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.
Right then I began a life-long love affair
with the fat fat fiddle & we wondered
how anyone could follow such a set
had set the stage, warmed us up to fever fervor,
tuned our sensory apparatus to frequencies so fine
you could see
ghosts of the Yiddish Theatre this dusty cavern used to be
floating by the drab curtain--Menasha Skulnick, dapper, bobbing
to the b-b-b-bum b-b-b-bum beat, the snake charming wail
of klezmer cafe reverie, & Molly Goldberg leaning out the window
of yenta heaven, shifting her spotlit palm from oy vey! mouth
to lotus ear, to forehead, shading sax-squinting eyes
as if peering down the tunnel of some lost subway station of the cross-
eyed homeless goddess, searching for the Trane who now is
officially late -- late as only a ghost can know -- no one
produced Yiddish plays anymore, the language was dying,
but the jazz of language,
the funny language of jazz still lived
at the Village Theatre & the Trane that we all came to catch,
& be borne away by, Trane was overdue.

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 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 like Big Foot
must have appeared after he stared into the hat of the Ghost
Dance prophet & saw in that emptiness the whole world--

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


the man left the stage
shaking his ringing head,
we all left the theatre
to journey our own
seedy East Village streets,
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.

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