A review of, and reflections on:
— Straight Life: The Story of Art Pepper, by Art Pepper & Laurie Pepper (1979)
— Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman, by Laurie Pepper (2014)
I read Straight Life years ago, when not kike-wise, so wanted to re-read now with my knowledge of kikery. It’s Art Pepper’s recorded oral memoirs (over 7 years), transcribed by Laurie Pepper (his third and last wife), and edited by her, interspersed with multiple contemporary record and concert reviews, articles, news stories (his arrests, etc), and reminiscences of their friends and colleagues. Art didn’t read any of it until a week after it was published, but he loved it, and praised her. After it was published, in 1979, he became more successful and popular than ever before, and he played, toured and recorded, and was interviewed and praised until his death in 1982.
Straight Life does have a lot of stuff that would really only be of interest to musicians and Pepper/Jazz fans, but is, overall, worth reading for anyone who wants to read a good personal, very personal, history of US music and drug and prison life and pop culture from the 30’s to the 70’s.
I wanted to read Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman to get a better idea of Laurie Pepper’s role in the writing of Straight Life. Conclusion: She did all the work in putting Straight Life together, but she herself is not very interesting and is not a good writer. Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman is mostly interesting as a look into how screwed up K’s are. It’s easy to see why she hooked up with Pepper, and he with her.
Laurie Pepper, in Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman:
“I need to try to explain my ambivalence about my role as Straight Life’s co-author. […] One reward for staying in the background was we [girls] wouldn’t have to prove ourselves continually like boys did. […] I feared criticism like I feared death and didn’t try for praise in case I got the opposite. […] I lurked safely in Art’s giant shadow and basked in his regard. You could say I was being sly, trying to have it both ways, hoping that the world would recognize me in spite of my enchanting demureness. If I was doing that I didn’t know it (though after more than 30 years, it’s pretty much worked out that way). Back then I was in the familiar feminine trance which saved me from self-knowledge, excessive satisfaction, and excessive pain. Art, though, was wide awake.”
Laurie Miller/Pepper was always desperate to have some meaning or purpose, and couldn’t satisfy her family (one half “bohemian” dancers, musicians and actors; the other half dour Trotskyites), especially her father. So she ended up a druggie, semi-beatnik semi-hippie (“hanging out with” (as a press photographer, talking kike trash and getting stoned with) Lennie Cohen, Dave Freiburg, Tuli Kupferberg, Eve Babitz, Joni Mitchell, at the time she met Art), in flakey cults, in rehab, “attempting” suicide, and so on.
Becoming Pepper’s minder, carer, boss, slave, fellow druggie, manager and interpreter was Laurie Miller’s way of being “significant in the culture”, getting published, being taken seriously. She seems like a relatively nice Kikess — quite screwed up, but about as good as a Kikess could be in spite of coming from such a screwed-up background. She’s not blatantly anti-Christian (I guess she’s probably offended by genuine Christians, but seems to envy American “cultural Christians”, and wants to be part of their world, for its normalcy, without any sort of theological component), loves Christmas, is not anti-White, and I guess she shared Pepper’s extreme distaste for all-talk-no-talent Negroes, and his hatred of Nigger thugs — both types they must have had to deal with in the music biz and in the drug world.
DOPE. TORTURE, QUEERS, NIGGERS
Art Pepper, in Straight Life, writing about his first heroin use:
“I knew I would go to prison and that I wouldn’t be weak; I wouldn’t be an informer like all the phonies, the no-account, the non-real, the zero people that roam around, the scum that slither out from under the rocks, the people that destroyed this country, that destroyed the world, the rotten, fucking, lousy people that for their own little ends — the black power people, stinking motherfuckers that play on the fact that they’re black, and all this fucking shit that happened later on — the rotten, no-account filthy women that have no feeing . . . . All I can say is, at that moment I saw that I’d found peace of mind.”
His second wife Diana left him, and was staying with their friends, who told her she had to go and sell her ass to pay for rent and dope. So she propositioned a detective, and got arrested, and then offered Art to the cops in exchange for letting her go. He was picked up with half a gram of coke, and after getting beaten by detectives, and after months waiting for trial at the L.A. County Jail, he got 2-20 years, and was sent to San Quintin.
Art Pepper, in Straight Life, describing arriving in San Quintin in 1961, and being shocked at the depravity, even after years of doing time at Chino, Terminal Island, the Fort Worth Public Health Service Hospital (a Coast Guard Psych prison/hospital) and L.A. County Jail (twice):
“A black sissy […] would be wiggling and swishing and sashaying and singing, and all these guys would be saying ‘Saaay, baby! Saaay beautiful! Saaay honey! Boy, I’d sure like to have some of that! You’re sure beautiful, gal!’ All this sickening shit, guys looking at you, animals. There are guys that lift weights, that got all kinds of muscles, and they’re flashing and posing and trying to prove something I don’t know what or to who. I thought, ‘What kind of creatures are these? What are they trying to do?’ What are they doing, that they’d see some guy that was young and tender looking and they were trying to impress him? They were trying to get him hot. Can you imagine a bunch of men trying to make another man hot? And make them want them rather than some big spook or some double-ugly southerner? […] I wanted to kill them all. I thought if I just had a knife or a gun or some poison gas. […] Can you imagine these showers? Twice a week!”
Imagine it? You can just turn on a TV now, or go to the Y.
Art Pepper, in Straight Life, on Penn’s price in San Quintin:
“Penn was a nice guy, kinda sweet, slender. He had pretty skin. You know how a girl looks when she’s young and she goes to the beach a lot, a blonde, when her hair is kind of brownish-blonde on her arms and the sun hits it? Well, Penn had hairs on his arms like that, and he had real pretty hair, little curls, and he had beautiful blue eyes, He looked a little like a sparrow, and he loved me because he loved jazz, and he’d follow me around.”
For weeks, some ‘cat’, a lifer, in for multiple murders, including prison murders, is staring at Art. He approaches Art finally and offers to buy Penn, because the lifer has no friends, because he hates everyone and everyone fears him, but he wants a “woman’, and asks Art how many cigarettes he wants for Penn. Art tells the guy that Penn is not his property. The guy won’t accept that Penn doesn’t belong to Art, and thinks Art is just bargaining to raise the price. He tells Art to make up his mind what price he wants to set for Penn, and walks away, warning Art to not mess him around.
Penn’s friend Bob tells Art they should sell Penn to the guy, and then kill the lifer. Penn begs Art not to sell him. Art goes back to meet the guy, and explains that Penn is really just his friend, and can’t understand why the guy doesn’t believe Art and keeps trying to buy Penn. After talking for a while they realize that Bob set the whole thing up, telling the guy he had to pay Art, with Bob getting a cut, and then getting Art and Penn to pay Bob to kill the lifer but probably just to hit them up in a scam. So the lifer then tries to kill Bob, who is then transferred out.
Kameraden in San Quintin:
“I’m half German and half Italian. [Jerry Maher’s] full German and violent. […] We would get together and talk about what we were going to do to our wives when we got out. We devised tortures. Our favorite plan was to rent a house with a cellar. I’d get Diane and he’d get his old lady, and we’d put them in this cellar and chain them up. Then we’d get a real powerful stereo set and put speakers all over the walls; we’d have sounds of trains and airplanes and war sounds and people screaming; we’d turn the speakers on at all different times of the day and night; and they would never know what time it was. They would never see daylight. We would come in with black hoods over us and beat them with whips. We’d make them give each other head, and then, just before they’d come, we’d beat their cunts with whips. We’d pour ice water on them. We would go on for hours, and there was nothing we didn’t envision: water tortures, lighted bamboos under their toenails.
“[…] ‘You have a visitor.’ It had been two years since I’d seen Diane. When I saw her my immediate reaction was I wanted to kill her. But I wanted to contain myself until I could get at her, so by an unbelievable strengthening of my will and the greatest acting job I’ve ever done I acted cool.”
After getting out of San Quintin, on parole:
“I got her [Diane] all worked up until she’s wigging out with passion. I got her just to the point where we’re going to ball and then I looked at her and spit in her face. ‘You slimy, stinking, bastard bitch!’ I grabbed her by the throat. I told her, ‘No, I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to make you suffer like you’ve never suffered in your life before!’ I let her go and backhanded her as hard as I could in her mouth, and I threw her against the wall. I smashed her against the wall and I told her, ‘Don’t touch me, you slimy, filthy bastard!’ She begged me, and she crawled along the floor. She had blood running out of her mouth, and I almost had a feeling of pity for her, but I thought of what she’d done to me and I said, ‘Don’t touch me, you dirty bastard!’
“I stayed with her. And whenever she got to the point where she was ready to kill herself I’d ball her and pretend that everything was alright. Then, when she thought everything was cool, I would turn on her again. I found this beautiful little Hollywood girl up the street and balled her, and I let Diane know about it. I put her through hell, and I felt she deserved every bit of it. But what happened is I got hooked and I couldn’t continue. And then we were both hooked, and that ended my revenge.”
Back in San Quintin:
“One day I was sitting in the yard. […] I got with a guy named Sleepy, and I was sniffing glue with him. […]
“A guy came up to me and said, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ I said yeah, and he said, ‘There’s a friend of mine wants to talk to you, has eyes for you, She, er, he likes you. He’s been watching you.’ […] There were some dangerous homosexuals in prison, and I knew the names of these guys, so I said, ‘Well, who is it?’ The guy—I could tell he was a little swishy himself—said, ‘Mandy.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, my God, Mandy!’ […] I told the guy, ‘Yeah, well, I’ll talk to him.’ He said, ‘ He’s waiting for you down in the lower yard.” […]
“Sleepy […] said ‘Man, I’d give anything in the world if that cat sounded me! […] Man, I would give ANYthing! […] This guy will really take care of you. You won’t have to sniff glue. Whatever’s around, he’ll get it for you. He’ll get you food, good clothes, cigarettes, coffee, all the best. […] You’ve got the chance of a lifetime!’ I said, ‘I can’t make it.’ And sleepy said, ‘Well, be careful then. Don’t offend her.’
“[…] I walk down the same stairway I’d walked down my first day at Quintin with Little Ernie when we saw the guy with blood pouring out of his stomach. […] I look up. There’s a guard on the walkway looking down at me. If I make a wrong move he’ll kill me. I’m going to meet a fruiter that digs me, and I don’t want to incur the wrath of this fruiter or I may get killed by him. I get down to the lower yard, and here are all the Black Muslims on the lower field going through their exercises to get strong so they can kill all the whites. And here’s Mandy.
“[…] We sit down on the lawn, and he [Mandy] says, ‘Look at these black motherfuckers.’ He says, ‘One of these days I’d like to form a group and wipe ‘em out. Kill ‘em all. Aren’t they ridiculous! Look at that monkey-looking motherfucker!’ He’s raging and his eyes are beaming with lust for the violence he’s going to perpetrate on the black people. ‘But,’ he says, ‘That can wait till later. That’s something for the future I’m working on.’ Here’s these maniacs hating the blacks, and the blacks practicing and training to kill all the whites, and the Mexicans are just standing there silent. I’m thinking, ‘What’s going to happen one of these days when all this stuff comes to a head? What’s going to happen to this country?’ Mandy says, ‘Maybe they haven’t been walking over here. I don’t want to sit anyplace that they’ve been near, those stinkin’, yella-teeth motherfuckers, big black niggers!’”
Art Pepper, just out of San Quintin, June 1966:
“We heard music. […] We walked in and looked around. There were a lot of pretty girls. I saw one […] as we got nearer I saw that the bottom of her dress was all torn where she’d stepped on it. It looked like she’d dragged it through the gutter. It was wet and soiled. Her clothes were wrinkled, and you could see dirt in her hair. […] She looked like a death’s head, white makeup, and her eyes were all blackened. […] When you’re in prison you acquire a passion for cleanliness. […] Richard and I had these pictures in our minds of women, how pretty they were and how clean and sweet smelling, a whole fantasy about what we wanted them to be. So we went to the worst place we could go: North Beach in 1966.
“I looked around and saw the guys in Levis, matted dirt on their clothes, boots run over at the heels, ugly, dirty, long hair sticking out, and beards, scraggly and ugly. We noticed that there were a lot of black men. No black women. Just the men dressed in outrageous costumes with weird hats from ‘The Three Musketeers’. I guess they figured that even though these chicks were filthy they were still white, and they were dancing with them, hanging all over them and strutting around. And I could see on their faces a look of ‘Yeah I got this white ‘ho’!’ I thought of all the things that went on in the joint. Richard said, ‘Look at that fuckin’ nigger. Look at that trampy white bitch with that black animal!’ […]
“It was disgusting to us. […] I saw for the first time a halfway decent-looking girl. She must have been about sixteen. She was at the bar, and this real pimp type black guy was slobbering all over her. I walked up to the bar and said to her, ‘What kind of a fuckin’ tramp are you?’ The guy started to say something. I said, ‘Oh, shut your mouth, you black punk!’ I turned to the chick and said, ‘You filthy tramp bitch. What are you doing in here with this black motherfucker? Where’s your class at?’ She wigged out: ‘Oh you white motherfucker! You honkie sons-of-bitches!’
“I realized the hate that I had […] We left North Beach and went downtown to the Tenderloin. That wasn’t as bad. At least there were some people there dressed like human beings. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the young people. They were so corny.
“Richard said ‘[…] You could have killed somebody in there and be right back in that prison.’ And I was close to it. I started fantasizing forming a white vigilante committee. People who’d stick up for the white race and not lay down and take all this hate from the blacks. Who’d be men. […]
“For the blacks, it was beautiful to hate because everywhere they turn they’ve got people to support it and to join with them. […] I was alone.”
Art describes in loving detail how he got more revenge on Diane. Back in prison he had kept obsessing about how when he was first there she said she’d visit him, and he’d wait in the prisoners’ waiting room for a visit, for hours, and she wouldn’t show up. And he’d be disappointed and depressed that she didn’t show up, though at the same time he hated her for having informed on him, and for becoming a hooker with a nigger pimp, and for becoming a dyke. Before he got out of San Quintin, Diane was already in “CRC, a lightweight prison for little kids and lame little girls,” as Art described it. Art: “I was already formulating a plan. I had never been able to do all the things I wanted to do to Diane. I’d put her through a lot, but we’d gotten hooked again and that stopped it. Her claim to fame at CRC was that she was Art Pepper’s Old Lady. All the chicks would say, ‘Wow, is that your old man?’ ” So he again pretended to have forgiven her, and wrote to her telling her how much he loved her, and how he couldn’t wait to be with her again, knowing she’d tell all the other inmates that they were back together, and he was waiting for her, and he was going to come and visit. Then he’d miss his visit, on purpose, and make up an excuse, and tell her how disappointed he was, and tell her for sure he’d be there next week. Then he did the same thing, knowing all her bitch friends would be gossiping and laughing at her. And then he never wrote again. He also never saw her again, because he was in rehab by the time she got out, and then she quickly died from cancer.
Pepper was one of the best musicians of his generation, one of the best alto players ever, an extremely sensitive, caring, selfish guy, with a real mean streak. His “honesty” (he’s honest about what a liar he is) is what lets you see what a bastard he was. He’s all over the place, but you can sense his essential artistic soul in everything he says. He boasts about a crime and then denies he ever did it. He seems extremely intelligent yet stupid, self-aware yet clueless, honest yet devious, insecure yet proud. Almost all his problems seem related to insecurity. Not very original as a story of a druggie — all very standard motivations and problems. But interesting when comparing his beautiful and confident playing with his chaotic personal life.
For me, the worst thing is that he didn’t care for or take care of his daughter. And he hooked up with women who also abandoned their kids, for drugs and selfishness and “the lifestyle” — hanging out in clubs, being groupies, hanging out with (minor) celebs, being on the edge of some arts scene or other (musicians, writers, actors, whatever). His first wife, Patti Moore, grabbed onto him one night, to get his “money shot”, to try to get pregnant before he got sent off to the war in Europe, in case he died. That’s how his daughter was conceived. His parents had told his wife to do that so they’d still have “part of him” if he died. But he never wanted kids, and had twice tried to have a vasectomy, knowing himself what a selfish and screwed-up bastard he was (the first time, the doctor had already made the incision and was about to finalize things when he asked how old Art was, then quit when Art answered “seventeen”; the second time, it “didn’t take”). So he always resented his parents and his first wife and his daughter for her birth, her existence. Anyway, he was always stoned, strung out, nodding, trying to score, broke, and/or in prison or rehab when his daughter was growing up. His second wife, Diane Suriaga, was a Filipina, married with two kids when they met, and she abandoned her kids and begged him to move in with her and let her take care of him with her first husband’s money. Laurie, his third wife, also abandoned and neglected her daughter to be a druggie, and semi-artist, and groupie, and Art’s wife/interpreter.
His relationship with Diane would make a good book, novel or movie by itself.
When they were married, he would say, in interviews, things like, “My wife is the one who’s made me happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Now I really look forward to my older years. I used to be scared of growing up—but not now. Diane has done more for me in one year than others did in all my life’s entirety. Whatever I may do in music from now on and whatever credit I may get for it belongs to her. She didn’t give me back just my self-respect and career. She gave me back my life.” (down beat, 1958.01.09.). In Straight Life (dictated to Diane’s replacement), he describes her as a desperate bitch, who threw herself at him, begged him to let her take care of him, nagged at him, fought with him, and ratted him to the cops. He talks about how much he looked forward to her visiting, but she’d never show up when she said she would, and other inmates would tell him how she was a hooker with a nigger pimp, and a dyke, which was true. Her mum was a dyke too, divorced, always wearing men’s clothes, and Diane despised her. Art hated Diane with a passion he seems to have had for few people.
Art and Laurie both seem to really enjoy relating how Diane died of cancer, and how she leeched off the two sons she’d abandoned, guilting them into taking care of her, and how her junkie son and daughter-in-law then stole her pain-killers as she was dying. Laurie also includes an interview with Diane’s sister, Maria, in which she talks talks about what a selfish bitch Diane was, including how she would often time suicide “attempts” to make sure she’d be found before an OD could be fatal (“She never really tried to kill herself without a guarantee.”), and how she cared more about their poodle, Bijou, than she did about her sons (just as Art says he cared more about the poodle than he did about Diane, though he once pawned the dog to a dealer for twenty bucks). Art says when he met Diane, “I just wanted to be left alone,” but she gave him her car, and bought things for him, and paid the rent; “I just wanted to have chicks I could ball when I wanted to ball.” But, he says, “I got weak”. And, according to him, Diane said, “I want to make love to you. I don’t care what else happens. I just want to make love to you. Let’s go, please. Please.” And then she seduced him — with her cadillac, and a free place to live, and her constant pleading to let her take care of him, and her (soon-to-be-ex) husband’s money (actually his parent’s money) for drugs — so how could he refuse…?
Art, in Straight Life: “This chick [Diane] was fairly nice looking. […] She had a square, squat, Filipino face, and her body was like her face. squat and kind of dumpy. She had black hair, but it was prematurely grey, and she didn’t seem to know how to fix her hair right. She had something wrong with her upper lip. It was a little deformed, which at times was ugly, and at other times, it was a thing of beauty. Probably her best point was her eyes, a little slanted and black. And her skin was nice.”
That was the only nice thing he had to say about her in Straight Life.
Art, in Straight Life: “I wrote a tune that I recorded for Diane. Well, I wrote a tune and named it ‘Diane’. It was a dream of somebody I would have liked to have had, and I called it ‘Diane’ because I figured it would make her happy, and it did. The tune was way to beautiful for her, but what was a name?”
Diane’s sister, Marie, in Straight Life, to Laurie Pepper:
“Diane was always attracted by good looks. She didn’t care how nice someone was, they had to be handsome. Well, she was gonna straighten Art’s hand. I said ‘What about the kids?’ She said, ‘That’s no life for them being around…’ But she didn’t mean that, because she was a very selfish person and just wanted to be alone with Art. She didn’t give a damn about the kids. Even before Art, when she was their mother, she would buy them fifty-dollar suits, which was a lot of money for a five-year-old kid in those days, or very expensive presents, with the money she had, but she didn’t give them the love that she didn’t get. Bought ‘em things constantly. […] She regretted all those years with Art. They could have been productive years. When they were married, all the jobs Art got, he got because of Diane. She really pushed his career, and it was a constant frustration to her. She did everything to help him, his talent. Of course, she could shine in the glow of it, but other than her own selfishness, she truly wanted him to be a great star because she thought he deserved it. […] Every now and then, Diane would see what she was doing to her life, and that really wasn’t the way she wanted to spend the rest of her days. She tried to straighten her hand, but her need for love was stronger than her need for survival. Art meant more to her than her whole, entire life. She loved him to the day she died. […] My mother had lived her own life, and I never loved her because she wasn’t a good mother. She wasn’t the kind of mother I wanted. She was a lesbian and a drunk, and I was always ashamed of her. So was Diane, but Diane wanted love so much, she found her more acceptable than I did. […] Diane was down to sixty pounds when she died. She looked like something out of Hitler’s ovens. She had just turned forty when she died.”
DON’T SCREAM AT E AND CALL ME NAMES AND HIT ME
I guess Art really appreciated Laurie for her honesty, how she worshipped him and took care of him, and how she wouldn’t put up with his head games. And she was also insecure and manipulative, but, like him, essentially decent, more or less.
Art and Laurie’s wedding, at the L.A. County Courthouse, according to Laurie in Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman:
“Our friend, John White, was a minister in the Universal Life Church, a tax-dodging, write-away-for-your-credentials organization. … [Art:] ‘Will you promise me to be sweet and loving and nice and not scream at me and call me names and hit me?’ … [Laurie:] ‘I promise […] Will you quit taking so many pills and drinking so much?’ Art hesitates. ‘I’ll try.’ John says, ‘Art, you’re getting married. You have to promise!’ [Art:] ‘I promise to try.’ ”
Straight Life is about 500 pages long, and Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman about 350 pages. If I were a publisher I’d want to cut out about 75 pages of Straight Life that are a bit repetitive; and cut out about 200 pages of Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman that is just tedious trivia, and a lot of boring stuff about her uncle Sol or whoever, and how she got in touch with herself, yadda yadda yadda; and then publish Straight Life with Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman as an Appendix.
Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman is interesting for a few reasons: The details of his dental problems and addictions and health problems, and the effect they had on his playing; his opinions of other musicians; how it pained her when they toured and he had to play with awful pickup backing-bands, with musicians who used their gigs with Pepper to try to show off, instead of just doing what they were hired to do, and so they’d be changing chords and rhythms in pretentious, incompetent, bizarre “hey, look at me!” fashion, causing Pepper to have to change his melodies and style in order to try to save the performances, and she’d have to leave the club because it was so depressing.
From the perspective of understanding artistic creation, I think her memoir is most useful in letting the reader and listener appreciate the transcendent intensity of focus Pepper must have brought to performances, to make each individual musical performance his very life — a microcosm of his macrocosm — in spite of whatever else was going on in his life and around him.
Art Pepper, in Straight Life, re circa 1966-68, and a rare mention of Yids:
“Cleaning up meant going to the Beverly Hills Health Club. I’d have marks all over my arms, I’d be kicking, and I’d go into the steam room and sit there while sweat pored out of me. I’d feel like I was dying I was so weak. I’d look around and here were all these guys, all these Jews. They were wealthy, they had big Lincolns and Cadillacs, and I could hear them talking about companies merging and directing movies.”
I think a lot about kikery was left out of Straight Life. Perhaps he censored himself, or she knew that such talk would sink any chances of getting published. Sex, drugs, rape, black-white race-hate, armed robbery, “misogynistic” torture fantasies, depravity — all that is “kosher”, but directly addressing kikery is not. He had a lot of good professional and personal relationships with individual K’s. I think when he talked about the lousy, greedy, lying, manipulative K’s he had to deal with, he either just talked in general about scumbags and cheats and lowlifes. Perhaps she edited out any mention of “hebes”, “hymies”, “yids”, “kikes”.
Of course things have gotten so bad now that most people think it’s normal and acceptable for people to get socially crushed, shunned, public-hate-sessioned, legally persecuted, trashed in the media, forced to degrade themselves, and so on, if they say anything that is even slightly allegedly “offensive”. It was only 36 years ago that Straight Life was published. And in it Art Pepper speaks/writes about how he raped a woman (but she deserved it, from his point of view, because she drank his whiskey and then wasted his time and made him walk her home to some village miles from London), and beat his Filipina wife (with pleasure) and tortured her, and how much he wanted to form a vigilante group and kill “niggers”, and how much he hated seeing filthy low-class white women with niggers, and was disgusted by them, and how much he was disgusted by “fruiters”, and how he mostly just wanted to use women for sex and then wished they’d get lost — and the book made him more popular for the next three years of his life than he had ever been, and ‘everyone’ loved him, and he became a star again. Imagine what would happen if, say, David Bowie or Robbie Williams or some other former star wrote a book like that today. I doubt it would be the basis for any happy comeback.
Laurie writes that they were originally going to call Straight Life “Righteous People”, reflecting Art’s basic convict/ex-con/junkie view of acceptable human behaviour. He didn’t care about whether people were criminals or “respectable”, successful or homeless, addicts or sober, and so on, but whether they treated their friends properly, kept their word, didn’t snitch, were true to themselves, etc. It’s all screwed up, of course, because she also writes about how he’d steal drugs off his friends and things like that. Typical druggieness. The thinking is, “if you don’t get caught, then it never happened.” Still, they view themselves and other “Righteous People” as just flawed, and not “Zero People”, like the con-men and other scumbags in the music biz and in prison life, whose entire existence seems to be nothing but scamming and causing other people grief.
Laurie Pepper: “People confided in him [Art] because he was a ‘stand-up guy’. In his personal rule book, you never ratted on other criminals.”
THE DRAGON LADY
Art started hanging out with a rich Chink bitch (Lana — they called her The Dragon Lady) who assured Laurie that she never had sex with Art, while laughing about how she lied to Freddie Hubbard’s wife that she never mudsharked with Hubbard. But Laurie was mostly concerned because The Dragon Lady was supplying Art with even more coke than he usually took, and he’d OD, then Laurie would shoot him up with heroin (she says that’s the cure for a coke OD), then he’d completely sink into coke-heroin-methadone binging until he’d get abscesses on his arms and end up in hospital.
An excerpt from Laurie Pepper’s diary then: “[L]eaving him will be like dying, but staying has become impossible — he’s cruel and demanding and selfish and inconsiderate and false and truly nuts, and he’s killing me. And I love him.”
Finally Laurie Pepper told The Dragon Lady to fuck off, and tried to close their door in her face and shove her out of their house, but Art intervened and let Dragon Lady in (he was probably just desperate at the thought of losing his supply of free groupie-dope). So Laurie Pepper called a friend over, and got the friend to pick The Dragon Lady up and throw her over their garden fence. The Dragon Lady then got into her chauffeured cadillac and went off swearing and raving.
Laurie: “Art was not grossly repentant, but he couldn’t bear the idea that I might leave him, and he started behaving better. And so we were reconciled, or I was made more comfortable, anyway. All along he’d assured me his interest in Lana wasn’t sexual, and I believed him. He said, ‘When I look at her I don’t see a woman. I just see this big gram bottle of coke.’ ”
Pathetic to think of how this great musician was reduced to pimping himself to this middle-aged pot-bellied “dragon lady” mudshark just so he could get her coke up his nose. Kids, stay away from drugs! You never know what depths of depravity you’ll end up sinking to just to chase the dragon!
PROPAGANDA THE ONLY ART RECOGNIZED BY THE MOVEMENT !
I like that Laurie Pepper says she had lots of talks with Hollyjewed types but always rejected their proposals to make a biopic about Art, based on Straight Life. She wanted Johnny Depp to play Art, which I think would be a big clichéd performance. But anyway, she turned down all offers because she knows they don’t “get” Pepper, and would never represent him properly on screen. There might be more to it — perhaps she wanted more money — but I don’t think so. I think her meaning in life is inextricably tied up with being Art Pepper’s main interpreter, and there’s no way she’s going to let any Hollyjewed type just turn their lives into a vehicle, or a project, or an investment, that would most likely just be some stupid race/drugs agit-prop piece. She obviously knows them well, since she describes how her paternal relatives were all hardcore Trotskyites who viewed art as nothing but a way of producing capital to fund further political agitation, or as a vehicle for “raising political and social consciousness”.
“I was a child of hardcore Trotskyists. From the Comrades I’d learned that in the Struggle artists must be useful or else be seen as parasites. Propaganda was the only art ‘The Movement’ recognized.”
The maternal side of her family were, as she portrays them anyway, genuine art-lovers, dancers with KMartha KGraham’s company, violinists who were close friends of Stravinsky, and so on. I think this is why she was almost “prepped” by life to admire and appreciate Pepper’s art, and also had the kike connections and awareness to be able to protect him, promote him and allow him to make his “comeback” (which started mostly in Japan), and to enjoy a good late career.
K Laurie Pepper: “My grandmother, my mother, my artist Aunt Mae, and my violinist Uncle Sol gave me, by example, a lifelong course in Art appreciation. We were made for each other.”
If Art hadn’t met Laurie, I guess he’d probably have just ended up homeless, OD-ing, toothless, unable to even play, in prison, working as a greeter at Wal-Mart… He would not have made a “comeback”, and Straight Life would never have been written.
I think the real key, what made her choose to stay with him more than anything else (besides attraction, which passes), was when soon after they met he mentioned how people had told him he should write a biography but how he couldn’t be bothered. She totally hooks onto that. She cools it a bit after he gets angry at her for nagging him about co-writing his biography, but in the back of her mind she’s obsessed with getting it done. He becomes her project, her validation, her ticket to some sort of artistic and social achievement. Laurie: “I tried to keep quiet and demand nothing of him, really, but that he show up, remain conscious, and tell his story.”
She is very aware of all this. I admire her persistence in continuing to write, and constantly re-interviewing Art, getting him to give more and more details and “dig deeper” into himself, even as her proposals to publishers, and early drafts were constantly rejected, and were disparaged as “a ‘tape-recorded transcript’ of limited appeal only to jazz aficionados.” But she understands that her life is intimately identified with being Art Pepper’s biographer: “I wanted the book published. I craved appreciation. But I really did it because I’d started and I couldn’t stop.”
In one interesting part, after Laurie Pepper had been oyvey-oyvey-oyveying about the plight of the poor, poor, oppressed urban Negroes in Chicago and L.A. slums (which she notes were formerly lovely places built by Whites) — Negroes she was getting down with, maaan, while still finding them scary and repulsive — she stops herself: “I won’t go on. I grew up with Trotskyists. I know how I sound. I won’t dig myself a deeper hole.”
An interesting part of Art: Why I Stuck with a Junkie Jazzman is about Synanon, a kikey rehab cult, with all sorts of bizarre Fifties-Chi-Com-style and Jew-Voodoo type “Game” therapy. Yes, they actually called their formal public-criticism hate-sessions/therapy “The Game”. Laurie: “I’ve been told that this Synanon environment sounds cultish and.or creepy. And much later, long after I left, it did become inarguably cultish and even criminal.” Being K, she still defends it, not seeing that it was inevitable that such a kikey cult would become criminal and full of all sorts of sexual depravity and psychological exploitation.
Laurie, on getting to know Art, and the beginning of their “love affair”: “He had me read pornography aloud sometimes. […] He was a prude, like me, and was nauseated by bestiality or violence, and turned off by homosexuality and orgies (which he pronounced with a hard G). He liked a well-written scene in which a heterosexual couple frolicked together in fairly standard ways. We discovered that we both loved Dracula, Bram Stoker’s original, so I read that to him…” Wow, such Squares, maaan!
Laurie, on when they met: “My new and so far semi-synthetic self-reliant personality was part of what Art fell for. Art really wanted a woman with character and I suddenly had some. And he made it easy for me to give up my rebellion. He had enough of that for both of us. I was mean to him. He liked me that way. and I picked up on it. He didn’t want me to be sensitive and neurotic That was his job.”
Laurie claims she stayed with Art after consulting the I-Ching, but actually people read what they want to hear in the I-Ching….
This song, “Lost Life”, is from Pepper’s “comeback” album (actually his third or fourth comeback), “Living Legend”, after 15 years of prison, rehab, playing R&B backup for lousy rock bands, working in a bakery, etc. The album was picked up in Japan, and he became a star there. I think the album was dismissed in the ol’ US of A because at that time jazz was very political (now it’s mostly just about nostalgia), and was seen as “black music”, and older players (esp. white) were all ‘washed up’, and only a few white players (such as Joe Zawinul or John McLaughlin) were treated seriously, well-reviewed, interviewed, etc, in the K jazz-press, if they played “jazz-fusion”/“jazz-rock”, or had played with famous black musicians, or if they were Hispanic (e.g., Gato Barbieri), or if, like Charlie Haden, they were ashamed of being white and were openly lefty/bolshie/anti-White/proto-SJWs. Then, after he became popular in Japan, American writers were afraid they might end up looking bad in future if they had unfairly dismissed Pepper’s ‘comeback’. (Most critics don’t actually listen to the records. I mean most don’t really listen, but a few literally don’t even listen for a second. Just like certain book reviewers don’t even open up a book they review badly, and some movie reviewers don’t even go to a movie but just copy from other reviewers.)
Art went to Japan, and was pissed off to see that his name wasn’t even on the poster (just Cal Tjader’s band), and that there was no back-up prepared, even though he’d sent arrangements a month in advance. But that was because the promoter thought he’d be denied entry because of his prison record. So when he got through customs the promoter went on the radio and put up flyers announcing the concert that night. And they sold hundreds of tickets right away, and then when he walked onstage the audience stood up and clapped for five minutes, which Pepper wrote was the best entrance he’d ever received and the most appreciative audience he’d ever played for. I’m sure if the record hadn’t been released in Japan, and if he hadn’t become popular there, then the US reviewers would have just kept on ignoring it (the reviewed it a year after it was released) and it would have sold in the hundreds, and he would have probably just faded back into obscurity.
THE GREATEST GENERATION
Art Pepper, on the closest he got to any The Greatest War battle experience (after he had failed to avoid the draft by loading up on bennies, trying to make himself sick by walking around in soaking wet clothes all night, and screaming like a madman at Army psychiatrists): “We entered Le Havre, and I’ll never forget the sight of that harbor. […] The harbor itself was non-existent, so the Seebees had made landing places out of metal stripping.” They were kept on board for three days. “We didn’t know what was happening. It was too good to think we wouldn’t have to get off there and go to The Battle of the Bulge. We had been trained as medics, helpless, no chance of defending ourselves. At the end of the third day there was no one on the ship but the crew and the band. Our warrant officer couldn’t find out why we hadn’t received orders to debark. We wanted to know if we could get off the ship and see the town, so he inquired and found that no American soldiers could go walking around Le Havre because the French would kill them. The Germans had taken the town at first, and there was a little damage, but they just did what they had to do, nothing more. Then the Americans came and took Le Havre back from the Germans and just mutilated the place. They were barbarians, animals, and the French despised them. We weren’t allowed to get off the ship. After five days we were frantic, but at last the warrant officer came back. He sad, ‘I’ve got great news!’ We’d been ordered to Bournemouth.”
For nine months he played in a band for convalescing soldiers at a camp in Bournemouth, and screwed English girls (“with blotches on their legs”) who’d go with him for a piece of mouldy cheese, or a bar of soap, or a pack of chewing gum. Then most of the band was sent home, so he was made an M.P., and spend most of his time trying to get booze, and looking for places to play sax, and if he ever heard any soldiers fighting or shouting he ran the other way, to avoid trouble. Sometimes he had to bring arrested soldiers to a prison in Paris, so he loaded up on contraband to give to French hookers, and then would go and get drunk and stoned and look for clubs to play in. Then he was sent home.
Laurie Pepper: “[Art]’s been characterized as a narcissist but his analyses of people and their social, romantic, and emotional predicaments were perceptive, cynical, and compassionate, and almost invariably, they turned out to be correct.”
Pepper had some very astute observations about John Coltrane (and about life in general), and how unrealistic expectations on him (as a Negro genius/messiah/saint/imam/guru/revolutionary artist, etc) drove him to his death at age 40. Too much is put on the shoulders of talented Negroes.
Art, in Straight Life:
“John Coltrane was a great person, warm with no prejudice. […] He was serious about his playing so he finally stopped using heroin and devoted all his time to practicing. He became a fanatic […] He got so successful that everyone was expecting him to be always in the forefront. It’s the same thing that’s happening with Miles [Davis] right now . Miles is panicked. He’s stopped. He’s got panicked trying to be different, trying to continuously change and be modern and to do the avant-garde thing. Coltrane did that until there was nowhere else to go. What he finally had, what he really had and wanted and had developed, he could no longer play because that wasn’t new anymore. He got on the treadmill and ran himself ragged trying to be new and to change. It destroyed him. It was too wearing, too draining. And he became frustrated and worried. Then he started hurting, getting pains, and he got scared. He got these pains in his back, and he got terrified. He was afraid of doctors, afraid of hospitals, afraid of audiences, afraid of bandstands. He was afraid that his sound wasn’t strong enough, afraid that the new, young black kids wouldn’t think he was the greatest thing that ever lived anymore. And the pains got worse and worse; they got so bad he couldn’t stand the pain. So they carried him to a hospital but he was too far gone. He had cirrhosis, and he died that night. Fear killed him. His life killed him. That thing killed him.
“So being a great musician and being great is the same as being a real person, an honest person, a caring person. You have to be happy with what you have and what you give and not have to be totally different and wreak havoc, not have everything have to be completely new at all times. You just have to be a part of something and have the capacity to love and to play with love.”
According to his death certificate, Coltrane died of liver cancer, and complications with hepatitis. I think Pepper’s observations and diagnosis were still very valid. Coltrane, I believe, wanted to die, wanted to get off the treadmill, saw no escape, didn’t want to be ‘just another musician’, didn’t want to let people down or reveal that he wasn’t what he was thought of and sold as, and his anxieties made all his medical conditions worse and stopped him from getting diagnosed earlier and possibly successfully treated.
A lot of what is happening now with Negroes around the world is due to the unrealistic expectations placed upon them.
A CRAZY CAT
Laurie describing how Art set about trying to get welfare after he left rehab and was sick of working in a bakery; and how he was denied welfare after they didn’t accept that he was physically disabled (though he did have a terrible, inoperable hernia, a massive swelling in his belly — inoperable because he couldn’t be anaesthetized because his liver was shot), so he decided to “act” crazy:
“He went back again and screamed at a psychiatrist, convincing him that he was crazy. He came to my place, after, and said, triumphantly. ‘I scared the guy to death.’ He started pacing, acting it out. ‘He was just cowering. I really raged. I told him that I knew they wouldn’t give me anything because I’m white. I raged and raged. I was stalking around the room, man, the psychiatrist was practically hiding under his desk, just trembling, you should have heard me. I told him that the black people get food stamps and everything, but because I’m white I get discriminated against.’ Art beamed. ‘I really scared the guy, and what I said, that was all true. It just shows you, man. There’s nothing like the truth.’ The psychiatrist was not a fool. Art WAS crazy. He’d proved it with his life. He got the money. Enough to enable him to leave the bakery and move in with me. He said, ‘We can get married now!’ This income he got for his insanity was supposed to prove to me he was good husband material.”
K Laurie Pepper:
“Art talked like an American. He didn’t use my family’s English in that it came from books. Art was ‘the people,’ the real thing.”
ART PEPPER: NOTES FROM A JAZZ SURVIVOR
Released 1982, the year of his death. I think it was filmed in 1981.
Director: Don McGlynn
Art Pepper: Alto & Clarinet
Milcho Leviev (Bulgarian Zhid): Piano
Bob Magnusson: Bass
Carl Burnett: Drums