Category Archives: Music

Blue Note

 

 

I don’t really know much about music, but I do know Cornel West loves the blues. And part of that love is the love for the Blue notes. Jeff Sharlet described what a colleague theirs  at Princeton University,  Eddie S. Glaude Jr, the chair of the department of African American studies, and author of Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, said about West:

“There’s a way in which you could think about Cornel as a kind of sick soul,” says Glaude. “In the sense that he begins with the dead, with darkness. He begins with suffering. The blue note. And all too often people want to move too quickly beyond that.”

 

According to Jeff Sharlet:

“That’s the American way,” says West when I raise the question of the blue note and it’s dismissal, the common conviction that looking forward means forgetting the past. “ ‘No problem we cannot solve,’” he says, paraphrasing conventional wisdom. Well, that’s a lie. I don’t know why Americans tell that lie all the time.” He laughs, shaking in his chair, mimicking a voice that sounds like a suburban golfer in pants a size too small. “‘No problem we can’t get beyond.’ That’s a lie! But—it generates a strenuous mood.”

 

What is a blue note in music?  I know very little about music. What a shame. I am told that in the musical realm, these notes “between the cracks” of conventional pitches are called blue notes”. For example, a melody in C major might be sung with a note that is halfway between E and E-flat. As the term suggests, blue notes are thought to be particularly characteristic of the blues.

 

The blue note finds its roots in African-American music at the time of slavery and ended up being widely used within blues, receiving the name “C major blues scale,” or just “blues scale”. The term “blue note” is usually translated as “outside note”, due to the fact that this note does not belong to the natural scale. Like the blues it is rebellious. An outlier. It dissents from the conventional wisdom, like Cornel West. This is like the line he liked so much from the poet Leopardi: “I refuse even hope.”  That is the blue note in prose. Quoting Leopardi again, “Everything is hidden except our pain.” That is what the bluesman sees and hears. But it takes what amounts to a religious quest to see it or hear it.

A Jazzman in the World of Ideas & a Bluesman in the Life of the Mind (Part II)

According to the American philosopher Jeff Sharlet:

“(Cornel) West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.

 

West sees himself as utilizing jazz-like improvisations in this philosophy. As Sharlet said, in West “the radical hope he tempers with the tragic sensibility he takes from the blues. “I’m a bluesman in the life of the mind,” he says, “a jazzman in the world of the ideas.” West often makes that statement. I heard him say that when we heard him speak at Arizona State University. He obviously thinks it describes him well. I tend to agree.

Jeff Sharlet told the story of interviewing West when he wanted to find a quote to explain what he meant by a comment he had made. He got down on his hands and knees in his office looking for a book on the bottom shelf. Finally he found a volume of poetry by Giacomo Leopardi, a 19th century Italian poet-philosopher. When he founded he yelled joyously, “This is the Leopardi, brother.” He flips through the pages of a green book. Sharlet described it this way:

“Oh, man! See this one? ‘I refuse even hope.’” He repeats the line, his body suddenly slack, staring at me as if to ask, “Do you follow?” I do, or, at least, I’ll try. West begins to read, rocking forwards and backwards at his hips like a metronome. “‘Everything is hidden,’” he reads, “‘Except our pain.’” He looks up. “Deep blues, man.” He returns to the green book in his hand. “We come, a forsaken race, / Crying into the world, and the gods / Keep their own counsel…’” I bend close, following the rhythm of his handwritten annotations down the margins: “blues,” “jazz,” “blues,” “blues,” “jazz.”

 

The bluesman gets no advice from God. He doesn’t even get to have hope. Sharlet described West as the philosopher of the blues this way:

“The blues, West says, is the suffering that’s at the heart of the American story, both tragic and comic, darkly grandiose and absurdly mundane. Jazz is democracy, or “deep dem-oc-racy,” as West likes to say, emphasis on the first word and the second syllable, the sound of a system we have yet to achieve. “Y’see, you take a military band, it’s like”—West bangs out a martial beat. But jazz? He drums a complicated rhythm. “Under. Below. On the side of the note. Not just the note itself, y’see. It’s a powerful critique.” Jazz—improvisation—is his answer to things as they are, the negation of the status quo and thus the affirmation of another possibility.”

 

And all of this is connected in West with the tissue of religion. When West said that Sharlet said he stood very still and closed the book. He shook his head back and forth with admiration of the poetry. He said it was like relief and gratitude for what he had learned West summed up what he had read to Sharlet this way:

To know the wretchedness of who we are,” he says. “Yet the fact that we know it, is itself a noble thing, because that kind of knowledge means we can know a whole lot of other things.

 

West unlike modern Americans who don’t’ want to know the truth or allow their children to know the truth, West was willing to carry his torch to the back of the cave and see what was there. West believes that is what the blues are all about. Learning from the pain. Not hiding from it. Sharlet described a passage in West’s book Democracy Matters this way:

In a chapter that ranges from the Stoic philosopher Zeno to Emmett Till’s mother standing over her murdered son’s coffin, West quotes Ralph Ellison writing on the blues. I’d copied it into my notebook on the train to Princeton.

“‘The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness,’” I read aloud, “’to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.’”

 

When Sharlet caught on the teacher in West came out. He felt like a triumphant teacher.

 

 “That’s right!” he says. “It’s knowledge the way Adam knew Eve. Adam knows Eve. It’s embracing. Some think it’s just sexual, but it’s not just sexual. To know is to be engaged. The blues knows because the song is an action.” It’s recognition of the death shudder, a naming of the pain. “That’s the way in which a song of despair is not despair.” He points to the craggy features of the Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, staring out from a book cover eye level with West’s desk chair. Beckett, in West’s reckoning, is like Chekov what he calls a literary bluesman. “Brother Beckett. He doesn’t allow despair to have the last word. The last word is what?” He paraphrases Waiting for Godot: “ ‘I can’t go on. I will go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.’ Y’see?”

 

From time immemorial religion has found  sustenance from the deep well of suffering.  I think for West the blues does the same thing.  Not that anyone seeks out suffering. But when it appears at least we can take that from it. West despises what he considers shallow American religiosity that is afraid to look at what is painful. American blues was not afraid to know. That to West is deep religion.

Jazzman in the world of ideas & a Bluesman in the life of the mind (Part I)

Music is very important to Cornel West. Every time I have heard him speak he brings music into the conversation. Music and religion is where his religious quest leads him.

He always comes back to music as being the root of his philosophy. While he says he likes classical music, Jazz and the Blues  are both deeply embedded in the black tradition in America and that is where his heart and soul lies.  West identified with Ella Fitzgerald, Mohammed Ali, and John Coltrane among others.  West called himself, “A Jazzman in the world of ideas and a bluesman in the life of the mind.”

The black musical tradition had to deal with the catastrophe of slavery and the catastrophe of Jim Crowe. That was the cradle of that musical tradition giving birth to both jazz and the blues.   That is what West identifies with. Out of that was also born his prophetic rebellion. The response to being hated and haunted, he said,  was the love supreme of John Coltrane, clearly one of West’s heroes. I like him too.

When West spoke a the University of Winnipeg he was asked by a student at the U of W why he was not more actively engaged in practical politics of rebellion.  West, said his calling was to be a “Jazzman in the world of ideas, which means that I have to sing my song.”  He had to raise his voice there he said.  If he does that  he said he believed he can “put pressure on the status quo that could generate concessions and reforms.” He wants to have impact on the ground but thinks he can do that both from the inside and the outside. Running for office is not what his calling is. “Asking him to run for office is like asking a jazzman to join the military band,” he suggested Though he likes classical music, he would rather play body and soul. “You have to be true to who you are,” says West.

How to we respond to catastrophe, that is the fundamental question,” says West. Do you respond with critical reflection? Compassion or courageous action?  Those are all important and valuable. Or do you respond with callous indifference, dogmatic thinking, and a very tribalistic orientation? Those are not productive. Your reaction to the catastrophe is what counts.

 

He also identified with the love ethic of a James Baldwin or Marvin Gaye or Nina Samone or MaryLou Williams.  According to West, “that is precisely what is needed because the whole planet has the blues.” He wants to be a small part of that grand tradition that leads to critical reflection, love, compassion and courage.  But that is not a black thing. Anyone can join that tradition! We can join it too.  He mentioned a long list of names of people that inspired him. Many also inspired me. West said, You get that from Rabbi Joshua Heschel, George Gershwin, Steven Sondheim, and Margaret Atwater.  I could many to that list: Gandhi, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hedges, Slavoj Zizek,  Arthur Schafer, Woody Guthrie, and Cornel West himself. Among many others. There are many who sing in that choir.

All of them deal with catastrophic consciousness and how do you deal with such catastrophes. You generate some kind of love, some kind of connection with others, mediated with kindness, sweetness and gentleness. Fellow feeling I call that. You have got make such a response a matter of heart and souls says West. That is what the blues are all about.

It’s a human thing. The black musical tradition brings it together in such a powerful way. “It is not just cerebral it is visceral,” says West.

 

Rockin’ Chair and a beautiful young girl

 

 

I love listening to music on long car trips. On our drive from Kamloops to Salmon Arm, looking out at the mountains, often beside the railway tracks,  brought me back–right back–to the days of my youth. Specifically the memories of the summer of 1970. Those memories flooded over me.  With amazing luck I got a job as a porter in 1970 and made a number of trips to British Columbia. Invariably on the trip back to Manitoba I got lonely. I missed my friends and in particular this new girl I had just met that spring Christiane Calvez. She was beautiful and fun and I wanted to see her as soon as possible. But I needed to work to put my way through University. Somehow, I don’t know why or how, the lyrics of a song filled my mind on one of those long train rides back to Manitoba. It was a song I was not even conscious I knew until the lyrics and tune came to me as I sat alone on a seat  on the sleeping car. Those lyrics resonated with my loneliness being so far from home.  The song was “Rockin’ Chair” by The Band.

Rockin’ Chair”

Hang around, Willie boy,
Don’t you raise the sails anymore
It’s for sure, I’ve spent my whole life at sea
And I’m pushin’ age seventy-three
Now there’s only one place that was meant for me:

Oh, to be home again,
Down in old Virginny,
With my very best friend,
They call him Ragtime Willie
We’re gonna soothe away the rest of our years,
We’re gonna put away all of our tears,
That big rockin’ chair won’t go nowhere

Slow down, Willie boy,
Your heart’s gonna give right out on you
It’s true, and I believe I know what we should do
Turn to stern and point to shore,
The seven seas won’t carry us no more

Oh, to be home again,
Down in old Virginny,
With my very best friend,
They call him Ragtime Willie
I can’t wait to sniff that air,
Dip that snuff, I won’t have no care,
That big rockin’ chair won’t go nowhere

Hear the sound, Willie boy,
The Flyin’ Dutchman’s on the reef
It’s my belief
We’ve used up all our time,
This hill’s to steep to climb,
And the days that remain ain’t worth a dime

Oh, to be home again,
Down in old Virginny,
With my very best friend,
They call him Ragtime Willie
Would’a been nice just to see the folks,
Listen once again to them stale old jokes,
That big rockin’ chair won’t go nowhere

I can hear something callin’ on me
(And you know where I wanna be)
Oh Willie, can’t you hear that sound?
(Down in old Virginny)
I just wanna get my feet back on the ground
(Down in old Virginny)
And I’d love to see my very best friend
They call him Ragtime Willie
(Oh, to be home again)
I believe old rockin’ chair’s got me again!

 

I wanted to be home “with my very best friend” so badly it ached. “Oh to be home again.” Today that “I’m pushin’ age seventy-three,” the lyrics came back this time enhanced with the modern technology of an iPod played through my car radio speakers. Memories are good. Life is good. “I just wanna get my feet back on the ground.” It is still one of my favourite songs. And I have lived with that sweet young girl for nearly 50 years. “Oh to be home again with my very best friend.”

Bohemian Rhapsody

Thanks to Stef’s surely legal (?) manipulation of downloadable movies off the Internet we watched Bohemian Rhapsody a new bio-pic about Freddie Mercury and his band Queen. I begin, by admitting I am not very familiar with Queen. Many of their songs were familiar, but I never listened to them closely or followed their fame in the day. I just was not interested. So I did not know their story. All I have learned is from watching this film and listening to some of their songs. I like what Freddie said, “we are 4 misfits playing to other misfits, none of whom belong together.” Aren’t we all like that?

First of all, I was struck by the song, “Keep Yourself Alive.” I repeated to myself the lyric, “keep yourself alive.”  I actually think that is important. Not in the ordinary sense so much, though we all want to keep alive so that does not need reminding, but rather keep alive in the sense of don’t allow your life to become what D.H. Lawrence referred to as  “death in life”. If that what we  have, as Lawrence was true for many of us, we are in bad shape. We should instead, keep ourselves alive.

I think that is what the film is about–i.e. avoiding death in life. Roger, one of the band members said, “there’s no musical ghetto that can contain us.” Later Freddie said, “My father would rather see me dead then be whom I am.”  Hasn’t every son thought that about his father? Yet, I hope mine never did. I also liked the line, “We’ll punch a hole in the sky.” That would surely  keep oneself alive.

The movie celebrated the song after which the film is named, namely, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with its lyrics that are far from clear, in part because of its length. The record company wanted a shorter song, so the band packed up and left that company. Of course it became a big hit.

If you say the lyrics are not obscure tell me what these signify?

 

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
(Galileo) Galileo.
(Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro
Magnifico-o-o-o-o.

I think they fit in some how with the them. Life is thunderbolt and lightning. Magnifico. Though I like the line “I see a little silhouetto of a man.”  I just don’t know what it means. Do you? Give me your theory.

I also  liked their idea of including the audience in the song “We Will Rock You,” where they said they wanted to include the audience as part of the song. And, of course that song has been sung in sports stadiums and arena’s ever since. I remember hearing it many times at the Winnipeg Arena. I just did not know it was a Queen song. I wonder if my lads remember it as well. With its driving beat I always liked this verse:

“Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise
Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day
You got mud on yo’ face
You big disgrace
Kickin’ your can all over the place
Singin’

We Will We will Rock You

We Will We will Rock You.”

 

At the end of the film, when Freddie was dying of AIDS he didn’t’ want sympathy or long faces around him. I remember a good friend of mine who was dying, told me the same thing.  He wanted life until he died. He did not want life in death. “Don’t bore me with your sympathy,” Freddy said,  “It takes too much life away.”

I must admit this movie captured me.  This surprised me. I like it when  movies surprise me. I now think Queen are, “the champions.” In the end, harboring a terminal illness, Freddie struts across and around the stage and briefly, he is the champion, he is alive. I hope we can all be that.

 

Best Covers Ever

 

One day on our drive from Steinbach to Arizona, we listened to National Public Radio in the mornings and my own personal Play list of my own recordings some afternoons.  Listening to interesting conversations or great music makes the miles melt away on a long trip. With all modesty I claim that my play list is the best play list in the world! Chris’ only complaint was that I did not have enough Bob Dylan tunes on it. OK that was fake news.

I noticed that in addition to original recordings I also had some great covers. My personal favorite cover was “Fields of Gold” originally written and recorded by Sting and covered by Eve Cassidy. I recommend it highly. In fact, I challenge my Facebook and blogging friends to come up with their favorite covers. By cover I mean a new recording of a hit by another artist.  It must have been a hit the first time around. I have a few other favorites, and promise to give an incredible prize to anyone who names one of my 3 other favorites. I hope people will participate. Don’t be shy. Live boldly.

800 pound Jesus

 

Driving through Northern Ontario I love to listen to music. One of my favourite artists is Paul Thorn.  He wrote and recorded a song a few years that amazingly won an award for best gospel song of the year while, in the same year, was banned as being sacrilegious.  Which do you think is applicable? Here are the words though I would recommend you listen to it performed by him.

800 pound Jesus

 

I saw a garage sale, pulled in the yard,

Found a statute of Jesus that was 8 feet tall.

He held out his arms and he seemed all alone,

So I loaded him up and I drove him home.

Out by my driveway he looks down the street.

Long hair and sandals made of rebar & concrete.

I painted him white with a long purple Robe.

He’s the Rock of Ages on a gravel road.

 

Chorus:

 

He’s an 800 pound Jesus

Standing taller than a tree.

He’s an 800 pound Jesus

A bigger man than you and me.

I thought losing my job was the end of the world,

Till my best friend ran off with my best girl.

I felt suicidal with no real friends,

So I walked outside with a rope in my hands.

Out by that statue there’s an old oak tree,

So I stood on his shoulders & I counted to 3

I had every intention of buying the farm,

but when I jumped off he caught me in his arms.

 

Chorus

 

I wanted to return the favor to him,

Cause I’ve never had more solid friend.

So I planted some flowers all around his feet,

& I bought him a flock of ceramic sheep.

 

Chorus

Icelandic Punk MuseumIceland

 

 

 

 

Iceland has many attractions. I am not sure that this is one of them, but I loved the anarchic spirit of the posters around this former site of a public washroom. I don’t think my tour guides would have recommended it. the museum wanted to make sure there was no mistaking it for its former position.

 

The museum wants to make sure that it not mistaken for the former “loo.” It  was formally opened in 2016 by Johnny Rotten. The museum claims to be a small museum with a big attitude. It contains photos, sounds, posters, instruments, clothes and various other memorabilia from the 80-90’s punk scene in Iceland.

 

 

Thankfully, it makes few claims for redeeming social merit.  Who needs that anyway?

 

 

Start the revolution without me

 

 

La Traviata

 

We returned to Steinbach after a lengthy stay in Arizona and found we had arrived. We arrived to the land of cold and  high culture. Actually, I am a bit like Goebbels who said that when he hears the word “culture” he reaches for his gun. I went to see La Traviata with my sister-in-law, Huguette and our friend Lorraine. Chris cleaned her gun. I sword I would never go to see an opera. I was that way until one day I found myself alone with another lawyer—Reeh Taylor—on a road trip to Brandon. He loved opera and was evangelical about it. He persuaded me that I should try it. At least once. With deep reluctance I agreed. At least I pretended I would give it a try. I am not sure I meant it. Perhaps I said it to appease his zeal.

Then my sister-in-law Huguette a much more cultured person than me, invited me to join her for an opera in Winnipeg. It was La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini. I would not say I was hooked, but I grudgingly admitted this was not all bad. Then my cultured sister-in-law invited to sign up for a season pass. I said that was absurd. Not an entire year of opera!  Then she explained that in Winnipeg (the hinterland) a season of opera meant 2 operas. That seemed at least barely tolerable. So I agreed. I found I liked the next two operas as well. The rest is history. I have become a mild fan—not a zealot—of opera.

This year we saw La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi  when we returned to Manitoba. This may now  be my favourite opera. At least it was my favourite opera performance. Of course, you must recognize, that I know less about opera, than I know about other musical forms. And that is not much.

The main character is Violetta Valéry played by the angelic Angle Blue. Her voice is actually much more powerful than that word would suggest. Ms. Blue was sensational.

Violetta is keenly aware that she will soon die. She is worn out from a scandalous life on the stage. The word traviata, I was told, means “the corrupt one.” Violetta is sick and believes not entirely without justification, yet without societal sanction, that pleasure is the best medicine. She lives in “whirlwind of joy.” However, her world is profoundly shaken when she meets Alfredo a young man who, in true operatic style falls instantly in passionate love with her. Violetta  has always embodied ‘free love’. The stage is set for a typically momentous opposition of values. And of course, passionate love wins out. Passion always seems to win in opera. Opera without passion is like a painting without a frame. Dry tinder.

Yet the powerful emotions conflict as they always do, especially in opera. The second scene contained what the commentator Sarah Jo Kirsch called “the saddest scene in all of opera” in her pre-show chat. Violetta sacrifices pleasure, then her possessions, and finally the loved one himself. All for the sake of worthless bourgeois respectability, that bugaboo of all that is good.   Of course the sacrifice becomes sacred. After all the two words  not by accident share the same root.  The corrupt one sacrifices love for her loved one’s sister—the pure one whom she has never met. The corrupt one demonstrates profound moral power that dwarfs the sterile absent purity.

Of course as so often happens in opera, the end is tragic. She is reunited with the lover. Violetta announces her pain is gone. “I am reborn. I will live,” she gushes.  And then she dies. Only in opera.

A Jazzman in the World of Ideas

 

This is part II of the discussion between Cornell West and Robert George that we heard a Arizona State University. Their topic was truth seeking, democracy, and freedom of thought and expression.

Cornel West said that we should revel in our common humanity even when you think the other is wrong. In my opinion that is the beginning and most important part of respectful (and hence useful) dialogue. Name calling and finger wagging are seldom useful.

To be a fundamental searcher for truth, one must begin with piety. By piety he means we should depend on those who came before us. We should learn from their mistakes, and try to gain wisdom from them. “We should try to be truth seekers together.” We should learn from our spiritual, moral and political teachers of excellence who came before us.

West said he came from a long tradition of a great people who had been subjugated for a long time even though his tradition taught love.   Their anthem, West said, was “Lift every voice.” Every jazzman finds his voice. He did not use this expression today, but I have heard West say that he is “A Jazzman in the world of ideas.” This reminds me a bit of my own views: be a meanderer in the world of ideas. There is no straight line to truth. The search for truth moves by twists and turns, steps forward and backward. There is no laid out map. There is no recipe for truth. It would be convenient if there was.

West says that in his classes he tells his students he wants “to teach them to learn to die.” Plato in his dialogues said much the same thing. He said his philosophy was meditation on how to die. Seneca said “he who learns to die learns to give up slavery.” West wants us to “learn how to die, in order to learn how to live.” In the end it is about living.

West wants us to achieve “Deep education, not cheap schooling.” His mentor, Socrates, urged us to respect the other in dialogue. After that empathy is what comes out of his mouth.”

Cornell West also said, “If the kingdom of God is within you, everywhere you go, you will leave a little of heaven behind.” West was blunt about current conditions in America and the west: “We live in a period of spiritual blackout.”

West also commented on the current President of the United States. “Donald Trump has no monopoly on spiritual blackout. Trump also did not cause the spiritual blackout; he is a symptom of it. Donald Trump is as American as cherry pie.” I found this particularly important at this time in America. About 50 million Americans voted for Trump in the last election and he was clearly a racist and a liar, but they voted for him anyway. Donald Trump did not hide anything about himself. He put it out there and millions of people voted for him. Millions liked what they heard. To many of us that is incomprehensible, but not to millions of Americans. Nearly half the American voters voted for Trump. So what Trump is, America is too.

West, like George, and like John Stuart Mill reminded us all said we had to be wary of our own convictions. Convictions can be the enemy of truth. We had to be willing to expose them to criticism and attack. Like Nietzsche said, we must have the courage to attack our convictions. Each of us is only as strong as our critics.

According to West, with spiritual blackout you end up distrusting people. You adopt the morality of much of 19th century capitalism. Do what ever you want; just don’t get caught. This attitude is widespread across the board in all institutions, he said. Not just capitalism. No democracy can survive when this attitude is rampant. In the west, particularly America, this attitude is rampant. That puts democracy in jeopardy.

Both West and George urged us to consider and adopt civic virtues. These result from recognition that all groups of people are precious and human at the deepest level. It is based on the finding of a common humanity in diverse groups. I would say that we discover this by accessing our innate fellow feeling at a deep level. I think West has a deep appreciation of the commons. This is how West and George connect with each other. They embrace their differences and their common humanity. I wish more of us could do that. This is particularly exemplary in this age of extremes, in which it appears most of us can no longer speak softly with others who disagree with us. West and George exemplified what they preached. You could see one listening intently while the other spoke. They did not interrupt each other. They learned from one another.

West is inspired by jazz music in particular and his favorite is John Coltrane. West treats an intellectual discussion as Coltrane and his friends would “a jam session.” He wants to make music by dialogue. That would be a jam session of ideas. West said that Coltrane and his friends would learn not only from each other, but from the dead, when they jammed. They would listen to the playing of the others in the jam session and then show what they had learned from Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats. The musical ideas would bounce off each other. That is what West wants in intellectual dialogue too. Voices bouncing off each other including voices of the dead like Martin Luther King or William Shakespeare or Friedrich Nietzsche or Jesus Christ. Then we can access something bigger than the parts in the search for truth, whether you are in a jam session or a philosophical discussion.

Even that was not enough, West said. Democracy is exactly this too. Democracy is ideas bouncing off each other when each voice is heard and no voice is shut down. When people respect each other’s voices great things can result. Of course this requires others to want to make music (getting back to the music analogy again). If they are just trying to shut you down you can’t make music. This gets back to freedom of speech.

That does not mean you have the right to say anything at all at any time. You have no right to shout “fire” in a crowded dark theatre. That might cause a stampede and people could get hurt. That does not mean you have the right to defame other people. That causes harm to them. False statements that harm others are not permitted, even though we all want a robust form of freedom of expression. You have no right to walk into a University classroom and call people names, like “the N word,” or other derogatory names. That is not done to engage in free discussion. Such statements are made to end discussion. Therefore they are not permitted. The same goes for hate speech. Hate speech is not made to engage in discussion. If a statement is made for that purpose, I would argue, it is not hate speech. If speech is made to generate hate against others that is not to engage in free thought and discussion either. We do not have the right to make such statements.

West in a very brief comment made a very important point. He said, if you want to make an important argument you have to visit the “chocolate side of town.” You can’t just stay physically and mentally in the comfortable suburbs. You have to visit the ghettos. You have to visit places where poor people hang out; where vulnerable people go. Otherwise your ideas are bound to be inadequate. There is a lot to be learned on the chocolate side of town. For example there is a lot to be learned from jazz, from Black Baptist religion, and from a long tradition of suffering and the enduring of suffering. These were my examples, but I think West would endorse them. We should all learn from that side of town.