THE WORLD IS MAD

Count Basie and his Orchestra recorded this fast blues, two sides of a 78, on August 8, 1940.  They had good reasons for that title: look up the date in a history of the Second World War and you bang into the Luftwaffe and the Battle of Britain, its thirtieth day.

And if you’d want other evidence of cosmic distress, Johnny Dodds died on that day, age 48.  (How come no one writes about him as short-lived, one of jazz’s early deaths?)

But here’s Basie.

Part One, with that glorious rhythm section, Buddy Tate, the trombone section featuring the under-featured Vic Dickenson, the saxophone section leading in to Lester Young (with Jo Jones commenting behind him):

Part Two (with apologies for the intrusive advertisement) with a little more Lester, Walter Page and that rhythm section, then riffing alongside a very explicit Jo Jones, more from Walter, Lester out in the open over stop-time chords, trumpet section hosannas, more Jo . . . . and a s low-motion ending:

I write this post — oddly enough — with only a tangential although reverent nod to Basie.  If you are a sentient informed adult, you might think at many points during your day that, yes, the world IS mad.  If you think everything is just peachy, I envy you your sweet oblivion.

For me, Basie’s title is correct but one consonant is off.  I propose, rather, THE WORLD IS SAD.  Thanks to Matt Munisteri, I read this article this morning:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

It is terrible, and terribly worth reading.  The answer to the rhetorical question posed by the title is YES.  Now, it would be easy to shake our heads at “those dopey kids and their phones,” and since I have taught 17-21 year olds for decades, I know the difference between THEN (pre-phone) and NOW — the article says that 2012 was the tipping point, when more than fifty percent owned a smartphone.  I see the manifestations as attention deficit disorder, inability to concentrate, unwillingness to have what we used to think of as normal social contact (i.e., speaking to the person next to you), a world shrunk down into a tiny bright screen.  What the article says that is new and saddening is that the young people who are addicted to their phones are not only socially crippled and terminally insular, but that they are depressed and world-weary: weary of a world they don’t care to engage in.

And I see the manifestations in my generation: the couple at dinner who are silently staring into their phones; the couple I once saw on the subway, all snuggly, she half-asleep on her handsome Beau, who took the opportunity to scroll down and see what had happened in the four minutes he’s been away.

I wonder where this willful isolation will lead us as a culture.  The smartphone world is the complete antithesis to dancing to Basie, listening to Basie on the radio, playing your new Vocalion 78 for your pals, or even (heaven forbid) learning a musical instrument and starting a band.

At one point, when cellphones were new, I said whimsically to a friend that I wanted them to be prohibitively expensive, with certain exceptions: you could call and say, “I’m going to be late,” “I miss you,” “I love you,” “Is there anything you wanted me to pick up on the way home,” “You don’t sound right.  Is everything OK?” — those calls would be free OR the provider would pay you for making them.  Now I think that my whimsy was too tame.  I’d like to see people’s smartphones self-destruct if they took them out in the middle of a conversation. I’d like to see smartphone use socially relegated to private places, in the same way that flatulence, onanism, and inside-the-nose interior decorating are (among those who have some tact).

It won’t happen, but now when I go back to teaching in September, I will get to add another toxic side-effect to the smartphone’s power, not just boredom, inertia, narrowness — but despair.  Who would have thought?

I’m a relic, so I seek the company of other people rather than my phone.  Human contact — with the right people — is my joy.  But don’t tell anyone.  I don’t want the authorities to arrest me for rampant archaism.

May your happiness increase!

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3 responses to “THE WORLD IS MAD

  1. Sad but so true Michael! Hugs frm Italy

  2. Wonder posting, thanks. A little postscript to Johnny Dodds, please. The late English jazz critic Max Jones was riding with a friend in a taxi in Chicago, and mentioned jazz, as one does. The driver commented that his late father was a jazz musician…..would they have heard of Johnny Dodds? In that same item was a mention that Johnny Dodds drove a taxi part time….. Cheers from New Zealand, Tom King.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Thanks for the reminder of this classic Basie side. In 1999 I recorded some original tunes on a CD called “Jazz Life”, dedicated to musicians we interviewed for the Fillius Jazz Archive at Hamilton College. “The Buddy System” was named for Buddy Tate and I transcribed/harmonized his delightful two choruses in The World is Mad p.t. 1″ and included it in the arrangement. Always borrow from the best!

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