Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hey, I'm not trying to be nobody

Devin Hurd put up a post a week ago saying some nice things about a post of mine on John Cage, but that’s not why I’m linking to it; he movingly describes Cage’s appeal as a musician, thinker, and person. And Devin gets to the heart of the matter when he raises the question of “how to proceed post-Cage and post manifesto.”

I often return to a quote that I first read as a teenager, from the great jazz critic Martin Williams, from his book “The Jazz Tradition,” of 1970.

The high degree of individuality, together with the mutual respect and co-operation required in a jazz ensemble, carry with them philosophical implications that are so exciting and far-reaching that one almost hesitates to contemplate them. It is as if jazz were saying to us that not only is far greater individuality possible to man than he has so far allowed himself, but that such individuality, far from being a threat to a co-operative social structure, can actually enhance society.

Not very prescriptive, which is fine. But as relevant to my musical, my social, my public and private life as ever. Create a space where each of us can be ourselves. “Hey I’m not trying to be nobody / I just want a chance to be myself,” sang the homeless singer of “Streets of Bakersfield” (written by Homer Joy, 1972). That entails, first, being oneself, and second, being attentive to the needs of one’s fellows so that they can find as much joy and happiness in their being-themselves as possible.

I recently came across another golden-oldie quote that gets at all this vagueness. From the poet-translator-editor Clayton Eshleman, his call for “a poetry that attempts to become responsible for all the poet knows about himself and his world.” My ambition as a musician and a writer -- but not just the data of knowledge, but one's feeling-relationship to one's life and self and world.
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