This was originally published in The Wire in 1999, in their EPIPHANIES section. RIP Cecil T 1929-2018
It began in 1977, at second-hand: I knew before I heard a note of it that I’d love Cecil Taylor’s music. In a jazz encyclopaedia I’d already read of a pianist “zipping and unzipping the keyboard” — but first contact came from a sideways leap out of bent chartpop. Across Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, Mike Garson’s cocktail piano clichés mutate towards cancerous splinters, which rock reviewer Charles Shaar Murray approvingly compared to Taylor. I needed to know more.
There are days when passing through London feels like an immense, patient, intricate unwinding of the thread through the labyrinth laid down — without much forethought — years before. I’ve lived here 31 years: there’s a bus strike, I’m going to be walking down roads and clocking buildings I haven’t thought about for decades. More to say one day about this feeling as it applies to my mum, my dad and the town of my birth, but one way and another yesterday was a good day to be casting my mind back.
Thinking this through in the light of day, there’s probably a deeper reason I’ve been hunting for and posting all these various recent pix of little rubber monsters and plastic spacemen the past few evenings. Clearing and selling my late parents’ house was a BIG TASK, of course: and not undertaken solo — my sister was there with me, with her little daughter in the evenings — but the kind of thing you have to face in a kind of solitude all the same. And afterwards to mark a boundary and detoxify, we all went on family holiday together (the first such not w/mum and dad).
Holiday over and back in London (w/sister et al gone to their home), I have many many excellent friends, and more on-line, but the specific sense of solitude definitely welled up again this last week, especially in the evenings: because it’s not really about company as a cure, it’s about how you process your past — what’s gone and what remains.
One element of that past, when mum and dad were themselves young still, not yet dauntingly ill, not yet seriously disabled, was, basically, my army of monsters and spacemen, tirelessly gathered from toyshop cheapie shelves and gumball machines and (now and then) rescued off the pavement. Silly and small perhaps, but this is often where the intensity is concentrated.
Family notwithstanding — my sister in particular (we were close as kids and remain so now) — I was a pretty solitary kid: when I wasn’t reading I made my own amusement; fashioned and peopled my own worlds. There was an element here of compensatory activity and self-absorption: my dad was diagnosed with Parkinsons when I was 7; by 12, I was certainly actively/subconsciously distancing myself from committing to certain kinds of emotional bond — because I (half)knew and (semi)anticipated the pain of future loss that is always embedded in such bonds. Safer to stick with my wee rubber guys: at least until punk rock began to glint and beckon (I’m simplifying and cartooning, but not enormously).
So yes, this is a trivial indulgence; and yes, it’s something I evidently needed to do for a brief season — which brief season is probably not ended; and nor (I’m guessing) is this going to be the only manifestation.