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Posted on May 1 at 2:49 a.m.
Do these three musicians wish to communicate with us? Do they care we are here? Would it be such a compromise to the purity of their artistry to bend so low as to please their audience, to flatter our expectations, to stir our memories, just a little? (How 'bout a little "Spain" from the "Play" album?) Was it just me, or did I not feel a great relief and longing surge through the audience at the 'blues moment' an hour into the concert; and then again at the Monk groove in the encore? DeJohnette seemed to voice my complaint, in the freedom of the moment, when he growled "this has gone on way too long: it is time for the blues." But the most disturbing confessional moment came (if spontaneity is anything, it is often transparently unguarded) for me during the "broccolini and mashed potatoes" rant. McFerrin suddenly asks (in what was the "singer's" only use of "words" in the whole concert), with a child's stratospherically high falsetto "Mommie? Whatchya doin'?" He then voices the mother answering that she is making dinner 'broccolini and mashed potatoes' and the child must eat it because it is 'good for you.' By the time I got to asking myself whether the concert was nutritional or not, candy or vegetables McFerrin worked himself into a manic repeating rant "Is this entertainment? Are you being entertained?" Over and over, until "Are you being entertained to death?!"
Is that then the point? McFerrin the performance artist is too creative to be boxed into a "jazz concert"? And the audience (was there an edge of contempt and accusation there?) is too square and staid to appreciate such fine artistry? Yes, Bobby, Chick, and Jack I DID come to be entertained. How foolishly traditional and uncreative of me!
On Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, and Jack DeJohnette.
Posted on May 1 at 2:45 a.m.
BROCCOLINI AND MASHED POTATOES I think Charles has it right: "circus" "vaudeville" "shenanigans". Might as well come right out and say it: Bobby McFerrin is no longer a jazz musician; he has morphed into some sort of performance artist. Which is fine if that's what he wishes to do, but the concert should not be booked as a jazz event. And not just because it didn't swing -- until the encore -- but because it really isn't about the music. Most of the people I went with really enjoyed it -- but all of them said they would never listen to a CD of the event. They just liked to see three men playing like children, having fun, spurning convention, being present in the moment.
So, I suppose it is some sort of zen exhibition. But let's face it, some of this is more "be here then" than "be here now." The routine of the three of them plucking, bopping and scraping under the piano lid -- didn't we already cover that territory with Keith Jarrett in the 1980's? We got it: -- all sounds are equal . . . music is in everything . . . it is only convention and expectation that makes us prefer the keyboard to the mallet. McFerrin, of course, is the ambassador of spontaneity, and is ever in pursuit of the unique gift of the moment. And so this concert (as also his Voicestra concert last year) resembled a kind of workshop. He is even quoted in the program, proudly guaranteeing minimal rehearsal. But it is an old truism that you only get out what you put into something. Had these cats not been who they were -- I don't think the audience would have been as warm to them. In the balance of star-power and substance, I'm afraid the former tilted the scale by far. A spontaneity workshop can be a great thing -- but don't ask those of us who love jazz to shell out $70 to watch it, without our permission. Spontaneity should be a love-dance with tradition, not a spurning of it. McFerrin seems intent on never doing a song that we might know, or that -- god forbid -- has already been written. It is as if improvisation, the quicksilver of every jazzman, has grown impatient with playing merely outside of keys and rhythms, and now must play outside of every definition and expectation. And one of those is the concert itself. "Outside" is a relative concept, and derives its artistic value through its contact with an "inside." The more outside you go, the less shared reference with the audience, the more self-involved you become, or appear to be. (see below for remainder of my comment.)
Posted on December 27 at 12:14 a.m.
There is a lot in this little article. I think it is an intelligent and succinct salutation to the solstice. The four candles and the casting of dead leaves into the fire are excellent rituals. What better way to breathe fresh life into these year-end festivities then to blow the dust off the ancient honoring of the solstice at root.
Thanks, Starshine, for sharing these ideas with readers and their families.
On Merry Solstice
Posted on November 29 at 1:35 p.m.
So much for "innocence," (my above comment.) As for "information," I do not think the woman in the story was merely educating her sons. There is something prurient about recalling her own experiences and displaying a vibrator to them. I do not believe it is a line, as you have described it, between information and disgust. To merely describe it like that puts it on par with getting grossed-out over open-heart surgery on the science channel. This is not merely a matter of anatomical disgust, and I would guess the boy's "discomfort" is far more complex. If an adult outside of your own family were to tell your son about their own sexual experiences, and exhibit a sex-toy, I am sure you would consider that borderline, if not outright, sexual abuse. The fact that the adult in the story was not an outsider, but the boys' own mother makes the story that much sadder to me.
How many billions of neural connections are evolving daily in an adolescent boy's brain? It is like a wildfire. The front edge is the burning line of attention. In its wake is formed his concept of selfhood, values, goals, motives. When and how sexuality is introduced into this dynamic interior world is not a trivial consideration. As you correctly say, kids will learn one way or another. When knowledge of sex comes through the backdoor, it will most likely be a distortion which can infect the imagination, as I think my personal story illustrates. The sad thing is when, for many kids, like the boys in the story, there is no front door.
On Innocence Glossed
Posted on November 29 at 1:25 p.m.
As always, Starshine, I appreciate your frank approach. In this essay, however, I think the subject is more complex than "information versus innocence." You might be giving the parent of the other boy short-shrift. Innocence does not necessarily mean under-informed, or a puritanical denial of life and passion. It may mean guarding the imagination of a child, not so much from the facts of sex, as from distortions and dysfunctions of the adult world around the subject. When I was a nine-year-old boy, in fact, my older brother and sister showed me my father's secret stack of Playboy magazines on the upper shelf of his office closet. I didn't really know how to assimilate this fact. It created a tear in the fabric of my world-view. Why do these women take their clothes off for the camera? Why does my father have these? Does my mother know, and what does she think? Would I get whipped if they found out I knew? There was a bad or shameful feeling about the whole thing. The fact of the magazines colored the way I looked at my father. When I was with him, I would try to imagine him buying or looking through the magazines. I was trying to put my mind around an apparent duplicity. Meanwhile, every so often, when I could get away with it, I would climb up on a chair in the office, and look through the top two or three issues. By the time I was 12, I was getting very aroused by the magazines, and by the age of 14, I was looking at them almost daily and relieving myself by masturbation. This practice became a habit and an addiction which carried with it unbearable secrecy and shame. The duplicity of my father had now become my own duplicity. I was desperately afraid someone in the family would find out, or my parents would suspect what was happening. This "lost innocence" became a drain-hole in my life, sapping my energy and attention. If I was not daydreaming about sex, I was pre-occupied with shame and a feeling of being soiled. With my daughter I have tried over the years, during "teachable moments" to emphasize the wholesomeness and poetic beauty of sexuality. I told her, when she was younger, that the outer facts of sex might sound grotesque, but as her body, mind and emotions matured she would experience desire and perceive the poetry. I also told her that many people in our culture don't get it. They trivialize, deflect and caricature sex with crude humor or expletives. But I told her, as you move through and observe all of this, somewhere preserve the thought that sex is sacred. I'm tempted to specify a Hindu maxim in this respect. Its general form is "Those who preserve dharma (law, order, the natural way of things), dharma will preserve." Here, I would apply it, "Those who preserve sex, sex will preserve" or at least, "Those who do not debase sex, sex will not debase."
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