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July 06, 2005

The Sound of the Drum

I've been sharing MP3s with a 70 year old man who gets bored with all the interpretations of Coltrane because right about now all the disagreements are agreed to. He's having a bit of a time distinguishing Black Sheep from Black Eyed Peas but that won't last for long because I know this man as Pops, and he doesn't sleep. You see all those MP3s are my rips of everything under iTunes under the label 'hiphop'. Every once in a while he mumbles something about a candy store, and I still don't know what he's talking about.

So yesterday before it got dark and the fog rolled over and squashed the biggest boom the pyrotechnicians could explode, I peeped his copy of the big fat detailed book of hiphop that people been buzzin' bout.

After skimming a good third of the book in rapid fashion, I found several things worth saying. And so I said it to Y, one of the few people who know as much about Jessye Norman as they know about Mandrill. which is to say plenty. She, like I, has that annoying habit of squirting out title, artist and year whenever the music changes within 5 seconds of the opening note. I have to confess that she's faster and more comprehensive. And so when the 80s band at Wilson Park, Night Ranger, played Bow Wow Wow, I had to shutup and give props. And the simple fact is that she is older both me and Jimi (but not put together). Still before that, I had the moment - and the better part of wisdom is knowing precisely when it's time to respond, even if you're not called - and I said that that young man Jeff Chang was entirely too quick to dismiss Malcolm McLaren and made too much of the Zulu Nation.

Now Y and I had been commiserating all afternoon over filling in the gaps in 1975. It came down to a lot of ConFunkShun and Kool when it was time to exchange bytes, but we had also done a lot of thinking about Lonnie Liston Smith and most especially Cuba Gooding's group, The Main Ingredient. Which brings me to a confession about 1975 and my father's Webcor. I made a 7 inch reel that summer at 7.5 ips, and spent untold hours writing my own liner notes and calligraphic letters on the custom cover that I designed. The two greatest songs on that reel were 'Rolling Down a Mountainside' and Al Green's 'Take Me to the River'. I shouldn't jab but Y agrees that Luther's version got nothing on Major Harris. That was the summer of 1975 and we had just only begun to get back to it, irony of ironies that Pops wants 2005.

When I took my daughter's braids out the other night, I decided that we'd watch a DVD together for the 90 minutes of mutual tedium, pain and love. I went to the shelf and pulled the first volume of Jeeves and Wooster. PG Wodehouse has a new 8 year old fan. I've been forgetting something about PG Wodehouse. It's his English, not the King's that makes Jeeves and Wooster all that. As dashed topping as it is to suck up that world, I have to force myself to remember that I'm watching through his brilliant eye. History belongs to the drummers.

And so now, when I damned well ought to be sleep, I'm caught once again in the drum circle over the spirits of hiphop, that thread of blackness we are all forced to grapple with because of the insistence of that spirit and that thing it does to us with enough nerve to put bits into the ether, pen to paper, hand onto skin.

So it occurs to me as I figure a way to leave this and catch my winks that we have to roll with the context. The long view and the interweaving is what's going to keep the beats echoing. That's about life, meaning that it's not about anybody's life in particular. That's the thing to remember when you're dealing with spirits - they pass through you like an irresitable force, and trying to make your hand remain your own hand on the drum just makes for an ideosyncracy in the rhythm. That's your moment, but your moment comes and goes. So there will always be someone to remind you that Luther was second, and maybe even third to say Love Won't Let Me Wait.

It's always good that there are another umpdeump thousand words trying to carry the spirit of the boogie. Detail is good, it's evocative of your own dislocation. So Chang's obsession with the South Bronx brings my South Los Angeles into sharp focus (and half that story ain't never been told). Even Bam's hand only defines his moment. Give him this, Bambataa understood that he could only say 'Here's a perfect beat for you'. It wasn't the perfect beat, it was an offering.

And so here we are still serving the spirit, trying to be a drummer for history. That's what can't stop.

Posted by mbowen at July 6, 2005 12:05 AM

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So you like Jeeves and Wooster. I'm glad to hear it because I do too. The PBS series with Stephen Fry that is. I find the book unreadable. But the shows are perfect comedy.

Posted by: Anita at July 8, 2005 06:45 AM