Sunday, January 13, 2008

Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman Meet Hitler and Tojo

We are all Alec Guiness now. Rather (pronounced somewhat like rah-there) we are all Colonel Nicholson now, Guiness’ stellar portrayal, in The Bridge on the River Kwai, of a thoroughly British officer enslaved during WWII, whose blood stubborn dedication to the codes of the Army and the Geneva conventions, eventually turn his slavery into dominance over the Japanese prison camp commander. Nicholson is eventually seduced by another blood, make that THE other blood, that runs through his veins, that of the Empire Builder, who thinks of time not in seconds or hours, not in weeks and months, but in terms of eternity—building a bridge, making his contribution, that will last through the present war into a future of possibly more than 600 years of what of course will be British rule. These blood codes do not mix well, and the impeccable reasoning that freed him and his men turns slightly, imperceptibly, into one day of insanity that leads to his death and the destruction of his meticulously engineered world.

We are all Colonel Nicholson now, with two bloods coursing through our veins, the blood of soul, and the blood of the codes of our Western Intellect. They do not mix, the latter enslaves the former, enforcing a quantitative, noun driven, precisely timed, frontal lobe weltanschauung, damming (damning?) what was once a soul that flowed like a powerful river into a weak, mud clotted creek. And it gets away with it precisely because of its precision, the ability to engineer and invent technology that is simply astounding, so much so, so awe-inspiring, that we overlook the dam, its concrete, and its accompanying forced drought that affects our inner spirit. In other words, we live in a world of instant messaging but with nothing to say and without the wisdom required to communicate in meaningful ways.

The dam is made of numbers and nouns, where jargon stops the flow of the inner river that used to be augmented with the language of poetry and music, of art and thoughtful as opposed to mindless religion. Like the blindness of Colonel Nicholson, the engineered and inescapable paradox, the dam, the oppression, is hardest to see when it is most obvious—that building the bridge across Kwai would only strengthen those whose methods could again bring his subjugation. We see the lake of technological progress, we cannot see the desert that lies and grows within us.

Without this ability to sense what is within, it is only a hop and skip from mass producing cars to mass producing death—and that is horror of World War II. It is easy to say that American and Russian mass production stopped the Nazis, stopped Hitler and Tojo, but I think it was the lack of technology that did the job—that is, there was no soul jargon, the departments of psychology were in their infancy and infatuated with words and worlds that did not exist, that the public was in no mood to accept, in 1930 and 1940—the id, and superego, and Skinner’s theory of behaviorism.

And so, for a few decades, what is known as the Greatest Generation had that flow, had the ancient river running and full, irrigating them as they marched and endured, both the War and the Depression. For them emotion was music, jazz, swing, and blues, the different bloods mixing together as beautifully and the Ohio and the Missouri Rivers merge with the Mississippi. It was Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, it was swing and beauty that killed the beast.

But in the 1950s, 1960s, and the 1970s, like the illusion of Colonel Nicholson, the apparently new freedoms disguised a rise in the dam, built stronger and higher than before WWII.

But there are recordings of those who followed Armstrong and Goodman, the self-taught, the Farlows and Montgomerys, the Adderleys and Woods, the Forrests and the Stitt, the Kessels and the Lockjaws, these recordings, coupled with a simple move from deep within, that the dam does not need to be exploded but simply peeled away like a swatch of old duct tape, and the desert will be irrigated once more.

No comments: