Marshall Allen: Vibrations of the Day

Interview by Vanita & Johanna Monk, Amsterdam, March 18, 2011.

Marshall Allen, Poschiavo, Switzerland, June 25, 2011.

Marshall Allen, Poschiavo, Switzerland, June 25, 2011

The first question is about me. I’m sixty-six years old now…

Oh, so you’re trying to catch up with me? I’m eighty-six!

That’s it. I love seeing people who are older than me, and who are still alive… I mean really alive. These people are my role models, my heroes.

You have great ideas, for one thing, and you pursue them. But to pursue them, you also have to gather in all the other things that come your way… And move along. So what I do with the music is… I’m not playing it for fame, I ain’t playing it for money, ’cause I never made enough money, except the rent, you know? I’m not looking for fame, I’m not looking for a pat on the back and all of this stuff. No, I’m doing it for my well-being. They say music can make you happy, music can make you cry, music can change your emotions, music can heal, music can kill, music can drive you crazy… You know, all those things. So you do these things for your own well-being – what’s good for you, and what you do for yourself. And then you can give someone else – you can give some to others. You see? And it’s very simple. And I’ve been trying all my life, ever since I’ve been playing, to do that, what they say music does – I’m trying to do it for me. Now, if it comes out, it’s that… I’m on the road, going the right direction. And it’s helping me. I’m 86 now. I can be 95, doing the same thing. With the energy, and the spirit, for my well-being. And that’s what I’ve been doing, and that’s what I still will be doing, and that’s where I’m still standing, still doing… It’ll take probably a lifetime, but so what? What’s a lifetime?

It’s a flexible concept.

Well, they have a concept of people living longer than a hundred, two hundred, three hundred. Is that possible? If it’s impossible, I’ll just strive for the impossible – trying to do the impossible. Won’t say I can’t do it, not gonna say that. Won’t say I can’t live long, not gonna say that. And I’m standing tall. See? Very simple idea. Money don’t do it. Women don’t do it. Nothing does. So, you can have good vibrations – by having them yourself. I don’t care what you know, ’cause what you know today ain’t good for tomorrow. What you learn, and… No way. This is the only thing, the vibrations of the day. You’ve got no control over that, so you have to flow with it, whichever way it go. See, all the tragedies and things, it’s the same thing…

A lot of people, they get past a certain age, and they’re just sitting there staring out the window, waiting for the next round of coffee, waiting for the grandchildren to come visit.

Yeah. Waiting for… I know.

Waiting for the guy with the big knife. But I don’t feel much for that.

That’s what I’m doing music for, and that’s why I love it. And that’s why I’m still trying to do the impossible. All the things they say that music can do, I want it to do to me, and for my well-being. And it’s simple. And that’s all. What else is there? I like all kinds of music. Sometime I like them loud musics, and then I like the soft musics, sometime I like… I don’t shy away from nothing, ’cause it’s all part of daily living.

Often, too often, as people get really old, you can see the lights slowly going out. And my theory is that it’s mostly a collective hypnosis. Because when you’re young, you do like the young people do. And then when you get old, then you do like the old people do. And I simply refuse to take part in that hypnosis…

I can’t tell you how it’s done. All I’m gonna do is try to do what I think that should be, for my well-being. I don’t have everything squared off… In a square. Because it’s a spiral, of today, tomorrow, another mood, another thought, another… And I have to play the same way, the way I feel, every day. Some days I don’t feel good. Because you can’t lie to yourself. So, you be yourself, and then somebody will understand, whether it’s loud, it’s soft, or indifferent. See? So that’s all I’m doing and… As long as I can do it. And I don’t know if it’s working or not! But nevertheless…

It seems to be working pretty well for you so far.

I suggest it is… But it’s just like anything else: you have a problem about money, and this and that… And all of a sudden you don’t have nothing. Then what? If I don’t have that, I’ll just take something else. I’ll create a sound, I’ll create something. If I don’t have a horn, I’ll use a voice. There’s many things to do, to keep right on moving for your well-being. I like to play a multitude of instruments, because of the sound. Then I say, well, I can’t carry all that stuff around, so I’ll take one. If I hear a sound, then I’ll do it on whatever I have to play. The more sounds you create, the more you think and dream – that’s the way the creator says: this is what you have, make the best of it. If you don’t have nothing, make the best of that.

There’s always something to start with. At least the dirt under our feet. We’re not standing in a void…

That’s the real secret, and there’s nothing else to say. It’s just, I’m gonna try to do it, to prove it. If it does you any good, it will rub off when needed. And that’s what people need. And I’ve seen other people age, that’s kind of despondent, or they changed their mind about this, and… Going another way. But I’m still fighting that battle of what I was taught, using sound. I hear sounds, sometimes they come out of there, out of nowhere. And I hear things… And then sometimes I only hear nothing. Then I play anyway, and something else comes out. And it seems… I’m standing! The only thing I know is to use it for my own betterment. I want to create a better world, I’ll start with myself. Small. So there you have it. Ain’t much more to say.

But I still have another question.


Not so much a question… More like something to talk about. We got to know you through Sun Ra, of course. Which will always remain a wonderful thing. And to see you going on with the Arkestra… But what’s also wonderful right now, is to just hear you. To just hear Marshall Allen. In another context entirely. You know what I mean?

It’s just like anything else in life. You do different ideas that other people have, to bring to life what they see and do. That way, you have some discipline, and you try to do what other people… What I think, is that in order to do and create all these things, first I have to do what everybody says, I have to do what they think. I have to understand everything that they do. If they want to show me how to do it, then I’ll try it. Whether it sounds wrong or right to me. In other words, what Sun Ra was doing was – he wanted us to get the spirit, awaken the spirit, awaken your potential. See? That’s what he was teaching. So he’d give us all kind of difficult things. He would see you and say, “Oh, I know you don’t understand that too much” – that’s what he’d give you. When I first got in the band… I always had a beautiful tone, I made sure I had one. And I played patterns, and I did all of that, what other people did. But he says: “No, that’s too sentimental, that’s not what I want.” See now, that’s gonna hurt my feelings. And some people just quit, I’ve seen guys do that. “No way, I know what I am, I know what I’m doing, this what I’m doing!” But then Sun Ra says: “No, I don’t want you to do that.” Now what am I supposed to do?

So you start again from scratch?

What am I supposed to do? How are you gonna start from scratch? When you’ve been drilled to do something well, and you learned, and then somebody tell you: “I don’t want that. I want something else.” That’s what he was doing. You all know everything, and you’re doing everything, but that’s not gonna work. You have to let your spirit and your intuition guide you. That’s the way he taught. Because he had good musicians – but some of them were so good, they couldn’t change.

Stuck in their ways. But not you.

Well no, not quite. A little, you know, like everybody else is. But still, I had to teach myself some discipline. To know nothing, so my wagon would be empty when I come. So I can load up with all kinds of ideas from everywhere and anywhere. And I never come with a loaded wagon, ’cause you can’t get nothing on it! Break the horses down! That’s the only thing I can say, really. You got to have your self-discipline, and you got to believe, and you got to not know… Just like I walk on the bandstand, just like Sun Ra did. Raise my hand, and then everybody look: “What you doing? What you playing? What you… What have we got?” And I say: I got the vibrations of the day. The way I feel today. And surprised when it works! ’Cause – they don’t know nothing? Good! Because I don’t want to hear what they know. I wanna hear what they feel for the day. It’s what it is! I don’t care what somebody know. They gonna be different today, and tomorrow, next day… Use the sound. What else you got? But it’s a lifetime’s work, believe me. It’s not just a simple thing, I found that out. I’m dealing about the spirit of things. I don’t know nothing. I really don’t! I come empty-headed. I don’t know nothing. So that’s all I have to say. And that’s what I’m doing. I go over there and I play with those fellows all this time, I still don’t know what’s going on. There’s a thousand ways to approach your destination. You don’t have to always approach it this way. You can come around that way. Back, over the top…

You can’t think about it too much.

No, you ain’t gonna think. ’Cause the thought is what messed up the world anyway. Everybody using their brain, everybody know everything. That’s what happened to the world. Give credit where credit due. They know everything! But tomorrow it’s obsolete, what you know today. So you don’t know nothing. And you just use the spirit to guide you. That’s what Sunny was trying to teach us, really. The spirit is what guides you, in many ways in life. You say, well, I’m going this way, and the spirit tells you to go that way. Then something fall down there, over where you would have went, if you had thought. And the spirit took you away from tragedy. It’s weird, I can’t explain it. I’ll explain it after, I can’t explain it before. So that’s all it is to me. And then, I have great people who know or do things… Wonderful, try that too. And then amazing things come out from you. And I still don’t know nothing! What I’m trying to tell you is… You can say all you want, and you can talk that long… It don’t mean a thing! It’s a particular direction, and what direction is that? What direction does the wind blow? Sometimes it blows from the south, and up, and down, and around… So you have to adjust yourself and go that way.

Sun Ra was more than just a bandleader. The way you guys lived and worked… To you personally, besides the music, he was also a kind of a spiritual master?

Well, to me, he… It takes someone who understand how the spirit and soul of things go. He’s not teaching me anything, like how to play, how to do this. He only tells me: “that’s not what I want. That’s not what I’m looking for. That’s not what I need for this…” In his vision. In other words, I have to get in with you, and roll with you, in order to really understand you, and the things that you do. Because you know a lot of things, and somebody come up out of nowhere with something else, something outlandish – then what? You say: “no way, not for me,” and back away? But I don’t back away from nothing. Because I don’t know nothing! What am I gonna back away from? So there’s nothing else. Any other question you want to ask? I don’t know! But I’m here. And I’m not thinking, because I don’t know nothing, so why should I think?

Oh, these are not really questions. Just ideas, just things we can talk about.

Well, we’re talking about it now. It’s the spirit. I don’t have to talk. You see? If you don’t watch out, you’ll be thinking – thinking and planning your little road, your little smooth road. But there’s a whole lot of bumping before you get there across the street! So it’s – a spiritual alert. You have the intuition, and it just comes when you need it, and you’ll be right. And then when that stuff comes freely to you, it’s a wonderful thing. And then you don’t know nothing, still don’t know how it happened. That’s all I have to say. Whatever questions you’re gonna ask me… I don’t know!

The answer will always be the same.

It’s the same, because that’s what it is! What else? The way you have better understanding of other things is being with other things. Like with Sun Ra, I didn’t understand half of what he was talking about. I did not understand! “How could you say that? How could you think that?” But you have some discipline… And if this sounds crazy to me, that’s because I’m thinking that way. He’s talking about – “transmolecular”? What? Any more questions? I hope you don’t want me to think about it!

No, we wouldn’t ask that of you!

Oh my goodness, I can come over from thoughts that’s somewhere else, but it’s not real. You know? What one thinks…

So you don’t like to think. But you do like to talk?

No, I don’t like that either. Because, well, what have I got to say? I can’t explain the way I feel. I mean, you can’t put it into words, the way you really feel.

And while we’re standing here talking with you now, there’s also a feeling going on. It’s not just words.

That’s like I say, if you feel a good vibe then… It’s not thinking about this, ’cause who knows what a good vibe is until you just feel it? So that’s the way I go through life. Not knowing nothing. And I learn a lot of things. The way people think, the way people do. There you are. So I’m using sound, I’m trying to deal with this sound. And some shake me up, some loosen me up, some make me – different moods, different things. So I’m teaching myself by not being so smart. I don’t know nothing. And all the feeling that you have, you don’t know that. You just feel it. You don’t know where it come from, you can’t explain that. So the more I do that, the better I feel, and the less I worry about everything ’cause somebody know it. So there you have it. We can talk, talk, talk all night and it comes all to the one point. That’s why I don’t like doing a whole lot of talking. I’ve always been like that. And I might contradict myself on that thing down the line! But the real thing is: I don’t know! And I’m flowing, just like the wind. That’s what Sunny would say: “Okay, we’ll call this number, My Brother The Wind”. And I’m saying, “Why do you call it My Brother The Wind? I don’t understand.” You know everything, but you can’t explain it. My Brother The Wind… But you feel it. Anyway, that’s my message. I’m trying to get some of the things that’s in me out, that I don’t know. Animals have certain things, they can sense and feel certain things, they just vibrate to living and to nature. People have it too, but sometimes they ignore it, because they know too much… And they ignore a lot of things. But you know, I ain’t perfect. I’m still stumbling and bumbling. But I’m on track. Stay on the spiritual track. And we’ll see!

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