Dead Moms Club

Elizabeth Jean Rivard

I wrote this homage to my mother a month ago and decided not to post it, as it seemed a bit too personal and I’m not a wear-his-heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy. Then today in the course of sorting and packing up D’Elf HQ in prep for a move across the river, I found amongst the myriad of accumulations of a pack-rat musician (who has seen the error of his ways and is cured, praise god – CURED!) a ticket stub for the event i went to the night of her death on Sat 3/31/90 – “Jazz, Culture and the Cosmos: A Lecture By Sun Ra“. I took it as a sign, and on top of this feeling that’s been mounting of late, a feeling of sober and somewhat world-weary sadness, brought about in part by news of the havoc the Gulf oil spill is creating on the environment and the incomprehensible inability to deal with it effectively; not to mention the Tennessee floods which caused so many musicians to lose their precious instruments…well, I decided to post it. I don’t flatter myself that many read this anyway, so for the few who do here is the story…

The human capacity for learning to live with loss and somehow get on with one’s life was on my mind this past Earth Day, which also happens to be my mother Elizabeth’s birthday. The 20th anniversary of her death passed recently and she had been in my thoughts much of late, not surprisingly. What better way to honor both her memory and the spirit of the day than a trip to the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain? I loaded my upright bass into the car and, aware of the irony of the carbon footprint I was leaving by driving, and hoping to compensate for it by playing some pretty music for the birds and the bees, I headed out.

Micro at The Spot, 2000/2001? Photo by Francesca

There is a spot I have been going to for 10 years now in the Peter’s Hill section of the Arboretum. A little secluded meadow which has become, in warmer weather, my private practice space. Thanks to climate change, my visits there start earlier in the season, and last year went into November after which it was too cold to bring the bass out. The weather this day – April 22 – was fickle, with the sun playing hide and seek behind the clouds and thunderstorms imminent. It’s a great pleasure of mine to witness the changes that occur in this little spot over the course of the season and on a larger scale over the course of years I have gone there. Watching the buds form and bloom and eventually die, and the cyclical nature of the migratory cycles of the various birds that come and go. Last year several Baltimore orioles hung out about a week or so transfixing me with their beautiful song. I tried to emulate it and eventually got pretty close so that I convinced myself that I was in musical dialogue with the birds. You never know.

Micro and bass at The Spot, May 2010. Photo by Ted Bradford

Mostly my time there is private and uninterrupted, as it’s off the beaten path. Occasionally a hiker or someone walking their dog will come by, and a photo student named Francesca stumbled upon me there, and me and my bass became the subject of her school project. Most recently a guy named Ted came by taking pictures of the many birds who frequent the spot, and we had a nice talk about the birds he had seen recently. My mother was an avid ornothologist and would have loved this place, I’m sure. I improvised a little song for her and practiced for about 45 minutes or so before the first drops of rain were felt. Packing up the bass I stowed it in the car and headed for the lilacs, another of her favorite things. The Arnold Arboretum is, of course, renowned for its lilac collection and on this weekday afternoon with darkening skies and ominous thunder in the distance, I had the place pretty much to myself.

I sat under a tree on the hill above lilac row and watched lightning crackling in the heavens while a male cardinal settled in the bushes nearby. Elizabeth’s favorite bird, and a clear sign that she was there with me. The rain started to fall harder then, feeling so good on my skin as I lay there in the grass missing her. And then the clouds in the sky behind me parted and brilliant rays of the sun cut through while the sky in front was as dark as a stormy sea. The light took on that quality of luminescence where everything is bathed in an otherworldly glow and remained that way for what seemed an eternity but was actually minutes. The closest I can describe it is it feels like you have woken up in a dream, just one of those perfect moments where all is still and time ceases. It was so heart achingly beautiful tears streamed down my face and I gave thanks for this opportunity to connect with her, and to feel her presence so strongly.

As I walked back through the empty park to my car I thought of my friends and collaborators in Club d’Elf who have lost parents in the last year or so. Erik Kerr’s mom most recently, Brahim Fribgane’s father, Mat Maneri’s father Joe who was the elder statesman of d’Elf. In the sort of gallows humor that musicians of our ilk tend towards, I have laughed about shared membership in the Dead Moms Club with Tronzo, Reeves and Paul Schultheis, all of whom have lost their mothers in recent years. Wry jokes somehow make the pain more bearable, with laughter more preferable than its alternative.

I thought of my broheems and hoped that they all find ways to connect with their dead parents the way that I have been fortunate to with Elizabeth. She made it easy for me with her love of birds and nature, for merely by going outside I can feel her. It has brought me comfort to do so and I hoped for that comfort to be theirs as well.

I also came away from that special afternoon with a renewed commitment to the Club d’Elf studio project that had become bogged down for various reasons and had led to a dark period of my feeling I could never get it out. I inherited from my Mother and her Celtic heritage not only a sensitive, artistic sensibility and appreciation for the odd, the strange & the weird – “the other”, but also a predilection towards perfectionism and “the blues”. Having spent years and countless hours on this recording, not to mention more money than i could hope to recoup, and having already finished the “music” part, I still found myself unable to bring it to fruition. The lack of anything to show for my efforts – not to mention the stasis it created for the band by not having anything “new” to show to the world and to be attractive to promoters & the folks in the biz, had really put me into a funk, and not the Bootsy variety. I needed to finish this for many reasons, not the least of which being that it would be fitting to honor our parents with the music created by those they brought into the world. Thanks in part to generous donations from several fans, and a grant from the Iguana Music Fund, as well as my having made some money from a recent gig in the Broadway show world, it seems that it can be a reality. Dos will be dedicated to them, and actually now has a release date: Oct 19, 2010.

~ by delfblog on May 27, 2010.

3 Responses to “Dead Moms Club”

  1. good stuff mike… looking forward to the release… respect!

  2. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us. You not only have musical talent but also a talent for expressing yourself with words. I’m sorry you lost your mom so young. She, however, has left quite a legacy.

  3. You should wear you heart on your sleeve a little more often. Thank you for reminding me to get to the arboretum.

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