Dreamed 1994/11/22 by Chris Wayan
A colleague of mine, an academic man, insists that the average person is ignorant of Islamic history. I say (arguing?) "Prefeminist intellectuals like Freud and HG Wells saw it as more enlightened than Christianity. Wells's "Outline of History" praised Islam as culminating a historical progression of religions, each more advanced--the top rung on the ladder!" I don't share that view--to me, Islam is at least as dumb as Christianity. So why am I quoting people I disagree with? And what's this about Freud? Did I just make that up? Since when did Freud love Islam? Okay, he WAS a rule-builder rather in the style of Muhammad, but that doesn't mean HE'd ever admit it...
I find myself blathering on, saying more I don't understand. "History changes. History isn't the past, it's what INTERESTS us about the past. From the history of daily life to the status of women to the pirate republics and utopian colonies to slave rebellions to tribal oral traditions, we call things history that earlier scholars ignored. And we find their older focus dull. Kings and battles!"
Um. Well. For once I agree with myself.
Oops! Suddenly I fall inside one such ignored history. I'm living in Brazil's colonial days. Locals are getting sick of the emperor; bandits and smugglers are the first wave of the New World rebellion against autocracy. It's the time of Xica da Silva, the slave girl who acquired power and soon topped her masters' excesses.
I'm wandering in the Northeastern interior--poor dusty farm country. Who am I? Oh, that's right, I'm a jazz musician. Looking for my band. They're just a group of farm laborers who play polyrhythmic big-band music. I'm the odd one out, the only non-local.
Find one member, help him catch his son, a toddler who's mobile enough now to get out of the house and wander naked. His dad talks so fast and soft I miss most of his words.
We join the rest of the band in the local bar. A white visitor is asking them questions. I see myself reflected in the bar mirror and realize I'm Chinese. I speak English, Chinese and Spanish, but terrible Portuguese. Wonder, do they see me as a rich white outsider, like this questioner? I only feel truly connected to them when we play.
Big news. Bad news. Z---- is leaving! Our best player, the heart of the band. I'm surprised to hear the others say "At least we still have Niao Wai-an." They talk as if I'm a prestigious professional musician, a jazz/fusion pianist. They all thought of the band as having TWO leaders, though I always assumed Z--- was way beyond me. I'm moved to learn how much they respect me.
That night, playing without Z----, we try to cover up his absence with technique: we play difficult songs really fast, to prove we don't need him. To cover up our missing heart.
But it sounds hollow. Showing off won't fill the hole. We have to evolve our own new heart. We can do that, I know we can--but growing a heart takes time.
In music or out.
NOTES IN THE MORNING
But real or not, a whole life just the same.
Whatever else the dream meant, I'm going to start taking my music more seriously. I got that much. I've been blind to how much it means--not just to me. To others!
A NOTE TWENTY YEARS LATER
Today I write dream songs and play them in a band called The Krelkins. I hadn't explored jazz much in 1994, but to my own surprise a lot of my songs are jazz-infused, like Saboteur or Coyote Sent Me Cash!.
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