It’s months ago now, but the voice sticks in my head. Out of nowhere one night, a friend from junior high school, someone I hadn’t spoken with in 40 plus years, called the house.
He was always odd, and the years had just driven that oddness into the shape of a life. At least that’s what I thought I was hearing; he made the call so he wanted to make a connection, but then he had no idea what to do with it. It was awkward, even allowing for the time that had passed.
One thing about my long ago friend; he was musical, and that last summer I spent in Ogdensburg NY, he got some records: Cream’s “Wheels of Fire,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Deja Vu” and John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” “Wheels” had the biggest immediate impact on me, but somehow I heard enough of the Coltrane for it to stick and slowly sink in. To my eternal gratitude, it still is.
In one of the pauses of the conversation, I tried to tell him just that, how important the Coltrane had been, how it had changed things for me and bettered my life. And he said, drawing out the name phonetically as if it had just been set before him, “Coal-train? I have some Coal-train.” (Try to hear it with the word “train” emphasized.) And that was it, at least as far as I can recall now. He was a working musician for part of his professional life, and I guess musicians have a different relationship to music. Maybe it’s harder to be a fan.
I repeat the story here out of gratitude: it was as incidental a thing as could be, the playing of the Coltrane record, but it was a great gift to me and I’m glad I at least got to tell him.