May 11, 2017
There’s a scene in the 2016 film La La Land (Yes, I’ve seen it twice. Wanna make it three times?) where Seb (played by Feminist Ryan Gosling) is trying to explain jazz to Mia (played by Superbad Emma Stone). Mia, like many folks, thinks of jazz as the boring background music you hear in elevators and therapists’ offices. (Just think of the musical bowel movement that is Kenny G.) Seb wants her to know that real jazz is far from boring. In the scene, set in front of a bebop quintet, he explains that jazz is built on tension and conflict, as each musician struggles to express him or herself, to make a solo musical statement, then come back to the melody in a blissful synergy.
I grew up on jazz music. My mom played saxophone and hung out with Louis Armstrong when she was a teenager. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is woven into my DNA. I could go on, but I’ll just say I saw Miles Davis play live twice and last year got to hang out at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan for a Christian McBride show. I deeply love jazz, so, say what you will about the honky-ness of La La Land, Feminist Ryan Gossling got it right.
Meditations on jazz have been common for the two and half years I’ve been home with Cozy. I’ve had time to think about that moment of soloing and then coming back in to the group right on the beat. There’s bliss in that moment. It’s some type of metaphor. The tenor sax is screaming and the bassist is waiting for the eternal return and suddenly the sum is greater than the parts. There’s some wisdom there for our little trio and the world.
There are lots of new emotions associated with parenthood. It’s genre where divas and rockstars are definitely not needed. I’ve written about the intense fear that is constant. (As I write this I realize I should make sure my daughter is still breathing.) There’s another emotion that is pure jazz bliss, the eternal return.
Cozy has been in daycare for seven months now, two days a week, Thursdays and Fridays. Those two days each week I try to cram as much soloing in as I can. Some of it is “work” related, including some legislative work down in Salem, Oregon’s capital. If I have some time, I’ll go to my favorite local bar and have a beer and commandeer the jukebox. Any stay-at-home parent will tell you that this time is vital. But our Cozy is never far from my mind. “I wonder what she’s doing right now? Painting? Napping? Having a secret meeting of the Minnie Mouse Club under the slide?”
So here’s the thing. I’ll pick her up at around 5 pm and the walk up to the daycare, an old church the Black Panthers occupied in the 1960s, is like waking up on Christmas morning every damn time. The anticipation feels like an endorphin rush as I approach the door. Sometimes I sneak in quietly. I don’t want to surprise her, I just want to watch her at play at the end of the day. And that moment she sees me, bam! Everything else stops.
“Daddy!” she’ll scream. “You came back!” sometimes she’ll say. My own abandonment issues aside, I want her to know I will always come back. I will always come back just for this moment; the moment where there are only two people in the world, my daughter and I. It’s like we are suspended in a purple cloud of happiness. Sometimes I hang out for a little sociological observation. I’ll watch other parents in the same moment. Last week I saw a dad close to tears as his toddler threw herself into his arms.
This must be a universal truth, how parents feel when reunited with their children. It might even be true that Donald Trump could have actually felt that way about his children (before they were old enough to talk about how he would date them). Right-wing and left-wing, anarchists and cops, jazz fans and everyone else with a child has had that moment. As smooth jazz stylist Sting once, during the Cold War, sang, “I hope the Russians love their children too.”
There’s another great movie scene, the opening sequence in Love Actually (2003). It’s a series of real life shots of people meeting their loved ones in an airport terminal. Boyfriends and girlfriends, grown children and their grandparents, long separated siblings. It’s one of the most powerful things ever captured on film. Actors could never recreate that emotion. Director Richard Curtis had his film crew at Heathrow Airport for a week capturing countless reunions. I remember the audience in tears and the movie hadn’t even really started yet. I know that when I see my dad after a year (or more) apart, in that instance there are no political divisions, just love.
We are so divided right now. We are soloing in our echo chambers. Some of it seems like avant garde shrieking, music to the maker, but baffling to others. (All love to Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders.) I wonder when we will get back to the melody, when the chorus of “A Love Supreme” returns to anchor us in our common place in the cosmos. I’ve been wondering if that parent-child reunion might be the lure. That moment. How do we bottle that moment for the world?
Probably a better jazz film than La La Land is the recent John Coltrane documentary, Chasing Trane. Coltrane was on a spiritual quest through his music, continually pushing boundaries, trying to connect harmonically with God. Just before he died, at only age 40, in 1967 from liver cancer, he was soloing for hours, literally, trying to find transcendence, a musical offering of complete submission to an ultimate reality. His short quest still captivates the world. As I was driving home from the theater I realized what he was going for, that moment of pure love. I have it every Thursday and Friday around 5 pm.