I'm reading yet another Jean-Michel Basquiat catalogue, as I usually am, a little bit each day. The one I'm working on right now is a stand-out volume that everyone who cares about Basquiat or the early 1980's must have. It's Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Street, edited by Jeffrey Deitch, Franklin Sirmans, and Nicola Vassell. What makes it special is that has substantial interviews from 2006 with Basquiat's old running mates: Glenn O'Brien, Fab 5 Freddy, and so on, even Suzanne Mallouk. Their recollections, particularly about the importance of music to JMB, are full of insights not found in other sources.
Just now I came across a tantalizing tidbit that I have to share. It's from Deitch's interview with Arto Lindsay.
Lindsay: There's another story which is pretty wild: You know the painting Famous Negro Athletes? He [JMB] tried to form a band, Famous Negro Athletes, which was going to be him, David Byrne and myself.I almost wish I had not read that. My two favourite cultural figures tried to form a band and no one recorded it?! I don't care how coked up they were; I want to hear that!
Lindsay: We actually had a rehearsal, but it was just too cocaine-addled to get anywhere. I mean, we had the one rehearsal and all got so messed up that it was really difficult to communicate once we actually tried to play. That would have been a wild band...
Deitch: Great name for a band.
Lindsay: Yeah, great name for a band, and to not have all black guys in it was pretty brilliant.
Deitch: So that's something fresh. I never heard that before.
Lindsay: Well, I don't think anybody would remember that except for David, myself, and the person that lent Jean-Michel the loft where we rehearsed, or at least tried to rehearse.
Here is a strange coincidence: I also read today for the first time of the Beatles' unreleased experiment of 1967, 'Carnival of Light', in the Guardian/Observer. At least that survives. We may actually get to hear it one day.
I'm assuming that the lost Byrne-Basquiat session occurred c. 1980-1981, the period of Remain in Light and Eno & Byrne. Basquiat pretty much stopped making music after that and concentrated on painting. But what if things had gone differently? What if they had tried again? What if Basquiat had survived the 80's and taken up music again and done an album with Byrne at some later date? True, it would not have been part of that brilliant, irreplaceable moment at the start of the 80's, but it would still have been something special.
That's the stupid, useless thing about dying young: the work that never gets made. What would Basquiat have painted, Keats have written, MLK and RFK have achieved? All we can do is be glad we're still here, redouble our efforts to do something ourselves, and, about the things that never were, ask, heart-breakingly, what if?