Listen to the sound of rain falling on grass or on concrete or water


My father used to earn his living playing Dixieland Jazz; ”Trad Jazz’ as it was known in England in the early 1960’s.

As a child, i used to occasionally hear this music but not often, as he didn’t own a record player.  I believe he didn’t own one due to not wanting my mother to play pop records, which in his estimation, were the devil made manifest in vinyl.

I would occasionally hear the sound of my dad’s banjo, whenever he cleaned it or changed the strings. He wasn’t the type of guy to burst into song whilst playing his banjo at home, he was strictly rhythm, was obsessed with Dixieland rhythm sections and spoke of chord progressions and key changes like a mechanic might speak of brake pad replacements; a stony look on his face, utterly devoid of joy and i wondered why the hell he played the thing as it seemed to make him so damned miserable.

This was indicative of my father’s nature; highly intelligent, massively controlled/controlling in everything he did, especially his thinking; devoid of spontaneity and expression and hard for me to relate to as a child.

New Orleans jazz became to me so repulsive, not because of any failing on its part, but due to the associations with my father whom i wished to get away from very badly.

Ironic then, that i ended up living in New Orleans, when the very first opportunity to escape presented itself.  This came in the form of a stunningly attractive brunette, a native of New Orleans, with a penchant for sex and drugs, in a bar on Deansgate, Manchester on a rainy Tuesday night – but that’s another story.

My father’s house is the house that the neighbourhood children stand outside and throw stones at.  It is neglected beyond repair and looks haunted.  If i were a child, i would also throw stones at it; it would frighten me but i’m not sure i would know why.

I have not entered my father’s house in thirty years; no one is allowed inside.  I visited there a couple of years ago when i knew he was away and looked through the living room window.

The house is stacked with garbage and there is a small passageway through to his armchair, which faces his television set, which is mounted upon another television set, amidst more garbage.

This garbage has clearly been there for some time and i know that the house has not been decorated in over thirty years.  When i was last inside aged nine or ten, i spent the weekend there, and even back then my father had several saucepans dotted around the bedroom to catch drips coming through the ceiling.

I was ashamed to be seen leaving my father’s house when i was a child; i suspect he was too, but sometimes when we left there it was on route to the nearby fields, where he taught me how to fly a kite, make a catapult out of the branch of a yew tree or really listen to what the rain sounded like falling on grass or on concrete or water.

Some nights, he would spend the whole evening rubbing the ends of his fingers with surgical spirit to keep them in shape for an upcoming gig, whilst i sat on his knee and asked him about music and books and grandmothers.

He smelled of cigarette smoke, surgical spirit and Brylcreem.  He was also warm, as i sat there, and his cardigan smelled of cooking oil and his mother’s scullery and i used to like to fall asleep on him as he smoked and read me stories and poems by Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Spike Milligan , John Steinbeck….

I have spent many hours in the armchairs of the world, facing others who i have chosen to aid me in seeking unspeakable answers to unspeakable questions and have come to the following conclusion:

Not only is it ok to not love your parents; it is also ok to not like them very much either, and furthermore, it is ok to not feel the slightest guilt about either of the above.

I did not know this.

Dixieland Jazz is the music of syncopated rhythms and laughter; of instruments and lives becoming so entwined, as to be almost indistinguishable from one another.

It is the sound of poverty turned on its head; a ‘fuck you’ to the gods when life turns dark and loved ones die; a timeless soundtrack to generations of people, on the brink of madness due to poverty and circumstance; unacquainted with education, privilege or comfort.

My father aspired to poverty and related with the creators of this music.

I don’t know whether i love or even like my father, but he is now seventy-four, his health is failing, he has leg ulcers, finds it difficult to breathe and his house is the only place he feels safe.

I want to help him in some way but don’t know how;

except perhaps by giving up smoking, and

throwing out my used packaging

when i’m finished with it.

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4 Responses to “Listen to the sound of rain falling on grass or on concrete or water”

  1. fantastic, drummer boy.

  2. “New Orleans jazz became to me so repulsive, not because of any failing on its part, but due to the associations with my father whom i wished to get away from very badly.

    Ironic then, that i ended up living in New Orleans, when the very first opportunity to escape presented itself.”

    It’s interesting how life takes us on these journeys isn’t it? Beautiful post drummerboy. Looking foward to more. T

  3. michael w Says:

    Apart from long summer hols i havent lived with my father since infancy yet even i can see i am a product of him i think thats where my blind love comes from.Your dad sounds quite a character with good taste jazz reading of Poe ;we are a product of our parents arent we?

  4. beautiful, evocative and raw as ever Drummer Boy… thank you

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