Returning thanks in times of sorrow...

Earlier this week I was saddened to read that John Renbourn - guitarist extraordinaire - had died at age 70.  Last night another old friend, Joni Mitchell, was hospitalized. The world doesn't really care about aging and dying rock heroes from days gone by - I get that - but their passing matters to me.

Renbourn, for example, along with the incomparable Bert Jansch, founded Pentangle in 1967. As a young player, I was captivated by their gentle fusion of Celtic folk music, American jazz and rock and roll that created dreamy, extended instrumental meditations that were often  book- ended by ethereal vocals by Jacqui McShee. Their upright bass player, Danny Thompson, is still one of my favorites. And the way they carefully mixed acoustic and electric instruments took my breath away. Many a night was filled with the sounds of Sweet Sister and Basket of Light as my Radio Shack turntable returned stylus to vinyl ad infinitum. Years later, I discovered other Renbourn treasures like Ship of Fools and Traveller's Prayer. From my vantage point, he was tasty and subtle, accomplished and tender in whatever he played. I still have Basket of Light on my turntable...

My prayers are that Mitchell is not quite ready to fade away.  She, too, was a careful genre bender who captivated me with her poetry and encouraged me with her ever-evolving music. I still play "Marcie" from her debut recording, Song to a Seagull. Throughout the late 60s and 70s I listened to her more than any other artist with the exception of The Dead and Dave Von Ronk. I saw her live, too a variety of times - and every concert was a treasure. As she noted in her extended book length interview with Malka Marom, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, she was at least as gifted a poet as Dylan (true) and far more musically creative and adventurous (equally true.) Whether she's playing the haunting folk ballads of her early career, the sensual pop songs of her middle period or the jazz-based work of her later years, Mitchell is consistently rewarding.

And my point is this: both these artists - and others, to be sure - came of age during a time when music mattered profoundly to our hearts and souls. It wasn't simply another commodity to be bought and sold, it was popular art made by peers. In some ways, these artists knew me better than my own family. They gave shape and form to some of what I was feeling in those days and expressed the content of my heart more clearly than I ever could imagine. So, as only befits the loss of loved ones - even those I never met - it is proper to pay my respect. And necessary to grieve. 

My mind drifts to a poem by the late Pablo Neruda:

If suddenly you do not exist, if suddenly you are not living, I shall go on living. 
I do not dare, I do not dare to write it, if you die. I shall go on living. 
Because where a man has no voice, there shall be my voice 
Where blacks are beaten, I can not be dead. When my brothers go to jail I shall go with them. When victory, not my victory, but the great victory arrives, even though I am mute I must speak: I shall see it come even though I am blind. 
No, forgive me, if you are not living, if you, beloved, my love, if you have died.


Popular Posts