Notes on Alan Justiss and Music

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Of the thousands of hours I spent in conversation with Alan Justiss, much of that time was spent talking about music. Like most writers, he was a huge music fan, and used it to fuel his own creativity. I’m a Jazz Fan, first and foremost, and that foundation informs my knowledge of that’s come before and since. My favorite music for listening to while writing remains, with some revision and much extension, essentially the same stuff I fed on while starting out in the business: Monk, Max Roach, Eddie Condon, Sun Ra, the sublime perfection of Lennie Tristano’s “Turkish Mambo” and the otherworldly telepathic kick of “Interstellar Space”. (John’s Coltrane’s final album was augmented years later with a CD of extras from those Feb. 1967 sessions, called “Stellar Regions”. It’s very much worth getting both at the soonest possible opportunity.

Alan’s tastes ran more toward folk, protest music, singer-songwriters. He made me aware of the fact that Bob Dylan had more to offer young ears than just the seminal “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. He told me that Jeff Buckley had a father who was pretty good, too. From him I was regaled with what you might call “actionable intelligence” on names then-unknown to me like Van Morrison, Mickey Newbury, Harry Nilsson. And, of course, the entire Wainwright/McGarrigle clan, whose banner he aggressively carried, without fail.            

I am grateful to have helped enhance his perception, as well. He really liked Regina Spektor, and he loved CocoRosie. As a poet steeped both in Beat mythos and the classical canon, he could readily appreciate what the best rappers are capable of; it helped that he had intimate knowledge of the sociopolitical conditions that produced hip-hop.

We shared a special love for the music of Glenn Gould (1932-1982), who was a) the single foremost interpreter of the world-changing piano literature of Johann Sebastian Bach; b) greatly responsible, by extension of that fame, for stimulating popular interest in the avant-garde, “atonal” musics of Arnold Schoenberg, et al; c) a little-known but major influence on the world of broadcasting, a subject that has never gotten full coverage; and d) a very good writer and critic of music, media and social trends who belongs in a class with Buckminster Fuller and his fellow Canadian, Marshall McLuhan.

Alan Justiss was also a huge fan of the Black Kids, one of a number of truly excellent indie bands based inNortheast Florida. He was good friends with Owen Holmes, and I think he knew several other members of the group. He cherished his autographed CD and poster, and studiously inquired about their progress.

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About Shelton Hull

I'm a writer/journalist with over 20 years experience covering all types of subject-matter, with a specialization in politics, music, food and dance. My work has been published in nearly 40 different magazines, newspapers, websites and zines, in addition to occasional forays into radio, TV and spoken-word. Former candidate for City Council District 14 in Jacksonville, FL (2011), and a proud member of Gator Nation.

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