On Louis' homepage, there are a lot of essays about the arts. There is
an excellent essay about Schoenberg's opera, Moses and Aaron, for
example, and essays about jazz and film and Abstract Expressionism.
Louis even writes about enjoying a performance of Wagner. These essays
are what got me to sign on to this list. I assumed that many other
comrades were just as interested in the arts as Louis.
Louis says somewhere that the only thing he was ever good at was
radical politics. The only thing I'm good at is being an artist.
I'm not a scholar or a theorist or anything at all like that. I'm a
poet whose most important (to me) work is the translation of Brazilian
poetry. I have a very modest reputation among non-academic poets around
the country. My ties to academia are so tenuous that they might as well
not exist at all. I'm not interested in making it, but I would love to
move to Brazil one of these days, and if I can find a way to do so, I
surely will. I dropped out of high school, worked as a dishwasher and a
cook, a furniture mover, house painter, etc etc, and am almost entirely
I spent a long time playing electric bass in rock bands. I studied
music (all music) assiduously, on my own and with friends, because I
figured it was my responsibility to be an excellent musician, to learn
as much about rhythm and harmony as I possibly could. I practiced 8-12
hours a day for long periods of time. I played along with Cachao
records, Eddie Palmieri records, so I could learn the clave. I learned
hundreds and hundreds of jazz standards. I never wanted to "make it."
What I wanted to do was play hugely powerful, loud music, to take the
music of the Albert Ayler Trio (Gary Peacock) and electrify it, play it
in a power trio. When I was in my mid-30's, after almost 20 years of
dealing with rock musicians who had no inner sense of time and utterly
reactionary ears, drummers who couldn't keep time, musicians who were
incapable of comfortably hearing anything more complex that a perfect
fifth, I finally found a small group of musicians with whom I could
stretch out and achieved my goal for a little while. We had a band
called Witches and Devils, and we had a small but appreciative
following in the SF Bay Area.
In 1995, something terrible happened in my family, my life changed and
I turned to my love of poetry and the Portuguese language. I began to
translate poetry seriously and earnestly. A little later on, after
rading the BRazilian poet Ferreira Gullar, I began to realize that my
sympathy for the working class (I come from a bohemian family, and was
raised in NYC, in the projects on 93rd and 1st) was actually
revolutionary feeling, and I began to read Marx and Engels and their
I was raised around great jazz musicians. My mother worked as the
coatcheck girl at the Village Vanguard a couple of nights a week,
including Monday, when the house band, the great Thad Jones-Mel Louis
Orchestra, played. My mother's boyfriend was Vernon Martin, Rahsaan
Roland Kirk's excellent bassplayer. Vernon, who was a tremendously kind
man, and who treated me like a son, took me to hear all the jazz
musicians in clubs like the Vanguard and Slug's, and he took me to
concerts of classical music, too. I was an extraordinarily shy boy with
a ferocious stutter (I still have it to this day, though it's not
nearly as bad as it was). Vernon introduced me to John Coltrane after
hearing his great quartet frightened me; Elvin Jones shook my hand, and
I became a huge fan at the age of 8, in August, 1964, four months
before Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme.
Vernon taught me that all music belongs to us. I was very lucky in that
way. Vernon tuned a cello in fourths and started to teach me the
rudiments of jazz bass. It was Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the MC5 that
made me want to play the electric bass.
When it becomes too expensive, as it will one day, perhaps within our
lifetimes, to power a rock band, even in a small club, or to power a
rave; when it becomes too expensive to achieve that volume, what will
happen to those musics? What's to stop certain forms of music that
depend on electricity for their power and computer chips for their
complexity from becoming just as much a badge of wealth and power as a
For every Public Enemy or Coup, there are thousands of Sean "Puffy"
Combs wannabes. For every Jimi Hendrix or Rage Against the Machine,
there are thousands of Metallica wannabes. For every Charles Mingus,
there are tens of thousands of deluded musicians yearning to live the
"rock and roll" celebrity lifestyle.
Do you assume that someone who loves classical music doesn't also love
jazz, rumba, tango, samba, merenge and bonga? Why should such a person,
who studied classical and jazz harmony and rhythms from all over the
world, look down their nose at rock music? Eddie Palmieri and John
Coltrane knew/know harmony backwards and forwards. They were able to do
what they did because of their knowledge, not despite their knowledge.
Do you really believe that when the revolution succeeds - as it must,
if we are to survive as a species - that people will stop wanting to
hear Brahms symphonies? Or that people will suddenly cease learning to
play the cello? Or that the music of Pierre Boulez will never be
performed again? Do you really believe that people who hear yearning
for freedom and deep meaning in the music of Olivier Messiaen are
Music is for people, for all people. What keeps the working class from
learning the cello or the oboe and playing great music of the past? The
cost of musical education. The RC's need to keep that music for itself.
You know the reasons. And people who look down their noses at things
they don't understand. Some music takes time to understand, to
appreciate. Most poetry does, too. Being a revolutionary doesn't
necessarily mean you're not a reactionary in terms of the arts.
Trotsky, Voronsky, Lenin and Krupskaya warn against philistinism. The
history of the Russian Revolution teaches us to be very wary.
The premiere of Shostakovich's Gogolian opera, The Nose, took place in
1928. You know who went to that performance? Fucking factory workers
went to that performance. It was a huge success. I repeat, a huge
success. Stalin later condemned it, and Shostakovich, that
contradictory musical genius, endured years of oppression, and real
fear for the life of his family and himself. His string quartets should
be heard by everybody. His string quartets belong to everybody.
All art belongs to us. Certain forms of art have been stolen from us.
Until you realize that, you will never be able to reach people who are
like me, fellow travellers, artists full of revolutionary feeling and
human solidarity who are attacked and treated like reactionaries
because we love and study and work in the arts. Not all of us are
snobs. Some of us certainly are.
That is why I railed in my post. Forgive me for not having been
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."
Artists have a lot to teach all of us. Whose side are we on? Red Virgin
Soil, who published fellow travellers like Mayakovsky, or the
proletcult reactionaries who were all eventually murdered by Stalin,
the man they toadied up to?
Be nice to us fellow travellers. Most artists worth the name are
naturally be on your side, becasue when we are worht the name, we yearn
for artistic freedom in a society that appreciates what we do. We may
be a little confused politically, but we are full of revolutionary
feeling, and will do everything in our power to help the revolution
succeed, if you treat us with respect and help us to learn what you
know even while we teach you what we know.
Yours in solidarity,