Goodnight, Dazzling Stranger…
My appreciation piece/eulogy for Bert Jansch
On the morning of 8 December 1980, my alarm went off in my London flat. It was a clock radio, set to BBC, and coming out of the mists of sleep was the news that John Lennon was dead.
I have never allowed a clock radio in my house again. I just can’t do it; I’d rather a harsh metallic jangling, or an electronic beeping, or two sadists banging on pots. I just can’t take the news before two cups of coffee and these days, I can’t take waking up to bad news that’s broken to me via the spoken word. It’s too immediate, too real.
This morning, I did my chores, fed the cats, loaded the dishwasher, let our rescue cat out of the basement, and made coffee. I opened my email. The first thing I saw was something from Cat Eldridge, my editor at Green Man Review. The subject line simply said “Damn”.
So, yeah, that’s the forewarning I need. Bad news. Or, in this instance, very bad news. We’ve lost an irreplaceable icon.
There’s just no way to overestimate or hype how bloody amazing Bert Jansch was. An entire generation of musicians, maybe two, simply do not play the way they play without Jansch having strolled into the UK folk scene in the sixties and done things on a guitar that, I suspect, left even Davey Graham’s jaw on the floor. An entire arm of the music that’s a part of our blood and bones is radically different than it would have been without Bert Jansch. If you haven’t listened to Pentangle‘s “Basket of Light”, for pity’s sake, do that now. It really doesn’t get any better, not by anyone.
I actually didn’t get to meet him until the mid-nineties, touring with Jacqui McShee. I got to shake hands, reference a couple of people we knew in common, and went away reeling at how brilliantly the man had played. I can count the guitarists who have that effect on me on less than two hands: Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, Pierre Bensusan, John Renbourn, Leo Kottke, Ry Cooder. And of course, Bert Jansch. That is not a lot of people.
Jansch – the “dazzling stranger” of Colin Harper’s brilliant book – died of cancer at the age of 67. He’d been fighting it awhile, and I hoped – I really hoped – he would beat it. He didn’t. And it’s our loss.
Another man done gone. Goodnight, you dazzling amazing stranger, you. Thank you for all that music.
Originally done for Green Man Review/Sleeping Hedgehog (http://sleepinghedgehog.com/2011/10/06/goodnight-dazzling-stranger/) and Red Room (http://redroom.com/member/deborah-grabien).