Walter Kolosky: Affairs of the Heart
WK: This was on purpose. Firstly, speaking with John I had a certain amount of time. I picked about 40 songs to ask him about, which was a little over 10 percent of the tunes. I told him quite specifically I didn't want any information about the actual music. He totally agreed with this approach. To him, music isn't print on paper or font on a computer screen; it is about emotion. I wanted his inspiration for the music. I wanted people to better understand the man. Coming closer to the man takes you closer to his music. That's the other aspect of the book I hope people get from it; that it's inspirational, and this inspiration comes from McLaughlin's own words. And though I don't shy away from the question of his spirituality in the book, you'll notice many of his quotations include aspects of his spiritual life. In conversation with him he wants you to know that he's never preaching or proselytizing via his music. His music stands alone and his motives for making his music are in his own psyche. His spirituality is not a message of his music, but it is an important aspect of the motivation.
AAJ: He says very clearly in one of the quotations: "I have no message." Another of the strengths of the book is that you point out McLaughlin's influences as well as some of the many who have been influenced by him, specifically with reference to all the artists who have recorded interpretations of his music, and this in effect creates a roots and branches of John McLaughlin's musical reach; was that one of your aims at the outset of this project?
WK: There are two reasons I did that: first I wanted to relate to the here and now and how McLaughlin's music is influencing young musicians even today. Some of them show it by covering his tunes while others do it without knowing; I always get a kick when I read somewhere where somebody hears Mahavishnu Orchestra for the first time and they say something like: "Boy, this group reminds me of Mars Volta" and I start laughing because obviously it's the other way around. The other reasons I chronicled the cover versions of John's compositionsand with that I had the help of one of my editors, Ted McCallionwas that I wanted to get across the strength and staying power of John McLaughlin's compositions. I mention in the book that when you are such a virtuoso as John is on the guitar, sometimes people forget the other element of what makes him such a great musician; it is his compositions.
As we're talking I just opened the book at "The Dance of Maya" and, at the time of writing, there were 15 different cover versions from fusion groups, acoustic guitar groups, country music groups, a string quartet, and finally, and I got a kick out of this one, a surf music version of "The Dance of Maya." To me this just expresses the different genres in which John McLaughlin has made a mark. I think it's quite unique.
AAJ: How much of a task was it for you to accumulate details of all the artists who have recorded his music?
WK: This was another journey all on its own. It was quite time consuming; God bless the Internet. I knew about many of these covers but as I researched on the Internet, I found more. For inclusion in this book I had to hear a clip of the music to make sure it was the song. For example, there were quite a few songs named "Guardian Angel" so how do you know if this is the John McLaughlin version? You have to hear it. There were three or four songs that I was sure were John McLaughlin tunes, but because I was unable to track down the music, they are not included. The amazing thing is I find myself on the crest of a wave and since I've written the book, two or three more McLaughlin covers have been released. [Cellist] Matt Haimovitz has come up with a very fine album, Meeting of the Spirits (Oxingale Records, 2010), with a couple of Mahavishnu Orchestra songs, and so on.
I want to add here too, that a great deal of time was also spent tracking down and assembling many historical images of John for the print version of the book that have never been published before. There are some real rarities. There are behind-the-scenes looks at the Love, Devotion, Surrender (Columbia Records, 1973) recording sessions, and images of the infamous Trio Of Doom band, featuring John, [bassist] Jaco Pastorius and [drummer] Tony Williams playing onstage for the one and only time in Cuba, in 1979.
AAJ: As I was reading the book I was listening to a lot of McLaughlin's music, but also the Turtle Island Quartet's version of "To Bop or Not to Be," drummer/pianist Gary Husband's wonderful piano interpretations of McLaughlin's music on Meeting of the Spirits (Alternity Records, 2006), and the Matt Haimovitz CD you mentioned, and these three in particular suggest that McLaughlin's music translates very well to a classical interpretation; are you surprised that he hasn't ventured more into the classical sphere?