03/13/14 By Evan Haga
JT Notes: Editor Evan Haga Introduces the March 2014 Issue
My Mahavishnu moment
On the rare occasion when an aspiring music scribe asks me for advice, one piece of wisdom I try to impart has to do with humility. In new writers, there’s often a tendency to mythologize their personal relationship with the art, to turn what should be journalism into memoir. Of course there are appropriate times and places for self-referential criticism, but in most settings it undermines the connection between writer and reader—an affair built on empathy. It may feel in reflection like A Love Supreme descended from the heavens for you and you alone, but in fact the album has reproduced that effect for countless fanatics since its release.
Reading this issue’s extract from Colin Harper’s recent John McLaughlin bio, Bathed in Lightning, I’m tempted to recount my own Mahavishnu Orchestra breakthrough with the melodrama of a freshman essay. Absolutely, Birds of Fire hit me like an alien transmission when I heard it at 15, having already developed abiding interests in hard blues, straightahead jazz and Jimi Hendrix. I became infatuated with Mahavishnu-era McLaughlin—not just his brashly virtuosic playing, but his aesthetic of holistic devotion. He didn’t seem to want to think about anything except music and the guitar, and neither did I. Sure, my dedication stemmed from a lack of dates and a driver’s license while his dovetailed with an allegiance to an Indian spiritual guru, but no matter. There we were in my mind’s eye, dressed head-to-toe in white and trading fiery licks on matching Gibson double-necks.
I will be the first to admit that this wistful fanboy memory is shared by thousands, maybe millions. Most open-minded jazz guitarists in their 50s could tell you something similar, and their tales are no less important than mine, despite the fact that you’re reading my version and listening to theirs at the bar. I’ve abused my autobiographical privileges, and I’d like you to do the same. Let me know about your Mahavishnu moment: [email protected]
Originally published in March 2014