Monday, June 12, 2017

9631. TAKE MY HANGING BASKET - pt. one

-the Jazz Loft, pt. one, 1967-
Thelonious Monk wrote 'Crepuscular With
Nellie'. It was 1957 maybe, a real take-off
year for 50's modern jazz. I didn't know
much about it then, but maybe 8 years later
it was, I knew a bunch  -  having landed
myself squat-set in the middle of a few
jazz lofts in the w20s, and teens. There
wasn't anything like that before  -  you
can have your hippie wing-ding love-ins
and being-fests and happenings and
nude-o-ramas. Jazz, man back then it
was the real thing. None of that fusion
crap and light jazz and radio-play jazz
junk that now passes for something.
Car music while you sit there squirming
in Parkway traffic on your way to some
funked-out beach with skinny-in-the-brain-
department people wading in their custard
wallow. That's not this jazz. This jazz had
needles and spikes and had be-bop and hops
and dulcimated duo-solos running wild. It
was tops  -  made by mad men in lofts that
always had dripping faucets and cut-up
bathrooms and a guy downstairs always
watching out. The bottom floors, in the
daytime they were just all Puerto Rican
loading-dock guys flinging freight and
cargo about, mostly fabrics and hangers
and hats and coats, or huge rolls of cloth,
with trucks backed up waiting all over the
street and horns honking everywhere. A
real syncopation, like a jazz recreation.
It was in the evenings, later, that things
would change  -  those dark November
evenings early rolling into night. Once all
deliver trucks and freight and cargo, cars and
horns blaring and back-up everywhere, were
gone the tome changed. Sometimes I'd be
there for that. First the women would start
arriving, swanky enough, just to stand
around and watch, or flirt, or be picked over.
The the black cars would roll in, men would
get out, jive guys, hats and shoes, carrying
coronets or trumpets, some with larger
instruments wrapped in bags or carrying
cases; they'd step out, jive-walk around a
bit, almost in-place, greeting one another.
Cigarettes. Bottles. And the rest. It would
all get upstairs, the subdued half-noises of
feet scraping stairs, or a freight elevator cable
slapping and a door sliding. You'd hear all
sorts of things. I'd be let up, because they
already knew me  -  to watch things, keep
an eye on things, take maybe coats and
belongings as they were handed over  - or
run out for this or that, coffee, cold stuff,
by the need. I was an 18 year old nobody
in another world I'd never even imagined
existed. 'Stick around, kid, listen and watch
You're OK, but this'll make you good. When
you're good, this'll someday maybe make
you great.' So I'd stay. Witness. Observe.
Being as I was that 'kid,' useless and all, I
found I could never understand why all the
other idiot-fools of my age were falling all
over themselves for 'rock n' roll,' as it was
being called  -  a rather perverse, effeminate,
moon-June graduated plaster of words and
noise that made never any sense to me. Most
especially when put up alongside jazz here.
This was real stuff, while all that other crap
was institutional communion music. I didn't
ever like words put to that kind of use  -  it
always just seemed a big mistake by ignorant
people, and it just got worse later with all
that coy and biting irony of pop group of
rebel singers with rhyming couplets for
a snaggle-toothed groan that all got called
'poetry' and later even literature. For songbird
assholes mostly, always  -  jazz here was
something different. These guys were solid,
they were men of an unencumbered force,
except maybe sometimes broken too and
beaten down  by addictions and foibles.
All hard, that all was; but it came out
in their sound too, just as much.
Different. Troubled. Proud.
Angry never made much sense, so they
never were much angry, except maybe
James Baldwin; he came around once I
remember. Twice maybe. I never got
much out of him; he seemed a goon, sort
of goggle-eyed and precious. But he had
all this one-liner anti-whitey stuff always
going. I never understood much of it, and
never really listened. He gave me the
creeps just to be around. He seemed a
good fit for jazz, yeah, but he never
really was. Maybe the Paris stuff, but
that wasn't ever New York jazzy. That
was just Paris, another thing. People like
him, sometimes they talked, I s'd swear,
just to be heard. Same old crap, layered
over itself. Or, well, maybe I just didn't
get 'race,' racial stuff. It never mattered
to me  -  it as more than just black Americans,
all those Malcolm X blacks, strivers sometimes,
and fakes just as much. I seen some other
kinds of Negroes  -  royal, discrete, really
sound and solid. Ancient African lineages,
transplanted to places like the Sorbonne
or other odd names, continental names.
They'd be different. I'd see them, and
I'd see some beautiful black ladies too,
naked. There were some, that all just
went with their being, a sort of consciousness
of elevation. Sensuality and sexuality too.
It was just the way they did things, with
the territory. And you weren't really to
make anything of it. Just the way they
were; like seeing Nina Simone come in
one day, with a Japanese silk robe, colored
beautifully, reds and blues, with nothing
on underneath it; and she just undrapes it
and sits down at the piano. That was that.
I'd see, I'd see what went on. I just had
to understand it yet, that was all. Growing
up, even in one's own mind, you mostly
just get one side of the story and that's the
side you're forced and taught to accept.
Supposed to make all the sense in the world,
except it never does. There's always another 
story, and this was it, and I was in it.
Nina Simone? The people would look at her,
listening, and just say she was quite weird
but a special individual  -  'The lady is a
singular sensation'  -  that being the first time
I'd ever heard that phrase, which later became
just another tired old advertising phrase. She
had a song she sang that did catch my
ear : 'My Name is Peaches' I think it was.
A totally strange song, almost grating, not
quite right. I can't say I ever liked it  -  about
house-slave or maid or something who put up 
with all sorts of things, racial stuff and the rest,
who acted nice and stayed pleasant but who
secretly harbored hatred and hideous feelings
about her keepers. Peaches was their 'name' 
for her. She'd sing that song, in like a studio 
set-up they had, and it always sounded OK, 
different most each time, but OK, and it was 
eventually recorded again, somewhere. The 
whole thing was rare, as I said, no one ever
'sang' in this place, except her, here, in this 
instance a few times. That was her thing.
The guys just took it as a job, something to do
for the lost, spacey lady. It was, again, all racial.
She was angry, she was black, and proud and 
the rest. I never said a thing. I had to be careful.
Anyway, the song always reminded me of
another one I'd hard, far better, by Kurt Weil,
Bertolt Brecht, that bunch. That one was
called 'Pirate Jenny.' Same sort of song, but 
better, not just about black and slave. It was
more seething, a lady does the cleaning, people
look down on her, she plots a silent revenge as
she does their chores, cleans their places and
all that. The song was darker, and more sensible 
 -  the lady keeps announcing, whether imagined 
or no, this 'ship,' the black freighter, that 
was coming around into the harbor, and was 
going to blow everything t smithereens  and
bring to her a sort of due-justice. It was almost
a scary, dark song  -  from The Threepenny Opera.
I caught all this stuff, just never commented or
said much. Couldn't really. Simone was living,
then, in Newark, I think in the same house with
Leroy Jones, Amiri Baraka, whatever he was
calling himself then. A lot of them were just
changing their names as they became radicalized,
Islamicized, like Cassius Clay too. They took on
other references, Ali, and Baraka. I always
liked their old names better but I was told once
that there was a real power, a certain strength, in 
taking back one's name, one's self, or sense of,
by proclaiming and re-naming oneself, the new
self, and growing strong just from that.
Forget all that downtrodden crap.

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