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Jaco Pastorius and Mt. Everest.

April 8, 2021

I’ve been thinking about Jaco Pastorius lately.

You might not know who he is.

To give you some idea…

Ok, that didn’t help all that much. Maybe this will..

Still not impressed?

Ok.. well..

Then let’s just say that, when I started getting into bass playing, and talking to bass players, this name kept coming up. A name I had never heard before.

Why? Well..

The only famous bass players are those who can also sing, are primarily known as singers, such as Paul McCartney, Gene Simmons, and Sting. If you were into strange music in the ’90’s, then you might have heard of Les Claypool, the singer and bassist of a very very strange band called Primus.

Yeah, you know who they are. Except for maybe Les Claypool.

The most famous pop culture bass player who doesn’t sing, or rather, is not famous as a singer and leader of a band or whatever, at least if you are over 40, like I am, is Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

So who is Jaco Pastorius then?

Well.. talk to enough bass players and Jaco is considered the greatest bass player who ever lived.

He was beaten to death in 1987.

No, not some victim of a random crime, not entirely.

He had been suffering from mental illnesses, got stuck on the usual substances, and bashed his way into a night club.

A bouncer with a particular proclivity for violence beat the bassist, and the bassist died of his wounds.

At age 35.

Before some of you were even born.

Why am I writing about this person?

I’m trying to get at that myself.

And I sometimes get ideas.

But now my brain is floundering.

And to be honest, no one reads this blog.

And on facebook, what, I get a few likes, three at most, no matter the quality of content.

But whatever.

So, Jaco then.. and the purpose for writing.

It’s the incredibly strongly held belief that reaching the pinnacle of success, of one’s profession brings happiness and will cure all one’s ills.

Whe Jaco was fairly young, he declared to his parents that he was going to become the greatest bass player in the world.

Why bass?

That I don’t know..

Maybe because bass is considered to be SO much easier and less desirable to play than guitar.

You want to become the greatest guitarists the world has ever known?

Get in line.

Yeah.

Behind Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Page, Carlos Santana, and the list goes on..

The best bass guitar player?

Crickets.

Well.. during Jaco’s time there were a few, such as Bootsy Collins, who was in James Brown’s band for awhile, Stanley Clarke (I forget what band he was in), and the bass players I don’t know the names of, but who were in such bands as Parliament/Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, and one of the greatest early bass players, the ultimate dude in the Motown House band, called The Funk Brothers, James Jamerson.

Yeah, there were some greats.

But they didn’t play at the level this guy got to.

I don’t know if Jaco and Miles Davis crossed paths. Reason I bring up Miles Davis is, first of all, Miles, long past his death, is still one of the all-time greats of Jazz.

And the guy happened to invent or co-invent several Jazz genres, including Jazz fusion, which, as the name suggests, is a blend of Jazz and other genres.

Jazz had reached an evolutionary culdecac, to borrow a phrase from the great science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke.

In order for Jazz to continue to exist and progress, Jazz musicians adopted other styles, like rock and funk.

Miles was at the forefront of this movement, with his album, Bitches Brew (a pun, a bad one.. from “Witch’s Brew”.. that phrase might have gone back as far as Shakespeare.. I am thinking of the witches in the play “Macbeth,” or more likely, much before Shakespeare’s time..

But anyway..

Jaco played Jazz fusion, with a band called Weather Report, with Joni Mitchell’s band, as she continued to change her style. And change and change..

I am just starting to get into Joni Mitchell’s music, and may not get much further in than I am, as I have so many interests, be they musically related or otherwise.

And Jaco had a solo album as well.

So..

I have been half-heartedly getting into bass playing yet again..

I am, to be honest, more a writer and several other things than I am, and probably will ever be, a musician.

But I wanted to explain to you why I have had Jaco on my mind tonight, this late night, as all my nights are, and why I wanted to write about him.

I wanted to call this blog lonely at the top..

But that doesn’t really cover it. I just can’t think of titles sometimes, that are not a cliche. Plus cliches get your attention. You can’t help it. Neither can I.

As much as we may not like cliches, and be sick of them, they are wired into us..

But my point is this..

Reaching the top of one’s field is not always a recipe for happiness.

It can just as easily, and perhaps, even more often, be a recipe for the collapse of one’s relationships, substance abuse, and, if one is already suffering from mental illness or illnesses, as so many of us are.. a far more precipitous decent than what may have been experienced when a person was still climbing the ladder of accomplishment and recognition.

The question is simply this.

Where do you go up..

If..

You are already..

Up?

If you’ve been striving really really hard, so that your only goal is, day and night, misery upon misery, minor to major success after success, amidst all the avoidable and unavoidable failures along the way..

To reach the top.

And you reach it.. what then?

Some people have climbed Mt. Everest more than once.

There is such a thing as the law of diminishing returns.

Meaning, do the same rewarding thing over and over again, that thing. that activity.

Becomes less rewarding.

I wonder if some people only keep climbing Mt. Everest until they die.

Because..

Metaphorically and literally, they have reached the top.

Some people, the better adjusted ones, or the particularly obsessive, and at the same time particularly lucky, find new goals.

But many do not.

And some, and perhaps some of the least fortunate among them, suffer mentally.

Jaco was one of these.

He had “mental health issues,” as we call them these days.

And he likely realized that, once he reached a certain age, and a certain level of prowess, a level only he and he alone was qualified to measure..

He had reached the top.

When you reach the top, “there’s nowhere to go but up” no longer applies.. not necessarily.

Granted, one can continue to improve, and innovate, and reach new heights..

But one starts to wonder, what is the point?

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen what the very tippy top of Mt. Everest looks like.

It’s a tiny little spot. Only one person can stand on it at the same time. Or at least, that is how I have seen it depicted, in film, and in photographs.

This is appropriate.. a literal and metaphorical truth.

Stand at the top, and you are truly alone.

And being alone is lonely.

But that is not even the worst problem.

If there truly is nowhere to go, because one has already reached “up,” has gone farther than anyone else, and one has gone as far as one can..

Then what?

I wonder how many people who, once they have reached the very top of their field, have become addicts, withdrawn into seclusion, or who have committed suicide.

In my thinking, Jaco became the best, knew he was the best, lost purpose, succumbed to substance abuse, mental illness, became homeless, and lost himself in his own madness.

On the night he died, so I have read, he, in an intoxicated or manic state, burst into a night club, and tried to force his way onstage.

And a bouncer hauled him out of the club..

And proceeded to beat the greatest bass player of all time.. to death.

Maybe, in the dark pockets of his mind, Jaco was relieved.

Death..

The end.

The end of all suffering.

So why am I writing about this guy, this both great and terribly tragic figure?

Because of a lesson that is counter-intuitive, and certainly not what we have been taught by our culture.

That, instead of what we might think, and what our culture tells us, it can be FAR better to be climbing the ladder of success than to finally reach the top.

Because some, perhaps many people who have truly reached the top, have then encountered the truly horrifying question of..

What Now?

This is a question they had never faced before, had not anticipated. Why not? They were focused on their goal.

Some people stay at least somewhat sane, and like Bob Dylan and Michael Jordan, intentionally fade into a quiet, and hopefully contended retirement. I don’t know what they do with their time, but maybe they are at least somewhat happy.

They are the more well-adjusted.

For those who are not so well-adjusted, who have been overcome by mental illness, or the abuse of alcohol or drugs, or, as often as not, a combination of mental illness and substance dependence..

Well..

Some have gone mad..

And some have died.

All this is to say..

Be careful what you aspire to.

That old adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” is correct.

The vast majority of people striving for ultimate success won’t reach it.

This is its own kind of heartache and hell.

But perhaps an even worse damnation awaits those who do reach the top of the mountain.

Perhaps, better to be satisfied with being the best guitarist on your block, and having a happy and healthy family, or running a beloved coffee house in your hometown, and calling it good.

Do you really want to strive and strive for success, sacrificing anything and everything to get there.

Once you have reached the top of Mount Everest..

Then what?

Jaco found out.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. cyclop5 permalink
    July 5, 2021 5:54 PM

    Hello. So, it’s kinda late in the night here. I spent the last 20 minutes trying to find this blog and at last I remembered the name after stumbling upon Lost in Translation out of melancholy again. Somehow, you got stamped onto my memories. My last post happened to be a year ago about trannies. What a crazy time it has been in-between that though… Do you still keep writing? What have you been doing lately? Fingers crossed for a reply. Take care.

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      July 7, 2021 2:09 AM

      I haven’t done much writing on the blog in awhile, just offline journals these past few months, but do have more ideas. Lots of ideas.. just have been busy with caring for older relatives, trying to improve my health, and sort out some things.

      I do plan on spending more time on the blog in the near future. I need to establish a routine.. time for health, time for writing, etc.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      It’s great that people actually read and appreciate my posts. This gets me more inspired to write.

      • cyclop5 permalink
        July 11, 2021 3:34 PM

        I totally understand and can relate to that. Health is especially important, the more these days which have been quite exhausting and hard. It’s great to see that you didn’t abandon this nice piece of work. I’ll be looking forward to seeing some news here about anything, whatever content crosses your mind. Even though I am no music expert, I love reading stories and such. See you here again someday. Thanks a lot and good luck with everything.

      • Tom Meninga permalink*
        July 13, 2021 1:41 PM

        Yes, life can be very challenging. More things I need to take care of have been popping up, but I think soon there will be less distractions, and I can focus more on things I want to do, including writing.

        I really appreciate your encouraging words!

        I hope to have a new post or two by the end of the week.

        I’m no music expert either, but definitely an enthusiast.

        If you would like to read more, I’ve written many posts on music, including at least 15 posts about cover songs and their history. I learned a lot while researching each song.

        The songs are from many genres. Johnny Cash, Soundgarden, Dolly Parton, Depeche Mode, Volbeat, lots of other bands, some famous, some obscure. The posts include either audio or video.

        Just click on “music” in the tag cloud.

        Thanks again!

  2. cyclop5 permalink
    July 14, 2021 5:50 PM

    Thanks for the recommendations. I had previously read about the Saturday which was probably the most enjoyable (from life and including many photos).

    I also checked the videos where you read some of the posts yourself directly. I like your reciprocity of the religion-wise mindset, thoughts and inner self. I myself am introverted and sometimes it’s pretty challenging to think about and deal with different kinds of stuff, including questions whether I should at all, or it’s completely irrelevant and I am only laying another burden on me like – maybe it’d be better to forget about all that? It’s neither so easy to express.

    If you excuse wandering a little bit off here. My family is originally devout Christian. I definitely used to be too. Going to church, praying, together with them. Later on, I decided to let go of everything related to that. Somehow, I wanted ‘out’ badly. I was also very scared of many things at that time. Especially death. I could relate to you talking about the fears insisted on you in the past. I was dealing with the same. I’ve been very single-minded and stubborn regarding that matter for a period of my life from then on. But today I can’t really say. I wouldn’t even hesitate to go to church again, just out of curiosity or because I want to and feel like to (as I am not so aware of the reason). I might not be ‘in’ with the faithful ones, but I am not so convinced about what I actually believe anymore. I’ve met lots of different people with own life philosophies if I may call it that, which in turn made me reconsider my position. Even stumbled upon Christians trying to ‘live and adjust truly according to the bible,’ isolated in communes. (I couldn’t tell since I never read the bible but at least I think Jesus was about the true solidarity and righteousness.) I know it wouldn’t be for me but I just find that fascinating and I think these determined and strong-minded people are very interesting. Do you (still) contemplate life, gods, religions, purpose like that from time to time?

    By the way, there was something that interested me in Pazuzu and Ganesha. Pazuzu is a devil or demon of sorts as far as I remember.

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      July 19, 2021 1:46 AM

      I will try to write a coherent reply, but my mind is very scattered, and has been for some time.

      I’m trying to think which post the Saturday one was.. perhaps it was when I went to a music store in a strip mall that had a thirst store?

      Anyway.. glad you liked that one.

      The other posts you mentioned at the beginning of your comment.. I can’t remember what I said! I must have been in a deep frame of mind. I’m very glad you found something useful in those posts!

      Oh, I totally understand being an introvert and thinking too much!

      We think and think, and then think we are thinking too much, then wish we could drop all this thinking.

      Yes, it is truly terrible, especially if our minds are stuck in dark places, or if we are trying to solve unsolvable problems, or trying to understand things we will never understand.

      Christianity..

      Why did you want out? Was it mostly just an intense emotional reaction, or was it a sort of philosophical, intellectual reason as well?

      Yes, even well-meaning parents, pastors, Sunday-school teachers instill some fear in us. Even in high school youth group at church, scare tactics were sometimes used, and I was not part of a church that was really hardcore.. just basic mainstream evangelical protestant.

      But fear can be a powerful motivator.

      I used to listen to a Christian band called Dig Hay Zoos, back in the ’90’s. I still remember a line from one of their songs..

      “A motivation of fear, a motivation of love. One of these is hell.. but it gets the job done”

      A motivation of fear. Fear of hell, eternal; damnation.

      The worst, most frightening concept anyone has ever come up with.

      Yes.. fear indeed can work.

      Single-minded and stubborn regarding..? You mean you have been very single-minded about not being a Christian?

      But then you you wrote you wouldn’t hesitate to go to church?

      Yes, there is something that draws us back, a familiarity, a being part of a community.

      But you are right, you and I are no longer “in with the faithful ones.”

      Let me tell you, knowing this while you are in church, this might not feel good.

      Or, if you are just feeling curious, and observing, you might not be bothered at all not being part of the faithful.

      You met a lot of people with their own philosophies, and these people got you thinking?

      Did you meet and learn from people who practiced other faiths?

      I was into Buddhism for years, and later, spent a lot of time talking with a very wise, prominent Wiccan priest.

      The Buddhism screwed me up some, and I never became a Wiccan, but met some interesting people and certainly have thought about life differently since.

      It’s good to find non-fanatical people to dialog with.

      People who are Buddhists or Wiccans are probably pretty laid back about talking about their faiths.. although I did meet one obnoxious Buddhist guy, and there are many Wiccans who have their heads in the clouds too much, shall I say.. so, if you are wanting a Wiccan to talk with. I hope you can find someone who is grounded.

      My remarks are spiraling all over..

      Ok..

      You found a Christian commune? The only sort of commune I can think of that is semi-common in America is a monastery/convent for monks or nuns..well.. those aren’t exactly common, (although there is a small retreat center near my home that is being converted into a monasterr) but the groups you are referring to are probably even more rare.

      I don’t know if you are living in America, but if not, I am guessing those groups are rare where you live too.

      You wrote “I never read the Bible.”

      I’m confused. Do you mean you never rad the Bible all the way through, or never read any of the Bible?

      If you mean you never read any of the Bible, then how were you a devout Christian?

      Jesus was about a great many things.

      Christ was about solidarity? I’m not quite sure what you mean.

      True righteousness? Who is to say.

      I don’t like that word, “righteousness.” I don’t like the word “purity” either.

      Better to dump those words and just try to be a decent human being, I think.

      I don’t like Christ.

      When I was younger, I spent a lot of time reading the New Testament, including the Gospels.

      The more I read of Christ’s words, the less I liked him.

      So often, to me, he seemed excessively harsh nonsensical, even crazy.

      For example, when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I was in a Christian school, and I was being bullied – not physically harmed, but verbally abused.. picked on by some of the other students.

      I told my dad about this, and he gave astonishingl awful fatherly advice.

      “Turn the other cheek, and be like Jesus.”

      The worst advice to tell a kid who is being bullied: Be kind and take it.

      All this does is allow the abuse to continue, and maybe even get worse.

      So.. no.. I’ve not been a fan of Christ for quite some time.

      Do I still contemplate life, gods, etc.?

      A little.

      Mostly though, I am a firm believer in death.. though not entirely.

      What I write next will not make sense, but this is how I feel.

      I strongly believe in death being the end, and no afterlife of any kind.. for me.

      But I still on rare occasions pray for the soul or spirit or whatever of a woman I knew a little who committed suicide six years ago.

      If there is an afterlife, I hope she is better now.

      Regarding the afterlife.. the Wiccan priest I mentioned. He died of cancer at age 50, several years ago.

      He was one of the most amazing people I’d ever met.. not only wise but kind, irreverent, An amazing guy.

      Maybe he is out there somewhere, doing the pagan equivalent of what Catholics believe their saints do.. helping in some way.

      So.. death, in general, no afterlife, but I still wonder.

      Prayer..

      Yes, I just mentioned prayer.

      I cannot handle believing in any anthropomorphic deities.

      I just don’t relate to seeing images of deities as looking in any way human.

      But I still pray sometimes.

      I pray to The Great Whoever.

      That’s actually how I think.

      I do not think of The Great Whoever as a supreme being though.

      I like the Eastern idea of there not being a creator.. all things coming from the Tao, the source of all things (yes, I got into Taoism, too, and no, the Tao cannot be prayed to, so I don’t think of The Great Whoever as the Tao).

      Ok.. I’m going too far afield here.

      Alright so..

      I also sort of believe that there are good spirits out there, as well as bad, and spirits who are just average folks.

      Although I am not generally into anime, I saw a very interesting, amazing film years ago called “Karas.” The first Karas film was amazing, but the second film, which explained and brought to an end the first film.. but the second film was remarkably horrible..

      In the first film, there were many spirits, including some that just lived out their day, looked disheveled and tired, and walked from our world into a different spiritual realm that was like an oasis for them.

      And I thought.. maybe there are spirits that don’t help or harm us, they just live their lives.

      I think about that scene a lot.

      Good spirits.. I don’t quite like to use the word angels..

      I think of my prayers for other people possibly being answered because a good spirit passing by my window at night hears my prayer, passes it down the line of good spirits until the prayer reaches who I was praying for, in California or Michigan for example, and the spirit there helps the person I was praying for.

      I think of bad spirits as not coming after us, but rather needing to be invited, even courted, so to speak.

      Spend enough time with evil people, in evil places, doing evil, and there will be evil spirits present, making things and people worse.

      A strange example..

      Decades ago, Al Pacino starred in a film called “Cruising,” It was not about riding in cars.

      No, it was about a heterosexual homicide detective being given the assignment of going undercover, and infiltrating a rather violent and sick gay subculture, in order to catch a serial murderer.

      I learned in the special features, that the director and producers used slightly different actors to play the same killer, who was preying on the men in this subculture.

      The reason of the filmmakers for doing this was to show that evil existed in this S&M, brutal community, and that evil could take on different forms Sort of a spiritual evil.

      Also, the last scene, or one of the last scenes, after it had seemed the perpetrator had been caught, there was a shot of what looked like the same guy, heading down into a basement, where there was a secret club..

      I thought of the last shot of that guy sort of implying that he was the devil.. or at least some kind of evil spirit, going back down into the depths, where evil was being cultivated and enacted.

      So.. no, I don’t think so much about demons attacking us, as I used to think.More like evil being attracted to evil people, and in evil places, like in the film

      However, I do occasionally wonder. Are we, am I, under spiritual attack sometimes?

      Are all my problems just rooted in my mind and body, or did some thoughts or feelings come from somewhere, or someone else? An evil spirit.

      (I listen to a lot of dark heavy metal, but I almost always avoid any songs that are explicitly satanic. I don’t want to really extend an invitation to evil. I try to be careful what I watch in movies and on TV as well).

      Other than that though.. not many beliefs.

      I have lots of posts on Buddhism, but, I never became Buddhist. I learned enough about Buddhism, over time, not to become a Buddhist.

      I never became pagan, The reasons for that are a bit complicated, and I’ve already written a great deal.

      It seems strange sharing with you personal things.. I don’t know your name, your gender, etc.

      But for our purpose of communication, none of that is important, just what we write in the comments.

      I do believe in the Tao, sort of, and things having their own time..

      The concept of observing things as they are happening, trying to time things well, being patient, figuring out when to act or when not to, going with the flow of time.. this is a Taoist concept I have adopted.

      I think about this most days. Occasoinally, it seems I have a day in which I have timed multiple things well, and have been living in harmony with the Tao that way.. other days I just wonder, or don’t think about this much.

      It’s possible the best introduction to Taoism is “The Tao of Pooh,” by Benjamin Hoff.

      The author uses Winnie the Pooh stories to explain various Taoist principles.

      If you can find an out of print audiobook on cassette or CD on ebay, read by the author, that would be best.

      The currently available streaming audio version is read by a different narrator, I do not know why.

      You could just read the book.

      The sequel to “The Tao of Pooh,” called “The Te of Piglet,” is not as good, in my opinion, but the first book is fun and brilliant.

      Also if you want to know more about Taoism, there is a great guy on youtube who has been posting videos for over a year.

      He went to China to find the Wu Dang Mountain (which I thought was fictional, because it was in the film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”)

      But no, the mountain is real. The guy found a Taoist Tai Chi teacher who knew some English, and the two spent a lot of time together and made videos.

      The name of the guy is George Thompson. He just uses his name as his channel name.

      Alright..I knew I would write a lot.. you brought up a lot of things!

      What do you believe and/or wonder about.. besides Ganesha and Pazuzu.

      I am aware that Ganesha is the Hindu deity with the elephant head, who is said to be the “remover of obstacles,” and also, probably the favorite deity of Westerners who are into new age stuff, and who hav adopted some parts of Hinduism.

      Never heard of Pazuzu.

      I will do a google search, just a moment..

      Alright so, Pazuzu has nothing to do with Ganesha. I misread your comment, and thought you meant there there stories about the two of them, battling each other or something like that.

      Demons.. best not to get too into studying about demons, I think.

      Although..I understand wondering about evil.

      I’m just very skittish about the dark side of the occult, or the occult in general these days, or reading about demons.

      But you might be in a different frame of mind, and that’s probably ok, as long yes you don’t find yourself practicing demonology or something like that..

      On that note..

      Oh yes, thanks so much for your readership and incredible comment! In the past, I spent countless hours on these posts..I started the blog in 2009, and used to write a lot..

      Wonderful that someone is actually appreciating my work, and bringing up such thoughtful ideas.

      There was no way I could or was going to write a short reply.

      Your comment deserved quite a bit of thought, and a lengthy response, which I hope was interesting for you to read.

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