Happy Birthday, Miles Davis

Miles Davis would’ve been 83 today, a crotchety motherfucker clutching fistsful of cake and finding some way to stop your heart with it. He was a jazz destroyer, a cultural Doberman who had about as much use for lips-to-ass accolades and polysyllabic sputter as a throw rug has for a dick. He knew he was good, and he didn’t need academic validation, the scratchy embrace of ivy-lined tweed, cheapening his achievements with overwrought hosannas, or squeezing him between Groovebot X and Hepcat Q like some fickle rag-doll arrangement. Maybe, the pundits reasoned, he’d take them along when they were all called to dust, that their hypotheses on how Kind of Blue led to Sketches of Spain would be key to explaining his muse. Then someday, perhaps, they’d be reunited in some collection of mausoleum prose for necrophiliac music0logists. Miles and me, together forever.

Most of my favorite Miles stories sound like Bazooka Joe comics with Miles delivering the third-panel punchline, throwing it like a stone, digging it in like a stiletto tip, smashing it like a bottle over some poor asshole bound by civility. Dumped way back in the ether where truth flirts with bullshit is his feral retort to a European woman who prefaced her verbal blowjob with the admission that she loved and bought his every LP, even though as imports they cost a small fortune. Perhaps expecting Miles to thank her for her true-fan sacrifice, she was smacked into o-mouthed limbo by a whiplash “So fucking what, bitch?” When questioned about his outburst, Miles kicked some gravel-tarred science. “Now,” he surmised, “the bitch will buy two of every one of my records.” Miles was a salesman; he knew how to Connect.

Another: Some old head who probably hugged his copy of Miles Ahead at night and wept for his fading Beatnik protested that he couldn’t get his head around 1972’s On the Corner, a heroic, thorny stew of rock, jazz, and funk that transformed most longtime fans into boiling puddles of gibberish. Miles reportedly replied, “What the fuck am I supposed to do, motherfucker? Wait for you to get there?”

Miles died in 1991 after some 46 nonstop years of blowing, honking, guiding, leading, confounding, deceiving, fucking, snorting, and raging. I miss the angry bastard and wish we had someone like him today. He never said, “I owe it all to you.” He instinctively grasped that such public expressions of gratitude were death to an artist. A little contempt was fine. ‘Cause once “thank you” left your lips, you became property, paying off a never-ending debt. There was a creative hierarchy: he was up on high; fans were earthbound, where they could best buy records — and Miles could give a dustmite’s dick if anyone stopped listening with their cash. Seriously, could you imagine someone telling Miles he had to give his music away for nothing? Could you imagine what shade of red his eyes would turn at the mere suggestion he get in line with the — harrumph, harrumph — future? “Bitch, I AM the future,” he’d say. Then he’d see to it that yours ended soon.


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