Charles Mingus Checks Bobby Fischer in Bellevue
What is it about Bellevue and your artist types?
Bellevue hospital, howled around by the best minds of Ginsberg's generation. Bellevue, Charlie Parker's last hospital - he checked in after an attempt to check out of life a year before heart failure, pneumonia, and cirrhosis of the liver did the job for him. Where Caitlin McNamara Thomas spent her first night in NY. And Bellevue, where, according to his extraordinary autobiography, Charles Mingus bumped into Bobby Fischer.
If this excerpt doesn't qualify as fair use, I submit it here under, as we say in Ireland, The Grandfather Rule - that is to say, as lyrics, on which the good fight is still being fought. (E2 FAQ: Copyright Changes) This forms the vocal voiced by Robbie Robertson on (and I fear here a succession of deep breaths may be in order) "Canon (Part 2) includes 'Playing Chess With Bobby Fischer In Bellevue Reverie' from "Beneath The Underdog'", track three from Hal Wilner Presents Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus. Phew!
Chuck's shrink, Dr. Edward Pollock, is probably the "Dr. Wallach" who appears here, and later wrote the sleevenotes to the Mingus album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, hence making it one of my Top Ten Jazz Albums with Liner Notes Written by a Clinical Psychologist.
There was a boy sitting across the table from me, reading a book on mathematics - I could see the equations and symbols. I saw him walking around earlier that morning - very tall and gangly, sandy haired, only about eighteen years old. I later learned he was a champion chess player and spoke seven languages. He was a genius, I guess. His parents had him committed, he told me, but he didn't say why. He didn't seem to mind. He was quiet and good-natured and always busy doing something. When he saw me looking at him he asked if I wanted to play a game of chess and he brought out his board. I showed him what I had just wrote.
He looked very thoughtful, and said, "I don't have time to hear everything, but I'm interested in music and keep abreast of what's happening. It's odd you say you haven't been productive. It seems to me you have several-Let's see-" and he counted in his head - "I'd say six or seven albums that came out last year. That isn't bad." I was amazed, but he was right, and I realised last year seemed like ten years ago to me.
He checkmated me three times in a row, and I could see he was getting bored, so I went back to my bunk and tried to write some poetry. A good title came to my mind. Nice Of You To Have Come To My Funeral.
Oh damn it all blues.
Screwed to the melting frozen walk of dared-to-embrace stone,
concrete hard, imagined soft
only to overdue erections of loneliness
that turned feminine and speaks back wet, warm tears,
not to far removed from its common denominator,
Iced urine melting at dared hot death
That clings to life for love at thought of some response
Be it only the clay, dirt or pavement I behold in my
drunken, fevered search for a true woman's groin,
Wanting me as I want her to never hate me
because we found refuge of satisfaction as two drunken stones
warmed themselves side by side
In outside our guttered ideas of opposite sides fucking.
"Do you understand that poem, Dr. Wallach?"
"Well, Charles, it certainly is a very personal expression."
There endeth the original write-up.
My fellow Mingus afficionado, Angie Lane, notes that there is no mention of Fischer by name in Beneath The Underdog, and indeed this is so.
He is only referred to there as Chess Champ; it is the Wilner record that gives his name.
Wilner had the original manuscript (which was, incidently, at least three times the length of the published book), worked closely with Mingus's wife for this record and risked the litigation, so it truly must be Fischer, and not, as kozmund has it, "...well...a different polygot chess prodigy."
Charles's other pal in Bellevue was The Dancer. I have no clues as to his identity. Mingus formed a plan that he, The Dancer and Chess Champ would teach the other inmates math, chess, languages and dancing. They were all for it, but within an hour Mingus is summoned by Bellevue head honcho Dr. Bonk who says, "Mr. Mingus is going to organize Bellevue for us. May I comment that compulsive organization is one of the prime traits of paranoia." And that was the end of that.
Hear "Hellview of Bellevue" on Mingus, Charles' second album for Candid Records, recorded at Nola Penthouse Sound Studios, New York, New York on October 20th, and November 11, 1960, with Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet); Charles McPherson (alto saxophone); Booker Ervin (tenor saxophone); Lonnie Hillyer, Ted Curson (trumpet); Jimmy Knepper, Britt Woodman (trombone); Nico Bunick, Paul Bley (piano); Dannie Richmond (drums).