The new thing with feeling

(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.

Then start writing again.

John Altman

John Altman plays with the Mark Z Stevens Trio tonite, Saturday Feb 2, at the Desert Rose in Los Feliz, corner of Prospect and Hillhurst. Music is 7 to 11. There’s no cover. That’s the bare facts. Everything below is just my usual charmingly humorous diatribe, but hell, if I were you I’d read it. Besides, Mark asked if I could spread the word about the gig. I said sure, Mark, anything for you babe.  Because that’s the way we talk in show biz, and that’s the way we roll. Continue reading