Posted by Oteil Burbridge on May 10, 2017 The Colonel Has a Master Plan
“It is no measure of mental health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti
“Be in the world but not of it.”
-Yeshua Ben Joseph
“You’ve gotta get your butt outta your face.”
-Chant by Colonel Bruce Hampton
As a young adult living in Atlanta, I was scared and bewildered by the world. It was during this difficult time that I met the Colonel and he played me his song “Basically Frightened.” He helped me realize that there was nothing wrong with me for feeling that way. It was my response to that fear that was not healthy, but the fear was justified. Then he pointed out a whole world of wonder that is bigger than fear, as surely as love is.
He showed me that life is motion. Vibration. We can destroy with thought, word or deed. But we can also create and heal in those exact same ways. Our intention tunes our vibration. Creating and destroying, healing and hurting, loving, and hating are merely different tunings. In my new tuning, my response manifested as a celebration, an exorcism, a healing, a naked rebellion against a sick society, a perpetual last ditch effort at happiness.
Bruce showed me that WE are the instruments. So I allowed Bruce to retune me. And then I saw and heard things that were right under my nose but never perceived. He was constantly pointing out extra terrestrials sitting at a restaurant or bus stop. How did I not see it before? How did all these people around us not see it? Or he would laugh at something and I would look in the direction he was looking and at that exact moment witness something totally crazy happen. How did he know it was going to happen? Every time?
(By the way, he insisted that he himself was not an alien but an extra terrestrial. He corrected me after my very first Instagram post. These things matter… to me anyway.)
Colonel Bruce helped me view music in a different way too. Music is the one thing that can simultaneously be a religion and a science. Unfortunately, religion and science are both out of tune in our hands. They have even teamed up in some cases and are bringing us to the brink of physical destruction.
Bruce showed me that while our weapons were not ones of war, they could still be used effectively in the war to wage peace. He taught me how to get rid of the preconceptions my mind was holding onto and access powers I didn’t know I had. Bruce called it “getting our own butts out of our faces.” He also showed me the consequences of misusing them. I still had to learn that lesson the hard way even though he warned me.
Bruce said the best way to get your butt out of your face was to embrace the Mirror Of Embarrassment. He insisted countless times that I had to be absolutely naked on stage. He once asked me to play exactly the way I did the first time I picked up an instrument. Bruce could do it easy as pie but I couldn’t do it to save my life. Then I had an idea. I turned the bass around left handed and attempted to play then. It sounded TERRIBLE. The worst I’ve ever sounded since that very first time. Bruce roared with laughter, “that’s it, that’s it!!! You’ve got it Oto!!!”
I knew that I had to learn something from this lesson. Later I realized that it was this. He wanted to hear ALL of my story. Not just the one that was washed, perfumed, adorned with makeup, fancy clothes and beautiful shoes. He wanted to hear when my dog died. Or when I embarrassed myself, or made someone laugh, or was naked on the bathroom floor vomiting. He wanted me to play all of life’s facets. He did it at will. He made me laugh, cry, feel every emotion I’ve ever felt and some that were totally alien to me.
The first thing that I realized was that there could be no “mistakes” if I was being honest. Every time I scat sing with my bass solo I cringe. I never listen back to it more than once. I hate it. I don’t have control of my voice. It will be out of tune, and strained past its limit. It is indeed my Mirror Of Embarrassment. But I will always do it when asked. If your parent or child died you wouldn’t be crying “in tune.” Same for if you reconnected with a long lost friend or if someone made you laugh really hard. Scat singing was never my idea anyway. It was Bruce’s.
The biggest lesson he taught me was that “to lose is to gain.” When we were playing gigs for no money but having the time of our lives, that was a period of giving, not receiving. Like farmers we were tilling, planting, watering, and waiting in faith for the expected miracle. But the one thing we were NOT doing was harvesting. It wasn’t the season for that yet. And there is the great lesson that runs through all holy writings. We were “losing” but only in the sense that the harvest hadn’t come yet in the material sense. For me, that started in ’97 when I joined the Allman Brothers Band.
There is another kind of gain that comes to those who never reap the material harvest. Especially if they choose to forgo it of their own free will as Bruce did. He watered the plants of many souls. He inspired them, fed them and helped them grow to great heights like a cosmic gardener. His harvest was all the beautiful blossoming sounds of his students. And more. He touched many lives on non musical levels as well.
Make no mistake, I truly believe Bruce knew he was going to die this way. No one will ever convince me otherwise. By now you’ve probably seen his quote from the ’60’s about man’s highest ambition being to die onstage. Come on folks! He’s been spoon feeding us all along. But it was never about him. He was always about helping others to see their own power and magic, and pranking those who didn’t see it yet for whatever reason. I watched him freak out so many people over the years in so many different crazy, unpredictable, cosmic ways. Like some sort of spiritual hit man, he got one person after another with such glee and playfulness. And in his very last second on earth he got the most people at one time that he ever did.
If I told you the story of how Colonel Bruce died you would insist that I was exaggerating…
Died the day after he was born.
In front of a sold out show at the Fox in his hometown.
The most tickets he ever sold on his own.
His 70th birthday.
Surrounded by musicians that he touched and inspired, all coming to pay tribute so he wouldn’t be yet another that died not getting his due honor.
During the encore.
Which was his favorite song: Lovelight.
Which is also the first song he ever performed live.
And everyone thought he was joking them.
Who would believe me?
But there were so many witnesses this time. More than ever before. There’s proof. He got us all in such a big way that it “made the papers.” Just in case you doubted the first 70 years worth of legends, he saved his most spectacular one for last. He made such a Classical Hamptonian exit that there is no room for those doubts to live on.
I’m gonna miss you Colonel Bruce. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there with you on your biggest day. The day you finally “gained” on earth. I guess it might have been too much for me. I’ll know why down the road I suppose. I promise to tell the stories as best I can and muster all the magic and love light that I can when I play music so that they will believe.