2016 was not a good year for musicians and certainly not for their fans. We lost too many good ones.
After Prince died, I wrote this piece to work out how I felt. It’s not really a story since there is no plot and no characters, not really. I never intended to publish it. But now we are nearing the end of the year and another talented and well-loved musician has died…so I decided to share.
I call it Jam Heaven.
The page whispers in my ear and I let out a sigh. Another great one will be joining us soon, and as much as it benefits me and the musicians in my charge, it is a sad day on Earth.
Weeping. Lamenting. His music will thicken the air, swell up so loud that it will deafen us when we hear it through the veil that separates our world from theirs.
David, the previous member to join us (too soon!) glides towards the star-encrusted curtain that separates our world from the one below, his form shifting, one moment his hair is blonde and cut neatly, the next moment a red shag, while his clothes morph as he moves, changing from glamorous rocker to a business cut suit. He waits by the curtain, his current look the red shaggy cut and a glittering jacket and pants to match. Glittering like stars and nearly as bright.
He raises his hands, palms up in welcome.
“Welcome Prince,” says David Bowie.
Prince passes through the shimmering gold curtain with a cocky swagger as if he owns the place already. They often do that. David certainly did. But not since Jimi came through the archway veil has anyone strutted in the way Prince does. He is resplendent. Shimmering light purple pantsuit, made out of a material that must have been sent to him by angels, so light and flowing as it swaths over his body. They are good at that, the angels. His dark hair, straightened to a slight wave is lustrous and sprinkled with sparkles. Gold sunglasses sit atop his head. A thick, braided gold necklace wraps around his neck. If any human belongs here in the heavens, it is Prince.
I smile. Although the world will weep without any more Prince music, I am happy to add him to my growing collection of musicians.
The other musicians have heard the Earthly laments and the members of my household gather, welcoming Prince, not with open arms, but with open chords. They always play one of the new artist’s songs in welcome. Today it is “Purple Rain”. I wish I had the power to create a purple rain for his mourning fans on Earth. But I don’t.
They are playing for Prince and for those left behind on Earth. Amy Winehouses’s voice is as strong, bluesy, and ballsy as when she lived, better even. Maurice White, a recent and much welcomed addition to the band, clad in a sparkling jumpsuit of every color imaginable dances in and harmonizes with Winehouse, his high falsetto the perfect opposite. The angels must have worked for weeks on his sparkling fabulousness, not that time has any meaning for them. It is hard to look at Maurice for long; he is as bright as the sun. Give him time and he will throw in the funk. The rock musicians love it that he’s joined them. Kurt Cobain, still choosing to wear his shabby green cardigan, but now shed of his debilitating pain here in Jam Heaven, joins in on acoustic guitar. John Bonham, hair wild, arms akimbo, plays drums. Where is Jimi? I would expect him here. He always shows up when a fellow guitar player arrives.
As if summoned by my thoughts (I wish I had that power!), Jimi Hendrix appears, and ever the showman, shows up…on fire. Flames lick around his leather-clad body and shoot from his hair. The shoot also, of course, from his guitar. He approaches the still silent Prince and offers him a guitar.
Prince takes it and straps it on. Every instrument here is in perfect tune and immediately suits itself to the musician. The guitar turns a brilliant white and morphs into the shape that Prince always preferred when he played on Earth, all soft curves and gentle swoops. He jumps in at the solo and wails, his pitch perfect, his note choice, as always, brilliant.
They jam for a while until Bob Marley strolls up with a huge blunt. Next thing I know they are all playing a version of “Jamming.” Fitting. I leave them to it.
This is Jam Heaven. These musicians, whose roots are all blues and rock are my responsibility. They eat, drink, smoke, and play music. What more could they want? Oh, of course there is that too, in whatever form they prefer. This is heaven, after all, not hell.
We tried to mix it up with the classical musicians once, but it was a terrible mistake. The classical musicians did not know how to jam and most of my charges did not know how to read music, which resulted in a brief cacophony of sound so awful my ears literally bled. Even the musicians down on Earth could hear it. A moment of pure confusion engulfed them all and no one could write or play, electronic music players quit working, and mothers could not even sing to their children. It did not last long, most people would not have noticed it, just a blip, like a power surge or the forgetting of a word. But we noticed it, and that was the end of our Classical/Rock Jam Mixer! Despite the ear-splitting noise when they all played together, the lads liked each other; Chopin tried to teach John Lennon how to write an etude, Janis Joplin taught Beethoven the finer points of blues singing, Keith Moon showed Rachmaninoff all about percussion, and Bon Scott and Mozart…well, they drank a lot and played practical jokes on everyone.
They even tried to punk Bach! He gave them a verbal thrashing. After all, the man had twenty children and knows his way around miscreants.
My musicians will jam for hours, days, months, years. What is time in this place? My job is simply to keep them happy, which they are. It is not difficult to make a rock musician happy. Hand him a guitar, put a mic to his mouth, or toss him a pair of drumsticks…that’s it. The rest they manage themselves, just as they did during their time on Earth.
Some of them had too little time on Earth, like the 27-Club, so called because they died when they were 27 years old. Tragic, really. For Earth. Not for me. Me? I received musicians in their prime, still beautiful and glowing with ambition and talent. It’s part of the deal, part of the Jam Heaven contract, and although I dislike the business aspect of it, I always follow through on my part. This deal was created to keep things on Earth flowing. Too many talented and revolutionary artists at one time disrupts the balance of the musical world. Sacrifices must be made.
See, the contract states that we have to sacrifice one exceptional musician, someone who has changed the face of music. He or she has to be taken from Earth early, too soon, and delivered to me, here. Normally they come willingly. I send one of our own down to talk to the new ‘recruit’ (that’s how I like to think of it, it’s a less ghoulish term than sacrifice or tribute), to convince them that they need to die young. For some reason beyond my control, the age 27 has been the magic age. What is it about 27? Long enough to be successful beyond measure, but young enough to be considered tragic, I suppose. We went a bit crazy back in the Earth years of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Sorry about that. We got greedy and took more than our share. But rest assured, Jimi, Buddy, Jim, Janice, Keith, and Bon all continue to make music.
Who do you think are the muses for your modern musicians?
The sounds fly down from Jam Heaven where your Earthly musicians hear it, touch it, make it their own. Then the music, absorbed and reimagined, carries itself back to Jam Heaven.
An eternal celestial jam session.
The sounds of “Jamming” wind down and I think the musicians have finished their welcome of Prince. Until I see George Harrison walk up, quiet and thoughtful as always, and I hear the opening of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I am surprised at their choice, they do not normally choose something so…obvious…but then, as the chorus rings out I understand:
“I look at the world
And I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
(With) every mistake
We must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps.”
I understand the song is not for them, not for my musicians. It is not for Prince or David or Amy or Kurt. It is for all the musicians, and all the people living on Earth who have been touched by their music. It is for those people for whom a simple chord change, the right note placed in the right place, the hitting of the perfect note, or the groove of a bass and drum rhythm can transform their lives. It is for those people who sing in their cars, who cry at a subtle key change, or dance in their living rooms because they can’t sit still when the music hits. The guitar weeps for them.