“I don’t Grok Jazz”, those were the first words out of his mouth upon meeting. I stared at him. I probably even squinted. The hair was a surprise – I was expecting thick straight hair – cut in a typical, if longish, “businessman’s” cut. Instead his hair looked like Slinky’s springing from his head. It was wild and untamed. As he spoke to my he continually lifted his right hand to his forehead and using the back of his wrist pushed the curls out of his blue-gray eyes.
“Uhhh, sorry?”, I said. “Jazz, I don’t Grok it”, he repeated pushing the hair away again. My mind flashed around … “grok”, “grok”, “grok”… nothing came forward from the database. Was it a Mork and Mindy reference? A Star Trek word? Not wanting to look dumb I asked, “Why DON’T your grok it?”, hoping his answer would define the term for me. “I just don’t feel it, it doesn’t make any sense to me”, came the answer. “Ohh,” I replied quietly.
How do you explain music to someone? How do you help them “get-it”? I remember my frustration as a child when my mom and I took long car trips. Scanning the radio dial, I’d settle in on a station and watch Highway 99 slide past us. After an hour she’d usually say, “Honey, why are we listening to this? Doesn’t it give you a headache”? I couldn’t understand why she didn’t like it. “It’s Jackson Browne Mom. He’s singing about someone going crazy and being admitted to Belleview”, I informed her. “I don’t care what it’s about … I just don’t like the music”. Hmmmm – for me, the words were so important. I liked music because it told stories. Knowing we had another two hours ahead of us I swirled the dial again. This time I stopped on a station playing western swing. Old, old, western swing. The Son’s of the Pioneers were singing about Cool, Clear, Water. Looking out the window at the parched grass – the brittle rolling foothills, with the sentinel Live Oak trees and tired looking cows, I thought how perfect the music matched our scene.
With no difficulty I could see this land without the fences. The cowboys on their horses – pushing the cows ahead of them towards some round pen. The rolling bleached-blonde grass waved – not from a breeze moving through it, but a mirage wave – much like a fun-house mirror. The 100 degree heat-and arid air conspired to distort the picture. Before the song was finished she was asking me to change the station again. “Why? What’s wrong with this? Dad listens to this music all the time,” I informed her, making the assumption that if one parent liked something the other must too. I mean, they presented a united front on everything else, why would music be different? “This music is so old. It makes me feel old to listen to it,” was her response. “Old?. It makes you feel old? How does it make you feel old?”. This was a novel concept to me. I mean my parents just “were” their age. They weren’t young or old to me, just “were”. “Oh honey, that’s stuff your Dad listened to as a small boy, it’s not current”, she delivered this piece of information as she easily steered the ’63 Chevy station-wagon into the far-left-hand lane around a tanker truck. Sighing, I wondered why she wasn’t “getting” any of this music. Why wasn’t she enjoying it. Trying once again, I stopped on a station playing a bastardized version of Vaughn Monroe’s, ‘Red Roses for a Blue Lady’. This made the cut. Happily she listened to one Musak version of a song after another.
I, on the other hand, began to feel like there were ants creeping into my shorts. Suddenly I noticed the blistering hot heat rolling into the car through the windows. The back of my legs were sticking to the plastic seat, my eyes ached from the sun-glare, and my ears were anxious. There was no “meat” to the music. It was all soft and light. No meaning behind the instruments that were filing in for the vocals. I reached for the station. “Touch it, and we ride in silence”, she said in a stern voice. It surprised me. Really! I mean I hadn’t even put on a station with the hard rock my brother constantly listened too. No Herby Hancock, no Aerosmith, no AC/DC … what was her problem?
As the jazz swelled around us in my house, I stared at the man before. I understood. He didn’t “grok” jazz, just as my mom doesn’t grok “music” in general. I could see the chasm yawning in front of us. Sadly I looked across the gulf. “Oh”, I said in a discouraged voice.