It's not about the house.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Low Priestess of What, Now?

I don’t know why I’m thinking about this story tonight, but I am, so I’ll tell it…

Years ago, when I used to have a real job, and that real job used to include all kinds of music and other assorted stuff like that, there was this one night that I drove down to Providence from Boston with a good friend of mine. To hear this group we loved, who was on deck to play the opening set for another group that, in a perfect world, wouldn’t have been worthy enough to shine our boys' freaking shoes.

I don’t even remember who the headlining band was. They were nobody. And the venue was nothing. A club, like any other club – only not even what you’d really call a club. Just a bar, really. A bar. And if it was in New York or L.A. you might think a gig there was on the way to something, but in Providence a gig there couldn’t possibly be any more than just a gig. You could only possibly think that it was something if you were nobody, on your first Chevy-van tour.

But these guys, unfortunately, were on their way back, and so they had to. They’d been up – not so amazingly, top-of-the-charts up, but influentially – and they’d been down, and now they had a record deal with Rykodisc and they were on this sad little tour to promote what I had heard and knew to be an amazing and of-every-moment album. And so I went.

It’s a ninety-minute drive. My friend Marie came with me. We brought cheese and grapes and we drank beer on the drive down (because we weren’t so concerned in those days about the people that we might kill on the road) and we got there early. Because we were sure that, in such a small venue, even in such a small town, this group – this group – would pack the house.

They didn’t.

We were on the list (which is a fancy way of saying we didn’t have to pay to get in because we knew somebody), and so we did not exactly queue up early. But I did want to make sure we’d be up front, and so we didn’t wait till the last minute, but when I couldn’t stand it anymore and we made our way over, there was nobody there.

So we went in. And when we did, out boys were there. Sitting in a booth, waiting for it to be time to go on stage. Not drinking, because they didn’t.

Now is probably a good time to tell you what I was wearing: maroon and gray searsucker shortalls, with a wife-beater t-shirt under them, and faux Keds. Oh, and also, I’m white. And at the time had a Rosemary’s Baby blonde bob on my head.

So. Do you have a picture in your heads? Oh no wait, that’s right, you don’t. Because I haven’t told you yet who this historic group was.

It was The Last Poets.

Do you know The Last Poets? You might not. They aren’t famous like the Isley Brothers, or the Chi-Lites. They never had a hit that you’d have heard of. They are an important step in the ladder of where rap music came from, and their best-known songs have titles like “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution.” The Poets themselves have names – some given at birth, some adopted later – like Abiodun Oyewole, and Umar Bin Hassan.

The album they were there promoting was on Rykodisc, called Holy Terror, and I had heard it early because the company I worked for had a relationship with Ryko. I loved the Last Poets already, because I was that kind of stupid, poser, music geek, and I knew this particular album before it got released ‘cause I was lucky.

So there I was. In a very small (let’s face it) stupid bar, with The Last Poets, my friend Marie – and nobody else. Of course (are you kidding?) I went over.

It happened to be Omar I went up to (he changes the spelling of his name). I said I was thrilled that they were here. Thrilled that I would get the chance to see them. Loved them, loved what they did, couldn’t wait for them to get on stage.

He asked me was there anything in particular I’d like to hear.

Now, I don’t know how you feel about this, but myself, I get sick to my tits hearing the same old crap. I go hear Tom Waits, I don’t want to hear “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” And I don’t imagine that he wants to play that shit again. Everybody always wants to play their new stuff, which nobody ever wants to hear. So I said this:

“I can’t remember the name of the song,” I said. “But the one that goes: ‘Baggy shadow street boys—’”

“Dun! Dun! Dun!,” he interrupted me, hailing a friend of his in the corner.

And when the dignified, bearded, dashiki’d man in the corner turned his head, I realized that “Dun” was short for “Abiodun.” As in Oyewole.

Dun came over, and Umar said what he had to say.

“Sister wants to hear us do ‘Black Rage!’”

Sister. That was me. White girl with a Mia Farrow haircut in searsucker shortalls, asking them to play a song which I suddenly realized (although I knew, of course) was about how very much white people are to blame for the problems of—

Well.

Needless to say, I felt like a jackass.

So anyway.

They played their set, and I did not hear that song. I didn’t care. I loved them anyway, and I didn’t give a hoo about the local yokels who were supposedly headlining, so when the Poets left the stage Marie and I prepared to go back home. But when the Stupid Local Band came on, they said The Poets would be doing another set when the Stupids took a break. And so Marie and I, we got another beer, and stuck around.

The Stupid-Whoever-They-Were's sucked. Or, you know what? That’s not fair. They might not have sucked. I just don’t remember them at all. Because then the Poets came back on.

And when they did? Here’s what Oyewole said:

“This is a song we weren’t going to do tonight, because it’s off the new album, and we thought we’d just do the old stuff. But there’s a sister in here who wants to hear it, so – where is she?”

And if you think I didn’t raise my beer and give a white-girl holla...

3 comments:

beardonaut said...

I adore bands/artists that take the time and effort to listen to their fans in that way. A band playing Stockholm that I had email contact with previously did the same thing for me. They weren't even signed to any label, and then split up. But I got to hear my fave song from the EP they released on their own, which they weren't planning on playing.

Audrey said...

Man! I so miss doing stuff like that!

Jenni said...

Love your flash back stories.
Holla.