Doug Schulkind's
Sound Mind

Gato Kills the Moment

I played Gato Barbieri on the radio today despite the fact that I've been pissed at him for a decade. This comes as a bit of a surprise because, loathe as I am to admit it, I tend to be the type who holds a grudge. Nevertheless, play him I did. To be fair, I bet I've reached for Gato's records a few dozen times during my last ten years on the air. I'm sure I'll continue to do so, but each time I do, you can bet I'll always end up sharing this story (so much for letting go of a grudge.)

Back in 1988 I attended an afternoon of performances called "Readings with Jazz and Tango to Benefit Cancer Care in Nicaragua." One ruinous result of the long-standing U.S. embargo of the Sandanistas was the perpetual shortage of medical supplies it created. The event was a money-raiser for the Julio Cortázar Hospital Fund. Authors, poets and musicians gathered at New York's Ethical Culture Society to read and play music in celebration of Cortázar, while collecting cash to help build a Nicaraguan hospital in his name. It was a joyous occassion. The hall was packed with old-line lefties who'd spent the past eight years protesting Reagan's policies in Latin America. One after another, heavyweights like Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison and E.L. Doctorow mounted the stage and read their favorite Cortázar texts and poems in hommage to the eminent Argentine writer. Cortázar had passed away in 1984 and it was clear from the emotions flowing, on-stage and off, that he was well loved and sorely missed. Interspersed between readings were assorted performances of music and dance, adding an air of festive abstraction to the proceedings.

A set by fellow Argentine Gato Barbieri was scheduled for later in the day. I wasn't a huge fan of his music, he'd made his share of crappy records over the years, but still I was looking forward to hearing him play. Gato did play on two of my all-time favorite albums -- Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and Don Cherry's Symphony for Improvisors -- so I figured, in this setting, he'd come up with something inspired. Boy was I wrong. When Gato's turn came he trudged on stage with his flute and tenor sax looking like he wanted to be somewhere else. He fussed with the microphone awhile and then began playing, though clearly annoyed with the makeshift p.a. system. A few times he actually stopped to scowl at the sound guy, then rushed his way through a performance he might as well have mailed in. In a manner of minutes this sweet and loving memorial was dragged through the mud of one tempermental artist's selfish narcissism.

Doug Schulkind
(Check out my Sound Mind)