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My Smooth Trip Through the Rolling Donut of Doom

Today I had to get an MRI for a painful knee injury (turns out it was a torn meniscus and some cartilage damage, but that's not the story here). I had MRIs before, so I was expecting it to be the same claustrophobic situation that I remembered from my past. Luckily, because of the nature of my injury, I was rolled in feet first instead of head first; a big difference on the claustrophobia scale. Nevertheless, I was a bit nervous as I entered the MRI examination room, not knowing which end would be going in first. And as I made my way to the machine, the friendly technician with the sunny disposition asked me, "What kind of music do you want to hear today? We have Spotify playlists."

I was taken aback by the question and couldn't think straight, given my uneasiness under the circumstances. I should've paused and given it some serious thought. After all, I was going to be held captive in the rolling donut of doom for approximately 15-20 minutes. This was a big decision. But I choked like Ralph Kramden in the Honeymooners episode, "Better Living Through TV," when he and Ed Norton were shooting the "Chef of the Future" commercial live on television, and all Ralph could mutter under the pressure of the lights, camera and millions of home viewers was: "Humina-humina-humina!"

I stammered a bit, then blurted out: "Jazz!"

As I lay down with plush headphones clamped to my ears and rubber 'rescue bulb' placed in my hand in case I started experiencing a claustrophobic freak out inside the machine, I began to realize I should've been more specific with the MRI technician. The machine already had a loud, rhythmic 'ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk' sound going on that reminded me of my youthful days of working on the line at American Motors in Milwaukee. I joked to the assistant technician, "I said jazz, not disco!" She laughed. And then as I began making my slow trip feet first into the dreaded rolling donut of doom, the music began piping into the headphones loud and clear. It was Kenny G. Or some other pretender to his smooth jazz throne playing the 'love horn' (soprano sax) on top of a pre-fabricated, machine-like rhythm section replete with cheesy mechanized handclaps. "Should I squeeze the rescue bulb?" I asked myself, considering my plight. After all, I was trapped in a smooth jazz nightmare. The second tune came on. This time it was trumpet carrying the main insipid melody on top of an equally horrible mechanized rhythm track (with more happy handclaps). Then came a tenor sax blowing another sunny melody on top of another cheesy Ziplock rhythm track (cue the handclaps).

As I lay there for the full 15-20 minute stretch, taking in this utter mechanized pap, my mind wandered through the endless list of names that I might've given to the MRI technician, had I gotten more specific when she asked me what I wanted to hear on Spotify: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report, Django Reinhardt, Stan Getz, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Booker Ervin, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ahmad Jamal, Pat Martino, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers...any of them would've been an infinitely more pleasant way to pass the time while inside the machine. The sheer mechanized, soul-less beats, so solidly, obviously defining the beat in such square, remedial fashion was absolutely mind-numbing to me. But rather than make me wretch, it really made me appreciate the breath and creativity and intuitive genius and just boundless hipness and heart that you hear from bar to bar in every great jazz drummer from Papa Jo Jones to Philly Joe Jones to Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Brian Blade, Mike Clark, Johnathan Blake, Jonathan Barber, Marcus Gilmore, Tyshawn Sorey, Bill Stewart...on and on.

Yeah, I definitely should've thought a little longer about that Spotify list.

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