Caught by the River

Jeb's Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 2nd November 2012

Life Goes On
Charlie Rich

United Artists Records

I had, when I moved here, a four roomed stone built barn. Walls two foot thick. A roof in need of reproofing, floors in need of reflooring. I had a well, I had electricity. I had a blackened Aga. A wood stove. I had windows that needed to be refitted. I had pipes that leaked, a cracked bath, no telephone or TV.
I had a picture, taped to the kitchen door, of a grey haired man.
There were no gardens or lawns. Nettles and bracken hid the windows. The lane was washed out and rutted. Ash and hazel crowded the house.
I bought some pots and pans, sheets, towels, three bags of food, a torch, some matches, candles, a radio, and, at the last minute, a hammer.
A hammer.
Jesus. Who was I kidding? A hammer? So I’m allowed to buy hammers now? With a hammer I’m going to do what? Fix the whole goddamn place? A hammer, I figured, begged nails. Nails begged wood. Wood begged paint. Paint begged buckets and brushes.
A hammer, I thought, begged at least a modicum of know how.
I thought: look at Mr. Big with his shiny hammer.
I thought of Paul Virillio’s statement: To invent the train is to also invent the train wreck.

The photo that I had taped to the kitchen door was of Charlie Rich, hero of my youth. I often spoke to him, and he to me.

Think you’re a big shot? he asked. That the deal? You can move out here, get lost amongst the wild, and make it pay? That what you’re after?
I tried to reassure him. I told him: I got everything I need.
He laughed at that. As if to say: who among us dares say that?
I thought: there are things I can do and things I can’t do and this, this living in the wild, is something I can’t do. I thought: not for the first time have I made a mistake.

Five years earlier I had played this song to Danny Kahn, who shook his head and said, it’s just so musical.
I often thought of that, in those first months, as I spent the days adjusting, as mice fled beneath the floors, into the walls, along the rafters.
It’s just so musical.
I had views across a small valley, hills rolled down to a brook; if I stood on a chair I could see the knotted water. I had five acres. I had no idea what an acre was. Exactly where my land began and ended I had not a clue. I saw some fences that appeared in good order. I had a deed that showed my boundaries marked in thick red ink.
And I had Charlie Rich singing Life Goes On.

Jeb Loy Nichols.