Apr 18, 2007, 07:10
Photo © Dave Naz
Blood buckets down the undulating walls. Invisible fists rage with super human strength and hammer the door. The ancient wood frame buckles, crumples and heaves. The empty nursery reverberates with the mournful howl of a pitiful infant, who cannot be located. I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor, clutching my throat, trembling. Dry mouthed... Unable to breath. The Haunting of Hill House is the most terrifying movie I've ever seen. I'm eight years old.
A suffocating humidity saturates the night air. Static electricity vibrates the hair follicles. The low buzzing hum of the black and white Motorola is swallowed up in the wheezing yelp of a stray dog, which bellows like a town crier somewhere in someone's backyard. His harried yapping immediately mimicked and amplified by every mutt in the neighborhood in a round robin of barks and howls. A desperate warning cry, which signals the coming maelstrom.
The atmosphere stiffens. The dogs retreat. Time bends. In a sudden explosion of white noise, hundreds of frenzied voices come shrieking out of nowhere. As if all hell's fury, in a sudden expulsion from middle earth materializes compounding my terror.
Men, women and their children who have been hoisted upon the backs of older brothers, all shouting slogans in a demonic gospeled fervor. Equal Work! Equal pay! We're Black and Proud and here to stay! Black Power!
The riots of '67 have detoured down Clifford Avenue, and are stampeding directly in front of my house. Hammers, baseball bats, pipes and bricks, all employed in the demolition of cars, windows, storefronts. A hideous industrial opera of unbearable din. My father chain-smokes and paces. Unleashing a litany of curses. Punches the air in his best Marlon Brando as his station wagon crumbles under the endless battery of physical abuse. The Ambulance and fire trucks barrel in, splitting the angry throng in two, their sirens a deafening symphony, which exaggerate the cacophony. Police helicopters circle the periphery. Giant mechanical insects whose diabolical hum blankets the shrill.
My fear is drowned in sound but reborn as joy in flames. The family car is set on fire. I start to laugh. Manically. To dance. To sing. “Come on baby LIGHT my FIRE. Try to set the night on FIRE!!!!” My father assumes I've lost my mind, and against my insistent protest sends me to my room.
I skulk upstairs dejected. â€˜Kind of a Drag' mumbled under my breath. A noisy rebellion of violence, clanging, pounding, exciting. And I'm locked out! I can't really comprehend what's happening, but it feels right. I'm no longer frightened, I'm charged up. Zoning in to the collective urgency. The passion. Determination. I head to the attic, my hidden retreat. Turn on the radio. Top Forty in 1967 was insane. “White Rabbit,” “7 Rooms of Gloom,” “Funky Broadway,” “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” “Are You Experienced.” Back-to-back. I had no idea what any of these songs were referencing. What they really meant. How subversive they really were.
I used the radio to disappear. Escape from my family. Enter another dimension. Melt inside a psychedelic soundstage, which cascaded out through the airwaves filling my already fractured psyche with a throbbing, slinky, funkified soul music where soaring rhythms and strangled guitars took me out of myself and gave me goose bumps.
“I Wake Upâ€¦in a Cold Sweat” stimulated me in ways I could only express by shaking my ass, flapping my arms and stomping my feet. Jimmy Lee Johnson, the seven year-old black boy next door, “Skinny Legs and All” had the entire James Brown, drop to one knee, and use his sweatshirt as a cape routine down pat. It's the first time anyone flirted with me. I was amazed by his mimicry. His fluidity. His tiny body gliding through the air with so much passion and control. He really knew how to “Shake a Tail Feather”. He must have caught JB on The Ed Sullivan Show. Everybody was glued to the tube on Sunday nights. The Rolling Stones doing â€˜Let's Spend the Night Together,” The Animals, George Carlin all penetrated my unformed psyche, courtesy of Mr. Sullivan. Even the infamous Doors controversy where Morrison refused to change “I knew we couldn't get much higher” subsequently banning him from future appearances struck a raw nerve in my adolescent conscious.
Music is the connective tissue between protest, rebellion, violence, sexual awareness and community. Just the way it is. The Summer of Love. What a bold faced lie! Reagan was elected Governor of California. Lyndon B. Johnson increased troop presence in Vietnam, ignoring the massive demonstrations, which rocked the nightly news. 70,000 strong in New York City alone. Race riots stormed through Cleveland, Detroit, Watts, Birmingham, Alabama, Rochester, New York and hundreds of other US cities inflaming tensions. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his World Heavyweight Championship for refusing the draft. Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys wouldn't go to war either and got tied up in a five-year legal battle, which he eventually won. The Boston Strangler was sentenced to life in prison and escaped from the institution he was held in.
Bread was 22 cents a loaf, a gallon of gas was 28 cents and the inner city ghetto which I called home was brimming with hard working people with attitude and conviction, whose lust for life couldn't be beaten out of them by piss poor housing conditions, lousy pay, the police or politicians. They taught me to fight for what I believed in, take pride in what I did, never give up, keep the faith and when hoping for a better tomorrow isn't enough, to turn up the music and dance them damn blues away.
Well you can take the wigger out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the wigger. After all “The World is a Ghetto.” And even though I'll never forget my roots, I refused to allow them to strangle me by the ankles because even if I had to â€˜Beg Borrow and Steal' this â€˜Lightening Girl' was going to be sure she was “Making Every Minute Count.” Just like the radio taught me.
1967 helped to define who I was to become. I may have been too young to fully grasp the political implications of the time, but it started a fire in my belly that burns as bright today as it ever did. The National Organization of Women was officially incorporated in '67. Grace Slick and Janis Joplin both threw down at the Monterey Pop festival. Shirley Temple ran for congress. I was just a tiny terror screaming my bloody head to “Funky Broadway” already plotting my big city escape.