6 d’oct. 2015

Elogio de la música vulgar

Marcel Proust
Les Plaisirs et les Jours 
(1896) 



XIII 

ELOGIO DE LA MÚSICA VULGAR 

Detestad la música vulgar pero no la menospreciéis.

Esta música que se interpreta y se canta más a menudo y más apasionadamente que la buena, poco a poco se ha ido llenando de los sueños y de las lágrimas de los hombres. Veneradla por ello. Su sitio -insignificante en la historia del arte- es inmenso en la historia sentimental de las sociedades. El respeto, no digo el amor, por la música vulgar no constituye solamente una forma de lo que podría llamarse la caridad del buen gusto o su escepticismo, sino la conciencia de la importancia del papel social de la música.

Cuántas melodías sin ningún valor a los ojos de los artistas son las confidentes elegidas por los jóvenes novelescos y las enamoradas. Cuántos « bagues d’or », cuántos « Ah! reste longtemps endormie»… Partituras que pasan temblado cada noche manos tal vez merecidamente célebres y que quedan empapadas de las lágrimas de los ojos más hermosos del mundo… El más puro de los grandes maestros envidiaría ese tributo melancólico y voluptuoso, - confidentes ingeniosas e inspiradas que ennoblecen la pena y exaltan los sueños, y a cambio del secreto ardiente que se les confía, otorgan la embriagadora ilusión de belleza. El pueblo, la burguesía, los militares y la nobleza tienen los mismos mensajeros, portadores del dolor que les sacude y de la felicidad que les llena, los mismos emisarios invisibles del amor, los mismos confidentes bien amados. Que son los músicos incultos.

Un estribillo irritante, que cualquier oreja bien nacida y bien educada rechazará en el instante mismo que lo escucha, ha recibido los tesoros de miles de almas y guardado los secretos de miles de vidas para las que constituyó la inspiración personificada, la gracia ensoñadora, el ideal y el consuelo siempre dispuesto, siempre entreabierto en el atril del piano… Este arpegio o aquella vuelta hacen resonar en el alma del enamorado y del soñador las armonías del paraíso o la voz misma de su amada. Un cuaderno de romanzas vulgares, desgastado por haberse usado demasiado, nos tiene que emocionar como los cementerios y las aldeas. No os importa que las casas no tengan estilo o que las tumbas desaparezcan bajo inscripciones y adornos de mal gusto… De este polvo puede elevarse, en presencia de una imaginación simpatizante y suficientemente respetuosa para acallar su desdeño estético, una densa nube de almas que nos traerán en el pico los sueños todavía frescos que les hicieron presentir el otro mundo y gozar o llorar en el nuestro.



ÉLOGE DE LA MAUVAISE MUSIQUE 

Détestez la mauvaise musique, ne la méprisez pas. Comme on la joue, la chante bien plus, bien plus passionnément que la bonne, bien plus qu’elle elle s’est peu à peu remplie du rêve et des larmes des hommes. Qu’elle vous soit par là vénérable. Sa place, nulle dans l’histoire de l’Art, est immense dans l’histoire sentimentale des sociétés. Le respect, je ne dis pas l’amour, de la mauvaise musique n’est pas seulement une forme de ce qu’on pourrait appeler la charité du bon goût ou son scepticisme, c’est encore la conscience de l’importance du rôle social de la musique. Combien de mélodies, de nul prix aux yeux d’un artiste, sont au nombre des confidents élus par la foule des jeunes gens romanesques et des amoureuses. Que de « bagues d’or », de « Ah ! reste longtemps endormie », dont les feuillets sont tournés chaque soir en tremblant par des mains justement célèbres, trempés par les plus beaux yeux du monde de larmes dont le maître le plus pur envierait le mélancolique et voluptueux tribut, – confidentes ingénieuses et inspirées qui ennoblissent le chagrin et exaltent le rêve, et en échange du secret ardent qu’on leur confie donnent l’enivrante illusion de la beauté. Le peuple, la bourgeoisie, l’armée, la noblesse, comme ils ont les mêmes facteurs, porteurs du deuil qui les frappe ou du bonheur qui les comble, ont les mêmes invisibles messagers d’amour, les mêmes confesseurs bienaimés. Ce sont les mauvais musiciens. Telle fâcheuse ritournelle, que toute oreille bien née et bien élevée refuse à l’instant d’écouter, a reçu le trésor de milliers d’âmes, garde le secret de milliers de vies, dont elle fut l’inspiration vivante, la consolation toujours prête, toujours entrouverte sur le pupitre du piano, la grâce rêveuse et l’idéal. Tels arpèges, telle « rentrée » ont fait résonner dans l’âme de plus d’un amoureux ou d’un rêveur les harmonies du paradis ou la voix même de la bienaimée. Un cahier de mauvaises romances, usé pour avoir trop servi, doit nous toucher comme un cimetière ou comme un village. Qu’importe que les maisons n’aient pas de style, que les tombes disparaissent sous les inscriptions et les ornements de mauvais goût. De cette poussière peut s’envoler, devant une imagination assez sympathique et respectueuse pour taire un moment ses dédains esthétiques, la nuée des âmes tenant au bec le rêve encore vert qui leur faisait pressentir l’autre monde, et jouir ou pleurer dans celui-ci.


IN PRAISE OF BAD MUSIC

Detest bad music but do not despise it. As it is played, and especially sung, much more passionately than good music, it has much more than the latter been impregnated, little by little, with man’s tears. Hold it therefore in veneration. It’s place, nonexistent in the history of art, is immense in the sentimental history of nations. The respect – I do not say love – for bad music is not only a form of what might be called the charity of good taste, or its skepticism; it is also the consciousness of the importance of music’s social role. How many tunes, worthless in the eyes of an artist, are numbered among the chosen confidants of a multitude of romantic young men and girls in love. How many “bague d’or,” how many “Ah! reste longtemps endormi,” whose pages are turned tremblingly every evening by hands justly famous, drenched with the tears of the most beautiful eyes in the world, whose melancholy and voluptuous tribute would be the envy of the purest musicians – ingenious and inspired confidants that ennoble sorrow ad exalt dreams and, in exchange for the ardent secret confided to them, give the intoxicating illusion of beauty. The people, the bourgeoisie, the army, the nobility, all of them, just as they have the same mail carriers, purveyors of afflicting sorrow or of crowning joy, have the same invisible messengers of love, the same cherished confessors. Bad musicians, certainly. Some miserable ritournelle that every well-born and well-trained ear instantly refuses to listen to receives the tribute of millions of souls, guards the secret of millions of lives for whom it has been the living inspiration, the ever ready consolation always open on the piano-rack, the dreamy charm and the ideal. Certain arpeggios, a certain “rentreee” have made the soul of many a lover vibrate with the harmonies of Paradise of the voice of the beloved herself. A collection of bad Romances worn with constant use should touch us as a cemetery touches us, or a village. What does it matter if the houses have no style, if the tombstones are hidden by inscriptions and ornaments in execrable taste? Before an imagination sympathetic and respectful enough to silence for a moment its aesthetic scorn, from this dust that flock of souls may rise holding in their beaks the still verdant dream which has given them a foretastes of the other world, and made them rejoice or weep in this one.


À la recherche du temps perdu
Édition 1919
Tome 2
Du côté de chez swann
Deuxième partie : Un amour de swann

«[Swann] lui demandait de jouer à la place [de la Valse des Roses ou Pauvre Fou de Tagliafico] la petite phrase de la sonate de Vinteuil […]. La petite phrase continuait à s’associer pour Swann à l’amour qu’il avait pour Odette. […] Et souvent, quand c’était l’intelligence positive qui régnait seule en Swann, il voulait cesser de sacrifier tant d’intérêts intellectuels et sociaux à ce plaisir imaginaire. Mais la petite phrase, dès qu’il l’entendait, savait rendre libre en lui l’espace qui pour elle était nécessaire, les proportions de l’âme de Swann s’en trouvaient changées ; une marge y était réservée à une jouissance qui elle non plus ne correspondait pas à aucun objet extérieur et qui pourtant, au lieu d’être purement individuelle comme celle de l’amour, s’imposait à Swann comme une réalité supérieure aux choses concrètes. Cette soif d’un charme inconnu, la petite phrase l’éveillait en lui, mais ne lui apportait rien de précis pour l’assouvir. De sorte que ces parties de l’âme de Swann où la petite phrase avait effacé le soucis des intérêts matériels, les considérations humaines et valables pour tous, elle les avait laissées vacantes et en blanc, et il était libre d’y inscrire le nom d’Odette. […] A voir le visage de Swann pendant qu’il écoutait la phrase, on aurait dit qu’il était en train d’absorber un anesthésique qui donnait plus d’amplitude à sa respiration. Et le plaisir que lui donnait la musique et qui allait bientôt créer chez lui un véritable besoin, ressemblait en effet, à ces moments-là, au plaisir qu’il aurait eu à expérimenter des parfums, à entrer en contact avec un monde pour lequel nous ne sommes pas faits, qui nous semble sans forme parce que nos yeux ne le perçoivent pas, sans signification parce qu’il échappe à notre intelligence, que nous n’atteignons que par un seul sens. […] Et comme dans la petite phrase il cherchait cependant un sens où son intelligence ne pouvait descendre, quelle étrange ivresse il avait à dépouiller son âme la plus intérieure de tous les secours du raisonnement et à la faire passer seule dans le couloir, dans le filtre obscur du son!«.

30 de set. 2015

In a Silent Way



Escuchar:




In A Silent Way:
Not Rated
In A Silent Way Miles Davis Columbia
BY LESTER BANGS
November 15, 1969

Esta es la clase de álbum que nos inspira fe en el futuro de la música.

No es rock and roll, pero tampoco es nada que se pueda estereotipar como jazz. De entrada, debe casi tanto a las técnicas desarrolladas por los improvisadores de rock en los últimos cuatro años como a la formación jazzística de Davis. Forma parte de una nueva música trascendental que elimina etiquetas y, dado que recurre a dispositivos musicales de todos los estilos y culturas, se define principalmente por su profunda emoción y su originalidad sin pretensiones.

Miles siempre ha seguido su propio camino, es un músico con fuerza y dignidad que nunca ha hecho concesiones a las modas "pop" (tan dañinas para el jazz actual). Otra prueba de su autenticidad es que nunca se ha preocupado de encajar en ningún estilo sino que ha continuado con su experimentación profundamente emotiva durante dos décadas. Discos como Miles Ahead, Kind of Blue y Sketches of Spain sencillamente no envejecen y contienen algunas de las experiencias más conmovedoras que cualquier tipo de música puede ofrecer.

En su nuevo álbum, el mejor que ha hecho en algún tiempo, se aproxima a la “música espacial" y a la esfera respetuosa y atemporal de la canción en estado puro, la clase de música que no aparece demasiado a menudo, que nos hace detenernos un momento para pensar si no será este el núcleo alrededor del cual han girado todos nuestros caminos musicales desorientados: un sonido, a la vez primordial y futurista, y absolutamente carente de artificios, que aporta a nuestras almas el sustento más profundo y duradero. La definición contemporánea y viva de lo que es una gran obra de arte.

Las canciones son largas jams sobre una mínima estructura pre-fijada y, si son tan coherentes y sólidas, es porque constituyen una demostración palpable de la experiencia y la sensibilidad que poseen los músicos involucrados. Las líneas de Miles son como disparos de pasión destilada, el tipo de riffs liberadores y evocadores sobre los que los estudiosos construirán sus estilos en las décadas futuras. Aparte de Charles Mingus, no hay ningún otro músico vivo que comunique tanta intensidad controlada y anhelante, la transformación de las pasiones y tensiones primitivas de la vida en aventuras sonoras que encuentran un lugar permanente en nuestra conciencia y afectan nuestra definición básica de la música.

También sus acompañantes se crecen a la altura de las circunstancias, la mayoría de ellos tocan mejor de lo que nunca antes les he oído. Ciertamente Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (saxo tenor), y Joe Zawinul (órgano) nunca me han parecido tan embelesados. El milagro del jazz es que un gran líder puede llevar a músicos simplemente competentes a increíbles alturas de inspiración. Mingus siempre ha sido famoso por esto, y Miles ha demostrado ser cada vez más un maestro de este increíblemente delicado arte.

La primera cara está ocupada por una larga jam titulada "Shhh/Peaceful." El trabajo de platillos y escobillas de Tony Williams y los arabescos sutiles del órgano de Zawinul nos conducen a través de un viaje espacial a un estado de ánimo suspendido en el tiempo con unas vistas interiores infinitas. Pero cuando Miles entra, la humanidad y la ternura de los suaves gritos de su trompeta son suficientes para hacer brotar nuestras lágrimas. Me han dicho que cuando estaba grabando este álbum, Miles había escuchado a Jimi Hendrix y Sly and the Family Stone, pero la sensación es de que está más cerca de algo como "2000 Light Years From Home" de los Stones. Es la música del espacio, pero con un componente mayoritariamente humano que hace que sea mucho más emocionante y duradera que la mayoría de sus homólogos rockeros.

La segunda cara se abre y se cierra con la mejor canción del disco, una oración de trompeta intemporal llamada "In a Silent Way". Siempre ha habido algo eterno y puro en la música de Miles, y esta pieza capta esa cualidad tan bien como cualquier otra cosa que jamás haya grabado. Si, como creo, Miles es un artista para la historia, esta pieza estará entre las que se alcen a través de grandes extensiones de tiempo para recordar a las generaciones futuras la unicidad de la experiencia humana.

Entre las dos tomas de "Silent Way" se encuentra "It's About That Time," una jam espacial contenida y concisa que recuerda a la de la primera cara, pero un poco más nítida, lo que permite que se desencadene otra vez la feroz ética bluesística de Miles. Esta es la que podría estar conectada al interés de Miles por Hendrix y Sly.

Dicen que el jazz se ha vuelto menopaúsico y hay mucho de verdad en esta frase. El rock también parece haber sufrido un embotamiento bajo una plétora de sonidos estandarizados.

Pero creo que hay una nueva música en el aire, un arte total, que no conoce fronteras o categorías, una nueva escuela dirigida por genios indiferentes a la moda. Y también creo que el poder ineluctable y la honestidad de su música prevalecerán. Miles Davis es uno de esos genios.



Texto original

This is the kind of album that gives you faith in the future of music. It is not rock and roll, but it's nothing stereotyped as jazz either. All at once, it owes almost as much to the techniques developed by rock improvisors in the last four years as to Davis' jazz background. It is part of a transcendental new music which flushes categories away and, while using musical devices from all styles and cultures, is defined mainly by its deep emotion and unaffected originality.

Miles has always gone his own way, a musician of strength and dignity who has never made the compromise (so poisonous to jazz now) with "pop" fads. It is a testimony to his authenticity that he has never worried about setting styles either, but continued his deeply felt experiment for two decades now. Albums like Miles Ahead, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain simply do not get old, and contain some of the most moving experiences that any music has to offer.

In his new album, the best he has made in some time, he turns to "space music" and a reverent, timeless realm of pure song, the kind of music which comes along ever so often and stops us momentarily, making us think that this perhaps is the core around which all of our wayward musical highways have revolved, the primal yet futuristic and totally uncontrived sound which gives the deepest, most lasting sustenance to our souls, the living contemporary definition of great art.

The songs are long jams with a minimum of preplanned structure. That they are so cohesive and sustained is a testament to the experience and sensitivity of the musicians involved. Miles' lines are like shots of distilled passion, the kind of evocative, liberating riffs that decades of strivers build their styles on. Aside from Charles Mingus, there is no other musician alive today who communicates such a yearning, controlled intensity, the transformation of life's inchoate passions and tensions into aural adventures that find a permanent place in your consciousness and influence your basic definitions of music.

And his sidemen also rise to the occasion, most of them playing better than I have ever heard them before. Certainly Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), and Joe Zawinul (organ) have never seemed so transported. The miracle of jazz is that a great leader can bring merely competent musicians to incredible heights of inspiration —; Mingus has always been famous for this, and Miles has increasingly proven himself a master of this incredibly delicate art.

The first side is taken up by a long jam called "Shhh/Peaceful." Tony Williams' cymbal-and-brush work and the subtle arabesques of Zawinul's organ set a space trip, a mood of suspended time and infinite interior vistas. But when Miles enters, the humanity and tenderness of his trumpet's soft cries are enough to bring you tears. I've heard that when he was making this album, Miles had been listening to Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, but the feeling here is closer to something like "2000 Light Years From Home" by the Stones. It is space music, but with an overwhelmingly human component that makes it much more moving and enduring than most of its rock counterparts.

Side two opens and closes with the best song on the album, a timeless trumpet prayer called "In a Silent Way." There has always been something eternal and pure in Miles' music, and this piece captures that quality as well as anything he's ever recorded. If, as I believe, Miles is an artist for the ages, then this piece will be among those that stand through those vast tracks of time to remind future generations of the oneness of human experience.

Between the two takes of "Silent Way" lies "It's About That Time," a terse, restrained space jam somewhat reminiscent of the one on the first side but a bit sharper, allowing more of Miles' fierce blues ethos to burn through. This is the one that might be connected to Miles' interest in Hendrix and Sly.

They say that jazz has become menopausal, and there is much truth in the statement. Rock too seems to have suffered under a numbing plethora of standardized Sounds. But I believe there is a new music in the air, a total art which knows no boundaries or categories, a new school run by geniuses indifferent to fashion. And I also believe that the ineluctable power and honesty of their music shall prevail. Miles Davis is one of those geniuses.

From The Archives Issue 544: January 26, 1989

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/in-a-silent-way-19691115#ixzz3ivhQ0eno


Maestros del Jazz - Planeta Agostini - Vicente Mensua


In a Silent Way, dicho de una manera simplista, es un Kind Of Blue puesto al día. La estructura a base de modos hace que ambas obras esten muy próximas conceptualmente. Lo que las diferencia es el uso emientemente rítmico que se hace de los pianos eléctricos y de la guitarra y el hecho de que el ritmo tienda de una manera inevitable hacia acentuaciones binarias. In a Silent Way es pues, el comienzo de algo sin ser ese algo. La electrificación es por decirlo de alguna manera, modesta. Los teclados se reducen a los dichos pianos eléctricos de Hancock-Corea y al órgano de Zawinul. La guitarra de McLaughlin, de una discrepción total, sin desarrollar ningún solo, fundiendose como un elemento más de la polifonía; el austero y acústico contrabajo de Holland está todavía muy alejado de los voluminosos sonidos que se avecinan. Como explicó Miles, "In a Silent Way, fue el principio de una dimensión que no hicimos más que despuntar". Es preciso señalar que esa dimensión a la que se refería Miles sobrepasó con creces lo que el mismo pudiera haber soñado. En efecto los cuatro nuevos grupos de una nueva tendencia que intentaría fusionar el jazz con otras músicas periféricas (rock, free, funky, etc...) surgieron de esa sesión: Weather Report de Zawinul- Shorter, Return To Forever de Corea, Emergency de Tony Williams o el Herbie Hancock Group. Todos ellos habrían de ocupar un espacio importante en la industria discográfica, que de esta manera se abría a productos no adocenados.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhxJow6J-oc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSwc3OpdNMQ

Pitchok Media - The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions
Miles Davis
Columbia; 2001
By Dominique Leone; November 7, 2001

Miles had a new girl. Her name was Betty, and she told him all about what the kids were listening to. Being a singer herself, she had some connection to the inside world of pop and soul, but mostly, she was just a lot younger than him, and was probably instinctively more drawn to that music than Miles was. It's not as if Miles was completely out of touch with popular trends, but on tour and in the studio as frequently as he was, one could hardly blame him for receiving information second-hand.

Betty told him all about Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and the Fifth Dimension (hopefully in that order), and he was keen to investigate the new sounds. Years later he would brag about being able to put together a rock band that would blow all the others away, but he approached the idiom cautiously and methodically at first. Additionally, Miles was getting insider info from his drummer, Tony Williams. Tony was younger even than Betty Mabry, and although he'd come of age deep inside one of the most popular bands in jazz (even if jazz's popularity wasn't what it had been ten years previous), he had his finger very much on the pulse of hip new music.

Tony had especially enjoyed the new funk from James Brown and the boogaloo grooves being played by Jimmy McGriff and Richard "Groove" Holmes' bands. Betty and Tony were playing a key role for Miles Davis in the late 60s, even beyond their personal and performing ones.

The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions release details a six-month stretch in 1968-69 when the various advisors in Miles' life would see their seeds sprout into fauna so full of life and outrageous fertility that the face of his idiom would be forever changed. Of course, the final product of all this investigation and experimentation has been the subject of countless essays on Miles' genius, but it bears closer inspection to reveal that the trumpeter didn't just up and create this music out of thin air. He spent months in the studio rehearsing on tape, midwifing his ideas. In late '68, Miles was a painter using one canvas to try and retry his masterpiece, continually repainting over areas where, though the ideas were fresh and the colors vibrant, the concept was yet immature.

As a palette, Miles chose only the best primaries from two continents. At the time, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Herbie Hancock were mainstays from his second great quintet. Bassist Ron Carter had become so busy with sessions in New York that Miles had to find a replacement. In between gigs in England, he saw Dave Holland's band opening for Bill Evans. Miles was immediately struck by the young bassist, and sent word via Philly Jo Jones and his manager (Miles had the best connections) that he wanted Dave. Elsewhere, when it became apparent Hancock was going to have trouble making a recording date, Williams recommended the young Boston native Chick Corea as a replacement. This quintet (Davis, Shorter, Williams, Holland and Corea) produced the first tunes on this release in September 1968.


"Mademoiselle Mabry" is a sprawling ode to both Miles' new girl and Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary." Miles had started using electric keyboards in the studio almost exclusively by that time, and Corea's relatively conservative figures (when they aren't directly quoting the Hendrix tune), are the dominant timbre in this piece at first. He hadn't picked up the Fender Rhodes piano that would color almost every tune Miles performed thereafter, and the primitive sounds produced here betray the band's uncertainty about where the tune (or their sound) was going. Davis takes the first solo, similar to his exploratory efforts on Miles in the Sky earlier that year, over a non-groove from Williams' toms and Holland's steady, if rather static, low-end line. One of the reasons sets like this are great is that you really get a feeling for the musicians' progress during that time, and if this tune is any indication, things had only just begun to get interesting.

"Frelon Brun" gives a much better idea of the revolutionary sounds ahead. Williams wastes no time in hammering out a hard funk break from the kit, and Corea had apparently already learned the importance of the repetitive chordal vamp to this music. Davis takes a short solo, as if testing the waters, which is followed by Shorter's seemingly more confident strides in funky acid soul. The music actually ends up closer to what the band played after Bitches Brew than anything on In a Silent Way.

Two months later, Miles reconvened with the same musicians, adding Herbie Hancock on Rhodes to form a sextet, to begin the next phase of the trip. The band played music closer to Miles' vision on "Two Faced": mystical, impressionistic soundscapes courtesy of the two-keyboard attack, subtle, though insistent drumming from Williams, and a by-then typically moaning, weary head covered by Davis and Shorter. The band was also not afraid of stretching the tunes out to 10, 15, or 20 minutes if it meant they'd find something useful along the way. Miles (with the help of producer Teo Macero) had discovered tape edits from progressive pop records of the time (Sgt. Pepper being a chief influence), and this tune, similar to "Shhh/Peaceful" and "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time," was constructed from several stop/start fragments.


MILES DAVIS BIOGRAPHY
BORN: MAY 26, 1926
DIED: SEPTEMBER 28, 1991

Miles Davis – legendary trumpeter and bandleader, explorer of unknown musical paths and enduring icon of hip – would be celebrating his 90th birthday next year had he not departed in 1991. Yet by all measure his sound and stature is more alive than ever. In the upcoming year, the news of a major musical collection covering twenty years of historic live performances, and a full-length motion picture have already begun to generate headlines and other major media attention. A number of other projects are afoot as well, promising to add more interest to and raise his legacy higher than ever.

Immediately out of the gate is the release of Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4, a 4-CD collection featuring primarily never before released performances from a twenty-year period when the trumpeter delivered groundbreaking music every time he hit the stage at an event under the Newport banner. The set includes Davis performing in the company of his most influential groups, from his Kind of Blue sextet (John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb); his classic 1960s quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams) and his two-guitar fusion ensemble of the mid-‘70s (Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas, Dave Liebman, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume). Produced by Columbia/Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, the historic release arrives on Friday, July 17 – 60 years to the date since Davis’ premiere performance at Newport in 1955 when he performed “’Round Midnight” in the company of an all-star band (Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Percy Heath, Connie Kay), inspiring Columbia Records to sign the trumpeter and initiating a thirty-year run of classic recordings.

In addition, this year’s Newport Jazz Festival pays tribute to Miles’s fruitful relationship with the annual event, and his enduring friendship with jazz impresario George Wein, whom he first met in 1952 when they were both beginning to make names for themselves. Many groups performing on the stages at Fort McAdams will play tunes written by or associated with Miles, and Grammy Award®-winning author and music historian Ashley Kahn will curate two seminars each day on the renowned trumpet player at the festival’s new Storyville stage.

Miles Ahead is the title of the major motion picture co-written and co-produced by actor/director Don Cheadle, along with Miles’s nephew Vince Wilburn, Jr. and his son Erin Davis. The film tells the story of a few dangerous days in the life of music icon Miles Davis (played by Cheadle), the virtuoso, fighter and genius, as he bursts out of his silent period and conspires with a Rolling Stone writer (Ewan McGregor) to steal back his music. The film has been funded in part through crowd funding on social media, and promises to be popular, introducing the trumpeter and his legacy to another generation. The score for the film—featuring both recreations of Miles’s classic performances, as well as original music channeling contemporary styles and sounds—has already achieved critical praise as Cheadle recruited keyboardist, composer and producer Robert Glasper to compose additional music for the film, along with the legendary Herbie Hancock as consultant. Other well-known musicians and Miles’s alumni participating in the film include Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Gary Clark, Jr., Antonio Sanchez, while Glasper is also working on a remix project of the original soundtrack music.

Miles Ahead doesn’t have a release date yet, but it will surely grab headlines and will be greeted by crowds of moviegoers hungry to know how this exciting and long-awaited labor of love turns out—and by all indications, they won’t be disappointed.

Over six full decades, from his arrival on the national scene in 1945 until his death in 1991, Miles Davis made music that grew from an uncanny talent to hear the future and a headstrong desire to play it. From his beginnings in the circle of modern jazz, he came to intuit new worlds of sound and challenge. While the vast majority of musicians – jazz, rock, R&B, otherwise – find the experimental charge and imperviousness of youth eventually running down, Miles forever forged ahead, trusting and following instinct until the end.

In doing so, Miles became the standard bearer for successive generations of musicians, shaped the course of modern improvisational music more than a half-dozen times. This biography attempts to explain those paradigm-shifts one after another, through his recordings and major life changes.

The factors leading to that process are now the foundation of the Miles Davis legend: the dentist’s son born in 1926 to middle-class comfort in East St Louis. The fresh acolyte learning trumpet in the fertile, blues-drenched music scene of his hometown. The sensitive soul forging a seething streetwise exterior that later earned him the title, Prince Of Darkness. The determined teenager convincing his parents to send him to New York’s famed Juilliard School of Music in 1944, a ploy allowing him to locate and join the band of his idol, bebop pioneer Charlie Parker.

It wasn’t long before the headstrong young arrival grew from sideman to leading his own projects and bands of renown, from the restrained, classical underpinning of the famous “Birth of the Cool” group (Miles’s first foray with arranger Gil Evans), to the blues-infused hardbop anthem “Walkin’”, to his first famous quintet (Coltrane, Chambers, Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones) with whom his recordings on muted trumpet helped him develop a signature sound that broke through to mainstream recognition. His subsequent jump from recording with independent labels (Prestige, Blue Note) to Columbia Records, then the Tiffany of record companies, propelled his career further from a limited jazz audience and a series of late ‘50s albums (Miles Ahead, Porgy & Bess, Miles Ahead, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain) secured his widespread popularity.

Miles’s group shifted and morphed through the early ‘60s until he settled for a four-year run with his classic quintet, a lineup that is still hailed today as one of the greatest and most influential jazz groups of all time. Their albums together—from Miles Smiles, ESP and Nefertiti, to Miles In The Sky, and Filles de Kilimanjaro—traced a pattern of unparalleled growth and innovation.

Had Miles stopped his progress at that point, he’d still be hailed as one of the greatest pioneers in jazz, but his creative momentum from the end of the ‘60s into the ‘70s would not let up. He was listening to the world around him—the amplified explosion of rock bands and the new, heavy-on-the-one funk of James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone. From the ambient hush of In A Silent Way, to the strange and unsettling – yet wildly popular Bitches Brew, he achieved another shift in musical paradigm and a personal career breakthrough.

Bitches Brew was controversial, a best-seller and attracted another, younger generation into the Miles fold. Thousands whose musical taste respected no categorical walls flocked to hear Miles, and a slew of fusion bands were soon spawned, led by his former sidemen: Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever. The studio albums that defined Miles’s kaleidoscopic sound in the ‘70s included a series of (mostly) double albums, from …Brew to 1971’s Live-Evil, ‘72’s On The Corner and ‘75’s Get Up With It. The covers listed populous line-ups that reached up to 11 musicians, adding new names to an ever-widening circle of on-call talent.

By the end of 1975, Miles was tired – and sick. A period of seclusion ensued, full years to deal with personal demons and health issues, bouncing between bouts of self-abuse and boredom. It was the longest time Miles had been off the public radar – only amplifying the appetite for his return.

When Miles’s reappeared in 1981, expectation had reached fever pitch. A final series of albums for Columbia reflected his continuing fascination with funk of the day (Rose Royce, Cameo, Chaka Khan and later, Prince), and the sounds of synthesizer and drum machines (Great Miles Shift Number 8). The Man With A Horn, We Want Miles and Decoy found him still working with Teo Macero and still surrounding himself with young talent, including bassist Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones). In 1985, his album You’re Under Arrest — with unexpected covers of recent pop charters (Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cyndi La
uper’s “Time After Time”) — brought the long Davis-Columbia association to a close. He embarked on a new relationship with Warner Bros. Records and producer Tommy LiPuma, scoring successes with Tutu (written in a large part by his bassist Marcus Miller), Music from Siesta (also with Miller), Amandla (featuring a new breed of soloists, including alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, tenor saxophonist Rick Margitza, guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, keyboardist Joey DeFrancesco, and others) and Doo-Bop (his collaboration with hip hop producer Easy Moe Bee.)

Those titles proved Miles’s farewell, still pushing forward, still exploring new musical territory. Throughout his career, he had always resisted looking back, avoiding nostalgia and loathing leftovers. “It’s more like warmed-over turkey,” the eternal modernist described the music of Kind of Blue twenty-five years after recording it. Ironically, in 1991, only weeks after performing a career-overview concert in Paris that featured old friends and collaborators from as early as the ‘40s, he died from a brain aneurysm.

Like his music, Miles always spoke with an economy of expression. And for Miles, it had to be fresh, or forget it. “I don’t want you to like me because of Kind of Blue,” he insisted. “Like me for what we’re doing now.”



3rd Blindfold Test Miles Davis by Leonard Feather
Down Beat Volume 58 No. 12, December 1991, p.69
(First published by Down Beat, June 1964)

'You have to think when you play; you have to help each other - you just can't play for yourself. You've got to play with whomever you're playing. If I'm playing with Basie, I'm going to try to help what he's doing - that particular feeling.'

Miles Davis is unusually selective in his listening habits. This attitude should not be interpreted as reflecting any general misanthropy. He was in a perfectly good mood on the day of the interview reproduced below; it just happened that the records selected did not, for the most part, make much of an impression.

Clark Terry, for example, is an old friend and idol of Davis' from St. Louis, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra has always been on Davis' preferred list.

Davis does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down, as an inspection of his earlier Blindfold Tests will confirm (DB, Sept. 21, 1955 and Aug. 7, 1958).

The Cecil Taylor item was played as an afterthought, because we were discussing artists who have impressed critics, and I said I'd like to play an example. Aside from this, Davis was given no information about the records played.


The Records
1. Les McCann-Jazz Crusaders
All Blues
(Pacific Jazz)
Wayne Henderson, trombone; Wilton Felder, tenor saxophone; Joe Sample, piano; McCann, electric piano; Miles Davis, composer.

What's that supposed to be? That ain't nothin'. They don't know what to do with it - you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don't just play flat notes. I didn't write it to play flat notes on - you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don't try to play it like you'd play, ah, Walkin' the Dog. You know what I mean?

That trombone player - trombone ain't supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.

Rate it? How can I rate that?

2. Clark Terry
Cielito Lindo
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor)
Terry, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar.

Clark Terry, right? You know, I've always liked Clark. But this is a sad record. Why do they make records like that? With the guitar in the way, and that sad fucking piano player. He didn't do nothing for the rhythm section - didn't you hear it get jumbled up? All they needed was a bass and Terry.
That's what's fucking up music, you know. Record companies. They make too many sad records, man.

3. Rod Levitt
Ah! Spain
(from Dynamic Sound Patterns, Riverside)
Levitt, trombone, composer; John Beal, bass.

There was a nice idea, but they didn't do nothing with it. The bass player was a motherfucker, though.

What are they trying to do, copy Gil? It doesn't have the Spanish feeling - doesn't move. They move up in triads, but there's all those chords missing - and I never heard any Spanish thing where they had a figure that went

That's some old shit, man. Sounds like Steve Allen's TV band. Give it some stars just for the bass player.

4. Duke Ellington
Caravan
(from Money Jungle, United Artists).
Ellington, piano; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums.

What am I supposed to say to that? That's ridiculous. You see the way they can fuck up music? It's a mismatch. They don't complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can't play with them, and they can't play with Duke.

Now, how are you going to give a thing like that some stars? Record companies should be kicked in the ass. Somebody should take a picket sign and picket the record company.

5. Sonny Rollins
You Are My Lucky Star
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor).
Don Cherry, trumpet; Rollins, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.

Now, why did they have to end it like that? Don Cherry I like, and Sonny I like, and the tune idea is nice. The rhythm is nice. I didn't care too much for the bass player's solo. Five stars is real good? It's just good, no more. Give it three.

6. Stan Getz - Joao Gilberto
Desafinado
from Getz-Gilberto, Verve
Getz, tenor saxophone; Gilberto, vocal.

Gilberto and Stan Getz made an album together? Stan plays good on that. I like Gilberto; I'm not particularly crazy about just anybody's bossa nova. I like the samba. And I like Stan, because he has so much patience, the way he plays those melodies - other people can't get nothing out of a song, but he can. Which takes a lot of imagination, that he has, that so many other people don't have.

As for Gilberto, he could read a newspaper and sound good! I'll give that one five stars.

7. Eric Dolphy
Mary Ann
(from Far Cry, New Jazz).
Booker Little, trumpet; Dolphy, composer, alto saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano.

That's got to be Eric Dolphy - nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I'm going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he's ridiculous. He's a sad motherfucker.

L.F.: Down Beat won't print those words. [But I do!]

M.D.: Just put he's a sad shhhhhhhhh, that's all! The composition is sad. The piano player fucks it up, getting in the way so that you can't hear how things are supposed to be accented.

It's a sad record, and it's the record company's fault again. I didn't like the trumpet player's tone, and he don't do nothing. The running is all right if you're going to play that way, like Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan; but you've got to inject something, and you've got to have the rhythm section along; you just can't keep on playing all eighth notes.

The piano player's sad. You have to think when you play; you have to help each other - you just can't play for yourself. You've got to play with whomever you're playing. If I'm playing with Basie, I'm going to try to help what he's doing - that particular feeling.

8. Cecil Taylor
Lena
(from Live at the Café Montmartre, Fantasy).
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Taylor, piano.

Take it off! That's some sad shit, man. In the first place, I hear some Charlie Parker cliches. . . . They don't even fit. Is that what the critics are digging? Them critics better stop having coffee. If there ain't nothing to listen to, they might as well admit it. Just to take something like that and say it's great, because there ain't nothing to listen to, that's like going out and getting a prostitute.

L.F.: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.

M.D.: I don't give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don't care who he's inspired by. That shit ain't nothing. In the first place he don't have the - you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn't have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.

I can tell he's influenced by Duke, but to put the loud pedal on the piano and make a run is very old-fashioned to me. And when the alto player sits up there and plays without no tone. . . . That's the reason I don't buy any records.

You can find this blindfold test reprinted in Bill Kirchner's Miles Davis Reader, a collection of articles about Miles Davis and his music by various authors, which is still available (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1997).



Lester Bangs, 1948-1982
Robert Christgau
Village Voice, May 11, 1982

At around 8:15 Friday, April 30, Lester Bangs mounted the stairs to his place at 542 Sixth Avenue, a little north of 14th Street. Just over the flu, he'd gone home for some sleep after almost drowsing off at his friend John Morthland's that afternoon, but later he'd called several other friends--from the street, he hadn't had his own phone since 1980. His downstairs neighbor Abel Shafer thought he looked kind of gray and asked after his health. Lester reported that he was feeling great. That's what he'd always tell people, but over the previous six months it had been true most of the time. He'd gotten so serious about cleaning up his act that even his apartment, renowned for its squalor, was comparatively neat, which isn't to say there weren't a few chicken bones and half-empty vials around. Leaving the door unlocked as usual, Lester lay down on the couch. Sometime in the next half-hour guitarist Nancy Stillman, whom he'd invited over for an evening of music-making and record listening, yelled up for the keys and got no response. Eventually Abel Shafer, who knew her face, came down and let her in. When she entered the apartment, Lester was on his back with one arm dangling to the floor--a familiar enough posture, except that this time he wad dead.

I recount all this so that nobody gets the idea that Lester Bangs wanted to die. Unless he was fooling a lot of people that day, Lester wasn't walking around in desperate need of transcendence or obliteration or some confusion of the two. A drug may have killed him--the medical examiner is still trying to figure that out--but on April 30 that drug would have been an episode, not a rut or a habit or a way of life. Maybe his cleanup wasn't permanent, and certainly it wasn't going to solve all of this problems. But the author of "I Saw God and/or Tangerine Dream," launched by several bottles of cough syrup into mystic visions of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was putting drugs and booze behind him. The last time he'd fallen off the wagon, in March, he'd even gone and joined AA. The worst you could say about his frame of mind on April 30 is that maybe he didn't hate death as fervently as usual.

For while most people spend their lives trying to ignore death, Lester really did hate it, actively, just as he hated its philosophical counterparts, nihilism and solipsism. Scared, excited, sour, friendly, homely, cuddly, beat, weird, goofy, defenseless, guileless, seamless, motivated, skillful, old-fashioned, unreasonable, moralistic, angry, benign, phenomenally intelligent, and all lit up, he wished sometimes that he could disappear from the face of the earth and was all too aware of what a waste that would be. And he found in rock and roll's crude, spontaneous, eternally adolescent synthesis/confusion of eroticism and rage, transcendence and obliteration, the artistic counterpart of his own terrific vitality. For him, music and writing were matters of life and death.

Lester was born on December 14, 1948, and grew up in El Cajon, California, 25 miles east of San Diego. After his father burned to death in 1957, his mother became a Jehovah's Witness, but that was not to be Lester's way. In 1969, while more or less attending San Diego State, he published his first record review in Rolling Stone, and he never stopped. Over the next 13 years he wrote more pages than anyone will ever count--for a free associater who could turn out a 17,000-word rumination on the Troggs overnight and a 40,000-word fanbook on Blondie in three or four days, three million words may be a conservative estimate.

From 1971 to 1976 Lester worked in Detroit as an editor of Creem, defining its cheerful punk-gonzo fuckyouism and keeping alive the dream of insurrectionary rock and roll as Rolling Stone turned to auteur theory and trade journalism. Not counting his wonderful heads and subheads and captions, Lester wrote three or four pieces a month. There were mammoth reports on reggae and Iggy and the Allman Brothers. There were endless segments of The Lou Reed Show. There was a feature in which Marshall Thieu charged that Jethro Tull had no "rebop," a review in which 1973 pheenoms White Witch were identified from their album cover as the same "dorks" who'd peered out from behind British Invasion mopcuts in 1965 and illegible calligraphy in 1969. For several years after he'd severed all ties with a magazine that prospered by adapting his shtick to the values of late heavy-metal fans, Creem readers voted him their favorite critic anyway. At the same time he had become a hero to thousands of nascent punks and new wavers.

Lester's move to New York in the fall of 1976 was brave, fortunate, and completely, natural. It was brave, because, for any writer New York is the big time, and Lester was never entirely secure about his intellectual status. It was fortunate because the incestuous years at Creem had turned him slightly stale and cynical, maladies mitigated by both the discipline of free-lancing and the leftish principles of a Manhattan bohemia, which touched his conscience without ever denting his contempt for rad-lib cant. It was natural because this small-town Southern California boy took to Greenwich Village, especially its fringes, as if he had never imagined that anywhere else could be home. Although he put in time at the Bells of Hell and showed up at the rock clubs now and then, he was never on-the-scene, preferring to socialize privately. But he was enormously amiable, willing to converse with almost anybody--and to blame anybody whose spiel even hinted at fraud or special interest.

Early in 1978 Lester's rather extreme and compulsive notion of integrity induced him to start making music as well as writing about it, a reckless decision that he justified with the superb 1979 single "Let It Blurt" and the impressive 1981 album Jook Savages on the Brazos. But after his first band threw him over because he wasn't commercial enough, he came to realize that his real future was where it always had been, at the typewriter. The problem was publishing. Although he was a more coherent, punctual, professional journalist than 90 per cent of the editors who considered him a lunatic, his autodidactic moralism, chronic logorrhea, and fantastic imagination rendered him unsuitable for the slicks. Anyway, rock criticism is below police reporting and horoscopes in the literary hierarchy, and while Lester wanted to write--and did write--about almost everything, rock criticism was what he was best at.

Maybe this is because it was Lester as much as anybody who defined what rock criticism ought to be--because he was the great one. He wasn't long on the values ordinarily sought in a critic--balance, consistency, analysis, judgment. But his writing was dense with the crazy, unschooled virtues of the music that moved him most deeply--again and again his conceits came from nowhere and hit some fundamental question right where it hurt. Finally, he asked too much of the world--that's why he wasn't long on balance, consistency, analysis, or judgment. But he made up for his lack of critical distance with his indefatigable sense of humor, and in the end, he was the most honest and sheerly gifted writer I've ever worked with-and one of the most honest and sheerly gifted I've ever read.

Lester and archivist Michael Ochs had just finished work on Rock Gomorrah, their version of Hollywood Babylon, when Lester died. He planned to go to Mexico this summer and put together a novel about New York. Among his surviving blood kin are two half-brothers, a half-sister, and some nephews, including Ben Catching, who gave him his first copy of On the Road. Nancy Alexander, who accompanied Lester to New York and who for the past two years has kept in touch with weekly phone conversations from Florida, wanted to be remembered as one of his survivors as well. I suspect she isn't the only one.



Lester Bangs: Truth-teller
BY MARIA BUSTILLOS


The second post in a series in which we ask what book or writer our contributors have returned to again and again.

Every reader, starting from childhood, draws his own map of the world of letters. There is liable to be some outside guidance here and there, naturally. Certain landmarks are supplied to us, say in English class. But teachers aren’t found only in school. As a kid, my chief literary mentor was the rock critic Lester Bangs, who wrote for Creem magazine and The Village Voice in the seventies and early eighties. He shaped my nascent taste, and taught me to read much the way I still read now. And as much as I relied on his irresistible humor and wisdom for advice on how best to blow my birthday money at the Licorice Pizza record store, I sought him out still more to learn about books, in particular the forbidden and arcane books no conventional teacher would ever mention.

Lester Bangs was a wreck of a man, right up until his death in April of 1982, at the age of thirty-three. He was fat, sweaty, unkempt—an out-of-control alcoholic in torn jeans and a too-small black leather jacket; crocked to the gills on the Romilar cough syrup he swigged down by the bottle. He also had the most advanced and exquisite taste of any American writer of his generation, uneven and erratic as it was.

Bangs, who was born in 1948 and grew up in El Cajon, California, had been driven out into the wider world by a complicated, shambolic family: his mother, Norma, was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, and his father, Conway, was an incorrigible drunk. Many imaginative kids who feel trapped in oppressive surroundings find solace, pleasure, excitement, and every other kind of relief in music and literature: in Bangs’s case this tendency was exceptionally pronounced. The community of Witnesses Bangs’s family belonged to believed in an end-is-nigh ideology, and they disapproved of Christmas presents, birthday parties, and education beyond reading the Bible. Here is the root, perhaps, of the seductive ease and fluidity with which Bangs riffed on culture high and low. As the Witnesses equally rejected Coltrane, Miles Davis, Superman comics, and science fiction, so did this rebellious son love and accept them all equally and on the same plane. Bangs’s biographer, Jim DeRogatis (“Let It Blurt”), described Bangs’s nascent rebellion—and his growing sense of the untrustworthiness, incompetence, and hypocrisy of authority.

“The drawer where I kept my Classics Illustrated collection was subject to stringent, arbitrary and rather sudden swoops of censorship,” Les wrote at age twenty. “Things like ‘The War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells and ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ by Jules Verne, my literary mentor of the third grade, would suddenly appear in ripped piles atop the ashes when I’d go out to empty the trash into the incinerator on a winter morning. My mother thought science fiction was demented nonsense; all the Witnesses do. They hold that since the Bible never mentions life on other planets, there must not be any, and no one can sway them from their conclusions.”

And yet Norma indulged Lester enough that he seems to have managed a childhood of nonstop reading, listening, writing. “Days home from school faking flu I would put Trane on loud … and stand up on a hassock reading Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl,’” he wrote. But there are indications, too, that mother and son were very close. When Bangs found himself broke and washed up, his mother and sister would enclose sawbucks along with the Watchtower tracts they sent him. They had all shared Conway’s disgrace and death: they loved him, it seems, but he died in a fire, drunk and alone, having fled the family in shame.

The adult world outside Bangs’s childhood home bore unmistakable evidence of the same weaknesses he’d discovered inside it. The false Donna Reed visions of a happy, healthy, snow-white America of the postwar years, the disillusionment of the Vietnam war, and Nixon’s downfall; everywhere, the rebellion that had begun to precipitate in the Summer of Love now saturated the air and fermented. Bangs developed a pure hatred of the lies and whitewashings of religion and government, his mutiny balanced against a bone-deep love of the truth—no matter how messy or unpretty it might turn out to be—which he equated with the refuge he’d found in literature and music. In fact, the messier, the more “real” art could be, the better. He talked about this in what might be his most famous review, of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”:

[T]he fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled almost to none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid … [“Astral Weeks”] assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. It sounded like the man who made “Astral Weeks “was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison’s previous works had only suggested; but … there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work.

Along with many of his contemporaries, Bangs concluded that if “authority” was not to be trusted—and clearly, it wasn’t—then whatever “authority” detested must be O.K., or probably great. Hence the reactionary excesses of the nineteen-seventies, the chancy legacy of “don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Cocaine: a pure plant-derived substance that wouldn’t hurt you. Government: barely worth ignoring. If the squares were in favor of monogamy, then monogamy must be avoided at all costs, whether it appealed to you or not.

As for Bangs’s audience, the children of those years were far more sheltered from adult culture than they are now. While the rock stars whom we so admired were getting high and indulging their vast sexual appetites, the adults who were in charge of children were hell-bent on terrifying us with tall tales about sex and drugs and rock and roll: take acid and you might throw yourself out a window, certain you could fly, or become permanently convinced that you were a glass of orange juice. The cruel fates of these mythical victims were transparently bogus even to ten and twelve year olds, particularly those whose older siblings were already getting us stoned. Growing up at that time felt something like “The Truman Show”: the young intuited that they might break through the papier-mâché walls at any moment and into the “real world,” which probably really was scary but at least would be real. We sought reliable guides who wouldn’t lie to us, infantilize us, or sugar-coat anything, however flabby and wild-eyed they might be.

Sure there were other magazines and there were other writers. But for a certain cohort of bookishly-inclined kids, there was only one magazine and only one writer. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that my contemporary, the late David Foster Wallace, had dedicated his first co-written book, “Signifying Rappers,” to Lester Bangs.

***

Bangs, then, was a moralist. He understood that what young people wanted was something still more than to break free of parental bonds. We wanted to know exactly what was being hidden from us. Bangs’s great gift to the kids who formed his most passionate following was the news that this information was available to us; it could be found in books.

It would be difficult to say where the expression of Bangs’s moral universe was clearest, because he’d habitually compress a sublime insight into any old photo caption or throwaway remark, in whatever throwaway piece about whatever throwaway band. But a lot of fans, I suspect, would nominate the aforementioned review of “Astral Weeks” for the honors.

“Astral Weeks,” insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boils down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

All this would send the questing reader straight to “Les Fleurs du Mal.” There was scarcely a book mentioned during Bangs’s tenure at Creem that I didn’t eventually hunt down (including a new edition of Borges’s “The Aleph”; I couldn’t make head or tail of that.)

In this way, a whole generation of kids was led to see “subversive” or countercultural literature through the lens of rock and roll—and also to become attuned to a new kind of critical voice, a voice far more intellectually honest than that of the academic critics. Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” holds itself at a lofty, self-regarding remove from its determinedly hip subject matter, but Bangs never held anything at arm’s length in his life; he was rushing headlong into the sea of the world, arms thrown wide open, to embrace it, to drown in it.

Let’s take “Of Pop and Pies and Fun: A Program for Mass Liberation in the Form of a Stooges Review, or, Who’s the Fool?,” published in Creem in 1970. I was too young to have read this when it came out; I would have read it in one of the thick bound volumes I used to spend summer afternoons with at the library, some years later. This is just to give an idea of the fun that Bangs could provide in such an afternoon, if you were a young teen-age fan fiendishly devoted to the Stooges and their “crazed quaking uncertainty.” Because Bangs had already won you over with his uncannily exact description of your own love of the Stooges: “an errant foolishness that effectively mirrors the absurdity and desperation of the times, but … they also carry a strong element of cure, a post-derangement sanity.”

The perfection of this assessment led you breathlessly through the rest of the piece, which mentioned: Malcolm Muggeridge, the Panthers, the Yips, Holden Caulfield, “I took acid four days ago and since then everything is smooth with no hangups like it always is for about a week after a trip?” (ugh, speak for yourself, Lester); “fantasies of a puissant ‘youth culture,’” “Jimmy Page’s arch scowl of supermusician ennui,” Mountain, Cream, Creedence, “imagine throwing a pie in the face of Eldridge Cleaver! Joan Baez!” “the onetime atropine-eyed Byronic S&M Lizard King,” an MBE returned, “a giant pie stuffed with the complete works of Manly P. Hall,” “that infernal snob McCartney and those radical dilettante capitalist pigs the Jefferson Airplane,” Marxists, A. A. Milne, Mick Jagger (“a spastic flap-lipped tornado writhing from here to a million steaming snatches and beyond in one undifferentiated erogenous mass, a mess and a spectacle all at the same time”), “the bastion (Bastille) stage,” “the oppressor is fat and weak, brothers!”

Artaud, Tinkertoys, épater la bourgeoisie, Ed Ward, the “I Ching,” sock hops, “A.B. Spellman’s moving book ‘Four Lives in the Bebop Business,’” “Trout Mask Replica,” “the essence of both American life and American rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Mark my words.”

“Some peglegged Golem hobbling toward carny Bethlehem,” Porky Pig, “beautiful Pauline Kael.”

It ends like this:

Some of the most powerful esthetic experiences of our time, from “Naked Lunch” to Bonnie and Clyde, set their audiences up just this way, externalizing and magnifying their secret core of sickness which is reflected in the geeks they mock and the lurid fantasies they consume, just as our deepest fears and prejudices script the jokes we tell each other. This is where the Stooges work. They mean to put you on that stage, which is why they are super-modern, though nothing near to Art. In Desolation Row and Woodstock-Altamont Nation the switchblade is mightier and speaks more eloquently than the penknife. But this threat is cathartic, a real cool time is had by all, and the end is liberation.

Don’t even doubt that I looked up every single book, every musical reference, hell every single word I didn’t understand. You bet your sweet bippy, I did.

Bangs openly lamented having been born too late to hang with the Beats, but he loved William Burroughs and wrote about him constantly. Suburban librarians generally hadn’t the faintest clue what was in any of these books (or maybe, just pretended not to) and any curious teen-ager could borrow them freely at the public library, or buy them at a bookshop, head shop, or thrift shop. “Naked Lunch” certainly made a striking contrast with, say, “The Catcher in the Rye,” a book you might be reading at school. I was surprised to find, returning to “Naked Lunch” just a few years ago, how full of sap and hilarity it still is. The funniest thing is that “Naked Lunch” turns out to be a moralistic book, making a better, truer, scarier case against becoming a junkie than whatever nonsense you were liable to be hearing in health ed.

The literature of mysticism and the occult, representing as it did the anti-religious, was also of interest during this time; parents were still attending church regularly. Hence the popularity of unreadable Satanist tracts, astrology, Aleister Crowley, and assorted metaphysicians of all nations. What did the anti-religions have to say? I can still remember the pseudo-mystical mantra-recommendation sung by Todd Rundgren on the album, “Initiation”: “Steiner, Gurdjieff, Blavatsky, and Boooo-dah.” I went dutifully along to the library to investigate and was soon bored out of my tree. By golly, that Madame Blavatsky is a pill. In general, you were liable to get some crackpot literary recommendations from your favorite rock stars. But Bangs could draw the marrow forth even from the metaphysicians. In the essay, “James Taylor Marked for Death,” he wrote:

Number one, everybody should realize that all this “art” and “bop” and “rock-’n’-roll” and whatever is all just a joke and a mistake, just a hunka foolishness so stop treating it with any seriousness or respect at all and just recognize the fact that it’s nothing but a Wham-O toy to bash around as you please in the nursery, it’s nothing but a goddam Bonusburger so just gobble the stupid thing and burp and go for the next one tomorrow; and don’t worry about the fact that it’s a joke and a mistake and a bunch of foolishness as if that’s gonna cause people to disregard it and do it in or let it dry up and die, because it’s the strongest, most resilient, most invincible Superjoke in history, nothing could possibly destroy it ever, and the reason for that is precisely that it is a joke, mistake, foolishness. The first mistake of Art is to assume that it’s serious. I could even be an asshole here and say that “Nothing is true; everything is permitted,” which is true as a matter of fact, but people might get the wrong idea. What’s truest is that you cannot enslave a fool.

Here was one of Crowley’s favorite notions (“Nothing is true; everything is permitted,”), by way of Nietzsche, but Bangs brought it out of occult Thelemist incomprehensibility and into the question of discovering a practical intellectual justification for the satisfaction of every appetite. This was the way the twenty-somethings we admired were living. Why these strictures? What good were they? What if we simply chose to live real life in the U.S.A. entirely unhampered by any of them at all? It took some time, but eventually one inevitably blundered into Nietzsche himself, and asked the old question from a philosophical or logical, rhetorical or moralistic perspective. Was nothing true? Was everything permitted? What was spiritual freedom? Was Kerouac free? Was Burroughs? Was Bangs?

What he was really leading us to was the one true church of intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness. There was subtlety and elegance in his reasoning, generosity, and the best kind of skepticism: the skepticism that turns back on the author himself. This last aspect of Bangs’s writing was the most revelatory to me. It was the virtue I sought most to emulate, then and now.

Indeed no other writer gave me this feeling again so purely until I ran across David Foster Wallace, so many years later, and found he’d learned the very same thing; I suspect he learned it from the same doomed, messed-up, wounded, alcoholic genius of a teacher.

In 1977, Bangs accompanied the Clash on tour, which resulted in an immense three-part interview published in the NME.

Finally [Mick Jones] looked me right in the eye and said, “Hey Lester: why are you asking me all these fucking questions?”

In a flash I realized he was right. Here was I, a grown man … motoring up into the provinces of England, just to ask a goddamn rock ‘n’ roll band for the meaning of life! Some people never learn. I certainly didn’t, because I immediately started in on him with my standard cultural-genocide rap: “Blah blah blah depersonalization blab blab blab solipsism blah blah yip yap etc. …”

“What in the fuck are you talking about?”

“Blah blab no one wants to have any emotions anymore blab blip human heart an endangered species blah blare cultural fascism blab blurb etc. etc. etc. …”

And even though this was meant for kids to read, note that there’s not a particle of condescension in it. That, too, made young people love and trust Lester Bangs with unswerving devotion. Indeed I’ve never swerved once in all these years.

Maria Bustillos is a writer living in Los Angeles. Read her recent piece for Page-Turner on the reading lists of George Orwell, Henry Miller and others.

https://lacatorcequince.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/taller-de-critica-musical-con-patricia-godes/