It was the summer of 1995. I was back from extended travels through Australia and SE Asia, living in a Deep Cove cabin with the gentle high-tide waves lapping on the rocks just 20 feet below me while I busily built a website (a blog long before the name became popularised) from the travelogue and photographs I’d compiled during nearly a year of exploring new worlds. It was the summer of ’95, a summer of music, and a summer of loving. I’d been back just a month or so and had just graduated to the seaside cottage, a dingy little thing with short ceilings, sloping floors and two windows onto the Cove through which the sound of live bands drifted in from the park part way ’round the cove. Yes, it was the summer of music, with lots of stories to tell. Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mining seemed to live in my tape deck, and I’ll probably always equate the drive into The Cove with that band.
It was also another summer beginning with The Vancouver International Jazz Festival. It’s an odd beast. If you or your band play any genre of music with even a modicum of influence on even the most obscure forms of jazz, you’re welcome at the Fest. The Philosopher Kings headlined at Vancouver’s best venue, The Commodore Ballroom. A big, spacious dance hall with a sprung floor and a generous, intimate stage. These cats can rock, they can get funky, they jazz it up, and they get down low. They’ve never quite repeated the magic of their debut eponymous record, but, oh my, what an accomplishment that was, and remains.
Everytime I hear its hipster swagger, I feel like I’ve slipped into a Kerouac novel. It’s all kicks and ravishing meaning, a head trip into a space in which life-addled people try to make more out of existence than their personal human condition allows. Just check out these lyrics…
and a skin like see through jelly
with a porcelain stare
that moves the walls of my belly
but she used to have a
that lit a lamp gas nose
her eyes were full of hot wine
and her body was a rose
There’s someone who’s used up her life, someone who life is using up quickly. The words, here, delivered with a knowing smirk, a glimmer of mingled disdain and awe. Listen again…
through the boys of Mason City
had every gatling
every grease monkey
every Walter Mitty
she finally settled on some corn-husker
with cotton-seed teeth under a diamond smile
dressed up for San Francisco
but held up in Mason City
for a while
And the music. The album is loaded with time signatures of odd and cantankerous natures. 9/8, 5/7… Like the lives being sung about, the music is in a constant state of turning around, going back on itself. It comes at you, gives you a reprieve, then comes back harder.
While I grooved on this intoxicating fizz of jazz and funk and cool, just one body danced in the space between mine and the stage, a lavish brunette, all hips a sway and sassy eyes, she eased back into me with delicious, sensuous intent. She brought me her charms and we shared a summer right out of these songs. Play and passion, meaning and loving. An explorer’s tryst.