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Editor’s Idea

Back after the New Year break to find a bundle of correspondence reacting to last month’s interview with former Albert Ayler bassist Henry Grimes; an unusually high level of feedback, in fact. The discovery of the long lost bassist, who was believed dead even by some musicians who had once played with him, touched an emotional nerve not often found on The Wire Letters page. Most correspondents were positively moved, but Martin Archer asks, “In your hearts did you really believe it needed to go into the public domain? I hope that your intrusion did not simply open old wounds and regrets, seemingly for no good reason.” Well, yes we did, and no they didn’t. The story was indeed moving. Its provenance was unusual, and was fortunate to coincide with our discovery in Paris of an old interview with Albert Ayler, published in issue 227 for the first time in English. The Grimes interview was not actively solicited by the magazine, but was offered to us after the meeting had taken place. Marshall Marrotte, who conducted the interview, is not a professional journalist but approached the encounter as an aficionado of Ayler’s music. Neither did he ask for any fee when offering us the piece; he merely wanted to help Grimes (although we did pay him, as we do everyone who contributes to the magazine).

It was clear from the interview that Grimes was not desperate to escape and hide away from his musical past; just that due to a peculiar set of circumstances he had ended up living a life whose contingencies had entirely taken him into an existence where jazz, Albert Ayler, concerts, royalties and even CDs played no role whatsoever. If we had thought the interview constituted a genuine intrusion into his personal life, or that he did not want it published, then it would have gone on the spike. But on the contrary, he affirms that he is keen to pick up a bass and start playing again with local musicians, and displays inquisitiveness about the whereabouts of his former friends and colleagues. Best of all, just before we went to press on the current issue, we were informed that New York bassist William Parker, one who keeps Ayler’s passionate fire burning if ever anyone does, has just donated a double bass to Grimes after reading the piece. It would have been more heartbreaking, surely, if Grimes had gone on to end his days in solitude, disconnected, disenfranchised and wholly ignorant of the existence of the musical community which is now embracing him with open arms and giving him belated respect for his former achievements.

It is of course extraordinary, in the searing glare of these media-spotlit times, that someone like Grimes can remain out of sight for so long and emerge, as Andy Hamilton puts it elsewhere in this issue, like a Japanese soldier blinking from the jungle who’s just been informed the war is over. Another who has never been comfortable facing down the super-trooper beam is this month’s cover artist. Never known in the trade as the most cooperative interviewee, during his New York encounter with our man Alan Licht, Lou Reed warmed to his subject, and to Alan’s enthusiasm for the more sonically adventurous iceberg tips in Reed’s ocean-size career. As a founder of The Velvet Underground his place in music history is of course assured, but landmark extremities such as Metal Machine Music – whose artistic merit Reed vigorously defends here, which may surprise many of the record’s critics – and his ability to throw curveballs into the rock canon such as 2000’s monolithic “Like A Possum”, from Ecstasy, give him the status of a comet whose eccentric orbit ensures he wheels periodically in and out of The Wire’s lens. ROB YOUNG


Adventures In Modern Music

Issue 228 February 2003 £3.30 ISSN 0952-0686 (USPS 006231)

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