Sonny Rollins And The Candy Lady

There was a time in this country when Spam was mainstream. When middle class housewives across the country popped open a can and readied it for their husbands and children and the spam made them all feel like the very epitome of modernity. Before locally grown organic bought from the farmers market vine ripened tomatoes became our status symbol, we ate Campbell's tomato soup from the can, and pitied the poor slobs who had to make soup themselves. Before we had green tea organic natural nourishing shampoo we had Prell."You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola," Andy Warhol once said, "and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking."

Except Liz Taylor wouldn't be drinking Coke today. Anyone with even a little bit of status ambition would be drinking Fiji water, at the least.

I thought about this as I wandered down the main street of the quaint little Victorian-style town a little off the beaten path and into the candy store of the sad little old lady. She wasn't sad mind you, but seeing her behind the register would break your heart a little. Most of the town had been redone to create a tourist-friendly version of the past; "authentic" saloons, old style hotels that looked like they were ready for you to ride up on your horse and ask for a place to spend the night, restaurants that made you feel all 1875 while serving you up fair trade certified sweetbreads, it was a past in which we all can pretend we'd like to spend a little time, much like a Renaissance Fair.

The sad little old lady's candy store though, represented a past that actually was. Spartan, while tiled, and spare. Serving up Snickers, Three Musketeers, Jawbreakers, and Bazooka gum. A perfectly acceptable inventory for 1975, barely tolerable for a 7-11 today. The little old lady tried to talk you up as you looked over the Mars bars, but she was slightly out of touch in that unique way that the elderly become. She wouldn't be running her candy store much longer. She found her comfort zone sometime around the year I was born and never left it. I doubt though, if the sad little old lady has any regrets.

Earlier that weekend I saw Sonny Rollins headline one of the country's premier jazz festivals. For those of you who don't know, Sonny is the last echo of that golden jazz era that gave us the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which makes him of almost the same age as the candy store lady. He's lost a step or two physically, his voice is a little frail, but he still commands the stage in a way in which he won't for much longer. He sent his tunes around the arena that night like a boomerang, the notes coming back to their source so he could hurl them back around until they made us all dizzy with delight. He played like a man on fire, a man who knew he wouldn't be doing this many more times, a man who didn't want to let it go. He played and played for a good half hour longer than would have been considered giving the audience their money's worth.

I wondered, as I sat there,  if the intensity of the performance might be because of the time he spent in prison when he was young and an artists creativity is at its peak flow, the months or years it took him to break his heron habit. The frequent years-long stretches he took away from music when he was of strong body. If, looking forward and not seeing many years there, he regretted what he did with some of those in his rear-view mirror.

I doubt Sonny Rollins ever found his comfort zone. I doubt he ever will.

I've thought about Sonny and the Candy Lady ever since, and I'm not sure which way is the best way to be old; comfortable and irrelevant, or on fire and searching, until the last moment.

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Sonny Rollins And The Candy Lady
Sonny Rollins And The Candy Lady
Reviewed by malaria
Published :
Rating : 4.5