Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ever Since the World Ended: Missing Mose Allison

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I've been in real funk for the past week (no real reason, nothing worth discussing), and I found myself doing what I frequently do when I am overcome with depression, when I lose faith in humanity, and generally begin to view the world as one big, unfunny joke: I pulled out my Mose Allison records.

I've been collecting Mose Allison's records since college. A legendary jazz pianist, singer and songwriter, his blues-influenced compositions also inspired many rock musicians in the 60s. I knew his name years earlier because of covers of his songs done by the Who and other bands, but it was only in college that I started to seek out the original versions. In the ensuing years, though, I discovered that Mose's best material was rarely, if ever, covered by other artists. The songs were too subtle, to snidely nuanced, too... Mose. He could be misanthropic without being pessimistic, sardonic without being mean. This was a guy who proclaimed: "I don't worry about a thing because I know nothing's going to be alright," a whole fifteen years before Bob Marley proposed the opposite. There was just something about his cool cynicism, his dark, ironic turns of phrase delivered with a smooth, ultra hip delivery that always brought a smile to my face, cooled my nerves, and made the cosmic joke seem funny again.

The first thing I did last Wednesday was to pull out his 1987 album, Ever Since the World Ended, and go straight for the title track. "Ever since the world ended," he sings in his inimitable style, "I don't go out as much," snarkily belittling the apocalypse by dwelling on how it affected his social life, only before declaring: "It's just as well the world ended-- It wasn't working anyway."

The song cut to the quick of what I was feeling. And yet Mose was never one to deliver bad news without a smirk, or even (gasp!) provide a glimmer of hope. As the song goes on to illustrate a new world devoid of the problems that presumably brought about the old one's demise, he ends by proclaiming: "Ever since the world ended, I face the future with a smile."

It was just what I needed to hear. While several of his other records hit my turntable last week, it was only that one that received numerous spins.

Mose Allison died yesterday, four days after his 89th birthday.

And so here I am again, going through my collection yet another time (as I type these words, I have side 2 of his 1966 live album, Mose Alive, on my record player), and in deep thought.

Hearing that news yesterday was just too much to take. I knew he was old, and his passing was inevitable, but finding out about it just after his music had barely gotten me through a wretched week, it was just plain horrible timing.

Of all the musical luminaries that passed in the last week, most notably Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, Mose was the one to whom I had the most exposure and the greatest affinity. Also, not coincidentally, he was the only one of those three that I ever got to see live (I did have the pleasure of seeing the bass virtuoso Victor Bailey, whose death last week largely went unheralded, but that's another story).

In 2003, I attended Mose's late set at The Iridium in New York. I went with a friend who had no idea what or who she was about to see, but I promised her it would something special. (I had just happened to run into her when she was waiting in line to get into the free concert that the Dave Matthews Band was giving in Central Park, which was nearly over by that point. I convinced her that seeing a jazz legend would be better than seeing the last ten minutes of a band she had already seen.)

We arrived at The Iridium just as the set was starting. Mose was cool as ever. The hipness and humor that characterized his songs and delivery was augmented with a world-weary wisdom. As far as I know, he had been referred to as "the Sage of Tippo" since at least the 1960s, but it seemed more appropriate now. Though his piano playing didn't have quite the dexterity that it once did, his voice was only richer. He played and sang like he was he was conveying a lifetime's worth of experiences, but not getting too hung up if we couldn't dig what he had to lay on us. Needless to say we all did.

After Mose finished his set, I caught him as he was leaving the stage. While I generally think it to be in poor taste to accost artists in this way, I extended my hand and said: "Hey Mose, great set!"

He shook my hand while the casual raise of his brow said to me that he was neither too impressed nor too offended by the gesture and moved on. But hey, at least his didn't leave me hanging.

So at least I have that. I'm glad I got to see him when I did. I got to see him face to face and hear him in the moment, delivering the songs that fit so closely with my sense of humor and the world, and made my own cynicism a little easier to handle.

And so now Mose is gone. I've still got his records. They got me through last week, and hopefully they should get me through the next one.

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