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Mind the Gap

by Bertil Falk

part 1 of 3

It was not until I got grandchildren that I realized how much we are in the grip of the present, the “just now.” Most of us live for the moment. And when I talk about the present, I don’t mean the three seconds that the present consists of according to some scientific study.

What I mean is the present time, as we perceive it, a contemporary thing. We live by the Zeitgeist. That spirit of the time is changing, that’s for sure, but it’s a slow process. And we are born knowing nothing of the past, without experience of other times, other customs. On top of that, our parents, those close to us, our friends, our enemies, they all supply us with ready-made ideas, political prejudices, religions ready to run.

It never happens that a child born in a Buddhist family is raised a Christian. If born in a Muslim family, the child’s religion will certainly not be Mazdaism. And you cannot expect Jewish parents to raise their children in the Taoist faith. These are hard and fast rules of life. And when we have a reason to look back at the prejudices of the past, we don’t see the prejudices of the present.

We are all conformed to opinions and religions according to the time and place in which we live. Once formed, we have a tendency to become set within the limits of that mould. Of course there are rebellions against parents; people become converts; a sudden experience may even change indoctrinated outlooks on life. But these are cases of individual development.

The average man is in the grip of all his “nows” from birth to death. That’s what happens to most of us. It happened to me, and when I look into the rear-view mirror, I understand that even though we grew up in the same city, we were fashioned in different moulds even before we met as teenagers.

WWII was over. Stockholm was the European center of jazz. At The National, popularly called Nalen, two orchestras took turns in the big ballroom every night. Dompan’s band played two tunes, Putte’s sextet played two songs, Dompan’s played another two, Putte’s two more etc. until midnight.

On certain occasions, American superstars, who played at Konserthuset — where on other occasions His Majesty the King distributed the Nobel Prizes — came over to Nalen for a jam session after their concerts. That was when Charlie Parker entered the stand, blowing away the Swedes, or Lester Young moved through the hall, or Toots Thielemans with his diminutive “horn” got the place swinging in cozy Harlem, where floor-shows took place simultaneously with the goings-on in the ballroom.

So many of the big names found their way to this godforsaken northern capital. And to be sure, we didn’t listen to the drab state radio’s single channel. We turned to the American Forces Network in Munich, where we could listen to “American Patrol,” “Mule Train” and Hit Parade, or to Radio Luxembourg, one of the few swinging European radio stations.

In the daytime, regular frequenters visited Flamman, which in those days was supposed to be the jazz café number one in Europe. Here, the jazz habitués dug swing in the 1930’s, bebop in the 1940’s, and cool jazz in the 1950’s. During the war Swedish pilots flying to America brought home the latest records to the café owner.

Those were the days, and Vattugatan, the narrow newspaper-street where The Flame was situated, was alive and kicking. We did not know that Elvis and rock and roll were lying in ambush around the corner, ready soon to replace the jazz music that had been the music of young Swedes for decades.

Now it’s more than decades since all that happened; as a matter of fact it’s more than half a century ago. I’m an old woman now, the widow of two men, the mother of a string of children and the granny of God knows how many grandchildren and of at least one great-grandbaby.

Long ago, the newspapers and their printing offices moved out of the city. The four-storey house, where The Flame was our watering hole, has been demolished and replaced with an ugly multi-story car park of concrete in a devastated but once lively neighborhood.

We all went there: Lars, Karin, Göran, Eva, Anna, Bill and myself. They were all my good friends. Always when I popped in, they turned to me and stopped talking, but the discussion was soon afoot again. That was a noticeable reaction when someone came in, but I never thought much of it.

I was seventeen and I looked up to Anna. She served as a model to me. She was a Freudian and we called her Anna Lysis. Being a teenage girl in those days was a different fate from being a teenage girl today. My granddaughters — I have a sufficient number of them, plus a few grandsons — my granddaughters, they know what they want and they don’t fumble in life.

When I think of it, the difference between them and me is really appalling. I was fumbling. I’m more like my grandsons, for they have problems finding their way about in a world were woman power is on the prowl. That’s fine by me, but sometimes I pity the boys. But now I anticipate things.

Yes, I was fumbling. And struggling. Just think of the name my parents gave me. Augusta. From the very first day in school the giggle when my name was mentioned followed me. Augusta sounded like an old-fashioned male name with the female suffix accidentally attached to it like a misplaced tail.

The giggles didn’t cease pestering me until later on in life, when I hit on the idea to use my second name instead of Augusta. My second name? Margareta. Augusta Margareta Olsson. I have happily been Margareta ever since. However, at the time when I changed my name for the better, leaving the worse behind, everything was over. More or less.

Under the influence of Anna Lysis some of us went to psychoanalysis. Nowadays, nobody goes to analysis. I don’t know why that’s so. And I don’t think that the analysis changed our behavior in any positive sense. At least not mine. My changes came later, caused by other experiences, experiences of life.

As it was, psychoanalysis was our religion. Freud was God in that universe and Anna Lysis was his prophet. Or maybe his high priestess is a better description, for in this particular religion there were many prophets such as Adler, Jung, and Fodor, and they all had a tendency to go their own ways, creating their own sects. And Anna for sure was not on that prophetic level. She was a staunch Freudian on the level of officiators.

The Flame served as a framework for the Apostolic Church of Freud. Other preachers, who tried to spread their gospels were opposed by Anna. There was a man who preached the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. I think he got one follower. Finding the atmosphere unbearable, they went to another café for their sessions.

There was another one, who was a follower of Arthur Koestler, an ex-Communist who had written some excellent books and was a man of the moment, but exactly what he preached besides anti-Communism was not very clear, and his rule was ephemeral.

I had never before been pestered by depression, but under the influence of Anna’s spellbinding sessions, I soon found myself afflicted by dreams that could be interpreted as signs of a very neurotic bottom line.

I went to analysis. The analyst found me too depressed to be able to go through an analysis, and I learned that in order to go through an analysis one first has to get rid of the depression one wants to cure through the analysis. This contradiction didn’t make sense, but over the years I’ve found that similar contradictions are true about many other religions. Mysteries play an important part in keeping the faithful faithful. That’s perhaps the ugly beauty of it.

In my opinion Anna was good-looking. Her hair was raven-black, matching her dark dress. Her pitch-black eyes could be understanding or penetrating, comforting or analyzing, but they were not exactly hypnotizing. To be sure, they were demanding.

Her hands were expressive without exaggerated movements. Rather they complemented her words by vaguely accentuating what she said. All this was of course part of her power of attraction. It was a pity: I didn’t find myself very attractive, at least not compared with Anna.

Bill was slender and slim. He was growing in that fast and impatient way that happens when growth puts on a burst of speed, and skeleton, sinews and flesh have problems keeping the same pace. But ultimately all pieces fall into their proper places, and the human being is an adult. Unfortunately, Billy Boy never reached that stage. Sorry, now I’m anticipating events again.

He was christened Bill, not a very Swedish name, but his unmarried mother had once had a crush on an American sailor called Bill, who had been on a naval visit to Stockholm in the 1930’s. Therefore Bill was her choice of name, when she two years later gave birth to a son.

We called him Billy Boy and with him we shared a marked fondness for jazz. Actually, Billy had a father and I saw him once: a habitual drunkard, a regular good-for-nothing and a bad one for Billy. But Billy’s mother loved him, and like many other mothers she did not understand him at all.

When Billy Boy was seventeen, he played the piano, and he dreamed of buying a vibraphone, becoming a Lionel Hampton, a Red Norvo, a Milt Jackson or an Ulf Linde, as was the name of the local vibraphonist hero of the day.

People talk a lot about the spread of narcotics abuse nowadays, as if it didn’t exist in the past. But I can tell you that in those days many jazz musicians were habitual addicts, for the simple reason that the American musicians who served as their models used the stuff. Even though I loved jazz music, I hated the drug traffic and the drug dealers and I was happy that among us, no drugs were used.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk

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