Following the Lines


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John TrudellActor, poet, philosopher, musician, and political activist John Trudellitem is a master of dreaming, a master at being who he is, without apology or explanation. He follows the lines. He happens to be half Sioux Indian and half Mexican. I wish I were as culturally blessed. He is a great treasure to our world.

He lives in or around or near the dream that I talk about. There he is, square in the middle of my dream, the Alam al-mithal where all limitations are erased.

He would probably agree with me vigorously that our culture is mad, lost in the dark forest of blindness and death. This does not mean that he's a miserable guy! He just chooses not to follow the "lines" of this culture. He follows the lines of who HE is, where HE comes from, and what HE thinks and feels and knows and has learned.

He is who he is. He's not defined by anyone else. He refuses to be. He understands that, when someone else defines you, they're trying to "steal your power", take your humanity away, dowse your fire. Why would someone want to do that? Well, almost everyone is doing that all the time. It's known as playing the game, making a buck, putting the fix in. It's called "winning".

As if life were nothing more than a contest.

When someone asked me recently what I was up to in life, I said I was "trying to follow the lines". This evoked a look of bewilderment. Sorry. If you don't know what I mean when I say I'm just "trying to follow the lines", then me telling you probably won't work too well. But I'll try, and then I'll try to tell you what my lines are and where they seem to be going, where I seem to be going.

The lines are the rails upon which our lives run. They tell us the right way to go. They're always visible if you know how to "see". Example: in the Enron Scandal, obscenely rich and powerful men are (hopefully) under judicial scrutiny and (hopefully) possible indictment for criminal conspiracies and embezzlement of funds not belonging to them.

If one of them can't "see" that he did anything "wrong", then he can't see the lines.

He's blind as a bat to the natural world, and he won't care one little bit whether or not 100,000 folks die in a genocidal holocaust. He won't care one gnat's patoot whether or not baby seals get their skulls bashed in by over-zealous, hopped-up weasels carrying Sluggo baseball bats and wearing furry hats with John Candy ear-flaps. Whether or not.

Whether or not. If they die they die. If not, not.

He's stoic. He's above it all. He's not following ANY lines except the lines of the dark forest of blindness and death, and those lines aren't even visible to their adherents and followers because they can't be seen. They're not really there except as residual and consensual pain and numbness... except as an after-effect of the actions of sick minds. I think it might be more of a smell than a line. More like a stench.

Because this hurts many many souls.

The obscenely rich and powerful are often at the helm of decisions that cost the lives of millions of innocents. They're at the wheel when it comes to the collapse of our planet's ecosystem (and it IS in collapse, it's a fact now, no need for footnotes and links here) and they're manning the throttle when it comes to poverty and pain and illness and war and death.

This is not new, nor is it even news. It's just being insane. Our leaders are insane. Many of US are insane.

We become sane at a high price:

When we see and follow the lines, we cease to be consumers. We cease to run in circles. We cease to destroy our bodies and our neighbors and our planet. We cease to let others tell us which way to walk. We cease to let others tell us how to think and what to believe. We cease to let others tell us WHO and WHAT we are. We cease to be miserable. We cease to be in pain all the time. We cease to be mindless automatons. We cease to hate. We cease to be able to hate. We cease to be a part of the insane world.

We cease to be profitable commodities.

We're dangerous to them now, out here happily following these lines in the sky, in the air, in the sea, all around us.

The Universe opens up and holds us in its hands. It protects us. When we follow the lines, we become warriors and warrioresses in the sense that we are no longer partitioned off from natural law. We become walking, talking, and acting agents of FREE WILL. We are power, walking. We become the nemesis of all that those living outside the lines believe in and are invested in.

We're just following these lines, the lines that tell us how and when and what we need to do next, every minute of every day. Living is easy and living is hard, but living is never a mad scramble to take take take from others, a wild battle to kill, maim, and destroy. It becomes about peace and grace and harmony and common sense.

That's dangerous stuff.

The lines are visible to those whose mind is quiet and whose heart is peaceful. Stillness. Listening. Waiting. Acting when is as important as acting what. Love is always the goal and the incentive, the incentive and the goal. Hate is always the enemy, and fear is always the warning.

Without the lines, life is an accident. With them, it's a brilliant miracle.

That's what I mean when I say "I'm just trying to follow the lines".

That's what I mean.


Last time I played, a man and woman came up to me afterward. The man said this to me:

"You're not playing the old stuff. I'm not sure I like this new stuff. The old stuff was so wild and happy. This stuff makes me think too much. It makes me itch."

The gal he was with said this:

"I LOVED it. It made my heart melt with love."

So there are two Universes, probably living together under the same roof, hopefully loving each other. But one heard "new stuff that made him itch"... the other heard melting and love.

And, have you ever watched a child play or laugh or love? When they are happy, they radiate lines of beautiful warmth... when they love, they MELT into love, they melt into the moment of love, like I melt into the Music when I really play my reality.

That's where the lines are taking me.

No more old stuff.

If I make you itch, tough.

The lines. That's what I see and feel, and that's where I'm going.

Following the lines.

John's web site is www.johntrudell.comitem


Music, Magic, Talking, Listening

When I play, I don't often think. When I think, it's a different part of my brain I'm using. Not the part that lets the Music happen.

When I try to read Music, my ocular segment occludes my auditory segment. Eyes on, ears off. Never trust music made by people reading from the page. Even in a symphony, everyone should know the piece, every nuance and note, by heart. Heart.

Hands? We don't play Music with our hands. We play Music with our heart.

If we read sheet music when performing, we lose the Magic by looking at notes on paper. Mingus (like Duke, like the Count) had big bands. Little was written, or if it was, it was learned and discarded. The band members were chosen for their "voice": Booker Ervin was a strong voice and so was Jaki Byard.

Mingus would sing the parts. The musicians would embellish the parts to make a whole.

If you think or read, you might as well take a novel on stage and read it while you play. That might even be better. At least if it's a good book it might inspire the music.

Because Music is Magic, I enter a trance. It's a place beyond common thought or feeling. It's a still place away from any madness. Even if the notes are flying, it's still and quiet in the center. The sacred ground is solid. I know where I stand. And the Music? IT IS WRITTEN. Meaning: it is there for me, every idea that is spontaneous. It's spontaneous but it is there if I listen to the silence, and it is as if it is WRITTEN (not on paper), WRITTEN in the way people speak of religious prophecies being WRITTEN. In stone. Every time I play it is different, and yet it leaves no doubt. When you follow the lines, you know the next note instinctively, like you had learned it before, somewhere, someplace, from a very wise seer.


The broken part of Jazz Music is the player who believes that technique and ego is the center and the fulcrum of making music. It's not music. It's ego. It's technique. And, like Barry Harris said, it's like listening to someone talk who never stops, just rattles on and on and then takes a big breath and starts again, with no pause or respite.

A good speaker, a good storyteller will pause for effect, for drama, for reflection. A fool will talk incessantly. And never learn a thing.

It's only through listening that we learn.

And every time we play we should LISTEN.

I mean playing alone, solo, we should be listening to the silence in our souls and the stillness in our hearts.

If there's no silence and stillness in us, there's no Music in us.