Writing & jazz

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Addictions tend to be bad things. Smack, vodka, pornography, even food; you get addicted to any of these, and it is safe to hazard you have a problem. Or problems, more like it. Addicts wrestle with demons.

All the working definitions of addiction I’ve found are detached from spiritual-warfare: “Addiction is a medical condition that is characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.”

Of course, nothing is merely a medical condition. The universe is more complicated than that.

MingusAre there positive addictions? Of course. A positive addiction is a compulsion that leads you to wrestle with angels. If you’re familiar with angels, you understand they are as terrifying in their own way as demons. But angels are God’s messengers; the goal line they orient you toward lies in a different quadrant of Creation.

I have been addicted to music all my life.

Some of my earliest memories are of my parents listening to Pete Fountain and Johnny Mathis records — neither of whom are at all my taste these days. My music addiction often has been inconvenient, but it’s saved me from the ghastly tedium of the perfectly ordinary. If a round of golf were the only thing I had to look forward to on the weekend, I would lose my mind.

But I have never liked listening to or playing jazz. Not until recently. Now, I am becoming addicted.

LesterYoungI’m a straightforward sort of person. What you see is what you get. A spade is a spade. If there is a crooked path that can be made straight, I don’t waste any time considering alternatives.

All of which makes me naturally ill disposed to something like jazz.

Jazz is crooked. Jazz is unexpected and crazy. Its vocabulary is foreign. It improvises its own logic. The ordinary laws of physics need not apply. It’s hocus pocus.

The parallels between writing and jazz are easy to spot. Writing that is obvious and predictable is the kiss of death. Readers want to be taken places they don’t expect go. The best books, like “A Clockwork Orange,” teach readers a new vocabulary and new way of apprehending reality. A little strange, a little difficult, a little foreign, but engaging and even transformational.

Like jazz.

Here’s a link to something I’m hooked on at the moment. It’s a tune Charlie Mingus wrote when he heard saxophone player Lester Young had died. It’s called “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Young was known for wearing pork pie hats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sfe_8RAaJ0

(My new book, Telluride Bloodhttp://amzn.to/1NE15tk)