They say he played the horn
about as well as Louis Armstrong.
He’s forgotten now, playing with bands
That blew way in the winds of time.
The old men and women
who might have danced to the his records
There’s almost nobody left from those days.
He drank himself to death in 1942—
He was 33 years old.
Barely at his peak, he couldn’t stop the cravings,
Or his thirst for whiskey.
He left a wife and two little girls,
And a lot of broken promises like a whiskey bottles
thrown in the gutter.
Maybe he knew his gift was already rotting
from the booze—the throat roughened,
the breath cut short inch by inch,
A late stage alcoholic by thirty
His mind—obsessed with one thing—
A whiskey bottle—must have destroyed his ability to play.
The doctors told him he had cirrhosis—
No treatment, no cure.
They told him to stop drinking,
and ease off on playing the trumpet
but he couldn’t do either.
He came back to New York City.
Two years later,
On June 2, 1942, his liver ruptured,
Sending blood to his lungs, his brain—
Now Berrigan’s legacy is confined to records–
78’s– that they stopped making 60 years ago.
He recorded I Can’t Get Started,
When he was 28.
Fifty years later, the record was inducted in the
Grammy Hall of Fame,
But he was dead thirty years by then.
You might hear him if you listen to jazz oldies
on the radio or Pandora.
When sound engineeers clean up the sound file
He sounds good.
Maybe he could have been as good as Louis Armstrong,
But we’ll never know.