Alan Silva Wants His MTV
Antwerp, Saturday August 4, 2001
Besides being probably the whitest man ever to play in Sun Ra's Arkestra, Alan Silva contributed to many of the central events in the foundation of the new music: the October Revolution in Jazz (New York City, 1964) and ensuing Jazz Composer's Guild and Orchestra, as well as the 1968-72 mass self-exile of American creative musicians in Paris. Since 1969 he has continued to organize and lead large ensembles, notably his own Celestrial Communications Orchestra.
Alan Silva's instantly recognizable double bass is the throbbing, howling heart of some of the most powerful moments of sixties free jazz, including pivotal recordings by Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Bill Dixon, Frank Wright, Andrew Hill, Jimmy Lyons...
Alan Silva's role in carving out a place for free music in the world of music education is just as essential. In the second half of the seventies he founded, directed and taught at the successful IACP (Institute for Artistic & Cultural Perception) in Paris, and devised his Autodidactic System of Music Education.
Recent tours and recordings have continued to explore ever new settings and musical partnerships, as well as introducing Alan Silva as the rare voice on synthesizer to boldly go where no man since Sun Ra has gone before.
The interview took place on the last night of Antwerp's 28th Free Music Festival, after Alan Silva's performance with the In The Tradition trio (you can also read our shamelessly subjective review of that wonderful set...)
What happened to the bass?
The bass is there. I just have two different types of concepts, actually, you know. This band has a certain type of concept, and this has developed over the last nine years... But the bass is - yeah, I made a couple of records, on Eremite Records, with Oluyemi Thomas. And with a French label, I just made a record with Sunny Murray, you know, and a Japanese trumpet player... No, the bass is there...
Just not tonight.
Not tonight. This was the In The Tradition trio, you know. So I have many different concepts at the moment that I'm working on, you know, with synthesizers and different types of bands using different types of sounds. This one happens to be something we were working on, me, Roger and Johannes, for about nine years I guess, you know, and we started out with a sense, a certain way, and... another type of context, like with William Parker, William Parker, and this is on Eremite Records, called Hero's Welcome. He's playing bass and I'm doing piano, synthesizer work, and so forth. So the bass is - there, you know. So I have not abandoned this.
It's waiting for you somewhere?
Well, yes, I have two or three basses, but at this particular festival, we have been invited as - as In The Tradition trio, all right?
Now, we're improvising this too, because... This is an improvised interview... How does the synthesizer fit into In The Tradition?
The synthesizer represents possibly the 21st century. And positively, what we'll be doing with sound and development of sound. The synthesizer is just - depends on what kind of way you want to play it. I mean, you may not - it's not a keyboard, you know, there's different kinds of controllers. You can do a lot of things with synthesizers that you can't do with, say piano. It's not a piano, not at all. You have different types of ways of accessing the sounds and different ways of organizing it. So consequently, people have a different idea of what the synthesizer is. I mean, I think it's a very modern instrument, has a lot of possibilities - in a lot of bands. And that's from the development of different types of sounds... What I'm trying to say is that in terms of digital, in terms of midi, in terms of the possibilities of... I don't particularly see too many players on it, actually. Only inside maybe pop music or something like that. And none of them probably are improvising, you see. Mostly electric guitars. Electric guitar has dominated electronic music, electric music - and rock music, and so forth.
Well, jazz, you know, or improvised music, is more broader acoustically, but it doesn't mean that we - the sounds of our instruments, you understand what I mean, I think it's the instrument of the future, actually, you know.
So we're talking about the instrument of the future - how does that work out In The Tradition?
Tradition is a concept of - that improvisation has a tradition. And like all traditions - they're just a tradition. Traditions can expand, like painting, art, music. Tradition doesn't mean conservatism. It can be postmodernism too. You know, people have a tendency to say, "oh, what is traditional?" But in our 21st century, what could be in the tradition, you know what I'm saying? In the sense of being postmodern, of being part of a modern society. So I think that people confuse the word, like when they think, "oh yeah, in the tradition means way back..." But actually, what we tried to establish with In The Tradition, the word, established itself as an improvising tradition, which means that it has a very long route, goes back about forty thousand years. See, improvisation is quite old.
The original music.
The first time we made sounds just for the thrill of hearing them...
It was improvised. Exactly.
We weren't writing...
Ah, some sweet song, something like that. Right. So improvisation is a collective organization of two or three bodies of people - and if you do it in painting, you do it in talk - you do it in language. To create language, to create this conversation, I have to have some means of tradition, which means some grammic programmic processing. I mean - my brain has been programmed, and I have - sitting here speaking about a certain topic. So I think that when we made In The Tradition, it was like to establish that improvisation is a tradition. And it's a tradition that I'm absolutely in support of, and the people that I like working with in this tradition. So, as a instrumentalist - back to the synthesizer again - the instrumentalist is a person who organizes music from the instrumental point of view. And improvisation is different from written music, an absolutely different phenomenon. But as you said in the early conversation, this is probably as old as the guy picking up some rocks and - (claps hands, knocks on table) "Yeah, that's interesting." You know what I'm saying to you? So I believe improvisation is one of the oldest forms of organization. Probably language, poetry, storytelling, all aspects of life is improvised. You know? People try to set it down, to have a - repeat things, in loop. But improvisation is not in loop. It's something that's creative, and something that's moving and something almost organic. So the tradition means to me - not forty thousand years of music tradition, that we really don't know - we can't go back too far, actually, about 200 years, but we can probably figure out what somebody was doing. But I'm not really interested in how far that - I'm really interested for a vision in the future. How will music sound one hundred years from now. And how much contribution I can make to that. You know what I mean? Not what I could contribute forty thousand years ago. That was... I've already probably contributed anyway. Because we're all Homo Sapiens, we all like to hear music. Basically. We're - Homo Sapiens like listening, I assume. We probably sat around the fire, and make stories about the - we had nothing to do but entertain each other. And that's what it is: improvisation is a form of entertainment. People say: this is the entertainment industry. That's what we do, we entertain each other. Through improvisation. This is a much older tradition than most people would believe. I mean, when I went to teach in the conservatory, I said, oh no, improvisation is old... you know?
This consciousness of creating a music entirely in the present, instead of relying on forms - that's something relatively new, that is, as a work of art... Before that it was something you did for yourself. It didn't get onto a record. Nobody really had the audacity yet to call it art. Nobody considered it valid in that sense - just like a painter didn't use to exhibit his sketches.
I think that in America... That's because, as we said tonight, I said that Louis Armstrong, this concert was kind of dedicated to Louis Armstrong - Louis Armstrong for me was one of the most important instrumentalists in this music, as improvising - creating a collective improvisation, you know.
But he improvised within a framework that was - the improvisation could be free, but the framework was defined in advance, they were talking about a certain number of bars...
a certain structure... you don't think so.
But that's what you hear on the records.
That's what you hear on the records because that's the only document you have.
So when the squares and the white cats were gone they would do something else?
What I'm trying to say is that records diffuse problems. If you go into a club and hear music every night, can you say, that is really... see, the problem with records is it defines what we do. But if you go into a live form as what we just heard tonight, you can not define that. That is something that's live, that has happened. And there's been so much concerts that have never been recorded, and never been - Charlie Parker, he played some jam sessions, he might have played ten hours, you know?
And he's not playing the changes for ten hours.
Of course not! He's gone, man! I Saw John Coltrane play three and a half hours, man. So, that was never recorded. What you're talking about is what has been recorded. I'm saying what has not been recorded is improvisation. And you can't judge improvisation by records. That's really the minimal point of view, which has always been my point of view. I mean, when I said Louis Armstrong, tonight, I meant that Louis Armstrong, as I said to my fellow colleagues, made ten days of music, twenty-four hours... And he is the largest recorded artist, recorded-wise. You can play his records for ten days, twenty-four hours a day, and never repeat yourself. You know what I'm saying? Louis Armstrong is for me one of the most prolific improvisers that has ever been recorded. I mean, I have been recorded very little. I might have recorded tonight, or you might record this event - what I'm saying is in terms of the forty thousand years of music we never heard... man, that's, like, you know, 1960 as some kind of - we re-discovered improvisation in 1960, actually. Because it was always there.
(In The Tradition drummer Roger Turner is making an awful lot of noise from the other end of the table...)
Fuck, shut up, man! He's very good, he studied philosophy, this guy actually got a degree in philosophy - he's not working in philosophy? You got a degree and you spent all that money for that education and you don't use that fucking education? Hey, in America man, we can spend money on education, man... What's not true?
Roger Turner: That I spent money on education!
Oh, oh, you got it for free! Okay, I'm sorry, yeah... So what I'm saying in terms of me as a improviser, I mean, yes, I'm fully trained as a instrumentalist, which means I can probably read music, any fucking music I want to read, but that's written music, man. But to rediscover improvisation was what I think we did in the sixties. Which is probably a great thing, you know. I mean, like that piece you heard with ten or fifteen pieces, I mean, that took a certain amount of control.
You're referring to the pool thing they did with musicians who had played during the weekend?
Yeah, I mean, that was an orchestra piece, I liked that, I mean that was where I think orchestra music is really fantastic, as a person who really supports orchestra music, you know. So that was very controlled, very... In a sense that - well, I'm in favor of larger orchestras than my trio for instance. But as you know, financially it might be very difficult. Since I am highly supportive of orchestra music in improvisation, you know, this is where we need to be, actually. We have great improvisers on a single level, but the way these solo - the way these players inter-react with each other is really interesting. And if you could put five or six of them together, then it becomes really interesting. Really interesting. Because you have not just one person who's like a composer, you have six or seven people individually organizing space and time and dynamics and all the aspects of what music is all about. Eight or nine of twenty organic human beings playing musical sounds, and organizing for themselves and for the public, a form of expression. It's not a single - it's a collective, more of a social event. You know, that's why we have to have a concert. You know what I mean? So we decide to have a concert, you know. But improvisation when I used to go to clubs, it was like you say, it was controlled to a certain degree. Forty on and twenty off! Three sets... You know? That's what my contract read... I used to think about that. You go back to nineteen-fifties. You think about a musician who's working in a cocktail lounge. Yeah? How many tunes does he play in one hour?
As little as he can get away with, I suppose.
Well, if he's working in a hotel - he'd probably play about twenty tunes in one hour. You know? Because people are not interested...
People don't really want to hear his improvisation.
Well yeah, they want to hear the improvisation, but they want to drink, and enjoy themselves...
And talk, and pick up some chicks...
Exactly. There you go, it's - hey, we're entertainment industry here. You know, meet some people... it's a very social event. You know, meet some friends, have some conversation... The musicians always were like, BACKground to this stuff. So... a dance band tradition, stuff like that... So in America, that was a great tradition, you know. Improvisation as an art form is probably very old. On a individual level. When a musician decides that he's an artist. I think that that is a big step, becoming from a musician to an artist. That means he develops his own personal language, his own personal inter-reaction with other people. I think that's phenomenal and that's what I think is happening the last forty years. We were able to create a lot of people who want to discover personal languages and music and how they might inter-react with other people. That's one thing we've created in the last forty years, you know?
So to establish a tradition, an art form, meaning you can do records, you can do gigs, get some kind of recognition, maybe even money - as opposed to a personal art form, something you do for yourself as you just said... You had to work for that, you had to fight for that. A lot of people took offense. A lot of others didn't even bother. You were reviled, mocked, ignored mostly...
Yeah! Of course! Talk to Freddie over there. Freddie and I is really pioneers, you know. Started out on the corner of somewhere. He probably started out in Belgium, I started out in New York.
Fred van Hove: Yes, I'm older than you.
That's right. Shit! You know, I thought that you were in the same generation. But that's a couple of years.
Fred van Hove: It's the same generation.
It's the same generation. So I'm sure that a lot of guys probably went into the music business, like me... I like music, I really like music, I like playing music, I like reading music, I like listening to it, I love music!
Talking about it.
Exactly. I mean, I'm not saying that - and being a professional musician is different. That means making a living at what you do. You know? But to become an improviser in 1960 - that was a new form in the western world. A new type of profession that we tried to establish. Not just being a jazz musician or being a musician. And I say that this is art - it's an art form, it's a legitimate form of art. But, at the same time, if we go back two hundred, three hundred, a thousand years, that's what we did - as musicians, you know. But improvisation is quite old.
The question was - freedom, for the players who came later, it couldn't mean the same as it meant for you - you were maybe brought up to be jazz players, you were brought up to play in clubs, to wear a suit and a tie and to act in a certain way, and you broke through this - and this freedom was not something that you could ever take for granted. So whoever comes after you, they just come in and it's all there - freedom is just there...
I think that we created in the sixties - I mean you gotta go back to the sixties, let's go back and look at the generation that came after the second world war. I mean, this is my generation, this is the generation that was raised after the second world war. What kind of culture do we have after the second world war? We lost two hundred million human beings in the second world war. I mean, you know, that's a lot of people. And sometimes we tend to forget that. So our generation tried to establish a culture, probably, that was anti-war, anti-destructive... This is my generation. I mean, our generation said: if you're gonna fight another second world war, fuck you! I'm not gonna be a shooting cap, I'm gonna play some horns maybe. And maybe I'll convince the world that maybe the world is much more interesting - and that's my generation, we just decided to play instruments instead of shooting guns, maybe. And I absolutely believe that anybody who wants to play music is - as a young person, it is against war. Music is one of the most important factors in creating a culture. You know? Individuals. Because it's a social thing. Guys working together. A band working together. So why - you know, I mean, that's what I'm saying - we have a great enterprise, which is like instead of - you know? So war was what I was against, I was absolutely against a culture that would produce war. So music is a big enterprise... it was a way of channeling young people's energy into peace. Whatever people might say about music in the western world, that's what we tried to do in the sixties. Channel the young people into listening to music, as opposed to making war. And if we have achieved that objective - in sixty years we didn't have too many major wars. I mean, not on this continent, let's say. For instance I mean, you know, we're living in Antwerp, this is a beautiful town, you go back maybe fifty years ago... I'm talking about the destruction of human habitat... that's war. And channeling people's energy in a culture which is anti-destructive - which is a culture based on art, painting, music, dance... these are all performing arts. And these are what we're trying to do in the last hundred years. People are dancing, listening to music - well, whatever the music they're listening to, at least they're not killing each other. That's what I'm saying.
So any music is better than no music at all? Music can also be a channel for hate...
Well, let's say... I mean there's a different energy about that. Let's say you know some guys maybe really feel... frustration. I don't have any frustration in music. For me music is a source of enlightenment. A source of higher development of our consciousness. Which is part of human existence. So you have some band - "Well yeah - asshole - my guitar is my gun!" I said: that's beautiful man, wow, why not? At least you ain't killing anybody, you know. You know what I'm saying? So as we go back to the guys who come out of the sixties, which is what we - you know, rock 'n' roll, or rap, you know, free jazz, or... You got to remember, this is channels of those events after the second world war. So I took it upon myself that music is, you know - time for some peace. Time to use music as a source of peace, a source of study, a source of, you know, culture. So in that sense, okay, this became a huge - from hip hop to rock to pop to... you know what I mean? So young people at least are listening to music, whatever they might be listening to, from techno to... you know, all right - but our generation I think tried to establish that music is more important than war. I mean, I'd definitely agree with that. That is probably one of the best things we created - to channel people's energy, let's say. If that has been effective - if people listened to music, maybe they would feel better about it, you know. So I still think we're political, social and economic - creating a culture that's primarily pro-life. And when I think of improvisation or jazz, or every - whatever music on the planet today, musicians I think are pro-life. You know? Definitely. And whether you're playing African music or you're playing Chinese music or Japanese music, musicians around the world, I think their main thing is playing. You know? And if we can channel more young people into listening and playing music, maybe they won't kill any of each other. That's a general social plan. I mean, governments might have some other agenda - they spend more money on missiles - they could spend the same amount of money in giving us guys some more money to live off. I mean this is a great drummer, you know what I'm saying? And how much does it cost to train a guy to kill somebody who would never kill somebody? You know how much money our government spends on death? Taxpayers' money? You know? Training the guy for five million dollars - to train a guy who will never pull the trigger. NEVER pull the fucking trigger! It's like the guy who built the atomic bomb, would never press the button! All our fucking tax money is being spent on a nobody who's got the fucking nerve to pull the trigger! That's the shit we're living in, man, in the western world. You got motherfuckers trying to sell missiles, you got all kinds of motherfuckers selling all kind of bullshit... we're just trying to sell some music here, man. You dig what I mean? It's cheap! Cheap. Not expensive. Cost me 300 francs. You know what I'm talking about? You know what I mean? That's the political ramifications of freedom in music. The music enterprise that we're trying to build, you know, that's what - to play music. Listen to music, enjoy it - enjoy some painting, maybe. You know, look at your wife, maybe, she looks good - that's my culture.
What we've been trying to get at - the freedom that was created a generation ago, is now a given fact...
Your generation had to break through a strait-jacket. And you can feel that, you can hear that, in the music. The question is: Is creating freedom more important than freedom itself?
Oh, creating freedom is definitely important. Well, I mean the question is - we live in a democracy. We have a democracy. And democracy is - whatever you want to say, you got a right to vote. Some people in the country don't have a right to vote.
Sometimes it doesn't seem to matter much what you voted.
I disagree with that. I disagree with that. If people don't start being cynical about voting... You gotta go back a hundred years ago when NOBODY voted, man! You had some fucking KINGS running around here cutting your fucking heads off! And bro, so, let's talk about, only got about fifty years that we can go every time to the polls. As a human being. As a human citizen of the world.
Intrusive Journalist: Half of the Americans don't go to vote.
Hey, man, so what?
And the other half don't get their vote counted right.
You know, Adolf Hitler was voted in power, man. Sorry. He didn't have a coup d'état. I'm sorry. The German people voted Adolf Hitler into power, man. Right. Okay. People can vote. At least they can vote. They voted for what they got. And they lost - two million motherfucking Germans on top of it. Two million people, you know? And great composers, great musicians were killed in the second world war. Great artists died in the first war, the second world war. I'm absolutely against war. You know what I'm saying? Any kind of obsession...
Roger Turner: That's very surprising... You're against war?
Intrusive Journalist: Ha, ha. You TALK against war. No no, ha ha, [etc...]
No, no - don't, don't fuck with me on that, buddy. Don't fuck me. I went against Vietnam, man. I stood in the fucking streets, I burned my fucking draft card, I'm not gonna fight any fucking war for you motherfuckers. That was the end of the second world war, that was enough human beings died for some bullshit. I'm sorry, man, that was bullshit. A whole generation - my father went for that shit, I didn't go for it. So I'm not going for this. I'm gonna play some music, man. You like my music? Good. You don't like my music? So what. You have a right not to like my music, man.
Talking about music... Back to the relationship between freedom that you have fought for yourself, and freedom that you have gotten as a given fact...
Because music is so big...
It's not just about music. It's about everything. It's about freedom, and the music always - there was always a connotation of a social context, the music was not just music. It was more, it was broader. And now we hear this festival, and in a way it's - in a way it's just music.
I think when you hear a piece of improvised music, you know, the first time or the second time if you never really heard it, you either have reactions, you know, like... It's not part of your social or mind-frame or continuum let's say. You listen to the radio for instance. So what people have been - music is again, as I said before, listening to all kinds of music. I'm in support of all kinds of music actually. Because I'm a music educator. I spent twenty years working in music education, teaching people how to play music. So I come from a different perspective of those people you're talking about. You know what I'm saying? I come from a point of view of teaching people how to play.
What kind of teaching - just technically how to play the notes, or do you mean...
How to play music. How to play improvisation. How to play what's - what you have on your mind.
How the hell do you teach that?
How to express yourself? How do you teach that? You see, first of all, I'm - the ability to express oneself artistically is inherent in most human beings. You have to believe - I am absolutely looking at everybody and I can take and organize these glasses intelligently for you. You understand what I mean? The intelligence is part of music. It's part of freedom, actually. You know? I mean, intelligence - some people talk about the word - like freedom. I have the word F-R-E-E. I break this word down - Freedom is Frequency, Rhythm, Energy and Emotions. That's freedom for me, in music. And I have a group called Free Form Improvisation, which means form comes out of the freedom. Form comes out of time. You know? The time continuum. Because music cannot exist without time. I mean, time is what we do. I mean, the guy asked me - oh, look at my contract, I gotta do sixty minutes. You know, maybe forty-five, maybe fifty minutes. But before, in the sixties I was trying to explain to you - look, you go to a club and you say: "Mmh, what tune do you wanna hear, man?"
Right. "I need to hear, uh, you know, Tea For Two, man. Tea For Two. What - what about Love For Sale, man, y'know?" Okay, I knew all these tunes, but this is my job, because that person is paying...
To hear the tunes.
Exactly. As a professional musician, yeah. Just trying to...
The customer is the king.
You are the king. You're here to be entertained.
And you're paying money.
Exactly. So the commodity relationship between a musician and his public is based on that. It's always been based on that! Thousands of years...
And at a festival like this? If you've been here a few times, you know the players, how they sound, how long the gig is going to last...
Right, and the exchange is what you're gonna expect to say: "ah, wow, what is that happening today?" And that's what's great about improvising, is... well I always thought, it's a surprising experience, as opposed to something that's very set, like if I hear Beethoven's fifth symphony - and whether or not you like to hear it, it will always be the same, no matter what orchestra plays it, it is (slaps a cadence on the table) STILL BEETHOVEN'S FIFTH SYMPHONY! You know what I mean? Tea For Two is Tea For Two, man. And nail it down! Professional musicians who - as entertainers - they change their music into a commodity. And that's what we do in the west. We entertain. You get paid, I get paid, you get paid, everybody's happy. I like wine, you like wine, I drink wine. You know what I mean? That's all there is to it. Basically. You like that - I like those netted stockings. You understand? We live in a society with, you know - this is not sacred. The music is light itself, I think, you know. And what we have achieved as players - a sense of freedom that we can create our own music, in the moment. And we started out forty years with that idea. So - and what are we gonna play? Tea for Two? I don't know, man, if I'm gonna play Tea for Two for you tonight. You know what I'm saying, I mean - even though I know the tune, you know what I'm saying... I'm saying some people who reject, I'm saying some people who don't know the tune and don't want to play the tune simply because they don't know it - but I'm a technically trained musician. Like - information, that's just information for me. I can create a thousand different ideas on Tea For Two, basically. That's what's so great about improvisation. I mean, no one said you should play Tea for Two THAT way. It's like I was saying - "Well, let's play this in a bright mood. Let's play it in a somber mood." I mean, what the fuck is that? "Play this in, uh, ninety-six on your metronome." What the fuck is that? That's a command system, you know? It's like a computer, you know? That's like - that's like why we have computers. I can make great music on computers because it's perfect. You know what I mean?
It does exactly what you say.
(Intrusive Journalist throws Beethoven and his Diabelli variations into the debate)
But he's a composer, isn't he? Yeah. See, I'm not interested in composers, I'm only interested in players.
Maybe what he means is that some composers had an idea of improvisation - they tried to formalize it to make it academically acceptable.
Composition is a study of a composer's idea of what someone is supposed to do. It is simply an economic system.
(Intrusive journalist tries to find something redeeming to say about composers)
I have nothing to do with composing, man. Composers make more money than I do. They make more fucking MONEY than I do, man! Yeah, you be a composer, you get the fucking MONEY, man! The musicians don't get SHIT for playing the motherfucker's music!
Intrusive Journalist: If you play a tune, then it's for somebody else?
Exactly! And I'm not interested in playing somebody else's music! I'm interested in playing my music.
You know what I mean?
Noisy Drunk: I'm a simple guy. I like stories.
I like it too. I listen to all kinds of music. But I'm talking about improvisation. The idea that the improviser can create his own...
Noisy Drunk: I will fight for it. Real stories.
So in Beethoven's day the idea to improvise...
It was not a legitimate form, it was a form that you did in your studio, you didn't do it as a performance.
And that what a guy like Beethoven was doing here was to basically to write down some of his improvisations...
Of course that's what it is! We know that! We're not stupid! We're musicians! We have to play his music, man... I can play his music. I can read it and play it. But that's not my job. I decided... I don't think Beethoven sounds any more different by 500 orchestras in Europe.
Noisy Drunk: Who Are You?
Who are me? I'm Alan Silva, man. Alan Silva. You know that guy? Where was I born, man?
Noisy Drunk: No shit. I ask you: who are you?
Who I... Alan Silva, man. That's what I named myself, my mother did. Huh? Am I what?
Intrusive Journalist: Americans are very noisy.
Of course we're noisy.
Noisy Drunk: No shit, man... who are you?
Oh, beautiful. He's really good, isn't he? Who are you? I like that. POW POW! That's a beautiful sound. Who are you? Bang!
Noisy Drunk: Don't shoot me, shoot yourself.
And accept no answer! Whatever the answer, just go on asking - who are you?
Yeah, right! It's music, man. No, because we're changing information through sound, man. That's all we're doing. Conversation. He's a lovely - probably Belgian - he's asking me who I am. I like that. Who are you, man. That's... nobody has ever asked me that question before, in a long time. Who are you, man? Damn. That's really a reference point, put yourself in perspective, man. You just... thank you very much, man. Who are you, man? That's very important. Because you are somebody too. Thank you very much, man. Nice to meet you. Who are you, man?
This is gonna be fun to transcribe. I'm looking forward to it.
What do you play?
No, he's threatening to urinate on something, I just don't know what...
Oh, that's fantastic! Let me hear that, man. Maybe I can record that.
Noisy Drunk: you are not a piano player.
I'm not a piano player. That's... definitely not.
Noisy Drunk: No. Who are you?
Who am I? Oh boy...
There we go again.
There we go with that one again... This is your last magazine, then?
I'm sure it will be... they're never gonna ask us again if we type out all this shit.
Noisy Drunk (beating with ashtray on table): You don't like to talk to me?
Oh good, man, how far we got here, man, we got "who are you," man. What? Oh, you gonna shoot me now? That's beautiful. Well, very beautiful...
Sounds like he wants to make you feel at home. Like you're back in the USA.
Yeah, right. Classy, man. We got a lot of guns in the United States, man. Everybody carries a gun in the United States.
Enough to blow each others' brains out a hundred times.
Exactly, man. No one, no - no country in the world would ever attack the United States, man.
Not even North Korea.
That's right, and Bush is a stupid motherfucker, tryin' to put the shield up... No one would ever think of invading the United States. You know why? You'd lose every fucking troop every time we'd land. We have so many guns in the United States, we could wipe out - So look man, any military leaders trying to think about invading the mother, like - First of all, they sell you some fucking, uh, you know, Colgate's toothpaste... Watch your teeth!
(Less and less is intelligible by this point... We give up trying to keep the mob at bay and just hold the microphone pointed at our subject. The questions in this increasingly drunken press conference are mostly (and mercifully) lost. Out of the chaos, the Intrusive Journalist is now comparing the merits of European Civilization as opposed to The American Way Of Life...)
I actually was not born in America, you know. I was born in Bermuda. No man, my mother comes from Portugal, man. My father comes from Africa, you know? I'm not even European, man. My mother comes - we just happened to land in America, like a whole bunch of other motherfuckers, like you Belgians landed there too, and the Dutch and the French and the Swedes, and everybody comes to America to make some money. Fuck you, man! What are you talking about America, man? America has got a whole bunch of motherfuckers that's running around thinking that they are American! And they all come from Europe, man! No way, brother! America was settled by Europeans, man. You know that. I live in New York, that was settled by the Dutch people, man. A Angle-Saxon country. So America is 65 different... Would you take from America what you like - but it's yourself. It's Europe. America's more European than you are. And that's the problem. You all went there one hundred years ago, and settled there. Would we sell you back - huh? Exactly. But the Indians had been there thirty thousand years before. My man. Do you know? American Indian? What about him? The Native Americans, man. Or the Mexicans, or whatever you might... I don't - I come from a little island, man, you know, I just happened to - my mother decided to go to America, and I decided to leave America in 1972 and become a world citizen. I happen to carry a American passport. But a American passport represents this to me, man: Chinese culture, Native American culture, European culture, African culture, any kind of culture is in America - you know? And I embrace it all. You know what I mean? So I don't have any problem with America as a country. Because I know it's an immigrant country. Fabricated, two hundred years - successfully transferred government for 200 years... We comin'... Huh? What you got here? Where you got 200 years of, what - you got serfdom, you know, you enslaved people, you know? You know, you created, you created some monarchs. You created - what have you got? You got some histories of - you got religious wars, two hundred years of killing each other for religion, man! This is your history, man! Two hundred year war, Protestants fighting the Irish... come on. No, man. This is the European problem, man. It's called death. Exterminate your own population, man. I'm sorry. That's what it is. That's why we're in America. Isn't that great?
(Eventually recording became unpractical so we'll have to paraphrase Alan's last words for that night...)
I have a right to be on TV, I demand to be on TV. TV is a public medium, a public facility. I'm for all kinds of music. They can put every kind of music on the air. You got music on 24 hours a day now. So why not our music?
Monastery photo gallery:
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All words and images copyright 2001 by Vanita & Johanna Monk.