Friday, September 29, 2017

Album Review: A Love Supreme (John Coltrane)

Here’s the truth, and you might not believe it. 

This morning, I sat down in my living room, and I put John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme on the turntable. And I listened to Side 1 all the way through. And then I got up, and I flipped the record and listened to Side 2. And when it was finished, I sighed aloud to myself, “Jesus.” And then I got up, and I started to put the record back in its sleeve and on my shelf of records. 

But then I didn’t do that. What happened then was that I got the record back out of the sleeve, and I put it back on the turntable. And at this very moment I’m listening to Side 1 again. That’s really the truth. You can choose to believe it or not. 

I’ve listened to this record many times before. MANY times. Really. That also is the truth. You could ask Rob. Or Lee. You could ask either of my early 1990s roommates. We shared an apartment in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when they were in grad school and I was working at The Park City Daily News. It was their first real step into the lives they had just discovered and that they still have today, and it was my first step out of the life I thought I would always have but to which I have never returned. Point is that this album came to me at a moment of direction and ambition. The direction was to start going some other way, and the ambition was to open my eyes and brain and heart to new possibilities. I guess every moment is a moment of direction and ambition, right? We’re always headed in some direction, even if the direction is to stay put (isn't stillness a kind of direction?), and we always are working toward some ambition, even if the ambition is to release our current, ill-fitting ambition (yes, that one I am sure of).

A love supreme

A love supreme
A love supreme
A love supreme
A love supreme
A love supreme
A love supreme
A love supreme

Those are all of the lyrics on this album. All of them. They are sung/spoken about two-thirds through Side 1. And I think they are intended to represent confession and baptism.

The album is a near-continuous string of music that, on the record label itself (but not on the Impulse! album cover), is divided into “Part I—Acknowledgement,” “Part II—Resolution,” “Park III—Pursuance” and “Part IV—Psalm.” Here’s what this album is about to me. There’s some kind of long thing that John Coltrane himself appears to have written on the inside cover, and I’ve read that before, but I can’t remember what it says because it’s been almost 25 years since I really listened to this album. So I’m going to go ahead and tell you what this album is about for me, and then I’ll go and read whether John Coltrane wrote what it might be about for him, and I’ll let you know. What it’s about for me is the crescent moon of existence in this world of a given soul. OK? Got it? That’s what I think it’s about. Let me explain.

So I haven’t much clue at all about anything about this other than the blazing crescent of existence in this world that we know. Of course, that’s true. No one that we might talk to knows much more than that, right? But I suspect that the deal is …

I’m getting up to put on Side 2 again right now. I really am. That’s how good this record is. I’m getting up off the couch and putting on Side 2 to listen to it for the second time through this morning. Here I go.

… I suspect the deal is that your and my existence is much greater than the blazing crescent of the here and now. That we are in orbit … that our time in the glow of the great sun … that there is more of us that is not seen or shown or known, even by us … I don’t know. Can anyone make sense of this? I think there is something that feels right and faithful in those snippets. Something primitive. Something written on my heart, not by me.

But that’s all I got. I certainly don’t have a whole album’s worth of material, and I certainly couldn’t string it together int0 anything that makes sense. But John Coltrane has done so. For me, A Love Supreme depicts this entire arc of human story. Thank you God for John Coltrane and John Coltrane’s gifts, and thank you, John Coltrane, for sharing your gifts.

My earliest memory is really early. And I mean really early. I think I might’ve still been in the crib. Seriously. I think I remember looking up and seeing all of these loving faces and knowing they were loving. And knowing I had been doing something else and now I was doing this and I had been safe and loved before and now I was safe and loved and OK again, but it was something different. And John Coltrane might’ve labeled that little moment of a continuous string of music as “Part I—Acknowledgement.” (Thank God for people who make us feel safe and loved in the crescent of the now.)

I’ve always believed in the truth of connectedness, and that’s not a strong enough expression of what I mean. What I mean is that Connectedness is the Truth, and I know it it is so. I mean, I KNOW IT IS SO. If you don’t think it is so, I am sorry for you, son, because it is true and because the true will free you up forever. But I’m not a very good evangelist. I kind of go to the hammer like that, and that’s really more about the evangelist than it is about the evangelee. And at some point in my life, my faith met order and correction in beautiful, old words. My faith became instrumentized. I got taken over is what I’m saying. It became less about the evangelist and more about the evangelee and most about the news itself: “A love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme …” (When sojourner Rob would find me on one of these benders, he’d sometimes pull me out of it by walking through and singing, “I love ice cream, I love ice cream, I love ice cream …” Thank God for sojourners like Rob who won’t let their friends go nuts.) 

This sort of thing happens to a person … well, this happened to me—I found words for what was written on my heart, not by me--and suddenly I wanted to do a bunch of new stuff. I did a lot of resolving to do. And things got more intricate and complex. I resolved, and things started becoming done. I got married. We had a baby. Committees were joined. Careers were scoped. Homes were mortgaged. Commitments were made. “Part 2—Resolution.”

I’m scared to death of Side 2. The music is even busier at the start. It’s a drum going nuts. And then there are a bunch of stylish solos. There’s a lot of stuff happening all at once. Sometimes, one thing sort of feeds another, and, sometimes, it sort of all happens in parallel with one another. Or even in collision with one another. “Part 3—Pursuance.” I haven’t much reflection to speak from on this area yet. 

“Part 4-Psalm.” The drums and bass and piano really slow down and become more ponderous. The saxophone becomes more prominent. Fatigued gasps. It’s like the saxophone is slithering out of the percussion. And finally releases. How I describe it from here sounds sad, but, you know, it’s not. It actually sounds pretty happy at the very end. It really does. Thank God for that.

Here are the liner notes to A Love Supreme. They include a poem John Coltrane wrote, called “A Love Supreme," and here’s the end of the poem:

We are from one thing ... the will of God ... thank you God. 

I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – 
none can be greater – none can compare to God. 
Thank you God. 
He will remake us ... He always has and He always will. 
It is true – blessed be His name – thank you God. 
God breathes through us so completely ... 
so gently we hardly feel it ... yet, 
it is our everything. 
Thank you God. 
All from God. 
Thank you God. Amen.

This is a great album: 5 stars, highly recommended.