Still haven't read it...

by Alberta

but I just want to weigh in on the topic of Bix's "psychology" if that's what the term is for what is being discussed. This is not an answer to anyone in particular. It's just what your discussion reminded me of.

This is what I think was going on with Bix. He was being true to himself in that he was pursuing a career that he seemed born for. That brought him a lot of adulation, mostly from musicians and fans, which no doubt pleased him and encouraged him. His choice of career also probably brought him some disapproval, possibly from older conservative people from home, maybe even from relatives. Since he seems to have been a person who liked getting along with everyone, those who didn't approve of him probably caused him some pain--how much I couldn't say. But maybe enough so that drinking made it better. He was almost definitely a sensitive person (so many people hear emotion and self-revelation in his music that he MUST have been sensitive) so drinking helped dull that too. In addition, since the whole milieu of the jazz life made access to drugs of all kinds easy, he got hooked, as some people do more readily than others. And prohibition booze was poisonous; some couldn't tolerate it. Bix was one of those. Anyone who has ever been addicted to anything, and processed the experience consciously, knows that addicts don't choose it after a while. It chooses them, and not everyone has the will, the optimism, the creativity, and the strength at the moment required to deal with it all. And not everyone can summon those traits as often and relentlessly as is necessary to kick for good. So I don't buy that Bix was necessarily self-destructive any more than many people are in times of extraordinary stress.

As for being an outsider, as I said above, to some he was an outsider, to some he was an insider. What I was trying to say was that maybe his skin wasn't as thick as some since he was sensitive, and so maybe suffered more than most would, among people who considered him an outsider. Was he a rebel? He certainly didn't seem to want to be. His connection with his family seemed crucially important to him, his letters are filled with wishes to please them. As for his seeming willful failure in school, that seems less rebellious to me than just a realization that school had little to offer him. In those days, dropping out of school before graduating was not uncommon, and unless my math is wrong, Bix dropped out of his SOPHOMORE year at AGE 19--it may have been a case of just not feeling part of it all at that point.

One thing I noticed the first time I saw the Mertz film of the band running on Boston Common (in Brigitte Berman's documentary, it was): Bix charges out, clearly fit, ahead of the pack, and turns back to make sure he's not TOO far out there. He does the same thing in a way when walking out of that building at the Bronx Zoo later in the film. He's carrying the cornet case, seems to walk a bit ahead of his companion, and turns back to check out to make sure he's still part of the group. At least that's the way I read it. This silly psychologizing may tell way more about me than it does about Bix, but I'm just putting it out there. It struck me then and it strikes me every time I watch that film. It says to me, "I seem to be different, but I want to be part of you just the same."

One comment of Brendan's I just can't let pass. Brendan, you say, "He did this [i.e., went outside societal mores] by being arrested for a "Lewd & lascivious act" (it hardly matters whether he was guilty; that such an arrest ever happened was a kind of transgression). And he certainly did this by drinking and then drinking some more until he collapsed and died."

I believe what you meant was that by acting in such a way (e.g., skipping school, hanging out in undesirable places, etc.) Bix was in effect leaving himself open to all sorts of mis-interpretations and indeed accusations. In a way, by flouting the usual conventions, he was putting himself at the mercy of people who might mistake youthful freedom for sinister, libertine ways. I don't think you meant that just because he was a truant he was asking to be arrested for child molestation, or that he deserved that somehow. The punishment for the transgression of truancy is not arrest for molestation. It's usually a parental fine or something.

As for the "drinking and then drinking some more", I think I touched on that above. I think the booze chose him after a while. This of course does not absolve him of responsibility. But getting something done about one's addiction can be more like climbing Mt. Everest than a simple "just saying no" after years of abuse.

Well, I haven't talked about Gioia, but will when I finally read it. Best to all. BTW, Albert, snow was meant to be enjoyed!

Posted on Dec 21, 2009, 12:49 PM

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