The Cinch Review

Miles Davis on friendship

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The following is a passage from Miles: The Autobiography.

Shooting heroin changed my whole personality from being a nice, quiet, honest, caring person into someone who was the complete opposite. It was the drive to get the heroin that made me that way. I’d do anything not to get sick, which meant getting and shooting heroin all the time, all day and all night.

I started to get money from whores to feed and support my habit. I started to pimp them, even before I realized that this was what I was doing. I was what I used to call a “professional junkie.” That’s all I lived for. I even chose my jobs according to whether it would be easy for me to cop drugs. I turned into one of the best hustlers because I had to get heroin every day, no matter what I had to do.

I even beat Clark Terry out of some money once in order to buy some drugs. I was down around the Hotel America, where Clark lived, too, sitting on the curb thinking about how and where I was going to get some money to get off when Clark walked up. My nose was runny and my eyes were all red. He bought me some breakfast and afterward he took me to his room at the hotel and told me to get some sleep. He was going out on the road with Count Basie and about to leave. He told me when I felt well enough to leave to just lock the door behind me, but I could stay as long as I wanted to. That’s how tight we were. He knew what I was doing but he just figured I would never do nothing fucked up to him, right? Wrong.

As soon as Clark left to catch his bus, I opened up his drawers and closets and took everything I could get my hands on to carry. Took a horn and a lot of clothes straight to the pawnshop and what I couldn’t pawn, I sold for whatever little money I could get for the stuff. I even sold Philly Jones a shirt that Clark later saw him in. Later I found out that Clark didn’t catch the bus. He had waited but the bus had taken longer than he thought. He came back to his hotel room to check on how I was doing and found his door wide open. Clark called home to St. Louis and told his wife, Pauline, who was still living there, to call my father and tell him what bad shape I was in. When she called him, my father got on his case.

“The only thing that’s wrong with Miles now is those damn musicians like your husband that he’s hanging around with,” he said to her. My father believed in me and it was hard for him to accept that I was in real deep trouble, and so he blamed Clark. My father felt that Clark had been the reason that I had gone into music in the first place.

Since Clark knew my father, he knew where he was coming from, and on top of everything, Clark forgave me for what I had done to him. But for a little while after that, I avoided being anyplace I thought Clark was going to be. When we did finally run into each other, I apologized and we went on like nothing had ever happened. Now, that’s a good friend. A long time after that every time he caught me in a bar drinking with my change on the counter, he’d take it for payment on what I had stolen. Man, that was some funny shit.

It sure was. We can probably all find something to relate to in Miles’ story above. Like for me: the terrible ease with which one can find oneself slipping into pimpery, almost so subtly as to not even realize it.

In any case, what a friend Miles Davis had in Clark Terry. Clark takes Miles in even though he knows that Miles is a heroin junkie. He disregards the risk and leaves his place at the mercy of Miles. When Davis rips off everything he can carry, Terry’s first thought is to get word to Davis’ father that Miles is in really bad shape. Yet, Terry understands when the senior Mr. Davis instead blames him for whatever is wrong with Miles. Further, he forgives Miles for the abuse of their friendship and even turns the whole episode into a joke between them.

Clark was being a spectacularly good friend, pretty obviously. But someone else is being a good friend here too, and that’s Miles Davis. That’s because all of these kindnesses that Clark Terry performed are being remembered and lifted up in a highly sensitive fashion here by Miles Davis himself, on the occasion of the writing of his autobiography.

So, not a lot of point to all this, except to observe that, well, people are just nice sometimes.

Miles Davis, one of the greatest figures in jazz, died in 1991 at the age of 65. Clark Terry, a big influence on Miles as a trumpeter and a huge figure in jazz in his own right, is still living today, at the age of 89. (Click here to see a YouTube clip of Terry receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy earlier this year.)

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