Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fishbone: Mad Vibe

ONE COOL FALL EVENING back in the mid -80’s The Leopard was strolling on a downtown Washington D.C. street when I heard the most wonderful noise –blaring brass horns, played loud and rhythmically like roaring choo-choo. I peeked down a dark, black-bricked passageway following the sounds. Once inside, there was a dimly lit club, hot as a toaster oven, stuffed to the rafters with young men and women of all races and ethnic types in punk regalia – torn jeans and t-shirts, spiky hair of all colors and consistencies  - wildly slam dancing with an almost murderous abandon. Beer bottles were flying, and other identified liquids which made the floor shiny-slick. Kids had their heads thrown back in sheer ecstasy while others leapt on and off the stage, sometimes barging into the band’s space – and diving into a mosh of sweaty, writhing bodies.

Leading all this were five young black men, also drenched, dancing so wildly I feared the lead singer, (Angelo Moore, A.K.A. Dr. Madd Vibe), would somehow injure himself, what with his crazy twitching so near the mike stand, and his insistence on rolling around on the glass covered floor.
All 5 men were also simultaneously playing all manner of instruments sometimes switching from a saxophone to a keyboard, to a guitar or bass, while singing, rapping or simply screaming—all seemingly with righteous purpose. Before I realized it, I too joined the fray. By the end of the wet, dark, hot night I was, and forever more, a Fishbone fan.

Since, over the years, I’ve purchased nearly all their recordings and stuck by them through thick and thin, and gone to see them many times. They never disappoint. Now in their mid-to-late 50’s, only two of the original band members whom I saw that fateful night at the 9:30 Club remain. Lead singer/cofounder Angelo and bass player/high school pal & co-founder Norwood Fisher.

When I saw them recently at Brooklyn Bowl, It seemed nothing had changed. Before the show, Wearing a wrinkled Beetlejuice –like suit, Moore waded through the crowd, greeting fans and taking iphone selfies. I couldn’t resist. As I realized I never actually made an acquaintance with this man who’d gRown to mean so much to me. As I strode up to him, placing my hand on his shoulder to pose for a portrait, I whispered in his ear, “I love you man”.  He knowingly smiled.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cotton Pickin’

I used to spend my early summers in North Carolina. Every year was the same thing: I would look for a job in town the first few weeks, which were always pretty scarce. One year I took a position in the cotton fields.

It didn't seem too bad at first: the pay was pretty good for outdoor labor. I was to follow the massive machines that mechanically lifted the majority of the cotton crop and pick up remnants the great machines left behind. How hard could it be? And $6.00 an hour at 18 years of age seemed like a tidy sum at the time.

But it ended up being damn near unbearable. It was inhumanly hot. The sun bear down on us like napalm-smeared bayonets. I don’t think I’d ever sweat so much in my life.
My co-workers ran the gambit: students like me, older folks who had been let go from jobs at local factories who were struggling to make ends meet, and young, drug-addled burnouts.
The days dragged on like weeks.

We all had one thing in common though: we were all black. So you can imagine a long, linear crowd of us in the soul–burning sun, gathering cotton and dropping them into canvas bags, being watched over by the (for the most part) white supervisory staff.
My mind would drift and I felt like was like traveling back in time. Was it, all those years ago, like this? Am I experiencing retroactive déjà vu? Probably not, I concluded. But it still really, really sucks.

I think I lasted a week.
I ended up spending the rest of the summer making $3.35 at Burger King.