Monday, February 27, 2017

The First Time I Cried In Ten Years

Rahsaan Roland Kirk in all his glory

When I was sixteen years old, I was passionate about Jazz.  Passionate! 
My passion for jazz was so crazy that I left home the day after I graduated high school   I was going on a quest.  I had two hundred dollars in my pocket when I stepped onto the  ramp of I-80 and stuck out my thumb. My plan was to hitch hike from St. Louis to New York City,  in order to find a musician who may not want to be found.  I had to talk to him!  I had to meet him!  Ornette Coleman had liberated my creative vision.  

Word on the jazz grapevine was that  he was "taking a sabbatical".  In the jazz world this is sometimes shorthand for kicking a bad habit.* When jazz players take breaks from their careers it can mean they're in rehab. I was hip to drugs: I was an all-grown-up weed smoker.  Whoopee. I didn't  understand addiction the way I would understand it in another ten years.  I didn't know why so many musicians fell down the abyss of heroin.. I would know, later in my life.  Oh, I would know, I would understand, far better than my sixteen year old self.

 This is all in my novel, "Confessions Of An Honest Man."  It's a three dollar e-book and more people should read it.  End of promotion.

I wanted to share an experience I had this week, an experience entirely related to my love for jazz in the 60's. First, let me tell you that I can't remember the last time I cried.  It could be eight or ten years. That's a long time to have a Pandora's Box of emotion  locked up inside my soul.  This part of my life has been one of silent agony.  There have been times when I wanted to die, but I am resolved to not be a suicide.  I saw a therapist for several months.  I managed to squeeze out a few dinky tears.  It wasn't the catharsis I'd hoped for.  It was better than nothing.

I first heard Rahsaan Roland Kirk when I was fourteen.  This was in 1961  I was crazy for Roland Kirk. (the Rahsaan name came later). The moment I heard his record I was so smitten that goose bumps climbed up my spine.   Wow!  This was a musical three ring circus with elephants and zebras.  It had midget cars out of which climbed dozens of quarreling clowns.  Roland Kirk was technically masterful, innovative, insane and very funny.  Roland Kirk was a grade A bona fide original

Thanks to streaming sites like Spotify I can listen to anyone I care about.  Rahsaan has been gone for thirty years, but his albums are still here and I settled in for a visit to my past, to the passionate sixteen year old  who couldn't get enough music.  I was listening to an old standard, "I've Got Your Number", from Kirk's superb collaboration with Benny Golson.  It's an amazing album, as good now as it was in 1964. I was sitting in my chair in front of my computer and I started weeping.  This was a real shoulder-heaving sob session, a huge catharsis.  My spouse saw my hand covering my face, saw my body lurch..

 "Are you crying?" she asked gently.  "It's all right, boo," I said, "it's good, it's very good." 

The music came through the speakers and I felt as if the sound of Rahsaan's saxophone was tapping at my chest, as though it held a key to open my heart.  It got through to me.  All my frozen emotion came welling up.  I saw my life in its difficulties and frustrations.  I saw myself at sixteen, I saw what an extraordinary person I was.  My New York quest was lonely and unlikely to succeed, but I found Ornette Coleman by the craziest accident.  I was getting on the subway at Forty Second Street.  There was a man getting into the next car, a black man attempting to carry five or six instrument cases.  I rushed up and tapped him on the shoulder.  I wanted to offer my help.  I knew from his knit cap and his attire that he was a man of Jazz.  So, this stranger turned around  There he was.  Ornette Coleman.  I had spent the last ten days searching up and down Manhattan looking for this man.  "I can carry some of these horns if you..." and then I realized who it was and I stuttered, "'re Ornette Coleman!" We got on the subway together.  Hardly anyone else was in the car.  It was headed downtown. 
I hadn't rehearsed a speech or anything. I told Ornette how much I loved his music and how profoundly it had influenced my own work.  I told him how far I had traveled.  He gave me his phone number and the rest of my experience in the world of avant garde jazz unfolded, just like in my novel. 

That was a long time ago.  In the present, the important thing is that I regained connection to my emotions.  I'm a psychological person.  I know what it means to be shut down, to have no feelings, not even feelings of love.  It's an inner act of self-preservation.
It's a response to trauma.  It's better, more joyful, to feel sorrow and love, to be alive to emotion.  I accepted being numb.  I didn't recriminate myself.  I allowed the numbness and the mental torture to unfold and do their job.  Pain is always telling us to change things.  "Change things!" pain screams, and so I began to take action.  I began changing my life, one tiny bit at a time.  I'm feeling more creative.  Art worked its magic on me; it healed a child who was in mourning for a man who seemed to have failed.  Music helped me revive the most important part of myself.  Here I sit, right now, at my computer, sharing this personal and private story.  I'm grateful that I can, grateful that I'm alive when a few months ago I thought I would die of sheer misery.

I'm still here.  

Ornette Coleman in 1960

*I never saw any evidence of Ornette Coleman using drugs.  He was taking a sabbatical because his music had incited a furious controversy and that scared away promoters.  Ornette couldn't find work. He passed at age 85, world famous and widely respected as one of music's most important innovators.

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