In the midnineties, I was a jazz head. I was a poet and I was a jazz head. I loved to read and I loved listening to music. I collected vinyl but also CDs. I shopped at Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco and brought home records by the bandleaders Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, my favorite at the time, and others. And I read the covers of these albums as if they were books, lured in by the various frames commentators employed to situate a given recording, like Leonard Feather opening his notes for Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else with “WHAT manner of album is this?” At the same time, as a graduate student in poetics, I was deeply immersed in the works of Henry James, Nathaniel Mackey, and Leslie Scalapino, and, although I didn’t know this then, or knew it only slightly, converging in the field between these producers and their various disciplines was a way of thinking about “the invisible” that would shape my life in music and language and art for the next two decades. As I think of it now, the invisible refers to all these inner energies, maps, and syntaxes I’m trying to make present in my drawings and in the unfolding of my sentences, but, in 1995, the idea of it had only just landed in me, and I had little language around it. I felt it most present when I witnessed forms crossing into other forms: sound into thought (in the case of jazz) and poetry into prose (in the case of the books I was reading).
I was drawn to jazz because it felt like mind music to me. It was a way to experience thought without thinking (that is, to experience bodily the map of someone else’s thinking without needing to write my own story on top of it to comprehend it). I found atmospheres compelling. Similarly, to read a Henry James novel was to be in an atmosphere of manners, where action and emotional response were embedded in an elaborate orchestration of adjacency: to read was to wander next to. And to listen to jazz was to enter a space inside the space in which I was living, one that lifted the top off the day or stretched the day beyond itself. I wanted to know what was happening—how this was happening—so I often turned to the liner notes of my LPs for answers. I saw them as a sort of foyer to the music: preparatory time for listening, a way of sublimating. You had to drop down into something to hear jazz, to be there for it—not having it as your background music but rather as a force carving lines into your brain. Jazz asked something of me that was like writing. To listen was to write, I had at some point concluded, and for a few years I tried to figure out the nature of that relationship. I wanted to know how listening was like making something, and what that something might look like. Read More