|Blaine and Jubilee
||[Mar. 16th, 2014|05:12 pm]
My friend Blaine died of colon cancer about a month ago. He was 47. Here is a text I wrote about our friendship and about what I admired about him for a gathering of his friends in Oxford, MS last night. Blaine ran a bar there called Jubilee for a number of years.
Writing down the wires through space and time, I look for Blaine but he is gone. My old friend, my roommate, my space brother, as we said. I havent seen Blaine since 2000 and our friendship really centered around the late 80s and early 90s, what seems to be a “golden age” now or what you are calling “Old Oxford”, but we certainly didn’t know it then. It was pre-Internet and that’s one thing that was special about it, in retrospect, that we shared in a sense of community that seems to be harder to find these days. But taken another way, we were just pothead flunkies working in the Hoka, the coolest place in town, and living in little student dives on dead end streets, practically living side by side with the raccoons in the bushes. We were both in our mid-20s, straining at that cusp-like moment when you realize the pressures of the “real world” are coming for you and you wonder how to keep it at bay. We Gen-Xers, if we have to put a tag on it, were both burdened and emboldened by the dreams of the 60s, that yearning dream of youth to make the world anew, to cry out, “Is this all there is?” We were hiding away in Mississippi, “Stranded in Canton”, to quote Bill Eggleston, and we were dreaming of a better world.
Money and fame always seemed like the golden ticket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and yet Blaine and I, always pushing against the grain, we thought that money was also like a big weight holding us down, another trap, another lie. It’s unfair, right, if one kid gets the ticket, but it leaves out the others. So Blaine began thinking of a jubilee, in the original sense of the word, a time of return and celebration when the cycle begins anew, debts are cancelled, money loses sway, and we see past our envy and fear. Blaine was a loner who longed for community, and I think at times he had it at the Hoka and in the Jubilee Bar. He may not have been a practicing Christian, but Blaine was a metaphysician of sorts, he believed in the Kingdom, that a great power lay in nature, in music, in love. In his focus and his sacrifice, he showed us a better world, if we cared to look. He was looking for something greater than gold, seeking clues in the lost places. I think of the mysterious Polish woman at the beginning of David Lynch’s magnificent Inland Empire when she says, “A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace. As if half-born. Then: not through the marketplace, you see that, don’t you? But through the alley, behind the marketplace…this is the way to the palace.”
Blaine was looking for the palace, he was seeking answers, looking under stones. The tragedy of death is that we can seek no more, but Blaine found more answers than most, because many dare not even ask those kinds of questions, perhaps because they seem impractical in the face of finding a career or making a home. In his isolation and hermit ways, he had a touch of Suttree about him, Cormac McCarthy’s stolid anti-hero who rejects the expectations of society and lives alone on a houseboat, meditating on the light and dark of life in his own silent nocturne. Blaine lived by his own code and it takes great strength and bravery to stick to the narrow path, the one that leads away from the well-troddden way of the others. If he beat like a moth against the glass of the world, if he was trapped in a narrative arc like a character in a film, then he was just like most of us who are hemmed in by the limitations of life itself. Something about Blaine reflected that struggle, he wore it like a mantle. Death took him too early, but if he had stayed on with us, his struggle would have continued. He lived under such a sign, and why not? The good things don’t come easy, and so we go on.
I’ll end with a little quote from Joni Mitchell that makes me think of Blaine and all my friends, if I could see you again …
Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will
Buy you a bottle of wine
And we'll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down
Let's have a round for these freaks and these soldiers
A round for these friends of mine
Let's have another round for the bright red devil
Who keeps me in this tourist town