnie (with Eric Clapton and George Harrison), Andre Segovia, Artur Rubinstein, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, the Mothers of Invention, Coleman Hawkins, Roland Kirk, Peter Paul & Mary, The Incredible String Band, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, and Sir Laurence Olivier playing Shylock. Although in my later teens I took my interest in classical music to places where Martin was unable to follow, my eclectic musical tastes (both classical and non-classical) were established by my brother's sink-or-swim approach to the education of his sibling. I'm quite sure that to begin with he saw himself as Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle, and I was certainly happy to spend many an hour with my ear clamped to the horn of his gramophone (so to speak). I have Martin to thank for my transition from Enid Blyton and Biggles to adult literature: not only the James Bond novels, Hammond Innes, and Modesty Blaise; nor H P Lovecraft, nor indeed the mysteries of the American dream as revealed via the pages of Playboy: I don't suppose too many twelve-year-old kids back then were reading Howl or even the Mersey Poets. (Though I did meet another early convert to Brian Patten when I was a student.) And of course how can I forget that it was my brother's ecstatic description of The Great Race which made me head for the cinema to see it (only the second time I'd seen a film all by myself), a favour he repeated some years later with Silent Running (whose Peter Schickele soundtrack he had been playing me for some considerable time before the film itself came out here).
And now he's gone, and I'm still here. A comforting, shadowy presence has gone, like the shadow of the WTC rolling down the wall on Ernest Borgnine's apartment in 9'11"01. And it occurs to me that that absence allows a withered plant deprived of light to recover, while the final scene of Silent Running is played out over Rejoice In The Sun.
Rock on, bro.