Thursday, December 1, 2016
Sometime in the past few weeks a passenger and I were discussing the bus we were in. Every bus is different and has its own set of glitches and quirks. I don't recall the particular ghost in the machine we were dealing with that day, but it prompted an excited response from the passenger and he christened it the Bus of Doom. Instantly there was one degree of separation from Jaco and his Bass of Doom. We all use various tools to ply our trades: wrenches, pens, scalpels, computers, and even buses. Jaco bought his in a Margate pawn shop, popped out the frets, and the rest is legend.
Below is an essay I wrote 10 years ago about heroes and Jaco's place among them. It could probably use an editing update (especially since he now has a dynamic park bearing his name), but the substance of it is still true and so I present it here as a sincere and simple offering to the World's Greatest.
Happy Birthday, Jaco.
Jaco the Hometown Hero
Many years ago, I thought about the great men I admire and asked myself what made them so great. Artists, explorers, inventors, and all the other titles we bestow upon those we call 'heroes.' As I compared the lives, personalities, and qualities of each one I realized there are three fundamental aspects to all heroes. I call these aspects The Three Vs: Vision, Virtue, and Vice.
Vision is what separates heroes from non-heroes. In the case of an artist, vision is that creative spark always pushing outward, seeking expression, and often building to an intensity difficult to bear. Jaco had Vision to spare, as evidenced by his incessant drive to express the music he had within. Those with a sensitive temperament, that is those who are sensitive to the influences and impressions of the world in which they live must be able to express themselves in some way. Impression without expression equals depression.
Virtue is that part of us that is compassionate, generous, honest, and self-sacrificing. Jaco showed his Virtue in several ways: encouraging other musicians, giving to the homeless, and especially by his love for his family.
Vice is the aspect of ourselves which is the opposite of Virtue. It is dark, cruel, and selfish. Jaco's Vice was revealed in alcoholism and drug abuse.
Essentially everyone has Virtue and Vice; only a hero has Vision as well. Jaco had all three.
Jaco is still considered a hero to bass players internationally. On a smaller scale, he should be a hometown hero for everyone who was raised in South Florida, as well as for transplants who have an affinity for the region. Jaco himself was a transplant from the North, though it was at a young age and he immediately felt at home in the new environment. He heard music when the train rumbled through his neighborhood wailing its lonely cry in the night. He never met a tree he didn't like to climb. He felt the power of the ocean when he went to the beach. His hometown shaped him as a person, as all hometowns do, and today he is inseparable from South Florida, as much a part of it as the flora, fauna, climate, and landmarks that define it. He often mentioned its influence on him in interviews. He performed around the world and back again, visited dozens of countries and spent a sizable amount of time in New York City, but always returned home to the Fort Lauderdale area. Ultimately he was laid to rest in the place where he spent most of his life.
My personal heroes include some of the great writers of the world: Cervantes, Villon, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and especially the American writer Thomas Wolfe. Originally from Asheville, NC, his hometown shunned him for his writings and he spent the rest of his life looking for 'home,' never finding it. He had an insatiable hunger to know, see, and experience all things. He died of pneumonia at age 37. His hometown now holds an annual festival in his honor, and the last time I attended I spoke with a teenage resident who was ignorant about his city's most famous native son. I told him his ignorance was a shame and I would be proud to say Thomas Wolfe was from my hometown. Jaco is Broward County's Thomas Wolfe, and I am proud to say he is from my hometown.
The widespread ignorance about his very existence, much less his accomplishments, is a shame and must be remedied. Something must, and will, be done to honor this shining light in the place he felt most comfortable. He passed away in 1987 and still nothing substantial has been done to honor someone who deserves so much.
If you listen close to everyday sounds you can hear Jaco even after all these years. When the ibis flock overhead, a whisper in the breeze, when the sky roars, when the mockingbird sings at midnight, and when the train rumbles through the neighborhood.