DMG's EMANUEL 'MANNYLUNCH' MARIS interviewed by TOM GREENLAND
July 24th, 2003
Copyright 2005 Emanuel Maris and Tom Greenland
MM: "I got 12:11 AM."
TG: "We're talking here with Manny Maris at the-'Maris,' right? M-a-r-i-s?"
MM: "Yeah, Emanuel Maris, Manny Maris."
TG: "Emanuel, alright. And we're at the Odessa Family Restaurant. And, let's see, what d'you wanna tell me?"
MM: "Umm, why don't you point me in a certain direction, and I'll be sure to not follow it, you know? [laughing]
TG: "The basic three directions that I'm interested in are: what's going on now in jazz in New York; what's happening, you know."
MM: "I don't know if I can tell you, but I'll tell you what I think."
TG: "Is there anything new? or, what's exciting? What should you hip us to? (2) is: I'm interested in the audience and the larger jazz community, and how does that relate to the music itself? The stuff that's getting played on stage, okay?, that's part of it,
but I'm interested in everybody else, like the people who sell records to people that know what they want, or are into the scene and they know they have to come there [Downtown Music Gallery] to get certain things.
Okay, so how do other people, besides the musicians, like the audiences and people like you who sell music and are fans and maybe a musician as well-how do they relate to the scene."
TG: "And-well, the third one's not so much a concern to you, but just more of the day-to-day life of..."
MM: "Well, what was the third one."
TG: "The third one is sort of like a populistic look at jazz: what do 'normal' people do, who like this music? Like, what does a normal musician do in his life? What does a normal record store...?"
MM: "Or, what is the normal audience?"
TG: "How do you make your nut [i.e. earn a living] through jazz? How does that fit into your lifestyle, on a nuts and bolts level?"
MM: "Well, I think that everything that I have to say are things that I've thought and/or said before. They don't necessarily address themselves to how you-necessarily what you want from me, but you'll probably find things in them that will be useful. I really can't address-I can only address stereotypical, fanciful notions of how I fit into any larger group that I would be placed in, like 'the jazz audience' or an improvised music audience, or just an audience of music, or recorded music."
TG: "How often do you go out to see live music?"
MM: "Well, for about a seven- to ten-year period, I would go out every night and see at least two shows, at different places-at least solidly for, like..."
TG: "And now? What would that be now?"
MM: "Now, I go someplace maybe once every two weeks. I have the opportunity to go every night. I have musicians and other friends who-it's not a matter of cost, you know? I can get in, because I'm known, and I can afford it if I'm not known. It's just-the energy doesn't exist for me anymore. So..."
TG: "Is that your energy, or the music's energy?"
MM: "Well, my energy is certainly less than it used to be; I get tired more easily now. I go to shows that I absolutely have to and want to be there and I know I wanna see these people. And sometimes I'll leave halfway through anyway, not because there's anything negative or less than what I expected, but because I'm already there, I saw something brilliant-I just don't have the energy to sit there. I've gotten soporific at things that are exciting. Look, I'll just start in my own way. You'll pick out what addresses what issue, or you can make it up as you go along."
TG: "Alright, alright."
MM: "Okay? Just don't change what I've said. You can misdirect it to being: "This comment fits into what I wanna talk about,' but don't change, like, I was talking about that, when I didn't actually say that.
Okay. I'm someone who, from my earliest years to about age 10, didn't like modern music. I didn't have a wide exposure to music, except for classical music, Because my parents used to keep WQXR on the radio all day. You know QXR? [gets a shake] It's the New York Times radio station; they play classical music."
MM: "Yeah, you could say that. But it's the only station I ever heard. When I was four-, to eight-years-old, I remember going to school and kids would be running around and singing stuff that they were hearing from, I guess, their older sibling's bedrooms, like [singing:] I wanna hold your ha-ha-hand! and I love you, yeah-yeah-yeah! and things like that."
TG: "Where did you grow up?"
MM: "The upper west side."
TG: "Manhattan, the upper west side?"
MM: "Yeah. The one electoral district in the entire nation that voted against Nixon, against the Vietnam War. That should tell you something. It was urban countercultural. But I was-I didn't have a lot of friends. I was one of those kids who showed up to kindergarten a year early with the suitcase, tie, and-you know, the briefcase, a tie, and glasses, you know-and a calculator, except they didn't have calculators then. It was the early 60s. Uh, you know, I was a nerd from Day 1, you know? Science and math. And I remember thinking that I didn't really like modern music at all because-well, the music that was being played -I'd hear snatches of walking down the street from radios and in restaurants, as TV themes or wherever, - Because for the most part it seemed to be about ten seconds worth of creativity, looped for three minutes, or four minutes, or ten. In other words, you had a riff, you had a rhythm motif, and you had a melody motif, and it was just a short snippet, and it just played it over and over again; it was three minutes with singing over it. And that was my abstract perception of it. It didn't interest me. What interested me was classical music, but that didn't interest me. [chuckles] It interested me because you had something of a vast, complex nature, that unfolded, that didn't necessarily repeat itself. You know, there was no one measure that would ever be the same as the other one, as the next one, or somewhere else in the piece, never be exactly superimposable-where every moment was a unique moment, even though there are harmonic motifs and rhythmic motifs, whatever, and melodic motifs. I really was fascinated by the depth and complexity and the majesty and the great undertaking of classical music, but at the same time it was missing something, because it was written by dead people, to dead people. It was written by people who were reflecting a time they were living in as a message to other people who were sharing that time, and I wasn't alive in this period. It was not written to me.
So I was waiting for something like, that-I didn't know what I was waiting for-I didn't even know I was waiting-I had never heard any "jazz", yet I knew that I liked "jazz" because my sense of the actual English language construction of the word "jazz" just seemed to imply someone not playing something that's stapled/printed down on a piece of paper. It allowed for someone actually playing a flight of fancy, if that's what they felt like doing, in that moment. I didn't know what "jazz" sounded like; all I knew was the word, as opposed to the word 'water' or the word 'and.' It just seemed to me like if you could call a music 'jazz,' with that sound coming out of your mouth, it must've meant, 'We can misbehave! We can aurally misbehave!' Altough, oddly enough, the first records I bought for myself were Herb Albert records; I went out and bought Going Places. I must've watched, like, Red Skelton as a kid. They would have the June Taylor Dancers and the 'Something Something' Singers and there'd be at least one tune..."
TG: "Pickle?" [offering from his plate]
MM: "Oh, please! I love pickles! You know why hamburgers come with pickles?"
MM: "Because after you finish, you're a greasy mess. You're supposed to eat the pickle last; it cleanses...it cuts all the grease and smell in your mouth."
TG: "Ah! I didn't know that."
MM: "Yeah, it cleanses your mouth, one's mouth. Which is why it's worse than stupid that the fast-food burger places put the pickle onto the hamburger. Talk about mass culture robbing meaning, mushing everything together. I can hardly wait for the Hamburger Milkshake!....
Boy, they gave me onions to boot here; I'm gonna eat onions all day on this one."
TG: "So you wanted to 'aurally misbehave,' huh?"
MM: "No, I just knew that I wanted something that had a bit of life in it, spontaneaity, that wasn't programmed. It was only later that I found out that-in fact, this is going off of one musician who I heard in an interview, and I can't remember at this point-I'm sure this is not any new notion, but I only relate this to show my development of primitive thought-but it turns out that, according to this one thing in this interview, essentially classical music-well, composers of centuries past, say before the nineteenth century, before the eighteenth-when they wrote something and they gave it to an orchestra to play, they would be very offended if the conductor created a situation where the orchestra played it note-for-note. The whole point of giving it to an orchestra conductor is so they could breathe the life into it every night: maybe take it at a slow tempo, maybe arrange things, change things around. They, in fact, expected it: that that was just a taking-off point; it was a structure within which improvisation could happen, at that grand a level. And according to this notion, it was just when it became a music not just for kings, but for the masses, and became a consumer or marketable thing, and mangers and promoters and theater owners got involved, that they stepped in and they said, 'Well, we're selling a commodity.' Like a McDonald's hamburger- 'It has to be consistent.' They had to be able to say, 'You saw/you got for your five dollars what that person last night got for their five dollars; it wasn't better or any worse.' Because, by virtue of their involvement in commerce firstly, they couldn't appraise the value of their commodities as any listener really would, but only by statistical comparison. They demanded the same performance every night of their contractees.
TG: "Interesting. So, by becoming a commodity, it was standardized?"
MM: "By becoming a commodity, it was standardized, and that in effect kills what music is. I had to write a short thing to get into some guitar course-and I don't play guitar; I mean, I went to this course and it was a wonderful experience and all that, but I never seriously pursued it afterwards. It was a week stay in this place; you lived in the building and worked with other students, whatever. And what I wrote, as a possibility-you know, a letter to see what they accept-I had some postscripts, and one of them said, 'You know, the most ironic thing is, when you work in the record store, you discover that records are not music: records are postcards of music; they're not music themselves, just like a postcard of the Empire State Building is a postcard of a building, but it's not a building. They're just postcards. And they're valuable in that way, at least when it comes to recordings of music. But music is not just the notes and the sound, and that's been lost in this post-recorded age. Music is the awesome act of human beings standing together and coordinating their voices through their instruments and whatever else, and through their voices vocally, to become one voice-and performing that act in front of you. And the sound is one dimension of that physical wonderment."
TG: "So, there's the act of music, like a live music..."
MM: "There's no such thing as live music: music is live, according to my definition."
TG: "And yet, like you're saying, the store Downtown Music Gallery specializes in postcards of music."
MM: "That's right, but that's why we have regular in-store performances every week, to serve to remind people that the recordings ARE just postcards, for a great many of them at least.
However, once recording became its own way of working-see, every way of working has a unique dimension that can't be replicated by any other way of working. If I was to photograph you, or if I was to sketch you, of if I was to paint you, or if I was to make a sculpture of you-these are all different, and unique, ways of working. Now, they share some aspects which are similar; they are all representations of you, for instance. But sculpture has at least one dimension that it can do that no other form of doing can do, just as painting has a form, or drawing has a form, or photography-each of them have some dimension of their many dimensions that are encapsulated in that method of work that can't be replicated by any other method of working, and that's what separates them. Okay. And recording is an art form, and the studio is a tool for an art endeavor, and it's possible to make recorded art. It's not music, the act of music in itself, but most it does involve the act of music, it does involve musicians, who play instruments. But most recorded art-although it's growing and there's, obviously, a large number of people that make their modern composition[s] involving recording techniques, not just the writing of notes-but most recorded art exists in the hyper-realist mode. And in that way it is so very often fraudulent. You know what I mean by hyper-realist mode?"
TG: "Not exactly."
MM: "You ever go into a museum like, MOMA [Museum of Modern Art] or even the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you know? I'm sure in some room you'll see a painting that looks like the front of a Chock Full o'Nuts or Starbucks coffee shop; it looks like a photograph: you know, in the picture someone's standing outside looking through the plate glass window and they're seeing their reflection and seeing the people inside sitting at the counter, and you're seeing the reflection of people walking past. And you say, 'What the hell did I need to come here, to see a 12 foot by 8 foot color photograph blow-up?', a really sharp [image]. And you look at it closely and you realize it's a painting. That's the hyper-realist mode. Where all the attributes of one way of working are used to deceive for another way of working, but especially in the direction of deceiving your direct sensual intake. Okay. Most recorded art exists in the hyper-realist mode, where it's pretending that something actually existed, that this is an aural photograph of, when in fact, for aural perspective reasons, that's impossible. It all pretends that some group of people stood together with each embodying the same passions represented by their collective voice. It relies on that false illusion to get the passion-juices of the recording-playback-listener interested. Tons of modern rock bands rely on this 'togetherness' illusion to put over their otherwise shallow offerings, f'rinstance. Never mind the fact that, in some cases, some groups don't get along, so that the drummer has to record later or someone has to phone in their vocals!" [chuckles]
TG: "Well, you reminded me of a photographer, Mike Davis, that I was talking to, and he was saying, 'A photo isn't supposed to accurately represent a particular image; it's its own thing.' So, whatever you do to a photo-to enhance it or to make different things comes out-it's just a different medium. So it's its own thing; you don't think of it as representing something else-or, he doesn't. I think he was kind of saying what you're saying, in that...
MM: "Agreed. Every medium has a dimension unique to it, and..."
TG: "So it's [a photograph] not trying to be just like what you would see with your eye, you know? Or what you would hear with your ear, if you were listening in a room with five players. You know, what you hear on a recording might be..."
MM: "Some of the surviving great craft of painting-portraits of wealthy Dutch families, or whatever-were essentially 'commercial photography', using a paintbrush."
TG: "Right, like Rembrandt."
MM: "Yeah, I mean, he was paid to represent the person's wealth or a person's family; it was commissioned. I mean, this is very old news here. You know, when photography came along, it freed up the painting world to not be representational. Hey, you need an 'accurate'-quote-unquote 'accurate'-picture? Good for you! Go hire a photographer; I'm busy doing something else. I mean, now that we can..."
TG: "Well, you see lots of people-I remember at the Vision Festival there were about three or four different tapers, with the very highest quality microphones, so the could get it exactly-they were trying to approximate what it would be like to sit in that room and hear that music, right?"
TG: "I mean, they weren't really messing with it, were they? They were taking aural photographs."
MM: "Hm, indeed. I mean, there's no objective postcard; you can take a picture of a building from this side, or that side, or-you know?"
TG: "Whereas that painter Jeff Schlanger that was sitting up front ..."
MM: "Oh, yeah, he's great!."
TG: "...was not trying to represent it accurately."
TG: "He was trying to suggest what was happening, but he was also painting improvisationally, as if he were a player. I'd be very interested to talk to him." [chuckling]
MM: "Jeff occasionally-for every set that happened at the Vision Fest[ival] or other places that he goes to shows-he'll paint a big ear. You know, it won't be, like, just an ear, but it would be, like, this thing somewhere in all the scattered lines that, you realize, is not someone's face-it's an ear, on the side-that was supposed to be Irving Stone: The Ear, the listener. Anyway, I digress well enough by myself without digressing completely out of the subject.
[a break is taken]
MM: "Ok, about the age we're living in, and how it alters our perception of music. Maybe not now-although, anytime there's a threat of any sort of large conflict-people tend to feel uneasy as a whole, as a world populace."
TG: "Like 9/11, you mean, or...?"
MM: "9/11 is just a noticeable trigger. But say, talking about 'weapons of mass destruction', whatever. So if you were to ask someone-maybe when I was younger, a couple decades ago, and probably now too-'what's the worst thing about this age we live in?' it's likely, especially in the 70s or 60s, that someone'll tell you, 'Because it's the nuclear age,' but I don't think that's the worst thing about the age we live in. I think the worst thing about the age we live in is that it's the recorded age. Because man's mind, the mental muscle, was evolving throughout the millennia, all the way up until the late 1800s, early 1900s. Because for you to know what someone said to you, or what you heard, or to remember a piece of music, you had to be-there was a book in the 60s by Ram Dass called Be Here Now-you had to be there at that moment, with a completeness of attention that was commonplace then, and unfortunately because of temporal recordings of sensual intake, film and audio, being commonplace now, that ability is not anymore to be expected as a regular attribute of sentient human beings. Someone who lived to be eighty years old had eighty years worth of seconds of unique experience[s]. Okay?
When I buy a record or a DVD or whatever and I can play it five times or ten times or a hundred times, I'm someone who might live eighty years and only have five years worth of unique experiences.
So, I'm robbing myself. But worse than that, the fact that something exists on record, even the earliest version of that, which is writing-you should look up the first paragraph of an essay by Gertrude Stein called 'What Are Master-Pieces, And Why Are There So Few Of Them?' Because she says it eloquently. She talks about how she was going to speak this essay, rather than write it and have it read, because if she wrote it and had it read, then people could read it any time they wanted to, which means they would never read it at all."
"I WAS almost going to talk this lecture and not write and read it because all the lectures that I have written and read in America have been printed and although possibly for you they might even being read be as if they had not been printed still there is something about what has been written having been printed which makes it no longer the property of the one who wrote it and therefore there is no more reason why the writer should say it out loud than anybody else and therefore one does not." G. Stein 1936
MM: "Uh huh. And that's the two twin needles of living in the recorded age-or more: our mental muscle is relaxed; we've de-evolved. We go to a lecture-I say 'we'; [cartoonishly:] I don't include myself in that bunch! [chuckles]-we go to a lecture and we bring the cassette thing so we can remember what was said by the professor Because we don't wanna pay attention in class. So who wants to take yet another two hours out of their life later to actually listen carefully to him anyway? 'Isn't this where he talked about thing I knew the answer to my question when I asked it?'"
TG: "[joking:] I'm gonna do that with this interview! Ignore it, tape it & then skim for the highlights. I don't even have to be here right now! You could be talking to the wall; I'll just let the tape run and I'll come back..."
MM: "It would be so much better, had this been a hundred years ago..."
TG: "How 'bout if I go take a nap right now, for however long you wanna talk, and just wake me up when you're done, and you can just pretend I was over here the whole time?"
MM: "Why don't you just take the tape out and leave? [TG laughs] Had this been a hundred years ago, you might have written it down in shorthand; it would have required much more conscious attention, at least, to do that, or you might just have remembered it all."
TG: "No, but it's interesting, because what I'm hearing now I'm gonna hear in a certain way and I'm gonna respond in a certain way, but if I listen to this again, I might be trying to collect everything everybody said about spirituality in jazz, so I'm listening for anything you said about spirituality. So I'll be fast-forwarding through all this interesting stuff about recorded... [laughs]."
MM: "Well, I am talking about spirituality."
TG: "[laughing:] Okay! Well, here, well let's stop it! But do you see what I'm saying? Each time I hear the tape, it's different."
MM: "...because, to have any-to be an audience member, to be the receptor of something spiritual, of music that's passing through a disciplined musician's mind and body and soul and heart, and coming out through their instruments, and coming out through the instrument's sound, into the air and into me, I have to be a sentient being."
TG: "A what? Sentient?"
MM: "A sentient being."
TG: "Yeah, yeah. Meaning, feeling, and...capable of perceiving & feeling things?"
MM: "Well, thinking."
MM: "I have to be awake. I have to be really conscious. I could go, 'Gee, that was great!' and I couldn't tell you the first thing I saw or heard, and I couldn't remember three riffs in my own head, even if I couldn't play them; I could just remember the fuzzy, warm, feel-good feeling because, like, my girlfriend was there with me, you know? and she liked it, so I liked it-or fifty other million things that happened in this society of culture as commerce, which unfairly or spuriously affect your perceptions in unrelated matters. But I am talking about the notion of increased or decreased senses, which is the first step towards anything else that could happen."
TG: "So you feel that people are-I don't know if I'm reading this in or not-are you feeling people are less likely to be sentient now, because of recordings? Is that dulling their sense of listening, do you think?"
MM: "We de-evolved our mental muscles at one point. And also, there is the lazy attitude of, why should I work to pay attention now, when I can go back and play it back?"
TG: "So you think that it's an attention-span thing?"
MM: "Mmmm, no."
TG: "Because I-I mean, I'm just imagining people-maybe people are applying their attention or their mental muscles to GameBoy or something else, you know? It doesn't mean that they're not..."
MM: "I'm not talking about attention span. Attention span addresses the notion that during some period of time there is attention, whether it's two seconds or two hours. I'm talking about, within that two seconds or those two hours, what is the actual quality of attention anyway."
TG: "So, it's almost like a meditation involved, if you're really paying attention and focusing, or you're sort of peripherally listening, or not even listening: talking to someone and drinking a beer."
MM: "It's not a meditation but, okay-I don't wanna use that word for want of a better one."
TG: "I just mean focusing-focusing attention I guess is what I'm saying."
MM: "It's being awake, it's being really awake. I'm not awake just because I'm having a conversation with you. I could almost have this conversation asleep; in fact, I could probably have it being asleep, Because I've said this more than once, these things I'm talking about. Well, anyway, so, you can understand that when I was a young kid-coming back to the original thing here-and the math nerd, I was very introverted, I didn't have a lot of friends, and the few friends I did have were a little bit more outgoing than I was. We were linked because we were good in math or good in something, you know, science projects or whatever-look at all these pickles!-and they were a little bit more acclimated with our age of peers. So around, like, junior high it was noticed that I really didn't have any friends, I wasn't hanging out with girls, who by and large despised me when in groups - it wasn't, like, a homo or hetero thing; it was just not being able to socialize. So they tried to get me into listening to the pop and rock of the day. You know, they played me some Doors, they played me some Hendrix. And this one friend, who understood how to get inside my head-Sergeant Pepper's [Lonely Hearts Club Band] had just come out-and people knew that, all my friends knew that I had orchestral leanings and stuff like that, so they were constantly playing me things that were, like, modern music with, like, an orchestra thrown in the back of it, which to me was like trying to inorganically glue A to B."
TG: "Ketchup and mustard?"
MM: "No, the bottle and the glass. You know, what does that mean? So he played me Sergeant Pepper's and I thought, 'This is interesting.' I mean, really, the thing that first grabbed me about it was the fact that George Martin had managed to arrange classical music in an intrinsic way with their music, rather than: 'Okay, let's have a pop band play, like, you know, with the bass part of guitar-harmony- backed by twenty string-players in unison" then that doesn't interest me.. So, Pepper's turned me around, seriously grabbed me, and I kinda liked the Beatles, What's the result? Of course, I ran out and bought all the other Beatles records, like a good little consumer in a misdirected search for more great experiences. And it happened I liked them all; I would come home and put 'em on and sing the songs with the records and..."
TG: "Well, I just bought that CD. I mean, I had the record, but I just got Sergeant Pepper's on CD about two weeks ago, and I was listening to it again, the CD, and I noticed how much detail is in that recording. And, it seems like it changes a lot; it doesn't-it's not like it just sits on one song over and over; there's a lot of sequewaying [sp?] and little ideas thrown in here and there. And even though it's a pop record, which supposedly is very repetitious and, you know, what you were saying earlier about..."
MM: "Anyway, it turned my head."
TG: "Yeah, it really moves, that record, I think. You know, it's very open-ended in some ways, compared to..."
MM: "So, more trying was applied. I bought all the Beatles records but I still wasn't open to pop music. I liked the Beatles; I thought they were-probably/possibly as a result of Bacardi and the off-kilter collision of John Lennon keeping it from being schmaltz, it was very tuneful. It was, like, I started to see what could be enjoyed about modern pop music. And I limped along for awhile. I remember I was at some friend's house, they were all smoking hash, whatever-I was a straight kid, you know? A young, straight kid, a complete oddity in the Upper Wet Side; I was always a year younger than everybody else, so. And they put on this record that was so physically painful that I had to leave the room. I wasn't physically painful Because of volume [but] because the writing of the music was just repulsive to me. Uh, it was-I forget-it was either Absolutely Free or Freak Out!, or something. I mean, I love [Frank] Zappa now, but I was kinda, like-I think it was either Absolutely Free or We're Only in it for the Money, and it was just, like, 'What is this stupid shit!' you know? 'This is awful!' People are farting and singing out of key and, 'Ohh, god! What-,' you know? 'I can't take this!' I had to leave the room. So anyway, my friend-one of my three friends-who was the most acclimated and also a classically trained pianist, but at the same time - he's like twelve or thirteen- he's a 'head', and he's the one going out and buying the Hendrix and the Cream records and all this stuff. He had moved away from the city, so I go to see him September, '69."
TG: "And you were, like, twelve, at this [point????]?"
MM: "I was twelve; I would be thirteen in December, '69. I went to visit him then, and I had to take the train up to White Plains which, for me, it was like-well, that was a big trip for a kid who never went anywhere. You know, even though it's ten minutes form fucking Grand Central Station. And he's waiting at the station in White Plains, and he's holding up this record; it's a big red face screaming."
TG: "In the Court of the Crimson King? That's a great record."
MM: "...I get off the train; I say hello. He doesn't say hello; he says, 'We're going to the record store, you're buying a copy, then we're going to my house and listen to my copy.' I said, 'No, no', I had had enough of his failed attempts since Pepper's; I said, 'Why don't we just go-.' I said, 'Hello!' you know? 'Why don't we just go to your house, and we'll listen to your copy, and maybe I'll buy a copy.' He says, 'You don't understand.' He says, 'We're going to the record store, we're buying a copy-you're buying a copy-and then we're going to my house, then we'll listen to my copy; you can keep your copy shut 'til you get home. I said, 'No, no; there's no-what are you talking about?' He says, 'You don't understand.' I didn't understand. We're going down the main street of-uh, Broad Street or whatever it is-the main street in White Plains and there was a Harvey's Sound there-it's probably still there-but the downstairs had a separate management and they had one of the coolest import stores-record stores-in the bottom. But the whole window is covered with-a tile wall of these 'big red face' covers. Then, we're, like, five blocks away, and as we're walking each block, the covers are being pulled out of the window, and it was like being in the 'Village Of The Damned' or 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' with zombies going in and coming out of this store clutching that record-. So we get there, we buy the record, and I'm, like, 'Okay, okay; here, here's two dollars; let's buy the record.' We went to his house; he sat me down at a picnic table behind..."
TG: "Weren't they, like, $4.95, or something like that?"
MM: "Yeah; yeah, right."
TG: "Yeah, that was insane."
MM: "$2.99, maybe. It was '69, now."
TG: "It wasn't much; I remember that! $6, $7..."
MM: "No that was about late '70s. But then again, fifty thousand could've bought you a house up there at the time, so-800 [thousand buys you one now?]"
TG: "That's the record with '21st Century Schizoid Man'...?"
TG: "'Moonchild,' and all that stuff?"
MM: "Um hm. 'In the Court of the Crimson King,' 'Epitaph,' 'I Talk to the Wind.' So he says-he had exactly what I had for a record player: one of those Magnavox things that looks like a suitcase? And the turntable comes down like one of those folding beds, you know? and speakers on the end, that swivel so they can point this direction? He sets it up on a picnic table in his back yard; he says, 'I'll be back in an hour.' So he goes: I had to listen to this, and no talking, no nothing. So I put on the record and, like, [at] the end of the first side I'm, like: [makes an expression of jaw-dropped amazement]; end of the second side, I'm in tears."
MM: "Yeah. And he came back in, like, twenty minutes and he says, 'So, what d'ya think?' I said, 'This is incredible.' It was everything I had wanted from music, and it never-it was-it was the extreme freedom, the complexity of classical music: everything!-bombast, dynamism, writing, playing-all at once, in fast-forward. And, to drive the point home, it wasn't just a record that was five songs like '21st Century Schizoid Man'; it was, like, a beautiful ballad, an out-and-out grab-you-by-the-throat-and-throw-you-over-a-mountain, a classical thing, and lyrics that were abstract, not mentioning any one specific cultural thing so it couldn't become dated-and it addressed everything I felt about the world. I thought the world was mad-but we won't talk about lyrics in a music thing here. But it was the perfect unit, it had everything, and it was, like, 'Oh my god!' So, of course-they'd put out, like, three or four records, five records, in the next few years-. And I was impatient; I couldn't-and this addresses itself to an issue that you're gonna deal with [in your] research-I went out and bought anything that had the word 'king' in it. I was buying, like, King Biscuit Boy. If Kind Sunny Ade had been around I would have bought one of his records. I didn't know any better at 12 or 13"
TG: "What's that? Sonny Boy Williamson [had a thing????]."
MM: "Whatever. Anything with the word 'king' in it: Albert King. I knew Albert King wasn't King Crimson, but other groups that had, like, King-something-something, I thought, 'Well, maybe this is their second record and they're being funny,' you know? I couldn't wait for another record of theirs. But, here's the point: what happens to people is somewhere, generally early in their lives, they will hear-if it happens to them at all-the piece of music-they will hear something or see and hear something that will leave them in the state of: [acts 'amazed']-and that they will go out and they will buy, [say???], they will acquire it, they'll play it over and over again, they'll try to see it often, [but essentially???] it's recordable. And instead of ruining the experience by playing it a million times-that's the thing that everybody wants: they want another thing to do what that thing did to them. What they want is another thing to make them go: [makes a 'jaw-drop' expression]. They want another epiphany. But they don't, it not orderable-you never gonna have somebody go in and say, 'Uh, I'd like to sell you something that will make your jaw drop.' Generally, people come in and say, 'Well, I bought this Mahavishnu Orchestra record called Birds of Fire, and this record is so amazing-I didn't care about music before-and I went out and bought a stereo just so I could play this record. Do you have anything else like it?' And the current state of merchandising in the world is that the clerk-if you can even get one to talk to you-will turn around and say to you, 'Oh, let me see; what kind of record is that? Oh, oh, that's a jazz-fusion record. Well, here is the jazz-fusion bin; there're other records like it.' But none of them are gonna make my jaw drop. See, that-the records that really are interesting are the ones that are created-generally, to me; I mean, there're a few that work in the other mode-but generally, the records that are interesting are the ones that create the musical style without being aware of it, before it's been named"
TG: "How do you mean?"
MM: "Well, I can tell you this: after that first King Crimson record, there were a million groups that sounded like it and played Mellotron and aped classical pretensions mixed with modern rock-pop music."
TG: "Like Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer and all that stuff?"
MM: "Well, and..."
TG: "And 'Yes'."
MM: "Well, 'Yes', I personally think they had their own thing going on, but never mind that some of these people had some right to do it because they were all working about that time, but there's a whole industry of people who are just playing permutative sounds like that group, except maybe with a couple [of] little twists. They're working in the ironic mode; they're working in a language that's already established."
TG: "'Ironic' you call it?"
MM: "The ironic mode."
TG: "Meaning? How is that ironic? "
MM: "Because if the language is well-established it's very hard to say anything different. Any sentence you can speak has probably been composed and spoken. You can change the accent a little bit, you can throw in an odd word here and there, and you can looney a little bit if you like, whatever, but you basically-what you're doing is you're replicating the outside. It's like statues in a wax museum. I mean, this happens to every supposed musical performer's statement, whether it's Herb Albert or The Clash, or Agnostic Front if you will. Now, if you put the other bands who wanna look like that-and besides, Agnostic Front isn't around doing it at the moment, so-at least the imitator can get paid. And listen, it doesn't matter who's responsible for making you drop your jaw or give you enjoyment. You know I used to have a store before Bruce, right?"
TG: "Yeah, I heard you had a store."
MM: "And Bruce was my manager. And one day he opened up-Warner Brothers would send all these promotional things, or whatever-one time they sent an issue of Interview magazine, Warhol's, and they had Madonna on the cover. So he had tore off the cover and stuck it on the wall and drew a word balloon in her mouth saying, 'I am cheap, shallow, worthless, trash music.' And I came in and, (A) I was upset that he had opened my mail and did that; and (B) I said, 'Take that down.' He says, 'Why?' I said, 'Take that down!' He says, 'Hey, when you're talking to people and you say things like, "Well, you could buy some stuff like Madonna or you could buy this thing here that you just heard that you now know about and seem to be enjoying immensely," you know?' I said, 'Yeah, well, a thing said is not the same thing as a thing read, Number 1; and Number 2, I'm not here to tell people what's bad-I'm here to suggest things that they didn't think about, and see if they like it. When somebody takes a Madonna record home, or for that matter any of the cheap, shallow imitations of that which are playing the same riffs and form of the music that they've now perceived the form of from something that I think was creative-you know, and now there's a million progressive bands who came after-if somebody takes that home and gets joy out of it, no amount of criticism on my part can take away the fact that their spirit was uplifted. If it made them happy after forty hours of, like, drudgery, okay. The point is to make you happy; at least that's how I look at it from the salesperson's role, which has got nothing to do with corporate marketing, necessarily, although if someone was to talk from their public relations section, they'll tell you that's their aim."
On the other hand, let's remember the Alexander Pope aphorism, "Happiness is the amusement of those who cannot think"!
TG: "Right, right. Well, it seems to me that one of the appeals of jazz for the people that listen to it is..."
MM: "I was just about getting to that."
MM: "Now, I've walked into record stores in the last thirty years and everybody knows I'm a King Crimson fan, and was one of the big ones, and probably still am-I mean, there're so many young people that have replaced me-I went into stores and they go, 'Hey, you like King Crimson? I've got Genesis record here.' You know, why would I want that? They'd go, 'Well, it's progressive, it's art-rock, and, you know, so-&-so played in this group that played in that.' I said, 'Yeah? Soo-o-o?' They said, 'Well-,' you know, because...uh...' and my question stymies them, Because, basically, the impulse of most people who are involved in seeking out music, which is what I'm really talking about here, is to fall in line with the supposed rational notions of how you seek out other good experiences. To me, a great experience is not by category, it's by quality. So, in seeking out other experiences that would blow me away, I wasn't seeking out other records that sounded like the one that blew me away; I was seeking out something that had as much personality and uniqueness at that moment in time, in the moment in time I'm searching for now, regardless of whether that lies in some Irishwoman sounding like a young Aretha Franklin, and belting out a song in a way that most well-paid singers aren't, or having John Zorn play birdcalls. I need to hear them going for the blood, I guess."
TG: [amused:] "Is that what it is?"
MM: "I need to hear someone doing something because they can't help themselves doing it; it's either being themselves or being nothing, there's no in-between. They have to create an entire world of their own making. The ones who are playing in-between are afraid to approach themselves, or they never will, or when they think they are, they don't know that they're not really."
TG: "So what's happening for you when someone is doing it the right way? What are they doing? This is aesthetics after all, right?"
MM: "Generally, what's happening-I mean, there're traces of the ironic element in all music, Because, you know, that one notion is that it's all been done before and it was done. But when you find your voice, either by yourself or as a collective of people who have the ability to find their voice together, it won't be as individual as your fingerprint or the veins in your eyeball or anything else; and if you can really expose that, the energy involved in unlocking that atom is in itself some spiritual force. Playing-acting at it: nothing. Here's what happens: a Tony Williams' Life Time [Life Time] record comes out and invents jazz-fusion. They didn't know they were making jazz-fusion; they just knew they were making a record Because they felt like that. There was no precedent for it. Between that and Bitches Brew, it cemented an area that the critics thereafter called 'jazz-fusion,' because it fused elements of rock music and jazz, okay? What happened was-especially Bitches Brew-was a big hit, in an unexpected way. It wasn't a million-seller record but there was some sort of movement going on with that record that indicated an audience was abirthing. So whenever any kind of movement, whether it's something that's a fashion of only six months of age and then dies in a year, or whether it's something that lasts a decade, or whatever happens, the messenger boys who have inverted the whole commercial situation and become the masters, in other words The Record Company, go and say, snapping their fingers 'Yeah, get those people in here! Can you do this kind of record? Yeah, we'd like to create a bin with this new category that critics have given a title so that people have-there're thirty things to buy from us; we can sell thirty records, instead of one.' And what was going on, once the category has been established, is that the others are working like technicians at Madame Toussaud's."
TG: "What's that?"
MM: "Madame Toussaud's? It's a wax museum franchise"
TG: "Oh, okay."
MM: "Yeah. The ones who are working in the ironic are working like technicians at Madame Toussaud's: they're replicating the outsides perfectly. This has the outer form of this thing; it can be-someone could hear this and that and go, 'Well, they're of the same piece; they're of a piece.' But in no way are they replicating the impulse that made the skin bulge here, and the ear come out here, and the hand have five fingers, or whatever. All they know is that they've done, like, a mold-thing-you know, they've taken the original, took out the mold, and said, 'Okay, now we have the inner empty space where this exists; let's fill it with different notes, but the outside's gonna be the same.' But you can tell. If you're really listening, if you're actually awake, you immediately get a sense of the one that's a wax dummy and the one that was born looking that way without being able to help what it looked like. And the one that was born that way, and represents itself as for what it was born like-there's an energy that happens in the presence of that exhibition, whether it's the playing of the music or whatever, that just does not exist otherwise-and I'm talking spiritually now, and I think you can see that."
TG: "Do you notice a difference between, say..."
MM: "I've taken a long route to say this..."
TG: "No, no; I hear what you're saying. Do you notice a difference between, say, listening to that King Crimson album versus seeing someone do that."
MM: "Well, I'll tell ya, I didn't have as many highfalutin notions thirty-six years ago."
TG: "Let me ask you about the difference between the live and the-whatever, 'music itself' versus the recorded representation of it."
MM: "Well, as I told you, I wrote in that letter: 'Nowhere does the irony strike me hardest, as by owning a record store, that I realize that records are not music; they're just postcards of music. You know, like the buildings on a postcard, or buildings on a building postcard.' I think that's the problem with the culture now, jazz culture, whatever."
TG: "But you still go out and hear music. I mean..."
MM: [laughing:] Chairs hear, inanimate objects hear. People hear, but if they're really awake, they're listening; that's an insurmountable difference. It sounds somewhat semantical, but many others make the same distinction as well..although some reverse the use of the words hear and listen. I also distinguish between having sex and making love: having sex involves no more than the mutual use of each other to masturbate, to bring yourself pleasure; and making love is a mutual desire to bring your partner joy and release"
TG: "OK...you're listening to music all day long, but you still make the trip out to go hear..."
MM: "I'm listening to recordings of music all day long, and people who basically believe in the need to shorten how we speak-sometimes, if you use the language wrong, language then bites you in the ass, Because you lose track of what it was really supposed to represent in its contractions; we're used to its contractions. And you live that way: people say, 'Let's play some music,' and they don't mean pull out an instrument and play-they mean drop the needle on the record, okay? So if you use language wrongly!, language fucks you: it fucks the way you think, it fucks the very axioms that you base your rational on. And I'm sure that whatever language I grew up learning, when I first learned to speak English, was a perversion of-that's why you can look up-you know, it was a perversion of something that went further back in its previous pre-contraction state. And that's why we try to figure out what the word-I mean, in about fifty years, when someone says, 'Well, dial this number for me,' you're only going to know that the act of dialing means pushing buttons [punctuating on a nearby object], and it's going to be very quaint to find out that it meant that a dial was a circular thing that you spun. And words lose their meaning. But what they're used for currently is what their meaning is, you know?"
TG: "It evolves."
MM: "It evolves, but/and at the same time is loses, and at the same time it tricks, in doing that. In this case, it does-with 'playing music'. So yes, I hear records all day and I derive joy from them-can derive joy from them-but music itself is an Act, is human beings actually, physically coordinating their movements to become one overall movement and voice. Now, I'm gonna tell you a very funny thing about-you know, a lot of people are scared of improvisation."
TG: "Why's that?"
MM: "Well, I mean, look at it this way; I'm sure you can imagine/fathom this: if you have some ordinary folks who just have twenty to fifty CDs at home, and maybe they're, let's say, big records, and some classic records, some Beatles. If you say, 'Would you like to come down to Tonic or Knitting Factory with me tonight? Uh, one guy's playing just the clarinet mouthpiece without the saxophone through a glass of water and the other guy is, like, banging garbage cans with toy rattlers..."
TG: [laughing:] "I used to see Peter Apfelbaum do that, actually!"
MM: "Yeah, well..."
TG: [cracking up:] "He used to have the garbage cans [lids] as cymbals! And he was pretty inside!" [i.e. played 'conventionally']
MM: "You have some more or less-you have some very conservative-people are, you know, like, 'I don't think I wanna see, like, improvisation, because-.' And I can understand why improvisation can be boring, even when it's live."
TG: "Why's that?"
MM: "Well, there're two kinds of improvisation, if you will."
TG: "Good and bad?" [chuckles]
MM: "Well, besides good and bad. But I will say I generally prefer one over the other"
MM: "I-I'll let you judge which one belongs to which title. Well, one improvisation is where everybody is just making a noise of their own and they're not paying attention to each other, and the other one is where, somehow-and this is much rarer-that from moment to moment, they are becoming one voice, even though the next moment, is in the future, before they strike or pluck or whatever, there's an unknown quantity. There is some thing making them become one coherent voice, even though it's unwritten, unscripted, un-talked-about, unplanned, and not following anything that both people know as a tune, you know, or anything like that. That's-when you're in the presence of that kind of improvisation-it may not translate-even that may not translate well to record, but what happens when you're in the room when that's happening, and the next moment of sound is in your future, just as it is for the musicians [as well/involved?????] at the same time, that's something..well, I live for that!. You can't buy it. You could give someone a gold bar but it would be fool's gold."
TG: "Have you ever had that experience listening to a recording?"
MM: "Well, obviously I transcended something hearing that record [In the Court of the Crimson King] when I was a kid, and I've heard other records that have put be in a thrall, and I understand that the reason for that is not because they function as music but because they function-they have properly functioned in [the] dimension of the medium of recording..and succeeded! In most cases, it's required-people, or musicians, versed in music, versed in musical composition, versed in all the things that require, that would normally require, music to exist on stage, have been responsible, overall, for the elements that this records presents to me-sometimes, not necessarily. But, yeah; I mean, any experience is capable of waking you up. It could be an ugly experience: it could be falling off your bike and hurting your head."
TG: "But you're saying especially when it's live, and you feel like people are really..."
MM: "That's-that's something you can't-it's just something that's very special. Okay? Now..."
TG: "Yeah. How often do you hear that?"
MM: "If it could be planned or regulated, it wouldn't happen. But it happens more often than not because of the musicians calibre, because of their preparedness"
TG: "Do you get that on a regular basis, or not? Is that a rare thing..."
MM: "It might happen twice in a week, and not happen for six months, you know? It could go longer than that. I mean, for a while there-and then, you know, you've heard the idea that 'ninety-nine percent of everything is shit,' right? I used to have this store called Lunch For Your Ears, and I'd have, like, a little bit of this and little bit of that, of tasty things from all kinds of genres, because I would tell people-see, I'm talking about jazz in the greatest sense possible: improvisation. That doesn't mean the supposed category of 'jazz music'; that means the impulse that drives people to wanna hear something. Everyone is ready for something new, except the people who market the records, except for the record companies. They don't wanna hear anything new, they certainly don't wanna be burdened with marketing it. Yet they promote everything using the notion of 'New'!"
TG: "You think everybody's ready for something new?"
MM: "Everybody's ready for something new."
TG: "Is that how come the Tonic is packed every night?"
MM: "Who said there's anything 'new' there?"
TG: "Well, let me put it this way..."
MM: "Wait a minute! You're assuming that I think something about something."
TG: "No, no; what I'm saying, and what I've noticed, is: when music gets more improvisational and more experimental..."
MM: "That doesn't mean it's new."
TG: "Okay, but when it gets what I would call more 'elements-of-surprise,' as possible..."
MM: "When I say 'new'-yeah?"
TG: "...the audience tends to drop off. It challenges the audience."
MM: "That's what I said: people are scared of improvisation. But d'you know what the funny thing is? To have a conversation that exists outside of being asleep you need to improvise! I say something and you have to think at this moment how you're going to respond. The mere notion of communication involves improvisation. But you tell people that a musician's gonna do it, and they're, like, 'Oh, I hate stuff that doesn't have a structure.' I mean, you couldn't-everybody lives for structure! Look at me: I'm blabber-mouthing at fifty miles-per-hour now!" [chuckles] But improvisation doesn't mean 'no structure', most of the best improvisation has wonderful structure, but its exact nature could never have been put down note-for-note on a menu beforehand, just as, by my definiton, any real conversation must involve improvisation, by definition; if it really was a good conversation that moved from point A to B to C, it will leave a coherent structure in its wake.
TG: "This interview has premeditated structure though."
MM: "Yeaaahh, well, I'll leave the judgment to someone else. And I'm sure I could do a Devil's advocate job on myself and give myself a broken leg, but-. So."
TG: "So, why are people afraid of improvisation?"
MM: "Like I said, because they're afraid of the boredom, they're afraid of not being up to the challenge, they're afraid of any message that could leave them disagreeing with their peers as to content-in some cases-I mean, there're all kinds of intellectual precepts. [acting:] 'Gee, all these people who are more intelligent and/or make more money than me get something out of this! And, to me, I don't get anything out of it, and it's stressing me!' And there's distressment that has nothing to do with the enjoyment or non-enjoyment of the texture of the sound, or the collection of and order of the textures of the sound. Any number of ways you wanna describe it, you know?"
TG: "Well, I'll turn the question around: why is it that you like it so much?"
MM: "Because I pursue it in the hopes that maybe once out of every ten times I'll have a jaw-dropping experience-mentally; maybe my jaw doesn't actually drop. Let me tell you a little thing: people used to come into my store and-well, first of all, they'd go, like, 'Well, what kind of music do you have here? I mean, you're, like-you're around the corner from the Knitting Factory; you have a lot of Knitting Factory artists here, like the avant-jazz and improv and-.'"
TG: "This is your old store?"
MM: "Yeah; 'Lunch For Your Ears', it was around the corner from the original Knitting Factory on Houston St. And I'd go, 'Listen,' I said, 'If I told you that this store was primarily 'blank' kind of music-you fill in the blank, like 'avant-jazz'; whatever you wanna put in that blank-that would make me responsible so that I'd have to go out and stock the other ninety-nine percent of that category that's shit.' I said, 'I don't really stock a category here; I just-to me, this is a collection of phantasmagoria, whether it's an odd blues record or an odd rap record or-you know, I mean, there might be a heavy accent on this 'downtown' scene here.' But then, just for a brief moment, in the late '80s, in the middle-late '80s, what was happening in New York: you could actually say some double-digit percentage of the Downtown scene, some almost amazing percentage, was not shit. It was amazing, because basically ninety-nine percent of everything is shit, whether you wanna break it down in little categories like 'free jazz with sax' or whatever. There's only one percent, or some minute fraction-so that's really..."
TG: "When are you saying? What period? '80s?"
TG: "Mid to late 80s?"
MM: "Mid to late 80s - a perception particular to me and my own experiences. What was going on, which was revolving around the birth of the Knitting Factory and, just-the scene was exploding. And everybody was doing something. And now I come back ten years later, in, like '98, '99, and where there was a manageable amount of output for a record store to carry, and the number of artists, and each of them doing something, or most all of them were doing something-something to distinguish themselves, something that mattered, whether you knew who there were or you knew their stories or you knew that they were/so-&-so was in this band..."
Anyway, people used to come in and I would-if I didn't see them before-I'd say, 'Well, you know, you can hear anything you like here-anything,' Because at the time I was taking CDs out of long boxes and putting them in cases, so the CDs were technically open. But no one would touch 'em, so they stayed new until they got sold. And the records I could open, for the most part; they were either used or they were imports, Because I was dealing with obscure labels; I didn't worry about seals. And I'd say to a new customer, someone I hadn't seen before-I'd say, 'You can hear anything you want. And, by the way, if you tell me three things that you have intensely enjoyed that are so completely different and polar from each other that you can't imagine another personality actually having equal intensity in all three of those directions, I might suggest a fourth.' It wouldn't necessarily be a triangulation thing where, you know, 'if given this and this and this, and I'll take something that has equal parts this and that'. No, I'd make an intuitive leap outside the field, out the box."
TG: "Were you pretty good at that?"
MM: "Oh, I was phenomenal - immodest aren't I. I could reach inside your mind and pull a record out and say, 'Well, you know, I have some import,' and I'd pull a record out. It wouldn't be, like, the stock record. 'And this is what-this is for you.' And I'd know the sound of every record in the store. And I had this funny policy of playing anything anyone wanted to hear, Because everyone has animal behavior. And I don't mean animal by being brutish, I mean animal in terms of habits. You tend-there are some things you won't do because you already have preconceived notions: 'I wouldn't play a Ringo Starr record'-which is why I would put on a Ringo Starr record, you know? I already know his records suck-I don't know why I know that; I just feel they do Because I've heard some and I think they suck. So, maybe in an odd moment I play a whole record, when no one was listening, to expose myself to the experience, Because even bad experiences can teach you something. And then, of course, I'd learn, by accident, 'Why did I say that?' So I'd fight my own impulses by random generating behavior that doesn't represent how I really want to behave, by letting others, my customers, dictate what I hear, so that I can go somewhere that my own tastes wouldn't let me. The antithesis of what happens in 'deep-catalogue' stores", where minimum-wage numbnuts who don't appreciate the vastness of the recorded treasures within are allowed to to play whatever they want, and you usually just hear the same few things that you would if you turned on a radio that day, which is why the collapse of this wonderful deep-catalog experiment in chain stores, whose jazz and other non rock or rap sections have shrunk to nothing.
TG: "So, something new for you by way of the outside influence of the customer choosing?"
TG: "Something fresh."
MM: "Exactly. Even if it's the wrong direction, it still does something to give you a perspective outside of what your own close-mindedness won't ever let you see that perspective. So if you tell anyone who walks into your parlor, 'You're the host; you can do anything you want to,' they can take you somewhere that you wouldn't take yourself. So I learned most all the records in the place as a result. So people would come in, and I'd go, you know, 'Tell me some disparate things that you like, and I'll surprise you.' And this is something I heard more than once: they'd say, 'This and this and that...But don't play me anything with saxophone, Because I don't like jazz,' which is a pretty ironic comment when you consider [that] the original lead instrument of rock & roll was a saxophone."
TG: "Right. And clarinet was actually more popular in the early jazz than sax was."
MM: "No, we're talking about rock & roll!"
TG: "No, but, I mean, early jazz wasn't even sax. It's come to be [sax-dominated], but..."
MM: "Yeah, but, you know, nowadays you see so many different commerces in multiple-[you] see small jazz stores that spell jazz with a saxophone for a 'J'-a-z-z, you know? I mean [claps his hands], it is synonymous, virtually. But it was pretty ironic, and I've heard that more than one time. And I actually have a stock record response for this one but, depending on the person and the other things they felt-like, they might say, 'You know, I don't like soundtrack music but I really this one record. I've kept it my whole life; and this record here is a gypsy music record, but I really don't like other world music records; and, one of my favorite rock things is this,' you know? And I'd take them somewhere completely else. It wouldn't be, like, 'Okay, this has a little bit of each of those things.' Hnh! That's not how I did it; it wasn't a milkshake blender thing. And [they'd] usually go, 'Wow!' I mean, ordinary people would come in the store who didn't buy records and I made them-they would hear things just passing by with my door open. And they'd go out and buy a record player, just so they could play this.
So I was affecting ordinary lives that weren't-it was the best kinds of lives possible, Because they weren't people who were already buying records. It wasn't like I just brought another customer into the fold: I touched someone who had no use for it, because - there's a lot of this about out there - people who don't play records, who don't have stereos. They're not interested at all. I mean, they have, like, the a.m. radio for their alarm clock, or whatever, and that's maybe as far as it goes, because they perceive that the whole thing, when you-they may not even put it into words, but there is an unspoken perception by a great number of people that what is being produced as music doesn't speak to them at all - it's aimed at other ages, younger age, other politics, whatever. So they say, 'But don't play me anything with saxophone; I don't like jazz.' So, you know, of course, the devil in me had to think: 'I'm gonna give them everything I know they wanted while it's everything they said they didn't want, and they're gonna like it.' So I'd say, 'I have the perfect record for you, but do you see that gentleman back there? I have to put a record on for him first, because he asked me to play something right after this record.' Then I'd proceed to play the record that's actually for them; you know, the one with the saxophone that they said they didn't want to hear any. And about a minute in they'd kinda go, 'Uh, what is this record?' I'd say, 'No, no, no; no, this is for that guy back there'; I said, 'I have a perfect record for you.' They said, 'Well, but what's this record?' I said, 'No, no, no, no; that's for them, this is for you.' And they'd go, 'Well, can you just tell me what the record is?' and I said, 'Well, it's such-&-such by so-&-so,' and they'd go, 'Uh, so what kinda music do you call this record?' and I said, 'No, no, no; that's for him.' 'No, no, no; what kind of music do you call this record?' I said, 'Do you like this record?' 'Well, what kind of music do you call this record?' I said, 'You really like this record?' They said, 'Yeah, ok, I like the record. What kind of music do you call this record?' I said, 'I call it "music you like!"'
Because people have been trained to buy by category and not by quality. You know something is quality when something is making your jaw drop-it's also making your mind go on the blink; all your analytical shit goes out the window. All the windows and doors are unlocked in your head, in your mind. And you can't think of, you can't do, like, 'Oh, this guy's playing a D flat'; you can't be thinking that. You can't be thinking, 'Uh, I wonder what kind of effects pedal he's/she's using?' All you know is: the notes are passing through you and they're doing the real job of why that whole thing has been made, why the experience was ever important in the first place. Millions attempted, millions of recordings are out there, and this one did it. [claps 2x] You're in trance state, in effect. I mean, you can operate: if someone came up to you you'd know they were coming up to you, or you know you're not stepping off a subway platform, but other than that [snaps his fingers], it's captured you. You can't even tell yourself, 'I'm listening to blues, jazz, or rock'; all you know is that this signal, this message, has so entranced and enchanted you that until the impact of it is over, all the analytical functions are dead. Now, if I had told this person, 'Listen, I've got something with a sax, but I think you'll like it,' they would've said, after the first three seconds , 'Nah, take it off.' I have to have a person who'll leave their doors and windows unlocked, so they can learn that the things that they've been taught by society-at-large, commerce, and everything else, are false. You have to trick people. If you tell them, the alarm systems, the doors get locked, the windows get pulled down. And they'll look out the window, but they'll see what they expect to see anyway, and they'll keep the window locked. So that 'record was back there for the other guy'."
TG: "Yeah? Well, let me ask you something-I'm just curious-two things. One is: at one point, Bruce took me around the store and he said, 'Here's where we keep "downtown scene," here's "new releases," here's "classic jazz." And he had a whole typical layout, slightly altered for the emphasis in this particular store. 'Basically, this is where we find these types of music[s] within-.' So my question is: how do you get around categories?"
MM: "I didn't have any."
TG: "Yeah? How did you organize your store?"
MM: "How did I organize my store?"
TG: "How would you?"
MM: "No, how did I; I had a store for seven years."
TG: "Right, how did you; whatever."
MM: "A to Z, vocal and A to Z, instrumental. If a record had more than fifty percent of the actual minutes on it with people singing lyrics in a language it wound up in the vocal section; no differentiation as to whether it was a blues record, a progressive art-rock record, a Cajun record, or anything else."
TG: "So Downtown Music Gallery is basically Bruce's Gallanter's set-up, basically, now, the way you have it?"
MM: "That's-Bruce was my manager. I, uh, disappeared for several years, and everyone knew I was gonna be disappearing for several years [chuckles], so Bruce jumped ship and some friends of his started up the store that he eventually became the owner of. I came back in '99 and became his manager, and now we're partners - its come back full circle
TG: "Right. Well, I'm just curious about this whole label thing; I think it's a really interesting question."
MM: "Well, but this is what I did. I started that store Lunch For Your Ears. There were no categories. And people would say, 'Well, how do I know what kinda record is this?' I said, 'Well, we have one basic category: we have from A to Z for vocal and A to Z for instrumental and a third A to Z for composer-records that are primarily-you identify it as a 'so-&-so's record,' but not because they play on it but because of who the composer is, like John Cage or Tchaikovsky or whoever. Okay, three A-to-Z's, and then the same set of A-to-Z's for used, and that was it. Everything precisely alphabetical, like a phone book. And they'd go, 'Well, how do I know what's on it, what styles are encompassed?' I said, 'I'll play it for you. You tell me.'"
TG: "So, is that store basically full of 'music-that's good,' that you like, that you think is good?"
MM: "I probably didn't even use the word good - it would have created an expectation that was uncontrollable and unlivable-up to in the mind of the patron; I probably did use the word 'interesting'"
TG: "Do you buy for the current store too?"
TG: "Okay, so whadda you buy? How do you know what to buy then?"
MM: "I have a sense of-. First of all..."
TG: "Do you buy what you think is good or do you buy what you think people are gonna want, that know that they have to come to this store to get it."
MM: "There are two basic ways retailers work it: there's the supermarket mode or the dress shop mode."
TG: "Right, mark-up or turnover."
MM: [joking:] "Well, I'd like to 'turn-over' this dress, but no. Yeah, okay: lewd, cheap joke. Um, the supermarket way is that you know what people'll buy and you buy more of it. Give the people what -somebody's statistics - say they want"
TG: "And you sell it to 'em cut-rate?"
MM: "You've got an industry organ - Billboard, whatever - that says, 'These are things that sell.' You know that certain things are bread-&-butter items, or stock items that you have to have, and then on top of that the additional items that may make you a profit. And those are usually loss leaders [i.e. don't turn a profit but get the customer in the store for potential profits on other items w/better mark-up margins]. But the ones that are bread-&-butter items can change from time to time-they revolve around the loss leaders-things you must carry. Okay? So that's basically a supermarket. Okay?"
TG: "Okay. Do you have things you must carry?"
MM: [moving on:] "Record stores operate in a supermarket mode: there's an industry organ, Billboard, that says what's selling this week, and in the pragmatic necessities of a large geographical market are, i.e. the United States, you have to basically have to throw your bet where everyone else is throwing their bet."
TG: "Right, the horses that are being backed: promotion money, distribution..."
MM: "But, you see, you're told that-. What matters between distributor and retailer, in terms of information like, 'You know, I sold fifty of these to this client, and fifty of these to this other client. How many of these do you want? And plus, look at the Billboard last week: it was the [clapping for emphasis:] number one record. How many do you want?' That's now become the basis for the average person having an aesthetic comprehension of the record. I mean, you can turn the radio on and someone'll do a mini-review of a new record and go, 'And it sold five million units last week!' What the fuck? What, is that telling me that it's good? It just tells me that someone did their job good, in terms of getting somebody's money. I mean, there's supposed to be a connection, one would imagine. And the marketing machine has gone all-out capitalizing on this erroneous perception. And that's why people allow themselves to be fooled into thinking they should be hearing that kind of information when talking about the aesthetic of something."
TG: "Okay, what's the other way that they operate? You can operate as a dress [shop]?"
MM: "Oh, as a dress shop."
TG: "Okay, so what's that?"
MM: "Oh, well..."
TG: "You get a good mark-up, you sell high quality merchandise?"
MM: "No-no- no-no-no-no-no-no; you're thinking of the money end of it. I'm thinking of how you choose what you sell, which is what inspired this little side-bar here. The supermarket, you don't really choose; you're dictated to. Those dictations are based on what sells and everything else. In the dress shop mode-we're talking about a little dress shop-the owner probably runs the shop themselves. SoHo's full of them. You ever walk down the side-streets of SoHo? You see, like, a shop-I mean, it's, like, a 12x20 [foot] space and there's one dress hanging on a hanger in the whole place and the rest of it's a white cube? Yeah? There's just one dress? Well, that's an extreme statement of course, but what is the person saying? They went and they found some designer in an out of the way side street shop in Paris or wherever, and they're representing this piece, and if you like what you see, then you buy this piece."
TG: "And it's the only place you can get it and..."
MM: "Well, that's the extreme of it; that's right. But yeah, you operate as a [dress shop]: you go and you buy what you think is tasteful and you present your taste to the public, and people who share that taste will, accordingly, come to you.
It's been put another way: In America, you sell people what they want; In Europe, you sell what you want, and those who want it will seek you out. Although I don't know how true that is anymore with the inroads American marketing sciences have made into the retail scene of Europe"
TG: "So that's how you guys operate?"
MM: "Well, that's how I, certainly, operated with Lunch For Your Ears for years: it was a dress shop, but for music. You know: 'Here're some things we have to put on your soul,' whatever it is, linen or sound.' And, to a degree, those lessons are carried over by Downtown Music Gallery. See, I started because SoHo Music Gallery went out of business. That was a store that, in the late 70s, people like Tim Berne and John Zorn and some other musicians used to work at, before they had enough money to be musicians full time. They were playing at night and writing all day and all that, but they were working at SoHo Music Gallery. And SMG went out of business and I got the inspiration to start a place around the corner from them, and I actually managed to get the furniture and some of the left-over stock. And then I went out of business - because of personal reasons only, the store was doing quite well - the mantle was carried over to Downtown Music Gallery. And some of the ethics I had like having a free show every week and all that carried over to DMG.
But if you don't start out with a rule-breaking scenario, it's very hard to swim your way towards it. And since Bruce wasn't the actual owner of Downtown when it started-he later bought out the other people; he was just the manager originally. And I decided it was not a great endeavor in its original incarnation, but it was his passion; he was really running it for the love. But they'd already set it up; like: 'Here's a blues section, here's a rock section, here's a-.' So it's sorta carried over. To me, I would like to dispense with it, but there's so much available that you have to give someone a guideline. And since I had the luxury in LFYE-all the CDs were behind glass and I had an aisle behind-I could pull/get anything you saw, but no one actually pulled stuff. So it was very easy for one person to run the store and not get ripped off, and still have everything open, and still have people's belief that they're being handed a new product-and they were. You know, it was just showing an environment of trust for my being able to open something and play it for people but they knew I wasn't selling a used product, and they knew I was taking perfect care of the product when the/in case of try-outs. Ths is very common in Europe and elsewhere, but in America, God forbid it's not sealed! When the environment changes and you can't have stuff sitting open out there..."
TG: "So no rip-offs..?"
MM: "Well, there was that.. it was just one person, me, for 5 of the 7 years.
TG: "Fred Cohen's got a good store for jazz..."
MM: "Oh, Jazz Record Center, at 236 West 26th. Wonderful place."
TG: "Yeah, that's, like, [the] seventh floor..."
TG: "...and there's no sign-eighth floor-and you have to know it's there."
MM: "Yeah, yeah."
TG: "So, he doesn't have that run-in-and-grab-a-CD..."
MM: "Yeah, he also doesn't have-well, no, I'm sure he's had difficult people come up there too, but more intentional [i.e. premeditated], you know? But he hasn't got the mindless person who says, 'I think I can steal something from here.' But I'm sure-you know, he may attract someone who's got larcenous or kleptomaniac feelings. But anyway, that's not here or there. He also doesn't pay these street-level rents for the same space-one would hope."
TG: "Can you talk a little bit about the people that-your people-that support your store? Who's buying the stuff? What do you notice about your audience [laughs], or whatever your clientele might be called?"
MM: "Okay, I told you I was in junior high school-I'm getting to your question, don't worry [laughs]-and I get to college and I'm really bored with rock things and there are people listening to jazz, like, old 60s jazz, in the dorm rooms. And I started getting into John Coltrane and I started getting into Eric Dolphy. I started-even though I'm going backwards in time, I'm going forwards in opening up a musical listening. And I'm hearing people who are playing: they're not playing music because it's a fashion; they're not playing music for any other reason except to be playing. It's just what they do and how they express themselves. For-anyway, this is the simplistic notions of stating it here and now. So, that wanting to hear something that would be fresh, be new, and be jaw-dropping, and not just the circus notion of being new, which is, like, 'Oh, let's take any three objects from out of the dark and go [cartoonish:] Frahn! Ooh! Or!,' you know? Well, it's okay.
So, who is the audience I identify with now? I would say that they are people who grew up listening to jazz, they could be people who grew up listening to classical, they could be people who grew up listening to progressive rock or even psychedelic musics, but somewhere along the way, they were the people who weren't restrained to staying within a category.
From the basic freedom implied in either this jazz [i.e. 'downtown/avant-jazz] or the straight jazz but this jazz-the avant-garde jazz of the 60s; you know: either the free jazz or the new jazz that followed it or the third-stream [jazz/classical fusion] before that-the ones who swam with it, or younger people who are now in their 30s and 40s who discovered it after-decades after it actually existed-but who would go backwards in time to hear it. Again, they are trying to fight categories. Some of them don't even know it. But there is no one who comes to that store, I would say, who hasn't been immersed in something else before. And that's certainly a truth that you don't see in most other sections of other record stores or other kinds of record stores. The people who are buying rock are always buying rock; the people who are buying classical are always buying classical.
So here is possibly the important point that your questions have tried to elicit:
This audience, which includes the core customers of our store, or at least those coming as repeat customers: they've jumped ship - categorically - at least once.
And they already know the lesson you get from only having to jump once, that it's not about category, it's about quality, a quality.
And they may not be able to jump ship too often, they may not be that adventurous, they may wanna fully explore this new ship they've jumped onto, but they know better than to think that they're supposed to wear a t-shirt saying 'I Like [makes a gesture]' or 'I Like [makes another gesture]'- on their body, or especially in their mind."
TG: "And why do they come to you guys? I mean, one is: I know you have stuff that a lot of other people don't carry."
MM: "Fuck! Where else to you find a clerk who works for minimum wage - and with our sales for our chosen items has to - sitting on the table?" [laughs]
TG: "Well, I mean, you can get a lot of the large releases at a regular store."
MM: "Well, this is turning into an advertisement. We actually have 'em for better prices than you can get in a regular store, almost always. But more to the point, we're primarily about the stuff that even the deep catalog stores - and online retailers - essentially ignore 90% of. So..."
TG: "Well, I'm not trying to-basically, what's motivating these people to-Because I think your store is different, and I would consider it more alternative than-. Like you said, you're more interested in what you think is good, but you're also featuring stuff that isn't getting featured in these other places."
MM: "Listen. You know when I was talking about Bruce putting up that Madonna thing up on the wall and he wrote the word balloon? And I said, 'Take it down,' because I'm not here to tell 'em that something they're enjoying is bad - I'm here only to encourage the other and the new, without denigrating what one has already enjoyed. Where do I get off saying that something you like sucks? See, every piece of music, every record is like a letter; every record in that store is like a letter: it's written to somebody. At least, I'd like to believe so. There's a few records that were never written by anybody; they were written by a committee-there was no entity, no one's coherent soul behind it-so if there's a message there it's more like a bunch of-it's like a William Burrough's cut-up; it doesn't even involve a person picking out words from a hat, you know? There're a few records that are those kinds of records - and occasional a monkey can type Shakespeare - but, for the most part, at least one person, somewhere, was involved in giving birth to this CD-twenty minutes worth of music, or whatever. It's a letter; it's a personal letter that's been written to someone. It may not have been written to me, but that's not to denigrate it. If I were to look over your shoulder-say you got a letter from your girlfriend-and I said, 'Aw, that letter's terrible,' where the fuck do I get off rating a letter that wasn't written to me? I don't. I should know better. My opinion should be to not have one!
Okay, so I think there are artists and there are records and there are pieces of artwork-I think there's a list of things that are shallow and worthless; I think there is a list of things that have depth and beauty and value, and I think we all have these lists. I don't think there's any one set of [criteria], any two people who could ever agree on them, on what is and what isn't belonging to this list and that list. But they can agree on the fact that they have these notions, these lists. Okay? And I think that, regardless of whether it's in the list of 'This has gotta be worthless!" or 'This is really great!'-even my 'Great' list doesn't necessarily mean that I like it. There's too much two-dimensional thinking going on, where if you don't like it, it can't be any good. I can recognize that there're things that I have no need for, if you were actually to get my opinion in an off-the-air, non-published way, I'd say, [grimaces critically:] 'Hmm, this doesn't do very much for me,' you know? Or I might say, 'This is-I think this is actually a bit-I have no need of it.' Like, say I respect Bruce Springsteen; say I think he's very talented. I'll never need to own or listen to one of his records, however, but I don't think he's an 'artificial' creation. And, I guess, that's probably what I base it [aesthetic criteria] on, Because there's some depth here, with him. But even, regardless of what I think, I shouldn't be reading someone else's letter; if it wasn't written to me, I don't really know what it says. I can think I know what it says, by reading the lines themselves, but I can't see between the lines. Once I have the reaction of my animal behavior and habits, and maybe play a game with myself: that's coming from an alternate point of view of what it means even when I still might not know-but. [cartoon voice:] Let me step outside myself. You know-wow!-that letter; I think [she's actually???], like, whatever! So, I think I've covered some of the points of this thing , what the aim of this interview is, in a very oblique way."
TG: "Yeah, no, that's fine."
MM: "I'm here to turn the notion of how to address some of the things inside-out. I can only tell you these things Because these are..."
TG: "Yeah, but that's good, because, well, like I said, it's your interview. I'm kinda interested in how you look at it. So, if I ask you a lot of questions I'm getting my stuff, and I'm really trying to get your stuff [laughs], whatever that is."
MM: "So, I've looked at it like this. Oh, I have a good one-I was giving lectures once a year, a guest lecture at some music industry class at NYU-and the professor used to come to the store. And after about a year he said, 'You know, any time I come in here we have an interesting discussion.' He says, 'Would you like to lecture in my class?' I said, 'Fine.' He says, 'I want you to lecture about the position you're in, being, like, a small record store owner and having, like, a completely unique viewpoint of how to approach your business and your relationship to customers, and based on your notions of music.' I said, 'Yeah, I'll-fine.' So I didn't write anything, I just-I knew I could blab off-the-cuff."
TG: "Blow a few choruses."
MM: "And I actually had to do this, like-I did it four semesters in a row, and I more or less gave the same talk every time, I think, but it always opened with this: I'd say, 'Let me tell you the first thing, and I don't wanna-I know that some of you here are for career and it's a music industry class and you may be actually taking this because you wanna be in the business-so let me tell you the first thing: there is no such thing as the music business.' I said, 'There's the record pressing plant business, there's the promotion business, there's the ticket sale business, there's a concert hall rental business, there's [was!] the cardboard jacket for the LP business, there's the raw vinyl plastic vat business...'"
TG: "T-shirt sales at concerts?"
MM: [on a roll:] "'...there's the I-make-coffee-at-the-major-label's-55th-floor-office business, there's fuckin' fifteen other businesses. There's no such thing as the music business. Because the only people who can conceivably be construed as being in the music business, i.e. the musicians themselves, have unfortunately allowed everyone else to call it the "music business" to make it able to include these others in it, and have allowed that misuse of language to spread tyranny around them. And the only reason that everybody wants-and what that has done is that now you can say that you're a part of the music business and you're part of the people that create the music, and that allows you to boss the artist around and what kind of music he should making, when he/she should be the only person to judge what she/he is creating. And as soon as the artists allowed it to be called the music industry, you got all these people who weren't really creating the music sharing the status of the creator, without being at all a creator.'
And I used to end the lecture by saying-two hours later, or one hour later, whatever-I said, 'And do you wanna know what the worst thing about the music industry is?'-after I've already said there is none-'The fact that when people, when they were fifteen years old, decided they wanted to work in it, were allowed to!' [chuckles] I was not the most-liked lecturer."
TG: "Sounds like you were trying to confuse them."
MM: "Well, did you get that point?"
TG: "I'm not sure what you meant there."
MM: "The worst thing about the music industry is that people who, when they were young, like, fifteen years old or whatever, decided that they wanted to work in the music business-that those people were allowed to."
TG: "Because they're so young, or...?"
MM: "No, no, I mean when they grew up-when they wanted to work in the music business, those people were allowed to. Those people aren't there to do anything. The ones who wanna join the music industry and the music business: they're the worst people that the 'music business' and the 'music industry' could ever have, from the viewpoint of an artist, Because they wanna be part of this business 'party' scene, the one that in effect manipulates the artist."
TG: "Right. But then, the clichZ˙ is that, for instance-I mean, this is something I hear a lot from people who are more on the business end of presenting music - the musicians don't pay attention to the business aspect. 'They don't realize we have to sell a product here, blah-blah-blah.' There're a lot of considerations that make music possible that need this..."
MM: "When you hear someone in the industry saying that..."
TG: "No, I'm talking about a clubowner! They're saying..."
MM: "No, I understand that, but you said someone in the industry said that, and I do include clubowners."
TG: "'...musicians are bitching because we're not paying them enough, right?' And then they're saying these guys are not tuned in to how much it costs to allow this venue to be here, to get people in the door and pay."
MM: "No, artists generally aren't aware, even some of the more-hip-businesswise ones I know about. If they see someone even barely appearing to be making a decent living in connection to their dealings with them, they often feel ripped off. And yet the truth is most of these little business; clubs, labels, and stores that most supported their efforts eventually go under because they were just treading water the whole time. Which is not to say there aren't rip-off artists on the scene - there are plenty of them! 'Being paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you'. And then there's the mid-ground: those who failed in their dealings while in their hearts they truly never wished to rip anoyone off, they merely trod shallower water than everyone else due to extremely deficient business acumen. As the aforementioned aphorism would suggest, it becomes hard to tell who's who"
TG: "Well, that's what I'm saying: that they're not always tuned in to what makes everything possible, you know?"
MM: "I know that. The world is the joining of not-well-cohering parts."
TG: "Right, but what I'm saying is I think you need all those parts to make it happen, and you can't just have the art itself or the person that has the vision of it; you sorta need those people there to get the thing pressed."
MM: "Have you heard of Matt Shipp? He's a pianist."
TG: "Yes. Oh, I've seen him, actually. Yeah, he played-was he at the Vision Festival?"
TG: "Yeah, I'm sure I saw him."
MM: "Did you-you didn't go to the all-day Irving Stone tribute, right?"
TG: "No, I was out of town. I wish I could have seen that."
MM: "That's what you should have seen! Everybody only played for ten to twenty minutes [snapping his fingers rhythmically:], just one person after the next on stage, no moving shit around or nothing-continuous, and there were heart-stopping moments all day. Unfortunately I only saw the last half-hour Because I hadda work the store."
TG: "Yeah, I wish I coulda seen it."
MM: "So-you wanna talk about the pin-drop and people really, like-the moment being, like, suspending all consideration, all time, and all thought? That happened many times that day, by all reports, by all reports. And the last thing was, actually, Matt playing piano, and that was part of it. Anyway, back in, like, '89, these two young fellows come into Lunch holding a record. They go, 'We just put out this record.' One was Matt Shipp and the other was Rob Brown. Their first record was a duet record together. They came in, two young guys, maybe about twenty-two, twenty-something. They said, 'We just put out this record. We're kinda interested in how to sell it and can we-do you have it in your store already?' I said, 'No, I'll take a few copies.' I put it on. I said, 'Wow, Holy shit!' And I thought Matt was one of the great talents of all time and Rob as well, I still do. So, I would get this a lot: people coming in and they wanted to know, you know: do I know anybody that-, what label to recommend and, you know, 'Here's a tape to listen to,' and on [and on]. And you'll get that, especially when you're a friendly, non-mainstream record store. And you can try to be nice to everybody, or whatever, but my general spiel was that: 'Listen, I, uh-.' Any advice, any really good advice-there's always gonna be advice you don't want to hear, because advice would be worthless if you wanted to hear it; you could think it by yourself if you did wanna hear it, you know? You just follow your own notions. If I have something valuable to tell you it's only because I'm gonna tell you something to do something that you don't want to hear, you don't wanna do, you don't wanna like doing. And so there're three ways to go about it, by my way of thinking: never put out any records and create a live-playing cult around yourself-if you can do it. I'm not just saying to go out and do it. Number one, you have to have blow-away talent."
TG: "Or make really bad records-that's what I say-like the Grateful Dead or something. [laughs] Sorry!"
MM: [to an imaginary jury:] "That's his opinion."
TG: [to the same jury:] "Take that off the tape! I don't want that on there! Erase that! [cracking up] It's my tape; I can erase it."
MM: "Yeah, I understand what you're saying. So, option two, the artist has to be a businessman to be an artist. If you don't control how your paintings are being framed, how they're being presented, you've lost some control of the presentation. Uh..."
MM: "Um, the third thing is 'Allow yourself to be ripped off for one record, but just once, with an incredible record that will always be in the bins until you pass away at age 80 or 90. Just make sure it's not your only good record! It will serve as your calling card by which the world will always know you throughout your lifetime, and you will always be able to travel anywhere and get work, play or record .You could never pay for that quality or quantity of publicity/promotion.' Like those BYG records no one ever saw a dime for. Needless to say, no one wants to hear that, and/or these suggestions are all tough extremes of life situation.
Well, in any case, Matt gets involved..."
TG: [wanting closure:] "Always play live, control your product..."
MM: "No, no; no. Matt shows an interest in all aspects; he needs to know exactly what's happening. He does the footwork: whenever he visits a city he goes to all the record stores to see if he's there or not and then he finds out why he's not, or why this title isn't there. And then the thing-it's an unfair thing to ask an artist to do, and I apologize to Matt for having possibly laid this curse on him! - because you have to keep your soul and everything clear of as much shit as possible just to do something more than repeat a repertoire, to move on, to grow. To weigh you down with the business side is, like, awful, really awful, really dirty."
TG: "A lot of people complain about that."
MM: "Yeah. You know, it's really awful. But you have to be cognizant, even if you don't get dirty; you have to be cognizant. But, as usual, things collapse by not being cognizant, if not being dirty means not being cognizant-anyway, so, people take it to different degrees. But yeah, even artists who I think would know better sometimes slight situations that I personally know can't possibly be making any money and it's a wonder they even got five dollars back."
TG: "Do you think most of the people on the scene that are playing that you would sell-I'm thinking of whoever: Daniel Carter or William Parker, or whatever-I mean, are they making much money? I mean, most of those guys have..."
MM: "Um, there's a certain level of international musicians that-well, there's a lot of people that travel half the year, and half the days of the year or more they're not in New York. In fact, most of the time they're out of the country. And-I mean, I don't know the exact arrangements-but I know that wherever someone goes: they're given their tickets; that's not part of the pay. they're given a place to stay; that's not part of the pay, and they're given money. Okay, that's the pay; no expenses'll come out of it."
TG: "So it might be a government-sponsored thing, or it might be a large festival audience that has a lot of tickets?"
MM: "Or it might be a club circuit or something, or whoever. But there's better money for from an audience outside this country for most of the kinds of music that we represent in our store, as far as what we order as new releases."
TG: "So these New York musicians, by and large, aren't making their money in town?"
MM: "No, and the other thing is that, for the ones who aren't necessarily getting the biggest festival dates and the biggest monies, you need to continuously sell a recording to any number of small labels that might make one to five thousand copies and pay you something up in front. You just forget about it. You know, you may or may not retain the rights to it but, at this point, most people try to actively, more or less, retain their rights and just license for 'x' amount, so that maybe later on it belongs to them in case they can make some money from a reissue or something. I don't know the individual details of all these things; I imagine a latitude of possibilities. But a William Parker or a Peter Brotzmann or-you know, records are sought to be put out as often as possible: small runs by small labels, all around the world: Japan, Germany, Switzerland, wherever."
TG: "I noticed, for instance, that William Parker has a lot of stuff available compared to, say, Sonny Sharrock or somebody."
MM: "Well, that doesn't present..."
MM: "Well, Sonny's not alive anymore, so..."
TG: "Okay, but I'm thinking of people that might be a little higher profile but they're not-you know, they might have a couple of larger label releases..."
MM: "I can understand it. You should make more off of one larger label release-this means a large label that gave you a sizeable advance, without saddleing you with a lot of hidden production and promotion-cost clauses-than you saw money for making twenty or a hundred small releases."
TG: "Right, but I'm saying it just seems to be a trend that the more-uh, I don't know what label to put on it, but 'downtown scene' type of music that's a little more demanding of the listener or whatever-that you're gonna see more small runs and more releases, so there's actually more variety for people that want this stuff."
MM: "More variety, and there'll be the core audience for any one artist, whether that's a hundred people or two or three hundred people, that will own almost all the releases, and the rest will be spread out-you know, there're twenty releases and a thousand copies each-it might be spread out among twenty thousand listeners, or nineteen thousand listeners; and then, five hundred of 'em own all of 'em, or something."
TG: "Now, the core audience: how much of that is a local scene, do you think? Like, we have a pretty-I think-..."
MM: "The greater New York area..."
TG: "The greater New York area is pretty thriving for this type of music, and places like the Tonic that're featuring this stuff regularly."
MM: "It's thriving in comparison to other places in this country which is not to say it's not hanging on by a shoe-string, always"
TG: "Right. So, I mean, this is pretty much the center, wouldn't you say? I mean..."
MM: "That-I hear there's some sort of big center in Chicago that has its own scenes; it revolves around people like Ken Vandermark and some other people who-I just don't know the names; I just don't know the names right now to tell you-and there's also some-some kind of scene, it's not as strong, in Seattle. And there are other places as well."
TG: "How about Europe? I mean, there're probably some strong scenes there I would imagine, in Germany, of this..."
MM: "All over Germany, there's no doubt about that."
TG: "They seem to be particularly into this style of music; and the Scandinavians, and there's a whole..."
MM: "Well, Holland; there's a scene in Holland; there's a scene in Wuppertal [Germany], there's a scene in Berlin, and there's - there're scenes all over in Germany. It's very weak in Britain. I was just there and, although there are things going on in outer London, they're not-you have to be living near there to go to them and there're not many people living there that do go to them. But central London doesn't-there are no clubs for that kind of music at all. There's one place, this place called the Vortex, [sadly since closed] that has some of the/their 'downtown' jazz scene, so to speak, playing, and there're other - there're venues and government things that occasionally have special shows that you go over and see, but only some. However I was only there for a week so I didn't learn everything. London's too big; you can't learn anything in a week. I mean, it's - if I had a guide, maybe, but even so, it would have had to have been a guide with a car. It was just-London is like-like, a hundred small villages that actually all grew into each other so that each of 'em has their own street system for a few blocks and then you're in another street system completely unrelated.
TG: "Right, it's hard to keep track. It's like Brooklyn! [chuckles]. Alright, so, listen: I've got a little bit of a question for you."
TG: "One thing that inspired me..."
TG: "In me-and I've been talking to different people involved in different kinds of jazz music, you know, sort of improvised things, and one thing I've noticed about what I'm calling the 'downtown' scene, which is sort of around the Tonic, and used to be the Knitting Factory and all that, is the people that are into it. There're people that don't play the music that are really regular about coming out, like Irving Stone, Steve Dalachinsky, Roberta and Richard Bergen, Bruce Gallanter, yourself... And I was just very impressed with the fans, because these people seem to really know the music and they seem to be regular attendees-not just, like, half-assed concert-goers, they're very much a presence when people play. And I'm just wondering if you could comment a little bit about that because, being the record store that you are, I think a lot of these people come in and get stuff by those guys. I mean, I'm just guessing."
MM: "Yes, and at one point I was in that clique as well - I wish I still had the energy to be. Well, I think it derives from something I said a little earlier, which was..."
TG: "So anyway, I'm just trying to get you to comment on the relationship between the people that really enjoy this music and support it with the people that play the music and record it. And you're kind of an intermediate person there, Because you see both sides of that, to a certain degree, right?"
MM: "Yeah, I'm not so much the person that records or plays it, but-not at all-but yeah, I'm sort of a go-between in a way. Um, it really goes back to something I was saying earlier, which is: the thing I notice that is different about-in an abstract way-that's different, anomalous, here, is that the people who are actively interested, the audience that we get, by and large-the regulars, so to speak-in the store, at the performance places, are people who have already understood, have already had the break with the manipulation of category. Okay? And that's a passion in itself, once you've been baptized, once the break has happened."
TG: "And what is the passion for?"
MM: "I think I've been dancing around this subject the whole time, and that is: you're essentially-[exhales:] ahh-I'm not good at quoting things; I know that William Blake wrote something about the terror of experiencing something in innocence. [???] Okay? To take you a little bit further: when I was in college, I was a weird duck [chuckles], not that I'm any less weird now!"
TG: [egging:] "Why doesn't that surprise me!" [chuckles]
MM: When my door was open in the dorm-I was the only math student, the only non-art student, living in the art building, in the art dorms. And the art dorm building had this nice thing that there were no quiet hours; technically, you could blast your stereo at five in the morning. Everybody had to put up with it because they expected artists to have odd hours, you know, for the creative impulse. And here I was, a non-artist; but, unlike everyone else that I've ever known who's been, like, a math-head or a science-head-those people hang together; and I didn't like most people who were science-heads and math-heads, I liked artists and musicians. So I was an odd math-head for that. And whenever my door was open, you could come in. My door was open: you could come in, you could sit down, you could draw a picture, you could stand on your head, you could play chess-you could do anything you wanted. But, if a record was on, you couldn't make a sound: you couldn't say, 'Hi Manny'-you could wave, but you couldn't say anything, or you hadda leave. You start having a conversation-you hadda leave. And, at first, nobody really hung out in my room. [chuckles] I'd walk down the hall and pass clusters of people who'd go, like, [imitating whispered gossip:] 'psst-psst-psst.' And then after awhile people got to know me, and the common room was not the hang-out of the entire building, it was my room" I discouraged people from using me, but at the same time being very generous, but ultimately you had to like being with me, or else it didn't matter if I was giving away something free, like my energy and time, because these other weird things that I did, that I demanded of you, like the one thing: you hadda be quiet in my room. So you couldn't come in there and ignore me, you hadda be there for whatever experience I was presenting, whether it was playing my records or whatever. Anyway, people after awhile started hanging out there en masse and whatever, and everybody followed the rule. And I some saying, 'You know, you're a really cool.' One said, 'I didn't think so at first, you know, blah-blah-blah,' he says, 'but why do you have that weird rule about the records and not making a sound?' I said, 'Because I think a 45-minute experience should only take 45 minutes to experience.' And the problem is that-[exhales:]-ehhh!-when you were young, did you ever go to a movie theater and you just got there and you went in to whatever it was? It was before there were multiplexes; there was just one theater, and if you paid the admission, you went into the theater, and you might catch the tail-end of some movie and you stayed to watch the first two thirds, right? The movie was ruined, for the most part, by my approximation."
TG: "You wouldn't watch the movie you really wanted to see; you might go catch the tail-end of something you didn't care about?"
MM: "No, no; my point is that you should see something from beginning to end in the way it was intended. Okay? And the same thing-records or any preconceived programmed experience is ruined-it's not ruined; there's a joy to repeating an experience-but the possibility, the value of that first-time experience, when you don't know what to expect from the next moment to the next, is lost. It can't be re-peated/placed; after all how many times can one lose one's virginity? You know, if you buy a record you've never heard and you bring it home and you put it on and then you get called to the phone and you cook your dinner while it's on, you can never hear that record the way it should have been heard the first time: with complete attention. You can say, 'Well, I didn't pay attention the first time, so this is just sorta like as [if] I was hearing it for [the first time]-but not really! You already know something about it that's ruining it. You know, William Blake had some comment, I forget what it is, something about the terrifying experience of..."
TG: "What's it from? Where's it in?"
MM: "Some writing of his; I don't know. It can be looked up. I'm sure if you went up to any person familiar with his writings, they'd go, 'Aha, it's right there.' But there is a-when you experience something with absolutely no map, there is something that happens, and the word terrifying is associated with it, or can be associated with it."
TG: "Let me get a picture of you while you're babbling."
MM: "Huhn! [makes a wide-open raspberry face:] Baaaah!"
TG: "So, I'm gonna take a picture of you, and you might as well do it while you're babbling. [MM takes out a cigarette] Yeah, go ahead. You what's interesting? I'm hearing from you, and I also heard from Richard Bergen, and people've said about Irving Stone, is: intense listening; really, really, really listening carefully-and you seem to be stressing this point-but it's how you listen, the quality of your attention, is what allows this experience of the music. Because you know Richard? Have you seen Richard..."
TG: "...listening to a show? You know, it's like everything else is tuned out, you know? And he won't talk [chuckles] until the music's all over..."
TG: "...and then he'll talk."
TG: "And Stone's like that too, you know?"
TG: "And he'll get pissed at you if you say something to him, you know?"
TG: "And this isn't just the 'downtown' listeners, this is-I've seen that in..."
MM: "Well, I don't think there's..."
TG: "...I've seen that in Small's; I've seen that in Smoke; I've seen it in other clubs where jazz listeners are sitting there and they want to tune into the music, and somebody's sitting over there trying to flirt with somebody else, and they're, like, 'Shut up! We're trying to listen here.'"
MM: "Oh, you know, I remember one great moment: I was in some-I was at a Yes concert in Madison Square Garden [chuckles], of all things, and-well-I enjoy Yes, so we'll leave it at that."
TG: "You're forgiven."
MM: "Okay, thank you very much."
TG: "Yeah. That's life."
MM: "Anyway , there are two girls sitting in front of me who are chattering away. I'm, like, third row or whatever. And of course the music's very close, between the groups' amps and the P.A.; I certainly can be technically aware of every note that's being played, but I'm not-the spell is broken. See, music is a sZ˙ance for me, you know; you have to hold hands and concentrate-even if it's not about holding hands in the audience-but you have to bring that concentration where you clear your mind of everything else for the spirit to arise. I mean, you can say all the incantations you want, but if you're sitting around the sZ˙ance table and one person's thinking about how he has to pick up his laundry from the launder mat before they close, and the next one's thinking about how they have to get home and cook, if there's a possibility that the spirit could come out, it ain't gonna happen. You've done all the right things, chants and staging and so forth, but it ain't gonna happen. At a performance, you're sitting in the seats facing the stage and you're being quiet, but if your mind isn't also quiet, it ain't gonna happen. You'll hear the notes, you'll say the music was good, you'll hear a great solo, you'll hear a good performance, you can talk about it, but that extra magic that was supposed to happen-and that's not a very tangible thing; it's hard to talk about, and it sounds quasi-mystical coming from anybody who's speaking English, or any other language-but there is something that happens. And you can go nine-tenths of the way but nine-tenths of something is zero of all."
TG: "Hm, that's interesting."
MM: "I mean, you know, I may have some harsh standards for things that other people take very casually, and more so casually in fact because this is the recorded age, as I've said so before. Well, so what! So, I was at this Yes concert, as I was saying [chuckles], and I tapped the girls after the millionth [disruption] and I said, 'Could ya please be quiet?' They said, 'What, are ya taping the show?' And I said, 'No, it's Because I'm not taping!'"
TG: "That's good! [laughs] That's about right. So, what-I just, well-one thing-I'm not sure how to phrase this question. So, like, the difference between a recorded performance and a live performance, right?"
MM: "You mean, hearing or rather, listening to a recording of a performance?"
TG: "Well, part of what you're saying-that I'm hearing-is: there's something special about approaching something when you don't know what's gonna happen, it's completely fresh, it's new, you're naked, or whatever-whatever you were saying."
MM: "Aside from the..."
TG: "But once you've heard a recording, you've heard it; you know exactly what it's gonna do-whereas, in improvisation, in performance, you don't know exactly. Maybe you do know, though. Maybe you've heard this person before, maybe you know what kind of stuff they're likely to do, and maybe they're not gonna surprise you at all, depending on the artist; maybe some people are full of surprises and others try to be full of surprises but they're not. So, I'm just-I'm not sure what the question is, but I'm notice there's a different dynamic..."
MM: "Yeah, listen, you hear a lot of this about-guys talk about guitarists. You know, guitarists are, like, a guy-thing, okay? Guys talk: [enthusiastically:] 'Oh, so-&-so, man! You know, look at how fast his fingers move!' or, 'Wow, man!' you know? And people are impressed by this kinda shit. But regardless of the category of musics we're talking about, whether it's the Tonic scene or whatever, there're people who derive their joy at whatever level-and I don't, I can't hold anything against the fact that you've brought some pleasure into your life, regardless of whether it's with a set of values being satisfied that I consider shallow or not."
TG: "That's right. No, what I'm interested in is: you're talking about those moments where the channel's open, things are gelling, you're really listening, and it's hooking up for you in a meaningful way. And yet, you're also spending a lot of time selling these representations of that moment, you know?"
MM: "Because they're, like, as I said: every medium has a dimension to it that is not replicable in any other way, and if the person working in that medium understands it, they can, perhaps, give an experience worth having for that medium, that can only exclusively manifest itself in that medium. And let's face it, recording does exist, records do exist, and they are as much chance as we have in this kind of world, in this kind of culture, in a society that takes up as much time as it does with us merely earning a living, to get a certain degree of closeness to these other mediums, the performance mediums. I used to have signs on the walls of my store. One of them said 'Record Collecting Is For Deaf People' Another said, 'Experience is nine-tenths of possession.' I like to twist popular aphorisms around. Another one said 'Mind over mentality.'"
TG: "It's a good trick, Because people think they know what you're gonna say..."
MM: "And then they wake up hearing something new."
TG: "Right. Yeah, that's one of my favorites, actually. That's a good way to play-like music-is to try that. Start with something where they're: 'Oh, that's-no, it's not.' [chuckles] That's cool.
Can you talk a little-one thing I thought was interesting: what you said about the memorial concert for Irving Stone, because here's an example of community, I think. These are all the people, and everybody knows Irving. As soon as I started talking with people that were involved Tonic and, sorta, the 'downtown' scene, certain names came up over and over again, like Steve Dalachinsky and you guys [MM & Bruce Gallanter] at the store [Downtown Music Gallery]. And there's a sense of community in this scene, I think; everybody kinda knows who everybody else is, and it's not that big-I mean-and you see the same faces over and over again. And a lot of people said Irving's really one of the-kind of like a father figure, in a way, Because he's one of the old-guard, he's been around a long time..."
MM: "Um hm."
TG: "...and he's well-respected for his taste and for his integrity and for the commitment he brings to music."
MM: "That's interesting, Because we are talking about him as if he were physically alive, but it just goes to show that his spirit is so strong that he still is alive, you know?"
MM: "And that's true of certain other great musicians and other great types of people."
TG: "Right, right."
MM: "Yeah, well, it would be easy enough for me to, like, be involved in the commerce involving records and get the records I wanted for as cheap as I get them now, or whatever, and not have to put my passion out there. You know your passion is interfering, or is a non-negotiable part of your existence, when things that could be simpler for you, you make harsher, just to allow for your passion. I could be selling records on the internet and not helping someone discover something new, just collecting money from people who wanna buy whatever they're preprogrammed to buy, and work a lot less hours and make a lot more money. I like having the tiny little bit of freedom and creativity or passion allowed to exercise my thinking. Maybe occasionally I've changed someone's direction to something that might be greater for them. Ah, this is a lot of highfaluting talk! You know? But you've already interviewed Bruce and I think you certainly will get that sense from him."
TG: "Sense of...?"
MM: "That his passion is not-you know, he wants to earn a living, but it's compromised or takes a back seat to-it's not the most important thing-to the fact that his joy is to be part of, be as close to this experience as possible; you know: to see as many shows as possible, to be close to the musicians, to be part of an inner scene."
TG: "Right. Would you say you're similar in that way, too?"
MM: "I would say I'm less so now, but I certainly was, back when I had my original store; I mean, I would help anyone do anything. And I think, although I disappeared with less than positive rumors accorded to why I disappeared from the scene for about eight years..."
TG: "Well, we don't have to go into all that..."
MM: "Yeah, well, when I came back, obviously, I had already made enough impression in my earlier incarnation, I had enough cachet-there was obviously something about who I was and what I had done, before that-that period of time-was such a good impression, that people welcomed me back."
TG: "What was that, do you think?"
MM: "That is wasn't just someone who was selling the music, selling the records, and taking advantage of artists bringing them things he could make money on; it was somebody who was passionately involved in promoting the artists because he liked them himself."
TG: "Do you think...?"
MM: "You know, you made a comment before, that I had a smart-ass rejoinder to, and I said, 'Who said I thought anything "new" is happening at Tonic?' And I later said something about how in the middle, late 80s there was a great percentage-[more] than just one percent-that wasn't shit. And now it's back to-this scene, like any other scene: one percent is phenomenal and the rest is, like, just okay, or worse."
TG: "What's new now, to your ear? Anything? That's what I..."
MM: "Occasionally I hear something."
TG: "Who's exciting to you that's out there now?"
MM: "Well, in the early 90s, one of the-I think in terms of players, usually. [long exhalation:] Hhhhhbbbbb. I think I've become very retro; I don't know if my ears are fresh anymore, if they're open anymore. I think it's partially because I have a lack of energy that I didn't have when I was younger, and partially because I came back and I just heard what passed for new music really being twenty people doing the same thing that one person was doing ten or twenty years ago, you know, as though that was still 'new' music anymore. I have these odd definitions for things like experimental and avant-garde music. 'Experimental' music is where someone demonstrates a new verb or a new article of grammar, musical grammar. without necessarily putting it in any context, perhaps just eidetically. And they may make a recording that fixates purely on the representation of that principle itself. 'Avant-garde' music is someone who takes a recently experimental concept, or one that hasn't been yet fully explored, and places it in a context where it can be understood by..."
TG: "Translates it?"
MM: "...Puts it in a context where it's still fresh but it's been presented in a framework of things that people already understand, so it's not so xenophobic - so they can assimilate it. That's 'Avant-Garde'. And avant-garde is a very-it's like fashion, of the moment.
Laurie Anderson was avant-garde in perhaps 1979 or 1981; now, she continues to do what she did then. That isn't avant-garde anymore. It's still-because she's more or less being true to her personality-not invalid work, but in and of itself it's not avant-garde. At best you could say this was Laurie Anderson's avant-garde record, and you could play the record Big Science, with "O Superman [For Massenet]" on it. Okay? No one had done anything like that; she took things from experimental music and she placed them in a framework that a large audience could appreciate and at the same time experiencing something new. Okay, that record is HISTORICALLY AVANT-GARDE, but even playing that now wouldn't be avant-garde anymore. And the same thing has happened with this scene over all: it's stale. If I could tell you where the next thing could come from, it wouldn't be experimental, avant-garde, or new, because I could think of it. It just has to happen; it's gonna be born as a surprise."
TG: "Is there anything out there you're curious about or you feel...?"
MM: "No, you know, no matter what decade or century you're in, you always think everything's been done. People thought-right after the atom bomb was dropped in the 40s-they thought, 'Well, I'm living in the last generation of man to be able to be alive on this planet,' but it wasn't so. But it turns out, if you examine, like, texts from hundreds of years ago or whatever, that the same notions were thought by people-at no matter what century-everyone thought that they were living in the last decade possible, or the last generation possible on earth, because they couldn't imagine life going on forward, from there, with things as bad as they were at their moment in time. And it didn't require a nuclear bomb; it required the gradual demise of society and civilization as they experienced it most of their lives.
Anyway, whatever that 'new' is, I can't see beyond it, and the fortunate geniuses who can-sometimes they don't even know it themselves, so they just have to create a situation where they're open to it, the same way-in other words, they have to defeat their own mechanisms; they have to overcome their animal behavior, their habits, their propensity to repeat."
TG: "What, do you think-I mean, I've heard other people..."
MM: "Can you imagine any other sounds being made now? We have electronics and computers that can replicate anything, any wave form, that could control the analogous movement of a woofer or a tweeter [bass & treble speakers]. But many thought they had that with the Fairlight Synthesizer in the '80s, but if you listen to it now, it always sounds like a Fairlight, no matter what sound it's making. So what other sound is there? I don't know? You think-I think we've reached the end; one could think we've reached the end. I don't necessarily think we've reached the end; I think outside of the box. I think something will happen, I just don't expect to know what it is, until it does. Okay? But..."
TG: "Okay, given that-and you're not the first person to say, 'Oh, not much is happening nowadays. So, Ornette Coleman did a lot of stuff back in '60..."
MM: "Well, it's been so..."
TG: "...and it's not a whole bunch different than that now,' you know, or whatever, right?"
MM: "Hngh, I just went to a progressive rock convention."
TG: "Yeah? [chuckling:] Was it?"
MM: "No! Anything but! It was people playing the kind of music that was called 'progressive rock' in the '70s, for an audience of middle-aged conservatives and their spouse and families. If you had played anything as remotely 'new' for today's ears as what was interestingly 'new' in the art-rock of the '70s that originally arrested their attention - and subsequently their development - they would had fled in droves! You know what I mean?"
TG: "Right, okay. So, progressive jazz is about five [ten? twenty+??] years older than that, you know, not a bunch."
MM: "Well, I guess it depends which category we're calling 'progressive jazz,' but yeah, you understand what I'm saying."
TG: "Alright, so what I'm curious about is: there's still a strong scene around places like the Tonic and what used to be the Knitting Factory audience and these performance spaces for this kind of music, and people are still excited about it, to some extent, Because they don't know exactly what's gonna happen..."
MM: "Okay, here's the point I was gonna make, actually, when I talked about the progressive rock thing-and I'm cutting in because I'm trying to get at what you were saying-."
TG: "It's your interview; you get to do whatever the hell you want to do." [chuckles]
MM: "[buzzing his lips:] B-b-b-b-b-b-b-bu!! Um, uhl, hah-hooah-hooahuh!!!"
TG: "I'll just chop it; cut and paste 'til I get what I want!" [chuckles]
MM: "Just like every generation thinks that they're in the one space that doesn't allow for this and doesn't allow for that, or can't proceed past this mark, that's the point: every generation does. And what I saw at the progressive rock festival-the New England Art Rock Festival; the NEAR fest-was a group-what was it called? Oh, the Flower Kings. And I saw the same values as a Genesis or a King Crimson would have presented to me in the early 70s. But I'm forty years old and that was kinda like, 'Why do I need to see these guys, Because I love these guys who really made this in the first place?' But there are people who are half my age who never had the opportunity to be exposed to something with those qualities, sonorities, or whatever."
TG: "Right. And it's fresh to them."
MM: "It's fresh to them. And, you know, I mean, it's the old syndrome: your father, when you were a kid, said, 'What is this shit you're listening to? Boy, there's no more good music anymore!' you know? I mean, I'm just talking as a paradigm here; I don't know if your father did that, or whatever. But..."
TG: "Yeah. My mom did that."
MM: "Your mom did that, right. My mom has only ever heard two rock records: Kiss and Patti Smith - and she thinks they're the same person!
< Anyway, I don't know how old your are: nah, maybe about thirty?"
TG: "Forty-one, actually."
MM: "Forty-one? You young boy you! Anyway..."
TG: "How old are you?"
MM: "You may or may not have gotten to the point where you think 'Boy, there's no good music anymore!' [chuckles] or you've toyed with that idea in a humorous way in your mind, just to examine it: how you would prove that to yourself, if you had a notion to try to. And there'll always be that; and there'll always be that as you get older and you think-some amount of you has seen too much repeat itself and the general tenor of the fashion of young music will be repulsive to you or not interesting or shallow. You just have to remember [that] everyone's always gonna think that. There're gonna be people who hated anything that happened before 1990 in rock; you know, they think what happened with Nirvana or whatever they were following-you know, Blur or whatever, or Pearl Jam? 'That was it, and all this other stuff ...[isn't].'
I mean, I hear classic rock-I pass by and I hear what was modern rock radio playing in the grocery store, or wherever-a diner. And I'm thinking to myself: 'Everything in this-every particle that has been used as a brick to create the construction of this three-minute wall or whatever-you know, this three-minute song-is a brick that I'm familiar with, from the Doors and the Beatles, et al - and that's my point of reference only -and nothing's changed in thirty years, as far as I'm concerned, and that's really stale because, by my perception, at my age, living in this moment now, it seems like music changed drastically between the 30s to the 40s, between the 40s to the 50s, between the 50s to the 60s, and between the 60s to the 70s. But something stopped then, something really stopped, and except for isolated artists and groups that I might enjoy from later on than that, the tastes-except for the fact that, you know, fancier effects boxes and better production technology was available for recording, the language has stayed completely the same. Sorta like-if you were to look at written English from the fourteenth century, you might not recognize half - or more -of it. But what happened was: a great body of work spread around a great mass of people in the late sixteenth, early seventeenth century; that body of work was Shakespeare, and that prose English. English really hasn't changed that much since Shakespeare, although you get some inner-city..."
TG: "Like the Koran froze Arabic."
MM: "Right. You give some inner-city kids-and the King James Bible and Shakespeare froze English; it really hasn't changed much. You give some inner-city kids, you know, that are in elementary school, some Shakespeare to read and that's, as we know, that's a drudge for many school children, including myself at the time. And they're, like, 'Yeah, uh, I can't understand this shit,' you know? But basically, it really hasn't changed that much. It was changing drastically from, just, trios of decades ever on before that-drastically. I mean, you wouldn't recognize it two hundred years before."
TG: "Well, I would argue that recordings have done a similar role in canonizing what we call 'music.'"
MM: "Yes, 'Rock' music of the late '60s spreading to a worldwide youth audience in the '70s. That's why, again, I get back to my basic precept..."
TG: "...because you set it in stone, you know? Not in 'stone' but..."
MM: "...that the worst part about what we live in right now is the recorded age, Because it's taken away everything that lives and breathes about the organic nature of spirit and life and everything else."
TG: "Right. But in a way, I think that improvised music is sort of an antidote-it's not an antidote, but it's a..."
MM: "Yes, antidote, in a way"
TG: "Yeah. Um, in a way, because an improvised performance is the opposite of all that: you don't know exactly what's gonna go on, you know? It's not set in stone; it's completely open. And my take on the people that I've talked to, that come out and see the music live-or 'the music' [indicating scare quotes], as you would put it-are really looking for that. They don't wanna know what's gonna happen, you know? They wanna be surprised. They 'want blood,' as Irving [Stone] would say it; they want-um, you know, that's the whole point of it."
MM: "Sometimes it's not a surprise though."
MM: "And what I'm saying is sometimes the good experience doesn't necessarily have to involve surprise; it just has to involve a situation-you can be playing-even in the ironic mode-you can be playing-. For me..."
TG: "Now, tell me what you mean again by 'ironic' again. You said something like that earlier."
MM: "The creative mode is where you work, by-and-large, in a language that you're creating; you're not speaking anyone else's language. Okay? You're being completely original. The ironic mode is where you're working in an already established set language-verbs and nouns and-you know, you hit the high-hat after every four on the rock beat-whatever, you know? And the solo comes here, you know?"
TG: "So it's sort of codified, or something?"
MM: "Yeah, codified; right. That's working in the ironic mode. It's very hard to say anything new in the ironic mode but, like every established way of working, there can always be a new exception. You can work in the ironic mode and still create what is important to me. Zorn divides some of his creative effort off to what I would call the ironic mode, and the results are generally always stunning!
And I think I've said this before; I'll clarify it by saying it again: and that is a situation where a seance-all the ingredients of a seance are there: there's the performer, there's the audience, there's the cleared mind, free of the clutter of worrying about anything outside the room, free of worrying about, 'Gee, there's something annoying at the bar in back of me!' or 'Wow, look at those pedals!' or, 'the clothing,' or anything else. You lapse into-the seance is successful; the spirits have arisen. Something that is outside of the actual physical sound of the notes is now conducting your spirit. That can happen even with ironic music, even with non-improvised music. One of my favorite things-and this is because-I won't say that King Crimson embodies that now, particularly-but King Crimson, for me, was, like, the most phenomenal extreme of the possibility for something to arise because it was highly structured music that, in its game plan, allowed for extreme improvisation. Generally you don't get that; most people go directly to improvisation. And this was a perception of a way of approaching musical composition and playing that I had, before I had any knowledge of Zorn's game pieces, before he was even writing them."
TG: "Well, there's that whole thing about how much structure you need to compare freedom to, right? [chuckles] How do you know you have freedom if there's no structure, you know? You need structure to show that you're free from it, right? In a way?"
MM: "Well, I don't disagree."
TG: "You could get very philosophical about that, if you want to get into that whole deal."
MM: "I don't disagree; I don't disagree."
TG: "That's an interesting debate. I think Ornette Coleman talked about that a little bit. You know, calling for certain rules or certain..."
MM: "We talked about John Zorn already, right?"
TG: "We didn't talk about Zorn. The game stuff that he did...?"
MM: "Yeah, the game stuff. If you were to show an alien video tapes of three baseball games, depending on how they're about to analyze it, one set of aliens could say, 'Well, these are three different activities with members of a particular army of human beings that wear pinstripes and a baseball hat; these are three different battles that are fought.' Another perceptive analytical mind, for which seeing these pink fleshy creatures with four limbs-might say, 'These are all variations of the same thing.' And that's because the very nature of the game imposes a structure. You know: if the ball is struck by this bat three times and each time it's caught by someone with an outstretched hand then all of a sudden that side and this side switch. Okay? Or, after seeing endless hours of video tapes, someone could construct..."
TG: "The rules, or the underlying...?"
MM: "...could construct the rules, the underlying structure. They might be able to guess a bunch of them or explicate most of 'em. They'd have to see a hell of a lotta games, and take notes..."
TG: "Or have a computer do it for ya?"
MM: "Have a computer do it."
TG: "A statistical analysis, right?"
MM: "A statistical analysis, and they'd be able to construct the underlying rules, and the variations on the underlying rules; you know: if you walk four times you get a run, or something like that, or-I don't even know; I really don't understand sports, so [chuckling] I shouldn't talk. But, if you remember-possibly Bruce Gallanter brought this us up to you, Because he was talking how he didn't understand Zorn when he first saw him, and Fred Frith, who he was already friendly with, one time pulled him aside and said, 'Listen, you're gonna get it one day.' He says, 'But Zorn is, like, this genius, Because he's developed this new way to approach improvisation.'"
TG: "This is Bruce talking to you?"
MM: "No, this is Frith talking to Bruce."
TG: "Oh, okay; yeah. I think he talked about when Zorn was just coming up, and they were, like, 'This guy's gonna be big! He's got a new concept.'"
MM: "Yeah. Frith said, 'This guy's a genius; he's found a new way to channel improvisation, to create a structure that takes you out of just sitting there and doodling,' you know, which is improvisation too. If I take a crayon and put on a blinder and, like, I walk down the street and I drag the [crayon], that's an improvised drawing of sorts but, you know, it's also like someone just taking a bucket of paint throwing it, you know? How to create a situation where there's a context? Okay? So, Zorn has this game thing. For me, [King] Crimson was already onto that game structure concept, the next step from the jazz concept of head-solos-head, if not making music in the same arena of interest, in at least one period of their playing-the quartet from '72 to '74-created a situation...their concerts were always half instrumental, and mostly improv, and then the other half would be the songs from the records." And Because improv is different from jamming
TG: "Are you talking about the Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew...?"
MM: "No, I'm talking about '72, '74. [Fripp, Bill Bruford, John Wetton, David Cross: Larks' Tongues in Aspic & Starless & Bible Black + live compiliation The Great Deceiver]"
TG: "Oh, okay."
MM: "I mean, I saw about thirty shows from '81-84, the Belew/Fripp lineup, also, but-and there was a lot of looseness there as well, but for the most part it was set pieces, you know? The earlier part of that three years they allowed for just pulling some instrumentals off-the-cuff, out of their head, but the last year was just a straight set. The interesting thing about Crimson's music was that there is no one person who's carrying, like, a melody line, and this person's doing a rhy-[thm]-from note to note, you know, what you perceive as, like, the melody lines, so to speak-note 1-the first note of it could be from the bassist, the second note could be from the guitarist, the third note could be the drummer hitting a high hat, you know?"
MM: "Yeah, but all I'm saying is: it's not like, okay, the bass is doing the rhythm and the bass and drum are the rhythm section, or whatever; it's, like, what you perceive as the foreground structure is not the responsibility of any one player, for even as much as a measure. From note to note it changes. So what it creates [is] a situation that: if the person who is now responsible for that next moment in time decides to stretch it or to change it, everybody has to change around them. I mean, this is also true, in general terms, of any kind of players listening to each other and responding to a change, whether it's the Allman Brothers jamming or whatever. But with Crimson it was even more specific; you can hear it. And it wasn't-the point of-it's one thing to say, 'Okay, well, this guy played this note, so I think I'll just go into this thing.' No! You have to respond-after the person next in line was-with a note that meant something in terms of the structure as well as just being: 'Okay, it's time for you to make a sound.' So that's why it was incredibly interesting. It still is incredibly interesting when you hear all those old shows. It's just a fascination for me. And I'm, of course, I'm listening to tapes.
Zorn took the game notion to another level entirely, without the facile external dressing that allowed the common listener to find easy entrance"
TG: "Right. Yeah, I've noticed: sometimes it's difficult when you have what I would call a 'free' set, and you've got three guys, like Evan Parker and, uh, Schlippenbach. And you're listening to these guys play, and each of them is going off very intensely..."
MM: "You know what was amazing about that show?"
MM: "We know we saw the same show."
TG: "Yeah, we did."
MM: "Was they created one voice."
MM: "All three of them had the same spirit in mind, so to speak."
TG: "Right. And yet, they were very intense in their own role."
MM: "Yeah. There was no unison playing, certainly not, but they did something more than the sum of the parts. A lot of improv is just everybody's making their own noises together at the same time."
TG: "It would seem to me, as a listener, that there's a fine line between that: between..."
MM: "Oh, certainly."
TG: "...when they're really making it work, and when they're-almost like-they're three different planets in different orbital paths, you know? And to my mind, as a listener, I slip in and out of 'Oh, yeah! That's working!' [and] 'Oh, I'm not getting it right now.' And between: 'Wow, this is moving me!' and 'This is kinda boring,' or 'God, this sounds like a buncha noise!' I mean..."
MM: "The important thing, though..."
TG: "...I find I go through these whole different things, you know, depending on the..."
MM: "The important thing, though, is to not have the thought at the moment that you're hearing it. And you know it's really powerful and working when you can't have a thought, even if you couldn't control it." [chuckles]
TG: "Right. It's kinda like a, like a mushroom trip, right? If you're really trippin', you're not noticing that you're tripping, and then you come down a little bit and you're, like, 'Wow, I was really tripping a minute ago!' Right? You see what I mean?"
MM: [skeptical:] "Mmmm...."
TG: "When you're in the moment of it, you're not thinking about it. Or, people say..."
MM: "You have to be in the moment, that's the phrase."
TG: "Yeah, some people say-and I've heard this myself-'You know, your best playing is when you're not really thinking about how you're playing, and not really aware of it.' And you think back later and you think, 'Wow, I felt really good at that moment,' and someone else says, 'Wow, you sounded great.' And you weren't even thinking about it."
MM: "That brings up another issue, and that's internalization. I find-I understand the need to have notes in front of a musician especially in a large group or orchestral situation, but I find that structured music can only really happen, escape the chains that keep it from possibly creating an entrance for the sprirt of the music, when the music has been internalized and learned beforehand, and there are no notes in front of the players, Because to follow the music is to take the player out of the moment. And obviously, there are players who are so good that this is not an impediment for them in any technical way, but I still find [that] there's, almost always, a vast quality difference to people who have learned the music and are playing it as an organic, ancient memory, rather than a moment-to-moment correction of path...."
TG: "Okay, now, [chuckles] here's another thing I find..."
MM: "....I've had this argument with Fred Frith, actually...."
TG: "When I'm listening, right, and I'm hearing some guy play stuff, and there're a lot of notes, sometimes I can't tell the difference between: she's just hitting the sax key and going [trilling:] bluh-luh-luh-luh-luh-luh-luh! versus [singing descending interval patterns:] buh-duh-di-di-duh, bom-duh-duh-duh-duh, bom-buh-buh-duh-duh! or, you know, some kind of idea. Because some of these people have amazing chops, and they can really articulate very complex ideas very fast and very fluidly, in an automatized way, like you're talking about; and other of these people [laughing] seem like they're just, like, getting excited and kinda beating on their instruments in sort of a random, whack-'em, smack-'em sort of way-and I can't always tell the difference [laughing] between those two. You know, people used to say..."
MM: "Well, music is-it involves magic. The magic involves..."
TG: "People used to say, 'You know, Ornette's fakin' it; he's not playing! I don't think that's true, but-do you see what I mean?"
TG: "There's a fine line between faking it and actually..."
MM: "Oh yeah. You know how I was talking about avant-garde and experimental before?"
MM: "I've had people come into the store-my old store or the current one-and say, 'Hit me with, like, what you think is the most outrageous shit here.' I said, 'I can't do that.' I said, 'I might be able to do it,' or I say, 'Well, I don't know enough about you,' you know? 'First, let's find out what direction you're going in and that'll give me an idea of what directions I can misdirect you in as well.'"
TG: "[joking:] 'Have a seat on my couch here. Give me an hour.'" [laughs]
MM: "No! I used to have a table in the old store and two chairs; you could go and get an espresso, sit down, and I would play two hours for you, you know? and go through things."
TG: [imitating a crystal ball reader:] "Oh, let's see now. I'm seeing..."
MM: "The nice thing about that whole way that I had no categories-just "Instrumental A to Z" and "Vocal A to Z"-was I got every choreographer, director, editor in town to shop there, Because they knew they could look at a section of records that were all unknown to them - and the public at large, so the hearing of it would be fresh for their audience - and mostly could be instrumental so they wouldn't have to worry about cutting lyrics out. So that became, accidentally, a place that was suited for the purposes of people who had never had that directed at them before, and I got to meet all kinds of people Because of that. But back to what I was saying about the avant-garde and experimental. Ornette Coleman did a record in '86 or '87 called In All Languages-it was a double album-and what he did was: he-. In the '60s he had a quartet with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins and Don Cherry."
TG: "And Ed Blackwell."
MM: "Then, the late '70s and early-well, eh, Blackwell or Higgins, depending on who was available-and in the middle '70s he started [using] electric players. Of course, there was James 'Blood' Ulmer and then he started getting Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and it became an electric group with two bassists, two this-it became/called Prime Time."
TG: "It was, like, more African?"
MM: "Well, no; it was sorta like free-jazz funk. Okay? And the one best example of Prime Time is the first actually credited Prime Time record, 'Of Human Feelings' which is the only one that's out-of-print - "Body Meta' which preceeded it was also the Prime Time group but not credited that way. 'Feelings' came out on Antilles and it was only released-it was released three years after it was recorded, in '82"
TG: "Is that with the masks on it?" [thinking of Virgin Beauty]
MM: "No. No, that's Dancing in Your Head; that's Ornette's first electric record from '75.
MM: "So, in '87 he composed a bunch of pieces, and one platter out of the double-album set was recorded by the original '60s acoustic quartet, and the same pieces on the second album were recorded by the current Prime Time electric group; and then he played Town Hall, and it was two sets: first set was Prime Time, the second set was the original quartet. So I brought a friend of mine who I had met through the store. He came in one time and started talking about records and I turned him on to this, I turned him on to that. He was showing an intense avidity for, like, [John] Zorn, the new Knitting Factory scene and Elliott Sharp. He just did it to an extreme; he appreciated the art of it and he [went] all out. So I said, 'Okay, Ken, we're gonna go see this.' And the second set was Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman; they are playing twin lines that are seemingly not in sync with each other-intense fucking lines-sometimes they sound like they're out-of-key, sometimes they sound like they're out-of-tune, but it's all exactly what it's supposed to be. Mother-fucking incredible! But it was just so far away and so amazing that even Ken, with his forward-looking mind-there was a body of water without a bridge, with this stuff on the other side; he couldn't cross it. And I said to him-I said, a couple years later, Because this had only been a couple years later-'Now, that you've even seen more things, and your mind is able to leap greater leaps, if you saw what I brought you to two years ago, you would, like, go "Oh, shit!"' But the problem is if one doesn't have a bridge-you can't just bring someone too far away; you have to find something that gives 'em/that's within the stretch of, you know, one's bound."
TG: "Right. Give 'em a common thread or something that...?"
MM: "You have to give 'em a bridge."
TG: "Something they understand in music? [Stuff that???] they..."
MM: "You have to give 'em a bridge; you can't just expect them to leap across the Hudson. You have to bring 'em somewhere where there's a bridge."
TG: "Oh, that's one thing I noticed about the 'fans,' so to speak-you know, Peter Cox or Richard and Roberta Bergen and people like that-they've often said that they've arrived at this music after going through a series of musics. And they say, 'You know, I didn't used to like this music.' Just like you said: 'When I first heard [Frank] Zappa, I didn't understand it.'"
MM: "No, I was repulsed by it!" [cracks up]
TG: "Well, yeah, but one of the themes I'm hearing is, you know, what sounds like really crazy noise to a lot of people-for people that have been checking out music for a while, they get a little more used to it and they learn to hear things in it and to appreciate it in ways that-I don't think-a lot of people don't."
MM: "If you don't perceive the organization in it, if you don't have a context in place, of some kind, whether it's perceptual or a context of willingness-whatever. I mean, you could be willing and say 'I appreciate that but I still didn't get it.' People grow. People don't emerge fully grown, six feet tall, okay? What my friend Ken saw, when he saw that second set with the original quartet, was analogous to: if you had never seen a train before-you know, ten cars or whatever-you've never seen a train, just standing on the tracks, not even moving; you've never seen a train of any kind whatsoever-and I brought you to two shacks that are side-by-side and the two shacks-there's only that [holds his hands close together] much space between the two of them-and I say, 'Stand right here!' And now, in about a minute, on the other side of the shacks there's a set of tracks, and the Amtrak train goes by at about a hundred and ten miles per hour. And I'd say to him, after the train went by-this person who'd never seen a train before-I said, 'Could you draw me a picture of what that object was that was crossing, that was through that slit?' They would have absolutely no fucking idea! First they have to see the train standing still, then they have to see it in motion, then you can bring 'em to that tiny slit and they'll go, 'Oh, that's...'"
TG: "The Amtrak, or whatever?" [train horn sounds in the background]
TG: "Speaking of which!" [laughs]
MM: "Okay, what he saw was the train going through-looking through a passage that [showing: 'narrow'] wide-he saw this object, you know, that's ten blocks long, going by at ninety miles an hour. And he'd never seen the object before; he'd never seen it standing still, and his first experience of it was seeing it in a way that was hard to see what was going on. Okay? He didn't have the bridge yet."
TG: "I think a lot of this music that's very improvisational avoids some of the obvious contexts. You know, that's part of what it's trying to do, is not give these big signposts and landmarks and things, to allow people to really experience it in a fresh way. And so I think it demands a lot of the listener, because the listener has to supply a lot of their own discipline or context or-it's asking-.Coltrane is like that; it's hard to listen to Coltrane and just, 'Uh, whatever,' Because he's playing so intensely, he's really asking you to listen to him."
MM: "Yeah, I mean, there are people-look, you can go into a major record store, or whatever, and by a 'best-of' that says: Coltrane for Lovers [Polygram, '62; also: John Coltrane Plays for Lovers, Prestige, '56], and that's mainstream music right now! But you'd better not give the same people Interstellar Space! [laughs] You know, Rashied Ali and Coltrane just going [burbling:] Rrrowww-eeyow-rrroww!!! You know? People who love Coltrane-love his tone, love his playing-but they don't wanna know about that last five years; they don't wanna know about that last three years."
TG: "I'm just intrigued, you know, looking at the people that come to hear the music. Look what they bring with them! Because it's not your usual [expectations]."
MM: "Oh, everybody has baggage!"
TG: "What's that?"
MM: "Everybody has baggage.There is no perfection, there is only working towards perfection. In a human being, part of that work is to remove the handles, from your baggage, that were attached to your psyche before you were capable of giving or denying permission"
TG: "Right, right; but, I mean, it's just not like your typical someone [i.e. person] who says, 'Entertain me!' I think it's a little more-I mean, this is just my opinion of it-but I think it's a little more active audience, you know? It's people that are-. It's like the difference between television and radio: if you play a radio for someone, they've gotta create the fantasy in their mind of what that person who's talking looks like. Or reading a book versus seeing a movie, right? If you read a book, you've gotta do a certain amount of active construction of the imagery, construction of how it works, right?"
MM: "Oh..I got something for you now."
TG: "Yeah? What's that?"
MM: That's a very classic notion that the book allows for you, your mind, to do something active, and the movie..."
TG: "It requires it! It not only allows, but it demands. "
MM: "Well, you'd be surprised; there's some writing that doesn't demand anything, you know?"
TG: "But if it's evocative, it'll do more of that, right?"
MM: "Well, but, you're saying this as though it's a quality a book has and a movie doesn't, because what you're stuck on is that the book allows you to be actively involved in creating an image."
TG: "I'm just isolating the visual, saying: they don't give it to you, so you've gotta supply it."
MM: But that's a mistaken notion, born of traditional thought - and tradition is nothing more than a lazy mind's convenient exscuse for not doing its own thinking - about the visual orientation making the book more and the movie less. But here's-I've had this-I've stumped-in fact, some have, like, just gone, 'Wow!' Because it made 'em stop back and think, and others just kept quiet Because they were upset-but I've had this with a lot of literature and English major-type people, you know? where they go, 'Of course the book's better: the book allows you to do this and the movie just feeds you everything, and you're just not-you don't have to do anything.'
I said, 'Excuse me. So, what you're saying is: if I gave a short story out to ten people in a film class, that they would go out and make ten different films.' They said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Well, how 'bout if I showed any one of those ten films to ten people in an audience, and I asked them to go back and write down what they saw. Don't you think I'd get ten different descriptions?'"
TG: "Yeah, it's true."
MM: [in a cartoon voice:] "So, we'll put that lie to bed."
TG: "Well, actually, I was trying to be very careful not to make a qualitative judgment between them."
MM: "Show 'em Rashomon [dir. by Akira Kurosawa, '50]. But, anyway-." [laughs]
TG: "No, I wasn't trying to say this is better or that's better; they're both evocative but they make different demands on you. That's all I'm saying. And so I think this music is slightly unique from something that's gonna give you more of, 'Here's the beat, here's the harmony; we're gonna come to that chorus again, just in case you forgot it!' Whereas-[MM laughs]-well, you know."
TG: "And this music doesn't do that; it's much more-and jazz in general doesn't do that. It's music of change. There's the old rule, like, you can't play any note twice [laughs], you know? You've gotta change-I mean, that's..."
MM: "Well, you know Derek Bailey's story, right?"
TG: "No, what's that?"
MM: "Derek Bailey was..."
TG: "He was a show musician, right? or a 'general business' kind of, tuxedo[ed]...?"
MM: "No, no, no; he-well, I can't claim to know very much; this is what I understand, however: He was a musician; he played 50s trad jazz in clubs. He may also have done other contract playing, or whatever. He was also a guitar teacher, working out of a musical instrument shop. He was someone who could read charts, probably still can. Usually, once you learn to ride a bicycle you don't forget and all that. He made a decision, somewhere in the early or mid-60s, because he felt whatever it was about music had become stale for him. This is, I assume, what he felt. That to create a situation where it could then, again, be alive, he embraced the basic tenet that he would only play improvisation, and the structural impetus of the direction of the improvisation would be to avoid cliche. I mean, you also have improvisation that embraces cliche and still is improvisation, you know? But not for him. As you said-I mean, when I make a twist on a popular aphorism, that's embracing cliche to improvise."
TG: "There are many people-a guy [Lawrence O. Koch] did a famous study on [Charlie] Parker where he said, 'You know, he's got about thirty licks, and they're gonna show up again and again.' You don't know when or how or if they're gonna be upside-down or backwards, but it's not gonna be a surprise as far as repertoire, but it's gonna be a surprise how he uses it."
MM: "You know what I like about Robert Fripp? I ought not talk too much about Fripp."
TG: "Nah, you talk about whoever."
MM: "No, but I'm saying, 'But I do.'" I'll just tell ya this: Fripp has broken out of the note-patterns of his instrument."
TG: "That's very difficult to do."
MM: "It's a very difficult thing to do. When you play a keyboard, there are certain patterns of notes that, even when you allow yourself to not know what you're gonna play, will happen anyway. Okay? And it's the same thing with any kind of keyboard, whether it's the fretboard, the fingering pattern on a saxophone, or whatever. And when I went to this school, which was actually Fripp's acoustic guitar school, which is where I wrote the letter for..."
TG: "Right, I heard about that. He's got this big deal, where everybody's all-I heard he's a real, uh-whaddya call it? A martinet? A real drill sergeant with his..."
MM: "No, no."
TG: "I read some article about his school one time."
MM: "It was one of the most incredible experiences I'll probably ever have. No, Fripp is Fripp. I understand the degree that-who he is and why he is and whatever, the purity of him is that he IS his music-and I appreciate it, as opposed to not like it."
TG: "But anyway, he's gotten away from the physical patterns?"
MM: "Yeah, I made a crack before-we didn't get to watch the video further-but I made a crack before about how he plays a keyboard solo in the next song, even though there's no keyboard, because he plays a solo that the note selection order you'd normally, if you close your eyes, could only imagine coming from someone using this [models keyboard posture], as opposed to this [models guitar posture] thing. He's freed himself from the habitual movement patterns that might befall someone using a guitar neck. He's completely free, so that when he improvises it's not something that might come more naturally to the note-selection pattern of a guitarist improvising or 'jamming'. Oh, we're very familiar with those; just look up any blues-based hotshot rock guitarist: Eric Clapton or whoever. You know, they may play a lot of free solos but it's full of..."
TG: "Stuff that lays in the hands."
MM: "Right. And how to-so, at the school, what he was saying is to get away from that, not for the purposes of improvising-we never even approached improvising, certainly not in the first-level class. And it's not something you approach; you have to do it on your own, essentially. But first, to create a situation where, at least, if music comes to you when you're practicing scales-and you shouldn't just practice one set of scales; you should practice all 256 different ones, equally. 'You did this one for ten minutes? Now do the next one for ten minutes, and don't go back to that one until you've done the other 254, ten minutes each.'"
TG: "To keep everything equally weighted as a possible."
MM: "That way, your fingers-your hand and your fingers-have not learned one habitual thing more than the other."
TG: "Right; you're not biased in one direction."
TG: "I agree with that. I think a lot of jazz musicians, whether traditional players or more experimental players, try to do that in their practicing. Like, even Charlie Parker talked about: 'I take an idea and I work [i.e. transpose] it through the keys,' meaning: 'I try to make it-.'" And, you listen to him, and he played most of his stuff in a few keys. And though the stuff that was really burning [i.e. fast &/or tricky], it was the stuff that laid nicely on the sax. And it's hard to do on other instruments! [laughs] You know, it laid on the alto more than the tenor; tenor players can't quite play [it as easily]. So he fell in to all that but, in principle, I think a lot of those people were trying that same thing: they wanna be free, they wanna be able to have any choice available."
MM: "Well, musicians are cursed because so many of them come from having learned their instrument by first playing things that they enjoyed when they first got their instrument, learning a tune that they liked. And that's, in effect, so counterproductive for what I'm talking about."
TG: "Right. Do you play yourself?"
MM: "I studied oboe for four years with the first oboist in the Metropolitan Orchestra about thirty-some years ago."
TG: "Right. Do you play much now, or...?"
MM: "No, no. Before that I had played sax and clarinet, and when I got to college I abandoned all that and bought a drum kit. And then after that, after college, I've been owning different hand percussion things: talking drums and bongos and slit boxes and stuff like that, and I play along with records, I just enjoy myself. I have occasionally played with people in a jam or improvised situation, but no, I'm not-it would be insulting to musicians to say I was a musician. A musician has to perform for others as part of their activities even if it's just for your family and friends, just playing at home for an audience of just yourself, isn't it. Being a musician isn't a coat you can put on and off, you're one all the time, often beyond choice.
TG: "I was just asking because I find that, particularly when talking to those who aren't musicians, because often musicians have a whole set of...
MM: "I think all people should play instruments, you know? Before there was recording, music was much more readily available, in the hands of one out of every two or three people. Music was a spiritual thing akin to most all common men, and much less a situation of rarity, that makes the pedestal we put anyone on now capable of the act of music that damaging thing which creates demeaning 'hero' worship along with egocentrical showoff behavior that diminishes the act of music.
As far as the three general things you started asking about at the beginning of this interview: What's happening in 'jazz' now, what are the average individuals of that audience like by-and-large, and thirdly, what do all parties involved do and think in their 'normal' lives - ultimately it would be presuming too much to think that any one person could speak for this accurately, well certainly not myself. Hopefully what I've said will be of help in your perceptions and conductions of your other interviews. I do, however, want to leave you with this: The quality of your perceptions affect the quality in what you perceive. Or rather, how you hear is what you hear"