Complicated guy. I thought his politics were a mess, and that he got conned by Tricky Dick Cheney (real limits of libertarianism exposed) though he later denounced the heartless creep and others — but why is this system better than being a progressive, man? (I know, I know, the wide-open West, etc etc.) Bob Weird is my least-favorite Grateful Dead member, but I will say he and Barlow did a lot to undercut the hippie-doofus image of the band with frequent passages about guns and violence and murder. There’s some worthy links here. I intend to grab his book in June.
He had a great Fall and I think he’d appreciate this non-obit obit.
I tried to write an obit in the manner of his lyrics — “Now he’s dead. Can’t get him outta your head-uh.” — but even incorporating as many actual phrases from his songs as possible, I didn’t have the chops to pull it off. (Or it was a misguided project, period.) The key problem was that it could be read as a mockery of his mannerisms. You couldn’t stick in some dopey explanation that it was an homage, since that would ruin everything. But in this touchy age, it would certainly be read as a satiric attack on a guy who just died, you jerk.
An innovator and commander of imagination, by any standard. The Left Hand of Darkness changed my reading life and my life, not least by making me finally understand what a boys’ club sci-fi was. This was a fully formed female voice in the genre, and beyond it as well.
Now playing, one of my favorites — Blown Bone.
Let’s start by talking about the Bone. I grew up thinking of it as cartoonish, almost a novelty instrument, not least because of the peculiar motions made playing it. Then one of the smartest kids I knew in high school turned out to be easily the best trombone player. He was quite articulate explaining the difficulty of getting the positions right, quickly, and though he was deeply reserved, even inexpressive, he sounded downright soulful on the horn.
Later when I had moved to Cambridge and was starting to explore jazz, I picked up Flexible Flyer as my initial taste of Rudd. (Believe it was the first time I heard Sheila Jordan, as well.) About the third time through it was BLAMMO — this guy has a voice and a half. It’s there on the French Horn, but he was born for the Bone. Played him two or three times every year. I recommend especially the other items I have on vinyl — Everywhere (1966); Inside Job (1976); Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, Play Numatik Swing Band (Composed and Conducted by Roswell Rudd) (1973).
Excellent obit with especially fine music selections.
Every aspect of Albert Aylers’ Spiritual Unity (ESP) changed my listening life, but the biggest shift came from Sunny Murray’s drum work. I understood free jazz and I understood drum improvisation (I thought), but I still had incorrect notions about drums and time-keeping. Murray took nonstop equal-footing intermingling improvisation to a level I had never imagined. I suddenly realized drums could be melodic. That there could be intuitive mutual timekeeping. For some boneheaded reason I never picked up this obviously crucial disc.
Except to add a sad note — Avakian lived long enough to see albums and liner notes go out of fashion.