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January 12, 2005

Hollywood Work: The Subtext of Subjectivism

After the set with Wolff last evening, I got into one of those strange situations which is the Hollywood conversation. A couple of cool dudes and several musicians were hanging back and talking with Wolff while Pops did his thing and pressed up for an autograph. Pops doing his thing is a rather unique experience, because when I'm around it means a graceful and proper introduction. It has a continuing strange and powerful effect on me even though he's done it hundreds of times throughout my life. My father always introduces me to people as if I were the most important person in the world, and he makes everyone feel it, especially me. I have yet to become deft enough to evade the implications of my introductions; I'm not sure I want to.

But I'm a scientist at heart. I'm an explorer come to map and digitize, to survey vast areas and find their centers of gravity. I am perceptive and articulate, and I judge. Such are character strengths in my line of work although my manner of doing so makes me appear to be arrogant in just about every other endeavor. My professional demeanor is both aggressive and conservative. My job is to understand problems and deliver solutions - to take mind numbing complexity and make promises that A = A at the end of the day.

So it is very difficult for me to talk about what music and other creative productions do, and in the company of musicians and creatives, I lack the technical vocabulary to last in any conversation about the subject at hand. My aim is not to deliver criticism, nor to be a cloying fan, but to collaborate, to clap or hoot on the backbeat at just the right time during the performance. And when I think about what a extraordinarily fine joint Catalina's is, to figure out how I could finance one in Beijing.

But I have started to become aware of how it is that creatives talk about their work understanding that there is no objective standard for it. In contrast, when you are 'a techie' the aims of performance are clear, and what you know in every situation is that when you are presented with a piece of code or a system that it must submit to both real time and forensic examination. At the end of the day, a good system is good in the same way to everyone who can understand it and fulfills the same needs everywhere it can be appreciated. But there is no such ubiquity of appreciation in music or film. And it is because of this that I have just begun to appreciate the ways in which the Hollywood types talk about each other.

It appears to me that for the Hollywood creative, the only constant is dedication to craft and reconciliation with self. So conversations about relationships employ references to the work in a veiled way. The overt narrative is about workmanship and relationships between working people, but only the subtext is about the work itself.

There were several things on my mind as the introduction happened. The first was the sensation of loss I felt that I would endure in China and how do I get Jazz like this into China and what is the Chinese instrument that will bring them into World Music like the Tablas have for India? The second was whether or not the last tune they jammed was 'St. Thomas Way' because it was all I could hear (lovin' it) although the melody was never expressed. The third was how do I get this autograph without looking like a complete ass. Fortunately Wolff was multitasking in and out of a Hollywood converation and we hounds were clearly a background task. This gave me an out, so I went to talk to the drummer.

By the time I got to his table, I had formulated what I thought was a reasonable question to address my first concern. "Where do jazz cats play in China?" As I watched Mike during the set, my mind kept saying Gene Krupa, Gene Krupa. Don't ask me why, but it was something about how his left thumb would pop back as he adjusted his grip on the sticks or flipped his grip from underhand to overhand and back. Mike surprised me with his classical jazz gravelly cool voice. He knew about Thailand and he knew about Japan but not about China. That was good. I wanna be the guy. I want to open The jazz club in Beijing. Something just like Catalina's would work perfectly.

Several of us went through the confusion of chasing down the single Sharpie in the joint so that liner notes could get signed. By that time, I had been reduced to blubbering. There could be no cool way to find out what Wolff listened to but to ask that exact question. His kids listen to Eminem and Usher. I have no idea whatsoever what Usher is doing these days. Hopefully he's growing up, but I got the feeling that Wolff was playing a joke on a non-Hollywood person such as myself. I got caught flatfooted asking a typical idiot question. But it's true that he admitted biting the St. Thomas Way bassline - the real cut is on the disc.

So remind me to find out who is the guy who did the film score for Solaris. There's supposed to be a single note song that's pretty cool. I guess. He too was in the house in a higher priority foreground Hollywood conversation which drifted to the status of Keepnews the younger or record production fame.

I have no business in Hollywood conversations, and it's difficult for me to bear them, especially when I'm not wearing the Hollywood suit and I look only 1/3 as charming as I truly can be. But I do think that I'm making progress in understanding them. You can't talk about the work directly. Such opinions only matter to insiders who understand the workmanship. We consumers are simply, consumers.

So I promised Wolff 500 words of rave in the blog, mentioned The Bad Plus and got the hell out of there. Maybe it registered, but it's hard to follow up Pops' introduction from my perspective on the world.

Posted by mbowen at January 12, 2005 10:59 AM

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"Solaris"? Cliff Martinez.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 15, 2005 09:15 PM

Maybe that Chinese instrument could be the erhu or sanxian.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 15, 2005 09:20 PM