Sunday, May 08, 2011

Confessions of an Unrepentant Hood Rat

Beneath the Spin * Eric L. Wattree

Confessions of an Unrepentant Hood Rat

Some have advised me to maintain a strict journalistic public persona. They said that if I begin to indulge my passion for music and poetry that I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a journalist. Well, I’ve decided to take that chance, because I’m not just a journalist. First and foremost I'm a writer, and my primary mission is to chronicle my times, from my perspective, for my grandchildren and great grandchildren just as I wish someone had thought to do for me.

I don’t want my descendants to have to ask who was ‘Poppie,’ and what was he like. I want them to be able to see my world through my eyes. I also want them to see my reaction to it. That way they won't have to speculate about who I am.  I want them to know me, warts and all, so they’ll have a better understanding of who they are. So I've decided they need more than just sterile opinions. They need a frame of reference that will give them some perspective into the well from which my opinions are drawn.

And since I’m both a musician and a poet, naturally, music and poetry are a big part of my life. So I use both mediums to define myself, just like a person with a Ph.D. uses the letters behind his or her name to define who they are. I wish I could simply put Uh.R (Unrepentant hood rat) behind my name, but it would be such an uncommon convention that no one would get my meaning.

But if I could, that’s exactly what I’d put behind my name, because that’s exactly who I am. Many take issue with my defining myself in that manner, but I wear the education that I’ve gained through surviving the adversity of the Black experience with the same kind of pride that any Harvard, Yale, or Columbia graduate place in their backgrounds.  In fact, I take much more pride in it.

The degree that I managed to obtain through my “formal” education was theoretical at best. I simply received a receipt attesting to the fact that I was warming a chair in an environment where psychology was discussed. It says absolutely nothing about whether or not I absorbed any of that knowledge in a meaningful way. Otherwise, with all the receipts being handed out across this country every year we'd be in much better shape as a nation. George W. Bush managed to obtain a receipt from Yale. That alone should speak volumes regarding both their intrinsic value, and Yale. Thus, I come from a tradition where a person can't simply hand me a receipt - they have to show me that they can think. 

While I didn’t get a receipt for the education I obtained on the streets of Watts, the Pueblo Del Rio projects, and various other areas in inner city Los Angeles, just the fact that I’m sitting here writing attests to the fact that I’ve been dragged through the pits of Hell and managed to come out the other side as a fully functional individual. Now, those are credentials.  My education is hands-on, and I have the wounds to show that I graduated magnum cum Lawdy (sic).

My education is real, not theoretical. It’s the very same education that Obama is using to make the GOP look like idiots. Surely you didn’t think Obama learned to make Trump look like a fool at Harvard, did you? And rubbing Trump's face in his shortsighted idiocy at the correspondent’s dinner, while at the same time, coolly accomplishing what the chest-beating Bush administration was unable to do in seven years . . . that was classic hood rat. It was uncharacteristically flamboyant of our president, but I’ve never been so proud.

My professors in the hood were some of the greatest minds I’ve ever known, and they held court in the finest Socratic tradition - while sitting on empty milk crates in the parking lot of ghetto liquor stores. And tuition was cheap - a half a pint of Silver Satin would more than cover it.

These were the “Eulipians” - writers, poets, musicians, painters, and uncommon drunks - those shade-tree philosophers who contemplated the fungus between the toes of society. They danced with reckless abandon, unfettered by formal inhibition, through the presumptuous speculation of the ages. And they were an assorted bunch. Some lived in county jails, cardboard boxes, and alley ways, and others in luxury Apartments. But they all had one thing in common - their very existence exposed the hypocrisy of "that shining light upon the hill."

While these obscure intellectuals stood well outside the mainstream of academy, I watched with astonished delight as they sang, scat and scribed their philosophy into the mainstream of human knowledge. They rammed forth the proposition that knowledge was free, thus, would transcend all attempts to be contained through caste and privilege.

Malcolm, Bird, Langston Hughes, John Coltrane; they were all Eulipians. Even old Gigglin’ Willie was a Eulipian. Some thought he was crazy - and we never did figure out what he was gigglin’ about - but during his more lucid moments he had us all gigglin’ at the absurdity of what we’ve been conditioned to accept as truth. And while the Eulipians all used different lyrics and mediums, they all sang but one song - we must dedicate ourselves to the proposition that man’s innate thirst for knowledge would someday overwhelm his passionate lust for stupidity. And to this day, that is my one commandment.

As a lifelong musician, one of my favorite Eulipians was Dexter Gordon. In fact, he was one of the reasons I dedicated myself to the saxophone as a preteen. He went to school with my mother, and grew up a couple of blocks from my house. Dex never did get a formal receipt, because he left Jefferson High School at 16 years-old to go on the road with 'Pops', then Billy Eckstine, nor did he ever make it to Juilliard or any of the great music conservatories. But before he was done, there wasn’t a music conservatory anywhere in the world that didn’t speak his name, even as I speak it to you now. Dexter Gordon. World renowned . . . hood rat:

A Swingin’ Affair
I was told as a child Blacks had no worth, not a nickel’s worth of dimes. I believed that myth
til Dex rode in with his ax in double time. His horn was soarin’, the changes flyin’, his rhythm right on time. My heart beat with the pleasure of new found pride, knowing his blood flowed through mine.

Dex took the chords the keyboard played, and danced around each note; then shuffled ‘em
like a deck of cards, and didn’t miss a stroke. B minor 7 with flatted 5th, a half-diminished chord, he substituted a lick in D, then really began to soar.

He tipped his hat to Charlie Parker, and quoted Trane with Miles, then paid his homage to
Thelonious Monk, in Charlie Rouse's style. He took a Scrapple From the Apple, then went to Billie’s Bounce, the rhythm section, now on fire, but he didn’t budge an ounce.

He just dug right in to shuffle again, this time a Royal Flush, then lingered a bit behind the beat, still smokin’ but in no rush. Then he doubled the time just like this rhyme, in fluid 16th notes, tellin’ Charlie and Lester, “your baby boy, Dexter’s, on top of the bebop you wrote."

Wailin’ like a banshee, this prince of saxophone, his ballads dripped of honey, his Arpeggios were strong.
Callin’ on his idles, ghost of Pres’ within in the isles, smiling at his protégé, at the peak of this new style. His tenor drenched of Blackness, and all the things we are - of pain, and pleasure, and creative greatness, until his final bar.

Eric L. Wattree, Uh.R
(Unrepentant Hood Rat)

So the major problem in the Black community is not that there's too many hood rats - our problem is there's not enough of us left.

My good friend (and fellow hood rat), Playthell Benjamin, debating
the late Christopher Hitchens.
Playthell takes himself a little more seriously than I take myself, so he might not appreciate the distinction that I've bestowed upon him.  But what the hell? Let him get mad, we fight all the time anyway - that's what hood rats do.
Eric L. Wattree
Citizens Against Reckless Middle-Class Abuse (CARMA)

Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.

Sphere: Related Content