Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chauncey DeVega says: Charlotte History Teacher Reenacts Slavery with His Black Students or Now that is One Dumb--and Soon to be Unemployed--Black Man

There is a bit of an uproar in Charlotte, N.C., as parents, teachers and the local NAACP are livid over a civil war lesson that supposedly went wrong during a Rea View Elementary school class trip to Latta Plantation on Wednesday.

According to, Ian Campbell, a black historian, had three black students, already a racial minority in their class, model cotton-picking slaves, with bags around their necks, in front of their peers. Kojo Nantambu, president of the NAACP in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, is one of many who believes the demonstration was both insensitive and poorly executed:

There is a lingering pain, a lingering bitterness, a lingering insecurity and a lingering sense of inhumanity since slavery. Because that's still there, you want to be more sensitive than politically correct or historically correct.

Campbell, though, begs to differ. As a historian of 15 years, he argues that he has had kids partake in demonstrations before, and this is the first time there has been a complaint. Campbell also believes he is being historically accurate...


To paraphrase Robert Dinero in the movie Casino, "now that is one dumb black man."

I believe in the power of experiential learning. But, one has to act both appropriately and considerately. For example, in a society where black children continue to be marginalized, ought one to further dis empower them in class? I am less worried about the idea that reenacting slavery "stigmatized" these children because there is no shame in being the descendants of a people who were enslaved by others. Moreover, Africans in America fought at every step for their freedom--and improved American democracy through their efforts--so I feel no lingering embarrassment or lack of pride in my people or their accomplishments.

My concern is that while the lesson was effective in one sense (for the white kids in class, having to see how a seemingly arbitrary decision about the personhood of their friends can be based on something as "simple" as the color of one's skin) can never replicate, not in any way, the dehumanizing, violent, and debasing experience that was chattel slavery. In fact, if the point of Mr. Campbell's lesson plan was to encourage the children to reflect on slavery as something more than a historical abstraction and mere curiosity, he could have instead made the white children slaves. Or if he were really sharp, Mr. Campbell would have auctioned off the white children in an imaginary slave market where their peers, as well as students from other classes, could have bid on them.

Alternatively, Mr. Campbell could have even done some version of the classic blue eyes/browns eyes experiment to greater effect and far less controversy.

I have tried to use experiential learning techniques in my classes on race with mixed results. The white students resented having to discuss their relative privilege. In fact, several opted out of the exercise (here: the privilege walk). In the same instance, the black students (with the other students of color somewhere in the middle in terms of their comfort level) were disgusted with having the present and persistent realities of racial privilege as inextricably tied to past inequalities of race, wealth, and opportunity laid bare for all to see. I suppose they wanted to keep this naked "secret" all to themselves.

For those teachers and educators among us, how have these exercises worked out for you in class? Are we being too hard on Mr. Campbell? Is this all to do about nothing? How would the public respond if it were a simulation of the Holocaust for example? Would there be the same amount of controversy? Is Mr. Campbell a visionary who we should be encouraging?

The story follows here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Beware the Hebrew Hammer! or More Details Emerge on Israel's Raid on Syrian Reactor

Even while in the midst of a serious discussion on the ramifications of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East one cannot forget THE essential truth: the Raid on Entebbe's score is pure funk goodness.

As my mom says, don't mess with the Israelis or they will tear your ass up. In the interest of full disclosure, she also says it is no wonder that the Arabs are so angry at Israel because that little country has repeatedly embarrassed all those dumb **insert racial expletive**.

In September of 2008, the Israeli air force--arguably the best air force in the world--launched a bombing raid on a suspected Syrian nuclear facility. Of course, the Syrians denied that they were collaborating with the Iranians and North Koreans on such a project. In hushed tones, the Western intelligence community discussed the details of this raid. By all accounts, the makings of a 007 movie are clearly present. Flybys of President Assad's home to give him a little wake up call (and to point out just how easy the IAF could penetrate Syrian airspace)? Check. Assassinations of high ranking Syrian officials from snipers hidden on board a yacht? Check. Commando insertions to do reconnaissance? Check. Israel "hacking" into the Syrian air defense network in order to deactivate and "spoof" its radars? Check.

I for one love peering behind the curtain and into the world that is shadow ops. Who knows, maybe the American people will get more details on Seal Team Six's work in Somalia where they took out a high ranking Al-Queda operative a few months back. If there is true transparency (yeah right!), we will also find out about the January bombing raid in Sudan conducted by the Israeli Air force with rumored assistance from American operatives and unpiloted aerial vehicles.

The details, or at least those details the Israeli's and their allies want to release, follow in this great piece from Spiegel online, excerpted here:

But on a night two years ago, something dramatic happened in this sleepy place. It's an event that local residents discuss in whispers in teahouses along the river, when the water pipes glow and they are confident that no officials are listening -- the subject is taboo in the state-controlled media, and they know that drawing too much attention to themselves in this authoritarian state could be hazardous to their health.
Some in Deir el-Zor talk of a bright flash which lit up the night in the distant desert. Others report seeing a gigantic column of smoke over the Euphrates, like a threatening finger. Some talk of omens, while others relate conspiracy theories. The pious older guests at Jisr al-Kabir, a popular restaurant near the city's landmark suspension bridge, believe it was a sign from heaven.
All the rumors have long since muddied the waters as to what people may or may not have seen. But even the supposedly advanced Western world, with its state-of-the-art surveillance technology and interconnectedness through the mass media, has little more solid information than the people in this Syrian desert town. What happened in the night of Sept. 6, 2007 in the desert, 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the Iraqi border, 30 kilometers from Deir el-Zor, is one of the great mysteries of our times.
'This Incident Never Occurred'
At 2:55 p.m. on that day, the Damascus-based Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that Israeli fighter jets coming from the Mediterranean had violated Syrian airspace at "about one o'clock" in the morning. "Air defense units confronted them and forced them to leave after they dropped some ammunition in deserted areas without causing any human or material damage," a Syrian military spokesman said, according to the news agency. There was no explanation whatsoever for why such a dramatic event was concealed for half a day.
At 6:46 p.m., Israeli government radio quoted a military spokesman as saying: "This incident never occurred." At 8:46 p.m., a spokesperson for the US State Department said during a daily press briefing that he had only heard "second-hand reports" which "contradict" each other.
To this day, Syria and Israel, two countries that have technically been at war since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948, have largely adhered to a bizarre policy of downplaying what was clearly an act of war. Gradually it became clear that the fighter pilots did not drop some random ammunition over empty no-man's land on that night in 2007, but had in fact deliberately targeted and destroyed a secret Syrian complex.
Was it a nuclear plant, in which scientists were on the verge of completing the bomb? Were North Korean, perhaps even Iranian experts, also working in this secret Syrian facility? When and how did the Israelis learn about the project, and why did they take such a great risk to conduct their clandestine operation? Was the destruction of the Al Kibar complex meant as a final warning to the Iranians, a trial run of sorts intended to show them what the Israelis plan to do if Tehran continues with its suspected nuclear weapons program?
In recent months, SPIEGEL has spoken with key politicians and experts about the mysterious incident in the Syrian desert, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, leading Israeli intelligence expert Ronen Bergman, International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei and influential American nuclear expert David Albright. SPIEGEL has also talked with individuals involved in the operation, who have only now agreed to reveal, under conditions of anonymity, what they know.
These efforts have led to an account that, while not solving the mystery in its entirety, at least delivers many pieces of the puzzle. It also offers an assessment of an operation that changed the Middle East and generated shock waves that are still being felt today.
Don't ever forget that while Shaft was doing some "wet work" in Africa, the Hebrew Hammer had his back stateside:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Problem with These Kids Rap Critics Today, Part 2

The central claim in Part 1 was that mainstream rap critics fail to take seriously the gripes that disenchanted golden era fans have with the current rap landscape. Instead, these fans are reduced to bitter old grouch stereotypes, while their legitimate concerns about the overall quality of today’s rap, especially in comparison to 80s and 90s rap, are dismissed or ignored.

I’m working from the premise that today’s rap landscape is better in some ways (inclusiveness, access), but worse in more ways (everything else). And in my view, the ways in which the landscape is better don’t lead to better music. As I wrote in Part 1, there is no shortage of critics who scoff at the idea that the music is in decline; I haven’t found any credible critic, though, who can say with a straight face that the quality of albums hasn’t dropped off (at least at the top).[6]

Disenchanted golden age fans who try to pinpoint why the music has fallen off often cite commercial pressures, the broadening of the fanbase[7], the decline of sampling, the consolidation of corporate media, and the internet-fueled democratization of the means of music production and consumption. Yet there’s no inherent reason why these things, even when taken together, had to diminish the quality of the music.

When we set aside the changing cast of characters, the expansion of audiences and styles, and the (d)evolution of the sound, what distinguishes today’s rap landscape from that of the golden era are the norms by which fans police the quality of the music. I will argue that these norms have been weakened substantially since the mid ‘90s. The resulting social anomie that characterizes the current rap landscape has fueled the personal anomie of the average disenchanted golden era fan.

What defined these golden era norms?

Golden era norms of rap criticism[8] were shaped by four main principles:

Principle 1: Reward originality and creativity; punish biting.

Principle 2: Treat technical skill as necessary, but not sufficient.

Principle 3: Shun crossover acts that bypassed the normal channels (i.e. did not receive widespread sanctioning/vetting from rap heads)

Principle 4: Regard it as a duty to criticize substandard music, even when it comes from favored artists.

These principles are hardly unique to rap, but the ways in which they played out in practice and the ways they played off of black critical traditions gave rap’s critical norms a character all their own. Though image and symbolism certainly played a role (Principle 3 is a prime example), these norms were mostly about aesthetics.

Because these four principles are often misunderstood, I’d like to say a little more about each one.

Let’s get this out of the way: there is original rap being produced now, and there was an endless parade of biters during the golden era. What Principle 1 meant in practice was that blatantly jacking styles was generally frowned upon and was seen as beneath any rapper who wanted respect. The anti-biting principle represented a recurring thread in black music criticism only more intense.

The golden era emphasis on technique has been caricatured as some sort of preference for clinical, Joe Satriani-style masturbatory excess (either in a vocal sense, or a “conceptual" sense). In reality, the point of Principle 2 was to establish that all things being equal, skilled vocalism and lyricism matter and should be encouraged and that greatness is impossible without a baseline level of technical ability.

Principle 3 concerned how rap fans wanted the genre to be represented in the mainstream. If a wack or manufactured-for-pop rapper blew up, there was a collective effort among rap fans to actively spurn this rapper. This effort was dependent on the fact that black youth tastes determine what rap is considered cool—not only to rap fans, but to sympathetic outsiders as well.[9] Rap fans, then, had the temerity to say, “Enough. Let's shun this wack shit" and the sway to actually do it.

Principle 4 was the defining principle of the golden era. It fostered a willingness to call out wackness, wherever it surfaced. Even respected artists LL, Kane, Tribe, Dre, Jay Z and Nas felt the sting of Principle 4 in action. At its best, Principle 4 cultivated neither blanket negativity nor an inclination to hate anything “different.” Most golden era fans understood that the habit of crying wolf about how rap sucks now and the fixation on “sucka MCs,” “wack DJs,” and “biters” were tropes that reflected rap’s competitive spirit and inclination toward improvement.

Why were these norms so effective?

These four principles combined to foster a ruthlessly competitive creative environment that simultaneously promoted quality and actively sought to expose and shun wackness. If your records sucked, they weren’t going to be played for that long. If you couldn’t rap live, you got booed (and in rare instances, you got your monkey ass whooped). To varying degrees, vaudeville, metal, punk, and country audiences were known for their rowdy audiences and rigid norms. In rap, though, the critical norms typical of male-dominated, aggressive youth music and the critical norms of black music[10] coalesced. The pervasive air of critical (and sometimes physical) menace surrounding the reception of the music distinguished rap’s critical norms from those of jazz, blues, and rock, or any previous form of black music. Part of the appeal of golden era rap was the edge that this critical menace gave the music.

I feel obligated to state that these norms were problematic in a number of ways. Chauncey teaches classes on hip hop and pop culture. His students are often dumbfounded and even angry that hip hop’s critical norms were so harsh. Although I grew up in this critical environment, I can appreciate these students’ perspective. While effective in certain contexts, fear is not exactly an ideal motivation for creating art. Golden era critical norms were not very welcoming to many groups and certain forms of expression (though this point has been overstated).

Worse, however, was that the merciless nature of golden era rap norms cultivated an uncritical element among some fans. These fans, emboldened by the norms’ harshness and spoiled by the abundance of quality mainstream rap, dismissed good music for superficial, nitpicky reasons (e.g. the artists’ image/production changed from rugged and grimy to glossy; the lead singles were blatant crossover attempts, the music appeals to women).

What happened to these norms?

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that golden era norms were unsustainable—they were based on historically contingent factors and a whole lot of luck. These norms were ultimately gutted by a series of overlapping trends in rap fandom, black culture, and the broader culture.

Golden era rap norms operated alongside (and occasionally within) the contentious debates black folks have always had about the roles and implications of their art and culture. These debates have always revolved around a series of tensions (e.g. masses vs. elites, folk culture vs. high culture, black folks vs. outsiders, authenticity/artistic freedom vs. political art).[11] Though always heated, these debates have ultimately been a healthy example of the black public sphere’s depth and vitality. However, these debates and all four of the golden era critical principles have been crippled by the overwhelming influence of two (quasi)arguments: the hustler ethic and the hater defense.

The hustler ethic, summarized brilliantly by Rafi Kam, leads its proponents to counter any criticism with the inane response “I’m tryin to get my paper.” An earlier version of the hustler ethic used to be offered reluctantly against the backdrop of widespread racial discrimination in the entertainment industry (“There isn’t much space for complex black expression, but I’m an entertainer and I want to work;” “I’m employing black people; doesn’t that count for something?”). In the hustler ethic’s current expression, the fact that craft is an afterthought compared to the naked profit motive is no longer shameful; amazingly, it’s become a source of pride.

Unlike the hustler ethic, the hater defense doesn’t even require those who use it to offer up any justification. When artists use the hater defense, they don’t need to defend their creative output or acknowledge potential areas for improvement; the hater defense serves as a blanket condemnation of any and all criticism.

The increasing shamelessness of the hustler ethic and the triumph of the hater defense are both general cultural trends, of course, but they have hit black culture especially hard.The ultimate goal of both the hustler ethic and the hater defense is to silence substantive criticism and marginalize aesthetic judgment. That’s precisely what they’ve done to black cultural criticism in general, and rap criticism specifically.

The splintering of the rap audience has also weakened golden era critical norms by intensifying the polarization and politicization of taste. Fans now ride for their preferred faction over everything else, severely hampering Principles 1, 2, and especially 4 in the process. Because of perceived threats from “the other side” (think again of the NYstalgist-revanchist feud), factions of fans heap ridiculous superlatives on their favorite artists until the praise becomes something like consensus.

For a perfect example of how this polarization has diminished aesthetic standards, consider the increasingly political and unwarranted late-era 5 Mic album ratings of the now defunct(?) Source Magazine. The external political pressures on this one limited yet influential publication typifies the deterioration of the overall critical landscape of the last decade or so.[12]
Five of the last six albums to which The Source issued its perfect 5-Mic album rating are listed below:

Life After Death (1997)—This album contained some incredible songs by a rapper who died at the top of his game, but there’s never been a classic hip hop double album. Life After Death is no exception. Because BIG had just died, there was significant pressure. The 5 Mic rating was questionable, but The Source should get a pass for this one given the circumstances.

Blueprint (2001)—More cohesive than several of Jay Z’s previous albums, but not classic. Jay started getting a bit lazy with his lyrics here, and he coasted largely on personality. This one was problematic because The Source seemed to be swayed more by the album’s event-like hype, by Jay’s s feud with Nas, and by the album’s manufactured gravitas and self-conscious classic status-seeking than by the music itself.

Stillmatic (2001)—This review, not the reviews for The Minstrel Show and The Naked Truth, put the final nail in the coffin of The Source's critical relevance. The Source had long been criticized (justly) for its heavy NY bias, but once the magazine lost the ability to credibly assess NY rap (pretty much the only music it knew how to assess), it served no purpose at all. The classic status bestowed upon this Nas album was indefensible from an aesthetic standpoint—the album contained a handful of stellar tracks surrounded by overrated garbage. The only way to explain it was that there was immense pressure to 1) avoid the appearance of siding with Nas’ then-nemesis Jay Z and 2) herald Nas’ return to form, especially given all of the hype surrounding the album. It’s no coincidence that albums by Biggie, Jay Z, and Nas, NY’s biggest and most respected solo acts, received classic ratings because The Source was, in essence, an exercise in NY rap mythmaking. But the pressure to bend the rules of criticism for reasons outside of the music extended beyond the borders of New York.

The Fix (2002)—This was a nice album, to be sure, but it didn’t even come close to Face’s best albums. What happened here was likely The Source realizing that, after heaping classic status on the albums of three New York rap giants, the magazine had to bestow the same honor on an album of a Southern rap giant.

The Naked Truth (2005)— The less said about this Lil Kim “classic” the better, but aside from the conflict of interest shadiness, I think there was a gender quota thing going on.
The Source wasn’t alone in lowering critical standards. This general relaxing of aesthetic standards has benefited older favorites and younger favorites alike.

What does this mean for mainstream rap criticism?

The point of all of this isn’t to blame the mainstream rap critics I referenced in Part 1 for the decline of golden era critical norms—they aren’t responsible for this decline; these critics are merely responding to the new climate in a way that makes sense to them and their audiences. This is also not about challenging critics to “take rap [norms] back” to ‘88 or ‘94 or any other year. It’s neither possible nor desirable to try to recreate the critical environment of the golden era. What critics can and should do, however, is learn from past critical environments to improve upon the current one. Critics are actually doing this in some respects. For example, they have looked back to rap’s pre-album era to help flesh out what a rap landscape divorced from the album as the primary artistic vehicle could look like given today’s technology (how critics have responded to the deluge of mixtape releases and the lack of quality control is an entirely different matter).

Moreover, critics have a duty provide context and history, not only for the music they critique but also for the history of music criticism on the ground and in print. This is especially important given that history-challenged rap outsiders are and will continue to be the primary consumers of rap criticism.

Critics can render the landscape in nuanced ways—ways that don’t reflect tired frames (NYstalgist vs. revanchist, NY vs. everywhere else). Specifically, they can address the legitimate concerns that many disenchanted golden era fans have with current musical and critical environment; they can consider the negative effects cultural and ideological pressures have had on aesthetic norms.

It’s not only in critics’ interests to do these things; it’s in the interest of the music.


[6]Ironically, my attachment to the album form can be critiqued as informed by a rockist bias.

[7] This is, I think, supposed to refer to the growing influence of women, white folks, non-Americans, and non-rap heads.

[8] I’m talking about a combination of norms on the ground, as experienced by the average rap head, and those held by tastemakers and rap critics.

[9]Which is why it’s so strange to hear academic types, hip hop feminists, and other hip hop “activists” talk in conspiratorial terms about white audiences driving the direction of the music.

[10] My dad fronted a few bands in the South and in the 60s and 70s. According to him and his former bandmates, the climate of some of the surviving chitlin circuit venues (even with the South’s renowned cordiality) made the Apollo Theatre seem like a tea party.

[11] Those interested in black music and black politics should check out studies on the racial uplift ideology literature of the late 19th Century through 1950s, which reveals, among other things, “New Negro” discomfort with black folk culture (demonstrative church music, blues, jazz, narratives depicting uneducated black folk.). This literature features recurring questions such as “How does popular black art affect the moral training of black children?” and “How will this art make us look to white people?” If you replace all of the “negro”s with “black”s or “African American”s,” you’d swear that these things were written today.

[12] There was also a palpable pressure on the magazine to award Illmatic (1994), and Aquemeni (1998) high scores. The former album because Nas was hailed as the 2nd coming of Rakim, the latter album because The Source’s credibility had been pushed to the limit by its extreme bias toward NY artists when it came to granting albums classic status. But because these two albums actually deserved their 5 Mic ratings, the pressure was overshadowed by the music.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Enter Our Halloween Giveaway Contest: Do Any of You Want to Eat Our Brains?

Candyman loves him some white chocolate. How could he possibly resist?

Oh the joys of Halloween. As a child did your mom make you an elaborate Halloween costume that consisted of a bed sheet and some talcum powder? Did you cry when your vinyl and plastic Darth Vader "constume" was torn getting in and out of mom's Plymouth Grand Fury? Were you permanently scarred by the rubber band that affixed the Scooby Doo mask to your nubile, preteen head? Am I the only one who thought he would asphyxiate from wearing some god awful, poorly ventilated, overpriced mask while dancing at the local spot on Halloween night?

In an effort to find solace and peace, we respectable negroes are rectifying the injustices that are our collective Halloween traumas by offering you a chance to painlessly win some free graphic novels courtesy of First Aid Comics. The prizes you ask? The winner will receive the first two trade paperbacks of my personal favorite, the ongoing comic series The Walking Dead. The runner up will win a copy of Marvel Zombies 3. Good deal, no?

The contest? Since we respectable negroes are democratic by nature and have served as the miner's canary, one that both endlessly renews and thanklessly sits watch over American democracy, you folks have 2 options.

Option One--Name the greatest zombie hunter living or dead, fictional or real. Be creative: tell us who would be the zombie ass kicker you would call when it all goes down and why. For example, I would pick Omar from The Wire. Why? I reason that Omar is such a killing machine (and dude is so gully) that he was quite literally a living nightmare for the cornerboys and dealers on the block. For my man Omar, dealing with a few undead would be a comparatively easy task.

Option Two--Tell us what is the most frightening movie--intentional or otherwise--that you have ever seen and why. For example, I would pick Roots as the scariest movie this negro has (never) seen in many many years. As a runner-up, I would pick the upcoming Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey mammyesque cosponsored crapfest ghettounderclass spectacular Precious. Frankly, that trailer sends shivers up and down my spine unlike anything that I have seen in a long time...

Is it safe to come out yet? Goodness, that abomination is a monster straight out of the Moynihan Report and the darkest ids of William Julius Wilson and Marten Gilens.

Have fun. We will announce the winners of our Halloween contest some time next week.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Brief Moment of Pause: Part 2 of The Problem With These Rap Critics, Halloween Plans, and the Week Ahead

In the best spirit of Andrew Young I come bearing an olive branch in the civil war between the NYstalgists and Revanchists: I present Bill Cosby's "hip hop" group the Cosnerati--an abomination so great and offensive that both camps will certainly agree that Cosby's foray into hip hop possesses neither artistic brilliance or sophistication. But the question remains, is the Cosnerati better than either Lil Wayne or Gucci Mane?

Second question: who would win a battle between Cornel West and Bill Cosby? My money is on Cosby for creativity, use of polysyllabic words and phrases, meter, intensity, and his deft ability to code switch while signifying on race and place. Ultimately, West would be defeated because he is too "meta" as he meanders in a style somewhere between the worst of Organized Konfusion and the Boogie Monsters.

Oh yes, we are indeed born between urine and feces. Can I get an amen?

As we catch our breath a quick update seems appropriate. Gordon is finishing up part 2 of "The Problem with These Rap Critics Today," and it should be posted soon. Inspired by my photo essay on the Black Tribe of Lydon LaRouche, and Gordon's "What is the Best, Worst, or Strangest Thing You Have Seen on Public Transportation," I will be debuting the first installment in what I hope will be an ongoing series--with a little help from my respectable negro friends and allies--entitled, "Tales of an Armchair Sociologist."

In a spirit akin to the NY Times' "Only in New York" column, this series will focus on our day to day encounters with the bizarre, the inexplicable, and the fascinating culture that is the ign't peoples of America. Trust, these are on point.

And of course we respectable negroes haven't forgotten Halloween! In honor of the annual spooktacular (do you appreciate my Oscar Wilde like wordplay?), we are going to be hosting a Halloween Contest with prizes courtesy of Hyde Park's very own First Aid Comics. Details are forthcoming--I don't want to give too much away--but look out for your chance to win some swag later in the week. As a preview, are you ready to eat some brains?

Holla if you hear me! Scott Steiner, not Tupac. This is one of my favorite phrases and I so long to say it to the one and only goddess that is Rosario Dawson prior to an epic lovemaking session.

Till tomorrow folks...

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Problem with These Kids Rap Critics Today, Part 1

Among mainstream and obscure music critics who review rap music,[1] there’s been a concerted effort of late to champion the same positions: that hip hop is not dead and that the ubiquitous influence of hip hop’s “golden era”[2] is hindering the advancement of the music by marginalizing its young talent and new directions (The Ashcan’s Jef Catapang penned a nice overview of this tired meme).

Pop music critic Jonah Weiner offers this inexcusably shallow caricature of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ assessment that the quality of rap has waned since the 90s: “[According to Coates,] Biggie died, sampling waned, lyrics got dumber, charisma trumped talent, the clock struck Y2K, the pumpkin turned into an Escalade.” Essentially, Weiner and other mainstream rap writers are accusing former fans like Coates[3] of taking an approach to hip hop that mirrors Wynton Marsalis’ approach to jazz,[4] as evidenced by the writers’ delightful pejoratives for former fans: “purists,” “nostalgists,” “revivalists,” “boom bap dinosaurs,” “true schoolers.”

There seems to be a growing consensus among mainstream rap critics that older fans’ aversion to current rap springs strictly from these aging fans’ nostalgia, fear of change, cultural detachment, and overall out of touch-ness. That this simplistic, uncritical rendering of aging rap fans passes for insight is problematic; that it has become the default narrative among mainstream rap critics is ridiculous. How did things get to this point?

A little background is in order. Since around the late 90s, there’s been a fierce battle waged at the margins of rap fandom. This battle has pitted two small but annoying factions against one another. Members of the first faction—let’s call them NYstalgists— actually embody the aforementioned bitter old rap grouch stereotype: they typically (though not always) hail from NY or the East Coast, they elevate a thin, but influential slice of 90s New York rap above all else, and they mock anything deviating from that style. For years, NYstalgists have written off the entirety of Southern rap, save for a few tokens. The current waves of Southern and Southern-influenced rappers are, according to NYstalgists, untalented, unskilled, stupid, lyrically bankrupt, and sonically lazy. More recently, NYstalgists have extended their hatred to hipster-baiting beta male emo rap and its fans.

The second faction—let’s call them revanchists—is comprised of fans whose sole aim is to exact revenge on the smug NYstalgists who kicked dirt in the faces of those who happened to enjoy hip hop outside the 5 boroughs. Once New York artists’ record sales, influence, and critical favor waned—basically, once New York faded as the cultural epicenter of the popular rap—revanchists saw their opportunity to gloat. Over time, the revanchists’ numbers have been padded with younger and neophyte rap fans who weren’t really there to witness the NYstalgists’ ascendancy, but who resent the NYstalgist’s preferred music nonetheless.[5]

Because they were subject to the NYstalgists’ unfair bullying, revanchists elicit a great deal of sympathy; however, they are just as small-minded and contemptible as NYstalgists. Instead of relishing the fact that NYstalgia is a flailing fringe phenomenon, revanchists cite a few marketing gimmicks by NY artists associated with the golden era to wildly exaggerate NYstalgists' influence. To revanchists, all golden age rap fans who bemoan the quality of today’s rap are bitter NYstalgists.

You may remember the NYstalgist-revanchist feud’s infamous older cousin: the East Coast- West Coast beef, the narrow, stupid, and destructive conflict whose coverage marked the nadir of rap journalism (up to that point, at least). The effects of this moronic feud still linger over rap discourse, which is why it’s so disappointing that rap writers are actually adopting the language and assumptions of the revanchists. One would expect such sloppy anachronism from the clueless hipsters at Pitchfork, but revanchist rhetoric seems to have ensnared even knowledgeable rap heads like Andrew Nosnitsky and Jeff Chang. Nosnitsky and Chang are clearly a cut above most rap writers, yet they still reproduce the flat portrait revanchists paint of disenchanted older rap fans.

I have some thoughts on why revanchists' uncritical reading of golden era fans’ might be appealing to even the better rap writers. Mainstream music critics generally come from a liberal arts background, which inclines them toward progressivism (in both a functional and a political sense). Modern critics’ livelihood and identities depend on their chosen music being dynamically relevant and creative right now, not 20 years ago. Their orientation toward progress in music tends to foster a suspicion of the canonical, the (traditionally) insular, and the authoritative. This orientation may thus lead to a heightened sensitivity to fans of older music criticizing newer music.

Moreover, rap critics’ socio-political progressivism leads them to sympathize with the underdog. Despite its global reach and the demographic diversity of its artists and fans, hip hop is still strongly identified with the downtrodden, especially poor, urban black youth. Progressive rap critics often see themselves as defending “authentic” black youth expression against the criticism of elitist, out-of touch blacks and racist whites—think Nosnitsky’s point about how poor urban areas around the country need hip hop more than New York does (because, apparently, there is no more poverty in New York).

These critics' misrepresentation of disenchanted golden era fans amounts to a dereliction of their job, which is to offer a nuanced analysis of the music, its legacy, and its fans. But if mainstream critics’ depiction of aging golden era fans is so off the mark, why is no one really challenging them on this?

First, consider the audience for today’s mainstream rap writing. This audience is largely comprised of outsiders who don’t know much about rap beyond the big names and events that occasionally draw their interest from their normal schedule of verbose, pretentious snooze rock and “exotic” world music. Though the critics in question write for such white liberal bastions as Slate, NPR, and Pitchfork, one senses in these critics a certain self-consciousness about the whiteness and non-hiphopness of their audiences (why else would some of them write for the root?).

Most of the people who read these critics don’t know that the golden era encompassed a broad range of styles outside of 90s NY golden era boom bap; they don’t know that artists from places such as LA, Oakland, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago actually made popular, critically acclaimed music during the golden era. However, these critics’ readers do know about the negative effects of Marsalis-style musical purism. They do know how grating parents can be when bragging about the superiority and authenticity of “classic” rock. In the absence of information, people gravitate toward existing narratives, even when these narratives are not relevant.

Furthermore, those most likely to challenge mainstream rap critics’ revanchist-influenced caricature of golden era fans—the disenchanted fans themselves—aren’t really represented in mainstream rap writing. There isn’t some grand plot to silence golden era fans’ opinions; these fans have virtually opted out of participating in the mainstream rap discourse. Why would anyone want to write about music that s/he doesn't really like anymore? Moreover, why would anyone hire such a person to critique music? Due to the absence of these golden era fans’ perspectives as well as to the ignorance of mainstream rap critics’ readers, today’s rap criticism has become a series of echo chambers.

Behind the seemingly minor issue of mainstream rap critics' denunciation of golden era fans’ tastes and hang-ups lies a broader, more significant concern: the deterioration of hip hop’s once robust (and ruthless) internal norms of criticism and tastemaking. As I will argue in Part 2, the dilution of these norms is most responsible for the decline in the overall quality of rap music since the golden era.



[1] I know that I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I’ll state it anyway: distinctions between “rap” and “hip hop” are arbitrary, anachronistic, and just plain dumb.

[2] For my purposes, the golden era refers to roughly the early to mid’80s through the mid ‘90s.

[3] I am treating Ta-Nehisi Coates as representative of the generation of reflective older rap fans who no longer have an attachment to the music made by younger artists. I chose him not only because he has written eloquently about his gradual withdrawal from hip hop, but also because he defies the stereotype of the golden era fan as a narrow-minded, South-hating old coot. However, I want to make one thing clear: in no way am I suggesting that Coates shares my views; in fact, based on our previous exchanges, I’m pretty sure he will disagree with the bulk of the arguments I make here and in Part 2.

[4] According to mainstream critical norms, Marsalis is one of music’s biggest symbolic villains. Marsalis is charged with defining jazz so narrowly (predominantly black, spanning only hot jazz through bop), that he’s helped to trap the music behind metaphorical museum glass. His extremist jazz purism is a far greater sin than his “elitist” and “racist” (or at least, “racialized”) hatred of hip hop.

[5] Revanchists have a near-pathological fixation on artists such as Jay Z, Nas, The Roots, Common, Mos Def, KRS, DJ Premier, as these artists are often symbols of what NYstalgists foolishly define as “real hip hop.” Revanchists see it as their mission to bash these NYstalgist heroes’ current music, which, admittedly, pales in comparison to their best golden era work.

Part 2 here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

SNL's the Rock Obama--Racist or Not?

To me. Funny. As. Hell. Plus, I know, and love the Rock...yes, he is my heteromancrush and was an occasional after school video game partner during High School (another hint as to my secret identity).

On this one, I think we should resist the prodding on the racism ambulance bus chasers. The President of the United States, is by definition, a target of humor and satire. Moreover, despite the tea party, Buchanan bigots, President Obama has had it comparatively easy...especially when put into the context of what was done to presidents such as Lincoln for example.

This begs the question: is all humor at the president's expense racist? Or, is our ability to laugh at President Obama--and to make jokes that sometimes fall flat--par for the course? Is this racial progress in action? Frankly, I do think that some folks need to develop tougher skins. If we, we meaning black folk, have survived (and flourished) despite White supremacy's best efforts to kill our will and spirit, I think we can survive a few laughs and barbs. Who knows? Maybe some of us will learn to laugh again...hell, we dreamed so long of having a Black man as President of the United States of America that we should just enjoy the ride while it lasts (ups and downs included).

Bonus laugh number one:

Bonus laugh number two:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

America's Secular Sabotage or Unintenionally Funny Wednesday Afternoon Funnies

And no, this isn't about my disrespect towards non-believers. Although, I do not know if religious belief should be respected by virtue of its mere existence. So, let's file this under unintentionally, funny, Wednesday afternoon follies.

I do feel so very proud of myself though. I am emboldened (and quite pleased) that I/we have this great power over the masses (insert maniacal laugh)...

Now to the "intentionally" humorous and spectacular--Al Sharpton versus "Brother" Hitchens:

From The Washington Post:

By Bill Donohue
President, Catholic League

There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom; sexual libertines seek to upend the cultural order by attacking religion; artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity; Hollywood relentlessly insults people of faith; activist left-wing legal groups try to scrub society free of the public expression of religion; elements in the Democratic party demonstrate an animus against Catholicism; and secular-minded malcontents within Catholicism and Protestantism seek to sabotage their religion from the inside.

Yesterday's radicals wanted to tear down the economic structure of capitalism and replace it with socialism, and eventually communism. Today's radicals are intellectually spent: they want to annihilate American culture, having absolutely nothing to put in its place. In that regard, these moral anarchists are an even bigger menace than the Marxists who came before them.

If societal destruction is the goal, then it makes no sense to waste time by attacking the political or economic structure: the key to any society is its culture, and the heart of any culture is religion. In this society, that means Christianity, the big prize being Catholicism. Which explains why secular saboteurs are waging war against it.

When Jesse Jackson led students at Stanford University in the late 1980s screaming, "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Culture's Got to Go," it was a way of undermining this nation's Judeo-Christian heritage. When Yale University returned $20 million to Lee Bass in the 1990s because the faculty objected to its being used to expand its Western civilization curriculum--they wanted multiculturalism--it showed the power of radical secularists.

Sexual libertines, from the Marquis de Sade to radical gay activists, have sought to pervert society by acting out on their own perversions. What motivates them most of all is a pathological hatred of Christianity. They know, deep down, that what they are doing is wrong, and they shudder at the dreaded words, "Thou Shalt Not." But they continue with their death-style anyway.

Secular saboteurs have often seized the arts to make a statement. That's why the blasphemous often tracks the obscene: if the goal is to put an artistic dagger into the heart of culture, then it makes sense to use all the ammo available by attacking the sacred. And they are certainly masters of that art. From scatological artistic exhibitions to the latest obscene installation, the charlatans have succeeded in politicizing the arts and denigrating Christianity.

There was a time when Hollywood made reverential movies about Christianity. But those days are long gone. Now they just insult. And when someone finally makes a film that makes Christians proud, he is run out of town. Were it not for Mel Gibson, there would have been no "Passion of the Christ." But for every Harvey Weinstein who likes to bash Catholics, there is always someone else waiting in the wings to do the same.

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State harbor an agenda to smash the last vestiges of Christianity in America. Lying about their real motives, they say their fidelity is to the Constitution. But there is nothing in the Constitution that sanctions the censorship of religious speech. From banning nativity scenes to punishing little kids for painting a picture of Jesus, the zealots give Fidel a good run for his money.

Catholics were once the mainstay of the Democratic Party; now the gay activists are in charge. Indeed, practicing Catholics are no longer welcome in leadership roles in the Party: the contempt that pro-life Catholics experience is palpable. The fact that Catholics for Choice, a notoriously anti-Catholic front group funded by the Ford Foundation, has a close relationship with the Democrats says it all.

Secularists within Catholicism and Protestantism are so out of control that it makes one wonder how any serious-minded person would ever accuse these religions of being oppressive. Insubordination of the most flagrant kind is routinely tolerated in a way that would never be countenanced at the New York Times, yet the bad rap always goes to Christians. We're not talking about those pushing for moderate reforms: we're talking about termites eating away from within.

The only way secular saboteurs can be stopped is by an alliance of religious conservatives across faith lines. The good news is that this is already happening. In the fight over gay marriage, the scorecard is 30-0: traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Mormons, along with a big contribution from the Latino and African American communities, have succeeded in throwing a roadblock at this crazy idea.

The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they're too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.

Bill Donohue is President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He is author of the new book "Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America," published by FaithWords.

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds--Artie Lange Returns to Howard Stern

My fellow Stern fans, enjoy this clip before the powers that be take it down. For those not in the know, Artie Lange, one of my favorite comedians, has been absent from the Howard Stern show for the last week (I keep endorsing it, but folks, please read his book because it is so heartfelt). Given that Artie has a history of drug use--and he has relapsed before (signaled by his absence from the show)--the smart money was on the fact that Stern's co-host had fallen off the wagon. Apparently not. It seems that Artie had a nervous breakdown precipitated by the anniversary of his father's death...yikes.

Part 2

Part 3

I have to ask: is Artie lying? Given the propensity of addicts to do anything, quite literally, to score while maintaining the appearance of normality, is he back on drugs and playing us all? Enter the nuclear option: should Howard let him go?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The GOP is Like Pookie in New Jack City with that Crack Rock or The Sick Republican Obsession with Adolf Hitler and Nazism

The Republican obsession with Hitler and Nazism is a particular brand of mental illness that requires specific, expert training to diagnose and treat. Thus, I bring you our friend Werner Herzog's Bear, Phd, Md., and the man with the plan when it comes to breaking down the GOP fixation on linking Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.


Recently there’s been a lot of Nazi-talk in the air, the vast majority of it disseminated by hardcore conservatives, who have been known to display Obama-as-Hitler signs at Tea Party rallies. This week it seems to have taken a turn for the surreal. A few days ago someone at the NRCC posted a “tweet” with the much-used clip of Hitler ranting from the film Downfall, but this time with subtitles that had him speaking as if he was Obama. This week Glenn Beck also compared the White House’s recent tiff with Fox News to the persecution of Jews under Nazi rule. Most recently, Ann Coulter claimed that George Soros (a Holocaust survivor) was a “Nazi collaborator.” By now I’ve come to expect Beck and Coulter to spew this ridiculous stuff, but seeing it from an official GOP organ is something new.

How to explain this crap? Here are five reasons why the GOP seems obsessed with linking Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Ignorant name calling

Actual historical knowledge about Hitler and the Nazis in this country is practically non-existent. Hitler has come to represent pure evil, and so calling one’s opponents Nazis is essentially a way of calling them evil. God knows that the Republican attacks have no basis in actual historical reality. As I’ve noted before, the whole notion of “liberal fascism” is a complete oxymoron and the opposite of the truth. Furthermore, the main ideological component of Nazism was racism. Hitler would have viewed Barack Obama, the product of an interracial marriage, as a subhuman. This is why representations of him as Hitler fill me with a blinding rage; not only are they hateful, they are a rapacious abuse of the past.

Calling someone a Commie doesn’t work anymore

Yes, Beck and co. still like to call Barack Obama a Marxist (this despite the fact that he won’t even consider single payer!), but the Hitler comparisons are made more often. Conservatives cried wolf so many times during the Cold War that most right-thinking people just stopped listening. The Cold War itself has been over for twenty years, so the charge just lacks power. It’s also patently ridiculous, since the Obama administration is willing to sign a health care bill without a public option, supports polluter-friendly “cap and trade” legislation, and basically sought the approval of Big Pharma before making a move on health care. Again, since the Nazis are shorthand for evil, rather than authoritarian, messianic, race-based nationalism, conservatives think they can get away with the analogy.

The Republicans’ actual ideas have been discredited

The GOP has to resort to name-calling because they have absolutely nothing positive to offer voters. Dubya put a hard Right agenda into action, and it turned out to be a disaster. Since the collapse of the financial markets, the praise of the free market as “rational” and the solution to all of our problems looks completely deluded (as it always should anyway.) Now, if the GOP was not a regional Southern party, but an actual national party, they would have started taking a more moderate tack by now. Unfortunately for them and for our public discourse, they have become as ideologically rigid and doctrinaire as a humanities department (yes, I can dig at my own kind too.) Since these ideas are extreme and unpopular, conservatives have instead resorted to name-calling and fear mongering.

Extreme Republicans can’t say what they really want to say

If you follow the political blogs, you know that every couple of weeks or so a GOP official gets in trouble for sending racist images over the internet. As someone who lives in the South I can tell you that the level of racial fear and loathing among Obama’s fiercest opponents has a great deal to do with the vehemence of their opposition. Basically, the NRCC can’t “tweet” the images of a White House watermelon patch that their operatives send to each other. Instead of being openly racist, they have sublimated their hatred into constructed images of Obama that make him out to be evil. I’m not saying that all or even most on the Right think this way, but a very substantial portion does.

This is all a smokescreen for fascistic behavior

What better way of covering up your own fascistic tendencies by screaming as loudly as possible that your opponents are fascists? When Ann Coulter called Soros a Nazi collaborator she was echoing the talking points of the LaRouche crowd, who are the closest thing we have in this country to a bona fide fascist party. Perhaps Glenn Beck keeps comparing Obama to Hitler because Beck’s own brand of messianic, “we surround them” nationalism constantly attacks shadowy internal enemies and has turned the tragedy of 9/11 into the 9/12 manifesto of national “re-birth.” (I’m not saying that Beck believes in an authoritarian government or is even a “fascist,” but that he talks about the nation in certain ways that are unmistakably reminiscent of fascism.) It’s not just a matter of rhetoric either, but of methods. This quotation from Nazi official Hermann Goering strikes me as particularly relevant to understanding what’s going on these days:

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the
bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them
they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of
patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in
any country.”

When conservatives were in power that was their modus operandi. Now that they are on the sidelines, they have made the leader of our own country the threat, instead of terrorists. At the end of the day, that is what gives all this Nazi talk a kind of fearsome potential. If enough people buy into the idea that the president of the United States is the embodiment of pure evil, and that he is out to get them (a la death panels) the potential for redemptive violence is high indeed. For that reason responsible conservatives need to cut this shit out and disown those who engage in it

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: RIP Captain Lou Albano, a Goodbye From Paul Heyman

RIP Captain Lou.

We have lost another legend this past week. Never to be replaced.

Captain Lou was such a great talker and an amazing character. As I have said many times about the product these days, there is still a space for managers in pro wrestling (and given that all things come full circle), perhaps the tried and true will become new again. Who knows? Maybe some enterprising young wrestler will have the courage to glue rubber bands onto their face, grab the mic, and seize glory.

Even so, Captain Lou was an original, never to be replaced.

May you rock and wrestle in eternity.

Here is a great road story from Paul Heyman reflecting on his early days with the Captain and the great Classy Freddy Blassie:

RIP Captain Lou

Lou could talk. Oh man, could he talk. There were no influences in the way he came across. The Captain had a style all of his own. "I just remember the point I wanna bring across," Lou once told me, "and then I just babble before, during, and after. Somehow, in the middle, I said the two or three sentences that sold tickets. Mostly, I just tried to make people want to see me get my ass kicked, and along the way, hopefully the guy I was managing would catch a beating too!"

So, here we are. It's October 14, 2009, and we're discussing the passing of someone who many could argue was truly the greatest manager of all time. It's hard to argue against the choice of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, but if there's ever been someone to point to as "better than The Brain," the only choice in my mind was Albano. His impact on the way wrestling was and even to this day is presented cannot be understated. His mannerisms, his way of talking, his ability to draw heat were all unparalleled in his day. He was one of the major catalysts for Vincent Kennedy McMahon's national expansion, as his work with Cyndi Lauper begat The Rock n Wrestling Connection, which gave birth to the Hogan-Piper feud, which delivered The War To Settle The Score, and ultimately the very 1st Wrestlemania.

There are so many "Albano" stories to tell, from the time he ran in his shorts and flip flops up 8th Avenue in New York City when his car broke down during a snow storm, and had hundreds of people following him to what was then known as The Howard Johnson's Hotel where everyone stayed; to the time he got into a drinking contest with Andre The Giant at the hotel bar, took a Ric Flair-esque face bump into the top of a stool, cracked his head, and was knocked out cold ... only to wake up when Don Muraco and Greg Valentine helped peel Lou off the floor. Lou ran outside, threw up all over the sidewalk (with half the remnants of his dinner prominently remaining on his hairy chest), came back inside, ordered another 3 rounds, turned to Andre and said "I get a 3 drink handicap for that bump!"

As a 15 year old who bullshitted his way into getting All Access Photographer Passes for Madison Square Garden, I ran the fan clubs for all 3 Wise Men of the East. During the summertime, I would sometimes go to Allentown and Hamburg, and cover the WWWF television tapings. One time, I ended up catching a ride with Albano, who was driving Blassie (which was a great idea, because Blassie was partially blind and a menace behind the wheel even with perfect eyesight).

This trip was taking place after a great show at Madison Square Garden, and as always when it came to MSG, Lou was lit up beyond belief. "The Captain is hell when he's well," he'd say not only on tv, but also in person, "and The Captain is well when he's drinkin' ... and The Captain drinks a little ALL THE TIME!"

So we got out of Madison Square Garden, and we're flying through New Jersey heading towards Allentown. Lou reaches under his seat, and pulls out one of those big glass Tropicana grapefruit juice bottles. Of course, grapefruit juice was no longer the contents of this bottle. As a matter of fact, I can't even tell you that Lou was drinking Vodka AND grapefruit juice. It was more like vodka with a tiny little splash of grapefruit juice. Or, as Blassie used to tease The Captain, "methane with something to give it a little bit of color."

Now keep in mind, I'm in my mid-teens here, watching and listening to Blassie scream at Albano "you're going to get us killed! This kid's Father is a lawyer! He's going to sue our widows, and take our swimming pools, you (2 minutes of expletives) maniac!"

Lou would just laugh, with both feet on the gas pedal, and hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life.
All of a sudden, Lou goes into an insane coughing fit, and spits up some phlemmy-looking loogie that must have come from the deepest, darkest recesses of his digestive system. This frightening piece of intestinal backwash ends up all over the inside of the windshield, and Lou pulls a tissue out of his pocket, wipes it off the windshield ... we're still going 90 miles an hour, mind you... and proceeds to suck the loogie back down with a big mischievous smile on his face.

Blassie was going to hurl. "Did you see that?" he screamed, "what the (expletives abound) is wrong with you? That's the sickest thing I've ever seen ... and I've seen some sick things in my life! Albano, I'm never driving with you again!"

All of a sudden, Lou slams on the brakes, as the car slides sideways. He tries to open his door, but can't find the handle. He finally jumps out of the car, hangs onto the window as if he'll collapse without its support, and spits up about 10 of those revolting looking loogies.

Blassie was horrified. I, of course, being just a kid, thought this was the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life. Man, did I have a story to tell when I got home. Of course, I was going to leave the drinking and driving part out when I told my parents, but why quibble over small details?

Lou reaches into the car, grabs his Tropicana bottle (hey, you think they'll sponsor the Hustle after this story?), takes two swigs, gargles, and spits it out on the side of the road.

He gets back into the car, peels out, starts driving 90, with Blassie just screaming at him about how their estates will be sued by my grieving Father. Lou is just laughing his ass off, and finally turns to Blassie and says, "Brother, it's that grapefruit juice. I hate the taste of it!"

Blassie was apoplectic. What could he possibly say in response? So Classy Freddy did what any self-respecting legend would do. He passed the buck, "Hey kid," he barked at me, "say something to Albano!"

The Captain, driving 90 miles an hour while crossing over from New Jersey into Pennsylvania, was now staring at me in the rear view mirror, and said, "Paulie, that's your cue!"

"Hey Lou," I asked, shrugging my shoulders, "if you hate grapefruit juice so much, why do you put it in with your vodka?"

Lou looked over at Blassie ... he was always looking everywhere, it seemed, but the road ahead of us... and said "where did you find this kid? What's wrong with him? Is he retarded or something?"

Lou took another big swig of vodka (with the hint of grapefruit juice), and said "learn in life from this Paulie.

The Captain puts grapefruit juice in his grapefruit juice bottle because The Captain hates the taste of grapefruit juice. Hates it. Makes me gag. Ruins my drink. Makes me regret ever putting this bottle up to The Captain's lips. I hate myself just for putting in my body!"

Lou took one more swig, knowing I was hanging on his every word.

"Don't you get it?" Lou explained, "It's helping me quit drinking!"

Every trip with Lou was a similar adventure. He was loud, obnoxious, insane, and yet in many ways one of the most endearing human beings you'll ever meet. Lou related to people, and at heart was a giving, caring, compassionate man who just wanted to entertain people. He always picked up the tab,and never complained about anything except "Vince Junior." In the "wild and wooly" days of the 70's and 80's, he was a loyal, affectionate husband and a damn good man.

And as you can see, he was never boring, especially when traveling from one town to the next.

RIP Captain Lou. Have a wonderful trip.

With great appreciation and affection,
Paul Heyman