I met Carol Calhoun on CompuServe in 1987, and over time, she became the best friend I ever made online. She must have been in her 50s by then ... late-40s at least ... I was in my mid-30s. We'd talk about pretty much everything ... well, she'd tell me pretty much everything, I'd tell her everything within my usual personal rules of disclosure. We'd talk about music ... I recall that she took her kids to see Prince in concert, just as I did with Neal. Once in awhile one of us would make a mix tape for the other.
Well, Carol's dad, a man I never met but who must have been in his 70s at least, got inspired by those tapes, and he decided to make a tape for me from his old records ... I'm pretty sure at least some of them were 78s ... and so one day a tape arrived, lots of scratchy-sounding tunes.
I listened to that tape again this morning, and it would be a remarkable mix from anyone, but that this septuagenarian pulled it out of his old record collection strikes me as lovely and fascinating.
The tape has old blues on one side, old jazz on the other. The blues stuff is pretty hard to find ... when I tried to make a Rhapsody playlist from the tape, I could only hunt down half a dozen of the songs. Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Memphis Minnie, Oscar Woods, Georgia White, Scrapper Blackwood, Rosetta Crawford, Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles and Jelly Roll Morton were the blues artists, and I find it delightful that some old white guy from the midwest had all this stuff on record.
In some ways, the jazz side is even odder. It starts as you might expect, with Count Basie, Lena Horne, Benny Goodman, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and Duke Ellington. Then he sneaks in a song by Diz and Bird, which was not quite swing music, but still perhaps understandable.
At which point, maybe he decided he was tired of making the tape, I don't know ... but the last song on the tape is all 27 minutes of Miles's "Bitches Brew." If you aren't familiar with this classic, All Music Guide says it is "Thought by many to be the most revolutionary album in jazz history."
I'm someone who worries, even obsesses, about growing old. I don't want my brain to quit working, and I don't want to lose touch with the popular world around me. So when I listen to a mix tape from some old grandpa I never met, and I hear "Bitches Brew," well, it gives me hope.