on external pressures and revolution (5/23)

When Gabriel Favoino showed up to the Birdhouse Club in Chicago to interview Thelonious Monk, he didn’t expect to find the pianist holding court with a group of college students. But as the dimly lit spot’s floor opened up to aspiring university journalists and jazz enthusiasts, just as he had once been, he couldn’t help but be a fly-on-the-wall for the High Priest’s conversations.

Young men pestered the pianist with questions, philosophical discussions, and pleas for advice on how to play his harmonies. It was a pleasant discussion, one in which Monk not only took pride in, but also enjoyed representing the respected industry figure he had become.

Monk seemed to be uncharacteristically talkative that day, straying away from his bipolar bouts of silence, particularly when a group of bystanders implored him to touch on Ornette Colman – the young saxophonist whose development of “free jazz” had seemingly transformed the industry.

To everyone but Monk, of course. "Something was always happenin', but I don't think it's going to revolutionize jazz," he proclaimed, dismissing the "prophetic" musician as nothing more than a mere imitation. It was a startling answer, yet one that conformed to Monk's uncompromising artistic standards, as Favoino would later write: "Today's trailblazers are tomorrow's conservatives."

And 50 years after his first novel was published (and 60 more followed), Stephen King found himself in a similar position – no longer today's "trailblazer" of horror fiction. Reaching almost 72 years old, it was only a matter of time before younger writers would push him closer and closer to irrelevance.

“God will tell me when to retire,” King would reflect in this interview. “He’ll say, ‘Get out of the game, hang up your jock, you’re done.’ But until then, this is the best job in the world because no one can make you retire at a mandatory age.”

True artistry not only transcends fads or trends, but finds the balance between innovation and cultural authenticity. King’s statement is so different from Monk’s, yet so precisely similar. A refusal to conform to external pressures, to cave on the creative vision, to be boxed in by expectations – that’s the real trailblazing.

And for King at least, it seemed to work out quite well. “For now, I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I get to be on The Colbert Show – not a bad deal.”