I once saw Wild Man Blues, the documentary about Woody Allen touring Europe with his jazz band. I hated it. Hated him in some Venice palazzo whining about the water faucets. Whining about the food .About the venues. The Italians. Whining about everything. Back when he was funny I used to totally dig Woody Allen but this? He can’t figure out how to turn on a goddam faucet without an existential crisis? And this band of his…somewhere I’d gotten to hate them too. Well, not them, not the band, but the fans. The same people who call him Allen, just Allen, as in “Allen’s oevre”. (I hate the word oevre). These are the people, nerdy pale little things, who’ll tell you that “Love and Death” is Allen’s wittiest film (and I hate the word “witty”), when actually it’s a pretentious, unfunny loser of a movie. These are the same people who would tell me what a brilliant jazz musician Woody Allen is, and would pay way too much money to see him at UCLA and squirm in their seats like he was a some kind of whining, simpering Beatles. This shit just pissed me off. Well, I was new at my LA Weekly gig, very new, and suddenly I see he and his band are at Royce Hall. The Weekly wanted a pick for this show. Would I write one? Oh yeah, I’ll write one. Oh yeah.160 words? No problem. I spent hours on it, polishing and polishing, making sure every word, every syllable, every historical reference was exactly where it should be. I wanted it to be so sharp and mean he would cry. And he could tell, too, he’s a jazzbo and he would know what I was talking about. Every word, every nasty layered meaning. So I submitted it. Even Jonny Whiteside was imopressed, as mean as he is. I couldn’t wait till it hit the presses.
Then it hit me. It was mean. Too damn mean. Pure, white hot meanness. It was mean to the guys in his band trying to make a living. It was mean to the publicists. Hell, it was mean to Woody Allen just to be mean to Woody Allen. Sigh…. I had it pulled from the paper with minutes to spare. I decided then and there to never be mean to a jazz musician in print. Never. If I didn’t like something I just wouldn’t write about it. Jazz was struggling enough, even back then, it didn’t need yet another arrogant prick of a critic to trash it. There had to be a better way.
The thing is, though, is that it might be my favorite bit of writing I ever did for the LA Weekly. I love this piece. I love it because it’s almost perfect, and I love it because it’s so damn mean, diamond hard mean. But I especially love it because it is dead on accurate. Riight on the mark. It tells the truth. But what’s the point? Why me? Who appointed me to be one mean-assed truth teller? The world is full of assholes. Why not be the nice guy? “For years I was smart”, said Elwood P. Dowd. “I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” Which I just did.
OK, maybe not too pleasant. Pleasant people can drive you up the wall..
That cat Woody Allen was a badass mofo and Sidney Bechet never did like him much. There was that time backstage in Paris where Woody called Pee Wee Russell a drunk and took a swing at Johnny Dodds and told Sidney that you could train a seal to blow a soprano sax…it got real heavy and they wound up chasing each other around the Left Bank waving guns and taking shots at each other. Woody nicked Sidney and Bechet sicked his dog on him. Blood everywhere. Someone called the gendarmes. Those were the days, man, players lived hard and played hard and their jazz was deadly serious stuff, with many a jazz musician stretched out on that long white table, sweet and cold and fair. This wasn’t a music for dabblers or directors or jaded millionaires….nope, you had to live and die this stuff. It had to be real. Ain’t no hundred dollar ticket gonna make it anymore real. No way baby. No concert movie neither. Not even a hall full of fans who don’t know their jass from a hole in the ground.