TAKE MY HANGING BASKET
-the jazz loft, pt. five, 1967 -
Any number of things bothered me, over
time anyway - the same sorts of pursuit,
unconsciously driven, that bring most
people to their own allotted ends. All of
it, whether it's money, sex, fame or glory,
eventually either really succeeds, really
well, say Bob Dylan or Patti Smith, as
examples of people from this same time
frame, or not - exemplified by all those
'second tier' by industry standards of 'acts'
that never quite made it - Tom Paxton,
Dave Van Ronk, all those crazy folkies
and sentimental music people who came
and went. None of these jazz guys seemed
ever to really care about that : they set out
to kill - with horns, with real music, with
percussion or piano. All the same, endless
and basic concepts and instruments. The use
of an amplified 'guitar' was almost unheard
of. That in itself was a crossroads of sorts.
I liked all those jazz guys. I hated the others.
One thing that really used to burn me was
the insincerity and thrown-off quality of
that 'other' music : parody, music hall crap,
the essential tin-pan-alley, moon-June, Brill
Building crap that was hustling up the
idiot-radio channels and then proclaiming
another new moronic Dylan-like idiot
God (killed by irony all) each week. Hey,
'Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat' this. Patti
Smith, it is to be noted, hit town about
the very same time I did. Points passed,
points converged. She went right to
Queerville at the Chelsea with her boy
Mapplethorpe. I went straight the other
way down the avenue. To get away let me
say. Dylan used to say he sold his body
up on 42nd street to make money. I think
he mixed himself up with Herbert Huncke.
Jazz guys would have never tolerated such
sleight-of-hand. They would have popped
him one; forget the adulation. He knew that,
and he stayed away. Worlds apart, mainly
too because of a lack of musical talent.
Right off the bat. Why mince any words.
White boys pretending, they were no match
at all for these hard-boiled cats. If they had
been able to sharpen and horn and then
stab you with it, they would have. No never
mind to them. They other thing was the
aspect of 'performance.' That did it for
me, and that eventually just brought me
away from the scene. Even if I did have
the grasp of the music and the operation
of notes and power, I never wished to be
'performing' for anyone. At all. Call me
old-school, but I always figured that
whole stage thing, going up, singing
or playing for others, adulation,
applause, putting out, that was all
girl stuff; female attributes. Not for me,
which is why later I took to the silence and
the better darkness of writing and art. If
you 'need' entertainment, I wasn't to be
your entertainer. These black guys, the
jazz people generally, they wanted none
of that. 'Audience' meant, it seemed, very
little to them. I don't know how they played
it at contract time, for those who had
contracts - I suppose they had to pretend
to care, for Blue Note or Electra or
whatever their label was - watch sales
and settle the returns - but for the rest it
was more just a militant disdain, like watching
Kirk Gibson, crazy black fireball pitcher for
the Detroit Tigers back about then, throwing
at peoples' heads. Especially if the batter was
some white guy, you'd hope every so often
somebody would get beaned at 92mph. Crack
a white skull with the sound of a tympani.
So if you say authenticity was the key, what's
authentic anyway? Once you get up to a certain
point it becomes all artifice, show-business, lies.
If you've already started out with a fake name and
ten fake cover stories about yourself, then it's
all easy-sledding, so long as you keep your
self-stories straight and don't go mixing
metaphors like the morning gin and talking,
or be determined to be talking, out of both
sides of your mouth. Holding a big light-bulb.
The best bet, like all the jazz and art guys
knew, was to say nothing and screw the rest
- not the light-bulb prop-gimmick you're
holding; just the whole rest. It's called disdain.
It's called authenticity - and so is violence,
poverty, regret and sorrow too. They all had
to live with that stuff. And make something
from it; Sound. Progress. Foil.
Everyone has dreams - some you can hold
onto, others that disappear as quickly as a
flash. Many people, in NYCity as a for-instance,
confuse the fact of just 'being there' with the
reality of what they've backed themselves
into. I did, in so many ways. Face it, as good
as it may get, merely being present in New
York City, that whole experience, gets you
nothing. People get all goggle-eyed and think
only of the rich and the successful, the rich
and the wealthy, living a high-life with their
fancy soirees and museums and donor-dinners
and all that. For ninety-five plus percent, the
reality is quite different.There's nothing worse
than 'poverty' in the city. It's a catch-all trap,
and most people who get to that position,
city-lifers let's call them, end up there
because they're stuck. They end up paying
outrageous sums to live in a closet-sized
shoebox with penury for a roommate.
As John Lennon put it, 'the dream is over.'
Once you're there like that - and I've seen
it a hundred times - it's hard to remove
yourself and you just end up living (it's
way worse now; I'm talking 'then') at the
lowest tier of that existence and rationalizing
your position, Nedick's and the Automats.
When you're broke you're broke, and nobody
loves you when you're down and out. So, the
key is to honestly face yourself and just ask,
'what am I doing here, and how?' I'd see the
jazz guys do it - speed, heroin, petty crime,
whatever it came to be they turned it all back
into strange motivations of a hard-wired jazz
sound, a new-found music with which they
answered the world. It was drawn and it was
quite narrow. It was compartmentalized. Some
of these guys pulled through rightly enough;
others just died or fell off whatever it was
they'd been riding. Remember, not every
skinny-tied, underweight, slick and offensive
Miles Davis type made it through. Some we
hear about, some we don't.
It's all character type' it's what 'you' are and
you can't much change that. Each of those
James Baldwin and Imiri Baraka types, they
always had to go ahead and start 'explaining'
everything, sorting and separating, putting
each little object they described on the
proper shelf and space. That's the 'cataloguer,'
the linear scientist within each of us. The
funny thing is, like the jazz guys, all the
orderly scientist types do is keep turning up
the incongruities, paradoxes and mysteries.
All the weird stuff of the world we keep
banging up against. The jazz guys answered
it with strange music. The cataloguers tried
answering it with words.