photo manipulation by nacrowe
seductively filmed by noted fashion photographer BRUCE WEBER in stark black and white, LET'S GET LOST (ZEITGEIST FILMS, 1988) lulls the viewer into an ephemeral world of romance and sophistication much like the music of its subject, WEST COAST JAZZ musician CHET BAKER. both the cinematography and the music make it easy to interpret the magnetic power of such musician, who seemed tailored-made for his era, having JAMES DEAN looks and a smooth, effortless prowess on his instrument that has made him an icon of 1950s AMERICA ever since.
but it is a lie. BAKER is a conman.
the beauty of this film is that much like his three wives and countless girlfriends before, we the audience are being wooed. you would think the man would have regrets about wandering astray from his responsibilities as a father, husband and son, but he seems entirely focused on his pursuits, even in his 60s when this film was made. what is presented is a man for whom everything came easy. a natural musician with a smooth croon of a voice, he didnt labor hard at his craft or all that came with it. women gravitated to BAKER, but he was only faithful to his own whims which eventually included narcotics.
we are presented with an unreliable narrator and those that he took advantage of. most tragic is the admission by his own mother that he was a bad son and that he disappointed her. in interviews his own children speak of him with a sense of frustrated mockery, which you assume has been years in the making. its almost DORIAN GRAY-like how this talented, handsome man with the smooth, intoxicating touch on the trumpet left such a wake of carnage in his personal life. this documentary is his final attempt at convincing us otherwise.
it seems the highly stylized cinematography succeeds in demonstrating this gulf between the facade and the reality which is uncomfortable and seemingly tragic.
its a life wasted.
LET'S GET LOST is a unique, smart documentary on a flawed icon. definitely recommend seeking out and watching this challenging gem of a documentary if you can locate a copy.
note: FLEA has a forgettable role asking questions about MILES DAVIS to BAKER when he is holding court with random photogenic young people. didn't get why that made the cut, but there you have it. maybe its because FLEA plays trumpet.
photo by nacrowe
SATCHMO: MY LIFE IN NEW ORLEANS (DA CAPO, 1954) as its title succinctly states, is a memoir by JAZZ great and AMERICAN cultural icon of the first order LOUIS ARMSTRONG concerning his humble beginnings in NEW ORLEANS at the turn of the century up to his departure for CHICAGO to join fellow NEW ORLEANIAN musician KING OLIVER and his CREOLE BAND.
to call his early life humble is really putting it mildly, since you get the sense fairly quickly how destitute and poverty-stricken his area of NEW ORLEANS was at that time. surviving most have been absolutely brutal. ARMSTRONG throughout the book offers only a few details here and there concerning the lengths at which him and his mother MAYANN and half-sister MAMA LUCY resorted to for food and shelter, his bigger concern was shedding light on the strength and support of the overall black community at the time. in fact, this memoir is really a love letter to those people and that period of time before he became famous.
that community extends mainly to the small arts community at the time which played in JUKE JOINTS and brothels in NEW ORLEANS. as a young teenager ARMSTRONG would play at brothels in the famed section of STORYVILLE (before it was shut down by the UNITED STATES NAVY and local law enforcement) both for the clientele in lounges as well as in more intimate settings, providing a kind of soundtrack to the night's illicit proceedings. what is interesting is the absolute lack of philosophizing or judgement placed on the participants. these are all people attempting to survive doing what they have to do, and for that they are worthy of his respect, even in retrospect.
ARMSTRONG also elucidates on the extreme violence that was a part of life during that period. in a sense, most of it had a sense of honor about it. participants in such pugilism only engaged in dirty tactics when provoked by others to do so. again, the motivation for such scrapes were due to arguments concerning money or women, often in gambling houses or brothels. ARMSTRONG tells about women arguing over men resulting in death and physical disfigurement as teh result of ugly brutal fights utilizing razors.
again and again, ARMSTRONG does not denounce these people and their actions, instead thankful that his focus was solely on music and providing for his mother and sister. he had priorities regarding the survival of his family which were not shared by others that squandered their earnings or made poor choices.
a great, quick read which really gets at the heart of a community that shaped the new AMERICAN century. NEW ORLEANS was and is a jewel of AMERICAN CULTURE and i am glad this book exists. well worth checking out.
if you are in NYC definitely check out LOUIS ARMSTRONG's house in CORONA, QUEENS. it is one of the most emotionally moving places i have ever been as it provided ARMSTRONG his first and longest-lasting home. on the road most of his life, his last wife as part of agreeing to marry him made him promise to settle down in a new home. the modest house in QUEENS is fairly mundane with no real frills of a man of his enormous stature. he was just part of a community that really took him in as one of his own. its the perfect coda to this memoir which depicts his love and adoration for his youth in NEW ORLEANS. his grave in nearby FLUSHING is similarly unadorned and absolutely befitting a true man of the people. i'm pretty jaded and i get teary-eyed thinking about his love and embrace of NYC and how the city loved him right back.
parodies by nacrowe
tonight's new episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM EST on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is focused on the celebrated BEBOP movement in JAZZ of the 1940s and 1950s. both highly experimental and groundbreaking, this era and style of improvisation is still looked at as a high water mark in AMERICAN CULTURE writ large. surprised it took me this long to finally get to it! thats on me.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo by nacrowe
ACID FOR THE CHILDREN (GRAND CENTRAL, 2019) by legendary RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS bassist FLEA is a poetic, thoughtful memoir that looks back on an unconventional childhood and attempts to make sense of how such influenced his life path. structurally this book is connected by a series of brief vignettes which adroitly mimic the fractured manner in which we carry our memories and define our self perception. i think for an artist that is celebrated for both his musicianship and his sensitivity, this was a good choice in that it allowed him to express his life in brief impressionistic chunks that don't necessarily need to relate to one another, but in totality relate a unique perspective on the author.
one prominent theme is the idea of parenthood. his conception, particularly of fatherhood, is complicated in that his mother leaving a conservative but principled husband for a bohemian failed jazz musician presented to contradictory models for manhood, both of which informed his self-perception.
this push and pull of discipline versus expression is seemingly everywhere in this book. jazz versus punk rock. his sensitive nature versus acting out without consideration for others. in a previous review (linked HERE) of bandmate ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION, 2004) i railed against him being an arrogant egoist who essentially mooched off his supremely gifted rhythmic section. at the close of this book, FLEA puts his dear friend in proper perspective, explaining that his non-musicianship provided the proper context to showcase the lightning in a bottle nature of their creative spark. it were these very qualities that i seemingly misread that unlocked their potential in that it forced them to come up with their music from a new angle, a different perspective. and i respect that.
reading this memoir, which again only dealt with his childhood up to the first RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS gig, made me consider my own similar upbringing as a THIRD CULTURE KID. though the term is never uttered in this book, to me the whole thing screams it. his constant search for a surrogate family is a common experience for those who move all the time, as FLEA surely did in transferring from AUSTRALIA to upstate NEW YORK to LOS ANGELES. his need for connection through the arts, first as a listener and furious reader and then as a musician and thespian, in a sense shows the fruits of his pursuit to find an extended safe zone. THIRD CULTURE KIDS are famous for being able to make connections and despite his insecure trepidations initially in each new locale, he found connections through basketball, music, mischief and (unfortunately) drugs.
ultimately this memoir is artfully written in a way i had hoped for as a fan of his music. my hope is that he follows this up with another one that takes us through his experiences with the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion.
one can hope.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
when i was in graduate school at TEACHERS COLLEGE we were asked to come up with a metaphor for how we ran our classroom. my response: my classroom was like an ORNETTE COLEMAN record in that from the outside it sounded unstructured and chaotic, but underneath it all there was an effective classroom with purpose and communication.
COLEMAN was the foremost purveyor of what became known as FREE JAZZ. much like in FREE VERSE poetry (WALT WHITMAN, T.S. ELIOT, WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS) words are left untethered by expectations regarding rhyme, meter and structure, FREE JAZZ was unshackled by notions of key, mode, pace, rhythmic structure, etc.. in essence participants were forced to listen to each other which with intent since there was no road map or safety net to rely upon. in my opinion this is the very defining characteristic that makes jazz JAZZ: improvisation.
its basically chaos theory in practice: out of chaos comes order.
that was one of my organizing principles regarding lesson plans in my english classes. make things messy. i always felt that learning should be about discovery. give them the tools and let them learn to apply. supplemental instruction only after being forced to work with peers through a problem first. in my opinion this reflects REAL LIFE.
unfortunately at the moment in american education it is more about memorization or far worse, the attempted deduction of the most appropriate answer based on reverse-engineering the intent of a test writer. everyone i know that still teaches does test prep consistently in class a matter of not committing career suicide. we are developing a generation of test takers and not practical problem solvers. breaks my heart but i loss that war.
but i still look to COLEMAN as a beacon of that beautiful chaotic noise of discovery.