Mingus, Coltrane, Vicious, and Buddha Having
Lunch in a Greek Diner in Tibet
* A short story as a one act play *
by Joseph Benzola
It is winter in Lhasa, Tibet. The temperature is well below zero and the winds are gusting at a tremendous speed. At the Olympic Diner, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Sid Vicious are having lunch. They are sitting at a booth in the far corner of the diner. Across the way, a ray of bright sunlight enters through the window, bathing the threesome in light. The three men smoke profusely; a cloud of smoke hovers above the table. Mingus is involved in a vigorous soliloquy, Coltrane listens intensively while Vicious listens between nods.
Mingus: Yea man, Yak butter tastes like shit on pita bread, Trane. You know what the best thing to do with Yak butter...
Vicious: Oh Mingus, piss off you bloody wanker! I'm tired of listening to your amphetamine logic.
Mingus: Fuck you, you limy junkie! I'm on a diet. These are diet pills.
Coltrane: Well Charles, I'm very interested in your use of Yak butter.
Mingus: Don't be so condescending ( laughs to himself ). Now I'll tell you. I have made the best sculptures using Yak butter, Trane...
Vicious: ( mumbles to himself) Here he goes again.
Mingus: Yea man, I just finished making a hip statue of Duke Ellington sitting at the piano. Yea... and a few weeks ago I made a statue of Monk with a pork pie hat on his head, dancing that little dance he does.
Coltrane: Well Charles, that sounds wonderful but why don't you use stone or wood or...
Mingus: That's great Trane, that's just real great. Why are you siding with that junkie fuck over there? ( glaring at Vicious )
Vicious: As usual, the fool can't take criticism.
Mingus: What's the problem, Trane? I can't be an innovator like yourself?
Coltrane: No Charles, that's not the point. It's just that Yak butter is a strange medium for sculpture, that's all.
Mingus: Strange? Strange is a strange word Trane. The Nazis are still alive, goose-stepping their way through Germany. Ask Eric Dolphy sometime, he'll tell you about swastikas. Besides that Trane, I used modes before both you and Miles Davis!! Don't forget, I'm an innovator. Remember "Pithecanthropus Erectus" ?
Vicious: Pick your nose via erection? What the hell kind of wanker title is that, Chaz?
Mingus: What do you mean by that shit? Man, it's "Pithecanthropus Erectus," the first man to walk. Man, that is some funny shit coming form a skinny fag that calls himself Vicious. You're no better than Sinatra.
Coltrane: Charles, you still have not answered my question: why are you using Yak butter?
Mingus: ( calls over to the waiter ) Kazi Dawa-Samdup, get me a wine! ( mumbles some profanity while he takes a drag form his pipe ) Yak butter; why do I use Yak butter? Trane, I'll tell you why; do you see any Italian marble in the Himalayas?
Coltrane: I must admit that I don't, but I wonder what they use to build those wonderful Buddhist temples...
Mingus: OK Trane, I'll take that as a no. Tibet has more Olympic Diners than they have Italian marble. As a matter of fact, there is no fucking marble in this entire country, nor is there granite. The only medium for serious artistic work is Yak butter. It's harder to work with than marble, especially when it goes rancid. Man, when that shit stinks it imbues the work with a certain humane quality.
Vicious: This is a piss poor conversation, Mingus! No wonder nobody wants nobody wants to hang with you; you smell like bloody rancid Yak butter! The fucking locals might find some sort of spiritual benefit from it but I think that you lost your mind. What's the matter, you can't find any 15 year old Mexican girls to pass the time with here?
Coltrane: Now Sid, this is a very spiritual country...
Vicious: ( exhaling a huge cloud of smoke from his cigarette ) Come on Trane, this place is a fucking sewer. The blokes here shit in the street. It makes London look like heaven, for Christ sakes!
Coltrane: You have much to learn, Sid. That stuff that you put into your veins dulls your perception of what is important.
Vicious: Fuck perception; there is no future! Nothing is worth living for. I'm just going through the motions, eating gyros at this fucking diner in the middle of Tibet with a bunch of crazy lunes...
Mingus: Crazy? Man, you don't know what crazy is! To know the truth that others don't perceive is what makes you crazy. They gave Bird electro shock therapy because he was sane, you dig? They were trying to make him crazy.
Vicious: ( noticeably mad ) Piss off, Mingus! The fucking bloke was a junkie and an alcoholic. He drove himself crazy! Stop making excuses for him. He was a sax player, not God.
Coltrane: Yes he was a sax player but he was also a messenger. Music was his medium. Bird use to say: "See with your ears and hear with your eyes." That is a profound statement, Sid. The mind of a common junkie could not have expressed and perceived such an idea. There was a lot more to Bird than just music. ( takes a moment to gather his thoughts ) Sid, I was a junkie once, I 'm not blind to what happens. Bird was not proud of what he did and he wouldn't be proud to see you using...
Mingus: ( in disgust ) It's no use Trane, he's a hopeless case. Vicious has all the answers; just ask him, he'll tell you. Maybe you should devote some of your time to playing the bass...
Vicious: What for, so I could become a bitter cunt like yourself? Oh, I could see it now in lights:
Sid Vicious: Virtuoso Bass Player and the Worlds' Most Miserable Person! One Night Only! Tickets: One Hundred Dollars.
Proper Attire Please Christ, no wonder Dolphy puked and died! ( laughs sardonically )
Mingus: How dare you! Dolphy was a saint, you little...
Coltrane: Relax Charles, your blood pressure is going to hit the top of Mt. Everest. ( turning to Vicious ) Sid, why are you so angry all of the time? Eric Dolphy was the kindest man I have ever met. What do you have against instrumental facility? An instrument is only a means of expression for the human condition.
Vicious: Big fucking deal! Who needs to express that? Who wants to be reminded of how pointless the human condition is? If it weren't for smack, life would not be worth living at all.
Coltrane: What about love?
Vicious: Love; well for Christ's sake let me tell you about love. I've fallen in love twice. The first time was with a beer bottle and the second time was with my reflection in the mirror, case closed. A lot of good love did for Dolphy, eh?
Mingus: ( sipping his wine ) Where the hell did these grapes come from, Watts? Don't pay any attention to him, Trane. It's a complete waste of time. He has no idea about beauty let alone love. He might as well be goose-stepping with the Nazis. Yea, maybe he could burn some books while listening to Wagner.
Coltrane: I don't understand any of this hatred. Sid, why don't I believe you when you say that you could never love?
Vicious: I love heroin and a good slice of pizza from time to time...
From the far corner of the room, the Buddha enters through the front door. He is dressed in a simple orange robe with sandals. In contrast to the heated conversation, the Buddha emanates an air of peace and compassion. He spots the table where Mingus, Coltrane, and Vicious are sitting and slowly makes his way to it.
Coltrane: ( sees the Buddha ) Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum.
Buddha: ( smiling ) Very Good John. ( turning to the waiter ) Kazi Dawa-Sawdup, a cup of Darjeeling tea and one hemp seed please. ( turning to Mingus ) So Charles, I am pleased to see that you are involved in another vigorous discussion.
Mingus: As usual, your sarcasm rings loud and clear. What's the matter, you can't dig me because I'm a Baptist?
Vicious: No Chaz, he can't dig you because you're an asshole!
Coltrane: ( noticeably disturbed ) Please, try to act with some measure of decorum around Gautama. ( turning to the Buddha ) I'm sorry Gautama. sometimes these conversations can get a little out of hand. Please forgive us.
Buddha: Ohnedaruth, you worry too much. All is forgiven. I realize the cause of a suffering but there is one thing that I don't understand.
Coltrane: What is that Lord?
Buddha: Why every video on MTV is dance oriented? I mean, why don't we see videos of "A Love Supreme" or "The Black Saint and Sinner Lady"? I don't understand this. What is this preoccupation with Janet Jackson and Madonna?
Vicious: They're both some pieces of ass, aren't they? I'm suprised such a bloated bloke like yourself would notice that!
Buddha: Sid, I am of this world. I am not a divine incarnation. Remember, even you posses the Dharma Body.
Vicious: That's about bloody all I posses besides for this fucking leather jacket.
Mingus: So what brings you around here today? Don't you have any temple bells to ring?
Coltrane: ( angered ) Please Charles, act with some respect.
Buddha: That's OK John; I'm use to his tirades. I see that meditation has not had any effect on you Charles.
Mingus: Let me tell you something about meditation. I don't even have time to shit let alone sit crossed leg while staring at the tip of my nose. Do you think that I have nothing better to do?
Buddha: No Charles, I was not implying that at all. I thought that it might help relax you. Look what it did for John Cage...
Mingus: ( in a tirade ) How dare you compare me to that sorry-assed motherfucker! I think that you have been sitting under that fig tree too long. What's the matter with you? That man wouldn't know music if it hit him over the head! Man, all he does is hide beneath the guise of pseudo oriental philosophy and the great white veil of European culture.
Coltrane: Charles, that's not true. John Cage has written much great music. What about the prepared piano pieces?
Mingus: So what about them? They're bullshit just like your so called compositions. How can you call yourself a composer when you use the same four notes all of the time?
Coltrane: You know that is not true, Charles. I'm looking into the nature of things...
Vicious: ( to himself ) Oh I love this; a bloody good fight!
Mingus: What the hell do you mean the nature of things? DO you think that the nature of things can be defined in four notes. Nothing is that fucking simple.
Coltrane: Well Charles, I think that you are right, things are not that simple. Sometimes I don't even know if I'm on the right track at all. I do think though that you are making a gross exaggeration with this four note theory. You know, when you're angry, you seem to take your frustrations out on other people.
Vicious: Fucking eh Trane; he's always frustrated because he thinks with his dick. You're just a pretentious, ego saturated pop tart who acts like a spoiled child everytime he doesn't get his way.
Buddha: ( obviously distraught ) I think that you three should settle down. Obviously Charles, the Tibetan wine does not agree with you. Why don't you try a cup of tea?
Mingus: Ah, the great Gautama Siddhartha, religious deity and culinary critic. I've drunk worse shit than this, believe me. I'm not drunk, I'm just tired of listening to horseshit, that's all.
Buddha: There is a lot to be learned form horseshit, Charles. It is part of the true nature of things. Shit does not perceive anything, it does not judge anything. It knows no right or wrong; it simply is. Perhaps Charles if you are tired of horseshit, you should perhaps listen to cowshit.
Mingus: You're crazy! I think that you're all crazy! Maybe that tea your drinking is spiked.
Coltrane: I understand what he means, Charles.
Mingus: Bullshit, Trane.
Coltrane: Think of it in these terms, Charles. When I'm improvising, I become the music. There is no right or wrong, there is only the music. If I'm using in your terms the same four notes, those notes do not pass judgment on the music or the listener, they simply flow out of me. Conversely, I pass no judgment on them; they simply exist within the maelstrom of expression. They are because they are. Charles, you know this is true.
Mingus: That's partially true, Trane but you have to have control. Maybe if you have a supreme musical intelligence but most people have to be directed. They need some type of road map to discern a destination. Man, most cats would be afraid to let the music flow like that. They're not empty enough to receive the message.
Buddha: Charles, I might not be a musician but I think that I understand what you are saying. Your comments remind me of something that my friend Mister Eckhart once said:
"If it is the case that a man is emptied of all things creatures, himself, and god, and if god could still find a place to act, this man is not poor with the most intimate of poverty. For God does not intend that man should have a place reserved for him to work since true poverty of spirit requires that man shall be emptied of god and all of his works so that if God wants to act in the soul he himself must be the place in which he acts."
Mingus: ( smiling ) Now your talking. I could not have put it better myself.
Coltrane: That was expressed perfectly, Gautama. You are truly a musician.
Vicious: ( sneering ) Blah, Blah, Blah! You should all piss off! The main reason to play music is to get laid and get free drugs. Expression? Emptiness? Since when has emptiness become such a desirable virtue to obtain? People spend their whole pathetic lives trying to fill the fucking hole that religion and humanity seem keen on keeping empty. Emptiness is no grand experience.
Buddha: Sid, I think that you have misunderstood.
Vicious: Oh really; you think I have? Well let me relate to you... oh, what would you Buddhist's call it, a Koan... or Sutra, a story that points to the way? ( collecting his thoughts as he tries to recount details from the distant past ) One night, I was at a party with Dee Dee Ramone in London. Everybody was having a great time. We were all loaded and puking. Dee Dee hands me this little plastic bag full of white powder. He tells me that it's speed and he wants me to sniff some with him. So I said, " No way, I'm going to shoot it!" So I take out my works and run into the bathroom. Now, there are bodies lying everywhere and on top of that there is no running water in the sink. So I look into the toilet bowl and I notice that it is full of piss and puke. So, what the hell! I load me works with the speed and the toilet water and shoot that!!! Let me tell ya; it was great! Now that is emptiness.
Mingus: No man, that is sick.
Vicious: No Chaz, that is making sure that not even God will find a place to reside!! ( Sid laughs vigorously )
Mingus: Why don't you just kill yourself?
Vicious: I live for misery. That's the only thing worth living for.
Coltrane: You couldn't be more wrong, Sid. Now you're acting like a spoiled child. This life is what you make of it. No one said that it was going to be easy. But if you are perceptive enough, you can transcend this misery and turn that into beauty. Art is the key. You're looking for transient pleasure. You'll never be happy with that. Art is the key to higher communication. It is the only way to turn ugliness into beauty. Sid, all you're doing is coping out. That's bullshit.
Vicious: Oh yea, you think I'm fucking running away?? That's why I'm sitting in this bloody diner in Tibet. You should know better, Trane. You can never run away from yourself.
Buddha: You're wasting your time being so negative, Sid. It's too bad, you seem to be quite good at it. You're much better at being negative than at playing the bass. Oh I forgot, you don't consider yourself a musician.
Vicious: I never said that! I said that I was not Rod Stewart or Cecil Taylor.
Mingus: Funny, you look like Rod Stewart with that lop-sided haircut. Man, that is the problem; all of you rock cats think by getting a shitty haircut and coming up with a stupid name that that automatically makes you a musician.
Vicious: And the problem with you is that you think that paranoia and insanity makes you an artist because you can play an instrument. What I say is this... PISS OFF!!!! Nothing is important, especially music.
Coltrane: If you feel that way Sid, why did you become a musician?
Vicious: ( laughing to himself ) Ya know, you guys make me laugh. Why does everything have to become a life and death situation? Come on mates, I got involved in music because it was better than working in a factory or ending up in jail. I was bored so it gave me something to do. It didn't give me the answers to the worlds problems but it occupied my time and gave me money for drugs and sex. Ask the fucking critics why the Sex Pistols were so important. I sure can't tell you.
Buddha: ( smiling ) Sid, whether you like it or not, your work was important.
Vicious: ( sneering ) And who the fuck are you, Lester Bangs? What's the matter chubs, ya want to form a band?
Buddha: Please Sid, give me a chance to explain. Your work was important because you created something. You gave a positive life to anger and hatred. You turned these ugly values into a thing of beauty with an energy all of its own. You will not admit this but it is so.
Coltrane: He's right, Sid. Everyone has a different vision. Who's to say which one is more valid.
Mingus: ( in a state of shock ) What?? He created hatred with music. You think that he should be congratulated for that? Monk spent years in obscurity writing music that was so beautiful that it was meant only for the ears of saints. He was a genius unparalleled! You want me to compare him to some skinny spike head who became famous overnight without any musical skills? You can't convince me that his shit is valid at all!
Buddha: Charles, you must think in a multi-directional manner. Stop using your own reality as a basis for judging everyone.
Mingus: I'm telling you, a white man can piss in the snow and they call it a great work of art!
Vicious: Chaz, if you pissed in the snow I'd call it a work of art. As a matter of fact, it might be the best thing you'd ever done! ( laughing )
Mingus: ( anger turns to laughter ) You're a real shithead. You're lucky that I like you.
Coltrane: ( calling to the waiter ) Kazi Dawa-Sawdup, a cup of tea and a slice of sweet potato pie. ( smiling ) I would like to say something. Music is a wonderful gift. I have been moved and influenced by all types of sounds. Charles, you have been a tremendous inspiration to me and there is no way that I an ever repay you. Sid, I don't quite understand you but I can appreciate the integrity and honesty that you have put into what you have done. What I mean to say is that music is just a reflection of the universe, like life in miniature. You take a life situation or an emotion and put it into music. As musicians if we can accomplish that in our respective forms, then we have accomplished a lot.
Buddha: Amen, John
Vicious: Well... I don't know about you blokes but I'm about ready to split. I feel like building a fucking snowman now. Christ, what is it with this bloody country, all it does is snow. ( turning to Mingus ) So Charles, you paying for lunch today?
Mingus: What's the matter, you don't have any money again?
Vicious: Hey, it's tough to get a gig in Tibet.
Coltrane: ( turning to Sid ) Hey Sid, maybe you could play with me tonight?
Vicious: The great John Coltrane is asking me to play bass? I don't know, me chops are not quite up to it. What do you think, Mingus?
Mingus: Yea, why don't you do it. I'll come down and do an action sculpture of both you and Trane together. Yea, a Yak butter sculpture of both Trane and Vicious. I think I can dig that! ( calling to the waiter ) Kazi Dawa-Sawdup, get me the bill!
Buddha: ( smiling, with his eyes closed ) Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum.
Copyright 1999, 2000 by Joseph Benzola
Amanita Music- The Most Beautiful Sound Inside Your Head
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