Hunter White is a history junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Despite the undeniable facts which point toward a chaotic world usurped entirely by the mad and the bloodthirsty, there remains an unquenchable hunger towards the divine.
This state of contradiction has been the central question of the 20th century explored in overwrought novels, Campbell’s Soup cans and World Wars. It is a space of constant searching, of wading through the grim and the entropic in search of some lost sublimity.
This is the space where John Coltrane composed music. He sought to preach through his horn as both his grandfathers had preached from the pulpit. After losing the coolest job in jazz as a member of Miles Davis’ band due to heroin addiction, Coltrane got clean and set himself on a righteous path of his own design, informed by an insatiable curiosity of about everything from world religions to Einstein.
Like any self-respecting prophet, he cloistered himself away in the attic of his home for five days, coming down only for the bare nourishment needed to keep going. “Like Moses coming down from the mountain,” Coltrane’s wife recalled of Coltrane on his return after the completion of his defining record. Through the strength of his composition, Coltrane sought to express all he had come to know of God and of himself in the only language capable of conveying it.
This audacious attempt to reach heaven on the wind of a saxophone culminated in his magnum opus: the 1965 record “A Love Supreme.” In only 30 minutes, Coltrane drags the listener through the totality of human experience. The album opens with a flourish and a resounding gong while washing cymbals pull the curtain back for the four-note motif and messianic chant, which lives within the whole movement. The album descends into an improvised chaos, which physically drives the listener back into dark valleys where the warmth of the preceding minutes has melted away till it seems to have never been present. The mind recoils against the loping bass, once again consumed by black thoughts and oozing paranoia.
Just as the weight of it grows beyond what one can bear, when all hope is lost and Christ descends into hell, a piano rings; rolling drums and rattling cymbals open into a clear sky where the drone of Coltrane’s saxophone glows with a love supreme. It is a moment every bit as miraculous as any burning bush.
When asked less than a year before his death of his plans for the next decade, Coltrane replied, “Sainthood.” He was not a man of meager ambition. This ambition would see reality in The Saint John Coltrane Church, which holds service to this day. Of course the deification of a mid-century American saxophonist may seem a tad ludicrous, but if you are willing to posit that man can in fact grab hold of some piece of the divine, then there is reason to consider “A Love Supreme” alongside the Bible or “The Bhagavad Gita.” While the final two will leave you with plenty of snappy new aphorisms and rules for nomadic shepherds, the former will leave you only in awe.