A Dream I had Last Night
In the dream, I'm me.
I'm not always me in my dreams but they say that if you're someone else in your dreams, it just means that it's a facet of you that you're expressing.
So I'm me. I'm in this room, with a LOT of people.
And I don't mix well. I really don't, in real life. Just like Cannonball Adderley was fond of saying, "I hate crowds. Except if they're all there to see me!"
These people are the real Hollywood types. The women are mostly wearing pearls. Real pearls. The kind of jewelry that I could never afford. Their hair has been done by beauty minions. Fiftyish women who look thirtyish owing to bleeding-edge high-tech facelifts and easy living and lots of time to focus on their appearance.
You won't see these kind of women in middle America, and you certainly won't see them in average, day-to-day life. They're SoCal women, they live in places like La Jolla and Beverly Hills. They're not celebrities themselves, but they aspire to be the friends of the stars and in that, the successful ones are stars in their own right.
The men are all in tuxedos, all black, with white shirts and little bow ties. The uniform of the loftier class. The secular garb of the rich and either famous or the "I know some one who is" famous.
They are all mainly there to be seen.
And there's the smoking of tobacco and the drinking of alcohol. Two things that I haven't done for so many years. I won't play for audiences that are drinking or smoking or doing anything else except listening to me.
Why drag my heart out in public and give the best within me, my star-stuff, to the sound of a dinner knife cutting into seared animal flesh...an animal that was probably smarter than the one eating it?
But this is a dream. I'm okay with it, in the dream. I'm sitting there, alone, watching it all, not judging, wondering why I'm there.
It's a posh night club with padded blue sofas and chairs, and it's up on the second floor of one of those white adobe-and-stucco structures that have rounded turrets and spanish roofs, the kind that go for fifty million dollars in the 'burbs of LaLaWood.
Billy Crystal, the comedian and actor, is the emcee. He's slowly approaching the stage, touching hands and shoulders as he goes. And the club is owned by Alec Baldwin. Or one of them. I see him behind the big bar, making small talk, nodding dutifully, playing cool and enjoying every minute of it.
It's not my scene, as Lenny Bruce would say.
Billy Crystal has the gin and tonic and the cigar. They're props. He's talking now. He does a little barely-funny routine about the Baldwin Clones and how they might still be replicating in an underground lair somewhere, but then he launches into the main subject of the night's festivities.
"Okay. You're all grown up. And you've heard everything. You're blase. You're world-wise, and world-weary. You've seen all the dog and pony shows. You've hobnobbed with the best and the brightest, and you are no longer even mildly impressed by anyone or anything. Everybody is selling something. And that something is bulls%$#, and it's wrapped up in doilie, but it's all s%$# anyway. The world is made of it. It's just one big sea of s%$#. An unflushed Waterworld. Kevin Costner and all."
(Giggles here. I wonder if Kevin Costner is here.)
"But tonight you're gonna hear the real thing. What is the real thing? It's something or somebody that wasn't changed or totally f%$#ed up by all this s%$#. And I don't mean they were unhurt by it. Oh God were they hurt, I couldn't begin to tell ya' how bad. Mauled by it. The lions and tigers and baboons and wild boars...and a lot of you are here tonight," (again a smattering of laughter) "they really had a field day with this particular prey. But she looks okay for a carcass. She's been bitten and chewed on and dragged through the jungle. And she's a survivor."
He puffs on his cigar. Three times. He's uttered a sacred word, a word of magic and power and big medicine. "Survivor." The audience applauds a tiny bit, not knowing why or who for.
"Like us, she's a survivor. Only difference is, she wasn't changed. She was mauled almost to death. When you or I or Alec," and here he winks towards the direction of the bar, unseeing, "when we went through our ritual mauling, we grew hair and teeth and horns - and a few other protuberances - and we fought back, we got tough, we stuck it out. We stayed in this goofed-up town and hammered each other to death, and we got what we wanted. At least I did. The rest of you are on your own."
He paused significantly, while a few people stirred and chuckled under their breath.
"This lady...when the ritual drawing and quartering got too bad, she went away and did what she does somewhere else, over and over. She was hurt too bad by the smell of blood to build that shell around herself that we all know so well, so she stayed on the move. A lot of us would call that running scared. But she kept doing what she does. She did it in so many places at so many different times that people started to talk about her. They never knew where she was. Where she lived. Where she was going, where she was doing what she does. A new way to get famous, I guess."
Now I'm interested. Is this me? Could he be talking about me? It really sounds like me. And of course it is me, because now he says this:
"She plays the piano. But that doesn't cut it. That doesn't describe it. She plays like an angel, like a saint, like Mother Theresa would've played if she played piano. There's a million piano players, but only one like her. And she always says that. I read her blog, and she says that every true musician has a unique voice, and that voice has the power to heal and change the world, but that the voice gets stifled and buried and grows hoarse and choked because the world treats it like s%$#. The world hates that voice. And since we're all pretty much alike, there aren't many voices left, just little squeakings and mewlings from under all those doilies that wrap up all the s%$# that we get to see and hear and consume, every day of our lives."
I'm still stuck back at the Mother Theresa reference.
"She's bloodied, half-dead, and tired as hell. She played jazz most of her life, when the musicians and promoters and agents let her, because we all know that jazz is that background noise that we folks use as a hip backdrop for our partying and screwing. It's playing when we're drinking or doing blow, it's playing when we're being seated in a class joint, it's playing when we're making it with our wives or husbands, or somebody else's wife or husband."
There's no laughter now. It occurs to me that everybody is making it with everybody else's wife or husband.
"And we all know that jazz is a man's music, and the only chicks that get to swing are the groupies and the singers. And she played jazz, because classical music was so strict and formal. She didn't want to have that stick rammed up her a%$ her whole life. She's a reformed alkie, and she almost killed herself with cigarettes and booze. But she loved playing enough to keep playing. She just never got good at the game. She never got tough enough. She never played nice with the music business. Travolta, you here? You made Be Cool...you were right, man. And it's the same with being a comedian. It's a craft, a tradition. We love it. We live for it. But our best and brightest, Jonathan Winters and Robin WIlliams, they go and have breakdowns. They weren't good at the game, either."
I'm now wondering if he isn't overdoing the part about how messed up I am. I look good tonight. I feel okay, too. Bloodied, half-dead, and tired as hell? On reflection, I suppose he's got a point. But I hope he's done with that line of thought.
"She's going to play for you now. She doesn't call her music jazz anymore. On her blog, she always capitalizes the "m" in the word Music. She's been a composer too for fifty years, and she writes these melodies that'll make you cry. The critics say she sounds like Monk or Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner. How the hell can you do that? She says she admires John Coltrane and Glenn Gould. Yeah, that's weird. What a duo that would be."
I'm thinking "fifty years...am I that old?"
"Her name is Jessica Williams and you better shut up and listen because she won't be here for long."
And it's my turn.
I'm wondering if he knows something I don't, about me not being here for that much longer. But I've had the same thought. I never felt that I'd live too long. My Mother died at 70 and my Daddy at 72. That means I might have a few years left. I never thought I'd live as long as I have.
So I'm at the piano, and I say nothing, because really, what can I say after that kind of intro? It was a good intro, like the trailer for a movie. He didn't say one thing about the quotes of the men who had helped my career merely by giving me a laudatory sentence or two to put in my bio.
That quote by Dave Brubeck? About me being one of the greatest jazz pianists he'd ever heard? Or the one from McCoy, calling me a beautiful player? He didn't say anything about that. Those quotes had gotten me more work than all of my practicing, all of my sleepless nights, all of my trying, trying, trying. Nothing about my Guggenheim either, or about my appearances at the big festivals and halls all over the world.
He made it sound like I was a total nobody, but that I had done something really special, just by holding on to this piece of myself that most people had let go of or wrapped in a doilie. Just by being weak, with no defense except for the flee response.
I kind of like that, thinking about it now, awake.
So I played. I went through that dramatic moment of anxiety that I always get before I touch the keys, and then I hit a "D" which is the first note I ever hit as a child of four. I know it was a D because it made "orange" in the air, and that's the color that most people with Asperger's or Kinesthesia see when they hear a "D".
And "D", particularly D minor, is the "key of our times", the key that best describes the first decade of the 21st Century. It started for me before Sept 11, 2001, and it hasn't changed key yet.
So I played my composition "The Child Within" in D minor which, in retrospect, was named with childish, guileless naiveté. I'm usually embarrassed by the name because it's so unhip, so new age. But then, in the dream, I remember:
They don't know the name of it. I'm safe. And besides, they're not jazz buffs, jazz hounds, jazz poodles, jazz pit bulls. I can do anything I please.
And, as I play, the Music gets very dense and deep, very contrapuntal...and I'm improvising like Bach, in that two or three-part style of his, and then the Music turns GOLD, a color I don't see often when playing, as it's the color I reach when I begin to reach what the Buddhists call the Bardo State, the Ground of Being. It's the state of sacred oneness with all things. It exists, but most westerners don't believe in it.
I wake up crying.
And that's the dream.
Wed, Aug 29, 07