I was heavy into my Jack Kerouac phase when I first heard Mingus Ah Um. Goddamn, it’s amazing! “Better Git it in Your Soul” is so brilliant in every way, and it’s the perfect song to start off this album. It builds anticipation, it holds your interest, and it delivers.
Every song on this album is its own little world, like a little movie or something. When I listen to jazz I often imagine myself in a movie with the music playing behind me as I get into some sort of intriguing situation, or just as I walk down the street or lazily relax on the couch and sip a mug of hot tea. I love that! Music should transport you, it should uplift you. It should make you feel. It should make you real.
This album was my inspiration as I wrote feverishly in my early twenties. I wanted to be the modern, female, non-speed-using Kerouac! I did drink a lot back then, though not as much as I would in later years, but I did have that idea about great writers having to be great alcoholics. I was always writing something back then, whether it was a novel, a short story, or a poem. I was young and full of energy and hope about the future. I knew I would be a great writer someday. I knew that whatever I was feeling and experiencing would be amazing source material for my art. But that’s what every struggling writer thinks.
There were several stories I wrote at the time that Mingus provided the soundtrack for, most notably one from 1994 when I was just twenty-one years old called “Sang-froid, Sang Freud.” I am not sure where I learned the phrase sang-froid, but I was anxious to use it so it became part of the title of this short story. It begins like this:
On the day he left I sat naked in the empty bathtub with my hair saturated in Clairol Glints No. 18 (Chestnut, of course) while I heard Mingus playing in my room. I remember thinking that the music might be too loud, but that I could hear it just enough to pretend I was in some weird New York underground club’s john.
When I just picked up the original typed copy of it I thought it was about a guy I used to work with who became my first gay BFF. As I reached the end of the first page, however, I realized that it is about another guy I worked with then, someone who was just eighteen and freshly-graduated from the high school I attended a few years earlier. My face brightened and my smile grew large as I remembered every detail about him. Shit, I hadn’t thought about this guy in years. All the memories are happy, though I was a little heartbroken when he moved away to college and we lost touch.
Wow, we just used to have so much fun together! We worked at a local grocery store. I was in the bakery, he was a bagger, and the guy who became my gay BFF worked in the cash office. The three of us hung out a lot, and often Jason (the bagger) and I would just drive around town and talk and laugh. I developed a little crush on him, but I never planned to pursue anything because (a) he was young, and (b) he was moving away to college in the fall. Not to mention the fact that I was very awkward and would not have known how to pursue anything. I did feel very comfortable around him, and that did not happen often for me.
All summer long we had a great time. At the end of the night he would drop me off at my house and we’d spend hours sitting in the driveway, just talking. We had a lot of things in common, including a Monty Python fixation. We would quote Python a lot! He was in theatre in school, and in a small local theatre’s production of The Music Man in which he played Mayor Shinn; I went to see it twice.
I never really openly declared my affection for him, but our mutual friend told him how I felt. One of the last nights we hung out he pretty much told me he felt the same way, but I didn’t realize that’s what he was saying. I remember him making a comment about kissing, but I didn’t take that as an invitation, just as a general remark in our conversation about random stuff. Not until the next day did I realize that he wanted me to kiss him. Dammit! Oh well.
We had planned to hang out one more time before he left. I wrote him a super-long letter that I put inside the card I got him, which was going along with the Monty Python cassettes I bought for him as well. Without Python I would not have survived the hell that was my first two years in college, so I thought it might help him as well—and, of course, it would remind him of me! But that last rendezvous was not to be. I called him as promised, and he was very excited to talk to me. But he said he wouldn’t be able to get together because he had so much to do before he moved. I understood. And I was sad for a bit. And even though I had not thought about Jason for many years until I listened to Mingus Ah Um tonight, I have nothing but fond memories of him and that time in my life.