Caught by the River

Jeb’s Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 16th April 2023

Jeb Loy Nichols finds this month’s Jukebox selection hard to explain.

Brother Lee Luv
Beautiful Records

It’s my feeling that you can’t very often explain anything to anyone.  There’s always so much to say and so many ways to get it wrong.  Who am I to tell anyone anything?

I’m amazed every day of my life.  Amazed that I’m able to feed myself, clothe myself; amazed that I’m not a wreck, not in jail, not homeless, not a drunk, not diseased, not destitute; amazed that I’m able to keep up my end of a simple conversation; amazed by weasels, by magpies, by thunder; amazed that I have even the few friends I have.

Last night I was amazed by what I heard on the radio: Fifteen rare monkeys, the woman says, have been stolen from a private zoo in Scotland. And I was thinking: a private zoo?  Is that a thing?  People have private zoos?  The owner, it seems, is a retired banker from Glasgow.  Involved in breeding rare species.  Which he then sells to other private collectors.  My thought being that the words private collectors and monkeys should never be in the same sentence.  My thought being: there are some things you just don’t want to hear.

The radio named the monkeys: cotton top tamarins, black eared marmosets, guides monkeys, Geoffreys monkeys, Halozs chimpanzees.  Police said the monkeys were stolen to order.  Which made me wonder about the monstrous activities of rich people and all the thrilling new ways we find to be wrong.  I also thought: you can only hope that the monkeys weren’t stolen at all, but somehow managed to free themselves and safely escape to the highlands where they formed a resistance cell of freedom fighters and are, even as we speak, training themselves in martial arts, civil disobedience, and online sabotage.  Maybe they’ve even gotten themselves a couple rifles.  Some dynamite.  Maybe figured out how to do the whole Molotov cocktail thing.

There’s an oak tree behind our house; I often look up through its branches and wonders how old it is; older certainly than any house or structure within fifty miles.  Its limbs are full of grubs and caterpillars that attract tits and warblers; chicks are born at the same time that larvae hatch; the birds fertilise the soil with their droppings; butterflies feed on the excrement of aphids; mice and squirrels collect its acorns; it’s a world of rare and interlocked doings.  

I remember when I was twenty and living in New York and a bunch of us went to Long Island to see someone’s sister.  It was all very grand, a big house, a swimming pool, three cars, a wine cellar.  My friend’s sister was getting divorced and she told us to take whatever we wanted.  Let the bastard come home to an empty house, she said.  Take the furniture, take a car, take the cats.  Someone made chicken soup.  Everyone played tennis badly.  Someone’s uncle arrived and brought golf clubs.  Nobody golfed.  The neighbours came over and told Isabel how sorry they were to hear about the divorce.  Everyone got drunk.  Isabel emptied all her wedding photos into the bathtub and set fire to them.  Someone’s uncle was caught making out with the neighbour’s wife.  Isabel sang I Will Survive.  When the neighbours left they took a TV, three sauce pans, a Walkman, two tennis rackets, and a crate of wine.  In the morning my friends and I loaded one of the cars with blankets, shirts, a radio, two rugs, a guitar, an African sculpture, a vase, and three crates of liquor.  And on the way back into Manhattan I remember someone saying: I could never explain this weekend to anyone.

To recap: it’s difficult to explain anything to anyone.  I can’t explain why I picked up this record and put it on the turntable.  I can’t explain what it means.  I can’t explain how it makes me feel.  I just put it on and watch it spin.  It makes me think about monkeys and New York and oak trees.  While Dan Penn, as Brother Lee Luv, explains the mysteries of skin.  Turns out we’re all just pigs that can’t get along.  Turns out it’s only skin.  I’m not sure I understand what it’s all about but that’s OK, I know how hard it is to explain anything to anyone.


You can follow the Jeb’s Jukebox Spotify playlist here.