“What use are torches, light or eye glasses if people will not see?”
—Heinrich Khunrath (1602)
“You compare your life to others on Facebook and get nowhere...”
—sign on subway car
Ok. Here’s how two recent days went.
Day 2: I wanted to get away from Facebook and e-mail. It was the longest I’d ever been on them. These sessions are getting longer and longer and friends are starting to notice. They Facebook or e-mail me to tell me just this. All I really wanted to do was edit my new book and maybe write a poem. I finally put the machine to sleep, ate my wife’s tagine that had almost failed, and tried some lovemaking, which totally failed. So, after misses and near misses I decided to wake the machine up again and, yes, go back on e-mail and Facebook. And what, to my dismay, did I find? One message I had failed to see. It was from George, my editor. “Steve, the April deadline is tomorrow. We want them in two weeks earlier from now on.” I wrote back saying that he must be kidding. What could I possibly write about that had any current relevance if I turned it in even earlier than usual? As it turned out he wasn’t—kidding I mean. So I tried to relax and thought, “Well you always manage some words of wise-guy-dom or dumb words or something or—” “Sure George, no problem,” I wrote back, feeling somewhat panicky. Then I put the machine to sleep again. Ate more tagine. Wrote three postcards. Had a more successful love-fest and went to two concerts. The one at Birdland by the longstanding quartet Quest—Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach, Ron McLure, and Billy Hart—was very satisfying. They ended with a terrific cover of Coltrane’s “India.”
The other was at the Cornelia Café, from compassionate pianist/composer Diane Moser—with Marty Ehrlich, reeds; Ken Filiano, bass; Mike Sarin, drums; and Ben Williams, trombone—performing a suite from her new Music for the Last Flower CD based on James Thurber’s The Last Flower—A Parable in Pictures, which chronicles all the cycles of war and was written and published in 1939 after the Germans invaded Poland. Moser’s six-part suite has been long-in-progress and describes that book through music, with sweeping and compelling mood changes that take us through all those emotions and cycles. Moser has been a long-time, but quiet, force on the jazz and new music scene and a frequent collaborator with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway (both appear on the CD version of the piece). In concert and on CD, I experienced a wide range of textures and was taken on frantic rides that turned from mournful to embracing, and comforting, then swinging/life affirming, then fierce and fiery again: like war itself. It is a beautiful, fully realized piece. I highly recommend the CD; it will warm your soul as easily as it will break your heart. Moser states in the notes that rhythms of tanks, bombers, hopelessness, despair, love, and rebirth are interrupted again by chaos and devastation and she hopes that a prayer can be heard which will result in bringing peace.
Day 1: I ran into my young friend Cat at a Lydia Lunch gig at (le) poisson rouge. Why I was there, I’ll never know, but I did manage to sneak in, and I am trying to play catch-up with a lot of the music I ignored through the ’70s and ’80s whenever possible, like ’80s No-Wave (no, not U2). Cat told me some good news about her M.F.A. scholarship at Pratt. I said “hooray!” but told her caution was always advised. We talked about Brakhage and others, and had a fine old time. Weasel Walter played crazy guitar, equal to his drumming, and bassist Tim Dahl showed great musicianship, as always. Cat mentioned that she’d noticed that I’d been extremely active on Facebook lately. Though true, it was quite embarrassing to be told this (as you can tell from the beginning of this piece, this has become a real issue), for now I realized that I too had fallen prey to all this bullshit media hype and, as my wife put it, am one of those who feed the cash machine—my words, not hers. She’s more civilized than that, except when we argue. Anyway, getting back to Lunch, how many times does someone need to fucking say the word fuck in one short concert? As I’ve always stated, Lenny Bruce did indeed die for our sins.
Also at (le) poisson rouge, and before Lunch: after standing in the cold for an hour and a half between a young woman reading Beckett’s Murphy and a young man named Dan who I engaged in conversation, and becoming quite hungry after missing breakfast and seeing no prospect for dinner, I attended a free benefit concert (oxymoron?) and rally—as my new friend Dan put it—in support of Artists’ Pay for Radio Play. The benefit was presented by Content Creators Coalition. Their goal is getting artists paid when a song they’ve performed is played on the radio, regardless of whether or not they were the composers. The whole time I thought about poor Frankie Lymon, who barely got money for doing either. Artists like Tift Merritt, Marilyn Carino, Mike Mills (all new to me), Marc Ribot, and David Byrne attended and played along with a host of speakers. All the songs were hits for the artists who performed them, but unlike the composers, they were never paid for the airplay—though I suspect many made plenty of dollars if the records had sold well. I got it, but went away tired and even hungrier after almost three and a half hours of pop music, with a bit of jazz (“Body and Soul” played by Jason Moran via video feed) thrown in. But I am oversimplifying what is a very important issue and worthy cause. The standout of the evening for me was Jennifer Charles’s rendition of “Wild Thing.”
In between those two gigs I ran over to Cornelia Café to catch guitarist Tom Chang’s Quartet. They played a fine set of music for Tom’s birthday. Afterward I went home and Facebooked everyone about my night.
The Roy Campbell Memorial Day at Roulette, which I had a small role in, was so magnificent that by the end of the night, during a piece William Parker composed for a large group of vocalists and musicians that segued into Campbell’s signature set-closing tune, the audience was dancing in the aisles. It was a truly jubilant night which included folks like 93-year old Stephanie Stone, Connie Crothers, Fay Victor, Joe McPhee, Dennis Gonzalez, Garrison Fewell, Daniel Carter, and Steve Swell, to name but a few.
As I write this I’m listening to these unbelievable prison songs sung by African Americans on WKCR, mostly recorded by Alan Lomax. They include interviews. In one, the prisoner responds, “Well sometimes I’d say why’re you arresting me for I haven’t done anything. To which they’d [the cops] reply, ‘Don’t worry you will eventually.’” Talk about racial profiling. As Moser states at the end of her liner notes, “to all who listen … may peace and harmony be with you.”
The music/art world lost one of its most important figures in March: Robert Ashley, who was a unique voice in music history. His operas were unlike anything else. This column is dedicated to his independent spirit.