Throwback: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Since this site’s inception, it has been an annual tradition that I write something on John Coltrane‘s A Love Supreme, an album that is arguably not only one of the most beautiful albums ever written and recorded, but an album that has a deep and very personal meaning to me. This tradition actually goes back some time; in fact, I can trace it back to roughly 2005 or so. Now, on that particular September 11, I had come home from my job as an Editorial Assistant at a small publisher, and my father in the kitchen cooking and playing A Love Supreme loudly — so loudly that it felt and sounded as though the musicians were in our apartment. In light of such terrifying and awful events, why not be reminded of the profound beauty we’re also more than capable of; why not listen to an album that earnestly and humbly contemplates the nature of God and God’s love. It made quite a bit of sense.

But more important, my father was a terrible drunk and as a result, he was a very complicated and conflicting figure in my life, who lived a very short life. He was in many ways, three or four different people at various points in my life — and I’ll never be able to completely reconcile all of those different people into one cohesive whole. Nor can I say that i completely knew who he was or what he was about. Ultimately, I’ve long since learned to accept that. It just is.  As I’ve mentioned on a few months back on Facebook, my father was at the end of his life a terrible man, a man who I hated and didn’t respect but still loved because he was my father. But he taught how to wear a suit; how to wear a tie; how to throw and catch a baseball; how to execute the bunt; and he absolutely loved jazz — in particular the bop era. He was a fan of Horace SilverOliver  NelsonMiles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and a long list of others. But he loved John Coltrane the most; and honestly, he may not have been wrong in the regard. In some small way, playing those old jazz albums are my way of connecting to him and something of him that I love so very much.

Of course September 11 as a native New Yorker has a much different meaning than most Americans. At the time, I was finishing my last semester at NYU, which is roughly about a mile from the World Trade Center site, and I can still remember coming across the missing posters posted all across town. At the West 4th Street A,B,C,D,E,F, and M station — the M train didn’t stop there at the time but it does now — the victim’s families posted missing posters from ceiling to floor, going end to end, east to west, across Sixth Avenue. And on each of those posters, the family tried to capture their loved one or their friend in the fullness of their lives, smiling in that awkward and self-conscious fashion that we all do in extremely posed pictures or doing something that they loved. They were desperate and pleaded for information on their loved one and if you looked at the posters, you just knew that most of those poor souls would never be found again; that they’d never be going home, and their families would have to deal with the senseless and inconsolable loss of a terrible death. In every one of those pictures, it was much like looking into the face of your neighbor, your childhood friend, an ex boyfriend or girlfriend, your husband or your wife, your mother or your father, some old family friend you used to visit, your cousin, etc. Although New York is a city of some 8 million people, odds were that you knew someone who worked there and it gave all a very deeply personal sense.

Somehow as a result of that, I wind up with some profound thoughts on September 11. I’ll quote what I said on Facebook, as it’s pretty appropriate — because a Twitter follower and Facebook friend suggested that I should share it much more wildly, so here we go:

“. . . I’m not a religious man and I’m indifferent to religious matters. Church does nothing for me. And never really will. But i have read many of the great religious texts in an attempt to get some of the answers to the “deep questions of life.” And although i’m not an expert — my degree isn’t in theology — from my reading of those texts, they say a few simple things about life that are pretty sensible and rather practical: Don’t murder, because that’s all kinds of wrong. (in fact, one particular religion says killing one person is the equivalent of killing the entire world. Guess which one it is. You may be surprised.) Don’t hurt others. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t be an asshole. The energy you put into the world, you will get it back. Or as a busker, who I once came across at Astor Place once said on a sign: “Be kind. It pays back. I promise.” And they all say that God (no matter what its name is to you) in its infinite wisdom and love created us in its image. All of this is so laughably simple and we just can’t get it right. We hate and kill each other because we disagree on how we worship a being that may or may not exist. We hate and kill each other because of small genetic differences that makes one person’s skin a different color than another. We hate and kill each other because of sexual orientation, which is not only none of your fucking business but it’s something that just is, just like your eye color or your height — or, gasp, your skin color. We hate and kill each other because we don’t agree on politics. We hate and kill each other because we may inhabit different parts of a tiny, fairly insignificant piece of rock. And right now, history isn’t looking very kindly on us.

The fact that we all share this time together is a wondrous miracle because we have faced impossible odds. Humanity could have been wiped off the face of the earth in countless ways before our individual existence here, but forget about that for a second. Each one of us is a 1 in 70 trillion chance. There will never be anyone like us ever again. And in my mind, it should mean a couple of things: no matter if you believe in God or not, that this moment we’re all sharing is critically, desperately important because if we keep up what we’re doing, we will very happily ensure our self-destruction; that all life should and must matter equally; that we only have one real chance to get it right; and as horribly cliched as it is, love is really all you need — well besides food, air and water (and if you were me, Guinness and Romeo Y Julieta cigars. Hey, life wouldn’t be worth living without those in my book.)

As always my hope is that one day there will be simply put: love, acceptance, understanding, peace, brotherhood, sisterhood, equality and respect for all. What a wonderful world that would be. Sometimes, I can even picture it being a reality — a reality in which we all realize what’s truly important. Until then we have so much work to do. But start with being kind and being empathetic. The world needs so much more of that than ever before, especially today.”

With all of this in mind, listen to John Coltrane’s majestic and gorgeous album in its entirety, with some rare live recordings of the material and some alternate takes.