Friday, August 12, 2022

John Sinclair and The Chair by Su Zi

John is a white man with glasses. He has salt and pepper hair with a full beard to match. He sits in a manual wheelchair with hands clasped near his lap. He has on a white Saints sweatshirt and dark pants. A younger woman is behind him looking down at him; she is wearing a sweater and has brown, curly hair. A man on the right appears to be talking to Sinclair and there is camera equipment to Sinclair's left. Farther left, a black woman exits a building looking at Sinclair. Everyone is outside. A street is seen with homes and vehicles.

John Sinclair is a cultural icon. An author of so many books he has “no idea” how many, saying “why would I count them?”; a sonorous baritone of the radio waves, including formerly on WWOZ New Orleans, and now via streaming on Radio Free Amsterdam; John Sinclair has presence. In fact, one rainy night in New Orleans, there was a show at Snug Harbor featuring John Cleary on keyboard with Michael Ward on congas; after the opening piece was performed, the theater doors opened and in walked John Sinclair: he walked with a cane then, wore a beret against the rain: everyone stopped, turned, Cleary and Ward brightened considerably from the stage—John commanded the room, and everyone waited for him to be seated.

Back in 1991, Sinclair spent six months in a wheelchair when “I tore the tendons in both knees” (personal interview, 2022). Of that time, he says “I was crippled. Painful. It was a drag. I never had anything like that before. It was a new experience. It was terrible.” At that time, Sinclair lived in a rental in the upper Marigny, which had doors at street level. Still, to go out, he says it took “a lot of nerve. It was mental, it was challenging. When you can’t control your leg, it's challenging, you know”. At that time, there was unofficial assistance “oh yeah, I had helpers” by family members Penny, and daughter Celia. There might have been a van. Anyone who visited Sinclair then would find themselves in the front room, which shared two walls with the street and was lined inside with wooden crates filled with records albums. There was always music. After he got past the point where he needed to keep his leg extended horizontally, the wheelchair became occasionally just a chair to sit in for guests, as John pulled albums for his radio show.

Thirty-one years later, John Sinclair is still broadcasting the blues. Although he currently finds mobility with a walker, he has again done time in the chair.

Of that time again in the chair, Sinclair says: “ooo hoo hoo”.

Acknowledging being formerly abled, Sinclair says, “it’s a whole different life now.”

Back when, in Chicago or New Orleans, John Sinclair stood large—tall and wide across the shoulders. He would have been seen smoking outside some pishposh auditorium before a reading by Gwendolyn Brooks, he would be seen strolling the Irish Channel during the street party that second-lined the St Patrick’s parade, he would be seen taking up an entire comfy chair in Bob Rudnick’s Chicago apartment: John Sinclair was seen out.

Now, John says, “I just go to the doctor.” His assistance consists of “a live-in caregiver, one of my daughters come everyday—cook, clean up, it’s a beautiful thing”. He has a porch.

But John Sinclair no longer goes out: “I don’t go anywhere…too much work. I gotta go up and down 22 stairs, so I don’t go anywhere if I don’t have to.” He prefers the walker, because he says, “I have no balance, so when I walk, I am terrified that I am going to fall.” Unfortunately, also, “One time, the walker collapsed…fell on the sidewalk…broke my shoulder in three places.” Yet, there’s still recent releases of books, his voice can be heard by a few touches from a media device, and the laziest research will have him among cohorts like Abbie Hoffman and Marshall McLuhan. Sometimes, the TV will broadcast a John Lennon documentary, and suddenly there’s the voice of John Sinclair—of which, Sinclair himself says, “oh, yeah, that’ll always be there”.

As we go through our lives, we might become aware of decisions about how we want to live; in this regard, we have The Blues—a lifestyle choice that acknowledges both deep sorrow and spiritual uplift, and can perhaps be most easily seen by a No-Longer-Young Mick Jagger rising from a COVID-positive to performance dancing in a fortnight’s time. The Blues is more than a style of music, it’s a way of life; a way of life that encompasses a career of recordings, publications, broadcasts, appearances, public support, activism…and now, Disability, which is, in Sinclair’s words “no bed of roses”.


Biography: Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.

Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

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