Kill Myself or Die Tryin’ Pt. 2
Kill Myself or Die Tryin’
I Was a Turntable Tech for 50 Cent, Pt. 2
By Mark Driver
Say what you will about rap. I will say this:
Rap was an organic, artistic development of urban culture that flourished from the early 80s to the early 90s, originally based in the historically African American boroughs of New York with roots that begin in the late 70s. Blues and jazz, long since becoming the exclusive realm of over-the-hill rockstars and middle-aged white guys (with mustaches), had grown completely irrelevant to black youth culture, and disco, with overtly gay overtones, never truly gained a foothold. However, block parties, based partly on the “sound system” phenomena brought by Jamaican immigrants, spawned party rap—a beat-driven form of call-and-response enthusiastically accepted and advanced by inner-city black culture. Eventually yielding a complex interplay between rhythm, language systems, personal artistic vision, and social commentary juxtaposed against turntabilism and the sampling of songs from previous generations, rap brought an entirely new genre of music to the world—a true music of the people. While participation in previous forms of music required at least the investment of an instrument, rap required little more than a weathered notebook, an imagination, and a beat. From its party beginnings, rap spread to a variety of artists who took it in many profound directions and, in turn, created art that stands shoulder to shoulder with any musical achievements of this century.
But as corporate interests saw audiences lose interest in their standard products, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, et al., they realized the money to be made by the cynical mining of urban black culture. As the 90s unfolded, the spotlight was finally put on a genre that had been demanding to be treated seriously for nearly fifteen years and in that process, a rich and varied artform was homogenized and standardized, turned into an accessible product, and sold to a primarily white suburban audience. Suburbanites, fully realizing the lack of substance and worth found in the stripmalls and Olive Gardens that surrounded them, gleefully participated in the cooption of inner-city black culture—despite never existing under the crushing inner-city realities and hardships that plague American cities. Increasingly anti-women, violent, and materialistic, rap took up rock’s gauntlet as the public spectacle of “rebel music,” and in the process—as the 90s became the 00s—subverted any true threat to the establishment or clarified statement of black identity by transforming the genre into a saleable image of luxury cares, gold necklaces, and high-priced sports memorabilia.
Yes, market capitalism had played a clever trick, turning its own obvious failures, i.e. inner-city privation, discriminatory racism, and social disintegration within the world’s wealthiest nation, into a marketing tool that not only moved CDs, concert tickets, and cross-marketed fashion lines, but sold to an entire generation the idea of an American dream that consists of little more than taking whatever steps are necessary to bring oneself to a level where one can conspicuously consume luxury goods. The genre has devolved into little more than a showy parade of vanilla mimicry, brand-name fascism, and laughable overconsumption, its patrons drowning in pathetic attempts to garner respect among an equally stunted peer group and to make themselves appealing to the opposite sex, like a field of stuffed peacocks.
If you’re not rollin’ in a hummer, there’s sumthin’ wrong wit ‘cha, dog, AND WOULD YOU BEAR HOLY WITNESS TO ALL THIS CLUNKY BULLSHIT AROUND MY NECK!
Yeah, yeah. I know. Major label shit always sucks, no matter what the genre. A tepid barometer of what was actually happening five years ago. Y’all got the real shit. Y’all got basement tapes that’d bump the chrome off any jeep. Welcome to Snoresylvania, population: your indy hip-hop project.
“Jesus dude, he’s gonna start using hip-hop and rap interchangeably, without explaining the difference.” Yawn.
“I think his dislike of rap stems from a latent racism he is unwilling to confront.” Fart.
No me gusta.
Fine. You’re all brilliant and beautiful with hip fingers in all scenes. I’m old and cranky and only listen to theremin concertos. You ain’t my scene. I’ll stay out of your clubs if you stay out of my libraries. Yes, there are works of genius beyond reproach, there are about twenty rap albums I listen to regularly. Every other rap record needs to be stuffed up Dick Cheney’s lying ass and launched aboard the administration’s next plan to pass the Constitutional amendment to shoot electric cars loaded with homosexual athletes on performance-enhancing steroids to Mars—or whatever smokescreen that sombrero full of cobras is spittin’ this week to deflect that taxpayer-funded civilian-killing machine they got going full blast over on the other side of the world.
Because I was a record reviewer a few years ago, I’m still on mailing lists for a bunch of music labels and, save the occasional Prefuse 73, I can tell you that things ain’t getting better. I can also tell you where every single Strokes riff has been stolen from and where Peaches’ mouth has actually been.
But it’s no fun to pick on the little guy. I’m making fun of that one video they’ve been showing on MTV eleven times an hour for the past five years. Do you think they rent that generic party house with the pool by the half hour? True, I eschew any scene based on excessive grooming, an entrance fee of $20,000 in Visa debt, and constant shopping. And I do get mad that kids in puffy jackets and crooked hats walk so slowly when they cross the street (How do you guys get anywhere? You must really have to plan ahead!). Y’all be some dope consumers.
“I rule the world! You can tell because I drink Hennesey! And my white Gucci sweats are spotless! You can tell I paid $300 for this basketball jersey just by looking at it. I am intricately accessorized in the finest of consumer accessories that are available to accessorize a playa like me.”
Yeah. It ain’t my scene. And despite the fact that everyone’s too scared of tearing their expensive shirts to actually get in a fist fight so they end up panicking and shooting each other, there’s nothing hardcore about it, despite all claims to the contrary. It’s a product. A cynically marketed, instantly available identity. Like everything.
That’s my take, but I’m probably wrong and whatever you think is probably right. That’s what the emails always say anyways.
But we left off in the story where I was driving into the desert. In a van, sort of nervous. But mostly just hungover.
The night before, I was witness to the final evening of music at Zak’s, a legendary Seattle punk club whose tiny Pakistani owner had not paid the rent in seventeen years. It was packed, as always, with drunks of all ages in various states of disrepair. I can’t tell you how many pitchers I’ve sucked down in the fenced-off side yard with a bent up basketball hoops; the inebriated games of HORSE were legendary, if for nothing more than the fact you’d get hit in the face by a flat basketball every four seconds. Sad to see it go.
You know the scene. Smoky dump with cracked cement floors, knife-scratched graffiti, and thrashed booths. But no one came for the ambiance, they came for the spectacle. Five final bands. The ugly, fat punks set their gear up on the floor and began wailing. Lead singer with the wrestling mask? Not too original, but probably an improvement over what lied beneath. And he had the ingratiating habit of running out into the crowd, grabbing the bottle of beer out of your hand, and smashing it on the ground at your feet. What panache! Priceless! Not to be outdone, the crowd began throwing empties at the band. Soon, there was at least four inches of broken glass on the floor and at least a dozen people beating the shit out of each other on top of it. Towards the end of their set, Mr. Wrestler Singer took off his shirt AND DID THE WORM in the wreckage and then A BACKSPIN, coming up with a cluster of glass leeches and bleeding profusely from the gashes. High fives all around. Drunks were slipping across the dancefloor, going down hard, getting helped back up, cutting the shit out of themselves and those unfortunate enough to be near them. Most anyone pushing by you on the way to the bar was soaked in blood and left red streaks on your own shirt. A laughing girl was getting a piece of brown Budweiser shrapnel removed from her face. You could smell the blood in the room. The heavy scent of iron, hot and nauseating.
After the last band finished (Old Man Smithers?), the crowd went happily berserk and the entire place was sacked. It was the last night, right? Death to Rome! Fires were set. Windows were broken. Clouds of spraypaint made it nearly unable to breathe. Two homeless guys ran by the screaming owner with a toilet and smashed it in the middle of the street. What a show! After aborting an attempt to pull the Dart Pro Shop display off the wall, I figured I’d been testing my luck long enough and made my way for the door. Once outside, I threw away my bloody t-shirt, zipped up my jacket, and made the long walk home, thoroughly entertained.
That was Thursday. Friday, I was on the road. The only memorable thing from the drive was Mexican talk radio and a spiritually crushing roadside taco—a cheeseburger cut in half and dropped into a stale tortilla that I suspected to be, in actuality, a hamburger bun pounded flat.
Another eighty-five cents down the spider hole.
I arrived at the Gorge around five in the afternoon, talking my way past the guard at the back gate and continuing down a winding hill until I was surrounded by semis. I pulled up to the side of a twenty-foot high stage and found some roadies to help me unload the coffins of gear from the back of the van. Just like that, my day was done. I sat around the stage and watched them put up the Jumbotron, a fifty-foot high digital screen assembled one four-by-four panel at a time. Like TV legos. I pestered a technician with questions, got bored with the answers, and wandered towards the grub tent. Hotdogs and potato salad. Blech.
Though it was almost night, it was still hot. In the 90s. I start getting itchy when the mercury surpasses 65 and I began to fear for my health…but I’m a professional. Professional complainer, at least.
The Gorge is one of these outdoor hellholes where thousands and thousands of awful people gather to watch terrible music, eat offensively overpriced food, become too drunk to control their bodily functions, and eventually shoot, stab, or trample each other in some pathetically played-out drama of meaningless human wretchedness. It does have the benefit of a beautiful backdrop—desert canyons, rolling browngrass hills, a far-off river snaking through the parched and barren moonscape. All of this beauty is, of course, destroyed the instant that the first bit of human detritus streams through the turnstile. But, with plenty of time on my hands, it was still a real purty view.
Cut to Saturday morning. I’m in a Seahawks jersey and cutoff camo shorts, sitting on a packing crate at the back of the stage. I had set the turntables up. A real pro job. Folding table directly on the stage with the wheels of steel plopped down and plugged in. The soundman strutted over with a look of disbelief in his face. After clarifying that no, I was not kidding, he pushed me out of the way and set the turntables up with a rigged, shock proof stand that worked much better than my Saturday-night-DJ-in-Dad’s-semifinished-rec-room-while-Mom-dances-the-Watusi special.
I was also in charge of getting turntables to the second stage as well, so I summoned a pack of teenage roadies and made them schlep my roadcases up the hot hill. Just to show that I was one of them, I carried two empty roadcases and acted like they were heavier than they really were.
As we got to the second stage, I found out that they had already opened the turnstiles and people were entering the park. A crowd had formed in front of the stage and nappy-headed kid with a crate of vinyl standing behind it looked about thirty seconds away from embolism.
“Calm down, man. We got you.”
Without my help, the DJ slammed the turntables down and hooked up the mixers in record speed. It was like watching a Marine reassemble an M-16 blindfolded. The kid knew his shit. He was off and spinning within a minute of my arrival. After making sure everything worked, I started to walk off, but he stopped me, shook my hand, and gave me a pat on the back.
“Thanks. Sorry I got so mad.”
That was mad?
I bumbled back down to the main stage, stopping by the van to chug a Pabst. Once within sight of the soundman, he waved me over with a frantic gesture.
“We need the test record!” he shouted.
“What test record?” I shouted back, a little dizzy from shotgunning the beer thirty seconds earlier.
“The test record to get sound levels on the turntables. We need this shit up and running. Now! You don’t have a record?”
“It’s a fucking hip-hop show. Shouldn’t there be one lying around somewhere?”
So I ran back up to my DJ buddy at the second stage. I tugged at his jersey and asked for a record. He gave me one without asking why and didn’t miss a beat of his set. He had the crowd moving. A few hundred kids. Asian teenage dance troupes were in full effect.
I ran the record back down to the soundman, we got the levels, and the crisis was averted. I walked out on the main stage and took in the whole scene. About two thousand people had made it up front. I gave them the heavy metal salute. They cheered back. Ooo, the power! MC Dickhead in the house!
I walked the record back up to the DJ and decided that it was time to go to the catering tent and eat lunch. Potato salad and hotdogs. Again. My stomach contracted in obvious revolt. It was still in the process of shaking off Friday night’s lesson: “Why You Should Never Drink Homemade Absinthe.”
I don’t claim to be even the slightest bit of an educator, but if you ever learn one thing from me—ever—let it be that when someone offers you homemade absinthe, you should grab it, throw a match in the glass, and dump the burning liquid over the head of the assassin who trying to kill you.
“You wanna try my homemade absinthe?” actually translates as “Hey, I’ve got a pint of Raid Extra Strength Wasp & Hornet Killer. Wanna split it? I’ve also got a box of Nabisco Asbestos Nibblers if anybody wants one.”
Friday night. I was partying with the stagehands, our tents pitched in the amphitheater backlot around an air-conditioned trailer wallpapered in boldfaced printouts that forbade our entrance, despite 100+ temps during the day. I’ll say one thing about stagehands, those fuckers can drink. Unfortunately they’re not as skilled as buying. All alcohol was consumed by ten p.m. and since we were in the MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING DESERT, the nearest was store at least an hour away. Various pipes were passed; I didn’t ask for any and none was offered.
The night’s entertainment had devolved into illegally sitting in the crumbling air-conditioned trailer by myself—(insert middle finger here)—and slowly reducing the height of a stack of burnt hamburger patties on a filthy coutertop, leftovers from dinner.
The trailer door opened, and a Spicoli-looking guy with hair to his shoulders and a MACK hat stuck his head through the door.
“Are we allowed to be in here?”
“Who cares. If they yell at us, just act dumb.”
First he offered me a cigarette. I did not want a cigarette. Then he started sipping on this bottle of bright yellow liquid he pulled out of his shirt. Each swallow was obviously killing him. Scrunched face. Spasms. I assumed it was because he was some dumb kid who probably stole a bottle of Galliano from his mom without any idea of how toxic Galliano actually is.
We sat in silence, happy to be out of the heat, which was still oppressive at ten o’clock at night.
“You want some of this?” he finally asked.
“Sure.” I took a swig without asking what it was. Because I’m so cool. Because I’m such a drinker. Because there is no liquor on earth that I cannot chug a pint of with a straight face.
This stuff, however, came right back up. There was no fighting it. I covered my mouth and it shot out my nose. It burns! It burns! It was exactly what you would think a glass of Deep Woods Off would taste like.
He laughed at the yellow goo running out my nose. “It’s absinthe,” he said.
“Shouldn’t we mix it with sugar?” I asked. “And water?”
“I used to dilute it, but I finally got used to it. I just drink it straight.”
This kid was much more hardcore than I was giving him credit for. He poured me a glass and I watered it down a bit, using the trailer spigot that assuredly sported a direct connection to the sump pump.
We were towards the end of the bottle before I said anything more about it.
“It’s really strong,” I said. “Not like any of the absinthe I’ve had before.”
“You probably had anisette or something. The real stuff has wormwood, which is a poison. It’s illegal here.”
“Yeah, I know that. But my friends sometimes bring me a bottle back from Eastern Europe. But it’s never as…raw as this. Where is it from?”
“I made it.”
“Yeah. It’s not that hard. You just have to—”
“You…made it. Like…in your house.”
“Apartment. The hardest thing is just getting the ingredients, because—”
I cannot tell you a single thing he told me. All sounds and vision became an adrenalinized blur, from that sentence to—
“…the wormwood should kick in soon.”
And it did. Either that, or my paranoid brain hallucinated itself for me. Far from inducing the mindspace inhabited by the Van Goghs, Allen Poes, and Romantic Prose, my symptoms were considerably less artistic—unless you find transcendental beauty in heart palpitations, extreme puking, and cold sweats that feel a group of ten-year-olds are operating a Slip-n-Slide underneath your skin. Rounding out my night in the tent was a paranoid insomnia of being eaten by roadies, auditory hallucinations of werewolves sniffing outside the tentflaps, and the most hilarious symptom of all, crippling gas—which was probably just final revenge for the fourteen hamburger patties I had eaten.
To show how nice he was, my new friend had even given me the last 1/3 of the bottle to take home. It was a kind gesture. Too bad my enemies never come over for drinks.
So that was Friday night. Now it’s Saturday, 105 degrees at 11:00 am and I’m thanking Thor for my sexy Mediterranean complexion. You would think the guy at the metal detector would have recognized me by now, but no. He wants to feel my rich, leathery thighs every time I pass though.
My work is done. Everything is all set up. It’s like that terrifying moment where you have all the snacks set up for your party, all the balloons floating high in the corner of the room, all the confetti whistles are set and ready to blow, your CD of “Crappy Party Music That Makes Drunk People Dance” is droning quietly in the background, you’re showered and the keg is tapped…you’re just waiting for the first guest arrive!
Of course, I’m only assuming that this was the feeling. I don’t throw parties. People who have parties are idiots. Especially idiotic are people who invite me to their parties.
But we’re ready to roll.
And then the first limo pulls up to the stage. Doors open and bodyguards are out and in charge, morbidly obese with leather newsboy caps and gold chains, knocking stagehands and caterers out of the way like they had the President in their charge.
“Make way for Stringy!”
Or maybe it was Thingy. Or Jangly.
The music started. It sucked.
It was gonna be a long day.
Hey creeps, sorry it’s been a while. I’ve been extra busy getting laid off from yet another job and being rejected from prestigious grad schools worldwide.
Completely unemployed again! Woo hoo! At least there’s no evil woman on my back this time. Still, I feel sort of greedy hogging all this failure, so if anyone wants some…
But really, how bad can life be if you’re getting laid regularly? And who makes a better lover than an unemployed writer? Well, probably just about anyone, but don’t tell my girlie that.
Good news for me is that I get more time to spend on the new novel I’m pooping out. Halfway through the rough draft, cranking about 4,000 worthless words a day. What glorious, selfish fun!
Thanks for everyone who’s bought a copy of Just Another Empire. I’ve cleared about 600 copies so far. A few good reviews, some lovely press, an interested distributor, and it looks like I might actually go into a second printing. So, buy your first edition while you can. I’m selling about fifty copies a month and the stack of boxes underneath my kitchen table is getting smaller and smaller.
I sold a book to Singapore last week. How cool is that?
Most of y’all’s feedback on the book has been dead on. Yes, I’ll admit that there may be too much bitching in it, but, in my defense, I must say that it’s tactical bitching, and it’s supposed to be annoying.
Some people said there shoulda been more of me in it. Some people said that I should have left myself out of it entirely and just left the story at it was. Some people said that they haven’t started reading it, but they really like the cover.
Personally, I haven’t read it yet, but I’m excited to start it!
I’m happy to be holding about a B+ rating overall, with the exclusion of votes from my mom’s book club which, fresh off of White Teeth by Zadie Whoever, were somewhat enraged by it. One woman told my mom she’d never felt so personally insulted by a book in her life…which makes my father somewhat apprehensive about his donation of a copy to the library in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I must be doing something right
I’m just happy people are reading it.
And like grandma used to say, “Start drinking at noon. Crucify the retarded.”
See ya soon, ya retards! Part 3 of this turdfest is already written, I’m just trying to space it out and re-create the illusion of updating.