Avatar
No. 13, November 24, 1967, p.17

Mel Lyman and Jim Kweskin:
Intercourse (a dialogue)

Jim: You know, we're here, we've got the instruments, everything is right, except the time. We've got the greatest musicians in the world up here on this hill, and they're not playing music.
Mel:That's because there's nothing to feed. For one thing, who are we going to play it for? The AVATAR is what's happening now. Why do you think you can write so good all of a sudden? Because you're feeding five thousand minds every time you write a word. When that same need is there for the music, it'll pull the music out.
Jim: And that need becomes greater the more people I'm playing for. Like when I'm on TV.
Mel:Right.
Jim: But I sure get crazy on those TV shows.
Mel:Oh, yeah, you're working with so many different kinds of limitations.
Jim: I feel like I'm fighting an incredible machine — but every time I do, it makes me that much stronger and better able to work with it the next time. But I still haven't been able to go into a TV studio and completely be myself.
Mel:You've also got the fucking jug band to work with.
Jim: Right.
Mel:See now, that movie we made in Germany, with me and Lew and Jane, it started out very difficult. They had the cameras and lights set up, they had an exact way they wanted things done, and we had to fit into it. They wanted me to do things like walk around, and look at things, and that kind of stuff, and I had Lew and Jane to put up with.
Jim: They were like your jug band.
Mel:Yeah, they could very easily get artificial. And so at first I was up tight. The smile on my face would drop, my words would become empty. It was awful. But I was slowly taking over. And when I was finally controlling how it was done, the microphones and cameras were my friends.
The first thing in this movie was a scene where they brought us to an old castle, kind of — museum like — I don't know — full of old paintings and old couches and chandeliers, out in the woods somewhere. And we were supposed to talk about the hill. And they wanted me to walk around and look at things and ooo and ahh — and Jane and Lew were going to walk out of the room, and I was supposed to follow them. But instead of just walking out, I did a whole little riff for the camera. I did a little running trotting thing, like "I'm running out of the door at the right time now," and I blew the whole scene, you know, and the scene had been perfect, and I blew it at the end. I almost like waved at the camera, it was that bad. And of course it was my fault. I fucked up. And we had to do it again. And I kept doin' that. I just kept fuckin' up, and breaking down their thing, and so confusion reigned. And once I've got real confusion to work with, I can start giving them a little direction ... (laughter) But as long as I've got their order to work against, there's nothing I can do but break it down. I can't improve it. I can't direct it. It's already crystallized. So all you can do is blow it.
Jim: But it's so hard, 'cause you don't do it consciously. You don't set out purposely to fuck em up.
Mel:Oh, of course not. It's a perfectly natural reaction. What else could I do? I mean I really just honestly told them what I felt at the time, whatever it was. And when I was creating that confusion, they didn't feel like I was trying to tell them what to do or that I was competing with them.
They said, "Well, we'll go to this scene now, and talk about such and such." They said "Can you talk about such and such?" I said "I don't know, it depends on whether you really want to know about such and such or not, whether I can talk about it." And they said "Of course we want to know." ... (laughter) ... "Of course we want to know." And I said "If you really want to know, for yourself, not for your tape recorders or for your audience, but for yourself — if you really want to know something from me for yourself, of course I'll speak about it. I can't help but talk about it." And oh, they understood that perfectly well, and they set me up and they said "Now Mel, what do you think of such and such?" And I stared at them. I could not open my mouth. And the cameras were running, and the tape recorders were rolling, and I just stood there. It was embarrassing, because it was all set up. The director was there, everything was going, and I just stood there. And I was trying to react, to reply, you know, but I just couldn't. And then they got nervous, and they tried to re-state it. And it kept going on and on, and the whole scene was getting so up tight they forgot what was happening. They actually forgot what the scene was supposed to be about. And the director got so involved that he truly asked me something, and I truly reacted and told him something. And we got into such a fantastic intense conversation — it was about astrology. It went on for half an hour. And he never realized for a moment, once we entered that talk, that it was being filmed or taped. And he was the director, supposed to be running things. I was totally aware of where every cameraman was, where all the microphones were, everything, and it didn't detract from the conversation at all. So I was the director, you see, and I was leading the conversation, and everything I said was honest.
Now you, in that same kind of situation, you could have replied to their questions.
Jim: That's right.
Mel:I would've if I could've. I'd have said anything to get out of that spot, because it was uncomfortable, but I couldn't. No words came. They just weren't there. See, you still have that kind of choice. You can say "Well, shall I be real or not real?" ... (laughter) ... "Honest or dishonest?" There is none of that happening with me. It's absolute need.
Jim: It gets harder and harder for me to make that choice.
Mel:Of course.
Jim: It's becoming more extreme. Either I'm in a situation and I'm totally honest, or I'm totally dishonest. Every day I become more and more aware of my dishonesty. Lately, when I'm performing with the jug band, I'm so fucking dishonest it's revolting. I might be feeling sad or confused or angry or lonely, but when I get up on stage, I put a smile on my face, a few funny words come from my mouth, and I sing "Dee dum deedle dee dum." It's like I'm about due for a nervous breakdown. I mean I've got to completely destroy everything. Everything. I've got to completely destroy it. And I've got to go so far to the bottom that it just destroys itself. I can't even tell you ............. how painful it is.
Mel:Is it as painful as what happened between you and Marilyn and that girl the other day?
Jim: No.
Mel:It's gonna have to be.
Jim: I know..... (laughter) .... I know that ........ That's what I'm waiting for. When it's that painful it'll all be over.
Mel:It's gotta get to the point where you no longer have any choice.
Jim: It's incredible, man. Before I get up on stage with the jug band I say to myself "OK, you're goin' up on stage, and you're not gonna bullshit anybody ...... (laughter) ... You're just gonna be honest." And then I get up on stage man, and I'm totally dishonest. From the first thing that comes out of my mouth, I cannot say a fucking honest word.
Mel:Of course, 'cause you walked up there with an attitude. You see what I mean? An attitude of "I'm gonna tell the truth." You've already separated yourself from those people.
Jim: It's really funny how just the opposite of what I really want to happen, really happens.
Mel:It's that Capricorn moon opposite your Cancer sun.
Jim: Each time I get up there I look out at the audience, and I think to myself, "What have I got to say to them? ... Nothing." — And then I think to myself "But you gotta say something." And then I think to myself "No, you don't have to say anything." ..... (laughter) ...... And then I think to myself, "BUT YOU GOTTA SAY SOMETHING!" .... (laughter) ... And then I say "Well, if I can't think of anything to say, but I gotta say something, maybe I should said something that I've said before, 'cause I can remember that." And then I walk up to the microphone and say "Hi, gang." ... (laughter) ....
Mel:Oh God!.... Instead, you should express your confusion.
Jim: That's right, that's right.
Mel:See, I have no choice in that situation. I am totally trapped in what I'm feeling right at the time. It's like in Germany, at that one scene I was telling you about, between me and the director. He said "Well, tell us about your life. How do you live?" And I tried to think about how I lived. And I couldn't think about anything, except that I couldn't think about how I lived. It wasn't real. He said "Well, what did you do yesterday?" And I tried to remember. And he said "Did you get up in the morning?" And I tried to remember that. And I would've talked about those things if I could've remembered them, but they weren't even there.
Jim: Besides, you knew all the while that it didn't make any difference.
Mel:I still would've talked if I could've. I would have talked about it just to maybe like try and get something goin'. So every time he'd ask me a question like that, my face would twist up and I'd try to think, and I'd just look at him and no words would come out .......... Somehow, I finally told him that the only thing that was real to me right then was him.... And he said "Well, what do you really want to do in the world?" And I said "Talk to you." He said "Well, what do you want to talk about?" And I said "What do you want to know?" — It left him carrying the ball.
Jim: Was he on camera?
Mel:Yeah.
Jim: He was trying to be the moderator.
Mel:He was trying to keep things going.
Jim: And keep himself out of it.
Mel:Right........ You know about me eating ice cream on television and that whole thing, don't you?
Jim: No .... (laughter) ,,, Tell me.
Mel:We did a television press conference, where the press was all sitting out there asking us questions about the Vietnam war and life in America, and all that stuff.
Jim: And Lew was answering?
Mel:Lew and Jane. And I was sitting there with them, eating ice cream. I had a great big ice cream sundae. The interpreter was sitting next to me saying "Don't eat ice cream, don't eat ice cream." And God, if I could've not eaten ice cream, I certainly would've, because it was very uncomfortable eating ice cream in that situation.
Jim: How did the ice cream get there?
Mel:We were above a restaurant, and I had ordered ice cream downstairs, and they hadn't brought it to me. And so I told this cat to bring it to me upstairs in the studio. And he brought it to me right before we went on camera ... (laughter) And I ate ice cream throughout the whole thing. That's all I did.
Jim: You didn't say anything?
Mel:And every mouthful was painful. And the spoon shook all the way to my mouth, but I couldn't stop eating ice cream .... (laughter)
Jim: God, I wouldn't have been able to do that.
Mel:I wouldn't have done it if I'd had any choice. I would've talked about my philosophy. But that was my philosophy. My philosophy is NOW.......
You can't truly be effective as long as you're concerned about the consequences. I mean you have to risk everything, every moment of your life, everything you do.
Jim: I know that. I mean I know that in my mind, but I don't know it enough to live it. But I tell myself that all the time.
Mel:I was thinking about that scene the other night over at David's house. I said things to those people I really rather would not have said at all. Because those things would make them hate me, it might make them get up and leave. The chance was there that if I spoke what I felt, they would not get anything from it. You know what I mean?
Jim: That you would have blown the whole thing?
Mel:Yeah, that I would've blown it. That I would've made a fool of myself and not accomplished anything, but I had to say those things because that's what I felt.
Jim: The same thing happens to me. I get in that exact same situation, only I get afraid. And I tell myself these things all the time, you know. And I don't have the ........ I guess the word is courage.
Mel:Yes. That's the word. Courage is when — I mean it comes from the battlefield when you've risked your life to do what has to be done.
Jim: Risked your self.
Mel:After all, what is your life?

Mel Lyman