Book Review: Miles and Me
Publication Date: Mar 08, 2000
List Price: $85.00
Format: Hardcover, 189 pages
Imprint: University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
Parent Company: University of California
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Book Reviewed by Paige Turner
Quincy Troupe's candid account of his friendship with Miles Davis is a revealing portrait of a great musician and an intimate study of a unique relationship. It is also an engrossing chronicle of the author's own development, both artistic and personal. As Davis's collaborator on Miles: The Autobiography, Troupe--one of the major poets to emerge from the 1960s--had exceptional access to the musician. This memoir goes beyond the life portrayed in the autobiography to describe in detail the processes of Davis's spectacular creativity and the joys and difficulties his passionate, contradictory temperament posed to the men's friendship. It shows how Miles Davis, both as a black man and an artist, influenced not only Quincy Troupe but whole generations. ~ The Publisher
"Miles Davis, Unplugged"
There is virtually no reader who would expect a book about music icon, Miles Davis to be an primer on refined manners, and surely no one would believe that examining Miles' life would help them to polish their skills in diplomacy and etiquette. Miles' reputation as a bad mother-shut-your-mouth speaks for itself, so if you want politeness, read Ms. Manners. However, for lovers of impeccable music who want to know more about a creative, driving force behind the art that inspires them so deeply, Qunicy Troupe's new book, Miles and Me, hits the sweet spot.
- "When [Miles] played muted ballads, it was as if he were tenderly kissing our feelings -- then he would stun us with bright, rapid-fire bursts of notes that penetrated our souls."
Troupe is a renowned and gifted poet who was Davis' handpicked choice to write Miles: The Autobiography, in 1989. In the eleven years since the publication of that book how is it that Davis' life merits another look? Why can't Davis' prodigious and impressive musical legacy continue to speak for him? Is Miles and Me just marketing driven re hash of edited material from the 1989 autobiography?
The existence of Miles and Me is fully justified because it goes deeper than the autobiography, and offers readers a more profound and complete insight into Davis as a person, especially how he related with others. Miles and Me is a "meta" or above the fray look at Davis' life, versus the ABC, XYZ linear structure of any typical biography. The book also explains why jazz music still relegated to a "novelty act" within the great American arts, culture and entertainment scene? Troupe explains:
- "This book describes how [Davis'] music and personality affected my life and the lives of a generation who looked for proud, "unreconstructed" black men to admire and emulate. It also examines, through the lens of Miles' life, how it is that jazz, this country's classical music, is always neglected -- until it conforms to the white majority's expectations -- because it is perceived as a black art form. The genius of Miles Davis is in many ways the genius of jazz, a genius that is often overlooked, to the great loss of American culture."
Miles and Me takes the form of brief vignettes
about Troupe's relationship with Davis, reviews of Davis' albums, and finally,
remarks on the importance of Davis' music. Miles and Me possesses many charming,
warm and humorous (words almost never associated with Davis), stories about
Miles' love of sports cars, clothes and how he related to children. And
Troupe is a very gifted writer, clean and spare, drawing most excellent
analogies, and coining
clever phrases. He provides an even, balanced, warts-and-all look at Davis, but at times is a tad star struck, despite his intention to be objective, and despite all of the abuse Davis dished out to him.
But still, why should readers spend considerable
amounts of their leisure time reading about a dead, misogynistic, mean, mad,
self-absorbed musician? Why be interested in a man who often disdained his
audiences by performing with his back to them? As with any life, Davis'
was neither completely good nor bad. But he is one of an extremely small
percentage of people who lived life by their own rules, outside of conventional
dictates, and got away with
Thus, part of the fascination with his life is
voyeuristic, kind of like the
experience of observing an alien life form, or nature videos of insect life
and wild animals in their natural habitats, but at a safe distance from any
harm they might inflict. It is enthralling to learn the inner workings of a
man who would not bend, compromise or accommodate others in any way. Ever.
An especially fascinating component of Miles and Me is Troupe's theory about the "unreconstructed black man". "Miles was what I call an "unreconstructed black man". One who is someone who doesn't take [abuse] from no one Unreconstructed black men don't have the manners of their reconstructed "Negro" brethren, who are always trying to put a "civilized" face on their blackness, especially in the company of white folks. Unreconstructed black men will have none of this; they will not play the farcical game they consider beneath them This "unreconstructedness" can cause strange personality quirks that manifest in a self-centered way of looking at things. Miles had many of these quirks. Everything revolved
around him and the way he looked at it. No compromises: "Either you do it my way or [forget] you"."
Like Frank Sinatra, Davis did it "his way" and the case could be made that Sinatra was an unreconstructed Italian American man. A similar case could be made for Pablo Picasso. Also like Sinatra and Picasso, Davis could be rude and crude. But unlike unlike these other dead geniuses, memories of Davis are located in a hazier, more marginal place, residing in the netherworld of uncertainty and confusion where mainstream tastes perceive black artists. This is true despite the magnitude of his accomplishments. However it is comforting to realize that Davis' legacy has been continued by Tupac Shakur and dozens of other take-no-prisoners singers, rappers and musicians.
Those who are interested in reading Miles and Me should be aware that roughly 10 percent of Davis spoken words were "M.F.". However 90 percent of his musical output was simply sublime. If only he'd communicated exclusively with his horn
Since his death in 1991 an objective accounting of Davis' place in music is merited. Miles and Me provides this summary of Davis' vast accomplishments including: excellence in composition; creating an environment where other musicians could thrive; instilling a diverse/multicultural approach to his art; and constantly being a leader, innovative and seeking new frontiers. Despite Davis' many personal shortcomings his music eloquently speaks a crystal clear truth that will never be forgotten.