by David Searcy
*Adapted from “The Tiny Bee That Hovers At The Center Of The World,” a long essay in progress.
From Spring 2018
My friend Anna Badkhen, writer, reporter from the desperate and tormented parts of the world, tells of a saxophone player who liked to come to practice in the West Philadelphia graveyard where she’d sometimes go to be by herself and read. She’d hear him out there now and then standing next to his car and honking away. You’d think how sweet and strange and sad, of course. But Anna says he wasn’t very good and, besides, whenever he’d make a mistake he’d simply lose it. Just go crazy. Cursing loudly and kicking his car. And he would make a lot of mistakes. Which must have made it hard to read. Which still leaves strange and sad, I guess. It must mean something more than crazy. What directed him, I wonder? Toward so painful a production of it – driving to the cemetery, practicing so poorly, cursing and screaming and kicking his car. Again and again. Did he expect, each time, to find he had improved? Or might the cursing and the kicking have been understood to be an unavoidable, even essential, part of the concert – best performed among the dead? Each struggling passage ending awkwardly and furiously and sadly with no sweetness in the sadness. I don’t think she ever mentioned what it was he tried to play. My sense is that it probably never quite resolved. Nor did he seem to be attending a particular grave or anything like that. So, no clues there. He’d just drive in and park and stand by his car and get into this struggle. Far below the lofty, mournful resignation one expects from saxophones on bridges, fire-escapes. As if descended, maybe, into this Orphic situation at the bottom end of things. Twice Anna passed him, thanked him for playing, and embarrassed him she thinks. He wasn’t there for her, of course. I doubt he knew what he was there for. I imagine myth and ritual are mindless in this way. It all just happens. One is drawn into this moment. Yanked into some deep significance. And generally released. But sometimes not. Sometimes entangled and perpetuated. What’s to be perpetuated here? This poor guy’s caught between the living and the dead, unable, quite, to find the tune. John Cage in hell. How does his day begin, do you think? In some apartment somewhere, in some simple room with simple windows to look out of? Kitchen table. Cup of coffee. Laundry tossed into a corner by the bed. As simple as that. As easy and unresolved as that. Why should it seem so unresolved? The sun comes up and there you are. You have your duty to perform. To engage the struggle in this mythic way for all of us. You come into the city and you go among the dead and screw it up and kick the car for us perpetually. And who knows, after centuries, told and retold over and over, what it means.