Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / Themes / Music & Art /
@ K. 2006 07 10
|House of Worship?||or||Bawdy House?|
As a kid I went to Birdland the way I went to church: to worship the resident god. In church the god was always Jehovah with his son Jesus; in Birdland the god was Lester Young, followed by Terry Gibbs: each with his own band. Next week we might worship Charlie Parker: Bird: the house was named for him after all: the YardBird. The week after we’ll worship Billie, or Miles. But no matter which week it was, we were there to worship jazz.
I did everything in my power to get my mother to go see. Finally, she did. She got her boss or somebody to take her. It couldn’t have been better: Count Basie was on the stand. Except that I soon realized: my mother and her boss thought the music was there to entertain them. They thought they were the stars, Massa and his date; the musicians were the servants (if not slaves). And the musicians weren’t very good servants: it was too loud, they were all black, and Sonny Payne’s long drum solo gave mother a headache.
I didn’t realize yet that my mother’s attitude was the standard, that my own attitude was an aberration: increasingly common, but not the standard. As yet I only half knew that jazz came out of New Orleans’ red light district. Jelly Roll was at the piano to make the john, in bed, feel like he was the star of the vaudeville stage. The music, like the pussy, the booze, was all for him.
In church, that john was there for the god; but in the whore house, the whores, the bar tender, the piano player … were all there for him: and his enjoyment, accouterments to his ego.
When Chaucer wrote his House of Fame poem, it was the king and his court whose fame was being celebrated: the duchess: jewel near the duke, near the king: the king and all near god. Today we don’t even know which king Chaucer was serving under, and we don’t care: never heard of him anyway; the only person famous in the poem is Chaucer. Chaucer can’t have seen that coming. Could the countess let alone the king know of it, she’d be sure she’d died and gone to hell. Poets famous? Countess forgotten? a laughing stock? Homer knew he had a reputation, knew that poets were loved in his society. Still, it was Achilles he was singing about: and Hector. And Odysseus.
Notice there: Homer sang of men! He also sang of gods, he also sang of kings. This wife and that rape victim also got mentioned; but the heroes were the warriors. Artists and artisans, the guy who carved the face on the shield, got mentioned too, but the heroes were the warriors. Fame was for the heroes.
What I’m thinking of here relates to a point of Garry Wills I’ve repeated about boxing: as a kid I thought we were listening to the radio to celebrate and worship Joe Louis. The idea didn’t scan to me that Joe Louis was there to hand people’s head to them (or to get his handed to him) for the pleasure of the gentlemen bettors.
Of course if you’re solipsist enough then you think the whole universe is here merely for your moment’s entertainment. Jesus on the cross, Einstein’s relativity … it’s all here just for you: amusements God serves like hors d’oeuvres to Christians who’d hit on the right magic rite.
Then there’s my occasional mood: that there’s anything here may be an illusion; and if it is here, it’s not FOR anybody.
Resurrecting this up 2012 09 17 I add a word:
I urged my mother to experience Count Basie, to experience Birdland. She did, but not really, not what I meant. She wasn’t there as a worshipper of the god, she was there as a consumer of culture: culture which she, as a white American rightfully owned. The jazz musicians weren’t gods, geniuses, priests; they were monkeys, monkeys there for her entertainment: entertainment having nothing to do with God, or Christ, or Church.
My fellow Americans and I lived in entirely different and incompatible universes.
At Columbia I met dozens of people who lived in my universe: jazz musicians, geniuses, artists: Jews, Wops … but the world was run by the other universe: whose inhabitants made sure that we minded our P and Qs: grayed against the background, or suffered accordingly.
Someone with a budget really should track down my old friends, Myron, Pete, Marty: see who’s alive, still breathing, if anyone, read them my stuff, and then invite them to comment.
In 1956 (Myron only fifteen at the time!) they already knew that the economy was tailored to punish them, not to accommodate them.
Of course they all rapidly became junkies: dad may have been a banker in a three=story Palladian house and a hedged circular drive; but not them.
Thing is, the bank president, not having been visited by the god, doesn’t know what he’s missed in missing the worship. The denizens of hell routinely think they’re in heaven!