Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gone But Not Forgotten

It was 30 years ago today that Elvis perished on his throne, a victim of his own excess. It is only fitting that the pop culture icon has grown in stature at a faster rate than even his waistline. Though unfortunately the Elvis worship and marketability speak not to his early promise, but only to the emptiness and commerciality of pop culture, not unlike what Andy Warhol was saying with his Campbell Soup can and Brillo boxes. Alas, the PA lottery ticket shown was a loser and a waste of $2, unlike the King Lives On wastebasket which I use in my bathroom in his honor and the decoupage Elvis clock which features a youthful Elvis long since gone. I have no such trinkets documenting Max Roach, though I have many recordings which transcend the vapidness of most of Elvis's output in many ways. The snap crackle and pop of the band he led with Clifford Brown, and the righteousness of his 60s recordings and his entire career demonstrated not only a willingness to change and grow musically, but a vision seldom seen in a music world geared toward charts and fads.

It's ironic that Max would leave the world on the same day as Elvis 30 years on as there careers followed wildly different paths and pointed out the differences between white and black, pop music and jazz. Elvis was "king" and though he didnt develop rock and roll, he certainly popularized it, while Max helped develop a style of jazz called hard bop which is every bit as timeless as Elvis' Sun recordings. During a time of social upheaval Max Roach's drive and spirit spoke to a world far removed from the pop charts Elvis dominated. It's a divide that still exists in music today as artists like Max find it ever so hard to flourish and remain true to their ideals as the quest to be the next big thing seems to trump all as the major labels struggle to survive in a changing marketplace. The smaller labels, like mine, have it even worse, trying to carve out a tiny niche to survive, not unlike Max Roach tried, unsuccessfully, with his Debut Records. One wonders if Roach were starting out today, how would he fare? I guess the message here is to cherish what we have got, and try to put hero worship behind us, throw away the charts and embrace those who have that creative spark wherever we can find them and follow your own dreams. Max Roach was blessed with a rare combination of talent and courage and he will be missed.