Friday, December 11, 2009

Some These Days I'll Be Gone

Jack Rose never sat me down for a lesson per se but he showed more me about being a music maker than anyone ever will. His permanent stance to make shit happen, to lay down the goods plain and powerfully, to rip the air around your ears – these were his unwavering tenets. His boundless praise (when you passed into the rarefied air of Jack’s approval) for his gigmates and friends was a real engine for development and invigoration in an underground scene that counted on him to be a lion. Who else could fashion a real and respected career by being an acoustic instrumentalist during our times of celebrity twit baggage? There could be but one and he’s gone. Burns like hell for us. Jack shook it loose, now he’s roaming free and feeling all.

The first time I remember hanging with Jack was in the early days of this decade. Enos Slaughter went down to do a gig with him at the Philly Record Exchange, just a casual gig on the back patio, but it was great as I first got to feel the fire and passion of Jack as a person. Our set was passable, but his was burning, even though he was in the early stages of becoming a solo performer. We hung around the store drinking beer and listening to blasted boogie rock of Harmonica Dan’s choice, gawking at horrid looking Savoy Brown gatefold portraits. Then we retired back to his home, where we debated the validity of 40s and 50s string band music (i.e. bluegrass), the power of Ali Akbar Khan vs. Robbie Basho, and multiple other musical tangents. Jack went a bit overboard that night, and I remembered Laurie getting him to shut it down and go to bed, and caring for him in the morning. That was actually the only time I can remember Jack feeling bad physically in my experience. Over the years he seemed to take on a manner of invincibility that many were awed by, and which made his sudden passing all the more shocking.

Jack’s irrepressible energy was really one of his hallmarks. One time in October 2003, No Neck played on the same bill as him at the De Stijl festival. My head was a bit fried from the night before in Madison, as some of us had a mushroom dessert before our gig w/ Trad Gras Och Stenar. Jack was backstage in Minneapolis just blitzing me with a rundown of the records he had been able to snag while out on this jaunt, and the axis of my tongue, brain and ears just couldn’t keep up. I was just murmuring “wow” and thinking this dude is a powerhouse. I loved to talk to Jack about records and we certainly had many areas of shared interest and knowledge; he was really into the fact I had all of the OJL LPs except the Byways of Jazz one, but he also never failed to mention that exception was one of the best in the series. He was voracious when it came to the music he loved, and with him it was always about more than collecting “pieces”, but rather accessing the ecstatic truth of years gone by and what we can take away from these precious gems. I loved it when he would get excited talking about Tony Joe White and seemingly begin praising the wartime Prime Minister of Japan Tojo. He was one of the best at internalizing a tradition or style, taking the mechanisms of sound, and combining it with his own emotional complex and tendencies: thereby he was able to create a fully vibrant music, that was in line with his beloved historical touchstones, but never anything less than the work of his own unique voice.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend an increasing amount of time with Jack over the past few years, and also get to know some other great musicians in his ever growing camp, like Glenn, Mike, Nathan, Isak, Max, Dan, Chris and Willie. He really was such a propulsive force, willing not only himself but his fellow musicians to higher heights. He had really embraced some of my recent efforts to a degree that almost shocked and bewildered me. One night he took me aside and said that Laurie was really into a solo LP I had put out, assuring me that this was perhaps the highest praise possible in his eyes. His all encompassing love and respect for Laurie was a beauty to behold and the absolute standard for devotion. He was fiercely loyal to his friends as well, and was beyond fair at gigs we played with him, insisting on splitting the pay, when it was clear that he was responsible for bringing 90% of the people through the door. When the Speer band was on tour with him in spring of 2008, we had such a blast together - eating incredible chicken fried steak in Iowa and hot browns and goetta in Kentucky, meeting youthful hope for the future in St. Louis in the form of Turner Williams, listening to “Scorpio Woman” by Mordecai Jones 10 times in a row while rolling into Pittsburgh, and of course slaying people onstage everywhere. In the aftermath of the tour, back home in Philly over some pork italianos, we all agreed that it was one of our favorite tour experiences ever. We cut some tracks with him in the studio over that summer, adhering to Jack’s non overdub approach to great results, though I was a bit worried having never cut keeper vocals and instrumental tracks simultaneously before. But with Jack’s fervor and a couple of fine beverages spurring us on, we laid down the law and did it up righteous like. 2009 was busy for both us, and our schedules did not coincide as often as the year before. When I last spoke to Jack on December 1st, he was so positive and damn pleased with everything he had set up around him, the future was exceedingly bright. I hung up the phone smiling as usual after talking to him and promised myself to make sure to see that fella much more often next year. Needless to say, this shall not come to pass. But I will always love Jack in my heart and will keep him forever in my mind whenever I pick up an instrument.

They say that funerals are for the living. Laurie deserves more love and support than we can possibly give her, because she gave so much to Jack, and really made it possible for all of us to share in their love and strength. Jack’s family and friends will be able to begin a farewell that will never really end, because there was still so much left undone. Jack was bursting with life, a cat who celebrated vibration, the sprawling mess that is the world, and the jubilant ways we careen through it. One thing I know for sure is that Jack Rose is for the living. Always was – always will be.


  1. Great remembrance. I didn't know Jack personally, but through two pieces especially — this one and Hans's — I've begun to feel like I did…

  2. so wonderfully said. rest in peace, jack.

  3. fuckin righteous. thanks so much for this dave.

  4. Thanks for this, D. That night in St. Louis was really amazing.