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Then and Now

On the back of such as this week’s 75th commemorations of the D-Day Landings it is not hard to be left reflecting upon aspects of the randomness of life.

In a sense there was no irony in the “Don’t call us heroes …” pleas made by several of them in their television and radio interviews because, of course – this far beyond – it is a combination of their sheer longevity and status as our last remaining living links with the 1944 Normandy campaign that makes them (rightly) the objects of our attention.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn./At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them.

The famous stanza from Laurence Binyon’s famous poem For The Fallen first published in The Times on 21st September 1914 – repeated at almost every military-related memorial event – resonates on so many levels.

They also also sprang instantly to mind this week when the news came through of the death of New Orleans musician Mac Rebennack  – or “Dr John” as he was often known – at the age of 77.

See here for a representative example of an obituary – Adam Sweeting’s piece as appears upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN

A strange quirk of human nature decrees that up to the age of about 35 [I’m going on the evidence of personal experience here], whenever most fans of rock music are first exposed to a new artiste – never mind the degree to which their music moves or excites – it’s the mythology quotient of the artiste’s backstory or current lifestyle that counts for about 50% of their attraction.

Rebennack was simultaneously a one-off original and also a throwback to the ‘old days’ of American music, partly because he’d been around in the music business so long – and from such an early age – that when he talked of the likes of the distinctive ‘rolling’ rhumba-boogie-woogie style of pianist Professor Longhair it was because he’d grown up listening to it and had often played with him. And the rest.

Ten or so years ago now – they disappear into the rear view mirror so fast these days I cannot remember exactly – I learned that Rebennack was going to be playing in London and made a point of attending one of his concerts, just be be able to say I’d seen him in the flesh.

Sometimes seeing or even meeting your heroes is a worrying prospect – well it is for me – in case they don’t quite measure up to the myth of how you imagined they would be.

In the 1980s an old school chum, then working in record company PR, once offered me tickets to join him at a Van Morrison concert in London and the chance to meet the man himself back stage, before or afterwards.

I turned him down flat.

I worshiped at the altar dedicated to Van Morrison as much as anybody I knew but the prospect that he wouldn’t be like the Van Morrison I had lodged in my mind was too big a risk to take!

It was a far different matter when Dr John (Rebennack) eventually entered stage left and walked slowly – or rather ‘shuffled out’ with the aid of a silver-handled cane – across to the grand piano standing stage right, dressed his habitual mish-mash of feathers, hat and white suit.

A musician’s musician who’d played with everybody who was anybody and probably forgotten more musical influences that 90% of the rest of them could claim to have ever had, he bore his radiant (can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him) charisma lightly and spoke slowly between the songs in a rasping near-indecipherable “N’Or-Leans” drawl.

The concert was fantastic despite his apparent frailty – it was a privilege to be there and to this day ranks as one of my fondest abiding memories.

Messing about on the internet this morning I came across some neat video clips and include therm here for those who might be interested:

Dr John takes a reporter from the CBS Sunday morning television show on a tour of his hometown – see here – courtesy of – YOUTUBE

Dr John talks about some of the great American musicians of the past for a documentary shot in 2003 – see here – courtesy of YOUTUBE

And finally, a bit of fun  – I don’t know the year but UK musician Jools Holland, who looks about 12 years old at the time(!) –  pairs up with Dr John as “the Boogie-Woogie Twins” for a US evening television show – see here – again courtesy of YOUTUBE







About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts