Night Lights Classic Jazz

Emily Remler, artist sites, and that “issue”

EmilySeveral days ago I got a very nice e-mail from the person who runs All Things Emily, a fantastically-detailed site devoted to the late guitarist Emily Remler. She had happened upon the March 2007 Night Lights show “Emily Remler: a Musical Remembrance”, which included an interview with Remler friend and sometime musical associate Robert Jospe. Some clips from that interview have now been added to the Remler site’s thorough and informative online biography.

All Things Emily is one of the best jazz artist websites I’ve come across on the Internet so far; when it comes to “official” versus fan-run sites, I usually prefer the ones put up and maintained by fans. They’re much more likely to be labors of love. (There’s no “official” Remler site that I know of, in the sense of a site operated by a record label or a legacy-management group.) They’re much more likely to be updated regularly. They’re almost always far more illuminating. In some instances, such as the well-done Peggy Lee site, the performer’s family has handed the reins to a talented guardian/editor (David Torresen). So far I’ve compiled about 35 artist sites on our links page, nearly all of them musicians who’ve figured in at least one Night Lights program. We’ll be adding them as a sidebar next week on the new “Shows” page. Suggestions for further additions can be sent to johnsond@indiana.edu.

Working on the Remler show required thinking about the “issue” that haunted this and many other artists–a battle with drug addiction. Addiction is a quietly relentless way of life, whether the addict is using, pursuing recovery, or white-knuckling it. The rate of relapse is high, making a difficult situation even worse for public-profile performers or celebrities, whose pitfalls are documented mercilessly in the press. (I’m not particularly sympathetic to young Hollywood hotshots who may simply be partying too much and using silk-sheet rehab as a way to avoid jail time… but in general, I feel for anybody, famous, infamous, or anonymous, who is dealing with fullblown addiction.) The “issue” is well-woven into the era of jazz history that Night Lights covers, and it comes up occasionally, or sometimes more than occasionally, in the stories behind the music. (The Night Lights show Resolution: Jazz From Rehab focuses on entire albums that were connected to drug-treatment programs for musicians.) Some of the jazz and pop-rock artists I’ve admired most struggled terribly with drug problems, and in several instances addiction helped do them in. (One of the most harrowing accounts I’ve ever read can be found in Art Pepper’s Straight Life, quite possibly the most compelling jazz autobiography ever written. Pepper’s wife Laurie put considerable effort into giving the book structure and focus, but it still has to be said that there was a fine fiction storyteller, if not a novelist, within the soul of Art Pepper.)

How does one deal with this issue when it comes to musical and biographical presentation? To ignore it is to leave out a significant part of the story. (Heroin-free bebop?) To mention it is to venture into territory fraught with potential for cheap sensationalism and a lurid tabloid mentality that overshadows what’s most important–the music. For some jazz artists drugs played a part in the making of that music, directly or indirectly, in ways either inspirational or self-destructive or both. Some people don’t want you to talk about it at all, some people want you to talk about it only in a 12-step language. I think the only thing to do is to talk about it honestly and with a careful sense of restraint (because it’s often difficult in many cases to know if you are talking honestly, taking into consideration all of the rumor, innuendo, and hearsay that goes into what often amounts to a mythology surrounding certain figures). Respect the artist, respect the art, and respect the truth. That’s all you can do and that’s all you should do.

(Photo of Emily Remler by Ed Deasy.)

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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