A Rahsaan Roland Kirk Rescue

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Let’s say it’s the summer of 1976 and you’re a lost soul, maybe in the throes of a nervous breakdown[1], an impoverished graduate student who washes dishes Monday through Saturday and buses tables from 9 to 1 on Sundays.

You’re so poor you can’t scrape enough scratch to purchase textbooks, so you check them out of a university library that is mostly subterranean, even though you enter through its reflective glass facade on ground level.  The library is, in the words of TS Eliot, an “objective correlative” of your failure as a human being, a painful reminder of your stupidity, sloth, poverty, and cowardice and provokes what back then was called the heebie-jeebies but now is known as a panic attack.

In other words, your problems are elitist. You’ve had acquaintances killed in Viet Nam, your father’s generation fought in WW2, but to you, renewing a library book is the equivalent of identifying your next of kin. It’s pathetic – but not worthy of pity – no, this level of mental weakness deserves derision, mockery, or at the very least, tsk-tsking, sad head shaking.

Anyway, that’s how you feel. You feel ashamed and lost.

And that’s when you become re-acquainted with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose album The Return of the 5000 Lb. Man is like a floating device flung from a blind, half-paralyzed lifeguard.

landscape-1464713250-rahsaan-roland-kirk-gilles-petardRahsaan’s recent problems are more profound than yours. Blind from early childhood, he’s recently suffered a stroke that has left one side of his body partially paralyzed, so he’s had his tenor saxophone modified so he can play with one hand. Kirk was famous for playing more than one instrument at once, two saxes and a nose flute, but obviously, those days are done, yet, good God, you’d never guess that the tenor solos on 5000 Lb. Man are coming from the horn of a one-armed man.

Side A begins with a song called “Theme of the Eulipians,” begins with sound effects, faint whistling, footsteps, muted conversation, and then a beautiful melancholy harmonica tune and a tinkling piano over which someone named Betty Neals recites a poem – but, hey, this is a blog, not a book of essays; listen for yourself.

So you’re awash in a sea of melodic jazz until this:

This improvisation diminuendos into a swinging interchange between bass and piano.

The main melody returns, and surely it sounds like the songs ending, but it’s not; we get this framing coda:

You’ve been temporarily saved by a song, a warm song, and you aren’t about to forget it.

You can listen to the entire thing here, but better yet, go buy it:


[1] For a full-bodied definition of this mental malady, click here.

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