I remember Van Morrison’s song “Jackie Wilson said…” from way back in my life. I think I was 17 and bought his very blue tinted “Saint Dominic’s Preview” album. Loved it then and now. The sub title, “I’m in heaven when you smile”, is so simple and sweet. There’s just not that much more to it, folks. The rest of the song is rhythm and rhyme and energy that makes your whole body move. I love the line, “And when you walk across the room, you make my heart go boom, boom, boom.” Ahh yeah, it’s basic and vital, written by a young man for young folks. Ebullient. There’s a word for you, blogniks, to boil over with enthusiasm, to bubble. Van had that magic then and the humility to give credit where it was due.
Van scholars claim the song was a tribute to Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”. “Gotta love you baby, knock me off my feet.” Do you know it? Go ahead and Google it… “sheee’s aaaaaalright.” Another simple song with interesting vocal tricks and horns thrown in. A great beat with lots of emotional tingle and pop. Simple, uncontroversial stuff. No sex or drugs or politics, just cleverly articulated infatuated young male passion. That’s what Jackie Wilson said. What’s that got to do with anything?
Well, I’m back in Tucson again, visiting a very verbal granddaughter of 20 months. I had to get the calculator out to figure that I am 703 months old now. It’s been a blurry few days with her at the center of the blender. She whirls around in the living room singing broken bits of “London Bridge is falling down” and “Ring around the Rosey”. So simple and reet petite. And when little Leah walks across the room, she makes my heart go boom, boom, boom. Let it all hang out. There is no wonder why I’m in heaven when she smiles. Why is it that the wondrous joys of childhood are drained off as we become homogenized adults? And where do those heavy cream days go, my blogworshippers? Do we make ice cream out of them that is served to God? Do we ever get to eat of that ambrosia again?
As my wife and I think more concretely about relocating to Arizona, I keep looking at the landscape and lifestyle with flaming match heads of lust in my heart. I want it… the dependable sun, the flat valley, the dinosaur spine ridges on the east and west. This landscape whispers to me like no other. I love the beach, but I also know that I tire of the relentless surf and the ever changing windy weather. I love the mountains and valleys, but they are high maintenance that I am not interested in pursuing. Here it’s still as a basking lizard and just as wild. The other day as I biked alongside the Rillito River wash I watched a pair of coyotes wandering about. I called to them and they regarded me very lightly and went back to their foraging. It was 11:00 a.m. No worries. Later a wild dog sprinted out from under a low hanging mesquite tree as the coyotes approached it. No collar or leash on these canines just a few hundred yards from busy neighborhoods. I find that live edge of undomesticated animals living just outside the concrete walls to be thrilling. This environment has not been and will not be tamed. It can’t be. Like cultivating the moon, son. It ain’t happening.
Over the western ridge of Tucson is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. What a jewel! The drive alone is worthy of filming as you meander across a 3,000 foot mountain gap called Gates Pass. We spent yesterday there under the brilliant October sun, which registered in the high 90’s. Still, it was glorious. Like the state flag that features red and yellow wedges of sunlight powering off a half sun, man, it just permeates you if you let it in. Walking around the various exhibits, I felt as if gravity were stronger somehow. Perhaps it’s the sun over-magnetizing you as you walk from javalinas to coyotes, from rattlesnakes to butterflies and hummingbirds. Maybe it’s that heavy cream re-surfacing from earliest childhood, wordlessly asserting itself, telling your old body to slow down and soak in this expiring moment.
The basic purity, the simplicity is hypnotic. This desert, early rock and roll, my toddler granddaughter. All good and unpolluted. I have seen the end of some lives already in my 58 years. I can see the end of mine, sort of. I know how much of it will turn out. And this awareness makes the moment sweeter, more poignant. Just for the heck of it I stopped and picked a prickle pear from a cactus this morning. Its invisible thorns were like thistles, but I could not see them with my sunglasses on in the bright sunlight. I could feel them in my fingers and thumb as I rubbed the fine hair defenses off the fruit. I tasted it for the simple reason that I wanted to know its flavor. Unspectacular but interesting. Maybe you can make wine out of such things. It was a childish thing to do and I reveled in it. Talking to a coyote is just as fanciful as tweeting with a hummingbird or grunting at a javalina. But it’s a natural reaction to raw beauty staring you eyeball to eyeball unblinking. Don’t miss this moment. Dance it out. Revel in the wonder of it all.
Jackie Wilson collapsed on stage while singing “Lonely Teardrops” in 1975. Trust me on this one. Don’t Wikipedia me behind my back, blogglers. He sang, “My heart is crying…” as his literal heart went into arrest mode. What a way to go. He lingered in a coma for nine more years, dying at age 49. His time in the sun was long over. Mr. Excitement was dead. Sort of. Technically his wonderful voice lives on in his many recordings and we’ll all have to make do with that… what Jackie Wilson said.