On Writing a Life of Coltrane

John_coltrane_1963-1024x864Sam Stephenson at The Paris Review:

“Trane” might as well have come from Krypton. The man “John Coltrane” is hard to locate in other people’s memories today, or in the existing studio or club recordings of his music, which document the known pinnacles, not the fits and starts and hours and years of rigor and anxieties. A list of facts doesn’t help much, either: his formative years in North Carolina are difficult to excavate and easy to summarize or skip over. Plus, the iconographic mid-century jazz photography makes Coltrane look seven feet tall (a 1947 Naval photograph shows him to be under five-foot-ten, a normal-size man). The legend is overwhelming.

Distance, distraction, and apathy make the devastating chaos of the 1960s and early seventies difficult to feel today, too. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. The Vietnam War was going nowhere. The country was on fire, literally in some places, and reactionary forces clamped down, creating a weird climate of both chaos and torpor. In the 1972 presidential election, the sitting president, Nixon, carried forty-nine states.

more here.