Beneath the Underdog: His World As Composed By Mingus
Near the beginning of his memoir, Charles Mingus tells his psychiatrist that he had sex with 23 Mexican whores in one night. How you react to that detail will give you a good idea whether you’ll like this book. Or not.
If you do pick it up, you’re in for a wild ride. Mingus tells his life in the form of a confession to his psych. He also divides himself up into three personae, and talks about his life in the third person. These ingenious devices mean he can convey mood, give voice to different parts of his divided self, and reflect on the actions of his past selves with real narrative elegance.
And what a story! Check the bare outline: a black boy from Watts, supremely talented, gets shut out of the classical music world. He picks up the bass to join a band. Meanwhile, he’s composing sophisticated pieces mixing up jazz, Bartok, and improv. Finally, Mingus will end up an acclaimed bandleader, composer, and musician.
But you won’t read about a lot of that. Instead, you’ll hear about doomed love, neighborhood rumbles, detailed advice on how to have sex, prostitutes and pimping, racism, black dick, gangsters, club life, madness, and the full story of those 23 Mexican whores.
Setting aside the scabrous and the sensational, you’ll also read about black survival and come away in awe at the men and women who made such beautiful music in such treacherous conditions. You’ll also find discussions about the nature of God and love, as good as anything written by any guru.
Beneath the Underdog is outré and brilliant, an autobiography of originality and depth. It’s well worth your time if you care about music, or jazz, or life itself.
True confession: I was a stalker. Briefly. My target was Samuel Beckett. On my first visit to Paris, I wanted to see the great Irish writer in person. Not get his autograph or have my photo taken with him. I simply wanted to see a genius, a writer whom I revered, in the flesh.
I did some detective work. Of course, Beckett’s name was not in the telephone directory. The casino he was said to favor had a membership fee far out of my budget.
But I reasoned that he’d visit his publisher, Éditions de Minuit. So I staked it out. The office is on quiet street. From the outside, it seems appropriately austere. I smoked cigarettes, prowling back and forth, feeling as if I were playing some role.
Over the next few days, I haunted the street (my fleabag hotel was close, and it did boast actual fleas as part of its charms). I didn’t see him, or Marguerite Duras, just a harassed-looking man in his thirties smoking a Gauloise.
I waited and waited.
It took a long time, and yet, I finally to a realization.
China’s celebrity influencers Viya and Li Jiaqi — alias Austin Li, the “lipstick king” — used to attract millions of shoppers to ecommerce platforms, but scandals and their subsequent disappearances exposed the risks of crossing the Chinese Communist party.
Enter the virtual idols. Computer-generated avatars are considered a safer option by companies as Beijing cracks down on human celebrities deemed politically outspoken or with questionable morals.
Over the past year, Chinese investment and tech groups, including Ten-cent and ByteDance, have ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into companies that develop digital influencers. China’s virtual idol industry is predicted to jump sevenfold from Rmb6.2bn ($870mn) in 2021 to Rmb48bn in 2025, according to Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research.
Once walking on a 5/8 inch steel cable strung across Eldorado Canyon, 582 feet above South Boulder Creek.
Once covering that distance of 635 feet with nothing but skill between you and death.
The first time Ivy Baldwin accomplished that feat, it broke a world record.
Forty or so times later, Ivy made a final crossing to celebrate his 82nd birthday.
Eighty. Two. That wiry, graceful guy in the newsreel footage is 82:
Today, 31 July, marks the seventy-fourth anniversary of that last tightrope walk across Eldorado Canyon.
It started out as publicity stunt. Gene Fowler, in his autobiography, says that his step father, Fred Fowler, wanted to promote his new hotel in Eldorado Springs. Ivy Baldwin was already famous, and the attempt would be sure to draw a crowd.
Fowler was a little kid then, star-struck by the aerialist. Ivy lived in a cottage in Eldorado Springs. Despite his celebrity, Ivy was a modest and friendly man, and he was happy to pass time with Gene, and he showed him the scrapbooks he kept.
In them, Gene Fowler read hundreds of news articles documenting parachutes from balloons, trapeze artistry 2,500 feet above the earth, and tightrope walks over dusty main streets in the West and between the new skyscrapers rising in the East.
The day of Ivy’s first walk, Fowler clambered up with his step father Fred to Twin Peaks, where the tightrope ended.
Ivy made his preparations with the precision and care of a toreador, Fowler says, making sure to put on his camel-leather slippers at the very end. The crowd of 1,500 fell silent.
Fowler describes the final moments of the crossing:
The walker had been on the wire for perhaps five and half minutes, and was about forty feet away from Fred’s place on Twin Peaks when he stopped short with a wavering stance.
“Hey Fred!” he called. “Start counting out loud, and keep on counting.”
“Counting?” the amazed Fred shouted. “Counting what?”
“Start counting ‘one, two, three,’” Ivy said, “and keep it up good and loud.”
“What in hell’s got into you,” Fred inquired. “Are you crazy?”
“I’ve gone blind,” Ivy said in a calm voice.
“Commence counting, so’s I can tell by the sound what direction I’m going.”
Fred starts counting.
“That’s it,” Ivy said, and his face showed not a shadow of fear or dread. “How close am I?
“About fifteen feet, I’d say Ivy, One, two , three… For God’s sake … “
Ivy was within six or seven feet of his goal now. “Don’t grab me careless, Fred,” he directed. “Just be sure and get hold of the middle of the pole exactly between my hands. And stand braced.”
Fred did his job, and Ivy finished the crossing.
It turns out the sun blinded Ivy. Despite his careful preparations, Ivy hadn’t counted on the glare of the sun from rocks facing him. His vision returned after a few days.
On other crossings across Eldorado Canyon, Ivy had to contend with the sudden blasts of wind that blow down the canyon. Once, a sudden thunderstorm nearly washed him off the cable. But he lived through all the vagaries of a daredevil’s life, and died in bed at 87.
Balance and confidence
Fowler remained close to Ivy Baldwin. As an adult, he asked Ivy what the secret was to his success.
“Balance and confidence, he said, were the secret. “I think that’s true of a whole lot of other things, too,” he added. “Balance and confidence.”
This hefty volume details the rise, rule, and fall of the Ku Klux Klan in Denver. For a few years, Klansmen and Klan sympathizers occupied the Denver mayor’s office, claimed the state governor’s position, held both U.S. Senate seats and infested nearly other level of government in the state’s capitol and the city of Denver.
The early 1920s version of the Klan was different from the earlier terrorist guerrillas that led an insurrection in the South through intimidation and murder. This new edition started in Atlanta in 1915. A vision, supposedly, and the film Birth of a Nation inspired a salesman to revive the KKK.
It spread to Denver where Klan organizers found fertile soil. Denver’s not an obvious host for this sort of disease. As a territory, Colorado fought on the Union side in the Civil War. The population of African-Americans was small — about 6,000 out of a city of 280,000. The state did not practice official segregation, although redlining and other de facto racial separations were in place.
But, in the overall stew of the early 1920s, the demands of African-Americans for equal treatment and the right to, say, sit where they pleased in a movie theatre, inflamed racists. A lot of Denverites hated Jews, too, and they loathed those immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe whom they blamed for stealing their jobs and their daughters.
Anti-Catholic Bigotry Feeds the Klan
But two other factors chiefly fueled the growth of the Denver Klan: anti-Catholic bigotry and the Klan’s promise to restore law and order. So, yes, absolutely: the KKK was about anti-Black racism. But it was also centered on a white supremacy that defined whiteness so narrowly as to exclude even the palest Irish and the pastiest Germans, let alone Italians and Slavs.
The Klan suspected the Pope of leading an international conspiracy and of preparing to overthrow the government. They accused priests and nuns of grotesque crimes and painted every Catholic as a subversive. And the religious bigotry overlapped with hatred of Italians, Irish, Poles, and Latinos.
Crime also fed the rise of the Klan. Denver was wide open. Prohibition powered bootleggers and gangs. Dealers sold narcotics openly. Hookers by the dozens plied the streets. The Denver Police Department, true to its DNA, turned a blind eye to these depredations, and the administration of Mayor Dewey Bailey was so dirty that it made even Chicago look like an immaculate example of good government.
So, the Klan had a point with their calls to clean up the corrupt city government. Only they weren’t so pure themselves. Once they had momentum, the Denver Klan ran its own bootleggers, put its own members in the vice squad to get a piece of the action, and even ran a brothel in the aptly named Hotel Bliss.
More than 30,000 Members
At its height, the Klan counted at least 30,000 Denver men and women in its ranks — an astonishing 10 percent of the adult population. This allowed them to corrupt juries, infiltrate the police force, install city council members, and win elections.
These members — zealots or opportunists — were all disappointed in whatever aims they had for purifying the Republic and guarding white supremacy. Their representatives in the State Assembly had their agenda stymied by veteran politicians. The venality and corruption of the leadership further discredited the Klan.
Not a good look, ever, for a law-and-order society to be caught with its hands in the cookie jar. No one hates hypocrites as much as the petit-bourgeoisie — and that’s who the Klan’s fan base was in Denver.
And, from the beginning, the KKK faced a broad array of energetic opponents, from the arch-conservative District Attorney Philip Van Cise to the ultra-progressive Judge Benjamin Lindsey. Their principled resistance helped limit the scope and the extent of the damage the Klan could inflict.
And luckily, the Colorado Klan did not murder or lynch anyone. As despicable a gang as it was, the KKK mostly stuck with harassing and intimidating people. Nasty, yes, bullying, absolutely, but it did stop short of full-on killing.
(I’ll be writing about this incarnation of the Klan in future posts.)
I would have liked to write a completely positive review of In the Shadow of the Klan. I’ve seen Goodstein lecture. He’s lively, engaging, and seems like a fine person. He’s also an independent scholar, working outside of academia, another laudable activity. And Goodstein’s clearly done a mountain of research into a little-studied topic. The book is a goldmine for discovering events, personalities, and specifics about Denver in the the early 1920s.
But, In the Shadow of the Klan needs editing. A blizzard of details buries you — facts and facts about precincts, inconclusive recall elections, short bios of players who appear once and disappear.
Goodstein neglects other details. Such as, how was the Klan structured? What were their secret rituals? What did the Denver Express exposés uncover? He focuses on Denver, fine, but what about some context from the national events outside of the city? Such as the Tulsa Massacre in 1921? Or how the 1925 conviction of the head of the Indiana Klan for rape and murder might have had an effect on the Denver Klan?
The wealth of information is at once its strength and weakness. If Goodstein had a better sense of narrative and an ability to compress some episodes, this would be a better history. As it is, it’s a chore to read despite the sensational events and its cast of weird, nasty, and occasionally admirable figures.
Scammers conned me on my Instagram account. Before I give you the details, let’s hit the important stuff.
First, if you’re on Instagram, you should do two tasks RIGHT NOW: establish two-factor authentication and back up any important posts you have posted to IG. I would have avoided most of this trouble had I set up two-factor authentication.
Second, yes, I am a fool. You will, no doubt, roll you eyes a few times. But: let me be your bad example. This is an all-too-familiar role for me. But perhaps you will be better off.
That said, here’s how the scam worked:
I received a direct message from an “account” that I thought I followed. Let’s call it @NicePerson.
Nice Person sent me a message through DM on Instagram.
(Only, it’s not @NicePerson. It’s @NicePerson12. I didn’t notice the difference. Later, I’ll check and find out that @NicePerson has been hacked, too.)
“Nice Person” asked me if I could help. They said that they have been locked out of their IG account. But they get two chances to contact one of their followers on IG. Because I’m one of their followers, all I have to do is click on a link that they will send. This will, in turn, send a link to my SMS messages. If I send that link to them, they can unlock their account.
I clicked the link. That generated a link which is sent to my SMS text account. I copied it, and sent it to them.
I logged off IG to finish the call I was on. (This is, frankly, a bad move. It’s not polite to scan your IG account while chatting with someone. It’s awful manners and distracts you from more important things.)
A little while later, I receive notifications from Instagram in my email. The first one was convincing. It said a new device had logged into my account. I clicked on the link to alert them that it was not my device. Then I received notifications that my email had been changed and my password had been changed.
The first email was a fake. A page came up, looking exactly like an IG help screen. But it told me that link has expired.
This delayed me. The realization that my account has been compromised, and that I am, in fact, an idiot, hit me. Hard.
By the time the other two emails arrived, I have been locked out of my account. I can’t log in. I can only click on the link to the Instagram help page. This offers more links to click on if you think your account has been hacked.
I clicked the links.
I sent emails. I entered codes IG sent, but I came up against a wall — IG wants the two-factor authentication codes. I didn’t have them. So, the next step is to follow the instructions on sending them a video selfie. I do. (About five hour later, I’ll receive an email from Instagram telling me that the selfie didn’t work.)
Meanwhile, I receive texts and a call from friends asking me if I sent a Bitcoin ad via my stories.
BITCOIN? The horror. Oh, the horror.
I checked Instagram via another phone. My account looked the same, only it’s has become @roessler_studios12. Just like @NicePerson’s fake, scammed account. And now, they can use my fake account with the 12 at the end to trick other people.
—Yes, it was stupid and illogical. If I’d taken a few minutes to analyze the message, I would have realized that it didn’t make sense. In fact, a quiet, interior voice was whispering that this was a strange message. The. Whole. Time.
—You should ALWAYS pay attention to your intuition. I didn’t stop to think about it. I was distracted. I was talking on the phone. The cat was meowing. I had too many browser windows open on my laptop.
—It was surprisingly rough to discover someone had monkeyed with my account — far, FAR out of proportion to the harm done. This means that I wasn’t only dealing with decoding the “help” page but I was working through the fog of potential loss, humiliation, embarrassment, and panic at losing my privacy, my contacts, my nine years of posts.
And worst of all: abusing the people who’d been kind enough to follow me.
Instagram Could Do More to Prevent This
IG could spend a few of its filthy billions in profit mined from our dopamine addictions to splurge on live customer service representatives. My small, local bank does. American Express does. Why can’t they? I’d’ve queued for a few hours to save my old account and avoid the shame of being thought a scoundrel hawking Bitcoin.
And now, I’m in the situation where I am unable to convince — someone? a bot? — Instagram? that this bogus account is not mine and that it is impersonating me. So far, Instagram does not officially believe that “roessler_studios12” is fake.
Suddenly, you ponder: who am I? How do you prove you are who you say you are?
And why can’t they spend a thin slice of Zuckerberg’s billions to help you dislodge this nasty, bloodsucking parasite using your name?
Be vigilant. Do not multitask. Save your work, and save it often.
Also, it’s not that big a deal. I am not dodging missiles in Donbas. No children or animals were harmed. Life goes on.
Just be a little bit smarter than me. Which likely won’t be that hard.
I’m not a Christian, although I was raised in the Church and was a religious child. I lost my faith when puberty hit. C.S. Lewis stopped making sense, and I took all the wrong lessons from Dostoyevsky’s characters.
But I still like to observe the holidays one way or another. I read Bible chapters, check out the Book of Common Prayer, put Bach on, and look at paintings.
Nearly everything but attending an actual church.
So I was looking at reproductions of Mantegna, whose Dead Christ is one of the greatest paintings ever made. Then I found his version of the resurrection. Two versions, in fact.
His painting of the resurrection is more traditional and triumphant. Christ, surrounded by angels, rises from the tomb, golden rays radiating from him. Clearly, a divine presence. And it’s a masterful painting.
I also found his drawing of the resurrection. It may have been a preliminary study.
I prefer the drawing.
Here, Jesus is the least resurrected in any art work I’ve ever seen.
He bears the traces of his sufferings on the cross. His eyes are sad, as if He can’t forget the souls He saw when He harrowed Hell. Deep lines score His face.
The tensions between the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of the Son of God are hard to understand. It’s one of those mysteries the priests and preachers like to explain, but it’s completely paradoxical. Artists tend to paint Jesus as unmarked. He’s a man, 33, but idealized, and depicted as more the way the Greeks portrayed their gods.
In Mantegna’s drawing, though, you see Jesus, or rather, Yeshua of Nazareth, a man. A man who’s worked hard going up and down Israel for three years, then was tortured, and then was executed with one of the most excruciating methods possible.
It’s a truthful drawing. It shows an experience I can understand, and this work reveals a history that leaves marks behind which even the miracle of the resurrection cannot erase.
When the evacuation alarm sounded we were already packing.
Saturday, the sun burned unusually hot for March. A dry wind had blown steadily, chapping lips and blowing caps into the street. On our way home, we saw a column of grey and brown smoke rising over the hill to the west of our house.
We said: Not again.
And, we said: already?
In the spring?
Snow fell just last Monday.
As we drove up the block to our house, men stood in the street staring hard at the billows of smoke. With the fire that close – a mile at most and the wind blowing in our direction–we figured we’d pull some things together and track down the cat.
Just in case.
In tense situations, I shut down, focus, and fall into a kind of tunnel vision. I become formal with an occasional tinge of irritability. Even if I say so myself, I’m good at projecting calm while getting sick children to emergency rooms, sopping up my friend’s blood, dealing with heart attacks, that kind of thing. But:
“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”
Filing taxes stresses me out much more than evacuating before a life-threatening inferno. Who knows why?
We packed the cat, the overnight bags, a bin of photo albums, a case with our important documents, and left. I immediately pulled into a huge traffic jam so slow that it took 25 minutes to drive three long city blocks. (Preppers, take note: Plan your escape route ahead of time. And maybe buy one of those heavy-duty scooters.)
Once safely out of reach of the traffic, I looked around at all the people walking, driving, shopping, and going about their usual business. As if nothing was happening. I felt like a sailor washed up on shore from some cataclysmic shipwreck only to be greeted by a fat man in shorts licking an ice cream cone.
It would be ridiculously melodramatic to make a big deal out of my little evacuation fandango. We were at home, luckily, so we could grab our things. The wind changed direction. Firefighters had the experience of the all-too-recent Marshall Fire to draw upon. The weather cooperated, and the emergency teams won effective control of the blaze in a day.
What’s more, my experience is common. Nearly every week a flood hits, a tornado strikes, a hurricane blows, or a fire incinerates acres of land.
Because of climate change, we’ve all pitched our tents on the slopes of a volcano, whether we like it or not. Without knowing it, I’d made an unconscious bargain with the universe: if I live in a generally safe place, I should enjoy security. If I don’t, for example, live in a flood plain, or by the ocean or deep in the forest far away from help, I should be okay. If you build on sand, that’s on you. If you build on rock, then you’ll be fine.
That’s not the case anymore. The unspoken bargain changed. I look at the pines and spruces and waving grasses differently now. The jade mountains with their rose-colored outcroppings hold more than scenic beauty.
As I drove away, I imagined all our things going up in smoke: flames eating my books and CDs, roasting my cameras and photo albums, incinerating the grandfather clock my great-grandparents brought over from Scotland, the hand sewn quilts my mother made, and the toys and paintings from my children’s early years.
The chance that they would turn into cinders and ash saddened me, but a small part of me felt relief. Finally. Rid of all that stuff.
It forced me to consider: What do you really own? And: What’s truly valuable?
I had to answer that you don’t own anything, you only rent it, and you pay the lease with your time and labor.
What determines value is the difficulty of replacing something. Irreplaceable items are the photos, for example, or the object that holds some meaning beyond itself.
More than that, though, I remembered Bruce Chatwin’s writings on nomads. Perhaps we’re not meant to own more than we can easily move ourselves. Perhaps agriculture was indeed the primal sin, the Fall from the Garden of Eden.
What do you need more than a sturdy pair of boots and the right clothing for the weather? And nomads make beautiful art, some of the best in the world, but they’re able to carry it with them, either in their souls or their packs.
I was happy to return to my house with its comforts, its chairs and books, my daughter’s prints, and my son’s piano.