Breaking himself of the habit was not as harrowing this time around, as he had the assistanceif not the coercionof a trained medical staff. He would not have to endure the sweating, the shakes, and the drastic loss of weight (fifteen pounds in three days the last time) alone. But in all other regards, he was on his own. No one came to see him. Not a single visitor. No cards, no calls. He had been deserted, and he realized he'd been left for dead, like a shriveled up carcass on the side of the road. He'd gone as far as he could go, taken it to the limit one time too many, and he had nothing. It was over.
For the second time, he learned that his predictions were impulsive. He still had plenty of living to do. But he never relapsed on the narcotics, and that was good. Of course, he still had his extended bout with the bottle to contend with, but that was a ways down the road.
Eventually, of course, the voices started talking to him again, and he was able to listen to his music with as much, if not more passion than ever. It was with a renewed perspective that he regarded the history he'd had his own small part in making. It was music, and it was life. And there were ebbs and flows in any artist's life. At least the musician could continue to hone and perfect his craft, working on his delivery, or his compositional approach. An athlete, on the other hand, had a prime, and then after a relatively brief duration, could never play at the level they accessed so effortlessly in their youth. The business of playing music was inextricable from the art of living: it was incumbent upon the individual to find new ways to compensate for the obstructions and come around the mountain bigger and better, and badder, each time.
And it was okay to celebrate the past, to look at those records and remember the good times, and the accomplishments. Those albums were the trophies, the spoils of the war that never really ended. Monuments built of sound, and soul. His
albums: those were his photo albums, his children, his lovers, and his accomplishments. They were everythingthey were him
That face: an album, a picture. Forever enshrined. That
is how whoever cared to remember him would know him, that is the face they'd see. He'd written no books. Why did everyone have to write a book these days? His work was his book, his life his story: his music was autobiographical. All anyone needed to know (or all they should know) had already been told, long ago, in those records. The ones with that young, pretty face.
I know I look different now.
Older, sure. Bigger. Fat? Okay. There's
a word you didn't throw around when you thought about famous jazz cats. Legends. But look at Yardbird though. And Monk, and Rahsaan Kirk, God love them. And Mingus, of course. Those cats were never
thin (even when they weren't big
); they needed that real estate to hold all the feeling together. Yeah. Big hearts, big souls. Besides, why fool yourself?
It's all you can do to break even (if that) in this gig. And you didn't take none of it with you after it's over anyhow. Just your mind. And all that matters is if you tended to business like you should have. If you know what you're all about. You know about your soul. Better Git It In Your Soul...
The star that burns twice as bright burns half as long...
So what to make of Jimi Hendrix, who did with a guitar what Bird did with an alto sax twenty years before? Reinventing the sound. They broke the rules, and in the process, created the new
rules. What to make of the untimely, even incomprehensible loss of a Parker or Hendrix? They served all of us much better than they served themselves
. Certainly they had more to offer, a longer lifetime of unparalleled achievement? Or was their colossal output possible because of that frenzied, almost reckless creativity? If they had halted their screeching spirits, would they have, in effect, been closing their minds' eyes to the voices that spoke to them like the sun's sheen on a sheet of ice? Or was it simply not possible to suppress that tremendous expression inside the inadequate confines of a human body?
But what of the others? The ones that did
He had made it.
He often said himself: all that separated him from those others was dumb luck. He had almost died; indeed he had wished to be dead more than once. So it had little to do with that nonsense about the will to live.
He had lived amongst them, played and partied with them. Outlived them. And that was the most difficult part. Moving on, alone. Without the men he had grown and changed with. That's why you need to be best friends with yourself.
He had stopped playing altogether for almost ten years. I just put the axe in its case and left it under my bed. I wasn't hearing any music. The voices weren't talking to me.