In Mister Death I tell about a moment in my youth, an utter fluke, a teacher who got sick, and the substitute that, with a poem scrawled on a blackboard, affected my whole life . . . how I tried, fifty years later, to send a message back in time saying that whatever else his accomplishments or failures might have been, at least one kid, invisible in the back of the room, was a better person for his efforts.
Think about someone who turned on a light for you, do whatever it takes to find him or her, and tell her.
One day not long ago I answered the phone and heard a voice I hadn’t heard in at least thirty years.
“Do you remember me? I was looking through a Vancouver phone book for names of anyone I knew from the time I lived there.”
I did remember Bruce. He was one of the people that passed through the communal house in which I lived for a time in 1968. He aspired to be a rock and roll guitarist and I heard him practicing in his room many times. One day I stopped him in the hallway and invited him to my room.
“You know, Bruce, you don’t have to play so many notes. Sometimes less is more. I want to play something for you.”
I put on The Man I Love from the Miles Davis album Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (Prestige PRLP 7150) and directed his attention, in particular, to Monk’s piano solo.
“Listen to how much music he plays with very few notes and listen to the silences between his notes, how overflowing with music they are.”
Bruce listened all the way through, attentively. At the end he looked at me and said.
“I don’t understand that at all.”
He shrugged and left the room. I shrugged, too, and we never talked music again.
Till this phone call.
“I’m living in California. Came home after the amnesty. I still play guitar. I never forgot that record you played for me. I’m a jazz musician now.”