Sunday, April 20, 2014


(for Tim Egmond)

"Nobody for President"
—Hippie Political slogan

A large dollop of uncertainty and mystery surrounds music no matter how you cut it: What is it, where did it come from, who innovated, who copied, and so on. These questions come up for anybody who finds time to think and look deeper into musical origins, toward the source or the wellspring of knowledge. John Sinclair is such a walking wellspring and contains a complex of origins referring to jazz and blues you will not find anywhere else. 

Once again, following the lead of our poet John Sinclair, we will shave off a poem from the Mohawk album, dedicated to Thelonious Monk, titled “nobody knows (nobody cares).”

I will approach this investigation in layers starting with the present and working backwords, or bachwords as James Joyce would spell it, invoking Bach, the fugue and leading into Monk’s special innovation of counterpoint.

The top layer is John's spoken performance, the impact of his own voice and his own personae upon the poem itself. The extra meaning that comes from the poet, his or her experiences, knowledge basis and performance skill set, timing, accent, cadence, swing, honesty, these are all attributes that John amplifies through the act of being at the microphone. In this context “nobody knows (nobody cares)” could take on a special meaning for him concerning the general up-hill struggle he has had to endure in the music business, and how jazz music and the music of Thelonious Monk for example, remain underground and occluded, for the most part.

The phrase could relate to Thelonious Monk in contemporary society, sadly, and pitifully, like the lyrics to the song by Charles Irwin in 1919, “nobody knows nobody cares” might express the melancholy of being alone, misunderstood and ignored. Herein sits a key to understanding a bit about poetry, the agnostic individual taking on all of history and culture, shining the light of knowledge and experience from the acknowledged limitations of a single cognitive entity. Inviting the unknown and celebrating the mystery and uncertainty of life, like a great improvisational jazz musician capturing the cadence of speech in the melody line. And furthermore living one’s life close to how it reads on the page, out there in the big wide human universe.

We live in a bat-shit crazy capitalist culture of certainty, in business, politics and commerce. A related certainty in music seems to me to be wrapped up in that empty modern business spectacle: If it sells keep the formula, do not change too much, do not experiment etc. The concept or field approach of improvisational music runs against categorical and predictable necessities spun out in pop music and pop culture, over the last 40 years or more.

Although, on the other foot I remain optimistic that we have reached a bifurcation point of sorts, and humanity will begin to turn back to spontaneous improvisation, better appreciation of dexterity and unique performance skills, and will latch onto the sleeping genius of musicians and artists such as Thelonious Monk and many more, most of who can be found in the works of John Sinclair, if you look. Robert Anton Wilson is another such entity who excretes information-rich links and treasures, read him too.

"nobody knows (nobody cares)"
for george kucewicz

this is a song
that's rarely been heard
& a session of which the poet knows

but for the listings
in the discographies
& the presence of the featured vocalist,
mr. frankie passions,

who for some unknown reason
enjoyed the musical services
of thelonious monk
as pianist on the date—

two cuts were made,
including the previous song
"especially to you,"
& the prophetically-titled number

which we know here
only by its name,
absent the opportunity to hear
what it sounds like—

what happened to these tracks
lost in the smaze of modern history?
yo, just like the song say,
nobody knows (nobody cares)        
august 27, 1987
—John Sinclair, always know: a book of monk

The poet gives us a fair idea of what information he does know or has found out for himself from listings, while stating that he knows nothing else about it, explicitly. Since 1987, and the rise of internet search engines the poet has found out more and finally heard the track in 2011 if i am not mistaken.

My own little bit of research turned up all kinds of nuggets and some areas of ambiguity best expressed in block quotes:

“Nobody Knows (and nobody seems to care) by Irving Berlin.

"Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares" by Rosetta Tharpe, lyrics by Randy Travis? (tbc),+Nobody+Cares

"Nobody knows: it swings, it showcases the whole band, and the humor is in your face. The lyrics are depressing and pitiful ("nobody knows, nobody cares,/got their eyes closed to/just how mean she treats me") but the tempo is bouncy and upbeat."
—Robin Kelly, Thelonious Monk: The life and times of an American original, pg. 147.

"Frankie Passions with unidentified trumpet, Charlie Rouse tenor sax, Thelonious Monk piano, unknown bass and drums. Especially to you, nobody knows."—Sleeve notes to the album COOL WHALIN'

"Nobody knows, nobody cares,
got their eyes closed to
just how mean she treats me.
Nobody knows, nobody cares but me.

I'm sad as can be, for the more I explain,
I'm goin' insane, it's all in vain
my trying to convince them,
nobody knows, nobody cares, but me.

All the odds are against me,
I just can't get no sympathy.
Nobody defends me, 'cause no one believes
that's she is the kind to be mean, kind to be cruel,
got them all fooled by perfect disposition,
nobody knows, nobody cares but me....
—Nobody Knows: Song lyrics by Frankie Passions.

—Steve Fly
Amsterdam, 21/3/2014


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