went out for dinner with the harvard kennedy school new admits yesterday. dinner was at fika, which would be that swedish restaurant at arab street, and after dinner i found myself alone at blue jazz bar, nursing first a long island iced tea and then a double shot drambuie and then another… at first the jazz band wasn’t swinging and i was reading herman hesse by lamplight, but then they kicked in and it was eyes closed everything off and just the music, as if i wasn’t nowhere except where instinct and whim were the twin sovereigns and scourges and no one gave a shit about you, or anything.
truth be told the only jazz song i know by heart (what does it mean to know a jazz song by heart, anyway?) is abbey lincoln’s ‘buddy, can you spare a dime?’… one of those great recession songs that ooze desperation and loneliness and make you think twice about our world of beggars and mercenaries. i think i know patsy cline (for the song ‘crazy’, orig. willie nelson; not fully jazz, arguably) when i hear her, certainly ellington or fitzgerald, but there hasn’t been a song since that’s made me pace the floor the way abbey lincoln does. it’s history in five minutes, both up-down narrative and left-right sentiment, boiling up and over. the courage to stick out your hand and the tenacity to laugh, whether you get your dime or not (what’s a dime after all? too important when you’re down and out, nothing when you’ve a coat on your back and two good shoes). the sagacity to duck and the energy to defend. and there are times when i tell myself they don’t make music like that anymore, that we need someone to encapsulate all this shittiness and silliness that is the start of our blood strewn smoke scattered maniac ridden very seductively own century – and then i catch myself for the affected twat i am and go listen to carly rae jepsen.
so back to blue jazz. dude comes over asking whether i really don’t want my drambuie on the rocks, and over the next half an hour i’m sipping liquid honey on fire and sweating my arse off. wednesday night it might be, but there’s no wind and a second long island would have been much smarter. faces and names, faces of people who are clearly regulars and therefore, or but for some reason, look too worse for wear; names of people they call out, bands members that come and go, some too young but inspired, some experienced, their knowing auras not sad but just discerning. sex on frats, eyes closed, the lead guitarist clearly a green hand (at least in this club) and twiddling with the amps, the bass too far gone and the drummer with both eyes and mouth wide open, a leer, a laugh? in the direction of the bartender, who just smiles and turns away. four drinks, two spirits and two beers, a waiter sidling towards the front tables, drinks ignored because their recipients are too busy bobbing their heads, eyes closed and ears for all purposes deaf, we this gang of coincidences privy to each other’s detachment, this orgy of notes approximating melodies, the chatter of the guitar and the heavy breathing of the bass. guy and girl sit behind me, order a red wine and a beer, girl pulls her chair out far too fast and clanks against my shoulder, i turn around and we smile. it doesn’t matter, does it? never does, never should. takes music and alcohol to make us civil people.
eleven pm i get the bill and walk to the bus station, an hour back home, the bus winding through what is patently not the shortest route. i drop my handphone, pick it up, reassemble it, drop it again, reassemble it again, much to the laughter of the dudes beside me (‘sia lah, xia suay siah!’, etc. etc.). but that’s alright. from inside the bus i watch shenton way, cantonment, havelock, alexandra, redhill, the whole journey right up to holland drive, and it seems that i could be at peace with all this, if only i learned to stop worrying and start mindlessly loving.