Sunday, February 22, 2009

yo-yo #26: the yo-yo with a brain

i am only going to discuss this yo-yo obliquely. i hope that's ok.

i used to like jazz. i used to like it so much, i'd think to myself "i wish i were born in 1928... in harlem... i wish i could have had that perspective."

there are all sorts of jazz muscians... but really there are only two. the ones who die young and the ones who grow old. of all of the great icons, my favorite was the alto-sax player, charlie parker (or "bird"). so intricate were his melodies, they literally danced circles around the song's harmonic sturcture; always acknowleging its existence without needing to pander or conform to it. he reset all the bars and rewrote all the rules, and in his wake, a sea of imitators groped for some fragment of his image to be reclothed in themselves. i'm sure it revolted him.

he was a god, but he was dying.

he did so much damage to his body that when he died, the coroner estimated his age between 50 and 60 years old... when in fact, he was 35. he was estranged from his family and loved ones because he was so unpredictable. his addictions to substance (and to stardom) were an inextricable aspect of his persona. it is impossible to separate charlie parker from them and examine who he would have been as an artist "in a vacuum" (it's so with all artists, right?). were the aspects of his personality that drove him to self-destruction and those that made him so incredibly gifted, in fact the same?

meanwhile, one of his few friends, dizzy gillespie was no less gifted as a trumpeter... but was somehow built to withstand the temptations of those years and live to 76. he was never perceived in the same way as his counterpart, but he didn't need to be. he seemed to be comfortable "as a mortal" in a way that bird just never was.

there are artists who are consumed... by their art, by themselves, by the world that holds them up. they burn white-hot for a brief moment and reveal the potential of their passion, and then are gone (and reveal, in relief, the darkness of a world without them)... who, just as icarus, fly too close to that great source of heat and light. and so must fall.

there are artists who temper their passion, who take measured steps toward iconic greatness, who in time build toward a slow crescendo and take their places in the same pantheon as their peers... but were they ever "on fire"?

as a yo-yoer, are you so consumed with your art or with the way you're perceived that it kills you (metaphorically, if not literally). are you burning out? are you still doing it for yourself? are you escaping to it... or from it? do you take joy and meaning from it? do you want to put it down? and could you?

we're not jazz musicians, but we deify creativity just the same. we're not all smack-addicts, but playing obsessively becomes a sort of narcotic. we become addicted, and the nature of addiction is inherently destructive...

yo-yo's remind me of youth. all yo-yo's do. they're things... kids play with, right? i'm not a kid now, but i remember being one. i can still feel the fireflies banging together inside the jar. i can still smell the ballpark the way it was when the world was new and huge and terrifying.

i used to play this yo-yo when i was still a "kid". i had this yo-yo in my pocket as i took the steps from adolescence into adulthood. this is the yo-yo (or one of them) that i threw as i "became a man".

i have made choices NOT to be consumed by myself. in music and art, in budo... and in yo-yoing. i can remember situations in which i chose consciously NOT to burn too brightly, NOT to take it too seriously, to withhold some ember of myself. i have taken measured steps as an artist, and i have considered things with care. maybe holding art at a distance makes is poor form. maybe the fact that my passion is held ever in check diminishes me as an artist... but then, perhaps living so hard as to destroy the aspects of myself that are compelled to make art... would do just the same.

i'm in no position to chastise the people who live their lives hard, or who are compelled to see life through the prism of their art at every moment. i have no right to direct anyone to take themselves more or (or less) seriously. when i listen to charlie parker now, 50+ years after his death, i'm still amazed by his prodigious skill... but i also grieve for the promise he left unfulfilled. yo-yoing is art, as surely as is jazz. but yo-yoing is also playing with toys. it's something we do as we're growing up.

and we hang so very much on it sometimes.

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