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mingus--what a jerk

Discussion in 'Bassists [DB]' started by PB+J, Feb 20, 2006.

  1. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I've always admired Mingus as a composer and as a player, and admired his refusal to be pigeonholed. But I'm 3/4 of the way through Gene Santoro's "Myself when I Am Real," and it's clear Mingus was a horrible human being--narcissistic, spoiled, mean, irresponsible, manipulative. I mean, he hires/begs trombonist Jimmy Knepper to help him come up with a score, then when Knepper doesn't do it fast enough, punches Knepper in the mouth, breaking a tooth and costing Knepper a huge dental bill and an octave of range on his trombone. Then Mingus mails Knepper some heroin he didnt ask for and tips off cops that the heroin Mingus sent Knepper is coming, no return address. Knepper opens his door, signs for the package, and gets arrested. Beneath the underdog indeed.

    He's a bastard--berating people on the stand, blaming everyone else for his screwups, abandoning his kids. It's depressing. I don't expect him to be a saint, or a hero, but it'd be nice to see some more basic level of human decency being manifest now and then
  2. musicman5string

    musicman5string Banned

    Jan 17, 2006
    Careful with what you read. I have also read the Santoro book, and don't know if I believe everything written in it, to say the least.
    The only ones that can judge Mingus as a person are the ones that actually knew him, not us who read these accounts written by someone trying to sell books. I'm not saying the accounts are false, but I just don't know.
    The book makes for an interesting read, and yeah, it makes Mingus seem like all those things you said at times, but how much of that is exaggerated? A little, alot, all?
    In the end, it doesn't even matter, because we listen to music for the music itself, not for the personality traits of those making it; Celine Dion could possibly be the nicest human being ever, but it wouldn't mean her music is worth a rat's ass.
    Alot has also been said about Miles, but in the end, it's the music that matters.
    Look at a guy like Bono from U2, who basically is a living saint on earth with all the charity work he does, but that doesn't mean there won't be people saying "U2's music sucks, screw them".
    As far as Jimmy Knepper, that story has been told at least 100different ways by 100 different people; surely Jimmy knew Mingus' temperment and could've avoided working with him had he wanted to.
  3. musicman5string

    musicman5string Banned

    Jan 17, 2006
    Also, wait until you get to the end of the book and read about the way Mingus died ue to his illness. Being trapped inside your own body is no way to go for anyone, especially an artistic genius like Mingus.
  4. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    Sure, he had a horrible death, and no one deserves that. But having a horrible death doesn't justify the kind of crap he seemed to regularly pull wheen he was healthy. My wife left me with a 6 year old child to raise by myself. It meant no music for me. But I sucked it up and did the responsible thing and raised my son. Nobody will ever write a book about my playing, and maybe that's why--too confined by a sense of reponsibility? Not selfish enough? I mean, I'm plenty selfish, but not like Mingus

    like you say, Santoro could be exagerrating, but it's clear he loves Mingus's music and "gets it." It's just kind of a depressing read. It'd be nice to believe that artistic nobility and nobility of character could coincide
  5. PinkFloydDan


    Jul 4, 2005
    Wow. Never knew this about him. I am a bit shocked.

    MAybe I'll sell all my Mingus stuff, too.
  6. Yeah, it's only true if you see it on the TV.
  7. stu FORD

    stu FORD

    May 22, 2004
    i understand what your getting at. but last time i checked mingus was famous for music, not for personality.
  8. PinkFloydDan


    Jul 4, 2005
    Stu, true. But, if what the book says is true, good people will lose respect for someone like that. I already have without reading the book. I am sort of shocked still. I've never played an upright bass but I've always liked Mingus. Listening to him now needs an asterik in my brain: "Total jerk, dumped on his kids, was violent and abusive, and died a tough death."
  9. I remember having mixed feelings after reading the Santoro and other books on Mingus. The thing is all the aspects of his personality are what made his music so powerful. If you love the music then love the music, you don't need to love the man. Just learn from what he did musically and personally.
  10. Eh. Wagner published anti semetic pamphlets. Doesn't mean his music isn't worth listening to.
  11. Interesting stuff, no doubt.

    I don't know if I fully buy the "it's the music not the artist that counts" argument though. There's alot of truth to it, however I can think of alot of my favorite musicians/artists whose music I appreciate because I appreciate where that music/art came from, whether it be a time, place, or experience that the artist is conveying, the basic character of the artist has a huge impact on that.

    If we figure music to be an expression of the person creating it, I don't know how the character of the person creating/performing can be considered mutually exclusive to the music itself.

    That doesn't mean that a "good person" is "good music", alot of times the music we enjoy comes from people enjoying a lifestyle of pure debauchery because it comes directly as an expression of someone living that lifestyle. Even if we don't fully agree with the lifestyle (or want to live it ourselves), we can appreciate the art created by it.
  12. I wasn't saying that the character of an artist is irrelevent. I was saying the character of the artist is an important part of what makes the music what it is. If you listen to Mingus' music with all this information about his inner life you'll hear his demons being worked out in the music. Mingus' music would be something different if he wasn't the train wreck he was.

    I'm not saying we should all go out and live like Mingus. I'm saying that his music was what it was becuase he lived in his emotions, in the moment. Plus I can't judge him because I didn't know him, didn't grow up in his time, and will never know what troubled his soul and led him to live the life he lived.
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Just ask Mark Twain. :)
  14. musicman5string

    musicman5string Banned

    Jan 17, 2006
    Hey, even if half the stuff in that book is true, so what? There are people with worse personalities doing open heart surgery and planning the next mission to mars.
    This can easily escalate into a debate about a musician's personality vs. the worth of their music, but let's not let it.
    If you read the book and conclude Mingus was a jerk, so be it.
    If you choose to avoid his music from here on in, then that's fine too. Just remember: none of us walked in Mingus' shoes, and he didn't walk in ours; in other words, who knows how we would've reacted in his environment? I'm not playing the sobbing violin for him here, but then I didn't live the difficult life he did. Maybe if he hadn't lived that life his music wouldn't be the same; dunno.
    In the end even if alot of that stuff is true, to me it's ok; I don't see him as an *******; I just see him as someone who put his music above everything else in his life, and that's the choice he made.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes - basically if you read bios of many great artists - like Picasso, Byron etc etc - they are mostly egotistical and selfish - putting their own needs above anybody else..,. hardly big news! :meh:

    But maybe you ned to be this "single-minded" to create great Art....if you took the time to be a rounded human being and cared about everybody you met, your family, friends and took time to treat them as human beings etc. etc. - then you wouldn't have time to work on your Art....? :meh:
  16. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I don't know--it seems like Mingus lived in a culture where everything told him "artists" were supposed to act in this way. He was all caught up in the idea of being "avante garde" and the idea that artists had a kind of special license because they were "creative." According to Santoro, he culitvated a massive sense of entitlement because he was "an artist;" if he acted like a selfish jerk it was ok because he was an artist, etc etc. It's kind of a familiar story and Santoro buys into it too. Add the race piece into that and it gets even worse. Mingus rightly felt white society was unfair, but he used that fact to justify a whole other range of lousy behavior

    My own feeling is that human creativity is all over the place and shows up in all kinds of ways. It's a shame that Mingus lived in a world where his particular brand of creativity was framed as an excuse for infantile irresponsibility

    Look at Ellington, Mingus's idol--no drug abuse, no selfish screwing of musicians, no berating people on the bandstand or punching people. Ellington was a genius and not a jerk. Seems like Mingus wanted top prove he was a "genius" by BEING a jerk.

    It's just sad
  17. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    This is MUSICIANS we're discussing here. Is anyone suprised that they can be irresponsible and whacked-out? Especially after they've acheived notability and big money?

    If that surprises you guys, you've not worked with the same class of folks I've associated with for the past 30 yrs. I love playing music, but by far, the most negative experiences I've had in this business have been due to the personality-freakage of the other players. It is what it is.

    When it comes to the freakiness of people who create cherished music, I just prefer to believe that they only channeled something that was floating around in the universe out there. If it hadn't been them, it'd have been somebody else sooner or later.
  18. bassmonkeee


    Sep 13, 2000
    Decatur, GA
    I work with ***holes at my day job, too. And, I bet none of them will ever be considered one of the seminal American composers of the 20th Century. So, you know, at least Mingus had that going for him.
  19. flatwoundfender


    Feb 24, 2005
    And it's suspected Mingus may have been bipolar. So everything wasn't right up there in the head, maybe nothing but the music part.
  20. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I guess what bothers me is not that he was a jerk--that's no suprise, lots of people are, or that he was irresponsible--lots of musicians are. it's that he lived in a world that constantly fed him the notion thaty jerkiness and irresponsibility equaled creative genius, or that the two were related. As the example of Ellington suggests, that doesn't have to be the case