Insightful review of “The Big Love: Life & Death with Bill Evans”
This is from the blog ” the moderate contrarian” by Mitch Hampton, a lay philosopher, jazz pianist and composer, essayist, cinephile and humanist and aesthete.
There is much truth to the ways we systematize and understand our lives. There is some truth to the labels in the latest DSM. I am perfectly willing even to concede all of the vogue words and jargon that we create to try and make sense of our lives. Having said that, I still think it is the role of art to get around, behind, and beyond such reductive forms of understanding. Nowhere is this problem made clearer than in the subject, content and potential reception of a valuable and well written memoir by jazz pianist Bill Evan’s last (literally to the deathbed) and younger lover Laurie Verchomin, The Big Love.
“Bill’s other connection is Sam DiStephano who manages the Chicago Playboy Club. He sends over two former playmates (now a lesbian couple) to keep us company at the hotel. One is really tall and the other is short like me.
Bill asks them to find some cocaine. We went back to their apartment to wait while the tall one went out to score. I loved their apartment. They had this great writing-partner desk, where they worked on their careers as writers. And Tony Bennett had given them matching walkmens so they could think of him while they were having sex”.The effect of the passage is startling because of the reporting style mixed with the point of view of a young woman from Canada.
There is no greater case to be made for the supremacy of style in how art makes meaning than in The Big Love. Verchomin’s “voice” and rhythm is everything. After many weeks of reading about the wildness of 1970s culture it is a nice to come upon purely musical examples such as Bill Evans’ understandable love for Earth Wind and Fire, or more personal passages where detail and rhythm are all important:“I am Ellaine, because she is so much stronger. I am drawing on the strength of her tenure as Bill’s first wife. The woman who ate nothing but Haagen Dasz coffee ice cream for two years and then broke her fast with sushi. The woman who gave birth to twin Siamese cats, which they named Melody and Harmony. The woman who lay beside Bill for years and years, in candlelit apartments without electricity, yet keeping sacred the art of television with an extension cord strung out into the hallway”.
At other times she writes about Evans’ musical style:“No one recognizes the melody; the discard has his head rearing up, an angry mane of thick grey hair framing his broad forehead,eyebrows raised in astonished agony.
Here is Bill, crucifying himself. Finally exploring his suffering in public, no longer able to control his passion, freely expressing the distortion he is directly experiencing.”
It is direct experience that is one of Verchomin’s themes, as well as a good phrase for the style in which she writes.
As the book keeps building the sense of repetition, by the book’s end we are not quite the same as we were when we started. We are in a place where the usual categories do not apply. In my view there is no better place for a piece of writing to take the reader. We are constantly having to readjust ourselves our sense of what music and the music making process is. We have to constantly readjust our preconceptions of drugs and sexuality.The Big Love is a short book. It is concentrated, precise and sharp. But it is a creation of pure love. It builds to a powerful and inevitable end that seems far vaster than its surface size. It is unabashedly spiritual and mystical and never downplays such interests for the sake of a purely secular or scientific culture. The Big Love it is a must for anybody involved in jazz and certainly for anyone interested in the history of the 1970s, and, above all, anybody interested in the subject of female experience in the twentieth century.