Goin' through them changes

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"He once asked me, 'Why are you looking at me funny?' and I told him, 'Cause there's something funny to look at,'" Miles says.

"The dude's a goddamned hypocrite," he continues. "I hate to say that, because Carlos is really a good player, man. But I don't like hypocritical shit. You know: If you get high, you get high; if you don't, you don't. I mean, God ain't gonna punish it. But God don't like ugly, and he damned sure don't give a fuck about pretty, either."

Miles elaborates on Santana's hypocrisy shortly before joining Nitzinger onstage at the rockin' blues fete. "I don't give a damn about somebody telling me, well, that I'm this and I'm that and I'm a drug addict...I'm a lot of goddamned things. But I'm one of God's people. And I consider myself a good man. [Santana] hasn't given me so much as a phone call, and I did not one but two albums with him, and he feels like, 'Hey, my name is Carlos Santana, and fuck you when I don't need you.' That's the impression I get. To me, he bullshitted me--I've never said that, but I'll bring it out now. Why not?"

Miles is referring not only to Santana's one-time predilection for drugs but also to his ignoring Miles since the drummer went to prison, an experience that he claims profoundly changed his life. But he's a bit vague as to exactly how that happened. "My [stretch in prison] gave me dialogue, it gave me format," he says simply.

Does that mean in his approach to drugs?
"Let me tell you something about drugs, my friend," he says. "You don't use drugs as a pacifier."

He pauses, then adds, "When I went to prison, nobody put me in prison but Buddy Miles, OK? I paid for it; I served my time. Now I chose it that way, so fine and dandy. OK. That's the reason I say I learned something from [being in prison]. Because freedom is the ultimate. Period."

By this point, most of the onlookers have left the room; Nitzinger will shortly be hitting the stage in a prelude set before Miles joins him. Miles' manager checks his watch and suggests, again, that the big man might want to hop in the shower and get ready for the show.

"Just a minute, and I'll be ready," Miles soothes. "I got just a few more things I want to say, and I wanna play this tape."

He thinks for a minute. "Y'see, music has always been about understanding, and it hasn't really changed in that respect. It's also a lot like women; there's lots of goodness and honesty. Or not." He laughs, and while much of what he's said this night--be it about the '60s, the absurdity of radio formats, or his own peculiar theology--has approached sheer ludicrousness, selected moments emerge at the oddest times and coalesce into a compelling profundity.

Miles clearly has some problems: He speaks frankly of his weight and a need to "get in shape and get it together," that there are opportunities at hand and he wants to be ready. And about whether his peculiar conversational tangents this night have anything to do with drugs, Nitzinger will only say that--as a recovering substance abuser himself--he's not about to risk what he's accomplished by hooking up with a junkie of any kind.

As Miles' manager impatiently taps his wristwatch, signifying that it's time to get in the shower, the drummer finally heaves himself up and takes the demo over to the cassette player. He grabs a chair from the dining room table and sits in front of the stereo, waiting intently like a symphony conductor. "I'm playing and singin' everything on this," he says with childlike modesty.

When the music starts, it's wonderful.
First up is a rocking gospel-type number called "At the Dark End of the Street." With a voice at once reminiscent of Al Green and Aaron Neville, Miles soars like an angel. Listening to the tape, he rocks back and forth in the chair like an evangelist, his eyes closed, harmonizing with his own majestic voice.

Next up is "You're My Friend," comprising elements of hip-hop, Stevie Wonder, and Stax/Volt funk--a monster song Prince would give his purple dwarf's scepter to have written. To watch Miles doing a one-man Four Tops pantomime in accompaniment--in a biker's mobile home, set in a scene that could only have been envisioned by Luis Bunuel looking through the eyes of Sonny Barger--is a truly American juxtaposition. It's as though, through the simple act of hearing his own music, Miles has come alive in a manner not possible on any narcotic.

"One more," Miles grins, pointing at the stereo. And finally, in homage to Jimi, perhaps, comes Miles' fresh and staggeringly cool take on "All Along the Watchtower," featuring a Chautauqua sense of vocal passion and a soul-wrenching guitar solo that can surely be sensed in the moist earth on the Renton, Washington, cemetery where Jimi lies.

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Rick Koster