I met Ted twice – in Timbuktu (1966) and in Algiers (1969).
I remember his immortal first words – “Haben Sie Sardinen?” (I was wearing Lederhosen – he assumed I was German – and he was on the edge of the Sahara pining for sardines!)
We spent much of the next week together on the top of a lorry trying to get to Niamey – I must admit, I found a week with Ted rather trying, but he always had something new and peculiar to say.
He was very proud of his brother Leroy, and of his flat in Timbuktu. His knowledge of the local language was poor even for an American (sorry to let my national stereotypes hang out!). I recall an interesting incident in Algiers which involved booze and a rich web of people male and female; but it may be libelous so I can’t print it here.
I did not know him well, but he was clearly a man of great energy and emotion. I was sorry to have lost touhc with him, and sorry to see his obituary in “The Guardian” last week.
Fight on, Ted Joans! – I am sure you have touched many lives, not just mine.
DID NOT WRITE THIS POEM AMERICA TED JOANS WROTE THIS POEM AND TED JOANS LIVES
ted joans is the green bell pepper in the song of a trumpet i heard playing in a riverside club along the mississippi river
maybe it was davenport iowa or cairo illinois crisp as a midwestern morning in the spring
new folding money burning a hole in the pockets of jazz at dawn
what kind of morning i mean eating away at a man’s heart like a jailed up woman or jalapenos in the souk
standing on a street corner in algiers or asleep on the floor in timbuktu with a bag of rice for a pillow
before i go on let me say that stage you saw him on was no stage america
anyone who says they saw ted joans standing on anything why it was a platform he was standing on
it was a street corner it was a soapbox it was a stepstool
he stood no ceremony
one time i walked up to him i was in paris for the first time it was the first time i had ever met him, ted joans!
so i say to him hey, you’re ted joans the surrealist, ‘sure i is’ he answers and scrawls something on the wall
it wasn’t the wall it was my back he was writing on
ted joans wrote his name or maybe it was bird’s name
written like dada big african letters white chalk black jacket
ever since i have been a walking billboard for ted joans
i was a brick in a wall i just flew over from new york city
everyone knows how ted wrote ‘bird lives’
as if he was writing his own name
even though ted wasn’t dead yet
everyone knew bird was dead already
and ted knew something about that
all the true jazz-men of america
are always lined up in a line like that
waiting to die or perform or maybe
waiting for someone to announce
that they are dead or in the room
and they ought to be remembered
they ought to be remembered, hey
by everyone who sings in america
land of everysong land of no song
land of the one song you don’t know
until you one day jump up out of it
out of your slumber and sing it
ted joans is alive ted joans is alive even if he is dead or living in vancouver ted joans in or out of america
don’t you know surreal jazz-men sing to themselves on every street corner and corncrib in america?
don’t you know sweet the be-bop dream songs in every alleyway trying to escape what is america in america?
wake up america the songs of your children are playing everywhere in your own hot kitchen
ted joans lives bird lives every man woman child all those who singing or wish to sing
or once having sung, all those playing or having played or been played on
all of them live and will sing to tell about it
for all your bread and good looks
and liquor and salt peanuts and women and cars
america ted joans was and is and lives
what lives? your mustard man saying ‘yes i can’
what lives? your thrown away men and their deepest wounds
what lives? how to charm the snake out of the american woods
america like ted said to me in paris in maybe it was 1968
you really ought to open up your refrigerator heart
you really ought to let the good man out and sing!
I didn’t know Ted Joans had died until today. He was a friend, correspondent and brother surrealist to my father for many years, only about 50 or so. I would be interested to know more about where, when and how. My father John Lyle died 27 months ago now. He was the aditor and publisher of a small mag called Transformaction which featured contributions from Marcel Jean, Max Walter Svanberg, Tony Earnshaw, ELT Mesens and Jaques Brunius (co-founders with Lyle) Philip West, Ithell Culquohoun and many others.
I was trying to find out about what Ted was up to when I stumbled across the news, too bad because he surreally lived it.