I spotted this cartoon over at Racialicious. It was drawn by Keith Knight of the K Chronicles, and I immediately identified with it, especially with the third panel, and the one immediately under it. Except where I come from, it’s not just about not being into hip hop. It’s also about not being into soca, reggae, and dancehall. And if you’re not totally immersed in those genres, you might be considered an “oreo.” Yes, that word has been used to describe me in years past. And I love the cookies, but I hate the insinuation.
Listening to alternative forms of music besides the genre you were bred to love, doesn’t make you any less or more anything. (neither does speaking properly, wearing funky outfits, or being studious).
I’ve always had diverse musical influences. I grew up listening to classic country because of my dad — Willie Nelson was on regular rotation in my house when I was a three year old. When I was little, like nine or ten, I’d sneak downstairs after bedtime to watch Headbanger’s Ball on MTV. (This is pre-cable. For my Trinis, this was back in the days when TTT channel 13 and 14 would switch over to MTV late at night. Anyone remember that?)
In high school, besides listening to the expected calypso, reggae, and hip hop; I was also a total grungehead (complete with a Soundgarden calendar in my bedroom), who wept when Kurt Cobain died, and was totally obsessed with jazz age crooners, Sixties psychedelia, Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles. Musically speaking, I did not fit in with most of my peer group, and I’m quite sure lots of my classmates thought I was pretty weird. But you know what? I’m old enough now to realize that being “weird” has a way of working itself out. Being weird is cool, and it’s ok, and maybe, just maybe, the people who make you feel weird about being weird are in fact the weirdos. So think about that for a second and let your freak flag fly, high school weirdos! One day, you will rule the world.
The diversity of my musical taste continues to pay off in mysterious ways. In fact, one day you might just see your girl appear one one of those musical trivia shows like The World Series of Pop Culture. I think I’m that good. Just last week, I helped my brother answer a random Eighties trivia question when he called me up, all tipsy at his favorite bar. (The question was, who sang “Sunglasses at Night?” Click here for the right answer).
Once, in college a perpetual super senior kind-of acquainta-friend who had a crush on a major rap star with a taste for eccentric fashion, was going to meet up with him at a hotel on South Beach. She wanted to impress him, so she paid me money to make her the perfect mix CD to impress said rapper with. Through helping her pick songs, I realized that a.) she had never heard of Simon and Garfunkle. Or Paul Simon, even. And FYI, Paul Simon is amazing. Click here for a beautiful live version of Under African Skies with Miriam Makeba. And b.) She thought Billie Holiday was a man. This was no green teenager, homegirl was at least twenty five at the time. And she’d never heard a Billie Holiday song in her life. I played Good Morning Heartache for her, and she recognized it from Old Dirty Bastard’s cover version. (which for the record, I also enjoy). But still, damn. It’s BILLIE. You gotta feel her.
Making the CD with her made me sad. There are some people who just don’t really love music, they don’t feel it inside of them when they hear a special song. They’d rather watch TV than listen to a CD, they’d prefer to go to a movie rather than a concert. I never could understand that. I’ve always been totally musically obsessed, I need it like oxygen, and I’m always listening out for something fresh and new and alive, that makes me want to rattle my speakers. 7 times out of 10 it might be, but if it isn’t a reggae, hip hop, or R&B song, that’s cool too. I think having an open and widespread musical knowledge goes hand in hand with generally being a well-rounded person. So if you don’t listen to much besides the quote-unquote urban genres, explore our shared musical history and listen to some jazz, or feel the blues. Or try something new with me today. We’re gonna go a little out there, but trust me, it’ll be cool.
One of my new favorite speaker-rattlers is by the White Stripes. I think Jack White is a genius. (and yes, I’m aware that he’s dissed hip hop. For the record, I don’t think that makes him a racist. He’s a big fan of Son House, and I don’t think anyone who loves the blues as much as he does could then be racist. Just my opinion.)
I love the White Stripes’ style, the simple urgency of their sound, their inspired covers of ancient blues and country classics, and the fact that they basically wear the colors of the Trinidadian flag as their uniform. I’ve been a fan since White Blood Cells and I’m seriously looking forward to copping their new album. If the title track’s any indication, it’s going to be awesome.
They take a strong political stance in “Icky Thump”, and I can’t help but applaud it. “White Americans, what? Nothing better to do? Why don’t you kick yourself out, you’re an immigrant too! Who’s using who? What should we do? Well you can’t be a pimp and a prostitute, too.” Oooh, Lou Dobbs ain’t gonna like that one bit. But I love when a band expresses a view on issues. I’m feeling the thump. Hope you do too.
This goes out to that one black kid, or that one outsider who doesn’t feel like they fit into what they’re expected to fit into. Be who you are and don’t let external pressure change you. There are more of us than you may think!
Happy Friday, everyone!