2022: I Lost My Father and Got Into Milton Nascimento
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." --Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Folks have been bandying that quotation around the last few weeks on Twitter, the social network that just won't quit no matter what literal Apartheid-era Afrikaner and dumb Bond villain does to stomp all over it, asking what 2022 was for them. I didn't know after ruminating on it for some time, ultimately joking it was a year that made very pointed, declarative statements about how my life herein would go in some ways and made phrases that trailed off into nothing, leaving me to guess its intentions in others. It was a year of feast and famine as my years often are, and always interesting, as I often hope my life is. I wasn't not entertained, even when I was sad or even when I was irritated, and that's always been my hope to approach life that way. But I still don't know what this year was to me.
Freelance music journalist Larry Fitzmaurice in his newsletter rounding out the year 2022 responded to a letter in his inbox asking how he finds joy in music when it's so intrinsically connected to his career. His response wisely invoked the commonality amongst most music journalists, that it's an artform with layers and conversation and discourse for the initiated but generally isn't considered by most with such complexity unless you're a player in the field. He spoke on how his placement in the context of music journalist colors how he approaches his covering it and how that pulls time from other ways he takes part in it. It felt like a clearly articulated way of the jumble of thoughts I've been having, particularly over the last two or so years drifting in the jazz world. I've spoken of being unmoored before. It's pretty common with me by this point, like that's just my natural state and I just have to get used to it. I wonder what toll that takes on me sometimes.
I didn't feel like much of a music journalist this year, even though I still was. I didn't quite know what to think of this year at all. As usual with me, thinking about what I heard this year usually carries me through, but when it's so much part of my profession (in parts, the parts of my life that I string together to make a living, both monetarily and in the sinew of life that makes it all worth living moment to moment), it's such a blur but still could be whittled down if I had to.
I lost my father this year, 2022, and I really got into Milton Nascimento. A variety of things happened this year-- I got a job as a contractor with a music ticketing company, finding a new way for me to question my value in exciting locales and wonder if my particular flavor of weird isn't something appreciated locally; I started writing columns for DownBeat, blogging and playlisting for a jazz website again, and continuing to find that the music world just won't let go of me even if I tried; I got published in a book; I helped friends with projects and they helped with mine; I house-sat for friends and looked after pets, remembering constantly why I never want pets; I traveled for work and tried to fall into a groove from afar with the same kind of consistency I'm known for at home; I kept thinking about community and ripples and all the things that connect us and all the things that are shrapnel in the explosions in our lives, tearing through others and causing us all to adapt within the blast zones. In all these things, I tried my best to elegantly face the circumstances before me, as I always tried to do. I'm unmoored but I'm not flailing.
I was speaking with a friend at a party recently. He had also very recently lost his father and was trying to sort through the feelings he had, really connecting with the loss he had. The conversation made me think about how I was thinking about it, how my life both lost and gained a kind of texture, how I had to make sure my mother was doing alright, what losing that physical tie in him meant to the rest of my life and those around me, around him. It made me think about family and the makeshift nature of the one I've made as the one I had dies off or drifts away. I think about how connection is the thing that really matters, how we continue to tell stories. Stories are the primary medium of culture. Everything we use to carry us onward is based in contextualization, in narrative. Every tool, mechanism, artwork, concept, every literal thing we make serves a purpose; that purpose tells a story of our existence. Family, in whatever form we make it, is the medium we have of continuing telling our stories, of holding and making and proving and continuing connection.
Of course, I'm processing the loss, but is my tendency to turn everything into something else, the literal into the figurative (and sometimes back into the literal again) the right kind of processing?
Perhaps this is why I've come to describe myself less often as a music journalist and more as a person with six or so jobs. Writer is a better catchall term since the gathering of experiences and telling of stories means having other jobs counts as those experiences. I'm always shooting for that better reframe. (Come to Splashtown, now with shorter lines!) Perhaps that's why I'm writing this instead of blurbs for a year-end album list or a meditation on the state of jazz this year as other in my field have done and I was asked here and there if I would. Perhaps I'm still so caught up in trying to define myself that I'm having too much trouble trying to define everything else.
It's hard not to feel like everything after 2020 has been glommed together into a single point of time, like we're witnessing the calcification of a true epoch, like it has firmness that the time before it only paled in comparison of having. This year had more happen to me personally than the years before (I mean… have you heard Wayne Shorter's 1975 album, Native Dancer, just kidding… it's dead dad still on the forefront of my mind). I appreciate the people in my life who love me, and this year definitely revealed them to me. This year revealed to me the complications of love, as a force and as a process. It continued to show me love's forms, its shades, its phases, its mercurial nature. Its vapidity and its eternity. It showed it to me in universality and adaptability, in creation and destruction, in intensity and passivity. I was always taught there were four types of love, but I've now lived long enough to learn more of their depths, their complexities. There was more to them than I thought before.
Any list of accomplishments I could make this year would pale in comparison to that major signpost that defined my July, and this says a lot considering I was published in a book this year (in an anthology about Black music journalists that repurposed a post I wrote some nine years ago) and all I'm really thankful for is that I got to tell my dad about it, even if he never did get to read a copy of it. I'll always think of the time he accidentally called me while I was working my festival ticketing gig in D.C., me not at all worried about picking up the phone in a van full of co-workers I've only known all of one week because the world stops when he calls and he was changing my ringtone and things just happened to happen. I'll always think about how he'll never call me again. I'll always wonder what he changed my ringtone to. Any list of accomplishments from now on are not just the vines I swing from in perpetual motion but the continued realization of the promise he saw in me and was just beginning to realize it as we both matured, like growing into a hairstyle. Any list of accomplishments would be the things that happened after, crystalizing in that calcifying epoch.
All throughout that July, whenever I came by the radio station, I would see Wayne Shorter's 1975 album Native Dancer left out in the booth. Kory had featured it at some point and it had yet to return to the shelves, leaving its cool blue cover staring me in the face for weeks. At some point, I decided to give the album a listen and found myself transfixed. I fell into a hole thinking about where Shorter's mind was at this time; what was the working rapport with Milton Nascimento like; how these songs keep rippling through time, stories that keep getting told. This album pulled me through August more than anything else. It was the bright point in between making sure I was knocking my dad's obituary out of the park and worrying about how my mother was doing or marvelling at the community that came together to remember him. It's been an anchor for the whole latter half of the year. By September, I pored over Nascimento and Lô Borges' 1972 album Clube Da Esquina which kept me on an even keel. I regained a spirit of dance and play that I lost somewhere before. I listened to other things and liked other things, but nothing really stands out more than that. I understandably had a lot of other things going on.
I don't know what to think of 2022. I don't know if it asked something of me, or answered it of me. I wouldn't even want to call it a bad year, feeling like I never want to judge God's business. It's a year that was. It's a year with stories to tell and people we've touched and who touched us in return. It's a year that is behind us and brought us to where we are now and where we are going next, like all the years that precede it and all the years that will follow, Lord willing we still get them. I'm trying to grow more comfortable with that.