Jolly Good Fellows, Auld Lang Syne and All That Jazz

Jolly Good Fellows, Auld Lang Syne and All That Jazz

Remembering the loved ones and events that gave meaning to 2013

By Bliss Bowen 12/26/2013

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Ilove Christmastime. Ask anyone who knows me: it’s my favorite season of the year, one that illuminates my worldview. And New Year’s, to me, is one more joyous piece of the 12 days of Yuletide. This time of year, you can count on me reveling in the holiday spirit. I treasure these days. 

But as we barrel toward the dawn of 2014, I must admit that 2013 has left me singularly uninspired for 
celebration. Squeaky noisemakers and champagne? Forget it. In this season of abundance, what I feel more than anything else is a gnawing sense of absence; of empty chairs that used to be filled, of songs unplayed, of emails and phone calls that will never be sent or answered. I’m distracted by ghosts: my dad, media maven Diane Gershuny, harmonica player extraordinaire/DJ John “Juke” Logan, songwriter Jamie Rounds and bouncer/photographer “Big Steve” Smith. They’ve all departed life’s raucous party since last December, and the room still echoes with their jokes and music. 

With the exception of my big band-loving dad, each of those beautiful souls was escorted into my life by the force of music. I am a stronger, deeper, more evolved human being thanks to the micro-community in which we all found ourselves within LA’s enveloping sprawl. Music bonded us. Now music is a healer as I struggle to slowly, incrementally let them go. They will never fully leave; their memories and lessons are fixed in my psyche. But grief, not to mention sanity, demands acknowledgement of separation and loss. 

“There’s one thing that’s real clear to me

No one dies with dignity

We just try to ignore the elephant somehow”

Jason Isbell’s “Elephant” is a shattering ballad about a woman dying of cancer, and probably the most frequently applauded track from his album “Southeastern,” which is cropping up on many year’s-best lists, mine included. Isbell’s YouTube channel is running five different videos for the song, all comprised of snapshots of cancer patients. Diane Gershuny is featured in “Elephant” No. 3 at the 1:41 mark, in a photo taken by Didier Chevalier last year at a Dave Gleason show in the desert:

Diane and I worked together on and off starting in the late 1990s, first as part of the editorial team for Gig Magazine (founded by former Pasadena Weekly editor Bill Evans), then in various freelance situations as she moved on to jobs with Fender and other music industry manufacturers. She became one of my most trusted friends. Trying to cross the NAMM convention floor with her was like tagging along with a rock star as colleagues from across the country scooped her up in hugs and jawboned about life, work and, always, music. She had an artist’s eye and terrific musical taste. Every room of Diane’s home contained music memorabilia, from backstage passes and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival posters to a signed copy of Steve Earle’s “El Corazon” art and Peter Amft’s black-and-white “Xmas in Prison” photo of Muddy Waters. My living room is now adorned with a framed poster of Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale that she gifted me with last month — a memento of a show we attended in May before her cancer returned. 

Music was medicine for her. Literally. As she made lifestyle changes to boost her chances of surviving the esophageal cancer that ultimately claimed her, music lifted her spirits and helped her feel stronger. She attended festivals, club shows and house concerts, befriended little-known artists who impressed her, talked them up to pals and wrote about them when she could for blogs and magazines, just as she had championed Los Lonely Boys before anyone outside of Texas had heard of them. The substance of her heart and humor made her a genuinely valuable human being.

This whole end-of-the-year, looking-backwards-and-forwards thing gets tricky. In some recess of my stubborn mind, Diane didn’t die on Dec. 9; instead, she’s holed up in her cozy Long Beach casa, grooving to Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Likewise, Juke didn’t leave us on Aug. 30; he’s still ensconced in his Joshua Tree paradise, laughing gleefully, renovating his Airstream trailer and making sketches for this year’s batch of handmade Christmas cards while spinning killer blues, funk and soul albums from his massive library. Jamie is still playing songwriter rounds at the Bluebird in Nashville; Big Steve is cranking Dave Alvin and Foghat; and Dad doesn’t answer phone calls back home because he’s tapping his foot to an old Gene Krupa recording and not because we buried him in a crypt in August. But here I am, replaying Isbell’s “Elephant” again … and listening to an advance of the new Los Lonely Boys disc, knowing there will be no discussion with Diane because she isn’t present to hear it … just like there will be no discussion of New Year’s Eve. 
My NYE plans are modest. I might go hear friends and their band, Hot Club of LA, play great gypsy jazz at El Cid in Hollywood. While I’m there, I trust I’ll be more lighthearted because I’ll feel more immediately connected to people and music who mean something to me. Those are substantial blessings. 

Yet I suspect that when the clock strikes 12 I’ll be home with my guitar and stereo, vaguely aware of neighbors down the road banging pots and pans as I play songs that stir these memories … a ritualistic act of peaceful remembrance more than celebration, but a necessary commemoration all the same. Noisemakers and midnight toasts will have to wait another 365 days. Happy New Year, y’all.  


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