Thank You

March 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Bobby McFerrin

The other night I was at a program called Thank You, Tibet at The Cathedral of St John the Divine: Tibetan monks, musicians and dancers, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Bobby McFerrin, John Giorno, various speakers. The music of Philip Glass has always made me feel like I’m lying in a warm bath gradually cooling, on hold, for a decade. Listening to  Bobby McFerrin, on the other hand, is like falling into a dream after taking a gentle hit of mescaline with one pinkie finger in an electric socket. John Giorno, the  beat-up but still kicking (and charming) Beat poet, recited his poem, “Thanks for Nothing,” which you can watch him perform on Youtube Here’s a sample:

“Thanks for the resounding applause. /Thanks for exploiting my big ego/and making me a star for your own benefit/thanks for not paying me….I give enormous thanks to all my lovers…countless lovers of boundless, fabulous sex/countless lovers of boundless fabulous sex/countless lovers of fabulous boundless sex/ may they all come here and make love to you/if you want…Thanks, America for your neglect/ I did it anyway.”

Lisa was trying to figure out how Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson managed to neutralize the usual echoes and produce clear sound, something the Cathedral has trouble with. I tried to get Bobby McFerrin’s autograph but he slipped out, and then I wondered why I was trying to get it anyway. Just an excuse to speak to him, I suppose, to stand next to him. The sounds he made slapping his chest while singing made me want to slap his chest too, to lay my hand against his skin and feel his voice vibrate. There are many, many videos of Bobby McFerrin, but this is an interesting one from the World Science festival, which I almost attended last year…and deeply regret now that I didn’t.

Here’s a poem by William Matthews, who lived in New York and wrote often about the music he loved.

Mingus At The Showplace

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th st., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but as it happens they were wrong.

So I made him look at this poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He glowered
at me but didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.


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§ One Response to Thank You

  • charles carrico says:

    I accompanied Bobby McFerrin in a jam session in San Francisco. It was one of the rudest things I’ve ever done. I should have laid back instead of detracting from his genius.

    Some players have music in their soul, and it comes through the horn when they blow. Bobby has music in every cell of his body

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