A mood in me sometimes chases that golden glow that often bathes the high-rise buildings at sunset. It springs to life just as that dusky darkness descends over this mighty city. When it comes, my melancholy mood, it surrounds and comforts me like a fuzzy blanket deep in December, like blesséd breezes in the heat of August. It calls on me after my busy New York workday is done, dropping in like family or a friend who needs no invitation. Music is the tonic I take for these spells—I guess I’d call them longings—I get for a way of life that is no longer there. Or, at least for me, not here to be held.
No, I don’t crave the musical sounds you might expect. I don’t long for the Southern twang of a steel guitar, for the quaintness of the simple banjo, or even the storytelling nature that the Smoky Mountain dulcimer lends itself to. Yes, those were the instruments that I heard growing up back in Tennessee, and they call forth the Southern spirit for most of my kin. Such country instruments are my heritage, but they are not the sounds I so fondly recollect.
It is the saxophone that I find magical. This sexy musical instrument pulls at my heart and drags my thoughts to younger, simpler days. The sax brings to my mind the South that I left behind, for it regenerates the soulful music of those Southern nights and lets me replay such great memories in my mind. I feel the sway of the porch swing as I watch the sunset and rock to the clinking of the looped chains above my head. I listen to the lyrics the whipperwills pass from near to far and for the deep-voiced tree frogs singing to their lovers. I hear crickets fiddling at a tempo set by the temperature of the night air. I smell the raindrops as they fall. They tickle the roofs of tin like they were fingers caressing a keyboard’s polished ivory, announcing the cooling rains with a soothing piano lullaby. These are the notes that make up my childhood. They are all packed in the nuances of—and ready to be unfolded by—a mournful sax.
Bill Clinton hears the Old South accent of the saxophone. His Southern roots are soaked in the practical attitude that goes with the land. Open sensitivity and deep compassion are the gifts he was given, gifts nurtured by the hot sun and warm rains and cultivated in the red soil of the Deep South. His “I feel your pain” is empathy born of his experiences there. That’s the South I wish to remember as I move forward with my life in this city. The tales that I carry with me from my childhood there are what give me strength and courage now to soldier on as I make my own story.
I still have family back home who love me. I have friends there who miss me. I know lots of Southerners who are right-good-people. But the culture, oh, that culture. It calls to me, and yet my place by choice is here. God’s great gift of life to be lived and for diversity to be experienced wills it so—for now.
I trod the labyrinths of this great city by day, but it is the soulful saxophone of special evenings that hearkens back to the South I recollect from my childhood. And those sweet notes call forth the images I want to be among my final memories, no matter where I depart this life. If I had my druthers, I’d make the sax the South’s official instrument. And I’d use it in place of Gabriel’s horn. I’d use it to call my people home.