There are stretches of Interstate Route 80 crossing the northern edge of the Jersey Meadowlands–especially in early summer with the phragmites swaying and South Hackensack’s swamp-bound radio towers sizzlin’ and humming—that sound just like this, or surely did one night in the late 70s or early 80s when I first experienced a nine minutes sublime.
In a pitch-perfect 1996 memoir, Carolyn See records her camaraderie with composer La Monte Young, an L.A. City College classmate in the early fifties. Before he inspirited the ‘minimalist’ impulse in American music via such works as “The Second Dream…”, La Monte Young was a teen-age jazz musician amid an epochal L.A. scene featuring the likes of Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Billy Higgins, and my own all-time favorite musician, Eric Dolphy.
La Monte Young urged Carolyn See to make word music from “whatever notes happen to be lying around.” That’s indeed how the best memoirists—and musicians—work, as we’ve re-discovered throughout this windswept semester, in collaboration with our inspiring and multi-talented students. It’s not as easy as it sounds.