Wednesday, January 6, 2010
JOHN COLTRANE: A Love Supreme
I had a friend in elementary school whose parents were pretty well off. They bought a high end stereo because that's what you're supposed to do when you have money, and on the first and only day I ever heard music in their house, my friend and I played chess while we listened to the one CD they purchased with the stereo. They got it, I think, because my friend played the tenor saxophone in the school band. I was confused by the strange music, and couldn't make sense of the way the chords and melodies didn't resolve right (not that I would have put it into those terms at that age.) It was kind of thrilling, though, because it made me feel like I was getting a peek into something foreign and strange and it reminded me that there was a whole world out there that I would discover some day. I remembered the title, A Love Supreme, though I didn't hear it again for many years.
I had a roommate in college who had the unfortunate experience of living with me during the honeymoon period of my first Big Jazz Phase. Constant Mingus. Perpetual Miles. A Love Supreme. Coltrane didn't have that funky mud-and-incense thing I got from electric Miles, and he didn't scrape my guts out like my new hero Ornette Coleman could do with that wiry pianoless quartet, but I had to give him a shot, because that's what you're supposed to do when you have a Big Jazz Phase. My roommate didn't like any of that stuff; he mostly liked Queen and Frank Sinatra. "I don't get jazz." I tried to tell him that there was nothing to get, but I wasn't sure if I really believed that. I didn’t "get" A Love Supreme, after all.
I had a professor who, while explaining to why she passionately hated Christians, told me that "religious art" was garbage. I argued with her, because that's what you're supposed to do when you're in college. Look, lady, if you want to hate an entire group of people without even having met all of them, that’s your business, but don't knock The Brothers Karamazov or The Staples Singers. I don't think she was convinced that the former was religious or that the latter was art. A Love Supreme popped into my head, but I just wasn't moved to go to bat for that one. I was still confused by it, the way I was confused by religion.
I had a quiet morning to myself, all alone in an empty house and it was early, still dark outside. A Love Supreme. A cup of coffee. A highlighting pen and Paul Tillich in weathered paperback. A Love Supreme. A period of religious inquiry and spiritual ambiguity. A Love Supreme. Hey, this is more interesting than I remember. A Love Supreme. Who can read with this going on? A Love Supreme. And then John Coltrane played that last solo and it was a prayer and it made sense the way doctrines and creeds never seem to make sense. It's so simple: A Love Supreme.