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Dying Empire Bebop: The Sedition Of Ecstatic Novelty

By       Message Phil Rockstroh       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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With the season being fall -- perhaps I should let some illusions fall away like dead leaves.

Outside my apartment window, across a wind-blown courtyard, the crimson leaves of a white oak are falling into a swirling breeze, revealing the gnarled limbs and stark branches of the time-battered tree beneath. Nature is enacting fall's blazing spectacle"the landscape is dying in Technicolor, like our flaming-out empire.

At dusk, the mid-December sky is a cool flame of vivid contrasting colors; as the horizon rises up to occlude the dimming sun...we drift in crisp fall air"we turn away from summer"and its lies of boundless bounty, with its delusions of the exceptionalism of empires.

Winter requires clarity. The delusions of fools need abundance to germinate. Winter's scarcity can clarify the mind.

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Wallace Stevens reminds us:

"For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."
(Excerpt from "The Snow Man.")

Rising like the north wind -- an accusatory voice: We live in an empire bent on murder/suicide. Our nation has become a global-wide spree killer, unrepentant, apparently devoid of a conscience. Where next will the killer turn his remorseless gaze?

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What to do?

I shuffle across the room and switch on of the CD player. The machine whirls to life, shuffles the discs, and begins playing a random mix of mid 20th century jazz -- bebop and Free Jazz.

Listening to bebop seems right for this mood: Jazz can transmute anxiety and sorrow into a fear-defying intensity; it can alchemize within state of being that lives within and beyond sorrow simultaneously.

"Crazyology" by Thelonius Monk, the genius jester-king of surprise syncopation, strides from the speakers. Monk's music -- composed while the irradiated ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still swirled in the psychotic air of the early cold war years -- will tease and tickle the clinched, anxious moment, bombarding it with abrupt changes in tempo, spacing, and breaks -- as it perpetrates upon the melody, tone, and scale of a song an analogue of what the knowledge of The Bomb did to mechanized minds of the early Atomic Age, abruptly thrusting them into an unexpected world, thereby decimating their sacred verities -- until, for those who allow themselves to be receptive to the outlandish grace of Monk's music, the haunted mind will be released from its reflexive self-reference to an ossified past and float free as blue smoke into the freedom of midnight air.

Next track: Mingus steps up with "Fables of Faubus" and he will not let us off so easy. With his propulsive tempos, he demands that we cease to lie to ourselves, as he pushes us towards the undying soul of the rising moment -- then, by enveloping us with pulsing textures and explosive layering, he reveals to us what numbed-out banalities we become when our lives are based upon comfortable lies. The vitality of his genius shows us what our life could be -- if we weren't such complacent cowards, of how we could throb to life -- if we were to admit our complicity in the quotidian crime of accepting the world the way it is. There, Mingus admonishes us, in that dingy, hidden, hollow place where we habitually hide ourselves breeds the obscenity of racism, greed, and war.

Next: The music switches tracks to Charlie Parker blowing "Back Home." For an instant, time and sorrow dissipate, as I become lost in a quixotic reverie, attempting to find a way to play behind the downbeat of this anguished age.

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Then Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" soars into the room in a flight of swooping asymmetry and the disconcerting humor of his atonal chordal harmonies mocks my pale presumptions -- and just about everybody else's for that matter.

Providentially, Coltrane's "Pursuance" movement from "A Love Supreme" rises into the room like a Rilkean angel. But this does not provide me any kitschy deus ex machina moment: For Trane's angels, like Rilke's, are not of the sexless, Victorian variety, with downy wings, clad in pure white, celestial linen -- but instead, they are ego-shredding messengers who do not flinch from the sorrows of the world; while they are merciful -- they are neither mawkish nor sentimental -- for they herald the exquisite news that Divinity resides in the world of the senses.

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Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at Facebook:

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