My mother is a jazz choreographer
. She's met a lot of people. Most merely saw me when I was a young child, and they were just gruff-talking strangers, passing quickly with a few pats on my head their attention turned back to my mother. There's one man, however, who stood out. Lanky, brown hair, intellectual
glasses. He was kind in a way none of them ever approached. He'd kneel down and listen as I bragged about one kiddish thing or another. He didn't wait for me to finish speaking so he could move on to more important things, he didn't roll his eyes or laugh. He listened. And when I had nothing more to say, he'd just nod, maybe wink
. At night for some reason his face would be all I could think of as I drifted to sleep.
I saw him playing in the upper lofts of the Madison civic center when I was fourteen. He stood, studying his bass, considering its contours, in an ivory tower world of smooth grain, deep mahogony red, and a glass of water placed discreetly on a stool to the side. Against his calm was the radiant energy of Jackie Allen, her black hair scattered about her shoulders and lips moving as she counted off. The lights dimmed, they paused, and for the next three hours I could do nothing but strain my ears to catch every goddamn piece of sound I could, lapping them up desperately like a parched man at a roaring stream.
Kork Silsbee wrote a better depiction of the focal song, the keystone to that entire sweet memory than I ever could.
"Blackwater" is a multi-dimensional work written by Sturm, inspired by the Beat writers - in particular, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Sturm's eerily evocative arco work sets the mood and Allen's liquid song-spiel vocals (singing words or just sounds) act as oil on the already murky waters. "Blackwater" operates as kind of miniature musical drama. Sturm's own spoken text serves as a one-sided dialogue: a scenario of urban dislocation and a story of despair. "This is a combination story of several people from different parts of my life," he elaborates, "and some of them had real tragedy in their lives. I grew up near the Susquehanna River so water is a familiar motif from my childhood. Jackie's telling one story and I'm telling another and the two together make this kind of film noir narrative." The compelling involvement of the various stratum of the piece obscures the fact that this is the work of just two people.
Jackie Allen's sung and spoken words are in italics. Hans Sturm's are in regular typeface. I cannot do justice to the crushing beauty of "Blackwater," but I can tell you what's said.
In the scorching silence of black waters.
Yeah, Jack, thanks for returning my call.
No, no, man, I'm just home for a couple days, visiting the folks.
Yeah, good, good.
Say I.. I did have a question.. uh, I was wondering if you'd seen Dave?
Yeah, I remember, I know he was always hanging down at the.. at the.. Blue Cube, but.. didn't he get himself together?
Yeah, he got a job over at.. uh.. at the plant across the river.
Oh yeah, and.. uh, I heard he got married to Julie.. yeah!
..yeah.. th..they got a house? No kidding!
Ohh, but they had... ehh.. the had layoffs. That's... a drag.
Deep cold sky, starry night, silent stare. Vague haloed moon, angular shadows glare. Tar-spattered sidewalk, rain-spattered street. Concrete asphalt open-grate heat. Rusted barrels, fiery plumes of smoke. Grey-green fingerless gloves, belt rope. Twisted steel, twisted truth. Shattered dreams, living proof.
Aw that's too bad.. so so Julie left when he got layed-off, huh?
And then he lost the house? Aww man!
Well, well, you know.. I thought I.. I saw Julie the other day at the.. at the grocery store but you know how.. crazy that place is I barely got a chance to say hello and...
Well.. she, she looked pretty good so I guess she's probably staying over.. over with her folks on Front street.
Man.. you know, Dave's folks.. Dave's folks are gone...
Well, I hope wherever he is.. he's ok...
Weathered red face, watery yellowed eyes. Blackened breath, calloused rough-hewn lies. Gravel voices, gaveled lives. Testing story, emotional knives. Blackwater. Unwavering raven's eye. Serious midnight reflecting liquid sighs.
"Blackwater" - Landscapes - Jackie Allen and Hans Sturm.