June 25, 2022
WASHINGTON — “What is happening here?” a distraught Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.
It’s a good question and I can answer it, because I was there at the start of the corrosive chain of events that led to women losing control of their own bodies. I saw how America went from a beacon of modernity to a benighted outlier.
Over the last three decades, I have witnessed a dismal saga of opportunism, fanaticism, mendacity, concupiscence, hypocrisy and cowardice. This is a story about men gaining power by trading away something that meant little to them compared with their own stature: the rights of women.
It started innocently enough on a beautiful summer day in Kennebunkport, with the ocean sparkling and a lunch of crab meat salad and English muffins.
I was covering the first President Bush’s nomination of a 43-year-old U.S. appeals court judge for the D.C. Circuit to take the seat of retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall. Clarence Thomas, standing in front of a weather-beaten shingled cottage, looked uneasy as Bush defended his conservative choice.
Five tepees came into view as I pulled into the parking lot of El Cosmico, a luxe bohemian hotel and campground in Marfa, Tex. The circular complex was dotted with yurts, safari tents and a rainbow of vintage trailers with names such as Battleship and ’49 Mansion, all for rent. Because the tepees were booked, I checked into a spacious safari tent with a comfortable double bed and electricity.
El Cosmico is one of Marfa’s many unique attractions. The small southwest Texas town, population about 1,700, was founded in 1883 as a railway water stop and became the seat of Presidio County two years later. A military camp established southwest of town in 1911 led to population growth and later became Fort D.A. Russell, which was decommissioned in 1946. These days, Marfa is a world-renowned art destination thanks to artist Donald Judd, who moved from New York in the 1970s when the town was in severe economic decline after boom-and-bust cycles in the cattle industry.
Judd was inspired by the landscape — the vast openness of the nearly mile-high plain in the Chihuahuan Desert — and was able to manifest his idea to create public large-scale permanent art installations. Many people were skeptical about the long-haired hippie that liked bagpipe music and building bonfires, but he later became one of the biggest employers in town. He bought several properties, including 34 buildings and 340 acres of the decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell grounds, which became the Chinati Foundation, a world-renowned contemporary art museum, in 1987. Although Judd repurposed buildings, he largely preserved the overall structural configurations and architectural qualities.
“Marfa made Judd as much as Judd made Marfa,” says Jenny Moore, the foundation’s director. “There’s a sense out here of possibility, but also, as long as nobody’s hurting anybody else, you’re kind of able to do your own thing. And there’s a spirit … of potential that I think is one of the reasons Marfa has become what it is.”
Miles Davis then enlisted you for his Second Great Quintet.
I felt like the impossible had happened. Joining Miles and having Watermelon Man become a hit at the same time, I felt as if I was on top of the world.
Did the success go to your head?
I couldn’t walk around saying: “Hey, look at me, I’m playing with Miles Davis.” No, no. I had to be serious, right? Because the level of musicianship was so high. You had to be on your game with Miles, but it was so inspiring, working with him.
What was Davis like as a bandleader?
He said [hoarse, Miles-ish whisper]: “I don’t pay you to just play to get applause.” He told us he paid us to experiment on stage. He said: “I want you to try new things, brand new stuff.” And I told him, some of it’s maybe not going to work, so what about the audience then? He said: “Don’t worry about it. I got the audience.” He loved being challenged, being stimulated, being thrown a curveball. It’s like playing baseball: he was the homerun king, ready to strike any ball and send it over the stands.
Miles encouraged you to play electronic instruments in the later stages of your time with him.
I was thrilled, because I was an electrical engineering major in college, and had some understanding of electronics. As a matter of fact, I got my first computer in 1979, which was really early in the game. I still have that computer today. It was an Apple II Plus, and it had 48k of RAM, and you had to store the programs on a cassette. But I knew computers were going to be important in music, and I encouraged every musician I met to learn how they worked.
How did your tenure with Davis come to an end?
In 1968 I got married. I told my wife, we can either have a big wedding in New York and invite all our freeloading friends to give us presents we don’t want, or we can get first-class tickets to Rio de Janeiro and spend our honeymoon at the top hotel there. She said: “Where’s my ticket?”
But I got food poisoning in Brazil, and the doctor said my liver was swollen and I had to stay a couple more weeks. I was supposed to be playing with Miles, but I stayed another week, because I didn’t want to endanger my life. When I got back, he’d already replaced me with Chick Corea. Later, I found out that Miles knew that myself, drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Wayne Shorter all had record contracts of our own and had talked about leaving his band. He realised that if he moved Chick into the group, he wouldn’t have to start from scratch when Tony and Wayne left.
But I was in love with that band – we were having such an amazing time, and there’s nothing like accompanying Miles Davis. What he did was always genius. And Wayne Shorter, too. I couldn’t figure out how I’d ever leave. But moving on opened up a whole new side of my career I hadn’t explored before.
“Mind Over Matter: Zen in Medieval Japan,” at the Freer Gallery of Art (an arm of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art), is a show of ravishing absence: a stark and beautiful exhibition where form is plunged into silence, and the ego dissolves into empty space. Large and majestic screens support landscapes almost impetuously spare. Kanji tumble down calligraphy scrolls. Cracked teacups become portals to a world of impermanence.
It offers a fine introduction to Japanese (and some Chinese) painting from the 14th to 17th centuries, but there are other reasons you may find it worth your visit. Really, this is the exhibition for anyone in 2022 wishing that the anxious, gasping world outside would just shut up.