The Chumps of Choice

A Congenial Spot for the Discussion of Against the Day, by Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Cornell '59, and Any Other Damned Thing That Comes Into Our Heads. Warning: Grad Students and Willie-Wavers will be mocked.

Friday, December 08, 2006

That Thelonious Monk Epigraph


"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light"
-- Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) Looms Large in the Legend. In his lengthy essay on the young Pynchon, "Who Is Thomas Pynchon, and why is he stealing my wife?" Jules Siegel writes of being exhorted by Pynchon in Greenwich Village in the early Sixties to come with him to watch Monk play at a club. Pynchon says something to the effect that he wants Seigel to "see God." (I'm quoting this absolutely from memory, as Siegel's Playboy essay seems to have disappeared completely from the Internet. Anybody who has a copy of it is hereby begged to hook me up. And yes, I'm intensely aware of this book. I'm not in it, but some of my friends -- including a few people reading this -- are.)

It's also worth pointing out that McClintick Sphere from V takes Monk's middle name, Sphere -- one of the coolest middle names, and one of the coolest fictional characters, in human history.

The import of the epigraph couldn't be clearer -- or more opaque, to we-who-have-not-yet-read-the-book. A quote from a true Jazz Aristocrat referring to night -- in a book called Against the Day -- well. The sinew connecting the two, of course, is light; and I'll be very surprised (not to mention disappointed) if we don't spend quite a lot of time discussing light in our meandering through The Tome.

"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light" is apparently something Monk was given to saying, rather than something he once said. I've found an utterly lovely essay by one Stephan Richter in The African American Review titled "The beauty of building, dwelling and Monk: aesthetics, religion and the architectural qualities of jazz," in which the following extract appears:
It is not by chance that by the time of this writing we still don't have a comprehensive biography of Monk. We tend to encounter him first in anecdotes, in the myths of jazz, rather than in facts. He is the "High Priest of Bebop," which was how Blue Note records advertised Monk, who more encouraged than endured the line. He dances through his sets like a portly bear, doesn't change the attitude of his hands at the end of a set, but shuffles to the bar, orders a drink, and then relaxes. He hears the sound of mariachis, freezes, listens for a while, then puts his finger in the air and says, "B flat!" Like a rock star, he comes late for club dates. His huge rings, various hats, and first-class suits are not only a stage dress but the daily illustration of his own myth. In his few interviews, he gives us laconic wisdom like 'It's always night, or we wouldn't need light.'"
The footnotes for the essay cite the "It's always night" quote as coming from the liner notes for "That's the Way I Feel Now - A Tribute to Thelonious Monk." Clearly, from the context, that quote comes from somewhere else, but I've not been able to determine exactly where.

Now: Kute Korrespondences. I have no doubt we'll be seeing a whole lot of them, and I think I may have just spotted our first. Check that footnotes page again. Many of you have come in here from Left Blogsylvania -- notice who authored the second book listed in "Works Cited"? Yeah. Michael Bérubé. Check Michael's Blogroll (click the "Those Included in the Present Category" category.) Fourth link down. Hi there! Tiny little Internet, ain't it?

MegaLOLs!

-----

PS: God damn. Can you imagine being so indescribably hip, so slabsided connected to the universe, that when you hear some music, you stop, wet your finger, hold it up in the wind, and say "B flat"? God....damn!

14 Comments:

At Friday, December 08, 2006 9:52:00 PM, Anonymous mikeinseattle said...

"...but shuffles to the bar, orders a drink, and then relaxes."

And, of course, what he drank was Straight, No Chaser.

A few years ago when I was flush with cash I got the complete riverside recordings completely on impulse. I have never regretted what I shelled out. I have them all on the ipod now. It's nice to have a Monk synchronicity from the gods of the shuffle a couple times a day.

 
At Saturday, December 09, 2006 1:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once turned in a term paper on the similitudes between Cortazar's Hopscotch and V., both published in the same year, and both greatly influenced by jazz. Cortazar's McClintic sphere is Johnny, from "El perseguidor"; Thelonious Monk to Cortazar's Charlie Parker.

I loved the jazzy feeling in V., and I love that it's back in Against the Day.

I guess we will talk a lot about light and the effects of Calcite in light. I have the impression, also, that we are going to talk a lot about ELECTRIC light.

 
At Saturday, December 09, 2006 6:36:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

Monk was most famous for playing (or trying to play - they were all aproximations, he said) notes between existing notes, hitting the piano keys on each side of a particular tone; an interesting notion which also means that no one but him ever heard the song he was really playing.

He also cultivated a very aloof persona and was something of a recluse.

Let us not forget also that Monk was part of two generations of revolutionary American musical geniuses who for all their trancendent gifts were treated like second & third class citizens, like the rest of their people, by their country for most, if not all, of their lives. So you bet you ass it was always night, and the light for him, I will bet, was music.

 
At Saturday, December 09, 2006 7:02:00 AM, Blogger Will Divide said...

NB: I was not aiming at rough colloquy above; "you ass" is a typo.

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 6:26:00 AM, Anonymous cleek said...

you bet you ass

a tiny phrase in the theme of Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle" reminds me of another tiny phrase in the The Who's "You Better You Bet":

"I lay on the bed with you
We could make some
Book of records"

It's just those last two lines, seven words, eight syllables, that seem to mirror (or at least recall) Monk. next time you hear that tune, sing along in Daltrey's voice.

pujwfl

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 8:34:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Well, we may have our soundtrack for the book. Monk and old wax cylinders, perhaps.

 
At Friday, January 19, 2007 8:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Acoustic Light is the real deal, Electric Light is just pretendy light - not the genuine article"

Wynton

 
At Saturday, October 27, 2007 11:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comment on notes between existing notes. Here Monk is more straight forward but still very much Monk. I can't be any new note. When you look at the keyboard all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!

 
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At Thursday, March 07, 2013 3:32:00 PM, Anonymous Nadar said...

Epigraph's possible source: Time magazine, February 28, 1964 article titled “The Loneliest Monk” written by Barry Farrell (pp. 84-88).

 
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