but I guess right now it's about jazz and clothes. Just before I left for NYC last week I found an essay I wrote a while ago and finally got around to editing it. And so, here it is.
(The picture is Prince Lasha and William Parker at the Vision Festival 6/23/07).
I'm Tempted To Call It Pure.
Small Town Girl Meets Free Jazz
by Helen Carter
Maybe I'm an impostor. Maybe the guy crinkling loud paper in one hand while thumping his vibraphone with the other is the impostor. Maybe I'm the only one who knows this - maybe he is. I love how I can't tell if what they're playing is crap or magic. Sometimes I want to stand and yell BULLSHIT and sometimes I'm moved to tears, often during the same performance. I'm tempted to call it pure. It's direct, raw, undigested, chewed and spat out on the cheap carpet in front of our creaking chairs. It's a spastic sand mandala being simultaneously poured back into the earth while it's painstakingly constructed, grain by grain before us.
If you need a melody to hold onto you might fall over. You might have a seizure. You might furrow your brow and leave, angry and confused. Yes, I've seen straight-up wall-of-blasting horns covers of Coltrane songs but that's about as straight as it gets. More often I've seen someone hissing and spitting into a saxophone mouthpiece without ever hitting a "note". I've seen a grown man blow into the hole of a cymbal that rests on top of his snare drum. I've seen a guy who plays an upright bass with a didgeridoo wedged into its strings, while slurping into a tuba and stomping on a bass drum. And it wasn't clever or gimmicky, although I don't know why you would believe me without seeing it yourself. I've seen a man stand, eyes closed, horn at his side, body slack but receptive, willing to stay still before us in a long silence until he was connected - to us, to the rug, to the bugs and cars outside - and knew just where to begin.
The jazz I see live is some kind of fluke occurrence, an unlikely blip on my city's drab fading radar screen. The shows feel dangerous and exhilarating, even more-so because the venue couldn't be more nerdy and safe: a well-lit community center - smoke-free, with handicap-accessible bathrooms. No drugs, no smoke or cocktails, and they give away free coffee and cookies.
I feel I'm being allowed a glimpse into a world I can't begin to know the shape or depth of, like when I first took the bus into the big city as a young teenager. I saw a movie about Rastafarians. I ate Middle Eastern food. And when that weird sauce that tasted like pickle juice hit my tongue I knew there was much more to the world than I had imagined. I made note, silently disengaging my internal clutch and shifting up to a new gear. I expected the world to be bigger from then on.
Now I live in the "big city" around which my childhood village orbits. And every day the palpable course of its slow post-industrial rustbelt slide into decay are part of my life. I drive through pot holes, past boarded houses and closed businesses. I cringe at the Music Man-caliber plans to attract tourist dollars instead of making it a workable place for those of us who have chosen this as home.
So I spend an evening with these musicians who have gotten off the thruway on their way to or from New York, Boston, Chicago to play for us for what probably amounts to a portion of their tolls. Some seem to be wearing the same dashikis they owned in the sixties, with large shell necklaces, dusty worn loafers and gray sideburns. Some are young pink upstarts, lean and shiny learned apprentices. I imagine they are all prodigal sons, formerly obedient band students who forsook their years of formal training, wasted their parents hard-earned money spent on lessons - all tossed away to pursue this niche within a niche within a niche - gone off the deep end of music where the world unfolds as they create it.
I feel they are my kindred spirits, although I am too shy to speak to them. I wonder how each of them found their way here. And I wonder how I did, though I'm just an observer, a freak watching a freak show, who has learned that the world can grow larger and larger while you sit on a cold folding chair, weeping before beauty.