Whenever I move to a new city, I make sure there’s a good bar within walking distance from my apartment.  I don’t mean a club or a discoa bar.  There has to be a long piece of polished wood that you can carve your initials into and a stool in the corner that fits your ass just right and a no-nonsense bartender that will either laugh at your corny jokes or tell you to shut the hell up depending on the mood they’re in.

And a jukebox.  A good bar most always has a jukebox.

We moved to Austin sight unseen, and while the Less Abrasive Pessimist had a variety of practical concerns about the size of our new apartment and whether or not it had working plumbing, all I could think about was where I was going to drink.  Things did not look good at first.  We live in North Austin, which is not the “cool” part of town.  That suits us just fine, as we gave up on cool years ago.  Now we’re just shooting for “acceptably weird.”  There are a lot of car dealerships and furniture stores near our place, and while I don’t mind living next to establishments peddling sofas and sedans, what I really wanted was a nice dark place to bend my elbow.

The Less Abrasive Pessimist found some bar called Buddy’s Place on the Internet.  I didn’t know anything about it, aside from the fact that it was less than four blocks from our apartment building, but that seemed like a good place to start.  So I got gussied up in my finest T-shirt and blue jeans, and we set off at around 8pm on a Tuesday evening.

SIDE NOTE: It’s always best to scope out a new bar on a weekday.  That way you get to see what the regular clientele look like.  Sure it’s nice when the hipsters and sorority girls drop by on Saturday night, but who are you going to be drinking with when you get kicked out of the house on Monday morning?  That’s the real question.

It was a small, square building not much bigger than a Cracker Jacks box.  The outside was painted sky blue and there was wobbly neon sign near the road that looked like a lawsuit waiting to happen.  There was an image of John Wayne stenciled on the wall and a cartoonish drawing a pony-tailed man with a cigarette in his mouth and a mischievous look on his face.  I could only assume this was Buddy.

There were five people sitting at the bar, and when we entered they all turned around at the same time, as though they’d been practicing all week for just such an occasion.  A big man with a handlebar mustache and tinted glasses bellowed, “Y’all got  any good stories?  We done told all of ours and now we’re bored.”

The Less Abrasive Pessimist tightened her grip on my arm.  I said, “Not really, but I can make some shit up if you like.”

That got a big laugh, and we were immediately accepted by the inner circle.  Names were exchanged all aroundand then quickly forgotten.  For the rest of the evening, I was either Dave or Dan or Hey You, and the Less Abrasive Pessimist was Juanita for reasons unknown.

There’s no hard alcohol at Buddy’s and no beer on tap.  If you ask for a menu, the bartender points to the ceiling, where there are about a dozen bottles and cans hanging from plastic cords.  You can bring in your own bottle of whiskey if you are so inclined, and there’s wine on special occasions.  What constitutes a special occasion at Buddy’s could be anything from an engagement announcement to the purchase of a new pair of boots.

There’s no food at Buddy’s either, but they don’t mind if you bring in a bag from the Taco Cabana across the street, as long as there’s enough inside it for everyone.  There’s also a very nice woman named Jazelle who comes around once in a while and sells tamales at $10 a dozen.

If you don’t want to pay for your drinks, you can try your luck with the dice.  One dollar buys you a roll—six of a kind gets you a free six pack and if you get ten you win the whole pot, which is currently somewhere in the four figures.

Behind the bar there’s an erase board with a list of customer names and birthdays.  Below that there’s a bumper sticker that says “Unattended Children will be Sold as Slaves” and just to the right there’s a sign that reads “If you are grouchy, irritable, or just plain mean, there will be a $20 charge for putting up with you.”

There are two men’s bathrooms.  The normal one that most customers use, which has seen better days, and the secret one that everyone who frequents Buddy’s knows about.  And if those are both occupied, you can always step out the back door and relieve yourself on the Dumpster.  In the women’s bathroom, there’s a colorful shower curtain hanging on the wall for no apparent reason and on the mirror alphabet stickers spell out the message “YOU ARE SO PRETTY.”

There’s a no-smoking sign behind the bar, which means the owner, Jackie, will ask you if you’re bothered by cigarettes, and then light one up before you have a chance to answer.

Jackie is the new owner.  He used to be a bartender, but when Buddy passed away, Jackie bought the place.  There’s a photo of Buddy behind the bar, and he looks a bit like the quirky badass grandpa in “Lost Boys.”  If you turn around on your bar stool, there’s a picture of Jackie on the wall wearing a blonde wig and holding on to what appears to be a stripper pole.  The staff really enjoys pointing it out to new customers.

The walls are filled with pictures of employees and regular customers, although the line between employees and regulars is a bit blurred in Buddy’s.  On any given night, you can find most of the off-duty bartenders investing their tips back into the business one bottle at a time.

There’s a mannequin dressed as a cowboy, and in the dim bar light he looks incredibly real after half a dozen Budweisers.  His name is Jasper, and periodically the staff will set him on a stool with a beer in his hand and then watch as new customers keep glancing over at him with curiosity and fear.  According to legend, one night after a few beers a regular had an hour-long conversation with Jasper.  There’s an ongoing debate over what they talked about, but Jasper’s been pretty tight-lipped about the whole affair.

It’s not an expensive bar.  Beer is $3, pool is ₵50, the jukebox plays three songs for $1, and there’s a $5 charge for whining.

Oh, yeah, there’s a jukebox.  It’s filled with country tunes, most of them of the old school variety.  George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard.

There’s also live music at Buddy’s.  They don’t have a stage exactly, but there’s some open space next to the shuffleboard table where a band can set up, and the Christmas lights on the ceiling provide a nice ambiance.  On the back wall hangs a Confederate flag with the silhouette of cowgirl on it and the words “Redneck Woman” over the top.  If you’re lucky and happen to be around on Friday night, you just might hear Son Geezinslaw fronted by Dwayne “Son” Smith.  It’s just Smith and an excellent steel-guitar player that sounds like the reincarnated ghost of Don Helms.  There are usually about twenty people in the audience, and requests are welcome, although not necessarily obliged.  What many in the audience don’t realize is that Smith is the son of the famous Austin-based duo the Geezinslaw Brothers, which toured extensively for forty years starting in the 1960s.  They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Jackie Gleason Show and even had the privilege of opening for Elvis.  My favorite songs by the Geezinslaws are “Blah…Blah…Blah” and “Help, I’m White and I Can’t Get Down.”

On that balmy Tuesday evening, “Juanita” and I stayed at Buddy’s until around midnight.  Toward the end, there was just us, the bartender on duty, the bartender’s boyfriend, an off-duty bartender, and a bald Canadian with a hockey fixation, and we had a grande time.  We got drunk, we heard good stories, and we listened to good music.  I was sold on the jukebox selection and decor, and the Less Abrasive Pessimist fell for the variety of small dogs constantly roaming around the bar begging for treats.

And when it was time to stumble home, we agreed that we’d found our bar.

Thoughts on Garth Brooks

January 27, 2012

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

April 2009

I was hanging out at a bar on Pearl Street, trying to suck the last vestiges of life-giving nectar from a beleaguered rum and coke, when the young man sitting next to me started berating his girlfriend for her “bad taste” in music. He was a snarky little prick, decked out in designer blue jeans, a popped-collar Tommy Hilfiger shirt and a mesh trucker hat turned sideways. (Quick aside: Can we place a moratorium on these ridiculous trucker hats already? Yes, I know Ashton Kutsher is like a god to all you moronic post-adolescent MILF hunters out there, but it’s starting to get annoying. It’s not cute, it’s not ironic — it’s just plain stupid. Do you want to know the main difference between a frat boy and a trucker? The trucker has a real job, and the frat boy’s daddy buys his clothes. OK, now back to our regularly scheduled program…)

ANYHOW, this metrosexual shitbird’s primary argument was that his girlfriend’s artistic discernment was inferior for one reason and one reason only: she liked Garth Brooks. In his mind, anyone who knew all the lyrics to “Friends in Low Places” was uncool and probably not very bright.

This is essentially why I can’t stand hipsters. They are the Hitlers of cultural cache, constantly attempting to control the opinions and perspectives of the people around them. It’s not enough for them to appreciate a certain style of art; they have to force the rest of the world to conform to their aesthetics. And when the rest of the world finally comes around to their way of thinking, what do the hipsters do? They declare those aesthetics “too mainstream” and turn their noses up at them.

I once had a roommate in college who constantly argued that the Red Hot Chili Peppers had “sold out” when they stopped making thrasher/punk music that no one cared about and started cranking out catchy alternative-rock hits that everyone loved. When he and his insular group of skater buddies were the only people who knew about the RHCP, they were cool, but as soon as the sorority girls across the hall started singing along to “City of Angels,” the band’s musical capabilities suddenly came under question. (Incidentally, this former roommate was also fond of trucker hats.)

For the record, there really is no such thing as “good taste” or “bad taste” when it comes to art. It is a concept that was invented by snooty elites to sell magazines and expensive clothing. Someone’s personal opinion about a subjective medium cannot possibly be wrong. You either like it or you don’t. Period. Does that mean all art is created equal? Absolutely not. There is a world of difference between Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “Purple Haze” and some 15-year-old stoner’s bastardization of the same song. But hipsters aren’t talking about talent or skill when they discuss bad taste; they’re subconsciously talking about exclusionary group dynamics.

In other words, they want to feel superior to you.

Hipsters often accuse Garth Brooks of creating the musical genre “new country.” This is a fairly accurate assessment, although one could also make a reasonable argument for Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Hank Williams Jr., Kenny Rogers and possibly even Dolly Parton. But it’s true that Garth eclipsed all of these icons back in the 1990s with his unique combination of country-western twang and ass-kicking pyrotechnics. He made the definitive decision to meld arena rock with cowboy hats, and this earned him piles of money and the eternal ire of hipsters everywhere.

Hipsters absolutely hate new country, and, therefore, they are also obligated to hate Garth Brooks. At this point, I don’t think they even know why they despise these two entities, but I’d like to pose a theory: Hipsters hate new country because pathologically uncool people love it, and the hipsters cannot convince these pathologically uncool people that their music is actually uncool. Consequently, when you think about it, this makes new country very cool.

The people who listen to new country are the same people who shop at Wal-Mart and watch NASCAR and eat McDonald’s and vote Republican. They are the people who wear sweatpants to social events and often live in trailer parks. I know this because I grew up in a small town and I shopped at Wal-Mart and wore sweatpants to social events and listened to new country.

When hipsters try to shame people for liking Garth Brooks, in a way they are also trying to shame them for being proud of their subculture. It has nothing to do with bad taste, but it has everything to do with cultural elitism.

In the end, the guy at the bar who accused his girlfriend of having bad taste should probably examine his own political and social insecurities. And get rid of that stupid hat.

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

April 2008

About a month or so ago, during a conversation over beer and queso at a Mexican restaurant on The Hill, Daniel Grandbois told me that he once broke down in tears during an Elvis Presley concert.  He was just a kid at the time, and Elvis was his hero.  In fact, Grandbois’ loyalty to the Memphis superstar was so great that he refused to even listen to other musicians.  His friends tried to introduce him to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, but Grandbois scoffed at them.  There was only one King of Rock ’n’ Roll. When Elvis finally arrived in Colorado on a comeback tour, Grandbois’ parents took him to the show, and he got so excited during the performance that he started to weep right there in public.  His mother asked him what was wrong, but he couldn’t explain it.  He still can’t.

It takes a certain type of boy to become a devoted Elvis fan.  You have to be whimsical enough to appreciate a dude dressed in a sequined jumpsuit, but it’s essential that you also understand the playful melancholy inherent in the music.  Elvis’s songs are often deceptively happy on the surface (especially the early ones), but the lyrics usually describe a tragic scenario.  Like all great entertainers, Elvis was a storyteller at heart, and his unique blend of upbeat rhythms and lonely narratives set a precedent in pop music that persists to this day.

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that Grandbois eventually became a professional musician and a writer of bizarre, poignant tales.  He currently plays bass in popular local bands such as Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Tarantella and Munly, all of which have been integral in shaping “The Denver Sound.”

I met with Grandbois to discuss his book, Unlucky Lucky Days, a dainty little tome that contains no fewer than 72 stories in no more than 119 pages.  I call them “stories,” but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description.  While every piece features characters of some kind who engage in conflict, the events do not follow a traditional literary format.  The writing is too surreal to be classified as flash fiction, but it’s not structured or conceived as poetry.  In fact, it might be more accurate to call them “narrative poems,” although I’m not sure such a designation exists, since I just made it up.  Here’s an example from a piece called “The Tunnel”:

A man and a woman stepped into a tunnel. It was lighter inside than they had expected. In fact, the deeper they went, the lighter it became until the light was so bright that it blinded them both.

That’s the entire piece.  Three sentences.  But what’s sort of amazing is how much Grandbois achieves in three sentences.  There are two characters who take action to accomplish a specific goal.  There is an obstacle in their way.  The characters overcome the obstacle, but they suffer in the process.

Do I know what it means?  No.  But I do get a definite feeling from the piece and a vivid mental picture — a sense of adventure and obsession that ultimately fades to loss.  Grandbois is not exactly sure how to categorize his writing, either, and like any good artist, he’s reluctant to push his own interpretations on the reader.  They’re experimental ideas, he says.  They’re pieces of a puzzle.

But it’s a critic’s job to define the indefinable; therefore, in a desperate attempt to look like they know what they’re talking about, book reviewers have compared Grandbois’ style to Borges and Kipling and even Dr. Seuss.  Of course, this is mostly bullshit.  Grandbois’ writing isn’t subversive enough to be true satire, and it’s too sophisticated to be classified as children’s literature.  If Unlucky Lucky Days ever makes it into The New Yorker, I’m certain the term “magical realism” will be bandied about with the appropriate level of intellectual snootiness, but I don’t buy that moniker, either.  While there’s definitely some Kafka action going on here, it’s mostly conceptual and only partially stylistic.  Kafka’s sense of humor was much, much darker than Grandbois’, possibly because the Czechs are just a morose group of bastards in general and possibly because Kafka was dying of tuberculosis while he was doing most of his writing.

In any case, it’s my opinion that Grandbois has tapped into something more obvious and elemental than the intellectual garage sale he’s been associated with.  Like Les Claypool (another bass player turned writer), Grandbois is finding ways to bring pop culture into the literary sphere.  Ultimately, when I read this book, I think of a man standing alone on a stage dressed in a long, white cape.  This man is old, but he wants to be young.  He has long sideburns and a beautiful pompadour of jet-black hair.  In the audience, there is a young boy, sensitive and full of imagination.  The man sings about blue suede shoes and women who ain’t nothin’ but hound dogs and letters that are marked “return to sender,” and the boy cries.  But he doesn’t know why.

Take a Look in Africa

January 13, 2012

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

February 2008

The man is making me uncomfortable.

He is 5’10”, approximately 160 lbs, 50ish, fashionable in that vague metrosexual way that’s common amongst middle-age males of a certain income level, brown hair with brush strokes of gray, avocado-green sweater, khaki pants, expensive-looking hiking shoes, designer glasses. He is the classic example of a prosperous American liberal. He probably attended a very good college, and at that college he probably majored in something practical — finance, botany, computer sciences — but he probably also enjoyed elective courses in Eastern philosophy and Latin American literature. He looks successful. He looks open minded. He looks like the type of person who listens to NPR.

Oh, and he’s white. Very very white.

It is difficult to ignore this fact, particularly because the man is dancing to live music played by a local Afropop band named the Bizung Family. It’s his dancing that is making me uncomfortable. If I had to choose a single word to describe the strange way he is contorting his body to the rhythm of the music, I would say “awkward.” There is a lot of thrusting going on in the pelvic region, accompanied by a great deal of head-bobbing and arm-flapping. He looks like a large, uncoordinated crane attempting to take flight for the very first time.

The Crane is not alone. There are approximately 45 members of the audience, and 90 percent of them are white. Three of the five band members are white. I am also white, just in case you’re wondering. There is nothing wrong with being white. It’s not a genetic flaw or a cultural disease; it is simply a racial classification used to define a group of humans with a common ancestry and a glaring lack of melanin. However, there is something slightly unnerving about a roomful of affluent, Anglo liberals dancing to African music, and I’m trying to figure out why.

One of the problems is that there is a language barrier between the artist and the audience. Mohammed Alidu, the lead singer/drummer/songwriter of the Bizung Family, is from the Dagbon region of Northern Ghana, and most of the songs are in his native tongue. The music is cheerful and energetic, but the lyrics are often heartbreaking. The white people smile and dance while Alidu sings, “Oh, what a struggle. Suffering. Starvation. / Come in liberation. / Take a look in Africa, take a look in Africa, take a look in Africa.”

This communication gap is one of the difficulties faced by international musicians who are attempting to create art that represents their culture while at the same time catering to a blossoming Western market. World music has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past 10 years, but some believe that popularity comes at a price. While some Afropop musicians have started singing in English in an effort to avoid confusion and boost album sales, others consider this too large a sacrifice. The Bizung Family has a few songs in English on their upcoming album, Land of Fire, but most are in Dagbani.

It is obvious from the beaming faces in the audience tonight that these listeners love the Bizung Family’s music. But it’s difficult to tell whether or not they understand the entire message. There is a cultural barrier that both sides want to cross, but the process is not as simple as it looks.

Aside from The Crane, most of the people on the dance floor are young women, college students, neo-hippies, with T-shirts that display various reggae bands and environmental slogans. The Earth is Our Mother. Clean Air, Clean Heart. They are currently facing one another in a small circle. Every once in a while, one of the young women will step inside the circle and, after receiving whoops of encouragement from her compatriots, proceed to dance solo to the music. The Crane hovers just outside this circle. He clearly wants to join in, but he is hesitant. As a modern male, he has been taught not to encroach upon female territory uninvited. The women are not purposefully trying to exclude The Crane. They either don’t notice he is there, or, like many women who are accustomed to dancing in clubs, they instinctively withdraw from strange dudes in order to avoid being unwillingly fondled.

My heart goes out to The Crane. Even though he looks ridiculous, I honestly think he is trying to connect with the music and culture in front of him — he just has no clue how to make that happen.

* * *

Connecting to people from other countries is nothing new for Alidu, who has been performing African music in various venues around the world for more than 12 years. When I asked Alidu whether or not he believed American audiences understood the meaning of his songs, he thought about the question for a while before answering.

“There is a lot of sadness in the world,” he finally said. “I want to bring happiness to people’s hearts. I want to share joy with my music, but also I want to speak the truth. It is not easy. When people dance, they are happy and that is good. It is good for the world. Music speaks to everyone, and I have to trust that the people will hear my message.”

This answer was kind of confusing. At first I thought he was talking in circles to avoid the question (this happens a lot in music journalism), but then I realized that Alidu actually has a completely different concept of music and instrumentation than I do. As a proud member of America’s Generation X, I have been taught that lyrics are the most important part of any song. Now, the lyrics don’t always have to be good (I’m a genie in a bottle / You gotta rub me the right way), they don’t even have to make sense (Get down, turn around, go to town, boot scoot boogie), but they do have to constitute the driving force of any chorus that comes on the radio. There is nothing wrong with loving good (or even bad) lyrics, but fixating on one aspect of music can sometimes desensitize listeners to the other facets of the art form. This is something that I hadn’t really thought about much until I started researching this article.

About a month ago, I interviewed Alidu at a dimly lit coffee shop on Pearl Street while Miles Davis played in the background, and it was a strangely Zen-like experience. I don’t want to get all New Agey and spiritual about it, but Alidu’s voice has a calm, almost-musical quality to it that is sort of hypnotizing. Part of it is his quiet tone, which makes you lean in close to hear him; part of it is his accent; but mostly it’s the careful, rhythmic manner in which he pronounces his words.

In essence, Alidu doesn’t talk — he sings. I know that last sentence makes me sound like a schoolgirl with a crush, but it’s true. If I didn’t bring a tape recorder with me, I would have missed half the interview. I spent most of the time listening to the sound of his voice and thinking about rainbows and puppy dogs.

But there’s more to Alidu’s metrical vocal cadence than the fact that it soothes stressed-out music journalists. His speech patterns are an indication of why he believes music can cross linguistic barriers. Alidu sings when he talks, and his drum talks when it sings.

Alidu is descended from the Bizung lineage of talking drum chiefs in Dagbon. The talking drums (and the technique used to play them) were invented by Alidu’s great great great grandfather, and they are designed to replicate the tones and rhythms of human speech. In Dagbon, master drummers like Alidu are not just entertainers; they are musicians, court historians and record keepers. Ancestry is very important to the Dagomba people, and family history is recorded in the rhythm patterns of the talking drums. Each family has a “proverb” that must be played by the master drummers at weddings, funerals, festivals and various other social events. A proverb is a short axiom that is chosen by the family, translated to the language of the talking drum by the master drummer, and used to praise the family name.

“It is a history,” said Alidu. “When I see some person, I might not know them, but I still know them with my drum and I play their family. It’s not something that we write down, but we all know it. When you play their drum song, you praise them to make them feel important and part of our culture.”

In Dagomba culture, the talking drum literally has a language of its own. Therefore, when Alidu says, “Music speaks to everyone…,” he is not merely being philosophical.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone understands what the talking drums are saying — even in Dagbon, the general public is not fluent in the talking drum language — but it does indicate a form of artistic communication that differs from Western models. And that helps explain why Alidu can communicate with his audience in Boulder despite vast language and cultural barriers.

Sort of. I don’t know. This all sounds good on paper, but honestly, I don’t think I really understand the whole equation. There’s still something missing, and I can’t figure out what.

* * *

Meanwhile, The Crane is still dancing. Sweat is pouring off his pasty brow, but he’s still flapping those arms and thrusting that pelvis. Flap-flap-thrust. Flap-flap-thrust. It looks more like a calisthenics routine than a musical celebration, but he is determined to stay the course.

Two more African men have just walked onto the dance floor. They are friends of the band, and Alidu greets them from stage. Koffi Toudji is a large man with a smile almost as broad as his shoulders. His companion, Adjei Abankwah, is thin and angular, but in a hyper-athletic sort of way, like a marathon runner or a cyclist. The group of female dancers immediately makes room for the young men in their circle and encourages them to dance.

And they are good. Really good. Toudji is surprisingly graceful on his feet, and when he moves, the entire room seems to sway with his muscular frame. His dancing is fluid, deliberate, like the gentle rocking of a boat on calm waters. Toudji dances for a few minutes and then turns the floor over to his friend. Abankwah has the style and confidence of a professional dancer. He attacks the dance floor with leaps and twirls that are thrilling to watch. His performance seems to energize the band, and Alidu begins to pound out a scorching rhythm on his drum, eliciting smiles and cheers from the crowd.

The Crane is viewing all of this from outside the circle, and if possible, he looks even more alienated than before. His flapping doesn’t quite have the same gusto, and I wonder if watching these new dancers has made him aware of just how inelegant he looks.

The Crane’s deflated appearance makes me feel a bit alienated, as well. At first it was kind of amusing to watch him make a fool of himself on the dance floor, but throughout the course of the night, I’ve come to identify with the man. I like him. I hope he sticks around until the end of the show.

* * *

Another problem that concerns the Afropop phenomenon is that Americans don’t generally know much about African history. Granted, we don’t know much about European history, either, or Canadian history, or Middle Eastern history — and it probably wouldn’t kill us to brush up on U.S. history. But we seem particularly oblivious about Africa, and that ignorance allows us to turn a blind eye toward that part of the world. Afropop has deep historical roots that stretch all the way back to the murky waters of colonial tyranny and oppression. Anyone who seriously wants to understand Afropop needs to know at least something about where it comes from.

When many African countries gained independence from imperialist powers in the 1900s, they recovered a continent in shambles. There was poverty, war, disease. Modernization hit Africa hard, and it altered the economic and social structure almost overnight. Young men and women left their families and flocked to the cities seeking work. But life was hard in the cities, too. Desperate to make sense of the changing world, Africans turned to music for inspiration and expression. They began to combine traditional African styles with modern instruments and Western pop sounds to form a hybrid genre that could bridge the gap between the cultures. The music often contained upbeat rhythms and melodies, but the lyrics reflected the socio-political hardships of the times. This gave rise to an entire generation of rebellious artists who created music that educated and mobilized the populace.

The golden age of Afropop lasted 50 years, from approximately 1940 to 1990, and helped mold the perception of Africa both internally and abroad. Ironically, the recent decline in the popularity of Afropop on its home continent has coincided with its rise in the countries that once colonized Africa. There are now Afropop bands in almost every major city in the United States and in many European nations. White people across the globe are suddenly fascinated by the art form their ancestors helped create through acts of international oppression and violence. And here, it seems, we really get backed into a corner. Since Afropop is an art form forged out of the need to understand the horrors of colonialism and we (meaning Western culture representatives) are the colonizers of the modern age, it is sort of impossible and kind of insane to think that we could ever truly understand Afropop. And if we can’t truly comprehend the genre, how can we really borrow from it or appreciate it without becoming the colonizers once again? Quite a conundrum. It seems I have taken us straight into the heart of quagmire.

* * *

The Crane is tired. He has flapped his last flap, and now he is standing by himself watching the other dancers. I am tired, too. All the optimism and energy has been drained out of me. Trying to understand the convoluted relationship between post-colonial art and post-postmodern liberalism is no way to spend a Thursday night. I need to go home and turn off my brain. Drink a beer. Listen to some Garth Brooks lyrics. No thought required for that.

The Bizung Family launches into its final song. The Crane musters the energy for one last flap-flap-thrust routine. I look around for my coat.

Abankwah spots The Crane standing alone and motions for him to join the circle. The Crane shakes his head. It’s too late. The moment has passed. The Crane has closed himself off. Abankwah leaves the circle and walks over to The Crane with a huge smile on his face. He hesitates for a moment, possibly trying to figure out how he can get this middle-aged white man to let down his guard, then Abankwah playfully takes The Crane by the hand, pulls him in close and starts to waltz him around the room. The look on The Crane’s face is beyond mortification. He has no idea how to handle this turn of events. The audience cheers him on. The Crane blushes. Then he smiles. Then he starts to giggle. Soon, he is willingly gliding across the floor like Ginger Rogers in the arms of Fred Astaire. Alidu plays his talking drum.

Not to be outdone, Toudji looks around for another pathetic white dude to dance with. I realize too late that I am the only other pathetic white dude in the room. Before I can protest, he plucks me easily from my seat and drags me onto the dance floor. I am horrified. This is not part of the plan. I am supposed to sit in the corner and observe. I am supposed to be a serious journalist (or voyeur — whatever). I try to pull away, but his grip is tight. What the hell is happening? He begins to waltz me around the room against my will. I try to keep from stepping on his huge feet. This is ridiculous. He is holding me so close that I can feel his heartbeat. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. His feet are enormous. His hands are enormous. This man is like a mountain. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The crowd cheers me on. I want to die. I have never been so embarrassed. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The crowd cheers. I try to smile. Well, damn, it’s not so bad. Take a look in Africa. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Abankwah twirls me like a ballerina. I giggle. Suddenly, everything seems so simple. Take a look in Africa. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Is this all that we need to do? Could it really be this easy? Alidu plays his talking drum. Take a look in Africa. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The Crane smiles at me. We smile at each other. Alidu plays his talking drum. Take a look in Africa. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. I can hear it. I can hear the drum. Take a look in Africa. Thump-thump. Take a look in Africa. Thump-thump. Take a look in Africa.

Good Taste

October 13, 2010

Every Thursday night I go to a nameless bar around the corner from my vermin-infested apartment building and listen to a band called Ego Vs Id while I get drunk. They have a new album coming out called Taste, and one day they asked me to write a band bio/album review for them. I hate band bios so I wrote a rambling intoxicated rant instead. They recently posted it on their website. They are having a album-release party at the nameless bar on Nov. 19. Buy the album. Come to the party. Help starving artists stay drunk.

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