Sunday, June 28, 2015

Express ‘Trane

In his new autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light (2014), sublime guitarist Carlos Santana relayed a dream he had of nearly jamming with free jazz great John Coltrane (d. 1967 at age 40), though he never met the significant saxophonist in real life. The session was interrupted when a thief stole the bicycle upon which Coltrane had arrived. They hunt it down together only to find it stripped of saddle and wheels down near Jones Beach on Long Island, whereupon Santana awakes.

Later, when Carlos recounted this by phone to John’s widow, with whom he had collaborated musically, Alice Coltrane deconstructs story’s meaning by describing kids of today hanging in the dark and trying to find light. “The stolen bicycle with no wheels represented how difficult it was for that music to find a way to get to people. There was no vehicle anymore to help carry Coltrane’s music to those who need to hear it. His music gets so little airplay and so little press, but it’s important to bring people into the light of this music.” Carlos describes John’s music as bright and clear, like light itself; he’s well known for Buddhist thinking that balances impressions much like a bicyclist remains upright. In answer to Alice, kids now use social media, Youtube and Vimeo, whereas exposure once was only late night sets at too few clubs that barely helped sell limited vinyl pressings. Nevertheless, those starved for brilliance sought out and treasured these explorations into ineffable expressions. This Autumn at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, Wynton Marsalis will honor the 50th anniversary of ‘Trane’s album A Love Supreme, considered among the greatest jazz recordings of all time having sold a half million copies, and said by Santana to have been among his most important influences.

From Paolo Parisi’s graphic novel Coltrane (2012)

Critics nicknamed saxophonist Albert Ayler “Bicycle Horn” for his atonal, untamed rethinking of this idiom. Coltrane himself asked Albert and Ornette Coleman to play at his funeral. While performing Ayler stopped twice to cry in anguish and joy for his fallen friend and mentor, for whom he had named a song, For John Coltrane (1967), and resumed playing alto. Now revered by aficionados, a few years after Ayler too would give up the ghost, untimely drown near the Statue of Liberty at age 34.

Pedal Jazz’s Improvisation on a Bicycle video anthology begins with Coltrane’s Countdown.

In her poem collection Bicycles (2010), Nikki Giovanni gushes, “Everything good is simple: …steam off a cup of black coffee… John Coltrane bringing me ‘Violets for My Furs’.” By inference, she connects his song with her new red shiny single speed shown on book’s cover. Both spent valuable time in Philadelphia, nation’s best jazz venue between WWII and Vietnam, he learning from legends and she attending graduate school.

Any deep affinity from afar to a performing artist might inspire mimicry or manifest in highly personal dreams. Have indeed had intimate musings with unmet artists whose music managed to rewire senses through repeated listening. You never know what will happen if you let innovators meddle with your mind, maybe even inner peace.

Along with Coleman Hawkins, Pedalin’ (1960), Gerry Mulligan, Bike Up the Strand (1956), and scores of jazz musicians with songs about bicycling listed in B&C’s appendix, quintessential rock songs Bicycle Race and Fat Bottomed Girls were from Queen’s album named Jazz (1978) in homage to this Black American invention often better appreciated overseas. Following acquisition of Vanguard and 2015 merger with Bicycle Music, publisher Concord Bicycle Music now owns some of Coltrane’s catalog.

Peter Nye’s historical nonfiction, The Six-Day Bicycle Races: America's Jazz-Age Sport (2010), covers first third of the 20th Century, less bebop than dixieland, and rather than sax drones, velodromes. Trek once manufactured entry level Jazz bikes to cash in on genre’s coolness among hipsters.

Jazz singer Melody Gardot, who, after being hit while bicycling by a motorist who ran a red light and hospitalized for a year with neural and spinal damage, slowly gained performance abilities through musical therapy, which scientists claim rebuilds pathways between brain’s 2 cortices. Quoting title track from Some Lessons EP, 2005, her first recording following recovery, “Well, I'm buckled up inside. It's a miracle that I'm alive... To think that I could have fallen a centimeter to the left. Would not be here to see the sunset... Some lessons learned we learn the hard way. Remember the sound of the pavement, world turned upside down, city streets unlined and empty, not a soul around. Life goes away in a flash, right before your eyes...” Coltrane similarly had a spiritual epiphany having kicked heroin cold turkey.

Fellow saxophonist and origami artist Tomo Tsurumi worried he’d be set back when a motorist hit him while bicycling. Completing an origami elephant despite intense pain in traction assured him that his fine motor skills weren’t so impaired he’d never finger a sax again, though extensive oral trauma still puts playing years away. Since last year’s accident, Voodoo Donuts in Eugene, Oregon hasn’t been the same without his beloved noodling out front. Being from Japan with difficulty grasping what American lyrics mean, he says, “Funk and jazz were genres where the rhythms spoke for themselves; I could connect with the music without understanding all the words.”

Don’t quite grasp Eric Robinson’s blog Jazz and Bicycles. Has something to do with conspiracy theories and freedoms that bicycles and jazz represent.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Brink Mansplain

Documentarian Michael Moore, Secular Talk, Senator Warren, talk host John Stewart, and Young Turks all say today some of what Labann was undaunted to relay decades ago. Difference is they got on bandwagon with either partisan agendas (given electorate’s current mood) or profit motives (charging tickets to rallies or showings), whereas this writer only ever wanted to discover truth (an unpaid unless punished process). Politics alone never offer answers. You may try to vote for candidates you think will serve electorate’s interests, but politicians and system weren’t built that way. Anyone who asks for your approval is probably a conceited narcissist or greedy, needy baby who pushes all parties into battle beyond the brink of catastrophe. Learned first hand they lie to your face by promising whatever you request then spitefully making it impossible, if it’s no bother, as if some maddening amusement or sport. Labann wants nothing except social justice, which includes equal pay for equal work despite age, creed, gender, orientation or race, because entire society’s collective personal sacrifices account for everything that succeeds.

Labann refuses to be labeled a Social Justice Warrior, since just as likely to acknowledge own flaws as point out yours. But if men can’t “mansplain” brinkmanship on Dad’s Day, what good is being a male? Obliviously ogling one ballgame after another while swilling beer? Most problems arise when people are unaware, or they just don’t care; needs go unmet, resulting in pushing, shoving, and suffering. Frustration instills aggression, guilt, hostility. Altruism punishment undoubtedly occurs, but why equate cheaters and cyclists? Game changers can equally annoy by rearranging best laid plans.

Going green on this basic commodity is 2008 documentary Fuel. Filmmaker Josh Tickell drove all over America in a diesel truck, any of which can burn fuel made from renewable vegetable oils; they neither pollute nor steal food from babes. Biodiesel can be made by diverting sewerage into growing green algae or certain weeds, not just farms of soybeans, in cities, deserts, and reclaimed toxic sites. Biodiesel could end dependence on foreign oil overnight, gains 3 units of energy for every 1 expended, and wouldn’t take any significant change to existing infrastructure. Petroleum is 1:1, though it remains the most profitable business on earth due to taxpayer subsidies and wars costing $billions/year. Too bad planet is addicted to crude that causes asthma, cancer, and COPD. Most ingenious are Tickell’s 10 ways to replace oil altogether, which include better city planning, biking/walking more, smarter engineering, and solar/tidal/wind harvesting.

If impressed, ask yourself why, after eyeing Fuel before first term and quoting it repeatedly, nation’s big daddy POTUS Obama did nothing to further global green agenda. Is oil industry such a persistent parasite? Or an incurable disease? Massive change will never be gladly embraced or go easily. Alternatives are not without downsides. Wind farms face nimbyism supported by junk science, like ornithologists who complain that birds might be harmed, though birds are often smarter than humans. Likewise, tidal turbines might kill fish, though experiments could establish risks. Might makes right in more ways than one. Harms of coal and oil are already documented and understood by most, yet you let them go unchallenged. Atmospheric carbon causes extreme weather and will push everyone who benefits from shipping or resides near shoreline over the edge. Nature will always be the ultimate brinksman. Humans acting just as savagely only hurt themselves by alienating potential allies.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Novel Novocaine

Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Bay are developing a movie about Rwanda’s Cycling Team, on whom Labann reported in 2013. Sure, must be time for a big budget blockbuster on competitive cycling, considering how much it’s been in the news, often for the wrong reasons. International pelaton lives in a narcissist bubble; even traffic is shut down so they can serve selves. Not to forget deprived youth who collectively do far more pedaling, Dope (2015, Rick Famuyiwa, dir.) is a post hip-hop comedy arriving at theaters this Summer (limited release on Juneteenth) in which black teens on BMX bikes roaming Inglewood, CA come of age; garnered acclaim at Cannes and Sundance. Last year’s allegorical fantasy The Giver (Philip Noyce, dir.) is set in a future supposedly without emotion or pain, though everyone is given a bicycle, chief form of transportation, on their 9th birthday and relegated to a slave role on their 18th. Retirement is no issue; once you’re used up you’re tidily sent elsewhere, as are infants who don’t measure up. You’d have to take drugs daily to be so compliant to rules and impervious to bicycling’s many discomforts. One pill a day will make you small.

In all cases based on what’s actually happening in today's society, actors with imaginary names will stand in for actual persons, who are always the real stories. Novels and screenplays magically indemnify authors and producers against liability when narratives make some antagonists upon whom they are based look bad. On occasions, authorities have been known to locate sources and prosecute if a movie raises public’s hackles. Directors and novelists receive awards and rewards for doing so. Documentarians and journalists generally get suits filed against them by lawyers in suits, because it’s all about disseminating spin, maintaining appearances, and never portraying truth. Ask filmmaker Michael Moore, called a creep for making almost undeniable observations. That’s how illogic can win, by renouncing the messenger when you can’t refute the message.

Novels aren’t always new. Neither are movies. Many are written to formulas: Hacks plug in different names and places and, voilĂ , escapism. Some psychologists criticize them for their linear rigidity and rhetorical manipulation of readers. Yet some argue that fiction describes reality better than nonfiction, because too few who diarize, journalize, or pen memoirs stick to unvarnished facts, rather color observations with bias or hyperbole, as do fisherman who exaggerate size of catches, and politicians who manufacture legacies for themselves. It’s clear that all writing ultimately derives from actual experiences embellished less or more by imagination. Nevertheless, spend 75% of time concentrating on nonfiction books per se, maybe in the hope of discovering something both factual and useful. Not one convinces anyone of its reality, but each may raise questions worth asking.

Books represent arbitrary conventions, blogs, one-sided opinions. Nothing really occurs in life as described, because words don’t exactly equal lives, which tend to drag along boringly until punctuated by crises. Only events get described to telescope narrative time or readers skip ahead. Absorb stories even faster from films; saw tens of thousands over 5 decades. Logic remains the biggest victim of tall tales. Society always urged reading and writing for money, so obliged. Researching and writing over 500 books instilled a deep dissatisfaction with almost everything except honest essentials. Sorry if that makes Labann hard to get along with, but you can always escape into psychotropic bliss should entertainment not fill your craving abyss.