Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Fat Full King

Coming through Slaughter’ by Michael Ondaatje. Supposedly the finest jazz novel ever written. One of those books which when you finish it you feel “I’ll never be the same again.”

The story of Buddy Bolden, Jazz legend, the first musician to play hard jazz and blues for dancing, recreated in a strange novel form, “a cinematic series of short scenes, jagged, dislocated and seemingly spontaneous, that also approximate the quality of music that stuttered or flowed out of Bolden’s cornet” (Toronto Star).

It brings to life back-street America, the black New Orleans of the early half of the last century – not pretty pictures, but vividly painted in true shades of life.

There is this one passage where he walks around as a jobless bum, but soaking in every experience, every smell, every sight, every sound, filling himself until he could not be filled anymore – all of which later on seeps into his music giving it a quality nothing else can.

"…………Then when his money finished he went down to the shore and slept. Tried to sleep anyway, listening to the others there talk - where to hustle, the weather in Gretna. He took it in and locked it. In the morning he stole some fruit and walked the roads. Went into a crowded barber shop and sat there comfortable but didn’t allow himself to be shaved walking out when it was his turn. Always listening, listening to the wet fluid speech with no order, unfinished stories, badly told jokes that he sober as a spider perfected in silence.

For two days picking up dirt the grime from the local buses he was thrown off, dirt off bannisters, the wet slime from toilets, grey rub of phones, the alley shit on his shoe when he crouched where others had crouched, tea leaves, beer stains off tables, piano sweat, trombone spit, someone’s smell off a towel, the air of the train station sticking to him, the dream of the wheel over his hand, legs beginning to twitch from the tired walking when he lay down. He collected and was filled by every noise as if luscious poison entering the ear like a lady’s tongue thickening it and blocking it until he couldn’t be entered anymore. A fat full king.”

7 May, 2005

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