Could Van Morrison ever have imagined, in 1969, while recording Moondance, that “Into the Mystic” would serve, in 2011, as aural accompaniment for Wendy’s Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt?
John Berryman, “Dream Song 14,” Ireland (Dublin), 1967
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
How should I not be glad to contemplate
The clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
And a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
But there is no need to go into that.
The lines flow from the hand unbidden
And the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
And the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
Watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
—Derek Mahon, “Everything Is Going to Be All Right”
How much more sharply suffering probes the psyche than does psychology!
When we see ourselves on the brink of the precipice and it seems that God has abandoned us, we no longer hesitate to ask him for a miracle.
The kind of plagiarism which it is most difficult for any human individual to avoid (and even for whole nations, who persist in reproducing their faults and aggravate them in so doing) is self-plagiarism.
—Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (In Search of Lost Time,
v. 6; trans. Peter Collier)
Stephen Paul Motian (he pronounced his surname, which was Armenian, like the word “motion”) was born in Philadelphia on March 25, 1931, and reared in Providence, R.I. In 1950 he entered the Navy. After briefly attending its music school in Washington, he sailed around the Mediterranean until 1953, when he was stationed in Brooklyn. He was discharged a year later.
He met Evans in 1955, and by the end of the decade he was working in a trio with him and the bassist Scott LaFaro. That group, in which the bass and drums interacted with the piano as equals, continues to serve as an important source of modern piano-trio jazz.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Mr. Motian played with many other bandleaders, including Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Mose Allison, Tony Scott, Stan Getz, Johnny Griffin and, for a week, [Thelonious] Monk. After leaving his partnership with Evans, he worked steadily with the pianist Paul Bley, whom he often credited with opening him up to greater possibilities.
“All of a sudden there was no restrictions, not even any form,” he told the writer and drummer Chuck Braman in 1996. “It was completely free, almost chaotic.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Bley recalled: “We shared the same philosophy, musically. He knew that what he was doing in the past was not his answer. What he lived for was growth and change.”
Then, and even more with Mr. Jarrett’s quartet in the 1970s, Mr. Motian moved away from swing-based rhythm; he improvised freely, or played off melodic form. Eager to grow beyond percussion, he studied and composed on a piano he had bought from Mr. Jarrett, and in 1973 he made a record of his own compositions for ECM, “Conception Vessel,” with Mr. Jarrett and others. One of the last records he made with Mr. Jarrett’s quartet, “Byablue” (1977), consisted mostly of Motian originals.
But the old sense of swing never left, and it later became abundantly clear again, whether he was playing an original sketch built on uneven phrasing with gaps of silence or a root text of jazz like “Body and Soul.” Sometimes he would strip a beat to absolute basics, the sound of brushes on a dark-toned ride cymbal and the abrupt thump of his low-tuned kick drum. Generally, a listener could locate the form, even when Mr. Motian didn’t state it explicitly.
“With Paul, there was always that ground rhythm, that ancient jazz beat lurking in the background,” said the pianist Ethan Iverson, one of the younger bandleaders who played with and learned from him toward the end.
Mr. Motian’s final week at the Vanguard was with Mr. Osby and Mr. Kikuchi, in September. “He was an economist: every note and phrase and utterance counted,” Mr. Osby said on Tuesday. “There was nothing disposable.”
You can’t write a song like this, you can’t play it like this, unless your ears are open to all kinds of music.
Allen Toussaint, “Southern Nights,” live
If they find a copy of Richard Yates’s Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, they buy it. It is as if they’ve found a baby on the front step. They peek inside, examine the dog-earing, the marginal scribbles. Or perhaps it’s a clean copy, which carries its own kind of sadness. In either case, they embrace it, though they already have multiple copies. Those are irrelevant to the one they would be abandoning if they left the book behind. This is a hostess gift you can give any fiction writer, guaranteed to delight her even though she already has it. Regifting becomes an act of spreading civilization.
—Ann Beattie, Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life (2011), “7 Truths About Writers” (#2)