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THE MAN WHO LOOKED INTO COLTRANE'S HORN
by Michael Castro

Me & my buddy Mitch perched in the balcony of the Village Theatre waiting for Trane & sweating that summer of--was it '67?-
-I was 22 & anyway it was Trane's last year in the flesh
(if you can believe it) the warm up act?--get this!--Ornette & believe you me, he had blown us away. He had this Swedish bass player, David Izenson (a balding descendent of the harpist king), a modest man with a beat would always surprise you & delight with his light touch, & when he stroked with his bow you wanted to bow before the otherworldly beauty, the fertile soundshape, you wanted to bury your head in the cave of that Venus of Venusdorf resonating to his biblical embrace, searching for the Trane who now is officially late -- late as only a ghost can know -

Though the air had been conditioned to a degree, it had not been cooled. We were hot & damp in the dusty seats, drifting, leaning back to where we were -- New York, the Lower East Side, the Sixties -- The mean streets leaned in, hairy with hippies, skittish with speed freaks, pulsing with poor Puerto Ricans -- only the Village Theatre & the well-fed cockroaches remained from storied days of threadbare immigrant memories.

Trane would come. Trane would take us away. But who knew Trane himself was dying? O sure, the sun, Ra, was dying too. In time. But more immediately. . . Dying was Vietnam. Vietnam's death consciousness was everywhere. Vietnam had our numbers & Mitch & I were going anywhere but there--Canada, jail, certifiably nuts -- l-Y, 4-F. CO, AWOL whatever it took to avoid that cold drafty death-trip. JFK was long gone. LBJ had saddled up the fat bullet bombs. Bobby, Martin, Malcom -- their days were numbered too.

But Trane? Trane was like Bird. I mean his notes were scribed in the air. In the cosmos. & now we sensed he was in the hall. You could hear the shuffling backstage. & suddenly, without fanfare, the curtain sidled open.

Dark forms crowded the shrouded stage. We could make out Alice, stomping chords on the baby grand, & that must've been Jimmy Garrison plucky at the bass, & they were flanked by an assemblage of street-wise percussionists, congas, bongos, traps, gongs, talking drums, bell-trees, mbiras, dombeks, vibes, all emoting a kind of cacophonous swelling,

a biomorphic mass vibrating something like thunder & bird thought shifting to the sound they say a tornado makes up close swirling over the hillside. The ensemble built a kind of primordial chaos, something
from the nothingness they shared, that shared them, taking away our breath, & restoring us to a breathless awareness, alert anticipation of an electrical storm of violent renewal--

& then Trane emerged from the wings like a god blowing in full stride
& he reached out with a finger of sound to the assembled host

charging the eye of their hurricanish brew
with a gleam of life's coherent insistent yearning, & they & we were off, flying --

Trane was down to earth,
business-like in an unremarkable brown suit.

His face was serious & intense
& he was blowing something
something beyond harmony & rhythm ...

melodic snatches from riverbanks of memory,
from the silt of the soul,
interspersed between cries,
moans & laughs,
& another music which was as if
he had wired his brain for sound & was playing the 90% we supposedly don't use,

levels of consciousness finding form & expression in the awesome moment,
the world's madnesses & wars swallowed in his inspired breath
& spit out with all their raw & jagged edges
painful & explosive & expansive --
horribly beautiful
in the larger patterns.

There was a point -- how far into the set I couldn't say --
for after the initial shamanic shock we were with him,
beyond musical or chronological time --
but a point in this newly created space was reached
when something strange
went down.


A man rose from his aisle seat like an island rising from the sea,
a long lanky baldheaded, blue peacoated black man rose,
& as if drawn by an invisible life-line
bounded over the sound waves & leapt onto the floating stage to stand & shimmer & smile
mesmerically close to the saxophonic source. Trane took no notice, immersed in his immense immanence,
& the man smilingly swayed as Coltrane played. . . a few of my favorite things . . . booo-waah! eeyaah!

. . as Trane took us out to those unchartered places once again
the man shook electrically registering each shock wave
& then turned & peered down into the depths of Trane's horn

for forever it seemed

& then he looked back out to the oceanic audience
beatific & believing
...
Trane kept playing & the man stayed up there swaying
& then suddenly Trane stopped,
nodded to Alice & let her lead the percussive swells of the underlying soundsea, &
he turned & threw his arm around the silent witness,
& walked him toward the wings,
whispering god knows what in his ear.

The man clambered down the sidestage steps & back to his seat on the aisle & within moments Trane re-emerged to make us gasp at his rumbling train of thought,

& then again the man bounded & leaped aboard & swayed & grimaced & smiled & buried his head deep into the golden Selmer flume so that we could see the light of spot gleaming off his bald brown dome

as Trane played implacably unperturbed through the intrusion,
literally played
through the head
of the magnetized initiate


-- undampened, unwound galactic, genetic spirals of philosphic sound,
played from some invisible mountaintop
through all our heads the unfamiliar familiar epic notes,
mapped journies through this world & others
& brought us all home


to
A Love Supreme
A Love Supreme
A Love Supreme

eventually
the man left the stage
shaking his ringing head,

eventually
we all left the theatre
to journey our own seedy East Village streets,
eventually
even the ghosts left the Village Theatre
to its incarnation as the Filmore East rock
palace,

& suddenly
Trane left the set,
left this plane & planet whose pain & madness & beauty
he'd exposed to his obeah belly & breath - having spit his medicinal music on us
through his healing horn & falseface lips,
Trane left us one night
insights, lessons, sounds
ringing his bottomless bell through all our heads,
like a blue locomotive
Trane left us & kept on playing

through, beyond

all the wars
& all the love
in eternity
within us all

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 1996 by Michael Castro.
Light and Dust @ Grist Mobile Anthology of Poetry.

 


 
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