Things are worsening, are worse than ever, both financially and prospects-wise; prospects for the future, for getting out of this situation. Blows increased over the weekend. There are not going to be any venues standing soon. Publishing's insistence on doing most of what it does for the wrong reasons has driven away readers and revenue. Places and opportunities lessen each week. You can chart the decline of Western Culture via my email inbox and sent folders. I will give a fuller accounting of where that stands, and where things stand with me--this extended period that has me praying for death near about each day now has another level of terror to it, when I can least handle that--but right now I simply want to get down some words. To at least give myself the illusion of a tiny speck of control, or just keeping my fingers and thoughts moving, like one does exercises for one's physical health, only this is my emotional health now.
I pitched many op-ed ideas today. I thought one of three would be assigned last week, or else a new piece picked up, at the highest circulation newspaper, but that was not to be, so I had to keep trying there today with others. I wrote a lot of people who hate me who won't write back, of course. I didn't do anything to them. But that's how it is. I walked three miles. I climbed the Monument five times. I wrote a 2000 word essay on Jimmy Blanton I do not have a home for. I sent it to some places--again, people who hate me--because they pay more money than the place I might be able to sell it to for $150. Those are bad numbers. Look at the quality of this writing. That's not getting a plum staff job, that's not copping a Pulitzer, that's not leading to opportunity? All the work is like this.
1939’s “Blues” and “Plucked Again”—ah, what a jocose, sad mondegreen we might hear that second title as—were the first bass-piano duets ever released. Ellington’s conversational chords—like polite, borderline festal hosts—walk us into this room, where we are what I think of as tendril-ized by Blanton’s bass. It starts at our pant legs, moves up to encircle our hips, threads itself around our shoulders, soliciting our comfort, pulling out a chair in which we might repose, inquiring as to how we have been when we have been apart, something we never wish to be again. Ellington, by this point, is playing as if to say, “Nah, you do it, buddy, you tell the story, you’re so much better at it.” The bass demurs by way of invitation, coaxing the piano into the pitter and patter of dialogue, old fires reborn, new tinder bundles established for complementary hearth glows.
“Plucked Again” commences with lower piano notes; this is bluesier. Ellington’s opening figure appears to set up a vocal—you expect a singer to emerge with her first verse, but instead, that singer is Blanton’s bass. If ever an instrument sounded like Billie Holiday, it is this bass here. We are talking early Billie, when melody seemed to exist to be worked upon a jazz genius’s loom and spun out into endlessly new arrays and fabrics.
Ellington, for his part, is stoked, as you can hear with his glissando glazings, like he can’t keep his joy to himself as Blanton’s bass sets you to dancing. When have you ever heard a bass—I’m not talking some thudding, one note techno-beat you pump your hips to—that gets you out of your chair and seeing if you have enough room to take a twirl or two around it? When Blanton plucks a note, it sounds like he’s plucking a string fastened across the expanse of some deep-bottomed canyon, only with velour lining the canyon walls and draped over the river at its lowest point.
The duo stayed with the duet game during the rest of their time together, which is to say, the rest of Blanton’s life as a music-maker. Fruits of the assignation: “Pitter Panther Patter,” in which two lone instruments swing the bejeezus out of an uptempo riff, including passages where Blanton’s bass becomes the mimetic form of Ellington’s piano. This is a game of chicken, played by friends wishing to egg each other on because they know delight, rather than disappointment, can be the only outcome. Ellington forks, sinks, splits, curves his various pianistic pitches, and no matter what he throws, Blanton is ready, without a skipped beat or the barest elision of a note, to stand in and drive the ball back through the box. He plays walking bass figures while sending off fresh detachments of melody, as if this were a bass-based version of musical omnipresence.
Simply, he is staggering and staggers our expectations, until we think, like Ellington must have, “Okay, this is the new bass order, I knew nothing before.” Blanton’s bow work on “Sophisticated Lady” is a tone I’ve not heard replicated anywhere else. How often can we say that of anything we have ever encountered? This is the bass, but it is not the bass, the sound of pockets of oxygen spontaneously combusting in rhythmic fractals, a Pollock drip canvas if a Pollock drip canvas could sing.
That's high level.
Someone asked me the other day--or more like wondered aloud--in a letter--"You'd think that some place would have to hire you, would badly want to hire you." I understand why they think this way. They haven't fully accepted yet what I know from all of these years of experience. Something happening for you here is not going to have anything to do with your ability. Or how many people can love your work. No one thinks, "We could use that person, they could do x, y, and z for us because they are that good." It's not like that. It's cronyism. It's retreads. System people. It's people who have won awards--because of cronyism, being system people, being retreads--who are brought in on the back of that, or the numbers they bring because they've always been hooked up--their Twitter army, perhaps.
No one is going to look at ability and have a view and a vision of what could happen, with opportunity. None of this works that way. What does ability mean, then? Virtually nothing. It doesn't create the opportunity. Provided with an opportunity, I believe that ability--having work that truly connects with people--can spread wildfire-style. I think if you give me the platforms, I can do what no one else can do or has done, and in there I mean in terms of reach, too. That should be the harder part. But I don't think it is. Being provided with a viable chance is. The op-ed ideas ranged from the thesis that beach reads need not be piffle, people have become far too nasty and draconian with the baseball Hall of Fame and a big Hall is better for the game; why it is so strange that we play European classical composers for the Fourth of July and not this country's one idiomatic musical form--jazz--in this era of racial and social unrest and BLM; Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Fourth of July; Kyle Kashuv and if forgiveness is now a myth and a specter of something which we use as a cudgel/power display.
I'm less interested in Kashuv than I am forgiveness--he would just be the topical peg. Does forgiveness even exist anymore? I don't think it does. To forgive, is to accept contrition, and to allow someone back on the same playing field. I don't think we do that. Realize, my point is not about this kid. I think we want the mea culpa, but that we are not actually going to forgive. So something else is being done with this idea of forgiveness, and I think it's very sick. You hear people say, "never apologize to such and such a group," and I understand why they say that; even cretins pick up on the idea that no matter your level of expiation, that group does not want to forgive you and is not going to. Again, separate from this kid. I think we must also ask if an attempt to shock is the same as what is truly in someone's heart and head. Play a game with me, in your own head. What is the worst thing you've ever done, would you say? Now let's say everyone finds out about that. How would your life look? Would you be done? Cooked? Now a number of you reading this, if not all, are saying, "yes, I surely would be." But you're not all bad people. Some of you can be very good people. I don't know what the breakdown is. My feeling is that if you're reading these pages, you're probably not a horrible person--well, provided you're not some ghoul from my past, who is reading these pages for entirely different reasons. I'm not talking about you. You lot, certainly, are horrible people.
So what does that mean, then? What is a society where forgiveness does not exist? Where the pressure not to forgive is so great, that what forgiveness there is can only occur in small, private spaces between small groups of people, as if this could only be carried out in secrecy? And yet, we forgive ourselves so easily, for everything we do. But that's not really forgiveness, is it? It's just lack of self-awareness, indifference to personal conduct, wanting what feels best, fills a hole, wallpapers over a void, without reflection or remorse. I think it is precisely that kind of person who is the least capable of forgiveness of others, who beats war drums. Spends a lot of time on social media, too. In 2019, forgiveness is the Hollow Man of American society. You can see him, and he throws a shadow, but there's nothing in there, he doesn't really exist.
I wrote the first 650 words of another jazz piece, on overlooked Blue Note musicians, which I also have no home for. This is not what you want to be doing--writing things in hopes that you can move them for tiny bits of cash. It's the worst way to go. It's ultimate desperation, it's the complete antithesis of cost efficiency. No one else would even have the option to try and do this horrible option, because how could you? You'd have to be able to write so fast, one perfect draft after another--not drafts to get to a final version, but final first. It is an awful place to be in, but I am that desperate. From the Blue Note piece:
Blue Note, over its history, has been more than a label. It’s a sound—but not a limited, predictive one—and an ethos to conjoin swing with brains, soul with tapping feet, chops and theory with accessibility and feel. Blue Note stokes the blues, but it does so exultantly. In the history of art, I’ve found that it’s not really the standard, go-to masterpieces that establish, define, underscore, how great someone or something is. With the Beatles, for example, we see a Revolver and a Sgt. Pepper, but what makes them every bit as compelling is the mordant, unpredictable B-side, the BBC airshot not meant for posterity that comes to galvanize the possibilities of posterity.
In short, it’s that day in, day out stuff. How the artist lives in the art. Not the heraldry of “behold, here is an official masterpiece.”
Blue Note is the best jazz label, the best jazz genre—for this is a teeming genre unto itself—for glue guys. The brand-backers. The agents of the aesthetic. Lynchpin players. Risk takers who were also good at bringing it all home again. Also, we become too rigid in our canons, especially now, when we are increasingly on autopilot. We’re loath to reassess, to reorder, recalibrate, re-listen.
I’m someone who’d claim that Hank Mobley was every bit the artist that John Coltrane was. And that’s why I love the treasures I find, and have found for so long now, in the Blue Note vault room, in the hold at the back, where the work of the Glue Gods lives. Call them the Blue Note Under-Stars who could hold their own with the All-Stars, the neglected talents, those music-makers ready to embrace us and be embraced by us with a proper meeting, or a fitting reunion.
Again, it's just high level. Am I not supposed to know that or say that? I'm supposed to pretend otherwise or lie? It's not that obvious? I'm supposed to do what the same people do who want to bury me and keep me from the world and shut my mouth about what this is? I can't cover it up, and I won't.
I met Emma--now out of school for the summer--for a coffee. We discussed the film It Comes at Night ("No, it doesn't," as Emma said. "Nothing comes at all, at any time"), which she had seen and which I saw last night. (She also just watched Fellini's Satyricon with her dad and would not stop talking about it. She acts out parts. It gets highly involved.) I've seen worse, but come on--that's bad. I have half a dozen stories that would make all-timer horror films. I can do the screenplay, and we can rake. You want me to change the screenplay, add more backstory, take backstory out, I can go so many different ways because the nature of my very existence is to ceaselessly create and adapt. I never get locked in. I can simply reroute, and what I give you is going to be as good as what I was already doing. And if you don't want that, I can reroute again, and the same thing will happen. I have reached the point of being capable of endless invention. Nothing hems me in creatively now; horrifically, everything else in life does, seemingly. But not creatively. Anyway, I'm movie guy. Another film piece of mine came out this weekend. It's what I know, deeply, and obviously storytelling. So it's frustrating to see a film where the people who made it clearly had no ideas to work with, and knew it. They groped, desperately, to be able to cobble something together to call a film. They didn't know the story, they didn't know how to connect anything. They were working with so little, then they shoehorned that ridiculous title onto it. There were continuity errors, and you had the sense they were like, "Eh...let's just be done. It's close enough." Again, I've seen worse, but it just did not work, but when there's nothing to work with, that makes sense. I'm just talking horror. As non-horror, the Buried stories could be the basis for a series set on Cape Cod.
Yesterday I figured out more of the new story. That is confusing. There are now four stories going at once. What is the point? There is no point right now. So I don't have a good answer to that question. Somehow I just keep doing them. I don't know why. They are "A man outside a playground," "Stickleback," "Fitty," and "Wing-Nuts." Again, the characters always tell me. They're going to tell me their stories, I am going to find the best way to tell them. They are as real as real can be, even though they don't exist.
I'll write about this Tina Brooks album in the Blue Note piece, which I will finish in the morning. One of my five favorite jazz albums. Maybe someday I'll be able to enjoy things like this again. I barely even remember what it is like to enjoy anything in this life. It's like writing about a memory you happened to have once made notes for, otherwise it would be gone, not something you could conjure up in your feelings.