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?
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!