Caught by the River

Jeb's Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 24th January 2017

Downtown U S A
Ben Peters

Liberty Records

This week the cold finally arrived. It’s been a mild winter and we knew, sooner or later, the hard frosts would hit. I walked out this morning to a frost whitened world. Rabbit and fox tracks circled the house and pheasants huddled beneath the willow shrubs. We had, over night, been abandoned to the elements. We were a world apart. I knew that, 300 miles to the south, London was yelling and buying and selling. I knew that, 3000 miles to the west, America was preparing for a Trumptastic New Year. I knew that, 16 miles downhill and east, the local market hall was opening. All while I stood in the silent dawn and watched starlings.

An hour later I’m in my room with a cup of tea. At my window are robins and finches, behind them a mist is settling. Another fog filled day. I look at the stack of records next to my record player; Idris Ackamoor, Joe Bataan, Wayne Davis, Mentor Williams, Sun Ra. The birds blow around like cotton balls. I reach up to the shelf of 45s and pull out a few; Jerry Reed, Joe Simon, Donny Hathaway, The Georgia Prophets, and there, at the bottom, Ben Peters. I put on Downtown USA and watch the birds disappear into the mist.

As I listen to Ben Peters report on the state of 1970s America, it all sounds too familiar. I think of my friend in Missouri saying, if it’s possible for us to make a mistake we’ll make it twice. The ‘us’ being people, citizens, voters, politicians, preachers, tennis players, bankers, singers, etc. The great ungentle mass of humanity. Downtown USA is where we live, what we’ve made, what we’ve left behind, what we deserve. It’s ours and it’s here to stay.

Perhaps I’m running away. Perhaps I’m scared. Maybe I’ve taken the easy way. But on days like this I know; I’ve made my decision, I’ve chosen my place. It’s the fog for me, the mist, the hidden hills and fields, the small dark birds, the fox and rabbit tracks, the mud filled lane, the quiet, the heavy hedgerows, the bare trees. I know that Downtown USA is out there, I know what Ben Peters is singing about, but today, this week, I’ll stay here and be just a little bit cold.

Jeb Loy Nichols
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