Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

I think you reach a multi-tined fork in your developmental path somewhere around age 12 where you decide what kind of person you'd like to be. Deciding what kind of person you want to be is a very difficult process, and something that requires basically all of your time and attention. You need to figure out what you like and don't like, you need to choose what you think your hair should be, how tight you want your pants to fit - really serious stuff, to be sure. What you don't know, because you're 12, is that “who you are” isn't permanent, and not knowing that makes this seem even scarier. Imagine if you made this face and it really did stick. This could be you forever, so you don't want to fuck it up. I grew up in rural Massachusetts, and I decided at age 12 that the thing I wanted to be more than anything in the world was unbelievably pretentious. Obviously I've chosen to stick with that personality trait to this very day, but I had to work pretty hard for it.

You'd think that my desire to be high-brow might come from my parents being particularly low-brow, but you'd be wrong. My parents were firmly and decidedly no-brow. Their favorite song, movie and TV show are all the same thing, “whatever's on.” I'm the only person I know who had to buy Beatles albums because my parents didn't have any that I could listen to. I think my dad likes the movie Braveheart, but I wouldn't bet my life on it. I had to rebel, so I chose to rebel against my parents' utter blandness. I remember the first time I was ever allowed to roam around (a very safe, contained) area of Boston without a parent. I was 13 and I had just gotten a bunch of birthday money, so I went to Newbury Comics (that bastion of culture) and decided that since I was in a city, I would buy a jazz album. I had watched my first Woody Allen movie the night before, it was all happening so fast! I bought Bird and Diz, a collaboration between Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I took my new CD and my new birthday Discman with the cool headphones that wrapped around the back of your head so you can wear a baseball cap over to the nearest Starbucks (VERY CULTURED, A+) where I ordered a latte (KEEP IT UP!!!!) and sat down with the latest issue of The Boston Phoenix (YOU ARE FUCKIN' NAILING THIS). I listened to the entire CD and fucking hated it so much. I just didn't get it. I spent the whole ride home thinking about how sad I was that I spent $19 on a CD that I hated. Jazz had betrayed me, but luckily I would see my first foreign film a few weeks later, so I forgot about the whole jazz fiasco.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had the whole “unbelievably pretentious” thing down. I was really into Bob Dylan, I owned hardcover copies of books that weren't assigned for English class, I had even become a vegetarian. When I started looking at colleges, my dad decided we should go up to beautiful (???) Standish, ME so I could check out Saint Joseph's College of Maine. I had already pretty much decided that I wasn't going to go to any college with “Holy” or “Sacred” or “Ohio” or “Saint” in the name, but I figured we'd get to stay in Portland, and my aunt told me that Portland was the heroin capital of Maine. Then again, Portland is probably the a lot of things capital of Maine, just by sheer population. Then again again, Portland isn't even the state capital capital of Maine, that's Augusta. Whatever. When my dad informed me that I'd be doing all of the driving on this road trip, I took that as a cue to buy a bunch of new CDs that I could listen to on the trip. I decided to give jazz a try again, so I bought Time Out and Jazz Impressions of Japan by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. My dad slept for the entire trip up to Maine, which was probably in his best interest because I ended up listening to those two albums non-stop for the full five hours.

Eventually I would listen to other Dave Brubeck albums, but Time Out and Jazz Impressions of Japan are the ones I always find myself going back to. They're both on the list of records where I know every note like gospel, alongside albums like Pet Sounds, OK Computer, Revolver and Highway 61 Revisited. Obviously everyone knows “Take Five” and most people know “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, but all of Time Out deserves your attention. They remaster and rerelease it every eight minutes, but you don't need a special three disc set or whatever. I'm willing to bet you could get a used copy for less than five bucks at pretty much any decent record store in town. Jazz Impressions of Japan is a little harder to find because it doesn't have any of the big Brubeck standards, but just get it from iTunes, you jerk.

It's a good thing that Time Out keeps getting rereleased, because I've had to buy at least six copies that I can remember. The first one for the trip to Maine, the second when I got back (to give to my girlfriend), the third was when my first copy got scratched, which I replaced with the fourth copy after I lent that one to a college friend and then promptly moved away. (That one would eventually get lost in a flood with the rest of my CDs.) The fifth copy is on my bookshelf right now, and number six is a vinyl copy I have framed in my hallway. I don't listen to it every day like some kind of weirdo, I'm just comforted to know that it's in my home. This count does not include the time I made my friend Katie buy a copy when we were hanging out at Amoeba Records. Last I saw, that copy was in the pocket in the passenger-side door of her Ford Focus.

Dave Brubeck's death yesterday didn't come as a huge surprise - not that I was expecting it, but you know what I mean. He was very old. Still, it made me pretty sad. The next ten years will probably see the deaths of a lot of people I really admire, particularly musicians. I got a Facebook message today from my friend Melissa, the girl I lent the third Time Out to back in our sophomore year at Bridgewater State. She told me that she still has it, as well as my copy of Jazz Impressions of Japan, and she plays them when she has DJ gigs that require jazz music.