Give & Take with Musician Sonny Rollins ~ Tricycle Magazine

Lessons for living from one of jazz’s all-time greats

Interview by Gabriel Lefferts

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Photo from Allstar Picture Library Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

 

When Theodore Walter “Sonny” Rollins traveled to Japan in the mid-1960s—the first of several journeys the iconic jazz musician would take to East and South Asia to study yoga, meditation, and Eastern philosophy—he’d already seen enough peaks and valleys to fill a lifetime. In the two decades prior, Rollins had become renowned in his hometown of New York City for his distinctive improvisations on the tenor saxophone, but in that same period he served a ten-month jail term for armed robbery and spent years battling a heroin addiction. One of the jazz greats who found support in meditation and Eastern thought (along with John and Alice Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock, to name a few others), Rollins forged an eclectic spirituality informed by Buddhism, Hinduism, the Moravian Church of his youth, and even Egyptology.

Around fifty years later—some forty more albums, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, and a Kennedy Center Honor under his belt—Rollins, 89, lives a quiet life in retirement in New York’s Catskill Mountains. In anticipation of a new album of previously unissued recordings to be released by Resonance Records this fall, Tricycle spoke with the celebrated artist for a retrospective on his life and music.

Do music and spirituality overlap for you? Well, I hope so. Playing the saxophone put me into a very spiritual area, but I wasn’t really aware of it until I began getting interested in yoga. Then I realized they’re a part of the same thing.

What is that thing? What does spirituality mean to you? It means something that’s not seen but felt. Something I feel, but I don’t know what it is. And it’s something very different from living life. When I think about spirituality, it elevates me from the things that I have to go through in life.

I’ve often heard musicians talk about the experience of transcending their sense of self at the height of a live performance, but you have also said that there is an ethical dimension to this experience. How do you see the relationship between ethics and spirituality? They’re one and the same. I realize, though, that just because someone follows Buddhism or any other religion, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an ethical person. I’ve heard about a lot of people who are supposed to be “religion-ist” in other religions, whatever they might be, but they’re not necessarily what I would consider ethical people. When I look for ethical people, I look for people like Paramahansa Yogananda [author of Autobiography of a Yogi]. I’m very wary of those who don’t connect spirituality with ethical behavior.

Do you have a daily practice? I still read my books by Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna [19th-century Indian Hindu mystics] to this day, and I try to live by the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule has always been a thing for me. Every religion—Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, every religion that we know of—talks about it: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Rollins, center, in Powai, Mumbai, India, 1968 | Photo courtesy Jehangir B. Dalal

Were you always able to follow that principle? I accept reincarnation, so I feel that when I came here on this ship, I was already inculcated with certain Golden Rule–type values. Now, that didn’t mean that I was going to embody them [right away]; I had to relearn them, if you will. Early on I was a person that had good values, but, of course, I had a rough life. I had to live a life in which I used and did some crazy things for drugs.

It’s one thing to love music, but to be a musician in that period of time, the 1930s, there were so many other social problems involved. Many of the people whose music I was attracted to were guys that were using drugs, and we thought, “Well, gee, let’s use drugs [too].” And then came the rough period.

Something happened one time when there was a girl that I was involved with who was a drug addict, too. She was also a prostitute. She once had this john, and after coming back from him, she said, “This guy’s got a lot of money up at his house.” Maybe three of us went up to his house and started beating him up trying to find his money. Just thinking back on that, I thought, “Wow, we could have killed that guy.”

I really got involved with drugs trying to live like one of my idols, but one time recording with him I got the message that the last thing he wanted was to have young guys like me following him into drugs.

Today, in retrospect, how do you regard that younger self? Well, this is where my appreciation of Buddha and spiritual practices really kicks in to the real world. I realized that there was something that I should be doing, and that was when I made my attempt to get away from drugs. It was hard, and once I got through the cure [a stay for four and a half months at a substance abuse rehabilitation center in Lexington, Kentucky], I had to contend with the temptation of people still wanting me to get back into it. I had to struggle, fight it, show some strength—and I did.

I was so anxious to see the fellow that was my idol, the musician, to let him know that I got his message, but he passed away a month or so before I got out of Lexington. Somewhere, somehow, I’m sure he knows what happened.

At 89 years old, you’re retired and for health reasons haven’t been able to play the saxophone since 2014. What are your goals now, and what challenges do you work with? To live by the Golden Rule, that’s my challenge.

I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person. That, to me, is the way that we’re supposed to live. And since I accept reincarnation, I understand that each time I come through a consciousness, the point is to get closer to understanding and practicing this.

It’s so obvious now, but it takes time to understand it. So to answer your question: that’s what I’m doing now.

An Encouraging Rollout for the Biden-Harris Ticket ~ The New Yorker

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris walk together in front of an American flag wearing face masks
In her first speech as the presumptive Vice-Presidential nominee, Kamala Harris prosecuted the case against Donald Trump and showed a deft political touch.Photograph by Carolyn Kaster / AP

For the past few months, the 2020 Presidential campaign has been largely reduced to a virtual phenomenon. Wednesday’s rollout of the Joe BidenKamala Harris Democratic ticket was a covid-19 hybrid. Heavy rainstorms lashed down on a crowd of spectators that had gathered outside of A. I. Dupont High School, in Wilmington, Delaware, where the candidates were scheduled to appear. Then the power inside went out, delaying things by about an hour. When Biden and Harris eventually emerged together, they were both wearing black masks, which they took off to the strains of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.” “Hello hello,” Biden said to the members of an expanded press pool. “Thanks for being here. I wish we were able to talk to the folks outside, but we are keeping our social distancing and playing by the rules.”

‘Bad Boy’ and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. woopin it up

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Falwell with his pants unzipped, belly showing, part of his beard painted and his arm around a young woman.

The caption on the now-deleted post reads, “more vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.”

 

The Teenage Tinkerer Behind an E-Bike Revolution ~ NYT

After reading/riding and researching for a year, I bought a Rad Power Bike because of the quality, the ride and the price which was affordable.

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Mike Radenbaugh dreamed up Rad Power Bikes over a decade ago in his family’s garage and now sets the pace for affordable battery-propelled bicycles.

Credit…Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

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The residents of Garberville, Calif., didn’t know what to make of 15-year-old Mike Radenbaugh and the odd motorized bikes he was concocting in his family’s garage.

It was 2005, the home-brew era for electric vehicles, and there he was, a high school freshman zooming by at up to 35 miles an hour, not even pedaling. He seemed to defy gravity as he ascended the region’s steep winding roads lined with 300-foot redwoods.

As the captain of the school’s mountain-bike racing team, he had collected a heap of spare frames and parts. Mr. Radenbaugh started tricking them out with old motorcycle-starter batteries, moped motors mail-ordered from Japan and crude powertrains held together with bungee cords, pipe clamps and thick layers of electrical tape. “I needed to find a solution where I had freedom as a young person without a lot of dollars,” he said.

Before long, he was making his 16-mile school commute on his electric Frankenbike.

Wires fried and batteries died. But after six months of experimentation, Mr. Radenbaugh had a semi-reliable electric bike. “It got better and better. And it got faster,” he said. “All of a sudden, I’d be riding into town passing slow cars. I quickly became known as the kooky e-bike guy in my little hometown.”

By his junior year, he’d founded Rad Power Bikes. Now based in Seattle, his company approached $100 million in sales in 2019. It has sold over 100,000 electric bikes. Numbers aren’t well reported for this young industry, but Rad Power Bikes is widely considered the largest e-bike seller in the United States.

When he was starting out in Humboldt County — home to back-to-the-landers and backwoods pot farmers — Mr. Radenbaugh fielded requests. “They wanted high handlebars, comfortable seats, powerful motors and long range,” he said. In other words, a blend of a bicycle, moped, scooter and motorcycle. This was in contrast to the few light and low-powered European and Japanese e-bikes available a decade and a half ago.

Sixteen years later, Rad Power Bikes is sticking to its formula: comfort, power and simplicity.

And that was before a pandemic sent the whole country searching for a socially distanced way to get around. Throughout spring 2020, Rad’s sales tripled compared with the year before. Many models now have a three-month wait for delivery. What had been a niche product for Humboldt’s aging hippies heading to Burning Man has become a mainstream option for Everyman.

Guidehouse Insights, a market research firm, conservatively forecasts that electric bike sales in the United States will grow to nearly a million by 2023, up from 650,000 this year. “For years we’ve been saying that the market needs a decent, good-quality, relatively high-performing e-bike for $1,000 to $1,500. That’s the sweet spot,” said Ryan Citron, a senior research analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “Rad Power Bikes hit that mark.”

Mr. Citron cautions that Rad, which sells direct to consumers, might lose customers who want to take a test ride before buying. Brick-and-mortar stores also offer e-bikes from the likes of Specialized, Trek and Giant — although commonly selling for $2,500 to $5,000. Deluxe models climb to $15,000 and higher.

Regardless, an accessible joy ride is a welcome pandemic diversion. For the past couple of months, I ditched my car and used a Rad Power Bike as my primary mode of transportation.

The $1,199 RadRunner, one of the company’s top sellers, has extra-fat tires to absorb bumps rather than an expensive front suspension.

Credit…Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

The company sells 11 models: city, cargo, folding and all-terrain options. I went with the $1,199 RadRunner, one of the company’s top sellers. Like most Rad Power Bikes, it’s equipped with a 750-watt motor; that’s the legal limit for a Class 2 bicycle and provides electric assist up to 20 miles an hour. No permit required.

Its battery pack, about the size of a loaf of bread, is 48 volts and 672 watt-hours. It takes about six hours to fully charge from a household outlet. On a mostly flat surface, and with light pedaling, the pack provides 30 to 40 miles of range.

On my first few trips, I wasn’t so much as riding as zooming. The road manners and the ability to cut through back alleyways are like any other bicycle — except my legs had reserves of backup power. Rad equips all its e-bikes with a half-twist hand throttle. It’s irresistible to launch with the flick of the wrist. There’s always a chance to pedal, but it’s not obligatory. It took some pedaling to propel the 65-pound bike up the steepest Berkeley hills. But it’s not onerous.

“Ninety-nine percent of your riding is blissfully electric. It’s an exciting amount of power,” Mr. Radenbaugh said. For the other 1 percent, he says, “you can overcome it with pedaling or by planning your approach to a hill.”

What’s most impressive about the RadRunner is its use of smart design, wringing value from clever choices. The RadRunner has extra-fat tires to absorb bumps rather than an expensive front suspension. The rear hub motor is simpler and more cost-effective than what is known as a pedal-assist mid-drive. The LED controller mounted on the handlebars is basic, but it’s user-friendly and gets the job done. The detachable battery can be brought inside to charge.

Squeeze the hand brakes to engage the 180-millimeter Tektro disc brakes, cutting off the motor and illuminating a rear red brake light. The chunky aluminum frame comes in two colors, black or forest green, and precisely one size, with an adjustable seat post making it adaptable to riders of nearly all heights.

“It’s the Volkswagen Beetle of e-bikes,” Mr. Radenbaugh said. “When we thought up the RadRunner, it was with that sense in mind. What’s the best-selling car in history? What’s the e-bike to do it all?”

Credit…Meron Tekie Menghistab for The New York Times

 

I’ve also been test-riding the RadWagon 4, the company’s latest release. The Runner’s 67-inch length is stretched nearly a foot to 78.7 inches on the RadWagon. This is an e-bike for grown-ups with family responsibilities.

It extends the cargo-style frame to accommodate a long list of accessories: running boards, sturdy metal baskets of various sizes, sizable insulated delivery bags and a Thule child seat. Adding cushions and handgrips for passengers now allows my wife to hop on back for trips to visit friends. I also added a large basket so we can load up on produce at the farmers’ market. The company’s easy universal accessory and mounting system would make Ikea jealous.

The RadWagon has seven gears. The low gears, when combined with a high level of electric power, allow the relatively heavy cargo bike to climb harsh inclines with little effort. But the real fun comes when setting the electric motor to 5, its highest setting, thumbing the shifter to the top gear and pedaling hard. Thankfully, the RadWagon’s speedometer shows when I need to brake to conform with legal limits.

Jeff Loucks, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media and Telecommunications, believes there will be 130 million e-bikes sold globally between 2020 and 2023. “They make so much sense, especially in a Covid world,” he said. However, he added that the United States still needs to catch up to cities in Europe and Asia with a biking culture and proper lanes to make cyclists feel safe. Cities have accelerated that process because of the pandemic. “People are turning to cycling for transportation, exercise and just to keep sane during this time,” Mr. Loucks said.

Mr. Radenbaugh, now 30, manages a staff of 200 people. He described the current pace of change — and the myriad business challenges it poses — as “hyper-growth.” It’s not easy steering a transportation revolution. He said, “Every night, I feel like my brain was beat to pieces.”

Fortunately, Mr. Radenbaugh has a way to clear his head. Every day, rain or shine, he rides his e-bikes to commute, shop or haul things around. He often uses prototype models to dream up new features and uses. “One of my favorite things to do is e-bike camping,” he said. He has a favorite campground about 30 miles east of Seattle, within reach of the RadWagon’s battery range. That’s where he can forget about the worries of the world, glide through country roads and relive the thrill of riding an e-bike for the first time.

‘How Long a Delay Are We Talking About?’ ~ NYT

Fallon wonders just how far back he wants to push the election: “Months, like your response to Covid? Years, like your response to Putin? Or decades, like a hug for Don Jr.?”

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Credit…NBC

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Trailing badly in the polls, President Trump on Thursday floated the idea of postponing the election (which he can’t do), claiming on Twitter that voting by mail would cause major problems (for which there’s no evidence).

“It’s the presidential election. It’s not the release date for ‘Bill & Ted 3,’” Jimmy Fallon said on “The Tonight Show.” He compared Trump to “that friend who’s been crashing at your house for a while but keeps dropping hints he might need some more time.”

“If he can’t deny it, pretty soon he’ll be like, [as Trump] ‘Republicans should all vote on Nov. 3, but we’ll have Democrats vote at a later date T.B.D.’” — JIMMY FALLON

“Americans were like, ‘How long a delay are we talking about here? Months, like your response to Covid? Years, like your response to Putin? Or decades, like a hug for Don Jr.? Just give us a hint.’” — JIMMY FALLON

“I’m not even sure that Trump understands what an alarming proposal this is. Because this is basically the move of a dictator. Trump is just casually throwing it out there with a tweet with a bunch of question marks, like he’s in a group text to bail on happy hour. [as Trump] ‘Hey, y’all, Nov. 3rd’s not great for me — maybe we reschedule to 2021?” — TREVOR NOAH

“And by the way, media, yes, there are some Republicans saying the election will happen on time. Stop giving them credit for that. That’s not a courageous stand. It’s just the bare minimum. Just because the bar is all the way on the floor doesn’t mean we have to give them credit for stepping over it. It’s like if your burnout son gets an ‘F’ on a history final and you say, ‘Look who showed up and took the test. I’m so proud of you, Scooch!’” — SETH MEYERS

“So with the economy in crisis mode and deaths continuing to soar, obviously this is all bad for President Trump’s re-election hopes. And today, Trump came up with a brilliant new strategy for the election: Just don’t have one.” — TREVOR NOAH

“President Trump on Twitter this morning suggested postponing November’s presidential election, but just until the Republican Party can find a viable candidate.” — SETH MEYERS

“That’s right, Trump isn’t actually allowed to delay the election. Although not being allowed to do something has never stopped him before.” — TREVOR NOAH

“No, he can’t reschedule the election. For starters, both candidates are like 200 years old — I mean, we gotta keep things moving.” — TREVOR NOAH

“When they saw Trump’s tweet, JetBlue was like, ‘Trust us — when he says delayed, he means canceled.’” — JIMMY FALLON

“We’ll still have the election on Nov. 3, but he’ll probably just add a hundred days to August. And sure, maybe the court overturns it, but that might not happen until August 73rd.” — TREVOR NOAH

Mothers’ Power in U.S. Protests Echoes a Global Tradition ~ NYT

When mothers take to the streets — particularly those from privileged groups — governments take note. The “wall of moms” in Portland has taken up the cause against police violence.

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Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

 

Wearing matching shades of white or yellow, the women of the “Wall of Moms” in Portland, Ore., have become instant icons of the city’s protests, though the mothers nightly gatherings only began last Saturday and the city’s protests have been going on for more than a month.

They join a long line of mothers’ protests against state violence and what they view as authoritarianism around the world, including in South Africa, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Armenia, which have shown that mothers can be particularly effective advocates for a cause — but also that there is a catch.

History suggests that mothers’ power is most potent when they are able to wield their own respectability, and the protections it brings, as a political cudgel. But that is easiest for women who are already privileged: married, affluent, and members of the dominant racial or ethnic group.

Mothers who are less privileged often struggle to claim that power, even though they are often the ones who most urgently need it.

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Credit…Gallo Images, via Shutterstock

“I wanted us to look like moms,” Ms. Barnum said in an interview. “Because who wants to shoot a mom? No one.”

Ms. Barnum said she identified as Mexican-American, not white, but other members say the group is mostly white.

Mothers’ protests are often powerful precisely because the gender roles that ordinarily silence and sideline women, allowing them to be seen as nonthreatening, turn into armor for political activism, experts say.

During Armenia’s 2018 “velvet revolution,” a largely nonviolent uprising that eventually toppled the country’s leader, Serzh Sargsyan, mothers took to the streets pushing their children in strollers, indelibly tying their maternal identities to their political demands.

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Credit…Vano Shlamov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

 

In Armenia, “mothers are symbolic to the nation and, to some extent, have immunity in protests,” Ulrike Ziemer, a sociologist at the University of Winchester in Britain, wrote in a 2019 book chapter about the uprising. “If police would have touched mothers with their children in prams during the protests, that would have brought shame on them individually, but also on the state apparatus they represent.”

In the Armenian protests, mothers from all walks of life were able to claim those protections, Dr. Ziemer said in an interview. But in societies that are divided along racial or ethnic lines, mothers from marginalized groups cannot access that full political power so easily

In South Africa, the Black Sash, a group of white women who opposed the apartheid regime, were able to use their gender and race as a shield for their political activity that others could not.

“The Government has let Black Sash survive while closing down other anti-apartheid groups in part because white South African society has perched its women on pedestals,” The Times reportedin 1988. “The police find it awkward to pack the paddy wagons with well-bred troublemakers who look like their mothers or sisters.”

Members of the Black Sash movement demonstrating against apartheid in Cape Town, South Africa, in the 1970s.
Credit…Gallo Images, via Shutterstock

 

The government had no such compunction about locking up Black women. Albertina Sisulu, a pioneering Black anti-apartheid activist who was also a married mother of five, was arrested and held in solitary confinement multiple times. Countless other Black women suffered even worse fates.

In Sri Lanka, women from the Tamil minority group have been protesting for years to demand information about sons and daughters who were kidnapped by state forces during the country’s civil war and never heard from again. Their activism has drawn international attention and some limited engagement from the country’s government.

But when the women’s demands went beyond their own individual grief and engaged with politics more broadly, national politicians and civil society groups dismissed them as pawns of male activists, said Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, co-director of the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, a Sri Lanka-based think tank. As members of a marginalized minority group, she said, motherhood could take them only so far.

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Credit…Reuters

In the United States, there is a long tradition of Black women claiming their identities as mothers when protesting against police shootings, lynchings, and mass incarceration. But, like the Tamil activists in Sri Lanka, they have tended to be viewed through the narrow lens of their own grief and fear for their children. White women have typically been taken far more seriously by white audiences as representing mothers generally — another case of bias on display.

Ann Gregory, a lawyer and mother of two who joined the wall of moms in Portland on Sunday, said they had hoped to serve as a buffer between other demonstrators and law enforcement.

“We realize that we’re a bunch of white women, and we do have privilege,” she said. “We were hoping to use that to protect the protesters.”

Instead, the women got a crash course in the grievances that had set off the protests in the first place.

Ms. Barnum, new to such activism, said she was surprised when other demonstrators warned her group that they could be in danger.

“The news said that if you give the police officer a reason to fear for their life, a reasonable fear, they could hurt you,” she said. “But if you didn’t give them a reason then they wouldn’t hurt you.”

The moms, she reasoned, would be peaceful and give the officers no cause for alarm, so had no reason to worry.

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