LESTER YOUNG AND THE MUSICAL METAPHYSICS OF BURGLARY:
I find that as I get older that there are a great number of things that I don’t understand, which I understand is a consequence of getting older in the first place, and that no one will explain these things I don’t understand to me, which I understand is just plain rude. There are, for example, any number of good reasons why a burglar might choose to bring a tenor saxophone with him as he sets off into the night to go a-burgling, but I must confess that I can’t really say what those reasons might be, not ever having been a burglar or a tenor saxophonist myself. It might be that our musical miscreant feels a greater need to express himself than a lifetime of breaking and entering can afford, a reason many of us can identify with, I’m sure. Who among us has not wished at times that our lives had taken a different route, that instead of succumbing to the siren call of a steady paycheck and benefits we had gone off and joined the French Foreign Legion or written the Great American Novel or shipped out to the South Seas in order to paint Tahitian girls with little or no clothing on? There’s many a time that I wished I’d listened to my dear sweet mother and not gone into the civil service; she warned me against the idea on more than one occasion, something she is all too willing to remind me and anyone else she can get to listen; but I felt that loan-sharking was just not for me, however much my mother said that the job suited me like none other she could think of. But we live in this our Great Republic, yes we do, and this our Great Republic is the land of endless opportunities, a place where a man can reinvent himself if he so chooses, and so here in America a burglar can choose to play the tenor saxophone if that is what will make him happy, although playing the tenor saxophone while he is burgling appears to me to be a very quick way to end a promising career in crime. But what do I know?
Perhaps music, which, as the poet tells us, hath charms to soothe the savage beast, works equally well on policemen, a theory not tested, as far as I know, in the physical or the metaphysical realm since Orpheus got past Cerberus and into Hades to find his beloved Eurydice, and our would-be sax man may hope that his best rendition of Body and Soul
in the style of Lester Young or that playing Ben Webster’s best bits from Take the A Train
will slow the cops down sufficiently for our burglar and his accomplices to get on the A train and make good their escape. The method is clearly not foolproof; it did not work for Orpheus, but that mishap was the fault of doubt playing on his mind, not the fault of his musicianship, and the pursuing policemen may be fans of Dexter Gordon or Coleman Hawkins, or worse, may prefer Dizzy Gillespie or Miles Davis to anyone who plays the tenor saxophone. Such are the uncertainties of a tenor sax-playing burglar’s life.
Or perhaps our burglar has larger game on his mind. If the Pied Piper of Hamelin could empty of a town of its rats and then of its children, then presumably a tenor saxophone-playing burglar could empty a zoo of its hippopotamuses, although why he should want to do this is yet another mystery to me. Turning a large and extremely irascible riverine mammal with a propensity for spraying its dung about promiscuously loose on the unsuspecting population of a large American urban center is not a good thing, either for the population, who will be understandably upset at the prospect of having a hippo spray dung all over their clean shoes, or for the burglar, who can hardly hide the fact that he is leading a parade of hippos out of the city to the tune of When the Saints go marching in
from the police, a professionally cynical group of people not apt to believe that the trailing line of aquatic beasts are jazz lovers or the Second Line of dancers at a New Orleans-style funeral; real life does not resemble Disney’s Fantasia
in any way that I am aware of. Hippopotamus rustling may not be a crime where you live, but I am certain that it is a crime somewhere, and I feel fairly sure that it is a crime in this particular large American urban center, simply because most large American urban centers have many silly laws about many silly things, but, unfortunately, saying large American urban center instead of big city is not one of them, despite the best efforts of Messrs. Strunk and White to omit needless words from American prose style.
Here in our happy little burg, for example, which is not at all a big city and has no laws against rustling hippopotamuses, the solons who rule over us, a group of pols as honest as the day is long in December, decree with great solemnity that no one may keep pigs anywhere within the city limits, and so no one does, but there is no law forbidding the keeping of crazy people, and so we are awash in crazy people, who wander the streets day and night looking for money to buy coffee and bring said coffee into the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my living, even though there are signs everywhere saying that they cannot do this, and they proceed to spill this contraband coffee onto our recently cleaned carpet, which is why we have signs saying no open beverages here in the first place. I do not know why the municipal government finds pigs so offensive and crazy people not so offensive, or why stealing a car is a crime here but rustling a hippopotamus is not, but the one thing I am reasonably certain of is that absolutely no one will explain the rationale to me, something I’ve noticed over the years and that I still think is just plain rude.
Labels: Ben Webster, burglary, Coleman Hawkins, crime, democracy, Dexter Gordon, jazz, Lester Young, our happy little burg, Roberta Vasquez