From there to here

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Aug. 3, 2006

Dear Julie,

When I moved to Humboldt County at the end of the 1970s, the Jambalaya was the most unusual nightclub I'd ever encountered. I fell in love with the mix of old hippies and college students, poets and musicians, lesbian activists, artists, underground journalists, jazz pianists who only performed at home and extreme alcoholics who called this place home.

Jerry Martien's readings on poetry nights transfixed me. The rhythms in his poems held as much meaning as the words, as if they sprang from a sound he'd heard walking among the rocks along the shore or in the big trees. One of my prized photographs captures Jerry and his buddy John Ross sitting on a bench behind the Jambalaya smoking cigarettes they rolled themselves.

John Ross, the Beat Generation revolutionary/poet, subsisted on "crazy money" and wrote in one of his odes of looking forward the first of each month to being able to buy Dinty Moore stew.

John was covering the never-ending Mexican revolution for the Pacific News Service the last I heard and had written a book about the death of the Left.

"Murdered by Capitalism" begins with a description of your hometown. "Trinidad, California, boasts that it is the smallest incorporated city in the Golden State -- 400 souls marinade (sic) here suspended in a fog-bound aspic ..." where seasons are governed by salmon and crabs, Winnebagos, and well-heeled tourists.

The touring musicians who came through the Jambalaya amazed my musically deprived palate: Folkies Kate Wolf, Rosalie Sorrells and Dave Van Ronk, acoustic bassist David Friesen with guitarist John Stowell, the French saxophonist Martial Solal.

As a 30-year-old, I assumed Jambalayas would exist everywhere in California and wherever I might go. How disappointing to discover they don't.

Once a week friends converge on the Water Street Lounge in Cape Girardeau to listen to live music. The 12 or so tables jammed into the room usually are full. The lounge isn't the Jambalaya, now an upscale restaurant anyway, but characters always seem to find a home.

The band purrs like a big-finned Cadillac with the top down. The regulars know their repertoire by heart and still dance in their chairs.

Young musicians come to stare in awe at Bruce Zimmerman, who's been playing the guitar longer than they've been breathing.

Beautiful strippers warm up before going to work. Some are squired by men in cowboy hats.

Rick, whose paintings conjure up the aboriginal faces of an unknown galaxy, does his Jokester dance. He knows how to dress.

No one reads poetry at the Water Street Lounge. Bruce Springsteen said of another place, "The poets down here don't say nothing at all. They just stand back and let it all be."

I read that the Foo Fighters played their first public show at the Jambalaya in 1995. That must have shaken the brandy bottles. I'm happy to tell you people here shake things, too.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: