The atmosphere of Mingus music is like a crime scene, the aftermath of a double homicide. It’s dark, pulsing with an energy, a exuberance and a two-fold outrage (at how this kind of thing could happen here and at the door forced open in the imagination which can never be shut again); a mingling of light and dark, conversations meant to sooth and to vent and to make sense of the non-sense of extreme, personal violence.
Part of the darkness of the music is that the violence is seen as personal, where the light of the music comes in the speaker’s attitude – the saxophone or the piano – which turns the eventual shoulder to the pain, walks through the door of the imagination and does not look back but instead asks, what else have you got?
The monstrous image of death and the corruption of physical power, political power, social power, intellectual power is overcome by force of will. This will may appear as whimsy at first glance, the jokes and the off-hand comments a cheap self-deception or evasion, but as we look more deeply songs and the more we follow the sad line of the melodies, we discover the raw and bleeding psychic wound inflicted on the men, not by the murder itself but by the witnessing of the bodies of murder.
The crime scene flashes with police-lights. Men sob. Women wail and cry. Children gaze on with wide, unseeing eyes, watching their parents in this broken down melody, absorbing the emotion of the scene like the canvas absorbs paint.
Challenging, evocative, desperate – the music follows a path that is too aware of the vices of men, hyper-conscious of the state of the fallen. Thoughts of film noir and old Hollywood come to mind like accompanying ghosts, haunting the frame of this dream music. Faces of mouths saying “OOH” and of others saying, “hush”, the slaps into sanity, chases through back alleys, suits crisp for the duration though the wrinkled eyes are haggard long before the story begins.
Sitting on a cement stoop, outside the ring of flashing lights and yellow cordon ribbon, a man smokes a cigarette that seems to have no end. Smoke sears his eyes, which are strangely dry despite the smoke, despite the tears and wails of others nearby. He sits in a halo of darkness smoking, a hat loosely tops his head as if he’s taken it off to scratch his head numerous times, and now, beyond confusion because he has come to a point of certainty, even of wisdom, the hat sits lightly, skewed to one side, like a rooster crest that will no longer stand.
We are tempted to ask what is in this music, what is behind it, having eschewed the idea of who in favor of the forces that mold the person. What brings the personal violence onto our doorstep? What drags the city block into a collective imagination of blood, knives, guns, hate, rage and outrage? What can justify the event of the double murder? What can lever the mind out of this picture? What note, what juxtaposition of notes can compose the terror and the freedom of the man smoking on the cement stoop?