Gazette About Books Archives
The Thaddeus Gazette

Ghost Story

I had a Sandahbeth moment the other night, jamming with Mercedes Nicole at a charity dinner.

It's not the first time I've been an unpaid extra in a musical outfit. My experiences have ranged from awesome to awful, usually strictly dependent on how much I tried to stagewallow. This time I was requested for one song, with the invitation to sit in as much as I pleased.

Having jammed myself into jams all too often, I tried the enlightened mindful participation approach. A band with a keyboard trio and tenor sax is more than enough match for a singer, even a slick-chick singer of Mercedes' prowess, and all a trombone can do is complicate matters. I did my best to stay simple, sitting out on the ballads and keeping my solos succinct when I did play. I still swallowed more notes than I liked and felt over my head, the way I always do when I'm playing with real jazzers, but at least I wasn't being a total braying ass as well.

Temporarily in the audience listening to them play What A Difference A Day Made, I thought about S and a magic moment on that song that she had with an organist in a crappy motel lounge in Portland Oregon.

It was a slow night. Molasses. The B3 player was strictly marking time. S went up and shyly asked if she could do a song. The keyboard man was doubtful, but gave a what-the-wha? shrug and nodded. "What A Difference A Day Made, in C," I suggested. S counted it out.

He dutifully served up an elegant introduction. About five seconds after she started singing, you could see the big smile blossoming on his big face from the back of the room. His playing went from elegant to inspired, S's voice soaring and swooping to meet his licks. The audience, what there was of it, went wild.

Holy crap, 1985, was it? Twenty-dang-five years ago?

Then Mercedes' band played Knockin on Heaven's Door (there actually is a jazz arrangement of that song) and S strolled up and sat down. We had ourselves a little conversation, we did. And she even helped settle a problem I had.

The upside (if you can even use that word in this case) of losing a life partner is that you get all their stuff. One of the numerous items still kicking around the castle from the previous wifie was a rather good flute. I'd had it appraised by a instrument repairing friend and knew what I could get for it on Craigslist. But while I don't can't and never have played the flute, I wanted to honor the inheritance. I was loath to just cash it out for grocery money.

On the other extremity, I had just acquired on the self-same Craigslist a mangy mongrel of a C clarinet, that odd-duck woodwind prized by klezmer and trad jazz players and scarce as dalmatian feathers, an instrument I'd been seeking for a goodly long time. The same instrument-repairing friend was happy to knock it back into shape, for a price. But with a living room crammed with exotic noisemakers and a hungry mortgage growling at the door, the transaction had started to take on the appearance of bad judgement or even that dreaded musical malady, instrument hoarding. I expected a knock on the door from Instrument Control any day.

Sandahbeth had a solution. She (or whatever passed for She in the depths of my jazz-addled mind) suggested I sell or trade her flute to pay for the repairs. Now why didn't I think of that? (Or did I...?) The idea that I could make an exchange of an instrument I didn't play for one I did (and will!), especially one with the provenance of S's flute, was a perfect answer and did a lot to ease my mind.

And she gave me a kiss and split, and I got up and joined in on a shuffle.

What's all this then? The ways of dear departeds is a mystery, and I'm not the one to really try to plumb them. Does the soul survive discorporation? Do we flutter about, disembodied handkerchiefs or butterflies, awaiting the opportunity to slither back into a skinsuit and go through the dance again? Do we wail away through the Tunnel o' Light™ to meet and greet and press ether with our ancestors? Do we just go away? In my numerous years in this shopworn but still serviceable body I've yet to figure out where I am, let alone the dear departeds.

At best, my least-hypothesis guess is that my hominid brain is fully capable of carrying mockup people around. I have a personality of my own — why should it be the only one? And I have a lot of S in me, both as life memories and, more subtly, as absorbed identity. There's a whole school of evolutionary psychology that examines the survival qualities of such a mechanism in social species. The concept is that being able to mirror another's personality gives you an edge in predicting their response to a challenge or offer of cooperation.

I tend to follow the principle that fact trumps fiction, no matter how unpleasant. Even things that you can't do anything about, like death, are better faced squarely than skated around. But in matters that have no conclusive answer, like death, there's always wiggle room, especially when the validity of the answer means squat to any physical circumstance.

And when you get right down to it, nobody knows what happens when you die except the people who are already dead. We have a buttload of hypotheses of greater or lesser likelihood, but none of them can be validated. And that means that we're free, each and every meatbox one of us, to choose whatever floats our hope boat.

So if S appears to have autonomous existence in some eldritch quarter of my perception, who am I to try to parse the mechanism?


Gazette | About | Books | Archives |