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On the Verge of Tears

Lately I've been on the verge of tears. A lot. Maybe I'm missing something in my life. Or simply coming across stuff that makes me think, remember and cry. It might be a search for joy, but since tears are involved, and sadness, it's probably not joy. I've come to think its a search for meaning. I know grown men ain't supposed to cry, so I do this privately when I can control it. But, generally, I can't control it. Things just happen. It's weird.

For example, I was watching "Sister Act II" in a local theater. Definitely a mediocre film with not a lot to recommend it. Sappy and predictable plot. Contrived story line. Sequelitis to death! But sitting there in a darkened theater, I arrive at the moment Whoopie Goldberg directs her rag-tag high school choir in their first public performance. They sing Edwin Hawkins' "Oh Happy Day." The first few bars. The first few tears.

Now was God talking to me, or just my grandmother? I don't know. Same thing. God is God. My grandmother was a Saint. Literally! God's personal emissary to me and my family.

Was it seeing this group of rebellious students work and struggle and come together and find joy in creating something beautiful? I don't know. Too deep for me.

I was brought up by my mother and father. But I was _raised_ by my grandmother. Did I tell you she was a Saint? Yeah I did. Anyway, I haven't been to church in ten years, except for a wedding or two. And I'm not sure that church is my answer. But the _Spirit_, well, I'm sure that's at least part of the answer.

In my last (#4), I recommended a new CD entitled "A Tribute to Miles" featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Wallace Roney and Tony Williams. One of the cuts is "Elegy" written by Tony Williams in memory of Miles. Same effect on me as Oh Happy Day, with one difference. It's a song that is new to me, with none of the history attached to Oh Happy Day. But the tears well up anyway. Why is that?

I play bass with a not-very-good-but-trying-to-get-better jazz combo on the weekends. Last week I got lost in a solo on a tune I really love and whose chord changes I know well. Not lost as being in the wrong place. Lost as in being out there. Being somewhere else. Eyes closed. Playing what I felt somewhere inside (or was that trying to feel what I played?). Anyway, it was kind of an emotional experience, and my band-mates commented that the solo was very good, perhaps my best solo ever. One asked me how I had approached the solo, what it was I had done. I didn't have a clue!

I asked them if they had ever, if they could remember hearing a song that made them cry. Not a vocal whose words might have that effect. But music, instrumental music. To a man they said no. And kind of looked at me as if I was crazy. I could only feel sorry for them (and move on).

Maybe what I'm missing is history: God, my grandmother, Miles, Oh Happy Day...

I fell in love with an album called "Bebop & Beyond Plays Dizzy Gillespie", featuring Diz himself playing on six of the eight cuts. But what "got" me was hearing him sing "I Waited For You." Maybe it was the character of his voice and his history, his nobility, his dignity. But it was also the sadness in his voice. Recorded during his last years, it was as if he knew...

But that alone doesn't explain my reaction since I had a similar reaction to hearing John Coltrane's voice in an interview for the first time. Trane died in 1967, two or three years before I discovered who he was. I never got to see him perform and knew him only through his music, his sound. Still I felt as if I knew all about him, through his music, his sound. Then to hear his voice, to hear him speak. Well...

This quest I'm on doesn't seem to have a beginning or an ending or even a direction I can understand. And it doesn't seem to be understandable or controllable. For example, I've done a lot of flying lately, and it seems Sister Act II was always playing on the plane. Generally I read or write on airplanes rather than watch movies. Oh, I sleep too! But I found myself glancing up at the screen through the first half of each movie, inevitably putting the headphones into the plane's sound system just in time to hear "Oh Happy Day" and go on the verge again. Go figure.

I said I may be searching for meaning. Clarity is another word that comes to mind. I'm turned off by a lot of what I see around me, the shallow and the superficial, the disingenuous and the political, the violent and the venal. And I know that we will be consumed by this mess if we don't do something to turn the train around, or at least get on the right track. And I know that there is nothing on the horizon remotely resembling an answer to our needs.

So maybe the answer _is_ God. Or maybe it's the spirit of those who have informed my life in some way, the spirit that is dwelling in each of us. None of us survives forever. Nevertheless, those who have come before us have left their spirits to help guide us. And I think it is those spirits causing me to react the way I am right now. I'm not going to live forever. So I've got to do something to make my life meaningful. I've got to do more than simply exist. Maybe if I can find out what that is and begin doing it, I can gain the strength needed to hold my tears at bay. Or just let them come.

So it's spirits. Which brings me to Gil Scott-Heron's latest CD called, you guessed it...

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Meanderings 1.05 -- May 8, 1994