Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Own Private Shaolin: Investigative Reports

I'm almost positive my man Joe G. stole my Wu-Tang CDs in 1997. A sharp assembly it was too. Wu-Tang Forever, Liquid Swords, Return to the 36, Cuban Linx, and a scratched the fuck up copy of Ironman that only played the first 10 tracks and would skip violently right when the beat dropped on Daytona 500 (grrrr).

Note that at age 16 I was already in a nascent stage of Wu snobbery in not owning copies of either Tical or Enter the 36 Chambers. I knew those records by heart, of course, but everybody had them and I tried to be more adventurous. I nurtured a deliberately esoteric palette. Liquid Swords, not Enter the Wu, was the essential record for me at that time. It was autumn and the taste of cold air had me gassed for GZA's crisp, meditative imagery. Liquid Swords is a cold weather record to be sure. And it's a personal record too. Enter the Wu is a record you put on when your driving around with the boys. Liquid Swords will always be an album I like to listen to best by myself.

So my mom and dad went out of town one weekend and I threw a bash on Golf View and my Wu specific CD case got lifted. I was bitching about it to some dudes in my math class, opining specifically for my GZA holdings and kicking some of the lines that should have been filling my headphones. Joe G sat a few desks away. We weren't really friends and he had been at the party. Joe listened to hip hop and had a reputation for mischief. He was the enforcer of the hockey team and rolled with characters who stole people's car amplifiers and cell phones. I had reasons to be suspicious.

The next day Joe came up to me after class and hit me with a copy of Liquid Swords and some bunk ass Sunz of Man CD.

"I heard what you were saying about your CDs getting stolen man. That's fucked up. I had an extra copy of you can still have some Wu-Tang to bump. GZA shit is my favorite Wu shit too. 'I slayed mcs back in the room era...' thats my shit!"

He'd put both discs in a Bone Thugz CD case. I inspected the back of the Liquid Swords and saw some familiar scratches.

Naturally I was heated to surmise that this kid had boosted my jams, but I was also touched in a strange way. It was kind of rare to be that deep on Liquid Swords in suburban Detroit at that time and I'm sure Joe was conflicted when he discovered he'd riddled someone who appreciated the record as much he did. Who perhaps needed Liquid Swords it in the weirdly specific, elusive way Wu-Tang records make certain upper middle class white boys jones for them. He didn't feel like he had to restore my entire cache, but couldn't bear the thought of having taken Liquid Swords from a dude who loved that shit so stridently. I thanked him for the GZA. Joe was a feared hockey goon and I was first year varsity on the golf team. I was out of my weight class. That Maximillion was all I really needed anyway. I don't think it left my Discman for next five months.

Joe G. and I have become good friends, and I finally confronted him recently. He fiercely denied my accusations and told me he was offended that I would ever think he was greasy enough to take another man's Wu-Tang, even back in his reckless youth. I pointed out that he used to steal whole stereo systems out of cars, thereby removing all music from people's lives, Wu-Tang or otherwise, but he maintained his innocence when it came to the Clan.

His earnestness revealed just how personal his relationship with the Wu-Tang was, and this of course is the very essence of My Own Private Shaolin. I was tempted to believed him. Then in a masterpiece of comic timing my roommate Tony Snow came downstairs, and when he learned what we were talking about, he started to lash out at Joe for hijacking HIS Liquid Swords CD a few years later. We put the record on to illustrate just how fucked up and depraved it was to pilfer something so fresh. Joe kept on saying he had no idea what we were talking about. So who really knows.

The tone of the conversation turned good natured as Tony related a story about how he forgot to write a paper for his English class one time. He scribbled the lyrics to Killah Hills 10304 verbatim at the last minute on the bus and turned it in. His teacher didn't identify it as rip job, but still only gave Tony a C+. A C+! I'm not saying the Genius is Ezra Pound or anything, and something is doubtlessly lost when the rhymes aren't set to RZA guillotine synths. But come on now, a fucking C+ for Killa Hillz 10304?!? Those who can't teach gym teach composition.

Overnight lows in low 50s tonight in Detroit. Protect your necks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Doc Waffles - One More Pint, Detroit

If I could leak this track to you in a Church's Chicken styrofoam side dish container, dear reader, I would. I want this record to leave grease on your lips like runny egg salad.

This is a song from my definitively unfinished "The Bon Vivant" and the first song I wrote after moving to Chicago in 2007. I had been there a few weeks and didn't really know my way around. I was jonesed out for Detroit and its drowsy rhythms.

I kept thinking back to this one weird Sunday in the fall of 06 that seemed to approximate everything I missed about The D. I woke up that morning in a big house in the suburbs. My girlfriend's rich parents were in the Bahamas and we'd camped out the night before. Sugar socks and I planned to spend a languid day together by the pool, drinking her dad's scotch and watching peacocks roam around the backyard while she read The Story of the Eye to me in French. Yes, there were peacocks. And she could read Bataille in french. It was going down like that.

My phone started blowing up around ten and didn't stop for the next half hour. Everybody in the neighborhood was calling me. Shit was going down in the city! Some sketchy dudes got photo Jenny drunk on tequilla and stole her drugs! Where you at, doc? She's hanging out the window of your sun room right now with no shirt on drinking Crown and cursing and throwing your Elton John records out the window! You better get the fuck down here, man. The cops are going to take Jenny away!

So naturally I bailed on honey ankles and our decadent plans to go watch the drama unfold in the D. I sped down Woodward and pulled up in front of the Alphabet building expecting to see fire trucks, ambulances, the Environmental Protection Agency, Bill Bonds and the East Side Cheddar Boys all lined up to witness the horror. Instead, the only person there was Jenny, sitting on the porch of the alphabet building humming Belle and Sebastian with a big smile, cradling my records that I guess she picked up off the street, drinking a tall, perspiring Crown ginger.

"Captain, isn't it a beautiful day?"

"What the fuck, photo? Everybody said you were sauced out, bugging out out here, throwing my goddamn Madman Across the water out the window, look at this shit, and it's scratched, and I had plans today...what the fuck?

"These boys came over last night and I thought they stole my darkness, but its OK, I found it under your bed. Here, I found forty bucks too, but I had to give Madeline ten and you were out of ginger ale. But look, Captain, there's still 23 dollars left. Can we go get some food? Please? Can we go get some tacos? I'm starving?"

The taco spot was closed so we went and got some chicken. The big church across the street had just let out and the place was full of righteous patrons in their Sunday best, their vermillions, their money greens, their canaries. We took our feast back to the hood and started to picnic on the porch, and somebody came around with a radio, and what started with this crazy hyperbolic broad throwing records out the window was reconciled into a spontaneous block party. We got buzzed and Captain Caveman started bellowing on some nostalgia shit. Ay dog...Come on Dog.

Anyway you'll have to indulge the longwinded intro but so few of my songs have backstories, and I do mind pining. Shake your tail feather like it's broken.

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Teddy Rogers: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

(This started out as a comment on my man Ira Brooker's thoughtful John Hughes homage over at A Talent For Idleness. I've always felt that Ferris Bueller was overrated and when he started to blast on one of my favorite flicks, Pump Up the Volume, I got heated. The following rant ensued. My boy usually has a razor sharp cultural palette so he probably just ate some bad fish sticks or something. Then again, dude also roots for the Vikings, so who really knows. Anyway, Ferris Bueller gets the No Teddy Rogers treatment, which we all remember is Bring Me the Robe's examination of cultural affiliations so revolting they may drive you to threaten friends or loved ones who endorse them with a broken bottle. See 1:25 embedded below.)

Your way off base on Pump Up The Volume, Vikings fan, and I'm not buying Cameron Frye as one of cinema's iconic teenage characters (although Hughes gets props for dipping Cameron in throwback sports gear a decade before it blew up mainstream, and that it's a Gordie Howe is some extra strength shit).

I don't find any of the personalities in Ferris Bueller to be particularly sympathetic, with the exception of Charlie Sheen's ruffian at the end. He tells Ferris' sister to get the fuck over herself and that's what everybody in the this movie, especially Cameron, needs to hear. Why is your boy so maladroit? He's got a buttery house in the woods with a pool and classic cars in glass rooms. He should be parlaying his sheepish melancholia into sex with Ally Sheedy-in-The-Breakfast-Club-type honeys and buying high tone dope with the money his rich dad gives him. You know his pops is going to get him into whatever school he wants to go to. He'll major in Comparitive Literature and get a job teaching high school English somewhere and cash trust fund checks and sodomize his wife. His situation just isn't that bad.

Cameron getting emotionally in touch with abandonment issues is some low stakes bullshit compared with what Mark Hunter aka Harry Hard On has to take on in Pump Up the Volume. Just for starters there is the government trying to shut down his broadcasts, and an evil institutional conspiracy at his high school. Meanwhile dude is working on some alienation problems of his own, but instead of reverting to gestural, existential cheese like jumping into swimming pools, he gives his malevolence a meaningful cultural form through pirate radio. The superficially-reserved by day, zeitgeist by night character is one we've seen before, yes, but never have its metaphors been extended by such a unique and vital medium, and in such a specific narrative space. Seriously, who would you rather share a bottle of Mumms and drive out to the desert with, sad sack Cameron or the cat whose going to bring the benzos and the badass Leonard Cohen / Public Enemy mixtape?

My real problem, of course, isn't with Cameron but with Ferris Bueller himself and his actions as a mouthpiece for baby boomer hegemony. Here is a character I'm supposed to accept as a vanguard of youth who eats lunch at the squarest white collar joint in Chicago and listens to classic rock. He steals an old man's car and dresses up as his girlfriend's dad. The only people who give a shit whether or not he skips school are his malcontent sister and his oafish, painfully unfunny principal. Things are going to work out for Ferris. They always do. Do we worry for even a moment that Ferris might wind up facing severe legal and financial penalties for hanging Mr. Frye's Ferrari on a tree? Of course not! Ferris is a fully functional adult forced by the strictures of an agist society to attend high school despite the fact that he is pretty much a forty year old business man. Getting over on his parents and his academic supervisors is duck hunt to this guy. He projects such an air of invulnerability that his rumored illness becomes a powerful manipulative tool. He will not face the same exposure and downfall of Rushmore's Max Fischer. He's the guy who gets away with everything.

The character arc for Mark Hunter (sounds like a name from a Steven Segal flick) is more nuanced and subtle than I think you're giving it credit for. There is something telegraphic about the reconciliation of his social polarity, but one of my favorite aspects of Pump Up the Volume is the undercurrent of tension between Mark and his parents. Having uprooted their son, they don't ask too many questions about what he's up to with all the electronic equipment in the basement, for fear of alienating him entirely. Their passivity creates the kind of see no evil, hear no evil policy that simmers almost universally between parents and adolescents. While Mark Hunter's talk hard martyrdom may seem a little overwrought as teenage voices fill the bandwidth over the desert sky, at least the movie reminds us that the players are playing in a world where actions have consequences.

And I need not remind you, Vikings fan, that Mark gets rhythm from the fine dark-haired-chick-with-avant-garde-sensibilities character. The same type of girls I'm sure you were trying to press up on during your high school days in Sparta. Pump Up the Volume makes me want to be seventeen again and bump Bad Brains and chase girls like that. I don't know man, Ferris Bueller just makes me glad I'm not old. No Teddy Rogers!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

T-Bone Steaks Live - 2006

Nostalgia butters from the Golf View Drive record release party at the State Theatre, 12/15/2006.

Earlier that day I'd bought an eight foot Christmas tree and hauled it up five flights of stairs to my penthouse apartment unassisted. Yeah, on some megaton feats of strength shit.

Rocking the State was one of the highlights of my career as a performer and I'm still grateful to Willy "Optimo" Callahan and our boys in the middle school crew for hooking it up. Purple bags fell from the sky that night like gorillas dropping out of trees.

Monday, August 3, 2009

That's right, no waffles for one year

I've jumped back in the rap battle scene recently after taking a few years off. These are lean times, yes, even for rappers, and putting people on blast can be a good source of supplementary income for the sadistically inclined rhetorician. Trying to get that fruit salad money, you know?

I came up in what many consider to be an epochal time in the Detroit hip hop underground, roughly 2001 - 2004, when cats like Quest Mccody, Swann, Marv One, Hostyle, Subverse, et al were very active on the local battle circuit and at the top of their games. This was a time when the rap battle had a great deal of cultural relevance, with 8 Mile turning lots of casual music fans on, and MTV, HBO, BET, etc. giving freestyle emcees significant exposure.

I think most of the elite battle rappers have moved away from the scene because battling has proven itself to be a dead end of sorts career wise, and certainly not a reliable path to commercial success. The failure of cats like Jin, Serious Jones, Eyedea, etc. to crossover and make #1 HIT JAMS has created a climate in which battle rappers are often stigmatized by their success in verbal brawls. They are thought to be lacking in their ability to make meaningful, conceptual records (nonsense, obviously, as some of the most rigorously conceptual hip hop albums of the last decade were authored by prominent shit talkers up to and including my own 2006 release, Golf View Drive).

I get nostalgic watching tapes of old battles because I know I used to do it for reasons other than upgrading my life's gastronomical quality. The battle used to be a fun way to sharpen your knives and measure yourself against some of the hungriest cats on the scene. In that spirit I would like to extend the following challenge to any Detroit rapper experiencing malaise with current the state of affairs: I will battle you, on the roof of John King Books, the only stakes being that the loser will agree to not eat waffles for the next year of their life. That's right, no waffles for a year.

So holler at your boy, my acerbically tongued colleagues, and let's get this shit popping.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Doc Waffles - Ginger Jenny Ale

Another How to Shoot Quail recording session went down last week at the USM nerve center. Peace to the whole Kill the Bullshit crew for letting me come in and run game like Mikan drills. Crate Deezy and I banged out five new tracks Bride of the Atom style. And we've only just begun. Please devote the next two and a half minutes of your life to savoring this new Deezy produced song, Ginger Jenny Ale, and keep it Golf View, darlings.