Monday, December 04, 2006

Martha Gellhorn & Ornette Coleman: A Dynamic Duo





...Everyone's heard outrageous tales of people paying their dues while trying to make their way in the world. Out here in L.A., there's no shortage of those because everyone's on the make in this town so, at any given moment, you're bound to run into somebody who'll do whatever it takes to get them one step closer to their desired goal -- whatever the cost. Let's face it, we've all got our crosses to bear but that doesn't mean that we should silently take it in the pants, cross our fingers and hope for the best. I've long embraced the fact that the only consistency in life is inconsistency-- no doubt, kid...


"If you don't have anything to write about, try hanging yourself", Ernest Hemingway once said when asked if he had any words of wisdom for scribes mired in the mental cul de sac of writers block. "If you succeed, then your worries are over. If you fail, then you'll have something to write about." I'm more than certain that Martha Gellhorn's bones are break-dancin' whenever someone utters that last one, considering the creative hell she went through after marrying the old man and the sea; the pain she must've had to endure as a writer married to him had have been soul-deadening...In her day, Martha was a courageous woman of letters and traveled all over the world to cover wars, people and current events in a time when most sisters (black, brown, white, yellow or whatever hue's appropriate) couldn't do a thing for themselves...this is a chick who hid in the catacombs with the French Resistence and wrote about it with a vengeance...I'll repeat: she hid in the catacombs with Le Resistance, player!


...the above alone qualifies Gellhorn as a rockin' writer but there's more to it than that. The articles she penned and the assignments she took made her quite the trailblazer, to be certain (her short stories and essays were hella tight too, yo-- I'd recommend taking a gander at her juxtaposed recollection of visiting Haiti to get a real grasp of he skills with the typewriter), too, I recall reading a Gellhorn piece she'd written about living in the shadow of her ex; always feeling like she had to prove herself over and over and over to no avail...despite the tone of that one piece, Gellhorn kept on writing, even when the chips were down. You can't get very far in this world sans a thick hide and Martha was one tough bitch (and I call her that with the utmost sincerity, no doubt)...


...Ornette Coleman, the avant garde jazz-man/ saxophone guru, came out here as a member in an outfit from Texas who summarily kicked him out of the group once they heard him "get loose" during their first live performance on stage-- they'd hired him without auditioning him. Stranded in a city where he knew nobody, dude was forced to take odd jobs as was feeling what he was reaching for as a musician-- Coleman would eventually resort to the glamorous, high-profile life of a lift operator in a department store; a job he held for many years. If put in the same position, many would've thrown in the towel, tucked tail and scampered back to Texas but not Coleman. Homebiscuit didn't just bite down hard on the pillow of reality and take it in the keyster, he held on to his day gig: working the elevator-- he religiously practiced on his axe in his car, in the building's parking structure, during his breaks until he'd mastered his muse and found what would become known as Free jazz -- that's dedication, son.

...The sleeper must awaken: I've always felt a strong connection with people like Gellhorn and Coleman because, they forged ahead even when the odds were stacked against them. Mind you, they weren't "stay-the-course stumble bums" sticking to an unknowable game plan because they hadn't thought things through. Artists like these accepted the fact that there was a larger, force at work; something greater than them that had to be tapped into and acquiescence to the status quo was not an option-- I try to strive daily to have the kind of creative beef someday but still I'm well aware, like the fictional horseman in the Robert Frost poem..."there's miles to go before I sleep...miles to go before I sleep...

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