Thursday, August 26, 2010

You Really Got Me

Things were more chaotic than usual at the Cardiff Police station. Besides the usual tumult, the hustling in of the daily sots, the common hooligan run in for vandalism, there was a buzz in the air. Something else had happened, something that drew the local press gaggle to the station looking for a story.

“So, what’s all the racket, Constable?” asked Sergeant Dalton.

“A bit of mayhem out at the theater, Sir. Terrible scene.”

“A concert?”

“Yes, Sir, one of those rock and roll shows. We’ve got one of them in for questioning, Skipper. A real long haired poof,” the Constable spit contemptuously.

“Now, now, they’re just boys, officer. No need to be so harsh in your judgments.”

“Sorry to be disagreeable, but they’re bloody animals, the lot of them, Sarge. Plain and simple.”

“Well, Constable, perhaps I’ll head back and have a little sit down with the boy. How does that sound?”

"If it suits your fancy sir, have a bash.”

Dalton politely knocked on the door to the interrogation room. He thought he heard a low “Come in” and turned the knob. Entering, he encountered a visibly shaken lad, couldn’t have been more than 20 years old. Oh, he was poncified for sure, with his long burgundy hunting jacket and yellow shirt beneath, his puffy hair sticking up, his sideboards well below his ear looking for all the world like an ancient Roman helmet.

“Have a cuppa tea, son?” Dalton offered kindly.

“Ta.” Not much of a talker, this one.

“What’s your name son?”

“Ray, sir.” Polite though.

“Ray what?” It’s like pulling teeth, Dalton thought as he slid over the steaming mug.

“Davies, Ray Davies.”

“Alright, Ray Davies, care to tell me what happened out there tonight?”
“Well, sir, I don’t really know. We were playing over at the Capitol Theatre tonight and everything seemed fine. We started with ‘You Really Got Me.’ That’s our big hit. Do you know it, sir?”

“Sorry, can’t say I do. Acker Bilk’s more my speed these days.” Dalton smiled.

Ray chuckled. “Yeah, I can see that. Well, I guess Dave, he’s my brother and the lead guitar player in the band, insulted Mick, he’s our drummer, and gave his kit the boot. Mick didn’t care for that, I guess.”

“I guess not,” Sergeant Dalton nodded for Ray to go on.
“We started our second number, called ‘Beautiful Delilah,’ and all of a sudden there was a really loud racket. Next thing I knew, Dave was knocked out cold on the stage and Mick was hitting him over and over again with his hi-hat, you know, the cymbals.”

“Was there bad blood between the two?”

“Funny, there is and there isn’t. They live together in Connaught Gardens, up in Muswell Hill. It’s kind of a den of iniquity, a real orgy palace. Mick’s room is called ‘Spunker’s Squalor,’ Dave’s is called ‘Whore’s Hovel,’ and they…”

“That’s enough, son. I get the picture and I don’t cotton to that sort of talk.” These kids really are a different breed, smutty and offensive and not caring a whit about propriety.

“Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean anything by it. Mick and Dave, well, they drink a lot, and there are always birds, sorry, girls, hanging around. Sometimes they get along quite well, other times they’re chalk and cheese. I don’t know what Dave said to Mick last night in Taunton, but they had a real punch up and Mick won. I’m sure Dave didn’t like that one bit. They were both soused, of course.”

“Do you think that caused tonight’s row?”

“I suppose so, but they always get on each other’s wick about something or other. Could’ve been anything, really.” Ray thought back to the scene, and put both hands in his hair, pushing it up even further. “There was Dave, my own brother, on the stage, bleeding all over, and my best mate Mick, beating the stuffing out of him and slicing at his throat with a cymbal. I didn’t know what to do. I was stunned.”

“Where’s Mick now, do you think?” asked the Sergeant.

“I don’t know. After he leapt off the stage and into the crowd I lost him. He could be anywhere, I suppose.”

Dalton nodded. That Avory boy had committed this fiendish assault in front of a crowd of screaming kids and then flew the coop. He must’ve known he’d be in for it, most likely thinking he’d be nicked for Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent to Kill. There’d be jail time for sure. But Avory couldn’t have known what a bollocks he’d made of his life.

“Sir?” asked Ray meekly.

“Yes, Ray?”

“Where is Dave now?”

“He’s at Royal Cardiff Infirmary.”

“Is he alright then?”

Sergeant Dalton got up from the metal chair and shuffled slowly over to Ray. As he put his hand on the lad’s shoulder, Dalton notice the darker red spots that had spurted from the ghastly cuts that Avory had sliced into Dave Davies as he lay unconscious. They’d made a mess of Ray’s frock. Dalton spoke soothingly.

“I’m sorry son, your brother lost too much blood. Dave’s dead.”

During their 1965 spring tour, The Kinks stopped in Cardiff, Wales, for a show at the Capitol Theater. Dave Davies and Mick Avory, always arguing, had fought the night before. After completing their first song, Dave kicked Mick’s drums. Avory retaliated by smashing his hi-hat stand on Davies, who was rendered unconscious. Afraid he’d killed his bandmate, Avory fled from the scene and went into hiding. Dave Davies was rushed to the hospital, where his head wound required 16 stitches. Dave refused to press charges, saving Mick from sure arrest. Mick said it was part of the act, a new bit where band members would throw instruments at each other. Ray remembers it as the night when “Mick tried to slice Dave’s head off with a cymbal.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

To the Edge of Panic

“Yo Chuck, tell me again what you worried about.” Flavor Flav tugged on the vertical explosion of hair on top of his head. He looked like a carrot.

“OK Flav, one more time.” Chuck D took off his gray Los Angeles Raiders cap, placed it on the mixing board, and rubbed his head. “This lawsuit could put us out of business. No more Public Enemy, not like we been doin’.”

“That’s some wack shit man. Nobody gonna put us out business.” Flav was really animated now, hopping up and down, waving his arms wildly.

It was most definitely some wack shit. That damn fool Biz Markie always clowning. It’s not so funny now that he’s getting sued for sampling. And who was this white motherfucker, what was it, Gilbert O’Sullivan, suing Biz for some lame ass tune, “Alone Again (Naturally)?” From what Chuck had heard, Biz’ label had asked for permission. That was bullshit, man. Just take what you need, aight. See what happens when you ask the white business world for permission? Fuck that shit!

“They could, Flav, they could. And if we have to pay for every sample we use, you think The Bomb Squad’s gonna be able to make our records the same way?"

“Listen to Flav, man, The Bomb Squad are the most incrediblest people. They’ll be able to produce the dopest records for us.”

Chuck hung his head. Flav just didn’t get it. You can’t make a song with 10 different samples if you gotta pay for each one. We’re through if the judge decides against Biz.

“Chuck. Hey boy! This ain’t no graveyard party, stop actin’ like a tombstone!” Chuck smiled. Flav could always cheer him up. As they sat in Chuck’s recording studio at his house in Roosevelt, Long Island, he thought back to the rise of Public Enemy, how they led the way, never selling their soul. Even when Professor Griff put them through some serious shit a couple of years back, they hung tough. Griff’s anti-Semitic riffing back in ’89, that was something else to deal with. Griff said Jews were responsible for “the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe.” Now why’d he have to say that? It put Chuck in a bad spot, having to fire Griff’s black ass, then bring him back, then disband the group, then bring it back. Chuck thought that was the worst threat to Public Enemy, but when Griff dissed his posse, saying they were all full of shit, well, Chuck had no choice but to get rid of Griff for good. But they survived.

This lawsuit, though, that really scared him. If they couldn’t use all those samples anymore, what would they do? Back at Adelphi, when Chuck was still just Carlton Ridenour, a graphics design major, he’d met a couple of homies at the school radio station and those nights with Hank Shocklee and Bill Stephney, were where Public Enemy’s sound was born. Shocklee would cram those motherfucking samples into PE songs and really create something special. Hank was the leader of The Bomb Squad now. Could he do something different if he had to?

Flav watched Chuck quietly thinking. He rattled the chain holding the giant clock that dangled from his neck, pulled off his oversized orange glasses and hollered.

“Yo Chuck. Isn’t Dre using just one sample over and over again? He ain’t no sample king.”

“Aw man that’s West Coast shit. That’s not us. We’re East Coast all the way,” said Chuck adamantly.

They were. When Rick Rubin heard their first tapes he went wild and signed them up at Def Jam Records right away. Rick was good to them and, even though he left the label a few years back, he stayed in touch, keeping Chuck in the loop with whatever the important happenings. Rick was another dude from Strong Island. Hell, he started Def Jam out of his dorm room at NYU.

“Naw, Dre lays down some phat beats. You wrong about that Chuck. Word up.”

It was hard to listen to Flav’s silliness with this lawsuit on his mind. Man, he should have his own TV show. People would eat that shit up! We all better be thinking about new careers. Figures, the white establishment looking for any way to shut us up, the real voice of the ‘hood. They just want minstrels, old timey Toms saying “Yassuh,” Nosuh.” Not prophets, not strong black men, telling it like it is. Shut ‘em down! That’ s justice right? That’s the legal system – it’s a joke, an anti-nigger machine. Fight that power? You can’t win.

Flav was still chattering when the phone rang.

“Yo, what’s up?” asked Chuck.

“Chuck, it’s Rick.”

“Hey, man, how you doin’?”

“Not as good as you. Did you hear the judge ruled in the Biz case?”

“Nuh uh. What’s it gonna be?” Chuck asked nervously.

“The judge said that the company suing Biz didn’t even own the damn copyright. Business as usual man, business as usual.”

“Thanks Rick, you the man!”

Now all smiles, Chuck faced Flav. “We’re cool, man, we’re cool. Wonder what Griff would say about these Jewish lawyers now!” He placed his Raiders cap back on his head.

Flavor Flav leapt from his seat, hiked up his baggy reddish orange pants and, flashing a mouth full of gold teeth, yelled “We cold lampin’ now boy!”

Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., was decided on December 17, 1991. While the U.S. District Court ruled that all samples needed to be cleared, the judge noted that Grand Upright did not own the copyright to “Alone Again (Naturally).” Still, Warner Brothers asking Grand Upright for permission indicated that they knew they were violating the law. The ruling changed rap forever, making it financially prohibitive to make records using multiple samples, the hallmark of Public Enemy’s sound. 1991's Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black was the last great Public Enemy record. They would go on hiatus during 1993, then, after negative reviews greeted 1994’s Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, Chuck D retired Public Enemy from touring.

(Cold lamping - To hang out next to a streetlamp)