“All the stony people walkin’ round in Christian licorice clothes…” — Tim Buckley from the song “Pleasant Street”
“There is nothing in this world that does not bear a decisive moment.” — Cardinal de Retz, quoted by Henri Cartier–Bresson
“Ya never wanna be perfect. Ya just wanna be good.” — paraphrase of saxophonist Von Freeman
“Memory in the present tense. Do the eyes receive other things than what the mind projects on them? Or are they merely mirrors. Perhaps we live in a world invented by ourselves.” These words from the artist Jean Dubuffet can easily be applied or restructured to (fit) the philosophies Milford Graves proposes in the brilliant film by Jake Meginsky, Milford Graves Full Mantis. Rather than filled with talking heads we get ONE GIGANTIC MIND: that of Milford Graves dissecting / eating plants, hearts, life, pulse, music, beat, martial arts, and the drum.
Milford talks about not being able to have access to Chinese masters when he wanted to learn the martial arts stances involved in the mantis poses, so he decided to literally go right to the source—as he does with everything else in this film and find a place where he could order real praying mantises, and when he got them he studied them and learned directly from them, hence the film’s title. When Milford points to his forehead and states that the music came from there and not from his hands when he played, and points upward toward the sky and further states it came from somewhere up there as well but was filtered through and out of the mind and his hands—in a way making them the “mirrors,” the prime elements reacting to the SOURCE—he shows that indeed on some levels we do “live in a world invented by ourselves,” but that these selves are all integrated into the cosmos. We are connected to and are conductors for the plants, insects, and everything available to everything else that exists both out there and in here (the HEART). Here are my poem/notes taken at the film, including the Q&A, in their original complete non-linear form. Written in the dark in no particular order:
right to the source / out with (indecipherable) hanging / chaos / heartbeat / anti metronome / not on the beats too stiff & routine / if there is fast traffic one moves fast thru fast traffic / beat ratio varies in different situations / silence in motion / the rat-a-tat-tat of the conga / why these hands contain greatness / 2 trains running thru Jamaica as in Queens ? the house of his grandfather / detached / the garden all groups intermingling / the tools / the natural decay as in RUST / age / wear & tear/ running the flag down / colored crystals / true inside/outsider / native son / flow(er)ing ancestors / the spirits at work & the self-reliance / FACES everywhere from everywhere / the colors of this global garden / watch the music spread the cultures / music of diversity / making the autistic children dance / each with their own rhythms / we all each have our own rhythms / our own heartbeats / skeletons / people / air / breath / photosynthesis / PHOTO IN THIS IS . . . so i went directly to the source/ always to the source / directly to the PRAYING MANTIS > amplitude / melodics / my desire for more foliage / beyond equation & babble / you like swing man? / ? / i wanna live til the next day… heart sound / vibrate / oscillate / the CHI / electrical body / internal (indecipherable) VOLTAGE / change the stereo wave form SCAT / nimble / flexible / YARA \\\\ > everybody’s got their own rhythm / their own melody / what one is doing / the FACE / back to back / the bringing out of motion / things that are already at their fullness / universal force / energy transfer / polyrhythms / CHI / the 5 senses all working / tho some say there is a 6th/ the (all encompassing) COSMOS / where we are not / major tear ducts / minor tears / yin yang = minor major chords the release of tears ? tension & release / BLUES / in gesture to transport the garden comes from here (head) & what enters / SPLIT into IT / the arrival transfers to …
hands heart into melody / stops / repeats / to transform the inner memories - feelings / different stuff / plucky memory / anticipating where the music is going / playing what was already there / variability > JUST DO IT.
The only complaint some folks had was that they felt there could have been more music, more footage of musicians playing, like the New York Art Quartet, and a larger historic overview of Milford's career, including mention by him of the cats shown in the film like Min Tanaka (though they are all in the credits). But that’s not what the film is really about and other than that it was unanimous that this was high in merit and should be seen by all.
At the Q&A the last question asked was from poet Joel Lewis. It dealt with Milford's relationship to Albert Ayler and what Milford thought really happened to the saxophonist. Like other greats I've known, Milford contended that Ayler did not take drugs and was not killed by the mob because of drugs or Mary Maria, the woman he lived with who is on many of his later albums. Afterward in the lobby I pursued this with Milford and without going into detail he in essence said, “Ayler was upset about his five year contract with Impulse. that they had wanted him to play with folks like the Beatles, and that he could no longer play with Milford.” As a consequence of this and other circumstances Milford felt that Ayler had committed suicide—the first time I had ever heard that one. It has also been said that Ayler claimed he would one day be more famous than the Beatles. Don’t try to figure that one out.
Cartier-Bresson, from the book Images on the Run aka The Decisive Moment: “There is the interpretation of the inner world and the observation of the external world. Reciprocal reaction between both worlds . . . in the long run form only one . . . It would be a most dangerous over-simplification to stress the importance of one over the other in that constant dialogue . . . we preserve life in the act of living [it].”
So listen. Take the music in. Let it swim around inside you until it and you become ONE.
Dedicated to Randy Weston, a musician's musician. A traveler. May his journeys continue.
(Correction: In my September Outtakes it was stated that Matt Mottell, Mike Watt, and Matthew Shipp played together. These were two separate concerts, the former in Brooklyn at a festival Mottel put on, the latter in MoMA Sculpture Garden with his working trio of Michael Bisio and Newman Taylor Baker. Apologies for this error.)