Caught by the River

Jeb’s Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 20th June 2024

Jeb Loy Nichols’ latest jukebox selection hits like sun, like rain, like a smile, like flesh.

John Stuckey
Without You Number 14
Texas Re-Cord Records

When I need to be reminded of how beautiful things can be, I play this track. ‘Without You Number 14’ by John Stuckey.  I’m also reminded how things get forgotten and how important it is to remember them.  

The Western Black Rhino.  East Germany.  Public phone booths.  Frank Sinatra.  The Baiji Dolphin.  Ceylon.  Czechoslovakia.  Martin Luther King.  VHS video cassettes.  Passenger pigeons.  Fax machines.  My mother.  Being an incomplete list of some of the things that have, in my lifetime, disappeared.

A friend once said to me, let’s talk about geniuses.  I told her there was no such thing as a genius.  Genius, I said, is more along the lines of a verb than a noun.  Genius resides not in people but in deeds.  Shakespeare wasn’t a genius.  Nor Mozart nor Stevie Wonder nor Picasso.  They were people who did what they did.  They slept, woke, ate, shat.  They made mistakes and they wronged people and they were difficult and easy to offend.  They were also the opposite.  Genius, when it happens, is a song, a gesture, a greeting, a picture.  It’s about what remains and what doesn’t.  Nina Simone gave us moments of genius.  As did Jean Luc Goddard.  Ditto Pele.  Also Modigliani and all the rest.  They got lucky and it all came together and it was there for a minute and they captured it.  Genius is the Thing, the Act.  Genius is the moment.  And then the moment lasts or it doesn’t.  It’s recognised or it isn’t.  All, sooner or later, gone.  To be replaced by other stuff, other moments.  Genius or not.  Mostly not.  

John Stuckey’s track ‘Without You’ is genius.  One clear, simple moment, that, for me, hits like sun, like rain, like a smile, like flesh.  I can’t explain it.  I just feel it.  It slips into me and stays there.

There are clouds all day.  From the far left to the far right.  Never once do they stop.  Never twice are they the same.  A tumble of vapours.  The clouds top and close the world.  How tall, how wide, how deep, how dense.  How silent.  I watch them and worry that I’ve never lived a truly adult life.  Whatever that is.  However that’s done.  Adults have jobs.  And entanglements.  An adult life is a life of pursuits.  And rewards.  Conquests and furies.  I watch the clouds as they range from dark grey to a lesser grey to something resembling cotton.  They roil.  Is roil a word?  I seem to remember it.  Perhaps in a book by Francis King.  A book about disappointment in late middle age.  An adult would know.  An adult has a subtle and knowing vocabulary.  An adult chooses his, or her, words carefully.  An adult knows the names of clouds.  Cumulus; is that right?  Cirrus?  Nimbus?  An adult listens to Brahms’ piano ballad no. 4 in B major and weeps, not for his own misspent middle age but for Brahms himself, for history, for whatever sad events there were that caused Brahms to be Brahms; for days spent watching the steady lowering of the sky; for winter; for a life empty of casual lovers; for time, for water, for the slow passing of everything that ever was. 

Songs like ‘Without You’ help.  They remind me, briefly, that even within the chaotic mess of life, beauty happens.  Thoughts and intentions and ability and luck all combine in an unexpected stew.  Music, I think, teaches this.  Music and dance and walking and laughter.  Figure out how to laugh and what makes you laugh.  Do that. Laugh and walk and listen to music.  Why don’t we understand that?  Why isn’t that the first thing we’re told at school?  Why don’t teachers say: everything I’m going to teach you is irrelevant.  What matters is the stuff you learn on your own.  What matters is the stuff you learn by listening to John Stuckey.


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

Jeb plays a gig with Jennifer Carr and Clovis Phillips at Leytonstone Social Club on Wednesday 26th June. More info/tickets here.