Caught by the River

Jeb’s Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 20th September 2023

Resident selector Jeb Loy Nichols prescribes a dose of Richie Havens for a grey day.

What’s Going On

Richie Haven


There are two trees, in the corner of the pasture, that cling to each other.  Rowans, heavy with berries.  They cling in the way that mountain trees do, grabbing hold of anything that’s solid.  Each tree, though, has miscalculated, for neither the field nor the other tree is solid; the earth is boggy, a nearby spring spits water constantly.  The trees, birthed in a swamp, lean to the left.  A little more, it seems, each day.  The clumps of red berries will, by year’s end, touch the mud.  

I check their downward progress daily.    

Perhaps a high wind will finish the job.

I imagine, for a moment, that I’m looking at something to do with human coupling.  Something to do with clinging, miscalculation, with building lives on shifting sands, with a downward progress.  But no.  I’m looking at trees and trees are trees, people are people; let them each be different.  

To the left of the trees is a clump of borage.  The borage, even now in autumn, attracts a few bees.  I listen to the uneven buzz; the day offers little else.  I stand and wait while the wind keeps at me.  

Winter’s coming.  Snow and sleet and all that raw stuff.  We’ll see how it goes.  That’s all you can do.  That’s what I’m always learning.  

This morning I put on some Richie Havens and, as always, he makes me feel better.  The world is a better place with Richie’s music in it.  Portfolio is one of my favourite records and ‘What’s Going On’ is a high point.  Does it get better than this?  Richie Havens is medicine to get you through the year.  Bless you Richie.

The road to the post box was covered in ragged puddles, mud and scraggly bits of leaves.  My boots are water-darkened.  My mood too has darkened; that morning, amongst the damp junk mail, I received a leaflet from my local MP.  On one side of the leaflet the MP warned his constituents about the dangers of the coming winter weather.  It told the story of a man who underestimated the elements and died of exposure.  I was struck by the phrase death by exposure.  Exposure to what?  The weather?  Was the weather really so fearsome?  What about overexposure to people, consumerism, technology, guilt, desire, neediness, to all the tricky and burdensome ways of being alive?  How many people died, everyday, of over exposure to modernity?  On the back of the leaflet the MP talked about rural growth.  What we need, he said, is economic growth, housing growth, the growth of farming and rural tourism.  We need to think big and build bigger!

The day is full of rain and low clouds, grey and sodden, new-leafed and late-leafed trees, one day like a thousand others.  I watch tiny trucks on the other side of the valley and think, how many die of overexposure to bigness?

Bigger cars, bigger portions, bigger nations, bigger politics, faster connections, bigger buildings.  Bigger problems.

I let Richie sing into the grey day.  I turn it up.  I scare a couple crows on the deck.  The day, slightly, brightens.  I play the record three times and each time I say it again: Bless you Richie Havens.


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