That Ragtime though…

I’ve never been to New Orleans and learned what little I know about the culture from HBO’s Treme. I do like jazz though. Now some jazz is inaccessible like abstract philosophy. You can only listen to it from a distance and wonder (in awe or repulsion) about what’s really going on. But play a Benny Goodman record and picture a cobbled street with decaying houses on either side and musicians playing despite the hardship and trial and you’ll soon weave poetry to the rhythm of the clarinet rushing in and slowly fading like an incandescent idea that erupts into stream of consciousness before  evaporating. I can see them now, under a blue sky, playing that old ragtime, creating those classic, tap-your-feet mellow melodies laced with a tinge of melancholia. Artists, just like you and me, struggling, moody and barely functional. Artists, given to booze, cigarettes and the occasional spliff, and a part of me just wants to watch them in solidarity and say, ‘The rum’s on me! To fucking peace on earth while the music still plays. To cigarette-scarred dry throats and husky voices. To sexy alto-saxophones and odd time signatures. To the little beauty left while the music still plays.’

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

For What Pegman Saw: New Orleans, Louisiana

18 responses

    • Thank you Lynn. I like some cool jazz but that’s as modern as it gets. The experimental stuff is atonal and lacks melody. It’s not stuff you can keep beat to. It’s just way out there.

      • Very true! I remember hearing some Thelonius Monk once – wow, was that a hard listen. Now, a bit of Ella, Billie or Nina Simone, or Louis Armstrong … :)

  1. Your story starts very quietly and then crescendos, becoming steadily louder. You use some clever devices – for example, the sentence that begins “But play a Benny Goodman record…” where the sentence structure starts to look very like the stream of consciousness it is describing. (It isn’t of course; you’ve crafted it very carefully). And then you continue the crescendo with the full ensemble playing as you write “Artists, given to booze, cigarettes and the occasional spliff, and a part of me just wants to watch them in solidarity and say, ‘The rum’s on me! To fucking peace on earth while the music still plays. To cigarette-scarred dry throats and husky voices. To sexy alto-saxophones and odd time signatures. To the little beauty left while the music still plays.’”
    And we, the audience, rise to our feet and applaud!
    Well done!
    Fucking good!

    • Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and lovely comment. That made my day! I happened to be listening to Benny Goodman when I wrote this and the clarinet weaving into the melody gave me the stream of consciousness idea. Music affects my writing. The mood and tone of the pieces I write always depend on the music I’m listening to at that moment. Thank you again.

  2. But play a Benny Goodman record and picture a cobbled street with decaying houses on either side and musicians playing despite the hardship and trial and you’ll soon weave poetry to the rhythm of the clarinet rushing in and slowly fading like an incandescent idea that erupts into stream of consciousness before evaporating. Wow!!!! The rhythm in this sentence alone is stunning! Well done, my friend. Excellent piece.

  3. Nice irreverent ode to Jazz.

    I love the voice on this one, very much the hard-luck music enthusiast, kind of like an Anthony Bourdain of music.

    The superlong sentence in the middle does give the feel of a jazzy melody winding in and out. Even the lack of paragraphs seems to pay homage to the music style: bewildering, delightful, enclosing parentheses within parentheses, meandering, indivisible.

    Love his toast at the end!

    • Thank you so much for such a beautiful comment. Music tends to shape the mood, tone and structure of my writing. Say I’m listening to Grunge, then I’ll probably write something riddled with angst. I was listening to Benny Goodman when I wrote this piece and I guess it turned into a jazzy melody itself. The tough-luck style comes from a deeper, introspective place though.

      Cheers!

  4. This reads like dining on a fine meal prepared by Janette Desautel, while being serenaded by Antoine Batiste. Thanks for this wonderful piece!

    signed,

    A fellow Treme fan

    • Haha. I love your comment. If Pegman goes back to New Orleans, I’ll write an ode to cuisine or a tribute to Janette Desautel. Wendell Pierce, on the other hand, is such a good actor. I remember first watching him on The Wire (another favourite show of mine) and his friendship with the reckless McNulty is one of my favourite bits.

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