La Monte Young

On the Oxford University Press publication
Draw A Straight Line and Follow It:
The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young

My attached letter to Oxford editor Suzanne Ryan and the Statement I had requested Oxford publish, both dated August 8, 2011, set forth that, although I had given interviews to Jeremy Grimshaw during the period when he was writing his Ph.D. dissertation about me and allowed him considerable access to our archives, I do not feel the book should be published in the version that was last made available to me.

In June 2009, I was having severe health problems. I was able to thoroughly correct what was then the Introduction chapter but as I reviewed the following chapters I found so many errors needing correction that I just did not have the strength or time to continue working on it. On July 5, 2011, I offered to Jeremy that “Having had a miraculous remission from my osteoarthritis, recovered from my prostate surgery and finished my most recent concert series, I could possibly take a look at your final manuscript and see if I can help.” To my surprise, my offer was not accepted and, since that time, neither he nor Oxford have allowed me to see the more current version that has now gone to press, nor did they agree to let me publish a Statement of my position in the book.

I was very shocked by this refusal to accept my offer to help make the many corrections that could only be made by Marian and me. We had treated Jeremy as though he could potentially write an in-depth scholarly document about our work, letting him stay in the 4th floor Archives at Church Street to have direct access to letters and other documents to carry on his research. From the very inception of the project we had functioned in sincere cooperation with Jeremy, correcting the early drafts as he sent them to us and supplying additional e information. As I wrote in the Statement that Oxford declined to publish: “Being the idealist that I am, I had imagined a process whereby we would slowly work with Jeremy and carefully try to delineate the facts about my life and my work. Since the project began with much promise and mutual enthusiasm, I certainly never imagined that I would be writing this statement of disagreement with his book at this point in time.”

The version of the book that Marian Zazeela and I last worked on in 2009, and that Grimshaw made available at that time to my most long-term colleagues, Terry Riley, Charles Curtis and Jung Hee Choi, was riddled with more than 200 serious factual errors. In addition, Terry, Charles and Jung Hee found numerous other significant problems in the book. After careful study I concluded that the Oxford book is a disgrace to scholarship and that I could not direct any serious scholar to this book because of:

a. Grimshaw’s failure to understand the profound significance of Marian and I having become disciples of Pandit Pran Nath in early 1970 after bringing him to the U.S. and living with him much of the time for 26 years, studying the Kirana gharana (style) of Indian classical raga singing in the traditional gurukul method of serving the master night and day. I am probably the first Westerner upon whom the title of Khan Sahib has been conferred (and by no less than Ustad Hafizullah Khan, the Khalifa of our gharana and the son of Pandit Pran Nath’s teacher Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Sahib) but Grimshaw is still harping on Mormonism. As I indicate in the Statement that Oxford refused to publish, there was an extraordinary development in The Well-Tuned Piano after I began my studies with Pandit Pran Nath in 1970. One example of this influence was Pandit Pran Nath’s approach to badhat, the concept of organically unfolding the pitches of the alap, descending and ascending one pitch of the mode at a time, that influenced the 1974 live Rome world premiere of The Well-Tuned Piano, and distinguished it and all the later performances from the 1964 recordings. From the time that I first began to comprehend the inner meaning of the technique and then applied it to The Well-Tuned Piano, my understanding of music and my approach to improvisation and composition were changed forever.

By the time I entered high school in 1950 I was playing in a Dixieland band and jazz had become my guiding light. In a nostalgic reminiscence to my “cool jazz” alto saxophone days of the mid-’50s, “hard bop” trumpeter Tommy Turrentine is quoted in “Thinking in Jazz” (Paul Berliner, University of Chicago Press, 1994):

“For all them cats, it was a matter of conception. La Monte Young was the first person to make me aware of that word. One day, when we was walking home from a rehearsal, he said, ‘Hey, Tom, you have to start thinking about conception, man.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Because you sounded sadder’n seven thousand muthafuckahs on that tune. You didn’t know where you were going.’ About which he was right. In improvisation, you’ve got to have a basic conception of whatever you’re playing just to know when to start and stop. If you don’t, something funny’s going to jump off.”

At this point, Mormonism was already far gone from my life.

b. the numerous errors, such as Grimshaw’s citing the wrong professors at the wrong schools at the wrong times, serious errors in the notation of musical transcriptions, other incorrect dates. Much of this material was either made available to him or could be found in print but Grimshaw was so eager to paint his imaginary version of who he thought I was, or who he wanted to portray me to be, that he just did not take the trouble to check his facts.

c. the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of who I am and what I have done in music. All three of my closest colleagues, Terry Riley, Charles Curtis and Jung Hee Choi, independently concurred that the Mormonism element of the book was so overemphasized it became totally out of proportion and that Jeremy had portrayed me as a character who was practically unrecognizable to them. Early on Jeremy had explained to me that Oxford expected his book to fit in with a number of their other publications geared toward a Mormon readership, but at that point I could not have imagined the La Monte Young persona that Grimshaw would concoct. Grimshaw’s book reads almost like a Mormon missionary tract, and l know these well, inasmuch as I handed out many such tracts as a teenager when I was a “home missionary” to the local Church members.

Grimshaw has pushed his own agenda while misunderstanding and perhaps intentionally misrepresenting an essential part of my life. When we consider the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Mormons my age, none of whom have introduced long sustained tones into music, written compositions like the Trio for Strings, The Four Dreams of China or The Well-Tuned Piano or created a performing group like The Just Alap Raga Ensemble, how can Grimshaw imagine that it was mainly because of my Mormon roots that I did all of these things?

I am attaching several writings that will give the reader more of an insider’s view into my life and music:

1. my letter to Suzanne Ryan, Executive Editor, Music Books, Oxford University Press, of August 8, 2011:
La Monte Young: Letter to S. Ryan
2. the accompanying Statement that I asked her to publish in the book if she would not allow me to submit my corrections so that readers and scholars could be made aware of my concerns:
La Monte Young: Statement
3. Terry Riley’s letter of August 12, 2011 to Suzanne Ryan in support of my position:
Terry Riley: Letter to S. Ryan
4. Jung Hee Choi’s email of Saturday, February 13, 2010 to Jeremy Grimshaw:
Jung Hee Choi: Thoughts About Your Book
5. Also attached is Jung Hee Choi’s essay, SOUND:
Jung Hee Choi: Sound: A Basis for Universal Structure
6. Sandy McCroskey’s essay, Mormonomania: Grimshaw’s Fairy Tales:
Sandy McCroskey: Mormonomania: Grimshaw’s Fairy Tales

The attached writings delineate my position clearly and in greater detail.

As I wrote in the Statement of August 8, 2011 that Oxford declined to publish:

“It is the rush to publish the book in a hurry that is my greatest concern. Although Jeremy had been in contact with me about his proposed Ph.D. thesis back in late 2000, the book has only been two years under contract with the publisher and many important books have taken decades to bring to completion. I can understand that Jeremy wants to publish the book as soon as possible in order that he can become famous, riding my name to fame. To me, it is a mistake to publish this book with all the errors that it contains. Some of the errors are so serious that they mistakenly attribute my own ideas to other people. For example, Jeremy attributes my creation and my definition of the “Young primes” to my student Catherine Christer Hennix, who enthusiastically entitled them but had nothing to do with creating or defining them. [Note: Since I pointed this error out in my letter to Suzanne Ryan, it has been corrected in the published version of the book, a copy of which I have since purchased (see P. 137)] Jeremy also presents incorrect musical notation of some of my scores and misstates certain subtitles from The Well-Tuned Piano, even though they are clearly written in The Well-Tuned Piano booklet. He has also incorrectly reported significant dates of important events and misspelled proper names. I feel strongly that this book should not be published the way it is.”

Note: Now that I have purchased a copy of the book, I have found that Oxford has deleted many sections that were in the manuscript that was made available to me in 2009. Prompted, I believe, by my having referenced the errors to Oxford, such as “the wrong professors at the wrong schools at the wrong times, serious errors in the notation of musical transcriptions, other incorrect dates,” a number of the errors that I had found have been completely deleted, rather than corrected, and all of the musical transcriptions have been deleted as well. However, many very serious errors still remain in the book. For example, to list only a few of them:

P. 21, Paragraph 2, line 9: “Sometimes, when Dennis had to stay with the herd for extended periods, he would camp in a teepee, and Evelyn would bundle up young La Monte for the horse ride into the hills to take Dennis dinner.” Several years ago, while we were just getting started on the book, I told Jeremy that this was a completely false statement, and it seemed highly unlikely that my mother would risk taking a baby on a horse up into the wilds of the Bern foothills. Jeremy countered that he thought I had given him this information in a previous phone call. I said no and I checked with my mother, who was then already in her 90s and she confirmed that she always left me across the street from the cabin with my father’s mother, Grandma [Young] Wilde. I made this clear to Jeremy but we can see here that he refused to correct it and instead went for the sensational image.

P. 25, Paragraph 4, line 1: “In February 1957, Young left L.A. City College and transferred to UCLA. Although in-state tuition at the time was relatively affordable, Young’s financial circumstances required spartan living: he subsisted, as he tells it, ‘on mustard sandwiches–I bought the bread and stole the mustard.’” Here Jeremy has relayed a fairly well known, colorful story about my life; however, it did not happen while I was attending UCLA because at that time I was living at my Grandmother Wilde’s house and she provided me with food. The mustard sandwiches took place when I was living on a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship at UC Berkeley, two years later, in 1958-59.

P. 104, Paragraph 2, line 5: Grimshaw refers to Pandit Pran Nath’s teacher, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan [1876-1949] as the “cousin of the founder of the Kirana gharana, Abdul Karim Khan [1872-1937].” No Kirana musician would say that Abdul Karim Khan was the founder of the gharana. Everyone traces the lineage of the gharana all the way back to Gopal Nayak, the great court singer of the Yadava dynasty. When King Allauddin Khilji took Devgiri in 1293, his court musician Khwaja Amir Khusru advised him that Gopal Nayak was the most valuable treasure of that realm and that they should take him to Delhi as part of the ransom for lifting the siege of the citadel. He was brought from Devgiri to Delhi as a trophy of war, along with the elephants loaded with precious jewels and gold from the Devgiri citadel. Gopal Nayak later settled in the nearby village of Kirana. Nayak Dhondu and Nayak Bhannu were Gopal Nayak’s disciples and the Kirana gharana was passed down through their successive disciples to the present time. Khan Sahib Abdul Karim Khan was an extraordinary singer, highly celebrated and in such great demand that he was said to have been lighting his cigarettes with bank notes and invitations to sing in the courts of the Maharajas of the time. Nonetheless, it is significant that he sent his son, Suresh Babu Mane, and his daughter, Hirabai Barodekar to study with Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan because of his incomparable knowledge of raga. To put the documented history of the Kirana gharana in a scholarly perspective, Grimshaw could either have asked a Kirana musician, looked online, or consulted some of the texts he cites in his own Bibliography for this volume, such as “Wade, Bonnie. Khyal: Creativity within North India’s Classical Music Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.” (P. 229), or our own “Program Notes for ‘Two Evening Raga Concerts,’ New York City, March 14 and 21, 2009” (P. 233).

In short, the more we read the published book, the more errors we find. It seems that we are at a very similar position to where we were in 2009 when we realized that it was going to take an enormous amount of our time to correct Jeremy’s book for him. Even though they have deleted large sections of his writing, there are still so many errors that it would take a very substantial amount of time to notate them all.

In addition, there are many errors in the Index. Subject matter is listed to be on a certain page but is not, in fact, there. For example, on P. 140, the Index lists for “Pran Nath, Pandit,” Pages 96-101. However, Pandit Pran Nath is not mentioned at all on these pages; instead, the subject appears to be The Tortoise’s Dreams and The Theatre of Eternal Music.

It is highly suspicious to me that both the author and Oxford refused to let me see a more final version of the book once they knew that I found it to be full of inaccuracies. They were without doubt aware that Grimshaw was incapable of correcting all of the errors that I had discovered (or he would have corrected them in the first place) and that I would continue to make it known to the world that this book would only muddy the waters and increase the so-called “great enigma” about who is La Monte Young. Now it appears that in addition to Jeremy’s riding on my name, Oxford wanted to fully exploit the possibility of releasing the next book on La Monte Young no matter that it contains errors, half-truths, outright exaggerations and misrepresentations of facts. What is the rush? The world does not need a book full of errors about me.

In Suzanne Ryan’s response to my letter, she sided with Jeremy and seems to think that he knows more about who I am than I and my long time colleagues know. She wrote: “I must say that I respectfully disagree that there has been a ‘rush to publish’. . . Some of the issues you have raised relate to Jeremy’s interpretation of certain events and his personal opinions. In particular, you and he plainly disagree about the emphasis that should be given in the book to the role that Pandit Pran Nath has played in your personal, professional, and spiritual life. . . As I hope you will appreciate, it is not Oxford’s role to dictate how an author treats such matters, and though this may seem an obvious point, few subjects of biographies entirely agree with the views expressed by their biographers.”

Clearly, with the attitude she expresses, it doesn’t matter what any of the rest of us think, only Oxford and author Grimshaw know the truth. Oxford and Grimshaw are apparently publishing the book for themselves, not for scholarship and not to “straighten the record” or The Line.

I am sure we are all well aware that just because something appears in print doesn’t mean it is true or factual. Jeremy’s writing is highly entertaining and if one does not know the facts, why not believe it?

Over the years, many of us have been exposed to the concept that we might not be able to equate apples and oranges. On Page 22, Paragraph 2 of Chapter 1, Grimshaw writes:

“Still struggling financially, Dennis moved the family in the summer of 1946 to the farming town of American Fork, Utah, where La Monte’s great uncle, Thornton Young, owned a celery [italics LY] farm near the edge of Utah Lake.”

This time he got it right. But on Page 7 of the First Pages of his second book, published earlier in 2010, The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers, Grimshaw describes it as follows:

“My doctoral dissertation analyzed the music of La Monte Young, a maverick composer who made the unlikely life journey from a Southern Idaho cabin and a cucumber [italics LY] farm on the shores of Utah Lake to the center of the Downtown arts scene in New York in the psychedelic 60s.”

Although equating apples and oranges may not be recommended, for Jeremy, equating celery and cucumbers is par for the course. At first, I wondered why Jeremy made so many errors. But in overview, it seems, unfortunately, that it may just be a part of his makeup. He cannot remember all the details and doesn’t take the time to look them up either in his own notes or elsewhere. On the other hand, he loves to write and he has his agendas. The readers will just have to guess what’s correct in his book, if anything.

In fact, we did not ever grow cucumbers on the celery farm.

We rest our case.


Copyright © La Monte Young     Marian Zazeela 2012 top