Saturday, April 6, 2013

Culture Drunk

I could blame it all on Wisia. There was a small gathering on my birthday awhile ago, and I insisted on no gifts. But Wisia brought one, anyway. I chastised her later, for not honoring my wishes, which she acknowledged. But she finished by reminding me that for her own birthday gathering, which is tomorrow, her wish is for “cards, gifts, flowers and champagne”. Serves me right, I guess. And so ironically, the one person who disregarded my own resistance to gifting, compelled me to go gift-hunting.

So, this culture binge I got started on is all Wisia’s fault. It’s her that got me shopping at BMV, a favorite bookstore that carries new, used and remainder volumes, and always stocks lots of wonderful art books. I began browsing for a gift and found an amazing volume, In Plain View, documenting the varied career of Dan Witz, a phenomenal artist who specializes in a kind of surrealist, illusionary street art, but who also excels in various forms of painting, sculpting and montage. It didn’t strike me as just the thing for Wisia, but I got a copy for Ponczka.

A couple of hours later, I drifted into Cosmos Records, just off Queen West, intending to pass a little time while waiting for a client to show up. Half an hour later, I emerged from there with five albums:

You’re Under Arrest, a missing album in my Miles Davis collection. I’d avoided it upon its original issue in ’85, turned off by the fashion model, bad boy pretensions of the cover art: Miles, all in black, sporting a fedora and carrying what looks like a toy machine gun. It’s the album that drew attention because it features covers of tunes by Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper, something frowned upon by the snoberatti of the day. I was intrigued by the comments Miles made of it in his autobiography, and wanted to finally give it a serious listen – something that all of Davis’s many recordings deserve.

Horace Silver’s Silver ‘n Brass was next. I already have his Silver ‘n Voices, and Silver ‘n Percussion, and neither disappoints, though they don’t equal his masterful, small combo recordings of earlier years. Silver seems to bring his melodic touch to everything, and after listening to a few choruses on the record shop’s system, it was a keeper.

By now I was getting that old, good feeling, open to sampling all the little known and unknown offerings in the shop, and I was in danger of emptying my wallet.

I came across Dreams Come True, by bassist Buster Williams. I don’t recall ever seeing this before, but I’ve loved Buster’s work as a sideman, particularly backing Norman Connors on some brilliant recordings, most notably, his Love from the Sun, which I’ve featured a few times on Jazz Gumbo. Stellar sidemen often make disastrous turns as leads, but I like to try them out. So why not see what Buster put out, with a pretty good supporting cast?

Then I came across a Jimmy Smith classic, Got My Mojo Workin’, and didn’t even hesitate. By this point, I was trying to will myself out of the shop, but I was on automatic by then. But what a great buy! Classic Jimmy Smith is the essence of funky, jazz groove. It evokes memories of when I was a kid, of goateed men on street corners, talking trash and sipping from cans of beer in paper bags.

The final lp was a step out of the jazz idiom. Buddy Miles, Them Changes. A great many of my 1,500 or so albums are singletons – by artists from whom I’ve never purchased a second album. If I really liked the first album, this represents a failing: What did they do next? What did they do before? But it often comes down to the depth of the pocket at any particular time, and making choices. Anyway, I love the first and only other Buddy Miles album in my possession, A Message to the People. And I know and like the title tune of this one. And what a great cover photo, of shaggy-headed Buddy, sitting casually at his multi-colorful drug kit: check me out, ya’ll!

Hours of music ahead. But still no gift for the birthday gal. So I was back to BMV again the next day, this time with a specific book in mind. Throughout my life, my most common gifts to others have been copies of the books and albums that I love, and I decided to go with a much loved old stand-by, as suitable for anyone on any occasion as sunlight or fresh air.

I found a near mint, used copy of Gibran’s The Prophet, for only $6.99, wouldyabelieve. It’s a ’77 reprint (the 98th, according to the copyright page), identical in format, though smaller, to the edition I received decades ago. I was passing through Detroit in my early twenties, headed west toward some dream, but equally fleeing my eastern discontents. And my uncle Earl took his copy from a shelf in his office, and on the title page he inscribed “for the angry times”. It has served as a balm ever since.

It’s possibly the wisest book I know. So many phrases that pierce to the core:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”

“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

“The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.”

So, I had my gift for Wisia. But I didn’t make it out of BMV before stumbling across another jewel of a book: Street Knowledge by King Adz. It’s a cornucopia of street culture, overflowing with color, style and all manner of interesting facts and suggestions related to the outer and inner edges of art.

And I still wasn’t out of the store. I’ve been listening to an audiotape of Eckart Tolle’s The Power of Now, a brilliant work about the path to enlightenment. In one section, Tolle remarks on how monks will sometimes sneak up on an acolyte and smack him with a staff, as a lesson on remaining ever alert and attentive. It brought to mind a favorite scene from a favorite film, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. In it, the head samurai is seeking others to join his mission, and he tests them by inviting them through a doorway, behind which an accomplish stands, waiting to club the unsuspecting visitor. The results are varied and amusing, and I won’t give anything away. See the film! One of the greatest of all time, at once beautiful, philosophical, dynamic and poetic. Needless to say, I noticed the dvd bin in BMV, and didn’t they just happen to have a copy.

Books! Albums! Now a Film!
I’m completely filled up. I’m drunk now from this binge of cultural consumption. But feeling no pain. Stimulated, titillated, ideas charged, my own imagination unleashed by it all; feeling nourished by the flood of positive stimulus, engaged and enlivened by the confluence, cross-pollination, the re-mixing of all this inspired output of human minds and souls.

But enough! Must stop! Go home!
So I’m in the car, escaping downtown. And I pass by Roy Thompson Hall, and I see the streams of folk entering the venue. What’s up, I wonder. Who’s performing? My darting eyes find the marquee, listing the acts set to appear over coming weeks. I scan through it backward, making my way toward tonight’s event.... Esperanza Spalding! OMG! She’s amazing! Why didn’t I know?

But no...I don’t park and rush to buy a ticket. And I don’t even feel bad about it. I actually caught her act just last summer. Wonderful. Her lush, fluid, fusionistic style. The soprano voice, the lithe frame cradling the deeply vibrating, upright bass. A beautiful interplay of rhythm and melody and lyric and generous intent, the partnership with an audience that all art is, the revelation of the beating heart, the collective WE, bound together in creative inspiration, fused at the root, reaching toward some invisible summit, entwined, even when we don’t know it, in this shared, magical, human spirit.

Which is love, culture...drunk.          


  1. Sooooooooo, through Wisia you received a Birthday present after all...the gift of self-discovery...

    1. How about that, Ann!?
      And I LIKED it TOO!!!