Tuesday, April 27, 2004

There was a man downtown today with a guitar and a dog, and his voice reminded me so vividly of Gamble Rogers that I realized with a shock that none of my Florida stories have ever mentioned Gamble. (The man's face did not; he was all bearded and sunburned but Gamble was always well-groomed.) And the thing is that Gamble was one of the few things to come out of Florida that can and should be considered a national treasure. (I include myself in this list.)

The facts are these: Gamble was a native Florida boy that grew up to be a folk singer. He taught Jimmy Buffet all he knows (which he then forgot or sold to the devil). He was a brilliant story-teller and a master with a guitar, but he remains virtually unremembered today. I've watched people encountering a recording of one of his shows laughing and crying at the same time. He died in 1991 trying to save a drowning Canadian fisherman, even though he was in his 50's and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis.

My memories of Gamble are few and vague, and the handful of them doesn't even make up a good story. And yet I'm finding this all hard to tell you because he feels like family even though I hardly knew him. He and my parents ran in roughly the same circles, Florida's music scene being as small and inbred as it was. We would go to St. Augustine, to the Tradewinds or the Milltop, and he would sometimes be there too. I remember laughing so hard that I cried at his stories one night, even though I didn't really understand what he was saying. I remember once he looked down his knobby nose at me and winked. He and I were only alive at the same time for 9 years, after all, but I can still feel how friendly he was all this time away. When my mom told me that he'd died I didn't really listen, didn't try to remember--I was 9, after all. And I had forgotten about him until a few years ago when I started handing out with (read: having a huge crush on) my friend Greg, who was a big fan.
But then I remembered.
Long time residents of St. Augustine all have memories of Gamble, and I've never heard a bad one. By all accounts he was almost unbelievably good natured and helpful. I'm sorry that I didn't get more time with him. Not so that I'd have stories for you, mind you, but because I'm pretty sure that he made good everything he touched.

His memorial foundation won't let any local music stores carry his albums, so I never owned one of my own. But hearing that man sing today reminded me that it's been a year now since I've heard the Maitland Turkey Farm Massacre, so maybe it's about time I got around to bringing it here.

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