Today media’s bombardment of well paid pop acoustical-movie celebrities has all but obliterated consciousness of the great musical innovators:
“Dig” and “cool” were words that I first remember in a context that seemed to have preceded the birth of rock and roll’s popularity, words that shaded mysterious cultish initiates who behaved and spoke as though they’d tapped into the essence of existence: for as in another of their cult-like expressions: they knew “where it’s at” , and the rest of us didn’t, maybe in a way like our similarly insular contemporary cult of techno-science’s sit-com’s supercilious techno-archetype, Sheldon. There were of course imitators and hangers-on like the toggled crowds of Rome who wanted to look “cool” like them, dress like them and most of all swagger and talk like them. In a sense when you talked to anyone using the hipster cool jazz-aficionado lingo you were always wondering if they were as in another hipster expression, I believe, “putting you on”. And there were in them days a lot of people putting each other on as though people wanted to show how smart they were by fooling others, often categorizing each other according to psycho babble afflictions.
But what I think I recall of this kind of pseudo hip conniving pretended interest in one’s fellow man, the tail end of the cool hipster era when “dig” seemed to embody all that hyperbolic keenness about life, music and humanity is the image of the hipster himself.
That image and that quaint notion of “digging” woke me from a kind of etymological slumber in Kerouac’s 1947 novel On The Road and rekindled a world that I realized must have vanished sometime between the end of the era of “cool “ jazz and the beginning of “rock“, a world whose dregs had hung on in places such as the Hound Dog early R&R/R&B radio show’s opening with “Dig man“! “The Hound’s around.” Though I now understand that “digging” as empathetic depth perception had authentically existed for a time – approaching its climax maybe toward the conclusion of WWII and the coming of the Beat Generation’s era of futility. In a way Kerouac’s novel is about the behaviour of characters whose only possession was the will to “dig” places and people – by pilgrimaging to destinations in America where they “dug” street smells, grass, mountains, suns rising and falling, and street strangers like the “banana man”, in a kind of post romantic frenzy that masked the just concluded inhumanities of war.
As warmer summer-like weather approaches broadcasters tell of imminent jazz festivals. But my first understanding of the term jazz is of bebop jazz; that music whose rhythms flew to the stratosphere and that drummers punctuated with bass drum bombs, its pace, at times too fast for the foot to beat four to the bar, or for jitter bugging dancers used to more middle of the road swing and sway of popular big band orchestras. And bebop jazz was “cool”, not like swing or its predecessor “hot” predictable ragtime jazz. Bebop’s high flying swing and almost tempo-less adagio seemed at times not of the earth as were its soloists kicked in by a bass bomb at an unforeseen climax that stopped musical time for a momentary forever, then blew notes in all directions “cooking” like “crazy” and carving all who’d get in the way; evoking listeners’ hardly verbal metaphoric hipster response of: not wow, not listen but “dig”, “Dig” a verb that all but commanded listeners to behold the notes just delivered “far out” into “cool “ interplanetary space – real “cool” – and – “crazy man” – “crazy”. not insane, not dumb but beyond normal understanding. And all anyone could say was “dig” immerse yourself in what you’re witnessing; let it take your mind on a trip to behold things you hadn’t known were there. “Dig”, this simple idiomatic metaphor with all its hipster connotations was often used outside the hipster’s musical context as it came to replace the less idiomatic perceive for seeing and comprehending. Digging was a kind of sympathetic depth perception which included our idiomatic “walking in another person’s shoes”: when you dug someone you got to understand the totality of their being.
This word “dig” that seems strange in its now archaic hipster usage, forgotten along with ”cool” jazz whose origins were memorialized on a Myles Davis album cover as Birth of the Cool. “Cool” which for me meant “cool cat”, the hipster aficionado of bebop jazz has gone the way of that famed primeval bird. But “cool” the epithet that used to characterize that odd but extinct cool-cat, the hipster, with his vocabulary limited to “dig” “crazy” “man” and of course “cool” meant by him to signal something rare and worthy of high regard, has not.
The above is an old post from peterderemigis.net. I’m repeating it because I heard there’d be a jazz festival at Toronto’s beaches. A group that was to play at the festival was a regae group, and for me jazz used to be that old music with sometimes feverishly swinging up tempo; interstellar chord progressions accompanying solos stretching to far out galaxies, and of course the zoot suited sophisticated aficionado of bop, the hipster.