Nobody runs in this place. It must be a rule. I announce myself, the receptionist smiles, points to a seat. In the same row of seats a lined man wearing red shorts, his cheeks hollowed by years of sucking the goodness out of Silk Cut fags. Next to him his anxious wife.
“What’s going off? Where do we go now? Have they forgot about us?”
His wife squeezes his hand. His left leg jigs ceaselessly. The invisible hi-hat sussurates a fast bebop rhythm. Opposite us a sign offers free tea and coffee, to the right a partly completed jigsaw on a table. Another sign invites assistance in its completion. The lined man’s name is called and he rushes to the desk, and follows the pointing finger down the corridor. He stops abruptly, looks back, his face suddenly that of a crumpled, lost child. The wife hurries to his side and hand in hand they trot down the corridor.
I am here for another MRI scan. The scan yesterday obtained an image of the body at rest. Today, an image of the body after exertion. The receptionist calls my name. I look up from the crossword and receive the smile. The pointing finger propels me to the treatment room.
It is apparently too risky to elevate my heartrate in the gym, so we are going the chemical route. I sit down, lean back into the chair; spread my arms, palms upturned. Two teams of three, one on each arm. The left forearm and hand suddenly run wet.
“Oops,” I feel a swab wipe. “Try again with that.”
The right arm receives an injection into the vein, a radioactive tracer.
“By the way, the best way to get this out of your system is to have a fry up after your scan.”
“Medical advice to eat a fried breakfast? How can I refuse?”
A stimulant slides into the left arm. I stare at the ceiling, will not see. Amazing. As I lie on my back, my heart starts to pound, sweat breaks out and I am short of breath.
“Really odd, like running uphill after a large espresso.”
The effect begins to wear off. A wheelchair appears.
“I can walk fine.”
“We need you to use the chair.”
A porter wheels me to the scanner room. This is a high space. The walls are yellowing magnolia, the ceiling white. The scanner dominates this room: a squat rectangular column of beautiful cream medical enamel. The lower section is penetrated by a stainless steel tunnel ringed with black, from which extends a trolley on a track. A low hum emanates from the depths of the machine. A desk and chair are placed in one corner, resting on the unadorned concrete floor. Papers and a boom box on the desk.
I climb onto the trolley. A one jump veteran, I know the score. There is a brief flash of yesterday’s fear as the technician adjusts the sensors close into my face. The technician turns to the control console, turns some serious switches and is rewarded by the low hum modulating to a more purposeful tone of some complex machinery engaging, and I am slowly propelled feet first into the machine.
“Uh, I noticed you had a player. Can you whack that CD over there in it on your way out, please?”
“I’ll look in from time to time.”
“OK. Don’t forget, it’s important, you must lie still. Do you want me to stay?”
“I’m good. CD?”
She presses play. Angular guitar chords over a loose blues shuffle. Johnny Mac. John McLaughlin. Miles had told him, in a rasping whisper that could cut right through any crowded studio,
“Play guitar like you don’t know how to.”
The rhythm section. Michael Henderson, a funk bass veteran just off the road with Little Stevie Wonder. He is nineteen years of age; young enough and black enough to die in the red dirt of South East Asia.
Billy Cobham, 24. The despair of all aspirant drummers, who will slow his records down to 16 rpm to try and hear deeper into the mix; so fast, so clean. Here he is trail boss; he bashes straight ahead to get this piece moving on down the road.
Steve Grossman, hot shot horn player, also nineteen. He has replaced Wayne Shorter in Miles’ band. He needs big feet to fill big shoes.
Then Miles steps into the room. His trumpet is lithe, assertive. A boxer who vaults over the ropes into the ring, arms well up, the dancing feet barely scuff the canvas.
A tight fingered organ chord. Herbie Hancock had come to the session on a social call, one leader to another. He wants to drop off a copy of Fat Albert Rotunda, his first album since leaving Miles’ band. Miles points to the Farfisa.
“Not my instrument, man.”
The tapes are rolling, the band plays. Then a pianist’s jab at the keys. Hancock has finally figured out how to switch the thing on. Further swift jabs, and then he begins to revel in the sustain, and the choppy chords stretch out, become drones.
I listen, deep into it as the little boom box will allow. All thought is suspended as I pass through the great machine. The many, many times I have heard this record all fuse into a rickety ladder of unreliable memories. Vinyl. Cassette. CD. Mp3.
When I first heard this music mor than thirty years ago, Miles was still alive, and I could have passed him in the street, maybe let on to him.
“All right, man.”
The track ends. Sound, memories music, the music of this man, this dead man. I am half in, half out of the scanner. I fall into sleep, dreaming of dreamlessness.
A loud click wakes me. I am motionless, completely inside the great machine. I hear the technician approach, her shadow falls onto my head. I arch my neck and see her.
“You were well away there,” she smiles.
She propels me back out of the machine. I swing my legs off the trolley and plant my feet on the concrete floor. They take my weight. I rise up, transfigured, unknowing.
“Do you want your CD back, love?”
“No, it’s OK, you keep it. I can always burn another one.”
I head for the door and my medically approved full English breakfast.The voice of Brock Peters follows me out of the door and down the corridor.
“I’m black all right, they never let me forget it. Yes, I’m black all right, I’ll never let them forget it.”
Miles Davis A Tribute to Jack Johnson CBS COL 519264