Getting Crunk

Reprinted from the May 9. 2001 edition of the San Francisco Bay Guardian

I REMEMBER THE exact moment I realized I needed crunk in
my life. I was sitting on my Uncle James’ couch, drinking beer
and watching Vince Carter foul out of a playoff game. Out of
nowhere I started talking about how good I’d been feeling: good
enough to give spare CDs to the garbage men each week.

This was significant, since only a month before I was sitting on
that same couch, drinking that same brand of beer, whining a
down-home variation on the old “life has no purpose” jeremiad.
Then I spent three days in Atlanta, on a Southern-rap press
junket. I played spades, ate too much barbecue, drank
Hennessy and Rémy Martin, and spent the final night repping
southwest Atlanta with two gleefully stoned hoodrats during a
cartoonishly off-the-hook Pastor Troy show.

With help from some B vitamins and aspirin, I now have fond
memories of the experience. Not to mention a better outlook.
This wasn’t one of those simple, Hollywood-type epiphanies,
nor am I endorsing the snake-oilish curative powers of
Southern-style club rap, although I now play J.T. Money’s “Who
Dat” after breakfast and use Project Pat’s “Chickenheads” as a
metronome during piano-scale practice. The experience simply
caused me to focus in on a recent series of lifestyle shifts.

Since leaving the daily-newspaper grind, I’ve pursued my
adolescent dream of “the artist’s life,” one I fancied was best
carried out in isolation, fed by denial, and tempered by
emotional self-immolation. To that end I would hole up in my
house, writing, practicing piano or guitar, and reading. I also
made a point of absorbing the records I never had a chance to
listen carefully to, tracing the origin of certain beats, deciphering
hidden technical tricks and stylistic peccadilloes, and figuring
how best to convert my findings into readable prose.

That approach makes a certain amount of sense. Some kinds of
music are best understood through carefully measured
observation, and the feelings they elicit best expressed through
nods, a flaring of the nostrils, and subtle curls of the lip.  And
there are those folks – music writers, for example – who feel
that the value of music, just like the value of some lives, is
directly related to how it is measured. Which is one reason why
writer friends would wrinkle their noses at the stories told by or
about my family members. And why some pronounce the word
“crunk” (Southspeak, roughly, for “off the hook,” for the hipness
impaired) as if they were reading for a part in The Uncle Remus
Chronicles.

But somewhere between a set of high-intensity lat pulldowns
with a Samoan ex-ballplayer and an absolutely pointless
conversation with a Neilsen company worker outside a Chicago-style
hot dog place, I realized that there are some things you
learn about by doing. And that what you learn is not just more
subtle but more important. And as it is in life, so it is in art.

So I wasn’t surprised that I came away from my wild weekend
with a greater appreciation for high-hat beats, booming bass,
and Black ‘n’ Milds. I learned more about Pastor Troy’s music in
20 gleefully out-of-control minutes at a club than I could have in
four hours at home with my headphones. I also learned that the
stoned hoodrats/late-shift workers, the gold-fronted
playas/power-company workers, and the sun dress-clad
telemarketers that crowded, curdled and crunked, around the
stage in Atlanta, were way ahead in the music appreciation
game. And every shake of an ass, every chant and bounce,
only extended their lead. I, for one, look forward to the makeup
work.

About whatdoesbabysay

Middle School Teacher in Pinellas County, Florida. Kind of a writer, kind of a musician. Ex-athlete. Just hanging.
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