Walter Kolosky Interview: Follow Your Heart
Walter Kolosky, the author of the acclaimed Power, Passion and Beauty – The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra had no plans to write a book specifically about the leader of that band, John McLaughlin. His next work was going to be about the movies. He says he is still going to write that one, but the order of things has changed. In the meantime, his new book Follow Your Heart: John McLaughlin Song by Song – A Listener’s Guide was officially released on November 1 by Abstract Logix Books.
Over the summer of 2010, Kolosky presented a sneak peek of his new book during a presentation he was invited to give by The Cordoba Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain.
Recently, Abstract Logix interviewed Kolosky to find out why he decided to write about John McLaughlin again and why he chose such a unique format to do so.
Abstract Logix: Before we get to the actual book’s contents, you must have been thrilled that Chick Corea agreed to write the foreword.
Walter Kolosky: More than I can say. His manager Bill Rooney was most helpful in getting this done. Chick is the busiest man in jazz. For him to find the time to write something for me was a dream come true. At the same time, I was quite confident that Chick’s deep admiration of John would play in my favor. I am very thankful Chick proved me right!
Abstract Logix: Where did the idea to write about 298 of John McLaughlin’s songs from 1969 to 2010 come from?
Walter Kolosky: I was driven to write this book mostly by fans that convinced me there was a real need to chronicle McLaughlin’s career above and beyond Mahavishnu and put it in one place for purposes of enjoyment, history and study. Truthfully, I didn’t need much nudging. After all, we are really talking about one of the most important musicians on the planet today. However, I decided that if I were to write such a book, I had to take a totally unique approach.
My last book, Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra came out about four years ago, but I still receive a lot of mail from fans who tell me one of their favorite things to do is to listen to a particular Mahavishnu Orchestra cut while they read about that song in the book. The idea also stems from my experience writing for Jazz.com. Reviews on that site were of individual tunes and not whole albums. This made you listen to each song much more deeply. I heard many new things by doing that. I thought John McLaughlin fans and others would be interested in doing the same thing. I’ll never forget the thrill of discovering McLaughlin’s music. It was literally life-changing. It was an experience I thought I could never relive. I was wrong. Going back and listening to every single minute of music again in such a focused way was very profound. It didn’t matter I had already heard “Birds of Fire” about 1,000 times. I still discovered things. There were true revelations. I would find myself listening to The Heart Of Things’ albums and pausing the CD player to run to the bookshelf and grab a McLaughlin album from 1970 to discover the genesis of a motif or melody. It was fascinating.
Abstract Logix: Who is the audience for Follow Your Heart?
Walter Kolosky: It is a listener’s guide and is best enjoyed while listening to the music. So, first and foremost, it was written with the listener in mind, whether that be the everyday fan, musician or student. The more McLaughlin music you have, the more you will get from this book. If you don’t have all the music, I hope Follow Your Heart makes you get some more. Of course, I am very interested in reaching people who are not yet fans of McLaughlin’s work as well. The book is more than just a listener’s guide. It can be read straight through as a history of jazz, rock, fusion and world music. It is also a quick reference guide and, very importantly, it is a source of inspiration as well. John McLaughlin kindly agreed to comment on many songs. He very much agreed with my approach, which was to shy away from dry analysis and, instead, focus more on the pure act of listening. It is really about cause and effect. That’s why he plays. He wants to make people happy or to move them in some way. Readers will not only learn about the music in this book, they will learn about the man behind it as well.
Abstract Logix: Follow Your Heart is not simply a collection of reviews. Each album and song seams to be approached in a different manner. Some tunes, for instance the Mahavishnu and Shakti stuff, can be quite detailed when it comes to describing song structure. There are other songs on which the structure is not touched upon.
Walter Kolosky: This is quite on purpose. Form and structure are emphasized when I think it is important. They are not emphasized when I believe they are not so important. This is all very subjective. Not everyone will agree with me about everything and I probably made a mistake or two in counting time or structural analysis that someone will point out to me. This is music that sometimes can quite easily fool you. But, I hope readers will get a fuller understanding of McLaughlin’s musical portfolio that allows them to enjoy it in a way maybe they never thought about before. I simply let the music lead me.
Abstract Logix: As you said earlier, the book is designed so that regular fans and musicians can both enjoy it. How did you go about trying to obtain that equilibrium?
Walter Kolosky: I am not a musician. I can play guitar just good enough to impress myself in my own house. However, I have a very good ear and know just enough about structure to be dangerous. I used a simple formula to make this book accessible. With the help of some fine musicologists, who have studied McLaughlin’s music deeply for many years, I acted as any good news reporter would. I asked them specific questions about music structure in McLaughlin’s work that I had questions about. In the end, if I was able to grasp what they were talking about, and write about it in an understandable way, it may appear in the book. If I couldn’t – it does not. By following that rule, I could represent the everyday fan and the serious musician at the same time. For the uber-serious, I provide resources in the book for deep study and analysis of McLaughlin’s music.
I am most grateful to the musicologists who helped me – Marco Anderson, John Curtin, Marc Rossi, Nat Janoff and Massimo Morrone. My senior editors, Rod Sibley and Ted McCallion, were also very knowledgeable.
Abstract Logix: What was the hardest part in writing about 298 songs?
Walter Kolosky: It is to try and not repeat yourself. I mean, how many different ways can you say John McLaughlin is a great composer and guitar player, or that two musicians may play in unison? It is very difficult. It forces you to approach each album and song from a different place. I think readers will be appreciative that I had to do that. Each album and song is its own story.
Abstract Logix: I must say that Follow Your Heart has some of the most remarkable pictures of John McLaughlin’s career I have ever seen.
Walter Kolosky: Thank you for bringing that up. I spent months searching the world for images of John McLaughlin that have never been seen before. I contacted everybody I could think of. In many cases, we had to scan photos from private collections that were over three decades old and make them as presentable as possible. I am so thankful to each and every photographer whose work appears in the book. I have confidence that my written words are good enough to support interest in this book, but I believe many fans will want to own Follow Your Heart for the photos alone.
Abstract Logix: That’s a beautiful cover too.
Walter Kolosky: Thank you. Joe DeRenzo, its designer, and I wanted it to be clean and pure. That is why it is mostly white. Although I associate many colors with John McLaughlin’s music, white is the most dominant in my mind. The pictures on the cover represent John McLaughlin in transition. And of course, the title Follow Your Heart, which came from McLaughlin’s composition of the same name, is the core of McLaughlin’s life and music. For that matter, it should be the driving force for us all.