Monday, May 09, 2005

PMA: Bad Brains on Mother's Day...

A month or so ago, I found and started listening to this old-old-old audio cassette that I'd recorded way back when I played -- music in a funk-rock-reggae outfit called Full Stop -- back in college. On the tape was a mix of groups like Fugazi, Hüsker Dü , Minor Threat, Black Flagg early Fishbone and Bad Brains. There was a shite's site more of the Brains on that 90 minutes of Memorex than any of the others -- I guess there's a reason for everything because around the time I unearthed that tape, I'd decided to go back to visit my mom for mother's day 2005 back in Virginia...As it turns out, I was in for a little more than just a reunion with my moms, I got a full on blast from the past with a grey-bearded Rastaman...the Fearless Vampire Killer himself...

I met HR (Paul Hudson/ Human Rights/ Ras Hailu Gabriel Joseph - I, depending on who you're talking with at the time) back when I was still a highschooler while waiting for the intramural buses behind the Maggie L. Walker building in Richmond, VA. (which was where my school was located/situated right at the end of this street where a small group of Rastafarians lived.) I was getting into reggae music/ Rasta and my hair was just begining to "kink up" into little curly-cues that would eventually become dreadlocks. HR just rolled up on me one day and started chatting about Rasta and things, like a monk...I hadn't the slightest idea of who he or Bad Brains was -- this was around 1987. I hadn't gotten into punk yet and I think, in hindsight, my ignorance of his past is was what might've invoked his candor. He never ever alluded to the fact of what he did and it never even struck me why everyone was so cool to the guy. Everywhere we went he'd get props from Rastas, punks, art students, bar keeps..everybody -- they all seemed to know the guy; looking back, I realize how I must've oozed youthful naivete.

Every once in a while, when he was in town, we'd hook up for veggie subs over @ the Village Cafe over on Grace Street or at this upstairs reggae club called New Horizons Cafe and just palaver about things. Eventually, dude's "night gig" came up in one of our discussions and he told me to come up to see him perform at New Horizons which I did. The laid back, cool runnings Rastaman I'd been reasoning with about "the path of righteousness" morphed into this bolt of lighting onstage; he backflipped from out of the crowd, shrieked an African wadada war cry and plowed through a blistering set of reggae -- tinged with a pinch of the punk that he was, then, starting to move away from -- the tune "The Big Fat Lie" has been burned in my mind every since...I continued to check out shows when I could in places like Traxx in Charlottesville or the 9:30 Club in DC when my university studies permitted. In the years that have followed I've caught HR in NYC, at a Bad Brains "reunion show" in Atlanta and in L.A. When I arrived in VA last Saturday, I found out that HR was playing that very night which I thought was a bit of serendipity [there's never any good live music when I visit] -- I shot on down to the Shockoe Bottom to this joint called Alley Katz.

"HR will be out here in a minute, I guess..." was what the guitarist declared apologetically..."All new tunes?" is that what he just said? After he finally walked out and unsheathed about four acoustic axes with little note tags on them. [in hindsight, I think he'd always wanted to get up on stage and go through that ritual of opening up his cases while the crowd awaited in's a band thing, try to understand, yo]... The group opened up their set with a new jammy called "Love Comes First" which was slow and skanky but still in the spirit of the Charge LP. Some would say that all of this is nothing special to write home about but they'd be wrong. Seeing HR here, of all places, definitely means something.

As soon as HR sat down in his wooden chair, it was clear he was "feeling it." granted, his acoustic playing needed a trifle "polishing" the intent was there; the spirit of the moment was there and it was readily apparent that everybody in attendance was waiting to see him. It was a beautiful thing to behold -- everything came together during a newer, dubbier version of "I Luv Jah" (a reggae classic from back in the Bad Brains days). Human Rights et al turned the dub factor up to a Nigel Tufnel-esque "11," homeboy bolted up out of his chair during the chorus/ bass vamp like his pants was dancing with figs: "...I said you gotta love Jah Jah with your heart and soul. Whoah!" and then that unmistakeable screech..."Eeeee-YOW!" -- I was 17 years old and standing in New Horizons again -- crazy, kid.

"Walking down babylon lane. Trying to live my life in peace. Two young men call me not their brother, try to make me feel ashamed. But I luv I jah yeah, he tell me not to be that way. I luv I jah, yeah, I gotta keep my PMA. My lovely sister, judge me by my clothes, yeah. Only to learn to her mistake not everyone's alike. We're not all a uptight - I no fuss, no fight. Cool that way, cool that way. ...I luv I jah."*

Before HR came out, Monty Morris from the original Skatelites came out to perform a short set. He performed cuts like "What You Gonna Do?," in that old style that you don't hear everyday. What was really sad was that these college age mooks who, in their drunken exuberance, kept trying to stir up a mosh pit and didn't even recognize/ have a clue as to what a treat they were getting musically. [and yes some of 'em were even moon stomping but apparently didn't realize why they were impelled to do so.] All of that aside, I braced myself for the worst; I'd watched Fishbone's "performance slippage" over the years and prepared myself to see another black rocker's decline in living color - no pun intended.

It was really strange was watching all of these younger heads who hadn't a clue about the Hardtimes Cafe days or even the Village Cafe nights/mornings -- weird. These guys were in their 20's and hadn't the slightest...and then, like a reminder of the profound insouciance embodied by the young heads all around me, the lead guitarist's audio mix bled through the mains, loudly shredding the vocal mix -- I turned back to the soundbooth in horror as I realized that the sound-guy was drinking a beer behind me at the bar...I yelled at nobody in particular "who in the fuck is driving? Who's in charge of the mixing console?" and the bartender drawled blithely "I dunno?" I quickly recalled stories about HR the artist from back in the old days. There were always whispers of dude being "difficult to work with" and "he had issues with timeliness" [he'd either show up minutes before he was set to perform or he wouldn't show at all] but I never witnessed it first hand -- maybe that's just me. I now know that all of these things and more are quite possible because...well, just because.

Based on the latter, I already knew that the guitarist's solo bleeding all over HR's vocals was the deal breaker -- I closed out my tab and finished my Sierra Nevada...I knew that there wouldn't be any more tunes. I can honestly say that the sound man dropped the ball in that instance because, sure as shite, when the tune was over, HR was like "thankyouandgoodnight!" What a buzz kill; the Alley Katz sound crew screwed the pooch big time but at least I got to hear some sweet ass Bad Brains dubbing...I never made it backstage to rap face to face with HR because all of the "village reggae officianados" and scenesters from the 80's were in the house and I didn't fancy negotiating through that gauntlet of glad handers...I stepped out onto the street basking in what I'd just least I got the opportunity to reunite with that dancing soul for about 90 minutes...albeit from just 15 feet away...that was good enough for me...

The LP Banned in DC has been cribbed by bands all over the globe calling themselve "punk" since it came out in the early 80's...HR, Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer and Earl Hudson should be given their propers...I wonder if they'll ever get "the Johnny Lydon Daps" time will tell...I'll hitcha from Atlanta in a short, yo...Laters.

*"I Luv Jah" lyrics, BTW...PAYCE (two fingers)...


Blogger mj said...

ceep, what you have that many a writer lacks is consistency. (i mean, there may be other things for sure, but your consistency of sound is astounding.)
your voice is yours and it can be heard in everything you write. it's not just the words or even the slang or vernacular. it's more like the syntax. your "yo," is like the "amen," of an hassidic rabbi. (or john lennon's let it be, for that matter.)
i like to read scott ostler, a sportswriter for the san francisco chronicle. i try to get my hands on anything richard rodriguez writes be it for that same newspaper or the la times. howard zinn is obviously cool. i like bill simmons on sports in espn the mag even if i did have to cancel my subscription. an article from garcia-marquez or rushdie sounds just like their novels.
as a reader, when you become familiar with a writer's style to the point of recognizability of voice and syntax and even tendencies, that is when you can say if you really have a taste for their work.
in your case, i recognize and i enjoy. (thanx for putting it down and making it accessible.)

also, your experience with bad brains makes me wish san diego's rebel rockers had made it just a little bit bigger. and, i have a friend you should meet so you can slap high fives on your mutual affinity.

2:24 PM, May 10, 2005  
Blogger leftoverking said...

that is awesome crash, bad brains has been one of my staples ever since that yellow roir cassette passed into my hands back in the early eighties. their best document to date if you ask me. definitely still one of the top ten performers i have seen live over the years, and i have seen a few. i have given the new bb (to build a nation) a listen, and i dig it with the nagging reality in the back of my head explaining that these cats are getting OLD. it happens to the best of us.

8:13 PM, June 16, 2007  
Anonymous SdC said...

The point is that I have all Bad Brains and Human Rights albums but I've never seen any concert!
I missed each Bad Brains tour here. HR live on stage, a dream to listen to Throat
Too bad but it's life...
At least i hope Build a nation will give the Brains what they deserve in the History of Music. The album is damned good after all these years; tx MCA

yet i haven't seen many people writing about 24-7 Spyz and their grandma dynamite!!

Living souls united
Dancing souls that learn to fly...

4:10 PM, June 21, 2007  
Blogger Crash Pryor said...

...I don't know if you've seen this or not...but I pieced up 24-7 Spyz' Harder Than You LP(which contains "Grandma Dynamite") back in May on can find it on my mog right here

4:36 PM, June 21, 2007  
Anonymous SdC said...

Yep I've seen it and listened too.
But as I already have many accounts, i'm too lazy to subscribe to Mog and write in English.
Too difficult for me and I like to hide behind my glasses!!!
This said i've added both blogs in my rss reader.

1:23 AM, June 28, 2007  

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