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“I learned humility from a fat, Jewish oboe player…”

July 4, 2008

by Oscar “Zeta” Acosta

“It is this anarchy of socialization, this willingness to strike at all self-image masking as reality, that permitted me the freedom to open my own sores before these strangers. It is not that I had never been beaten over the head by others; for insult couched in smart talk was the permanent style of conversation at the bars I had frequented for years in San Francisco. And even prior to my arrival in San Francisco (in 1958 at the age of 23) I was accustomed to and accomplished in brutal conversations. At seventeen I had joined the Air Force Band during the Korean War and had lived four years with those jazz musicians who didn’t want to get their asses shot off defending a country that, at best, was irrelevant to their interests. Jazz musicians were the hip, the perceptive and the rebellious men of that otherwise drab era. It is from those professional artists that I learned the ropes; learned to identify and to use sex, drug and music. They were the dominant themes of the fighting 573rd A. F. Band at Albrook Air Force Base in Panama between 1954 and ’56. The year before, I had found Jesus and had been consumed with the Holy Ghost. When I preached instant salvation to the jazzmen, they merely told me to practice whole tones on my clarinet or invited me to a whorehouse. I discovered they would not scare as easily as did the natives I was leading by the nose in the jungles. The harder I railed at them, the more kindness and humor they threw back. Ultimately, I learned humility from a fat, Jewish oboe player, who practiced alone seven hours a day in the attic of the barracks, when he told me that he respected my commitment.”

excerpt from his draft: The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo

Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway (1955)

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