Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Jeb Loy Nichols

17th December 2012

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

January February
The evening comes slowly. Or seems to. The empty vegetable beds, from left to right, are made dark. At some point, around 5:00, I pull the curtains and begin to cook.
Whilst listening to Pharaoh Saunders.
Whom I saw, whilst living in New York, many times.
I cook the same thing now that I used to cook then; fried tofu, chillies, onions and ginger, steamed rice. All with a lemon and tahini sauce.
I spend longer cooking than I do eating.

I feel closest to the devil when discussing money.
Said Pharaoh Saunders.

I remember Pharaoh Saunders in dark trousers, a black shirt, an African embroidered waist coat; yellow, brown, green, red.
He wore dark glasses.
At a club in the village, on 8th Street.
And music that flew at us in waves, pounding around the room. Music that asked the question: why have we come here and what is it we want?

March April
I’m having an exhibition of prints during the music festival South By Southwest in Austin Texas. There was a time, when I was still whoring in the music business, that I travelled frequently. New York, Berlin, Paris; trains, planes, coaches. It was, always, awful.
Presented with collected hordes of travellers I was reminded of my relationship to them. I was of their tribe.
These grasping, bumbling, dull, aggressive animals.
I sat in airports and train stations and felt cheapened. There were no worse places. The food, the shops, the air, the lack of quiet, the blank and threatening walls; all of it designed to clear both my mind and my money.
I spent those golden years both disgusted and disappointed.
The reasons to dislike flying are too numerous to detail here. We all know that. So fuck it.
Vile sport.

May June
I see that, last night, Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery collection was sold at auction for 74.9 million pounds. One ring went for nearly 10 million pounds. A necklace, set with a 16th century pearl, fetched 7.6 million.
I realize I have no understanding of the world outside my front door.

The Elizabeth Taylor I’m referring to is the American actress and not the English writer.
One thing I do here is read the novels of Elizabeth Taylor.
The English writer not the American actor.
A particular favourite is A Wreath Of Roses. It begins and ends with a suicide and has all manner of life and death between.
I would rather have one of her books than all the bejewelled trinkets owned by the other Ms. Taylor.

July August
It rains and rains and rains. No summer. Which means I’m indoors thinking about things I shouldn’t.
I’ve no wish to write any more about youth, nor London, nor my time in Battersea and Hackney.
Nor about the cheap record players I once owned.
Also cassette players.
Nor the books I read.
I gazed at them for hours; I listened rapt.
Nor the fact that I had lighter, almost blonde hair.
Nor the summer in Spain I lay in a hammock strung between fig trees. The sun was incredible. I wasn’t, then, worried with this sadness.

September October
I came to Wales with no fixed plan, no hopes other than a leak-free roof, windows that kept out rain, plumbing that delivered water, doors that closed and locked.
I quickly ran out of money; I made little in the way of improvements.
I tinkered.
I had little and quickly realized I liked having little. Two chairs were
plenty. One table sufficed.

There were, when I moved here, to this remote farm, three nesting pairs of curlews. Now none. Each one dead and consumed, gone into grit and muck. The problem is pesticides. The local farmers spray the stuff in great ferocious waves.
Wave bye-bye to ground nesting fowl.

I sit in the cold, playing guitar to the few brave birds that remain. I’m singing Hank Williams songs and watching shadows creep across the grass.
Years pass like finches.
Yesterday, in a book by Cesare Pavese, I read: Lets forget all this talk; in this country you either become stupid and sentimental or go mad.
There are, I know, good people in this world and they need to be thanked.
I’ve spent the year listening to Fela Kuti and Staff Benda Bilili and Black Swans and Dylan and Dudley Perkins.
Frank Hutson too, singing Old Man Me.
And recently Felix Harris, singing Walking In The Night.
I’ve read books by Warren Miller and Burt Blechman. June Akers Seese and Douglas Woolf.
Reread Barry Hannah and Charles Portis.
A year spent worrying and trying not to.

Perhaps the best bits were on stage at Ronnie Scott’s and The Social. Or in Columbus Ohio at The Lindsay Gallery. Or walking on the beach from Ramsgate to Broadstairs. Or walking on the little used bridleway behind my house on a Sunday morning. Or sitting on the sofa with L, late night, lights out, listening to Charles Lloyd.

I can see, across a rust coloured field, a line of leafless trees. The birch trunks are white; crows sit in the branches. Beyond them is a small brook. Sheep gather at its bank. The light, now, is fading.
On the widow sill are three shells I’ve brought back from the coast.

Jeb Loy Nichols.