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Walter Kolosky: Affairs of the Heart

By Published: April 9, 2011
I used to write for newspapers, and a lot of that writing style is investigative; you have to be able to tell a story and tell it as economically as you can. You have to pick out the important aspects and weave an interesting tale. So, I tell of feelings, emotions, context and history. If this book were pure cold analysis, believe me, you could write 10 pages about every song. And become bored in the process. That didn't make any sense at all. I focused on three areas.

Follow Your Heart is a listener's guide which you are meant to read along as you listen. I already have scores of emails from people who did just that; the work can also be used as a reference book; or you can look at it as a history. I believe if you read the book, even without listening to the music, you'll get a pretty good history of John McLaughlin, if not a history of the fusion movement as it progressed from '69 through 2010.

AAJ: It must have been a very intense process, listening to hundreds and hundreds of hours of McLaughlin's music, the entire thought process and analysis that must have gone on, interviewing people and assembling ideas; did your ideas about John McLaughlin's music change much during the writing of this book?

WK: Absolutely, which I wouldn't have thought possible. I have listened to this music for thousands of hours my whole life, but I think I mention in the book an experience when I was listening to The Heart of Things—Live in Paris. (Verve, 1998) As I'm listening I suddenly think: What is that I'm hearing? I know where that comes from!" I'd never noticed it before and so I immediately dropped my headphones and ran to my CD shelves and picked out John's album Extrapolation (Polydor, 1969). I seem to remember this section of music someplace on this album and sure enough there it was; to me, what I found fascinating was this 30 second motif, if I remember correctly, was there in the middle of a tune on this album almost 30 years before, but nowhere else on his records until now. This gave me an insight into John's mind—and one can only go so far inside that mind because it's so complex—here's an idea he had all those years ago and it's still bobbing around in his head along with everything else. He pulled this piece of music out again, changed it slightly with different instrumentation and a different approach, but it really is the same thing.

This was fascinating to me. I think John McLaughlin's music to him is a mine, and instead of mineral deposits, there are musical ideas in this shaft and he has to fully excavate to get every last ounce of inspiration out until he squeezes the rocks dry.

AAJ: That's a nice analogy and that idea comes across very clearly in the book that McLaughlin has revisited tunes, revisited themes, dug deeper into ideas, refined and remolded ideas; would you say that this is a common trait among great composers?

WK: I think all great musicians do that. And you find this in the works of the great classical composers as well. I think they all do it. My point is that to the best of my knowledge nobody does it the way John does it in the sense of putting it all into immensely different bags. You just have to look at his compositions that end up in contexts which are entirely different from their original presentations. Something may be acoustic and played by Spanish musicians in one context or could be a raucous fusion number in another. I also find it revealing that oftentimes there is a hint of a future direction. You might not hear that future for another two or three albums. But there's a little hint at what's to come and it's bouncing around inside the walls of his head right now. He doesn't know what he's going to do with it, but three records later here it is; that same phrase he used as part of his improvisation three years before.

AAJ: One of the nice touches about the book are the quotations from John McLaughlin, though they tend to shed more light on the man and his general world view than they do about the song. In your conversations with McLaughlin for the preparation of this book, did he throw much light upon the songs themselves?

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