Confucius said, "To learn and to practice what is learned is pleasure, is it not? To have friends come from afar is happiness, is it not? To be unperturbed when not appreciated by others is gentlemanly, is it not?"
My 58th birthday, 4 am on a Sunday morning and I'm laid out on the living room floor, unable to move, back spasms and pain that have me begging my wife, Doreen, to call an ambulance and have them take me to the hospital. The pain has me crying and screaming.
I thought, "How will it be possible to go on the road to Europe and around the States in this kind of condition?" Months of physical therapy work on my old back problem and here I was unable to even turn over, or get up, not to speak of walking.
But with the help of a folding cane, four bottles of medication and Doreen, there I was at Kennedy Airport being pushed in a wheelchair to board a British Air jet to London.
This begins a tour of London, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester in England; Paris, Brest, Lille, Poitier, Avginon and Nevers in France; Geneva and Lusanne in Switzerland; Wuppertal, Germany; Rome, Navara, Florence and Como in Italy; Zagreb, Croatia; Maribor, and Ljubljana in Slovenia; somewhere in Holland; Vienna, Austria; Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Washington and New York City. 45 days on the road, 19 in Europe with saxophonist Assif Tsahar, then seven in the States with drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Tom Abbs, 19 more in Europe with Assif before I get to return to New York City and my own bed.
Over and over I ask why I am doing this. It's just too much, the travel and the performing.
While somewhere in Holland - places are beginning to blend together. Names of people, hotels, venues, all start to become one. I hurt all the time. The medication was screwing up my mind and making me depressed. Daily I pray for relief from the pain and stress of it all.
Through it all Assif was beautiful. He suffers my burdens and his own, not allowing me to carry anything. His many kindnesses become an example of how I would like to be. And it was the same in the States with Chad and Tom.
Still, there's the question, "Why am I doing this?"
Then, while riding through the Alps on a moonlit night on the way back to Paris, a letter that I had written to a young American student in London some years ago comes back to me. He had asked me a question about my childhood.
Thanks for giving me an opportunity to reflect on times past. It is something that I rarely give enough time to. Yes, I liked to build things as a young person. But in the rural South all the boys that I knew liked to build things.
We did not have money to buy much, so our imaginations were fertile with ideas wanting to be rendered, carts, stilts, tree houses, gliders and planes and kites, sledges and skis when it snowed, stick horses with heads, broom handle rifles with board stocks, sling shots, inner tube rafts with sails, bows and arrows, small battery powered cars with wheels of wood cut using a hole saw. When I was 12 I started to express an interest in the sciences. Electronics and astronomy, along with music, were always in my thinking.
Short wave and ham radio were hobbies. I started building my first radio receivers, transmitters and amplifiers. I built telescopes and solar furnaces. My first transmitter was made from a Model T Ford spark coil that used a telegraph key and a 200-foot long wire antenna. I was just sending Morse code to my friend Johnny a block away, but every TV in the town and miles around was messed up when my little box was up and running. Another was a transmitter that broadcast through the ground. Then there was the 2 transistor radio that had no batteries which ran off of the current rectified from the carrier wave of a local AM station. A crystal radio was tuned to the local station and supplied the juice for the 2 transistor regenerative circuit. The whole thing was contained in a Maxwell House Coffee can. Transistors were new then and were much appreciated by me because they did not need the high voltage and currents of the tube circuits. The first audio amp that I built took me about 6 weeks. The day came to test and see if it worked. I checked the schematic against the wiring for the last time, plugged the power chord into the wall, and threw the switch. The tubes started glowing blue-violet then bright red. Smoke started coming from the power transformer and soon the whole thing blew up and caught fire. This was exciting stuff. Wow! I felt good. Others were concerned that I had worked so long and hard on the project and that it had ended in catastrophe. But it was quite spectacular to me how the damn thing had taken itself out. It was fun building it. And I had learned a lot. I did not need another amp. The process of building it and dreaming of how it was to be used was very rewarding and fulfilling.
For me it's all about learning.