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Into The Light On A Cold Fall Day

December 15th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Into The Light
Jorma Kaukonen
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Over the years I have periodically found myself constrained to ask myself questions relating to my source and my destination… I guess we all do from time to time. When I was a kid in the first half of the last century I just wanted to be old enough to leave home and be on my own. I can’t blame my Mom and Dad for this, they were beset by their own demons and that’s just the way it was. As for me, I just wanted that dream of a walk in the sun as, well if not as an adult, at least as some sort of autonomous creature.

I don’t think I gave much thought to the responsibilities that go with such freedom… that would come much, much later. In any case, I bounced around emotionally from pillar to post until one day the guitar entered my life. What was that really all about? I mean I had studied music and a number of instruments from an early age, but the guitar and its attendant music opened a very real door into the world for me. Now it is impossible to separate the guitar as a prime mover from the music of the time, much of which was not guitar music. Think of the Sam Cooke song written by Sam as well as Lou Adler and Herb Alpert.

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the french I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra
Don’t know what a slide rule is for

But I do know that one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

Now I don’t claim to be an “A” student
But I’m trying to be
So maybe by being an “A” student baby
I can win your love for me

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the french I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

La ta ta ta ta ta ta
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh
La ta ta ta ta ta ta
(Science book)
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh
(French I took)

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

I mean think about it, for this was deep poetry for an adolescent boy. I still can’t listen to that song today without being transported to another time when I, wrapped in the body of youth thought that the riddle of life might just be that simple.

Well, needless to say, that’s not exactly how it played out but I was certainly hardwired to see the world accompanied by a sound track. Of course, time moved on and something else happened along the way. I started out learning some stuff on the guitar… bluegrass like Jimmy Brown The Newsboy, murder ballads like Down In The Willow Garden, Banks Of The Ohio, bluesy offerings like Worried Man Blues… I still remember my Father getting on my case about some of my favorite material. ‘Worried man! What do you know about worries? Shackles on your feet… what do you know about shackles?’ Well, of course I wanted to say, ‘Dad, I’m a teenager in the 50’s, I know lots about shackles and worry,’ but due to some divine intercession this was one of those rare moments in my life when I chose to hold my tongue. Anyway, playing songs for myself was grand… the natural room echo in my parents tile bathroom couldn’t be beat, but this wasn’t good enough. I remember my best friend, Bill Haile (may he rest in peace) euchred me into going on a Presbyterian Retreat. I had just gotten my driver’s license, I was the proud owner of a 1950 Studebaker Starlite Coupe as well as a Gibson J-45 guitar there would be girls there and I knew a couple of songs.

Ah, that innocent passion of youth… indeed. So, on Saturday night they had a ‘talent’ show and of course I signed up… my first public performance. I played Worried Man Blues… it was a smash hit. The applause got me right where I lived. They wanted another song. I followed it up with Champion Jack Dupree’s Dirty Woman Blues. They were not quite so excited about this choice of material and out came the hook. I didn’t even get to finish the song but that was OK. I got that taste of applause and I have to tell you I liked it.

Time marched on as it is wont to do and I continued to pursue a musical path… it was no longer my choice, it was something I had to do. I remember going to see such memorable artists as Pete Seeger as well as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee at Constitution Hall (maybe it was Lisner Auditorium, I don’t remember) and I would be sitting there in the dark waiting for the concert to begin. A hush would fall over the audience, the curtain would go up and the musicians would walk into the light and start to play. That moment of walking into the light… coming from darkness into crystal clarity was a grand epiphany. I knew then that I needed that moment to be a part of my life.

As the years began to unravel, I played open mikes from Gerde’s Folk City in New York in 1960 to the Offstage in San Jose, California a couple of years later. One moment you’re in some murky tuning room, and then you take the stage. The room might still be murky in reality but to be there with instrument in hand with a microphone in front of you are part of a celestial ascension.

A couple of years ago I was on a CAMI tour with Ruthie Foster and Robben Ford and we all sort of rotated off and on the stage as the production demanded and I remember sitting in the darkness in the wings with my guitar in hand waiting for my moment to walk into the light. Last year with David Bromberg as we would take turns on the stage I remember the same feeling… waiting to walk into the light and present myself to the audience. What a strange anomaly that all is having little or nothing to do with the world we all inhabit most of the time. Taking a kid to school, or their show or a trip to the doctor certainly does not offer a trip into the light to the taker.

Well, life has a way of balancing things… a way of introducing one to humility like it or not. I am no different in that respect… that is for sure! That said, in my creative life which also overlaps into my working life, I get to walk with angels and every now and then I get to fly. How great is that? I don’t know what the point of all these observations are. At this point in my life I would wish for a little more time to watch my children grow and a few more trips into the light before that final light calls my name. I will answer that call too, as we all must… and the meantime I will try to keep smiling and stay out of the shadows.

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  1. Eric
    December 15th, 2010 at 15:15 | #1

    Thank you for that! I grew up in the same area as you did, and I’ve walked some of the same streets, both literally and figuratively, picking up the guitar and having it become a central part of who I am. I appreciate the perspective you bring, and your willingness to discuss how as we get older the big questions just get more and more complex, and to do all that while still smiling. Good luck staying out of the shadows!

  2. willy
    December 15th, 2010 at 18:02 | #2


    What a marvelous commentary on passing through the various shades of light in your musical life – thank you for sharing such a self-aware evaluation of your past with us. It is an irrefutable testimony to the wisdom and perspective we all hope to gain with time and age. Life is like a pendulum, but to be able to look back on one’s years and say “all in all, I’d do it again” is the best anyone can hope for.

    I look forward to the new record seeing the light of day very soon!

    Cheers and best wishes for the new year.

  3. December 15th, 2010 at 18:54 | #3

    Beautiful observations Jorma. When we have kids we must make those trips into the light even when we don’t feel like it. Those are the times our kids will remember the most. It is a word I did’nt know growing up: selfless. I proudly display the autograph made out to my two girls from Ruthie Foster. I showed them on Youtube what a great singer and soulful person she is. You are true inspiration to many of us Jorma and my boy can’t wait to play in Ohio some day. I hope the Les Paul/Mary Ford autograph found it’s way safely to You. I thought it may work with Your decor.

  4. Rich Patchkofsky
    December 15th, 2010 at 20:00 | #4

    With any luck your room won’t be ready for a long time!

  5. Dave
    December 15th, 2010 at 20:31 | #5

    Your a very thoughtful person Jorma, who is constantly observing, questioning and enjoying the world around you and within you. Your introspection today is very thought provoking. May the light continue to shine on you

  6. Bob
    December 16th, 2010 at 04:20 | #6

    Wow. Their really is somthing going on in that brain of yours lol. You have an outline of life and also a central theme, that being the darkness and the light and you love for music that led you on a path. And the reasons for taking that path.
    I believe light exists within us and in nature. It has to do with origens that you mention, so it all ties in. Interesting. I like where you are going with this.
    I love the heck out of bluegrass, I notice you mentioned some of your musical influences. Cool. Lately I think of David Crosby’s “Everybody I Love you” CSNY.
    Maybe the shadows teach us to learn the difference between these states of conciousness. Thanks for giving me somthing to think about too.

  7. ric siler
    December 16th, 2010 at 07:34 | #7

    Beautiful way to start a day. Thanks. By the way, after I mentioned my blog on your blog I got five visitors. That felt pretty good, I like the idea of community; hopefully when they found out the central topic is my theater ramblings they didn’t fall all over themselves getting to the exits, I’d hate for anybody to get hurt on my account! Peace, and have a wonderful holiday . . . not for nothing, but your Xmas album gets some serious reps this time of year!

  8. Rob Weber
    December 16th, 2010 at 10:43 | #8

    Cheers Jorma!

  9. Sean Murphy
    December 16th, 2010 at 12:16 | #9


  10. Rockin Ricky Brindell – Gramps
    December 16th, 2010 at 13:02 | #10

    Ahh Jorma,

    Your words are as inspiring as always. As you know I am also called to the light although I only started at the age of 50 and thanks to you, Fur Peace Ranch and Breakdownway, I also feel the draw to those murky bar rooms for my open mic performances. It is a great feeling.

    As I reflect on my life, I realize that all I have experienced has led me to this point, and with guitar in hand, I will one day be led to my final repose (Hopefully not too soon of course).

    Sadly as I write this, I just had my lovely wife Lucille on the phone crying that one of her close friends fell down a flight of stairs last night and is in a coma fighting for her life. It makes me think how relevant some of my favorite songs from your repitoire are as I and my freinds/relatives continue to age towards our final demise. Songs like:

    Death Don’t Have No Mercy
    Full Go Round
    What Are They Doing in Heaven Today (dolceola-hmmm)

    Anyway the point of my ramblings is I have learned that I can die 1000 different ways, but there is only 1 way to live, and that is to be the best person I can possibly be.

    Happy Holidays and peace to all.

    Rockin Ricky

  11. Lady Robin
    December 16th, 2010 at 13:39 | #11

    No surprise Jorma, that seeing you perform last night in Portland would fill me up! The venue was one of the coziest that I have been to lately, and you and Barry were just amazing!! With the magic that you create, guitar in hand, you are also the master at providing a place allowing other musicians to shine. Whenever I am lucky enough to see you, Jack, Barry perform, I come away wondering, ” why have I missed so many shows this year?”, because your shows…your music, should not be missed out on.
    Reading this blog, and relating to something you mentioned during our visit last night…and again during the show, I realized something that I don’t often think about….the transportation of a musician via the APPLAUSE!
    Being somewhat of an artist in my own right, I often do my work quietly, in nature or behind the scenes. For me, this is enough. For performing artists however, who were brought into the light the very first time through being near a stage, witnessing all that energy, music and the lights….the applause is so important. The energy, the pressing of multiple sets hands together, creating more energy…thankfulness for your gifts…well, that is a powerful thing, not only to create it, but to have rushing toward you…and the stage, all at once.
    I thought about that last night, as you joked, and held the stage for Barry. As I brought my hands together each time after, my applause for you and Barry, I had that light bulb go off in my head. After reading this blog today, that light bulb is shining brightly.
    twice recently I have referred to you as ” the King”.
    Once, after I called Vanessa,” Protector of Kings”, after an incident outside OTA hotel in NYC.
    Another time, was just after your call this morning. Nate was here in the kitchen…I said, I just got a call from
    ” The King”.
    You are father, husband, the captain & Jorma.
    On stage guitar in hand, for me, you are ” the King”
    xx ~ Lady Robin

  12. December 16th, 2010 at 14:22 | #12

    Thank You Jorma for sharing your thoughts, your life and your music with all of us. Shine On!!

  13. Joe Moore
    December 17th, 2010 at 07:01 | #13

    Jorma , As you always seem to do , your thoughts on this journey , seem to nail it for me . At 61 , I’m just trying to live every day. Teaching , being a Dad , husband and friend . Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your journey . I hope that you have so many more stories to tell in the future in both your professional and personal life. ! Long may you Run ! Thank you !

  14. Gary Dion
    December 18th, 2010 at 14:26 | #14

    Thank you, Jorma, for sharing your thoughts and life, as well as all the wonderful music. I look forward to bringing my family to see you at the Cedar in May (might be above freezing here by then). Happy birthday too!

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