Sunday, March 13, 2016

Poison into Medicine


Just saw a short interview with the great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. He tells a story about playing with Miles Davis and a moment when he played the wrong chord in the midst of Miles’ solo. While Herbie grimaced knowing he had made such a bad sound, Miles simply shifted his solo and found the notes that made the chord sound just right. It obviously made an impression on Mr. Hancock.

And so the lifelong lesson of being able to let go of making the perfect world according to one’s image and vision and simply accept the world as it presents itself and roll with it. Making lemonade from lemons, turning poison into medicine (Mr. Hancock’s phrase). 

Of course, his notion of the “wrong chord” came from years of dedicated study and disciplined practice of playing the “right chord,” a clear vision of what sounds good and what sounds less good. (Jazz theory books sometimes semantically call bad notes “avoid notes.”) So none of this is an excuse to relax your vision and efforts to shape the world. But it is a reminder that the world is a damn stubborn place that will not always jump through your hoops and you need to develop the parallel aikido moves of moving with whatever energy presents itself. That takes both the profound study Miles Davis had to do and the spontaneous presence to listen wholly and respond accordingly.

This is much on my mind as Trump keeps escalating his Hitleresque vision, without apology and shame, releasing the demons of followers looking for an excuse to vent their own failures on the scapegoat du jour. But while Trump is violently ejecting protestors, Bernie Sanders is hosting a sing-a-long at his rally. A Facebook post showed a hat that said, “Make America kind again.” The poisonous extremities of hate speech, ignorance and lies is also releasing the medicine of caring, intelligence and daring truth-telling. I can’t remember a chord in my lifetime as jarring as these Republican “debates” and Trump rallies, but instead of stopping the music, we can shift our solos to make something beautiful out of the situation. 

Poison into medicine. Thank you, Miles Davis, for your reminder of how to help heal a broken world.

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