Until the end of his life my grandfather, Charles Nichols, could recite several poems and stories from memory. He never showed much interest in his family or anything else and never smiled, but for some reason he would memorize poems and recite them at family gatherings. As I got older the family paid less and less attention to these recitations, despite constantly insisting he perform at every holiday. The last time I remember listening to him recite “The Land of Beginning Again” (I think I was in college) my mother and aunts were whispering to each other and laughing quietly about something throughout the poem. After his death and long after my childhood I started to wonder why he ever bothered to memorize so many poems and how he decided on the material he would learn.
When I was 15 my aunt heard that I had recording capabilities and insisted that I record Grandpa Nichols. A cassette tape was made and distributed among family members and eventually forgotten about. Years later, long after I’d left college and distanced myself from family as much as I could, my father (ironically not related by blood and no longer related by marriage to Charles Nichols) discovered one of these cassettes in his house and, wanting to rid himself of it, gave it to me.
The tape sat on my desk unplayed for years until one day I decided to do a digital transfer and I was overcome by the dignity and sadness in the tone and content of Grandpa Nichols’ recitations. The common themes among the various American poems of family, memory, and devotion are made all the more poignant with the knowledge that they were recited by a man who seemingly spent most of his life feeling unhappy.
I used these recordings in a way that not only pays tribute to an unhappy and soon to be forgotten man, but to somehow synthesize them into my own personal history and musical language. Charles Nichols was drawn to memorize and recite poems much in the same way I am drawn to bow a piece of wire on the head of a snare drum. Neither is completely rational nor are they without a clear purpose and intent.
This is not a memorial to Charles Nichols; it is an homage to memory.
released December 15, 2009
Music composed and recorded by Nick Hennies.
Source material: poetry recitations by Charles Nichols, snare drum, no-input mixer, wine glass (with thanks to Kunio Kato), ice cubes, guitar, piano, “Coal Creek March” as performed by Marion Underwood (circa 1927), “Soldier's Joy” as performed by Taylor’s Kentucky Boys (circa 1927)
Design and photography by Johnny Utterback.
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