Pat Martino: Martino Unstrung
AAJ: Would it be fair to say that as a result of your trauma, you became acutely aware of real time in a very profound way?
PM: Yes. My only responsibility is to live.
AAJ: Now there's a moment in the film, which I think took place right here in your home, where you're looking at an MRI of your own brain. And both you and Paul Broks, the neuropsychologist, express anxiety. What was it like to look at a graphic representation of your own brain?
PM: I would say that there was actually one thing that was very valuable about it. And that was the similarity between looking at an item that is a tool, that is very demanding to use, and the condition that it's in. The brain is simply a tool, an instrument, like the guitar. And because of that, it was similar, for me personally, to looking at a guitar as another tool that I use if it's in bad condition. The feeling that I get prior to the creative act is one that is difficult, anxious because of its condition. But that is not me. It's a tool that I use. So to look at the MRI of the brain and see these deficits revealed was not about me, but about a tool.
AAJ: Like a guitar that needs honing or fixing?
PM: Yes. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just fine the way it is. Let's be as objective and optimistic as possible.
AAJ: So if you took a Stradivarius violin and there was a nick in it, it would still be great.
AAJ: One of the stars of the film, so to speak, was the surgeon who performed the operation.
PM: Frederick Simeone.
AAJ: I had the good fortune to meet him at the screening, and he really is a fine human being. He's a renaissance man, and very warm and caring, the opposite of what you'd expect a surgeon to be. Not many people have a chance to meet their surgeon ten or twenty years later and talk with them.
PM: And then to go out and have dinner and spend the entire evening with him enjoying ourselves.
AAJ: So what's it like to get to know your surgeon, who usually is behind that mask, as a person, as someone who doesn't just cut people up?
PM: It was a special moment, the enjoyment of mutual respect for one another. It was the pleasure of living, just as it would be with any other person.
AAJ: I know that Dr. Simeone loves jazz. So when you were flown in from Los Angeles for this emergency operation, did he know you were a jazz icon?
PM: He told me that he was fully aware of my career. I'm sure that it was brought to his attention, because when I called my parents from Los Angeles about the diagnosis and the warning that I had only two hours to live at that time, they contacted Dr. Simeone here at Pennsylvania Hospital, and I'm sure they filled him in on all of the details about me.
AAJ: If they felt you were at such immediate risk, why didn't they find the best neurosurgeon in L.A. to do the operation, instead of taking the further risk of a long flight back here to Philly?
PM: I myself had already made that decision, for personal reasons.
AAJ: The film not only explores the medical side, but takes a candid look at Pat Martino, the person, in various facets of your life. For example, there are several scenes in the film where you greet strangers on the street and start talking to them.
PM: I do. I enjoy it.
AAJ: Typically in a big city, people are very guarded and avoid contact with strangers. So what gives you the comfort to reach out, start a conversation, and have compassion for others in that way?
PM: I don't in anyway protrude when I make such contact. The moment someone or something enters my space, I immediately identify that person or thing as part of my life. One of the most valid and important things to me is the enjoyment of life. I don't fear them or that they'll injure my life. They are my life. To me, that's more realistic than to protect that which is private and represents the baggage that weighs a person down with that armor.
AAJ: I suppose it's like letting go of ones ego.
PM: No, it's not letting go of the ego. There's nothing wrong with the ego. The ego is a tool that is part and parcel of who we are. It has anger, joy, all these different feelings that are ignited by various triggers. So there's nothing wrong with that. What matters is what it brings to your oneness, your wholeness, the part of you that is conscious and aware at enough distance to be able to visually, consciously see good and bad, yin and yang, polarity, from a third point. What is many times referred to as the third eye. That is necessary. And from that third point of view, you're no longer living within it, you're a witness to it, to action.
AAJ: So once you're in that space, friendship becomes completely natural.
PM: The more one's definition changes, the more refined one's life becomes. I remember a time when I was afraid of the word, "God." And yet I was hampered that way. Whenever the word "love" would come in, I would ask, "What does that mean to me? Why doesn't it last? Why do have to prove myself to someone I love?" And then it dawned upon me that why do I need the word "God?" Why shouldn't I be concerned with life itself, instead of something separate? Maybe what I referred to as God is love itself. So I asked myself these questions. Why am I not seeking a relationship with love itself? Why am I looking for love from someone else? I made a decision to attain a relationship with love itself. And there's a noticeable difference in continuity, fulfillment, and a more realistic evaluation of growth, evolution, change, forgiveness. Because there are things that hamper, stand in between the totality of the truth of that.