(Note: this post is part of a series.)
Day 1. At Christopher Smith‘s request, I’ll post seven personally meaningful songs over seven days. I can’t quite bring myself to “challenge” someone else to do the same over each of those seven days, so it won’t be a true “7/7/7” for any purists out there, but I may well tag someone here and there, and if anyone wants to pick up that torch and run with it, I will follow with interest. (I admit, I do love mental exercises.)
First up is “OM” by John Coltrane.
For me at least, it’s not so much that this piece is a good choice for such a list–it’s that such a list simply could not be called valid without it. This one “bent my ears” in a way that simply defies description.
Cool story about it, actually. While at Stanford in 1989, a buddy of mine took it upon himself to assist me with expanding my musical education, and at one point (after some success at this) he came to me and handed me a disc. As I closed my hand to accept it, he paused (only somewhat theatrically) and said, “Here’s the deal. I want you to take this home, get all the way into your best listening phones, and really listen to the whole thing. You are going to hate it. In spite of that, you will then put it away for one year, and then listen to it again. When you do, you will still dislike it intensely, but you will realize you need to hear it again. That will continue for a while, and whether or not you ever ‘like’ it, you will soon realize that you no longer hear things–anything–the same, afterward.”
Ol’ Brent was both smart and perceptive, and basically it came to pass exactly like that. There is so much in “OM” that is grating, atonal, seemingly aimless, [insert criticism of free jazz here], etc…and yet there is something *alive* in all that mess, that is a perfect yang to the yin. (Of course the standard joke goes something like “well, sure…LSD”, which almost certainly was present in some measure, but there’s something there beyond that, too.) That something doesn’t give itself up easily, but then it doesn’t let go, either.
Today, I would say that I don’t particularly “like” the record, but remain convinced that I needed it, and continue to need it. It changed me. From “OM”, I then discovered the rest of Coltrane, and became a pretty respectable fanatic. Musically I consider his pinnacle to be the “classic quartet” period, roughly from the 1961 Village Vanguard recordings with Eric Dolphy, right up to the latter part of 1965, when “Ascension” and “OM” were recorded, signaling Trane’s harder turn into free jazz. As per my customary quirk, it is precisely those in-between influences (e.g., between Miles and classic quartet in 1961, and between classic quartet and free jazz in 1965) that speak the most to me. “OM” was part of that, even at the edge.
Crazy that this will be my only Coltrane in the list. Or that this will be the only appearance for drummer Elvin Jones, whose incredible power and presence are much better heard on other records. (I hold strongly that such exercises as this are inherently cruel–how on earth can one choose, among art?)
Nonetheless, I started here, and thus it gets the nod.