“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
On this day when we commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of Reverend King, and as I contemplate the recent passing of my teacher, mentor and first management client, Sam Rivers, the subject matter of my first blog post is most appropriate.
What does Commitment really mean anymore? Way more than half of all marriages end in divorce, and way less than half of all supposedly committed relationships end up in marriage (official or otherwise). Fathers leave children behind in order to pursue fun, freedom and that most delusional of self-serving excuses for irresponsible behavior – spiritual discovery and realization.
Now, I’m not talking about committing to a weekly dance class or dabbling in a half-hour of practice every day. I’m talking about capital-C Commitment – the life and death reality of needing to stay on the Path with the same urgency and essential need as exhaling after inhaling.
For someone who came of age – as I did – during the years in which the magnificent John Coltrane was bestowing upon us his most sacred substance of true sacrifice and absolute Love, this sense of Commitment is so utterly obvious that to think of living without it would be completely absurd. So maybe I have no right to expect it from a society that holds its torchbearers (no names, please) to such lightweight substance.
Whether I have that right or not, I still have to lament what appears to me not only to be an extreme dearth of that commitment, but an actual resentment and rejection of those who actually possess it. Even worse, too many people see that Commitment in those who claim to possess it – but don’t. And there lies the greatest obstacle to true Commitment – the proliferation of hustlers and hucksters who are not only deceiving a short-cut hungry populace as to its easy access, but have deceived themselves into thinking that they are the sources who provide it.
Even during the most progressive era in our recent history, the 1960s – I feel secure in saying that no more than 20% (and probably far less) of the populace actually pursued the higher matter of Truth and Enlightenment. Rowing against the stream was difficult, challenging and often frustrating work. But there was at least the comfort and satisfaction in knowing that there were others trudging that same tough road, and for the most part, they seemed recognizable. But now there are so many poseurs and posturers; so much talked talk and so little walked walk, that it’s so hard for the acolyte to the true path to tell the truly committed from the newly submitted.
I would venture to say that 75% of that rarified 20% pursue a path of half-assed commitment, and mostly to their own selfish and lazy purposes. And it’s that 15% of the populace who create a deeper challenge from the remaining 5% than the 80% that’s pursuing the tried-and-true formulas of the good ol’ American Dream of comfort, wealth and simple fun.
So how did this come about? When did Truth, Enlightenment and the Profound lose their capital letters? One angle of perception takes us back to the divine John Coltrane, who embraced the highest principles in both inspiration and pursuit. One of his truest disciples – the incredible saxophonist Sonny Fortune – explained it to me this way. “When Trane was here only one man had the right to stand up and say ‘I’m the Man’, but he never would. When Trane passed, 50 guys stood up and said ‘Now, I’m the Man.’” And then, more succinctly, he added “When Trane passed, cats just wiped their brows and said ‘Phew, the heat is off.’”
Now as we are immersed in the self-induced slavery of a technological placebo of instant gratification, the appearance of accomplishment seems to be enough for most people. And having dealt for the past two years with students and young artists who proclaim themselves as truly committed, the lack of true commitment glares like the Tucson sun off of a silver rooftop. Have we simply Facebooked, Spotified and YouTubed ourselves into obliviousness to what is really supposed to matter – even to those who at least claim to want more than the mundane and frivolous? Or have we just re-defined frivolity and mediocrity into something that lets us look into our mirrors with less self-contempt? And in doing so, there seems to be no choice other than to subject those who are on the true search for the miraculous to dismissal, denigration and condemnation for causing discomfort to those who are so proud to dabble with the divine.
If John Coltrane were to arrive on the scene today, he wouldn’t be received with the acclaim, appreciation and gratitude he was accorded back then. Instead, he’d have little alternative to playing in the street; and most likely to be chased away by store owners who would find him to be detrimental to their best business interests. Do we find a way out of this malaise or do those of us who remember something else have to be satisfied with the nostalgic memories of it?
If this piece interests you, please add your thoughts in a comment below and use the social network buttons to share it with your community. Subscribe to this blog to receive new articles by email and exclusive e-books, discounts, and offers on Outward Visions products and services. Marty Khan is the author of “Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide To The Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity)” now available as an e-book, and is currently working on an anthology of articles chronicling the beautiful art and the ugly industry of jazz. The anthology is scheduled for digital release in Fall 2012.