Now's the Time: Part 4-5

Sean Murphy By

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The life and times of a minor jazz legend are recounted through his narrated memories. In this fictional treatment of jazz music in the mid-to-late 20th century, issues of race, creativity, addiction and, ultimately, redemption, are explored. With a title taken from the immortal Charlie Parker tune, "Now's The Time" is an extended meditation on the artistic life.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

He was clean for almost three years, and in that time made some of his best music. He had seen and done so much, so fast, he no longer felt that rush of brazen fulfillment. He felt older. Nevertheless, life was good: He had been able to put most of the hurt behind him. Of course every time he stood close to the mirror to shave he saw that scar on his forehead and was reminded of that night, and all that had gone down. So quick, so crazy. But after a while even the scar didn't upset him as much; in fact, he tended to regard it as an emblem of the hard knocks—both good times and bad—that had gotten him to where he was. Most people had scars on the inside, in their souls, and you couldn't see them, except in their eyes. But his scar, his soul, was right there where he (and everyone else) could look at it. And he wasn't afraid of it.

And then he met his woman, his baby. She was everything he'd been looking for, but had never found. She was attractive, but she was beautiful to him in a way that no other woman, including his first wife, had ever been: she knew about music, she knew about the world, she understood herself. And she understood him.

When she died, abruptly, senselessly, when the taxi driver who was taking her across town tried to beat a yellow light (a stale potato they used to call them) and broadsided another cab, an accident in which both drivers lived while both passengers died, all while he was away on a gig he lost—for what he thought was the irretrievable time—his faith in God, his fellow man, and himself. No way he could be expected to tolerate that blow. Not this time, no way.

He hadn't attended the funeral, something for which he'd never forgiven himself.

It was, in fact, his behavior in the immediate aftermath of his wife's death that burned the final bridges still linking his current life to the more fruitful and pleasant past. The monkey, which he'd kept off his back for over three years, came back, only good. He didn't care: he sank into the cycle of abuse with an indifference that surpassed the fastidiousness with which he'd cleaned up his act. Although those six or seven days were accessible to his memory mostly as a blur, he definitely remembered this was the time, more so than any other bout of self-destruction, when he utterly lost his will to live.

He'd awakened in his underwear, clasping an album to his chest, as though he'd caressed an infant while it slept. Looking down with disjointed vision, he recognized his own face glaring back at him. It was his record, it was him. He flipped the sleeve over, and there on the back was the band. His band. The band that included his best friend, the band with which he'd made his most popular music. The band that history, if it remembered him at all, would associate him with. He looked down at his band, himself, and knew that it was over. He was alone, and there was nothing more to live for. His best days, their short-lived spell of happiness, were well behind him, and these records—all of them—would only serve to remind him how far he'd sunk, and how much empty, dead time lay ahead of him.

At first, when he heard the familiar chorus of voices and felt the cold blast from the industrial fan by his head, he figured he was in jail. It took him several moments to figure out it wasn't jail, or even a hospital. Not exactly.

Someone had seen the smoke pouring out of his windows and called the police, who showed up, along with a line of fire trucks. When no one responded, they'd been obliged to kick down the front door and that was where they found him, hunched over in his chair, before the pile of records he'd sprinkled lighter fluid over before dropping a match on. At first, they thought he had passed out from smoke inhalation, but then they found the needle dangling from his thigh, and rushed him to the emergency room.

If he'd wanted to go free, they assuredly would have jailed him for possession of heroin, as well as reckless destruction of property. But because of—or in spite of—his lethargy, they took mercy upon him and gave him a mandatory vacation in the state facility. The farm, as they called it then. The loony bin. The place they sent you to protect you from yourself. Once he got past the indignity of being shipped off to the farm, he was able to acknowledge that if his own escapade had not been thwarted, or if they had given him the jail time his stupidity warranted, he would not have made it.


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