(expanded from an online conversation today with John Altman)
Ya know, if I’d stop writing my self-indulgent stuff and went back to writing about jazz I’d start getting invited to the pricey jazz things and fancy digs. Something to think about…..
But the last couple years I was at the LA Weekly writing Brick’s PIcks I was really hating the way I was writing. It was stuck, in a rut, doing the same thing over and over. It was so easy and I’d gotten cynical. I was feeling very dishonest as a writer and that is death. I had to re-learn how to write so it was time to woodshed. Like breaking a badly set arm and letting it heal all over again. So I up and walked.
That gig was killing me. I absolutely hated it by the end. Hated it like you hate the worst job you ever had. It was turning me into a fake. I’d invented this ridiculous Brick’s Picks character, him with his royal we and oh so ridiculously hip, turning the emotional faucet on and off…I hated that guy. He was a joke. That’s what happens when you wind up a jazz journalist without ever wanting to be a jazz journalist. Finally I got my zillionth idiot editor and said fuck it, I’m gone. And I was.
So that’s where I went. People still ask, which amazes me. They still bitch, which irritates me. Sometimes I say nothing, sometimes (if they’re older) I mumble an apology, and sometimes (if they’re a friend and ought to know better) I tell them to just shut the fuck up. And I’m feeling better about my writing now. To quote Eric Dolphy’s post card to Oliver Lake (I wish I’d saved the picture), I’m trying to do the new thing but with feeling.
Ya know, I don’t think people realize that writing is like music and you have to practice every goddamned day. Practice till your brain hurts. Practice till everything around you is language, everything, and you need to stop and just look at things and try not to think.
One night I finally gave in and went to one of these events at the Grammy Museum they were always after me about. It was dull, dull, dull. There was the inevitable private reception afterward with an open bar with expensive wine. The bored waiters slipped about with trays of bite sized things I couldn’t identify, but generally tasted odd. The crowd was all music industry types and hangers on and ass kissers and aging star fuckers and their rich kid freeloaders and not my scene at all. Not one bit. I slipped away for a minute and looked at some photo display in the gallery. Big shiny photos perfectly positioned and mounted and framed and very artily significant. Most of them were of rock stars, this being the Grammy Museum. Boz Scaggs and Rod Stewart and Bonnie Raitt, some Debbie Harry and David Byrne and Sting, like that. For some ungodly reason, right there in the middle of them, was a shot of crazy, hardcore, anarchist, music business-hating Black Flag, with Henry Rollins all serious and fierce and young and not quite so buff. I recognized the beat up van they were sitting in and laughed….I remembered smoking dope in that very same van. Getting very high. That was, what, some thirty years ago? A couple party attendees came up, maybe wondering what I found so funny. I got high in that van I said, aloud. Maybe too loud. They backed off. I laughed again. Nice people did that when we laughed back then too, thirty years ago. We would laugh, they’d retreat, we’d laugh again. Funny how laughter can be dangerous. Everyone took themselves very seriously in the seventies. So we’d laugh at them. It worked. This and the rest of my life three decades ago passed before my eyes. I was dying in there, surrounded by these photographs, these people, this place.
Suddenly I wondered just how the fuck I wound up hanging around a bunch of music industry hacks at the Grammy Museum. I hate the Grammys. I hate the music industry. At that moment I knew I would never make it in this business. Me, who’d shared a bill with Black Flag in some hole of a club long ago. And me now, who only wants to sit in a small bar somewhere and listen to intense jazz improvisation. I just want the music, the pure stuff, all creativity and inspiration and intensity. Not this shit. Not this ultra hip industry crap. Not their fine suits and fine cars and arm candy. I was hating myself for even being there. I had promised I never would, but there I was. Just another jazz journalist on the make. I had to get out of there, so I gulped down my two hundred buck chuck and split. The valet brought my car around. I got in and cranked up the radio. A saxophone screamed. I pulled into the city traffic and went looking for some jazz, feeling clean.