I remember Luke Riley.
He took the colored plastic trash bags
(pink, yellow, green, and blue….)
corner stores used to put your produce and stuff in
that wandered the ghettos of Ghosttown like sagebrush
and he burnt them with a blowtorch onto canvases
to create the most beautiful abstract art I’ve seen since Basquiat.
He had a near death accident, and the legs--
Whose nerves were so gnarled and dead
He envied me my ability to feel pain in mine--
That lead him there, on the back roof
Of the warehouse that had once been a Creamery
Whose horse drawn carriages had delivered milk
To the neighborhood stores
Before the whites moved to the suburbs
And had yet to come back as colonizers….
He mustered all his strength to steady his legs
To weld those plastic bags I helped scavenge for him
Onto the canvas---in this youtube era,
I wish I had a film----of the process…..
I knew….intrinsic beauty…marketable…
Hell, it even had a built in marketing hook
Since recycling was hyped in the weeklies
And increasingly the mainstream
Once the plutocrats realized they could make money off it
And wouldn’t really make a dent in Devo
And this angle, pitch wouldn’t get in the way
Of the beauty, the conceptual brilliance
Of his “heroic abstractions” (in the best sense of that art history term—
If he knew Pat Steir, could say, her Waterfall drip paintings
Ain’t got nothing on him….
I championed him….
Helped get him a show at the Esteban Saban gallery
Set up on 23rd during the early day of gentrification
Back in 2007 when we tried to make it….something else…
He sold a painting or two…
But Luke was passionate, not so great at the business end…
(I can relate….)
Don’t know if he’s still alive
I think of him when I hear the post Love Supreme Coltrane
The pain of his failing liver, the feeling that death is soon
The beauty of grasping for a new sound,
A new spirituality, a more vital free and just
Though some white folks heard it as angry
In the turbulent 60s of black power.
His music sounded like a human voice
“normative discourse” (prison house of language)
but it was Reconstruction at its best
“breaking up the soil” (as Rumi would say)
so called sheets of sound
irresistible shivers down and up the spine
not dance music per se—but nerves were dancing
the realization we are cells
not confined in prison complexes smart phones.
Egoless, but not in a vulgar way
Anger as love, love as anger. Pain as beauty
Call it convulsive if not spasmodic
Or start an African Orthodox Church
And invite the tourists who don’t really get it.
But they’ll pay….and maybe learn.
Some haven’t of course…
Look at the Youtube comment boxes for Om
And see some of the compliments
At least they seem intended as compliments
By the white dudes: “Wow, Far Out!”
“Rumour has it they were tripping their brains out
as if that’s the only way such beauty, struggle and passionate
can register to the “better living through chemistry”
‘that Coltrane rejected years earlier
even though his liver was already paying the price…
So, yes, Baraka says it better—
It was the pain—felt physical— transcendent
Embodying of spirit—felt in sounds
And if brought down to the analysts with words
Many find it analogous to Malcolm
As say Curtis Mayfield was to SCLC
And I think of Dizzy (dizzy with thinking)
Saying how the blues is the spirituals
And vice versa
& how gerrymanderers need a psychiatrist
to understand the primal oneness
of the life force in an omnicidal regime