Sunday, October 26, 2014
There was my name coming out of the speakers all over the store again. Everyone in the store could hear it. It wasn't about how I'm a great looking person that you needed to know about. The voice would reveal the latest task that I needed to perform. Aisles one through twelve, the backroom, and the parking lot were all informed in case I couldn't grasp the reality at hand. The in-store shopping music was always interrupted. My mission instructions were more vital to store operations.
"Matt! The recycling machines are full again. Change the bags."
"Matt! Time for a cart roundup!"
"Matt! Restock milk Matt."
"Matt! Make a bale in the back!"
Of course, the one that everyone has heard at some point in their life.
"Clean-up in aisle seven Matt!"
What was it this time? The worst was those big glass sixty-four ounce mayonnaise jars. Sweeping up slimy glass is such a drag. The voice coming from behind the speakers was low and gravelly. This person always sounded tired with a slight urgency. The vibe was always let's get this done so we can get the hell out here. When you saw the man behind the voice you might have thought you were on google images and looked up supermarket manager, but without the fake and forced smile. Wide, round, and bald head with the famous ring of hair around the sides and back. There was almost always beads of sweat glistening on the top of his head. Thick coke-bottle eye-glasses. The ever-present red A&P vest with his manager name tag on it. Short sleeve white shirt with extremely hairy forearms. Massive belly that he couldn't and had no interest in hiding. Walking with a slight waddle and always a little out of breath. Weighing in at about four-hundred pounds, this was my boss, Mr. Joe Sarubo.
Joe was a nice guy most of the time. He had a wife and two kids in Haverstraw. They all had weight problems. I used to cringe when they all got into a car that would then sink to about one inch above the ground. Besides food, Joe was also into smoking and drinking hard liquor. Many times I would see him at the bar just up the way from the store. Joe was the assistant manager of the store and was always at the heel of Vinny, the store manager. Vinny was always an asshole and talked down to women somewhat. Vinny sat up high in the office on his throne while the rest of us did the work. I remember him floating me fifty dollars once and holding it over my head like he owned a piece of me forever since he had floated me a loan. I was a seventeen-year-old kid who was working after school to try and raise money to go to school. It was a classic American scenario. Back then I didn't know well enough not to push Joe's buttons. We developed a unique relationship. It was somewhat adversarial, somewhat like we were partners. I was always on time and worked hard. Seeing he had a tool to work with, Joe pushed my nose right down to the grindstone. Eventually, he trusted me with larger responsibilities, which didn't always work out.
In the front of the store Joe always built elaborate displays of something we had way too much of that was on sale. His displays were often massive and built very high, too high for many customers to reach. There would be displays built of cereal or paper towels for example. No big deal if something fell down. Joe got over ambitious one time and instructed me to build a huge display of sixty-four ounce glass Apple Juices that we of course, had too much of.
"Joe, I don't know about stacking up all this glass. Will it hold?"
Joe was already out of patience due to the fact that I was talking. I witnessed an extra bead of sweat form on his shiny head, glaring in the store lights. His glasses seemed to fog up.
"Are you questioning me? Get your ass to work and stop all this whining."
We had these little metal platform stands for the foundation. Joe had instructed me to find strong cardboard boxes and cut out "floors" that matched the size of the platform. Four apple juices could fit on one platform. If we placed a strong cardboard "floor" on top of the four apple juices, then we could stack another four on top. Then we could stack another four, and another. Joe said that customers would eventually have to ask us to take one of the apple juices from the display for them as the display could become fragile. To my surprise I was able to build this giant and delicate glass apple juice display. It looked dangerous, but this is what Joe wanted, and it looked like I had pulled it off.
That night I was sloshing up and down the aisles with a massive floor machine. The floor machine was a kind of water tractor that you pushed around. It had two pads that would spin on the floor obliterating all the dirt from the constant foot traffic all day. I was turning around the corner by the apple juice display when a female cashier waved at me and smiled. Unable to smile back, wave, and maintain control of the floor machine, I clipped the base of one of those platforms holding up the apple juice display.
At this point, the world seemed to move in slow motion. Right after I tapped the display I heard Joe shout out from somewhere, "Matt! Be careful!" It was far too late.
I watched in horror as my apple juice monument started to buckle. One apple juice from the bottom where I had hit the platform fell out and busted on the floor. Just one smashed apple juice was going to be a mess. This one apple juice was vital to the structural integrity of the entire display. All I could do was watch as the entire display slid and collapsed to the right. I found myself paralyzed and rooted to the floor as the apple juices smashed in rapid succession. Pop! Pop! Pop! A river of apple juice and glass flowed all around me. It spread out in all directions about three inches high and seemed to flow on forever. Customers stood at the banks in awe. Once all the shattering had finally subsided, and all that sticky juice had reached its final destination, there was Joe looking at me. He reminded me of a wine bottle trying to pop his own cork but couldn't. I thought he might be a bomb trying to explode himself. Luckily for me, all he did was hand me a snow shovel. No words were necessary. I'll never forget shoveling the sparkling river of apple juice shards into giant garbage cans lined with three bags each.
Joe and I closed the store on Sundays. We would lock the doors and spend a couple of hours getting everything finished. One summer day we were working during a heatwave. Hundred-degree days kept coming one after the other, building up a general feeling of oppression. To make matters worse, we had a power outage right after closing time. All the frozen food was now in danger. All the milk was getting warm. Joe called the electric company and learned that power would not be restored within twenty-four hours. With all of his frozen food, meat, fish, and dairy in grave danger, Joe decided there was only one course of action we could take. He got on the intercom once again:
"Matt! Meet me in the backroom by the ice cream freezer!"
When I arrived at the freezer in the back, I found Joe already there with a makeshift table he made from a delivery cart and two makeshift chairs made up of empty milk crates. He had a box of spoons as well. He explained the dire nature of our situation: All of our ice-cream would be lost. There's nothing anybody could do to prevent the carnage. Our course was clear. Joe issued the command.
His expression was extremely serious though there may have been a twinkle in his eye.
We got to work, and found the ice cream had already achieved a pre-shake like consistency. At first I looked around for my favorite flavors and then realized Joe was planning on going far beyond a simple snack. I grabbed up a half gallon of my old stand-by, Breyers Heavenly Hash and dived in. Next up for devouring was mint-chocolate chip, my brothers favorite. Finally, I settled on the old classic Neapolitan as I blended vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry all into a swirly masterpiece. Exhausted, I had to tap out, not wanting my legacy to be that I died by ice-cream. Joe proceeded undaunted and suggested that my credentials as a man were now in question. Eventually, he told me to go home, and I left him there eating by himself. We never spoke of the ice-cream incident after this.
Next was the time I pushed Joe too far and caused him to lose his temper. It was again on a Sunday after we closed. I had recently watched the film starring the late great Robin Williams, whom I would meet in person years later. In the film, Robin plays a radio DJ in Vietnam. He starts off his radio show with a long drawn out announcement: "Gooood Morning Vietnam!!!!"
I was flying so high on this moment from the film, that I decided to retaliate against Joe's intercom orders by taking the intercom and delivering Robin's message to him throughout the entire store.
"Gooood Morning Joe Sarubo!!!!"
It wasn't morning at all of course, but I delight in making myself laugh from doing things like this. I chose the wrong time however. Joe was not amused. At first there was just silence, until Joe picked up the intercom and said "Get back to work or you're fucking dead!" I was surprised he was so angry, which killed my buzz. He found me in the milk aisle, and was coming at me to deliver a lecture of some kind, when I knocked over a stack of empty milk crates in his path and then went to hide in the back room while he cooled off. He cooled off eventually, like he always did. Before I left I found him in the deli with a full tray of buffalo wings and a bib on. When I looked at him funny, he cursed me out and sent me home.
In time, I would leave the job to attend college. After my college plans had collapsed like my apple juice display, I ended up working the new night-shift at the store when Joe wasn't there. I wish he was as I discovered a twisted work environment that included guys doing cocaine, and worse, giving away food to dealers in exchange for crack. The same intercom that Joe used would haunt me further as I received orders from a different boss for a far more sinister task.
"Matt! Bring a box of straws to the bakery.”
It got so bad I was walking around with a hammer to protect myself. None of this would be going down with Joe around. What eventually happened is a story for another day. My last memory of Joe was I was sitting in the bathroom stall and seeing that somebody drew a picture of a snowman with a caption that said "Big Joe playing in the snow."
Twenty-four years later I googled Joe and couldn't find anything. I don't even know if he's still alive. The way he took care of himself I always thought he was playing with fire in regards to his health. I hope he and his family are well. I'll never forget him. If I ran into him again after all these years, I'm sure we would share a smile. We worked together in the trenches and survived to tell the tale. We did what we had to do. I'll take these memories with me as excellent examples of the ongoing saga of the human experience down at the bottom level, where we live check to check. Wherever you are big Joe, I raise as glass of scotch to you, your favorite.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
There once was a great music. It was born in America and branded with the name Jazz. The music was later re-named madam Zzaj, by one of her lovers, the Duke. She grudgingly accepted the moniker of Jazz over the years. It was how she was bought and sold after all. Jazz had several intimate relationships over the years. Each one of these caused her to experience tremendous spiritual and emotional transformation. There was the great Armstrong, who raised her from the brothels. There was the Bird, who taught her how to fly. There was the Prince of Darkness, who seduced her. There was the great Train whose tracks led Jazz to Interstellar Space. After growing and growing and growing some more, Jazz found herself in a real rut. People far younger than her, who knew none of her lovers, were telling her and everybody else who she was. At the same time, people all over the world kept pushing and prodding at her extremes just to prove what she was not. All the conflict caused Jazz to enter a period of deep stagnation. She felt like a polluted and cloudy pond. When she looked in the mirror, she no longer recognized her face. It became so bad that one day Jazz passed out into a deep coma. So deep was her sleep that even Buddy Bolden himself could not wake her, blowing the loudest cornet of all time from New Orleans.
Finally, Jazz was able to open her eyes, but she was no longer down on Earth in New York City where she last remembered being. Jazz found herself in a room with a man wearing a heavy dark cloak who was holding a staff that resembled a cane from the Cotton Club perhaps. Sitting down with the cloaked man were all of Jazz’s past lovers. Armstrong, the Bird, the Prince, and the Train. Everyone looked sad. The cloaked man introduced himself as the one and only angel of death.
“Jazz my dear. You have lost your way. You don’t remember who and what you are. It’s time for you to find out. We are here to help you remember what made you what you are. We need you to return to Earth and answer three imperative questions. If you can answer these questions correctly you’ll be allowed to live and be reborn. If you answer wrong, then, unfortunately, your time on Earth will have come to an end.”
Next it was the Armstrong who spoke with the first question. Always known for his big smile, it was shocking to see him so filled with misery. He was greatly concerned for Jazz. In his gravelly voice, he asked:
“Lady Jazz, what are the Blues?”
Next the Prince of Darkness spoke. Sinister and menacing was his vibe. Lady Jazz felt a powerful intimacy with the prince. It was if he could see right through her. He spoke in a raspy tone:
“Who’s owns music? Who’s owns you Jazz?”
Next it was the Train who spoke. The Train had traveled great distances and seen many things. The Train was very tenacious and never missed a stop and was never late. He was known to be able to travel at great speeds and carry an enormous amount of cargo and passengers. He spoke softly and sounded like a preacher from the southern United States.
“Hello Jazz. My question for you is this: What is the tonic in the key of F?”
Death explained to Jazz that it was time for her to return to Earth. She would return in one day with her answers for better or worse. Before she could leave, the Bird came over and gave her a huge hug. He whispered to Jazz in her ear, almost as if to not let the others hear him.
“To find the answers to these three questions my love, you must seek out counsel from two people back on Earth. Seek counsel with the proclaimed King of Jazz, residing at Lincoln Towers. After your time with the king seek out a the Coalman. He lives in a place called Chelsea. I’ll give you a map. Based on their responses, come back to us and reveal the truth about yourself once and for all. Don’t be afraid. We know you're going to do the right thing.”
With that Jazz found herself at the gates of Lincoln towers. The doorman said that the King was indeed home. When Jazz was announced as a guest, she was escorted right to the penthouse. She was treated with supreme respect. The King welcomed her with open arms. He was alone.
“Ah, lady Jazz. I’m so glad you have come. I’m well aware of your reason for coming here to see me. You’ve come to the right place. It is I who have saved you and preserved you. It is I who am your translator to the world. I have made the decision of who you are myself. You must trust me. I will now answer your questions three.”
“The blues are where you come from. It is a feeling you should have. Blues are played in groups of twelve measures at a time. You follow a one four five chord progression. When you are played, notes can be bent to show that you sound like you have a feeling. You have to play the right notes with the right chords and be in tune. If you’re feeling aggressive, you can add some vibrato to yourself. You may enjoy slight note ornamentation. Taking real chances and risking complicated ideas is not recommended. It’s more important to play the blues correctly than to be an individual.”
“Now the question of who owns you. Well, you were created because America believed in slavery. The slaves brought African influence to the music made in the states. The people that created you should own you, but they don’t. It’s the same people that named you Jazz that own you now. You were bought back then and never returned to your owner. Now it is the people with money and power that control how you are represented to the world. Here in the kingdom it is I who represent your brand. We're making a lot of money, isn't that great? The money we make could help some people that are closer to you Jazz, but to be honest with you, authenticity is no longer truly relevant. It’s more about following the holy laws of swing. We teach you in schools. I’ve gone around the world to tell everyone just who and what you are.”
“The answer to your third question is very simple. The tonic in the key of F is simply F. Some folks may suggest it is the forbidden flat five. I’m telling you that the tonic in the key of F is F.”
The King gave Jazz a kiss on the cheek and held both of her hands gently. He made eye contact with her.
“I would give my life for you Jazz. Take my answers back with you, and spend the rest of your life with me. It will be a peaceful life. It’s time for you to rest. We can spend the rest of our days together reflecting and celebrating your past.”
Jazz felt she was being proposed to. She smiled politely and headed downtown to meet with the Coalman at the spot on the map given to her by the bird. She found the Coalman, not in a mine, but simply seated at a table in his loft near the kitchen. The Coalman was wearing an unusual purple suit. He was gentle and soft spoken as he poured Jazz a glass of root beer and lemon juice. The Coalman also knew that Jazz was coming and what her questions were.
“Isn't it amazing that we can have this conversation you and I? How are my old friends? I studied the Bird's flights very carefully in my early days. The train and I spent many hours traveling together and talking about our favorite person in the whole world, You.”
Jazz was touched by the Coalman’s loving gaze. She listened humbly and politely as the Coalman told his version of the truth.
“The blues are a feeling inside. You have to be a human being to feel the blues. The blues are what it feels like to be a human being. The blues are what happens when life teaches us painful lessons. Blues are often about the pain involved with the separation of a relationship and lost intimacy. The blues are when the soul cries out when its needs are not being met. The blues are that feeling you get when you KNOW someone is telling you the truth. The blues are something you feel in the marrow of your bones and the bottom of your soul. The blues are where you come from Jazz. You do not exist without the blues. The blues are what unites us all. You know this deep in your heart, you know it.”
Nobody owns you Jazz. You have to own yourself. Nobody can tell you or anyone else what you are. You need to believe in yourself again. Everybody is trying to tell you what you are. When you are yourself, you will see that nobody could ever own you. You are a part of nature itself. Just because were intimate with you doesn't mean we can claim to own you. It could only be fear that would make a musician try and do that. Jazz, you are eternal, plain and simple. Remember how close you were with the Duke? Do you remember what he said when he was asked what you are? Duke said you were freedom of expression, and that’s it. He closed the subject as there was nothing else to say. What Duke said then is even truer now. You must remember who you are. I think it’s starting to come back to you.
Finally, I will explain to you Jazz that the answer to the third question is not a note! The intellectual and theoretical answer will never be correct. The tonic in the key of F is YOU. You’re the tonic. Any key that you feel, any note that you hear, must be the right one. You have to learn to trust yourself once more.
Before leaving the Coalman smiled and gave Jazz a gentle hug. He was leaving himself but wouldn't say where he was going. Before he left, he spoke a little more with Jazz.
“I know you’re going to do the right thing. Your life will continue. Your mission isn’t over just yet. I’ve been with you my whole life up to this very day, and I’ll never leave you. Please tell all my friends back home that I can’t wait to make music with them again.”
Jazz went into the deepest sleep of her life that evening and woke up back in the room with the cloaked man with the cane, Mr. Death. The Armstrong was smiling. The Bird and the Prince were joking with each other. The Train remained calm and serene. Death asked Jazz to answer the questions. Jazz spoke openly and from the heart.
“My beloved friends. I do believe that I have received the lesson you meant for me to have. So blessed am I to have you as my caretakers all these years. I owe each one of you a special debt of gratitude. We have always been there for each other, you and I.”
“While the King was sage, and believed in his mission, I could not entirely trust him. He was telling me who I was. The Coalman told me that I am myself. I am me. I swing. I’m inside. I’m outside. I shout. I scream. I come from the blues. While the blues does have a certain structure as I was reminded by the King, the blues I believe are a feeling. In fact, I feel that feeling now. It’s all starting to feel new again. The blues contain that feeling that no matter how tough life gets, we must carry on. The blues are how we deal with the adversity that could destroy us. We must know that no matter how hard life gets, we're going to be Ok.”
“I remember now when I was branded with the name Jazz. The King likes calling me this, but he doesn't realize that it insults and hurts me to a degree. That name is by and large how I relate to the world and how we see each other, so I’m going to keep it for now. The King wanted to possess me and spread me around the world as a brand, but now I know better. At least those people who are trying to prove what I’m not, or who try to break me, respect me enough not to claim they own me. I own myself. I belong to me!”
“Finally my friends, it is with great delight that I exclaim to you that I’M the tonic in the key of F! Whatever I feel, that’s me. Whatever key I’m in, that’s me. Whatever note I want to be, then that’s what I am. I must say I feel as though I’ve awoken from a long and terrible nightmare. I feel as though I am restored. I am me once more!”
Since Death had no face, it was difficult to read his emotions. If he could smile, this might be the one time that he did. A grin from ear to ear. Big ol’ teeth smile from the master of death. He spoke:
“Lady Jazz you have passed our test. Go now and return to the world fully restored. Please remember to take the lessons we have taught you with you. They will always serve you well. Your friends here all want you to know how much are are and always will be loved. Should you see the Coalman, please remind him that his friends send their regards. One day they will all have a great big Happy Reunion, just like that song written by the Duke.”
Lady Jazz returned to Earth as her life began anew. She planned on calling a blues right away.
For Giuseppi Logan.
Monday, October 6, 2014
The first time I was in Jury duty in Queens New York, somebody had told me that if you donate Blood, they might let you leave. At the very least, they might put you to the front of all the thwarting lines. I don't know why I believed that, but when asked to give, my hand shot up like when I used to answer multiplication questions in fourth grade. I had to be first and correct, the Aries curse. I was on a severe self-created diet at the time, placing me in a precarious position. As I watched my blood get extracted and start to swirl up the tube, I noticed how burgundy it looked. I recall adjusting my focus to a planned indulgence of the Oreo cookies they had out for when you were finished. It was then that the whole world gradually started to spin, suggesting a heavy inebriation. When I woke up, the technician was scrambling a little and looked concerned. A woman donating blood next to me said, "I have never seen a white person turn opaque until today." I was a little frightened, but I pressed on in my mission. I went right to the judge seeking forbearance. He was more interested in adjusting his robe then engaging in profitable discourse.
"You look fine to me sir. Return to your seat and fulfill your civic duty. Being a United States citizen isn't free."
I ended up in what could be the lamest TV court drama of all time. An oil company wouldn't pay the medical bills for an old woman that had tripped over their delivery hose in the street. There was no warning sign or people nearby. Some lawyer was trying to discredit the morals of the old woman, showing me that justice was clearly no virtue here. All my trepidation about being there was confirmed.
When I ran out of deferments to serve in Manhattan in 2012, I could only wonder what jury duty would be like right near where the World Trade Center used to be. My pilgrimage downtown led me to a line of about two hundred people standing outside. It was frigid and blustery. I had neither gloves nor a scarf, and started to catch an ice burn on my hands and face. I tried to hold onto a hot coffee cup which proved fruitless. I swallowed a big bagel from a food cart whole and tried to troop it out. Forty minutes later I discovered I might as well have been entering airport security area. Belts off, shoes off. I was surprised they didn't run a gloved hand up my inner thigh like that one time in Germany. The first thing I noticed inside, was that the court system seemed obsessed with not being tagged on diversity. Every staff member was not 100% anything. There was a white guy cop with a big afro; a thugged out street tough white girl cop, an Asian cop, and a Spanish cop. The post offices in NYC are largely staffed by African Americans and Asians, but this was different. All the judges would turn out to be a white woman.
Everyone was led into a room to watch a video about civic duty and to get lectured on the laws of the game. People being herded in groups and not knowing what's coming next reminded me of Holocaust stories. People just submit to the process and try to ride it out. Eventually, we were led in groups to a courtroom interview process to see if we fit the bill to sit on a jury.
Translation: The lawyers will try to figure out if you're a person who won't mind if the truth becomes misconstrued. Just a little. As doctors say before they deliver, a shot, this will only hurt a bit.
I learned through keen observation that the way out of this mess was to become a broken part of the machine. If the court system was a human body, I had to become poison. I most certainly wasn't trying to suit up as a white blood cell. I could tell people were uncomfortable being there, but were too suppressed to attempt an escape. Language barriers were insurmountable. Attempts at communication with the non-english speaking folks led to deep levels of mutual bewilderment. Eventually, the judge would ascertain that somebody couldn't speak English.
Or could they?
The first day I wasn't chosen and never made it to the interview. You spend an entire work day waiting for nothing. My second day adrift in the abyss, I felt I was headed into a direct confrontation between me and civilized society. I tried to pass the time writing music to no avail. I was amazed how much people that didn't know each other starting talking and finding a repor. Finally, I was led to a case between a rapper and the police. I was shocked and baffled that this insipid drama was playing out in real life and that I was being tasked with a minor role. The musician in me was offended. I would take anything over a farce like this. The rapper in the system seeking street cred. Is my life going on hold for a famous rapper fantasy? Am I juror number three? Bring back the old lady who tripped over that oil delivery cable.
The worst was the judge lecturing us before the interviews about civic duty once again.
"This trial may last up to two months; the Court understands your sacrifice."
WHAT? REALLY? JACK MY LIFE FOR TWO MONTHS TO PLAY A ROLE IN A FAKE PLAY ABOUT JUSTICE? SO A RAPPER CAN BE LEGIT?
It reminded me of the garbled recorded message you hear from the broken speakers on the Subway when the trains stop. They never make even a shred of sense. I have a newsflash for you: A recorded computer apology is not legitimate.
The judge embarrassed herself, and all of us further:
"Does anybody here know the rapper MC Doo Doo?"
I had no choice at this point but to believe this rapper has coined his name after, yes, human excrement.
As the interviews started up, the question was raised about trusting the word of the police. You had to be able to hear them with one-hundred percent no-bias. It was at that moment that I saw a way possibly evade the darkness. Maybe I could elude them. My light in the dark had appeared. I devised my plan at once.
I Know, we're all starting to know, that cops have no accountability. They lie to cover up when they abuse power. The system protects them. The recent murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are the latest in a long and unending list of tragedies at their hands, while they hide behind the holy badge of forgiveness.
F L A S H B A C K
I enter the Bodega on forty-eighth street and tenth avenue in New York city. I order a sandwich. I'm ignoring the police van outside and cops inside. That's when a cop online behind me starts whispering in my ear requesting me to have a problem. He leaned in and pressed into my back.
"Come on you piece of shit. C'mon. Start something with me. Have a problem. Just turn around and look at me."
I abandoned my Roast Beef and left looking at floor. I slinked out of there like a weasel on crack. I watched the news that night and saw a story on cops being behind on quotas and doing anything to get an arrest. After all, it wasn't that long ago when cops moonlighting as bouncers murdered my friend Hilton Ruiz, and then had it covered up.
Back in court, I thought of how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sanctioned the murder of Amadou Diallo. I thought of how the cops sodomized Abner Louima. I knew in my heart that I couldn't give any cops even one ounce of trust.
During the court interview, I was already a suspect however.
"What do you do Mr.Lavelle?"
"I sell trumpets."
"Do you sell them on the street? Do you understand English?"
I was already being sized up for having too much street in my soul. Finally, the judge gave me my opening:
"Is anyone here unable to trust the word of Police one-hundred percent?"
My hand shot up just like I was back in fourth grade. I was the only one in the room of almost seventy people with my hand raised. Soft spoken but with a revolutionary fire in my heart, I confirmed that I do not trust any policeman. Not one single pig in the whole world deserves my trust.
I left the courtroom with escape velocity. On my way out a Latina, just excused because she couldn't speak English, came over to me and said with crisp articulation in clear English:
"I am so glad I got out of that. Being a member of society comes with a price. I wish I at least had health insurance instead of their measly forty dollars a day we get in two months."
I was then directed back to the jury selection room. I had not yet achieved freedom. I was watching this gay dude attention freak putting on a show for everybody when my name was called. I was released at last. I picked up all my plastic bags with books I thought I might read and my notebooks for composing music and vacated. I caught a few snide glances for looking a little homeless. I had survived Jury Duty once again.
I thought about how next time I'll show up for Jury Duty as Dracula, drunk on too much blood.
"Isn't it true Mr.Lavelle that you enjoy biting on necks and sucking the blood from innocent victims?"
"No. Not me sir. Just ask my buddy Frankenstein over there. The guy with the gun and the badge".
For Cecil Taylor
Friday, September 26, 2014
Strutting tall and strutting proud
The needles pierce and twist
Divine dance of the water chords
Snapping and creaking bones
The needles pierce and twist
Yogic edges grasp and grind
Snapping and creaking bones
Devour the light
Yogic edges grasp and grind
The unhinged knee.
Devour the light
The walk of drowning
The unhinged knee
Shedding the grip
The walk of drowning
Shedding the grip
Pulsating skin and spasm
Pulsating skin and spasm
Treacherous lesson ingestion
Treacherous lesson ingestion
Treacherous lesson ingestion
The cutting descent
The Forbidden stairs
Divine dance of the water chords
The cutting descent
Strutting tall and strutting proud
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Sometime during the day on September 3rd last week it came to me that I had to play John Coltrane's prayer called Peace On Earth at an anti-police brutality event in Brooklyn conceived by my friend Matana Roberts. I have a book of John Coltrane's music and proceeded to learn the music in every key in whatever free time I had before the event on Sept 4th. I transposed it on the down low at work and got it together mostly in a park after work before I gave a lesson to my only student. All I knew was that it was important to play this song. The event to raise money for Michael Brown seemed appropriate.
My brother Ras Moshe was there on tenor. I wasn't going there with the music of Trane without Moshe. Tomas Fujiwara had agreed to play drums with us. I mentioned to the folks before we played about how an NYPD van near my job was recently tagged with PIGS and FUCK THE POLICE. I also mentioned how recently one block from where I lived the last 5 years up in the heights there was an almost riot as a crowd of people started throwing bottles at cops and approached them in mass holding up their arms saying "Don't shoot". I had anger at cops in my heart. What I really want is ACCOUNTABILITY. I want people who kill to answer for it. Parts of me call for big time payback. That's where I was as we started to play. It was then that I truly was able to experience the spiritual power of John Coltrane.
As I started to play peace on Earth on flugelhorn I felt a wash of energy overtake me. I felt no anger. I felt like I had become a conduit for forces beyond this world. John Coltrane's piece opened up a door to the other side that allowed Love to flow through. Love that forgave us. Love that asked us to find peace in our hearts. Love that called for an end to violence. Love that called for an end to fear. Love that called for every person on Earth who had a weapon to lay it down. It was just that past Monday that I sold a violin to a man from Belize who declared to me:
"I'm going to take a gun out of a street kids hand and hand him a violin."
As I played the song I felt the presence of Roy Campbell who told us from beyond this world through his sister during his wake:
"We're here to learn how to love one another."
Afterwords I felt a different reaction from the listeners. Some of them knew the door to a Love Supreme had been opened. We have to open it and keep it open. A piece like peace on Earth by John Coltrane is an actual key. A gift that he left to the human race. Long have I studied Trane. I've written about him. So many musicians all over the world deeply resonate with his music and what he was called to do. I know someone who was cured of drug addiction through his music. All of this time I believed I understood him, but it took the experience of playing Peace On Earth in a live event to truly feel it past an intellectual and heart based resonance down to the spiritual core. A place where I acquired a true knowing of the healing and trans-formative power of music. As an 11 and a spiritual messenger myself it was a joy to receive a further message from beyond. The message being that we have to keep going.
The world seems more unstable now than anytime in my living memory. As evil gets uprooted they're making their desperation move. People are surrendering to fear. Ignorance abounds. People the world over continue to act sedated, infested by greed and superficiality. Musicians and artists are locked down all over the globe in survival mode.
We have to keep playing though. We must keep creating.
Nobody can see it just yet.
If you look closely enough you'll see.
You'll know it in your heart.
For Michael Brown and Eric Garner
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
I went down to the basement to find a case for an old King Zephyr Tenor sax today. Coming back upstairs Brother Diaz shouted at me saying "Hey man, your friend is here!" I rounded the bend and there he was. Brother G was embroiled in a new piano creation. He was playing those wide dark and ominous chords he enjoys so much. His running buddy and hustle partner Jimmy wasn't with him so I knew something was up. G had a ginger ale and a 7 Eleven danish in a wrapper on the floor. I picked up his food. The danish was still warm. As it usually goes with G, music had taken over the need for food. He stopped playing and gave me a hug. After a little prodding I learned the situation. No reeds and no neck strap had his music for nickels and dimes program at a standstill. It was like that time in the 70's during the gas strike when we waited in line for two hours and then a sign was placed on the back of the car in front of us. NO MORE GAS. No reeds means no sound. That's why at the Ash I'm the connection for notables such as Sonny Fortune, Paquito D' Rivera, and James Carter. Everyone knows I'm the guy to see for reeds at that special price.
G was out of cash. My wallet had nothing but dust in the wind. I told G to get back into his music while I stepped out to remedy the situation. I returned with my friend Andrew Jackson, who promptly made sure Giuseppi's needs were met. G then asked me to show him beginning violin and guitar books, in case he found any music students. Then we listened to some tracks from the great Monk record Underground. The swing on the song Green Chimney's really perked G up as was evidenced by his body language. Eventually I walked him to the bus headed back to Avenue D for destruction. G is walking slower and slower these days. I have witnessed age tighten it's grip on him. I'm truly worried about him. The doctors notes in his room are written with urgency. On the way to his last gig for ESP he caught violent shakes on the subway and really scared me. As I tried to help him calm down I told him in my mind "Not like this man. Don't end your life here." As usual, tenacious G made the gig. A door gig of course. And maybe his last.
Giuseppi doesn't trend on Twitter you see. He has no social media presence. He's been charged with not being able to play anymore by the musical community at large. He can't defend himself without any gigs. Ever since this article in the New York Times ran called Giuseppi Logan's Second Chance, I have witnessed a steady decline in interest in his music. Despite my best efforts, the well has run dry. All those people that book the Stone don't care about an old man that created a free jazz masterpiece before they were born. It's all about them now, or their friends. Nobody from any scene will offer him a gig. Mostly because he doesn't give them any political power or support their agenda. Can he still play? Giuseppi's music comes out in short bursts now. He might be wiped out in 25 minutes, but he's in there. Trust me on that. At a piano he could play a full long set. Doesn't matter now. The NYC he knew back then is a far cry from NYC today. The NYC of 2014 has turned it's back on brother G. They treat him as a relic, simply watching the world go by from his self-assigned busking bench in Tompkins Square Park. The cute little old guy with the sax. What a great way to decorate your NYC experience in a city that has cast aside it's own culture in pursuit of the holy cash.
We went down swinging though. Believe that. I tried to get G a grant from New Music USA. We went down in the first round. I reached out to Music Cares from VH1. The response was bleak as hell. They chose not to even write me back an email about it. Judgement has been served. Brother G, you are guilty of trying to live your final days out as an artist!
The only time the late great master Roy Campbell got mad at me was when that New York Times article came out. Roy said that the article validated the stereotype of the down and out Jazz musician. I was surprised that Roy got mad but have come to see just how right he was. There is a part of the media that expects and wants us to fail. The down and out Jazz man. Perfect for their distorted perspective of the kind of life you lead if you actually dare to let your art lead the way. People like to see that their choice to lead a safer life is validated when they see an older musician living his life out in a super busted little room. The recent New Yorker and Washington Post articles prove that our adversity is actually funny to them. Ha ha.
I get it. Life is all about choices. If you choose to be a cop then you might choose to kill an unarmed teenager. If you choose to be a cop then you might choose to choke hold somebody to death for selling a few loose cigarettes. If you choose to be a soldier then you choose to possibly scar your soul by killing someone in the name of freedom only to then end up homeless in the country you fought for.
Brother Giuseppi Logan chose to be a musician. Yes. He also chose a life of self-destruction. All of that is over now. He's just a man with a song to sing. No one is listening however, too busy with Facebook.
I'm still listening though. I'll keep listening and fighting for you man.
Every human being on Earth deserves a final chorus.