Tuesday, August 21, 2007

THE JOHN EATS BOOKMOBILEâ„¢: Miles: The Autobiography

A couple weeks ago I finished reading Miles: The Autobiography and have been on a pretty big Miles Davis kick since then. It's one of the most frank memoirs I've ever read; there is absolutely no dancing around issues or opinions, and even though it's co-written (with Quincy Troupe) it consistently feels like you're alone in room having a drink (or a smoke, or a line of coke, or a shot of vitamin H) with Miles Davis. The book is extremely entertaining particularly if you're A) a jazz fan B) interested in reading about the history of popular music or C) a fan of books in which the word "fuck" appears at least three times on every page.

Oh, and you'll also want to read it if you enjoy scathing diatribes about racial tension coupled with celebrity name-dropping. Here's one of my favorite examples, from chapter 19. To set the scene, Miles and his then-wife Cicely Tyson are on their way to attend an award presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where President Reagan is about to present a lifetime achievement award to Ray Charles. And Miles is about to give somebody a much-needed what-to-for...
On the way to the dinner at the White House I rode in a limousine with Willie Mays. Me and Willie and Cicely and Fred Astaire's widow and Fred MacMurray and his wife, I think. When we got into the car one of them white women [who came along for the ride] said, "Miles, the limo driver says he likes the way you sing and he's got all of your records." Right away I was mad, so I looked at Cicely and say under my breath, "Cicely, why you bring me down here to get insulted like this?" She didn't say nothing and just looked straight ahead with that plastic grin on her face.

Billy Dee Williams was also in the car with us, so Billie, Willie, and me started having some fun by talking that black shit that black men talk, you know. But this was embarrassing Cicely. Fred MacMurray's sitting in the front of the limo and he's real sick, almost can't walk. The two white women are in the back with us, right? So one of them turns to me and says, "Miles, I know your mammy's proud of you coming down to meet the President."

Everything in the car got real quiet, real quiet. I know everybody was thinking to themselves, of all the motherfuckers to say this to, why did she say this to Miles? They were just waiting for me to go off on this old-ass broad.

I turned to her and said, "Listen, my mother ain't no motherfucking mammy, you hear what I'm telling you! That word is out of style and people don't use it anymore. My mother was more elegant and proper than you could ever be, and my father was a doctor. So don't you ever say anything like that to a black person anymore, you hear what I'm saying to you?" When I was telling her this, I never did raise my voice one time. But she knew what I was saying because I was looking her in her fucking eyes and if looks could have killed she would have been dead. She got the message and apologized. After that I was silent.

And since no one should be forced to read more than four paragraphs on the internet without being able to watch an embedded YouTube video immediately thereafter, here's an interview with Miles Davis from a 1982 edition of The Today Show in which esteemed television reporter and all-around assmunch Bryant Gumbel gets told several times:

And just because I feel like it, here's another video for those of you who've actually bothered to read this far. It's the song Walkin' from one of my favorite Miles Davis albums, being performed more than a decade after he first recorded it:


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