Monday, December 17, 2007

On Jazz Fans & Security Systems

There's something about middle-aged white guys
who idolize black jazz and blues musicians
that always makes me uncomfortable.

Charlie Parker, they'll say, pouring the wine.
Bird. Mingus. Oh yeah. They get this
dreamy, faraway gaze, they exchange
Signs of the brotherhood.
Coleman. Monk. Brother Miles.

Their wives look away,
wait for the subject to change.

Outside it's getting dark.
The streetlights flicker into life.
We switch on the security systems.

--from The Good Kiss, a collection of George Bilgere's poetry, published by Akron University Press.


At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Ouch! That hit a little close to home.

I've never seen a wife who didn't drift off when this kind of talk happens (kind of like when Playboy magazine is discussed.)

Middle-aged guys ARE less prone both to going out at night, and to courting danger, as those pioneering jazz musicians did musically and often physically.

That contrast triggered a "pot calling the kettle" thought.

I've noticed that the guys I work with who are really into 60's rock tend to be conservative, either in their politics or their personal life.

Maybe it's OK to vicariously enjoy the feeling of anarchy and rebellion, now that the period is safely ensconsed in history? Would they have directly participated while it was wild and new and could go any direction?

At 10:48 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

B, you've nicely touched on many of the things that ran through my head as I read this poem, and it helps that I know the poet and can connect his poem to his life story. But I'd have to agree that it's better to vicariously enjoy anarchy and rebellion than to take part in it directly. That's always been an important feature of any attraction to edgy music, or any other kind of edgy pursuit.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

This is my favorite Bilgere poem. It says so much in so few words.

At 9:19 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'm with you, Miles. You said it precisely.

At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

OK, as a jazz fan and someone who is an alarmingly few years away from being a middle-aged white guy, I'm not sure how I should view this poem.

For almost half of my life, I have held Charlie Parker in awe. Not for the life he lived, but for the music he made. I've played the saxophone for close to 30 years now, and I still can't understand how he did some of the things he did with the horn. Does that make me some pathetic, Caucasian Bird wanna-be? If so, I guess I can live with that.

Or is Bilgere talking about a breed of mid-life suburbanite whose version of a rebel is the bebop musician of the 50's? The guy who really doesn't know the music, but can talk a good game and maybe owns a solid collection of jazz CD's? The day I become that guy is the day my children are allowed to euthanize me...

At 5:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sorry, Scott, but I think a guy who plays sax gets a pass on all of the above bile. And 30 years, no less. Good for you. Remember when Clinton whipped out his sax and played for Arsenio during his first presidential campaign (an indelible moment which your comment suddenly brought back to me)? That gave him instant street cred with large parts of the population, as it does with you. Not that you really needed it, though.

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Yeah, Scott, I transposed the poem to 60's rock so it would tally with my own experience.

The guys who think of jazz figures more as rebels than musicians have to be pretty old guys. When was this poem written?

At 6:01 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're onto something about age there. While the poem itself may have been published somewhat recently (about 2003, I think), its roots no doubt go back to older observations. Bilgere is in his early 50s.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

Bluster & John - OK, so I feel a tiny bit better about myself... ;) And John, the 30 years figure looks a lot more impressive than it actually is. All it says is that I'm too stubborn to recognize I would never have the talent to be a professional musician.

On the plus side, though, I played in enough bar bands in college to pretty well pay for my books and even a little tuition. Drunk people will listen to anything you play, no matter how good it is/isn't.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Scott, I think there's much to be said for pursuing music simply for the sheer joy it gives you. Hell, that's how I feel about writing. I'm going to keep doing it, even if it's giving my readers sore eyes, and just try to get a bit better every day. That's the amateur spirit in a nutshell.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Geoff said...

Having read the poem several times over the years, it always struck me that underneath, the writer comes off as a rock and roller who was a bit intimidated by jazz, but was trying to hide it behind being dismissive of a music he didn't get. I'm sure if I was caught amidst a group of poets, especially those of the slam variety, waxing on and on about their work, which is of no interest to me, I might find it dull...but I'm not sure I'd blast them for it. Different strokes...

I know many jazz fans, and it is only among the casual ones that the musician's life story seems important. Few serious fans care about their personal behavior, the issue is their music. All that anarchy and rebellion stuff is often overblown by writers who would rather deal with it, rather than the music itself, because the rulebreaker bit an easier story to tell.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Geoff, I think that's an EXTREMELY smart, discerning take. I'd agree with you completely. That's indeed how the poem hits me too: it seems to be about people posing as jazz buffs because they think it ups their cool factor. Kind of makes you feel sorry for their insecurities. As my friends know (and mock me for), I never pretend to know anything at all about music, especially jazz. It's much easier to be ignorant but interested in learning more.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

I agree with Geoff, too. It's as if the poet made a sniffy observation about fortyish readers of Playboy magazine when he was a rocker in the 1970s.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

I've made the same observation, but never expressed it so well. The most memorable example was the 40-something man in his suburban LA McMansion, the host of the party who wanted to show off his thousands-of-dollars stereo system to his friends. He cranked the volume and the bass, slipped in a CD and played "Sleep Now In The Fire" by Rage Against The Machine, the lyrics of which include:
"So raise your fists
And march around
Just dont take what you need
I'll jail and bury those committed
And smother the rest in greed"

He didn't get it.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

TJ, how wonderful of you to visit, all the way from L.A., where I'd love to be right now. Around here, we see the sun about a total of five hours from November to March. Anyway, you said it well. Keep up the great work on your own blog and on your contributions to the uniquely wonderful LAObserved. I hope my readers will follow the links below and check out your work when they get the time.


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