/ Stories / Art Dealer /
Jazz found me a little before puberty, a trumpet blues blur bent my soul. I avidly crammed myself with what the market to primed to provide. The first part was 100% natural: some of what followed was culture shoving dead wood in our craw. That is: loving Kid Ory was entirely natural, Satchmo blowing our socks off; but what about Paul Whiteman? Bix Biderbeck? Loving the idea of God loving us, forgiving us, may be natural, inevitable; but the next thing you know we’re swallowing all sorts of dogmas. Suddenly we’re not just Christians but Church of Saints Baptists Reform of 1680: I invent the sect, I hope you see the point.
I’m standing in the record store, 1953 or so, I see the album, Genius of Bird: I buy it, I listen to it. It knocks my socks off, it also annoys me. Yeah, Bird played blindinly fast, but he also squeaked his reed a lot. Oh well, the record company says it’ genius, what do I know?
I was a member of that faith early, but you also see I never entirely bought it. Boy have I met a lot of people who painted themselves into a corner to make themselves conspicuous for buying it.
1973 Hilary kidnapped our kid and ran to her mothers, I’d gotten my last rent check from her. I decided to devote one more week to fund raising for the Free Learning Exchange. Three years of such efforts by myself and a staff of volunteers had failed to pay so much as the phone bill on a consistent basis, if people wouldn’t pay for their own salvation, they shouldn’t be, can’t be, saved. I’d canvas local businesses, walk into the store front, show the boss my literature, my prototype for world-wide network of networks. After five minutes in the first store I saw that I was wasting more time. I bought a New York Times. My heart twisted in grief I went home, for the first time in my life read the classifieds, saw an ad for salesmen, art gallery, Third Avenue, Sixties. I swore that I would disguise myself as ordinary, possessing ordinary values: I’d get the job, I’d pay the rent. I’d devote my talents to staying alive.
I did. Seventeen of us were hired as salesmen. I was one of the few hired as a full time salesman. Danni was the boss. Her husband Bob was the assistant director. Besides the salesstaff there were a couple of odd guys who were hired to held doors, wrap packages to wrap packages: anticipating an assembly line of customers. We still have no idea what we were going to be selling: this gallery, 10,000 square feet on the street level, another 10,000 square feet of basement, was empty of art. Our only clue was that it would be graphics, works of art on papers, multiple originals we’d be selling.
One package wrapper I liked a lot, another was weird, they were going to have to keep that guy as close to out of sight as possible, he’d scare people off: as would I if I took off my masks. This guy went way out of his way to tell people, me at the first chance, that he was a Bird fan. Wouldn’t you know he also lived on the West side. Our first conversation lingered on the corner of Broadway and 106th. He was telling me that he’d made a tape of Bird solos: he’d edited out everything that wasn’t Bird. Insane, there’s a fanatic. This guy’s sect was so extreme even I wanted to burn him at the stake once I realized what he was saying! He was editing out Dizzy?! He was editing out Miles?!! That’s like having a bride and a bride instead of a bride and a groom!
Bird didn’t hire Miles as filler; he hired him because I improvised the best counter melodies. Bird was great at melody, but he liked his own melodies best when they were complemented by Miles’ counter melodies!
That’s so funny, we went from avid mutual fans straight to schism war.
I don’t remember what happened to that guy. A couple of weeks later I was promoted to direct the original gallery in the franchise: Madison Avenue and 76th, a door up from the Whitney. There I took a year to recover from my four years of beating my head against the wall offering the public a politically free internet.
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