Caught by the River

Jeb’s Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 28th April 2024

Jeb Loy Nichols presses play on another 7″ in celebration of Merle Haggard Day — a day of his own imagining.

Merle Haggard
What Am I Gonna Do (With The Rest Of My Life)

Three weeks ago I was driving back from my weekly Qi Gong gathering, when I realised it was international Merle Haggard day (a day that exists only in my imagination – April 6th being the day on which the great man was both born and died) and I was listening to ‘What Am I Going To Do (With The Rest Of My Life)’, and it was the second day of unexpectedly bright, sunny weather, and I was laughing because I pictured myself and the half dozen middle-aged women I’d just left as the vanguard against the forces of Elon Musk and his Legions Of Evil, us in a village hall breathing and shaking and shifting energy, and him in his palatial Texas lair — and I knew that Merle, had he been alive, would have been with us and that made me feel just a little bit better about the world.

Qi Gong is a form of active meditation, a series of slow flowing movements that promote relaxation, well-being, a vigorous life-force and general health.  To me it’s a form of dance.  It reminds me of the feeling I got on the dance floors of Texas as a teenager, listening to country music; it takes me back to the discos of New York, listening to early hip-hop; it brings back the grounding I felt listening to Jah Shaka play Gregory Isaacs.  It reminds me that dance is important.  Movement is important.  

Merle Haggard was the high priest of my youth.   He remains important to me in ways I can’t put into words.  It has to do with the tone of his voice, the look in his eye, the choices he made.

How the rain batters the roof!  And the wind is out there flying.  The moon too, unseen, across unspeakably black and empty distances.  My little studio creaks and moves and its wooden walls are loud.  My little studio, which I think of as a home, is not so little as some, for instance a wren nest or a mouse burrow, but neither so large as most, is steadfast in its refusal to be bowed by the storm.  It persists.  A kettle whistles quietly on the stove.  The room, warm, grows warmer.  

Rain everywhere.  Whipping and lashing the yard.  A puddle forms near the wood pile.  Water ripples and is too much.  It overflows and is coming.  I drink my tea.  The tea, ten minutes ago, was warm.  Nettle and peppermint leaves have drifted to the bottom of the cup.  Blue cup, dark leaves.  I’m reading one of the old time Japanese fellas.  The old boy is talking about fast things and slow things and the difference between the two.  Fast, he says, is hostile and impatient.  Controlling.  Fast is Modernism and Capitalism and Public and Big.  Slow is slow.  Slow is now and still and hesitant and intuitive.  Slow is not industrial.  Slow doesn’t undercut its rivals.  Slow meanders.  The sky gets lighter.  It’s a little bit later.  I empty the last of my tea into a potted sage on the window sill.  Slow lets years happen. 

So Merle, what am I gonna do for the rest of my life?  Not a lot.  Sit here listening to you and the rain.  Write a little bit.  Sing.  Draw.  And, most importantly, dance. 


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