Mama pulled my hand and asked, “you feel like talking?”
I knew what coming. Two days prior they found the shadows in her brain that registered that things had gone deeply wrong. This was not a casual chat…She was unburdening herself of the weight of decades of secrets. This was Mama traveling light.
There’s a beautiful thing that happens to the elderly when they know they have lived. They start unpacking their lives and redistributing their wealth, both in material goods and pearls of wisdom. The wealth of wisdom they have to share is beautifully married to an absence of fucks-to-give. As they age, our elders eschew the constrictions of decorum and politeness.
They break wind as they need. They say whatever the fuck they like. Lord knows they’ve earned it: the right to spit up in their declining days, the bitter indignities they held in silence and let sour in their gut – pain that our ilk has neither the intestinal fortitude nor constitutional integrity to stomach. – So here baby, take this afghan and these earrings I always see you looking at, cause you gon’ get this work.
But that ain’t what Quincy Jones is doing.
Jones’s recent spate of interviews does not read like a man lightening the load on his soul in the last leg of his journey but like one who is revealing and reveling in how heavy and dark it is. His abrading stories don’t ring with the generosity of spirit that acts as a salve when elders truths burn tender young egos.
And while many have read his feckless words with carefree glee and delight, I could find no cause for celebration. Mr. Jones is revealing himself to be an ugly, petty, and arrogant man whose musical genius is now overshadowed by his moral turpitude.
It’s not particularly endearing to hear a man tell you he actively shuns women over 42 (that’s still half his age) in favor of women young enough to be his great-granddaughter. It’s not especially uplifting to read about his disgust for beloved musicians you’ve seen him stand and smile with for decades. It doesn’t reveal any grand charisma to stomp on the accomplishments of relative upstarts who have managed to grow despite the shade cast by your looming shadow. It doesn’t take any act of great courage or charisma to spill the secrets of the defenseless dead. In fact, it’s a special kind of cowardice to boast how you stood by and watched people behave as bullies and monsters and continued to participate in their revelry.
Years ago when news of Bill Cosby’s now well-known history of sexual predation was still being ignored, I told my then-wife. “Don’t get it twisted, that nigga used to hang with Quincy Jones. He aint Doctor Huxtable. They both Dr. Jekyll.” That wasn’t rooted exclusively in fact but sound conjecture from good sources and an overall sense of “aint right” that the always-too-slick Jones seems to carry.
Jones, like Cosby, benefits from the goodwill and forgiving lights of the 80s. He’s the man who stood next to Micheal Jackson while his legendary catalogue of hits was created. He made “We Are The World” happen. He’s Oprah’s fave.
But this is also a man who has consistently worked in the music industry since his teens. He spent a lot of nights in a lot of alleys with Miles Davis and heroin. Q stood by as Ray ascended in the music world and declined morally. He was ‘around’ when Cosby was doping and raping women. Quincy Jones seems to have lived a life in the periphery of filth and hedonism.
By his own account Quincy has seen a lot of shit, but outside of his self-celebratory and unquestionably misogynistic claims of unfettered womanizing, Quincy Jones emerges clean of any wrongdoing or any proclivities that would shift the public view of him.
But where was he when all this scheming an lying was going on? When all the sucking and fucking was going down, where was Quincy Jones? Sitting in the corner taking notes? Standing by the door holding coats? The only way to have seen as much shit as Quincy Jones has seen is to be knee-deep in that shit.
Jones is spilling other people’s guts, in preparation for a massive celebration of his life and accomplishments – again. Back in 1979 when he suffered a life-threatening aneurysm, his friends and family – many of whom he’s outlived and is now dishing on – arranged a high-profile memorial service which Jones attended with his neurologist in tow, in the event the emotion would overtake him. And now at the age of 85, he’s doing an encore, this time, propping himself up on the corpses of those legends and emptying his bowels on them with a cavalier air that suggests no love or loyalty to people he once rubbed elbows – and lord knows what else, with.
I don’t know for a fact the Quincy Jones did a lot of dirt, but I’ve been privy to rumors and insinuations about him from people who have cause to know. An old man I worked with in my brief stint in music gave me his Gold and Platinum records for Thriller with a handwritten note by MJ. After years serving in an industry that sullies your soul, he was moving on. Packing light. Gold and Platinum platters notwithstanding, all I took with me when I left there were the golden nuggets and pearls of wisdom I got from him and a few other elders who survived that business: Lay down with dogs, you get fleas. People survive here on mutually assured self-destruction. Expense everything you do, it’s all business. All of it, nobody’s hands are clean. The bigger the house, the more rooms, the more skeletons in those closets.
When Mama called me to her bedside to lighten her load, she unburdened her soul of her secrets, shames, and torment she’s held inside. She knew about the book I was writing, she just didn’t know if she’d get to see it (she did by the way- she’s still here). When I asked how telling my story would affect her, Mama said, “you got to tell your story, I got to tell mine. We can’t live downtrodden to prop anybody else up, any more than we can step on other people to make ourselves tall.”
I guess that’s why I find it hard to find celebration in Quincy Jones’s dishing of the secrets of others and his seeming disdain for almost everyone he’s worked with. I know in my soul that after 66 years in this business he’s slinging mudballs with dirty hands.