Vote Miles

Another election day, another depressing one. Regardless of party identification, for people who value governing and a society that is in line with supposed American political and cultural ideals, it’s a tough day. People like us vote because we believe in being citizens, but we’re left to choose mostly among people who care about protecting and preserving their personal fiefdoms, as imaginary and pathetic as they may be.

Since the election of 2008, each to follow has been a Miles Davis election. What I mean is that the fact of an Africa-American man as head of state, in the highest position of authority in the land, has ripped off the thin scab of racism and let it out howling. White people of every persuasion and age group across the country have been driven mad by this. These are white people who belief they are the guardians of America, when they don’t have a clue what America is, what American culture is. At it’s core, this country and culture were built by slave labor and and are indebted to African American culture. Blacks have been in America for 500 years, a far deeper lineage than most whites can claim. Who’s country is it anyway?

But those with money and poltical power think they own the country. That’s why they call Obama the “usurper,” a nonsensical word in an electoral democracy. Somehow, he stole something that wasn’t his right, no matter that most voters choose him.

This story from Miles’ life is the same, avant la lettre: in 1986, Miles was at the White House for a reception for that year’s Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievment Awards. As he relates in his autobiography:

At the table where I was sitting, a politician’s wife said some silly shit about jazz, like “Are we supporting this art form just because it’s here in this country, and is it art in its truest form, or are we just being blasé and ignoring jazz because it comes from here and not from Europe, and it comes from black people?”

This came from out of the blue. I don’t like questions like that because they’re just questions from someone who’s trying to sound intelligent, when in fact they don’t give a damn about it. I looked at her and said, “What is it? Jazz time or something? Why you ask me some shit like that?” 

So she said, “Well, you’re a jazz musician, aren’t you?” 

So I said, “I’m a musician, that’s all” […] “Do you really want to know why jazz music isn’t given the credit in this country?” […] “Jazz is ignored here because the white man likes to win everything. White people like to see other white people win just like you do and they can’t win when it comes to jazz and blues because black people created this. And so when we play in Europe, white people over there appreciate us because they know who did what and they will admit it. But most white Americans won’t.” 

She looked at me and turned all red and shit, and then she said, “Well, what have you done that’s so important in your life? Why are you here?” 

Now, I just hate shit like this coming from someone who is ignorant, but who wants to be hip and has forced you into a situation where you’re talking to them in this manner. She brought this on herself. So then I said, “Well, I changed music five or six times, so I guess that’s what I’ve done and I guess I don’t believe in playing just white compositions.” I looked at her real cold and said, “Now, tell me what have you done of any importance other than being white, and that ain’t important to me, so tell me what your claim to fame is?”

Emphasis mine.

Obama has done something that almost no white person will ever do. Those who hate him can’t stand facing actual importance and accomplishment.

Vote Miles.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.