Jazz ‘n Onions

I’m very interested in the thread on George Szirtes’ blog about musical epiphanies, if I can phrase it like that. For instance, he mentions hearing Siouxsie and the Banshees for the first time and realising that something in the popular music culture was changing – the coming of punk in this case. I suppose my own big influences have been in jazz. I remember hearing John Coltrane’s “Africa/Brass” LP for the first time in a record shop where you could step into a booth and listen before you bought. I think it must have been in 1963. The first notes from Coltrane’s soprano sax had an almost physical effect on me. I couldn’t breathe, but I wanted to shout. A cliche I know, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Musically I knew then that this was the direction my musical tastes would move from then on. I’d heard Coltrane before, of course, owned an EP with “Russian Lullaby” displaying his ‘curtains of sound’ technique, but “Africa” was new – lean and original.

YouTube’s a blessing, because last night I found a video of Miles Davis & John Coltrane playing “So What”. One of the best Miles solos I’ve ever heard. Then I wondered about John McLaughlin, another musical giant. Sure enough, there’s a bunch of videos, which I will now work through. I went to a McLaughlin concert in the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh many moons ago, and I will never forget that night.

Onions? The other day “Peeling the Onion”, the literary memoir by Günter Grass, dropped through my letterbox. I’m savouring it, enjoying reading about the places, events and people that Grass transformed in his novels and other works. “The Tin Drum” was, for me, a literary epiphany. I think I’ve gone through three copies since it first came out, variously lent, lost and thumbed to death. An astonishing read. I can still picture the October rain slanting across a Kashubian potato field, fishing for eels with a horse’s head, Herr Matzerath trying to swallow his Nazi party badge with the pin open, Bebra’s troupe entertaining the Wehrmacht on the Atlantic defences.

It’s in this book that Grass reveals, for the first time, that not only was he in the Hitler Youth – maybe forgiveable as an adolescent aberration of the time – but actually joined the Waffen SS. I don’t know how I feel about this, as I haven’t yet reached that part of the book. Objectively I’m horrified, but I wait to see how Grass deals with it. With honesty and without excuses is what I hope for.

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About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
This entry was posted in Günter Grass, jazz, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, The Tin Drum. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jazz ‘n Onions

  1. Andrew Philip says:

    To judge by the < HREF="http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/biography/story/0,,2093279,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10" REL="nofollow">excerpt<> that appeared in last week’s Guardian Review, “With honesty and without excuses” is exactly what you’ll get.

  2. Rob says:

    I loved The Tin Drum too. Grass’s past is quite a complex issue. In one sense, it apalls me. In another, I wonder how many of the people expressing outrage today would have done exactly the same as Grass had they been German in the 1930s.

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