Monday, January 26, 2015

A Beautiful Lie. But beautiful... nonetheless.

A woman trying to understand the blues from But Beautiful:

- All that hurt and pain, she said at last. But... but...
- But what?
- But beautiful. 

Geoff Dyer interview in the Paris Review:

That’s a book where the joins between fact and invention really are invisible, though. There’s that moment in which Monk peels an orange and says, “Shapes.” That feels so purely characteristic it can’t possibly be made up. 
No, it’s made up, I think. The writing of that book is difficult for me to remember, except that I do recall how enjoyable it was. I look back on it now, partly because I’ve become conscious of something it lacks. I think it would be better if it ended with Albert Ayler. For whatever reason, I didn’t do that then, and lately I’ve been listening to more Ayler and thinking that I would like to write something about him. Or, more accurately, wishing I had written about him in But Beautiful, because now I’m completely incapable of it. 
How so? 
Well, first off, the Internet has made so much stuff available that one of the things that motivated me to write that book—loved jazz, couldn’t find all the stuff I wanted to in the books that were available, so wrote one myself—no longer pertains. On YouTube you can listen to Don Cherry describing his first meeting with Ayler. It is so wonderful, one of the greatest ever accounts of one artist meeting another. Which leaves me satisfied as an interested fan and somewhat redundant as a writer. Also, I just don’t have the confidence now that I did back then to write about African Americans. Relatedly, I’m too discerning now to tolerate some of the excesses that were a product and cause of that confidence. So I know where that writing came from, but I couldn’t do it now. It’s one of the things that makes the writing life interesting over the long term—what comes and what goes.

"In the West... you reach this level of playing for money, you know? But there's a few people that play for the love of God. And as a reflection from God. And Albert Ayler was one of these people." 
- Don Cherry on Albert Ayler

Ayler's interpretation of Summertime is remarkable. It's idiosyncrasy, it's insistence on the violence of translation, the blood on the floor that is interpretation. Chang Tzu's butcher slipping his blade effortlessly inside the spaces between the bones, dancing with the carcass of an ox that falls away entirely separated, a harmonic equation of blood, bone and flesh. Could Gershwin have ever imagined Ayler?

The poet Ted Joans likened the impact of this trio to hearing someone scream the word ‘fuck’ on Easter Sunday in St Patrick’s Cathedral.  
- The Penguin Jazz Guide by Brian Morton, Richard Cook

When Coltrane died, Ayler, whom Coltrane acknowledged as a profound influence, was asked to play the funeral. By all accounts, it was an intensely spiritual event, fitting for Coltrane as a man and a musician. Ayler opened with "Love Cry, Truth Is Marching In, Our Prayer" and Ornette Coleman closed with "Holiday For A Graveyard". Ayler's sax in particular becomes the voice of a Rilkean angel: simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. There is something of the Eschaton in Ayler's and Coleman's performances. Even poorly recorded, the music reverberates in a cul de sac, trapped in the apse of the Western musical cathedral, notes not so much fading as collapsing inwardly under the pressure of inadequacy into the absolute silence of the crypt. This is the haunting question: when is even music inadequate to task of surrounding human experience with meaning? Because here at John Coltrane's funeral, music a whole, always transcendent, verges on inadequacy, dissolving under the sense of an Ultimate Tragic realization : human being is not merely irrelevant to the gods, it is an unwelcome presence. The pressure of this active negation - call it malign fate or doom - is what resists the expected outward expansion of the music into the transcendent and pierces into the listener on the most primal ontological level. It is harrowing and unbearable.

In Murder in the Cathedral, Eliot has Becket state:

“When the figure of God’s purpose is made complete.
You shall forget these things, toiling in the household,
You shall remember them, droning by the fire,
When age and forgetfulness sweeten memory
Only like a dream that has often been told
And often been changed in the telling. They will seem unreal.
Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

In other words, we live an unreal lie of the mind, in a state of active forgetting, unable to endure the brutal tragedy of the real. Nietzsche, in 1888, a year before his mind was lost, wrote in a letter:

Music … frees me from myself, it sobers me up from myself, as though I survey the scene from a great distance … It is very strange. It is as though I had bathed in some natural element. Life without music is simply an error, exhausting, an exile.

My belief is that in this god-vacated, god-absented, god-haunted world, music is losing its liberating and sobering power to "sweeten memory". Nietzsche's musical bath is polluted and no longer purifying. And life is becoming an undeniable error, an unrecoverable exhaustion and an irrevocable exile.

Edward Dahlberg in Can These Bones Live? is prescient and hopeful:

There are no abstract truths - no Mass Man, no proletariat. There is only Man. When the Pulse has been nailed upon the crossbeams, lo, Reason gives up its viable breath and becomes a wandering ghostly Error. Truth and folly are ever about to expire, so that we, like our beloved Sancho Panza, kneeling at the deathbed of Don Quixote, must always be ready to receive the holy communion of cudgels and distaffs for the rebirth of the Pulse.

Not only Reason, but Hope itself is the "wandering ghostly Error" haunting our language. For what is it when our subjunctive wishful could/would future hourly is overwhelmed by the ever-rising blood-dimmed flood that drowns every single ceremony of innocence? (Yeats) The word "Hope" has followed the recently deceased "God" into becoming an artifact of language, like "sunset" and "sunrise" and "sense of humor" and "heartache" - all disconnected fragments of bygone systems of belief. I am becoming resistant to it's use. Language and music both are increasingly emptied for me.

But not entirely. I am not so numb and dumb to the presence of meaning in my life and world. However, what I am becoming increasingly aware of is how terrible this meaning is. I once was amused by the Judaic joke: "What man calls thinking, God call laughter." Now, not so much. The sublime ridiculous is the everyday mode. Paranoia is the healthiest state of mind. The punch-line is always ready to pounce. Beauty, Truth and Justice are the usual suspects. Lesser animals, more marketable beasts such as Happiness, Pleasure and Entertainment are transient distractions: the angler-fish's glowing lure. And the Pretty and Sweet and Lovely are the over-painted whores whispering mindless temptations in my ear. There is meaning. But it is an alien, strange and monstrous creature. If we were able to endure even a syllable of its language, I believe it might sound something like Albert Ayler.

- All that hurt and pain, she said at last. But... but...
- But what?
- But beautiful. 

A Beautiful Lie. But beautiful... nonetheless.