Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: Old Friends Are the Best Friends: The Letters of John McKee and Mike Metheny

Having incurred the wrath of Mike Metheny, I've learned that his eloquent rebukes can cut very deeply.  Until the release of Old Friends Are the Best Friends: The Letters of John McKee and Mike Metheny, I had no way of knowing that he’d been spent years honing his considerable wit in extensive correspondence with an even more expressive friend.

The new book reveals that John McKee is much more than the title of a compelling Pat Metheny composition.  Pat and his big brother Mike struck up a lasting friendship with their neighbor McKee as boys in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Old Friends Are the Best Friends collects a portion of the letters Mike Metheny and Mckee wrote to one another when the jazz musician lived in Boston and the latter man ran his family’s business in Lee’s Summit.  At more than 500 pages and almost four pounds, the volume looks imposing.  Yet the fascinating discourse of what McKee characterized as a “20-year bull session” is consistently delightful.

Jazz fans will appreciate McKee’s thoughtful reflections on musicians including Thelonious Monk (“full of the frightening dissonances of our time”) and Metheny’s colorful accounts of his career, such as his observation that the New York City venue Fat Tuesday’s was so intimate that “we trumpet players must be careful not to empty our spit valves onto a customer’s knees.”

The erudite pals also discuss books, movies, social issues and theology.  High-minded essays are balanced by lighter fare.  McKee’s dismissal of an inconsequential Farrah Fawcett film is hilarious.

The men were aware of the exceptional quality of their letters.  McKee speculated that “someday this ranting and raving might see the light of day with some sort of public printing.”  McKee died in 1989.  He was 44.  Old Friends Are the Best Friends is an entertaining and enlightening tribute to Metheny’s remarkable confidant.

1 comment:

Mike Metheny said...

My apologies for the "wrath" once upon a time, Bill. I'm happy to report that I've mellowed considerably since the days when I was so full of myself and the master of overreaction and hyperbole. I must also add that my admiration for your skills as a music journalist has been at the highest level for 20-plus years now. Keep up the great work, and thanks for mentioning the new book. mm