Pat Martino: Martino Unstrung
AAJ: Someone once said, perhaps with a touch of humor and paradox, that "There is a God, and he's the only one who knows that he doesn't exist." You seem to be deconstructing what it is that gets in the way of the wonder of things and people in this world.
PM: That's also one of the reasons I find it hampering to refer to a craft: a musician, a priest, a lawyer, an athlete. These are merely the tools one uses for their own intention.
AAJ: And the true end is love. The theologian Thomas Merton said, in a similar vein, "God is love."
PM: Well, yes, there you go.
AAJ: Speaking of friendship and love, one of the things that is so touching in the film is the testimony of your friends and fellow musicians: Red Holloway, the actor Joe Pesci and your mentor Les Paul, who took you in almost as a father figure. They talk about you with great tenderness. How did you get to meet Les and Joe?
PM: I met Les at the age of 12 in 1956. My mom and dad took me to Steel Pier in Atlantic City where Les Paul and Mary Ford were performing. That's where we met for the first time. We went backstage, and my dad introduced me to Les, who was so loveable. I also played a little for him, which he remembered later. He fell in love with me as a little boy. And I did what children do to me nowadays. They look up at me with twinkling eyes. And you want to grab them and hug them and give them all you've got, the power. But you know what you have to do, but your power is not power at all. It's just action, like the director who says, "Action!" And everybody gets into action. And that's what the child is: action. Then some years later, I met Les again, and he recognized me because he remembered my facility on the guitar.
AAJ: When did he begin to mentor you?
PM: That was when I went to Harlem and was becoming active professionally.
AAJ: And how did you get to know Joe Pesci?
PM: I met Joe at Small's Paradise in Harlem. In those years of jazz, there were some bands that were located at a place where all the musicians would go to hang out after they finished their own gigs. Willis Jackson was one of the attractions at Smalls. They used to do that with Art Blakey's band as well. All the players around town would go up to HarlemCount Basie's, for exampleand sometimes go to the Vanguard or Village Gate in Greenwich Village as well. And that's what happened with Joe Pesci. Joe was at that time a vocalist and guitarist for a group that was playing on Route 46 in Northern New Jersey. They would finish at 1 or 2 in the morning, and then drive to Harlem, where we'd play until 4 in the morning seven days a week. And they would come to Small's Paradise, and the place was just rockin.' And that's how I met Joe.
AAJ: And your relationship with Joe has lasted over many years, as with Les.
Pat Martino with Joe Pesci
PM: Absolutely, but there was a big gap with Joe, primarily because due to the amnesia I forgot I even knew him.
AAJ: What led you to renew your acquaintance with him?
PM: I think I mention this in the film. I was performing at the Blue Note in New York in the late 90s. After a performance with a full house, I went upstairs to the main dressing room, and went to the rest room to refresh myself for the next set. Then I opened the door, and two gentlemen were standing there: Joe Pesci and Tommy de Vito, Joe's personal manager. And I said, "Oh, wow. Joe Pesci." And Joe said to me, "You don't know who I am." And I said, "Of course I know who you are. You're Joe Pesci, the actor."
He said, "You don't remember me." I said, "I know you," and I mentioned some of the films I enjoyed him in. And he said, "You really don't know me." And I said, "I don't understand what you mean by that." And he said, "I'll tell you what you used to drink," and he told me. And at that moment, a flash exploded in my mind, and I pictured various events that included Joe at Small's Paradise way back when.
I think the majority of my career, even prior to the surgery and memory loss, the latent disease affected me without my knowing it. All those years of misdiagnosis and staggering complications. The AVM was actually present at birth, and the surgery was in 1980.
AAJ: Do you have any idea when the symptoms first appeared?
PM: I was having seizures by the age of 10 or 11.
AAJ: The film suggests that you lost most of your long term memory for events prior to the surgery, yet you would occasionally have flashes in which selected memories were re-awakened. I spoke with Dr. Simeone, and he said that some of the lost memories are still stored in the brain, but may be inaccessible to recall.
PM: They may be stored somewhere in the heart as well as the brain.
AAJ: Did you in fact begin to have some recall of past events?
PM: Yes, especially on the guitar.