Midnight Bottle Club: Florida, September 1987

Rick Mulkey | Poetry

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we
are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it
serenely disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.”
—Rilke, Duino Elegies

Never saw Jaco Pastorious play live, most didn’t,
but I traveled to Paris alone years ago in midsummer
looking for jazz and art, and ended up walking all night
in the Luxembourg Garden, down alleys along Rive Gauche,
watched German women wash their feet in the Fontaine Carpeaux,
its waters pouring from angelic mouths. I spoke to one,

Anja, until dawn about Rilke’s angels, the mysterious emptiness
in the hands of Rodin’s “The Cathedral,” and about her sister,
a nurse from Munich who responded to the massacre in ’72, her hands
on the wounds of one of the first killed, an emptiness, Anja said,
her sister never recovered from. She was twenty-two, and I would have been
nine, then. Jaco was teaching in Miami at that time and playing small clubs.

Already, he had removed the frets from his Fender bass, and understanding,
as Rilke did, “no feeling was final,” his long hands and lean, barefoot body
showed bruises even then from bar fights. It was Pat Matheny or Herbie


I think, who said Jaco looks like a bum but plays like a god. To bend
his strings into an object of art, he had to break himself. In the end,
terrible and beautiful, every angel abandoned him.