John Coltrane was a monument to life, and continues to be as his presence thunders and moans through speakers all over the earth. This is something that I am thinking simultaneously with everything else whipping around in my brain at all times. So, without going into more qualifying details, I’ll just tell you that I bought, without pause, the greatest statistical tome constructed with respect to this man. The John Coltrane Reference is a gigantic, hardcover, 800 plus page textbook, and the editors have compiled every engagement, recording session, radio session, and television appearance, as well as a comprehensive Coltrane discography that rivals all others ever constructed. Pouring over the pages, I selected an LP from my collection to provide an appropriate soundtrack.
Afro Blue Impressions is a portal. It’s a gaping passway that leads into the stirring calm of your frontal lobe, taking in the closest thing it will ever have to the perfect sound. It falls like snow around your house in the soft throes of a winter squall. It falls unobtrusively and unassuming. It hangs like dew to grass. This album is a collection of live recordings by the classic Coltrane quartet from various European tours, though Norman Granz is unsure of the exact dates in the liner notes. Needless to say, this mother tears. Not sure if I command the necessary vocabulary to shuck this son of a gun effectively, so I will try relaying a memory instead.
“Spiritual” is twelve minutes twenty-nine seconds, and would be entirely too short if I wasn’t positive that those tones stretched through space on an infinite plane. It is a funereal dirge that also heralds the innate joy that Coltrane knew was inside of every living thing, and while John described these feelings using a predominantly Christian (and later Indian) paradigm, their universality is unmistakable. I believe that if not every, then most, of his solos can be described with the same caterwauling intensity that he plays with. However, hearing them and processing them is made less difficult depending on experience.
I had been an avid listener of Coltrane for years, but not until a close friend’s death was I able to hear it properly. The first time I heard “Spiritual” with my new ears was off of the aforementioned LP, and it told me everything I needed to know in the sublimely ineffable way that those unknown things come to you. The only way that I can describe the crux of the memory is to say that it was like coming into a good stone, when nothing else is in your mind except “the entire universe has stopped for a moment, and I am not what I was the moment before”.
My knowledge of psychedelics remains off the record, but Coltrane’s drug use during the fifties is well-documented, and even his experiments with LSD were briefly addressed in both Ben Ratliffe’s book, and in the Lewis Porter biography. While I do not condone hard drug use, I can understand someone hearing this voice, arguably the voice, jamming one hundred spikes into their arm, and waiting in abject ecstasy to be washed in whatever brought John Coltrane the unerring power he had on the horn.