It's almost been two weeks. I still don't want to do it. And this writer's block is creating a backlog of blog posts. I want to post this one first, and then get back to business. Or at least the normal level of struggle with writer's block as alleviated by posts about England Dan and John Ford Coley and Let's Active.
Somewhat ironically, given the subject, I haven't been able to get this thing to flow. Right now there are a dozen random small paragraphs below this one right now and all are as messy as the messy metaphor that I started two weeks ago to describe the mess of paragraphs and just now deleted because it made absolutely no sense.
But this blog is ostensibly about writing about music that I care about and, at the very least, that I am curious about or want to wax witty or poetic about. So I have to do this one. Dammit.
**********************What's running through my mind comes through in my walk/
True feelings are shown from the way that I talk
Losing Adam Yauch, MCA, is gutting. It's absolutely gutting, guys, because a human being and artist who truly, not in a cliched way, made a difference on this rock, has physically exited this rock too soon. (This still sounds like a cliche.) Obviously, he had much more work to do, including something more important than make stuff for any of us, to be a father. Gutting.
In hip-hop, much of the rhymer does is frontin'. Bombast. Bragging. I'm-fucking-dope-and-watch-me-show-you-how-right-now-in-your-face.
When MCA was frontin', post-Paul's Boutique especially, those rasped rhymes were real. It was a musical masterpiece.
And then there's his--well, I can't say it any better than this, "pioneering civic courage." Read this anecdote and you'll see why. He was not some celebrity sailing over to the damaged third-world country (or bedraggled Southern city) on the SS Photo Op. Adam pushed urgent issues through the ever-increasing smog of media and put it right in front of us perpetual kids (just like the B Boys) who just want to dance and sing and and really care about and connect with things in the world. And made us feel like we could help create change, too. That--the act of getting people to listen, think, and themselves act, is immortal.
But I still feel flayed.
This loss is excruciating for people who actually love and know and live and work with this man. But, selfishly, I grieve also because this spells the end of the B Boys.
Right? It has to.
Is that why this is so hard to write?
I don't see things quite the same as I used to
As I live my life I've got just me to be true to
As Ad Rock said, the love Adam put into the world is coming back. All weekend that weekend, I scrolled and scrolled through comments on Facebook, articles, message boards, connecting with these tiny threads of grief, appreciation, memory.
I haven't found the right words. I could use others' words. "You touched my soul." God, that sounds so grandiose. But then the B Boys have said some grandiose things--but they meant them. Adam, you spoke truth to power, in every sense of that phrase.
But the B Boys were also about pure joy, joy about life and how fucking dope and beautiful and wrong and fucked-up and precious is.
Again, another's words: "And life as they lived it seemed like something to aspire to."
And another, who knew and nurtured the seed of the person and watched him bloom from afar: "I still see Adam’s sweet face in the classroom, at the age of 16 or so, writing from the heart whenever possible"
Maybe this will work if I continue to put others' words in my mouth.
Or maybe, as these others have done, I make it personal. It seems like everyone who said anything about MCA during the past couple of weeks has made it personal.
This next one is the first song on our new album
There is more to this than connecting the music to moments, and, boy, I can do that with the middle albums, can't I. Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty--the last of these to which I packed up my belongings and essentially nascent decade of adult life in one city to move to another. It spun on Holly's cd player in our living room in Milwaukee on those hot August days I boxed and taped and wondered.
So here begins the self-interested, nostalgic sentiment trying to capture something I felt between, roughly, 1992-98 that, believe me when I say it, contributed to shaping my outlook on making art.
A lot of people have said the B Boys were the soundtrack of, the link to, so informed all of, their childhood. For, me, they shaped my 20s. I mean it -- they shaped what I believe an artist is, and does. In terms of collaboration. In terms of not giving a good goddamn what anyone thinks about what you are making, because you are having fun with what you are making and because they should just join the fun instead of dissing it. In terms of not taking yourself too seriously because, seriously, that is just the way to move through the world with peace and ease.
While I feel sad that there will be no more B Boys, I think I feel sadder that those heady days (that we barely realized were so heady) of persistent stabbing into the creative darkness and equally persistent despondency over "what-am-I-doooooing" and equally persistent, stomach-flopping fun are gone. Those were precious days. Formative days. I look back on them as I would the childhood of my own child, if I had one.
But the B Boys go beyond that place and time,. I can think of no other artists that for me have transcended people, places and things. Save for Mikey introducing me to the new, improved and grown-up B Boys that night when he rolled in from Minneapolis and said, you gotta hear this Powellsy, and then put Check Your Head on my roommate's Sony dual-CD thing.
No, aside from that unsane night in my Oakland Avenue apartment, my love of the B Boys, obsession with their M.O. and actual affiliation with Grand Royal (I got a magazine which, sadly, I CANNOT FIND NOW) came solely from me. Beyond that divine handover, they were mine. I did not listen to them because of a boy. Or listen to them and ever think about a boy. Or fret or worry about the future. Or loll in extravagant sadness.
Then, I finally got a copy of Paul's Boutique--okay, yes, someone or other (John?) said, Oh, you like that, you gotta get Paul's Boutique now--and heard MCA. I decided he was my favorite.
Makin' love in the back of my Coupe de Ville.
Rewind-play. Rewind-play. Rewind-play.
Then I got Ill Communication on the day it came out. Maybe I didn't get it on that exact day, but I am deciding to remember it that way. And I loved MCA even more.
You can't dis me, it ain't worth it, b
You put yourself down and you don't even see
'Cause I don't play that, I know who I am
For a minute, I did but now I'm back again
I'm feeling strong see, trust myself g
D.I.Y. That means do it yourself
Don't sit around waiting for someone's help
I don't sit back and say good enough
Keep on striving, reinventing but keeping it off the cuff
I realize now that the B Boys were my real introduction to genuine indie culture writ large. (Yeah, yeah, grunge. But that was already co-opted by The Man by the time I got wind of it. Nevermind and Singles, guys, not Bleach and the Melvins.) I was seeing it on the small scale across Milwaukee--well, across the East Side and Riverwest--of that city, where blue-collar practicality rubbed off on artists and people who made shit and built places for the artists to hang out and eat and show/play/be their art. Milwaukee was the perfect place for DIY culture to rise, and it was an exciting time. You felt like something was ...happening. I can't put it into words any better than I can the rest of this memorializing.
But I'm telling you, that happening sounded like Paul's Boutique, and Check Your Head, and Ill Communication. It sounded like that bouillabaisse of hard core, hip-hop, 70s funk and disco, extraordinary curiosity about pop culture and cultural history, and responsible world citizenship, all mixed with much honor for it all and the zest of self-deprecation and self-respect. The sound of making something and being free to love it and be proud of it, and invite others to love it, too.
And all of these albums still sound like that, and still inspire me. Even last summer, I walked around in the glorious, original ooze rising from the primordial groove of MCA's bass:
See, I love the B Boys for "5-Piece Chicken Dinner" as much as I do "Stand Together," for "Hey Ladies" as much as "The Update," and for making an album as fresh and ready to burn your face off live like Hot Sauce Committee Part Two during what was clearly a stressful time. And for Grand Royal and the t-shirt I was so proud to wear, and the fact that I saw them playing basketball outside of the Marcus Amphitheatre at that hoop they apparently took on the Lollapalooza tour. I saw them backstage. Kind of.
And I love this track off of Hello Nasty, which I forgotten about until that day two weeks ago, when I saw it and posted it.
I taught myself to play it on that night I heard about Adam. But I struggled with the last chord of the four. I played what was listed on the tab sheet I found, but it didn't sound right (maybe because I do not understand tabs. Anyway). None of the chords did, in fact, so I noodled until I found three chords that sounded like what I think the song sounds like.
For that last chord, nothing has sounded right. I've consulted lists and websites and just plain fucked around on the instrument, having fun with it.
I still haven't found that last chord, but I'll keep trying.
Maybe that's the point.