Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bruce Lee vs. Eazy E

Did you ever see Office Space? It’s a classic film of wit and irony. One of my favorite characters is that of Michael Bolton…an IT guy at Initech that had the misfortune of being named, well, ...Michael Bolton. The real irony is that he loves hard core gangster rap music. A snow white nerdy IT guy named Michael Bolton that jams Ghetto Rap in his ride. I feel compelled to cut in some Office Space dialogue:

Samir: No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It's not that hard: Na-ee-ana-jaad. Nayanajaad.
Michael Bolton: Yeah, well at least your name isn't Michael Bolton.
Samir: You know there's nothing wrong with that name.
Michael Bolton: There was nothing wrong with it... until that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
Samir: Hmm... well why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

My own personal irony is that I was, once upon a time, that guy. The snow white nerdy/preppie kid rocking a white IZOD sweater with my cuordoroy shorts, listening to Dre in my car.

I went through a rap phase. I’m not sure if I really ever bought into it. I certainly never looked like it, but that’s largely because I detest people that dress their scene and kind of always have. I tried it to an extent in my Grateful Dead days, but I always felt like I was betraying myself. There’s just simply no need for the marriage of image and music. Anyhow, I thumped with the best of ‘em. And this was pre-“hip hop.” This was RAP baby.

So the question I ask myself today is this. Did I dig rap because my friends did and I wanted to fit in or did I genuinely like it? And what does “like it” mean? It’s not necessarily musical. I suppose it’s lyrically intricate but I wouldn’t call it lyrically “pleasing.” Ultimately I think that I like(d) rap because of the emotional effect that it has on my soul. It’s the only redeeming quality that I can find. It made me “feel” something. What I felt was generally angry or intense or rebellious, but teenagers need that kind of thing. The follow-up question is whether or not the emotional response is right or wrong, good or bad.

I was a junior in high school and right in the thick of my rap phase. Cypress Hill, Snoop, Dr. Dre, and Eazy E were taking turns in rotation in my Discman. I knew my parents (staunch and strict) wouldn’t approve of the music (which I guess answers question #2 in a sense) so I hid the CDs in a cupboard in my bedroom. My sleuthy mother naturally found them and took me to task.

“Ty, what are these CDs that say ‘Explicit Lyrics?’”
“Oh, uh yeah, mom *ahem* those are Lance’s. I’m just holding them for him.”
*soul-probing stare through my eyes with her Manson lamps*
“I want them out of my house right now. Take them to Lance’s house and I don’t ever want to see them again. Does Lance’s mother know he listens to that? Is Lance a good kid? Does Lance do drugs? Does Lance believe in Jesus?”

Talk about your all-time under-the-bus-chuckings. Sorry Hud.

So, I took them back to Lance’s…i.e. a much better, impossibly hard to find hiding place in my room.

It was a Friday afternoon and my fingernails had been bitten down to bleeders. It was parent-teacher conference. I was toast and I knew it. This time, my old man was going…and he was taking me with him. I had to deal with the embarrassment of having all those other parents there sans kids staring at me like a leprous midget at a Lakers tryout. That’s in addition to the agony of sitting through Mr. Player telling my dad that he hasn’t seen me in his class for 10 days or Duignan hadn’t seen an assignment turned in all quarter. I was hosed. The minutes seemed like hours….the hours, years. I was so distracted (still biting my nails) that I failed to notice my old man slip a CD in his Clarion system as we pulled out of the driveway.

At first I didn’t recognize the low bass of Eazy-E’s “Real Mutha__ckin’ Gs” piping through dad’s surprisingly strong stock speakers at unnaturally high volume. I did, however, catch on when I heard Eazy’s harsh whisper of “Ahhhhhh, real mutha__ckin’ Gs.” My hand, quick as lightning, shot for the eject button. My old man, faster than lightning, slapped my hand away. I tried again. My hand, again, was knocked harmlessly away. My father was Bruce-freaking-Lee, instinctually blocking my attempts to get at that eject button as if he saw my moves long before I even thought of them, one after the other.

By now we were at the first verse, “Hey yo docta’ here’s another proper track and it’s phat, watch the sniper…time to pay the piper…” My spirit sunk. Dad, however, slid back in his seat like an OG homie, body cocked a bit to the side with his left wrist casually on the wheel, bobbing his head along with the beat, thwarting my maneuvers for the eject button with his other hand like Neo. I was fully panic-stricken at this point. “Don’t touch that button, beotch. This is good $hiz!” We drove along, bumping The Eaze for at least 2 minutes…dad bangin’ in the drivers seat. I was crying at this point. I tried one last time to get the disc out of the player and this time he let me pass his guard, pulling the car over as I took the disc and broke it in half. Silently he handed me the other discs that my bloodhound mother had unearthed. I snapped each of them in turn.

“Ty, what are you doing listening to this music? This is terrible music. It’s offensive and wrong.” I quietly cried. “Please stop listening to it. Never bring it into our home again. Deal?” “Deal”, I squeaked. “Ok. Let’s go to your school.”

Now parent teacher conference didn’t seem like such a big deal. It was trivial when compared to bumping Eazy E together with your sainted father. When we returned from the meetings, he and my mother went through all of my CDs and confiscated those that they thought had the remotest potential of being “evil.” To their credit, they previewed each of them and actually returned a few. That said, I still lost copies of “Porno for Pyros” (I’m sure they didn’t want me mixed up in either of those two things) and my “Meat Puppets – Too High to Die” album, which was totally lame because it was the furthest thing from offensive.

Naturally, I bought replacement copies of all those discs and still own them today.

I guess that if I had to be completely honest with myself, true to my soul, I wouldn’t be able to look you in the eye and say that Eazy E or Dre or Snoop or Cypress Hill is good to listen to. It’s probably offensive to the spirit and creates negative energy. I generally try to steer clear of complete and total honesty with self though. I dig the spice of life and brutal personal honesty creates blandness. It’s not an ignorance is bliss thing. It’s more of a “drink a Pepsi and try not to think about it” thing. Without rap, we’d have never been given Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” and Vanilla’s “To the Extreme” which are both works of poetic genius. Art gets a free pass. Usually.

But most importantly, I need to tap into my inner Michael Bolton from time to time.