With the Quickness: A Little Tale of Young, Black Love…Hardcore Style

Arguably, Tiger Woods is the greatest mo’fo to ever walk the green, Michael Jordan on the court, and Ali was the G.O.A.T in the ring. What constitutes these players as the greatest is that after them, the game was not merely changed…it was elevated, taking its spectators along for the ride. There’s another more obscure contact sport called “hardcore” which produced heroes of this caliber, not so often sung, but those who saw them knew. Those who were there for blast off understand, Bad Brains were “The Greatest (hardcore band) of All Time.”I was somewhere in the middle of high school in the beginning of the ’80s in the center of Chocolate City (aka Washington DC). It was a prime time and place for Black elegance and Black renegade activity, and in rare instances those two energies collided in secret pockets and produced exquisite tribes. Black elegant renegades roamed throughout the city. My school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, was one of those hot pockets and beautiful little Black girls and boys were runnin ‘round talking ‘bout the principles of P-Funk and existentialism, leisurely. It was there I met one of the few white girls that went to Duke, Vivian. She was one of those cool-ass white girls that wasn’t intimidated by all the Black genius funking up the place. She had a dope sense of style, kinda like Gwen Stefani, but a little dirtier, you know, like she hadn’t showered in a few days. (It was the dirty part that threw me, that was the whole problem with the grunge trend and Black folk. When you’re one generation from share cropping, you ain’t quite ready to make yourself look poor, ya dig?) It was Vivian who first took me to the legendary 9:30 Club to see Bad Brains. These were the days when a chick could get into a club and get a strong drink if she looked potty trained and her outfit was tight. When I stepped into this magical cave of a club, my sensibilities knew they would never be the same. I was inside another secret DC pocket surrounded by another tribe, punks, and this time I was the “other.” I was a Madonna-looking Black girl, in a sea of skinheads, Mohawks, spikes and combat boots. But the freakiest thing was not the looks (‘cause I thought most of it was fly). It was being privy to white male aggression that was alien to me. I realized I’d never been around that many white boys and they were all inked out (rarely seen outside the pen) stompin’ around swigging beer and growling. It was like a pack of wild wolves in a cage anticipating the coming of lambs. So there I was the fly-girl in the buttermilk waiting to see if the dogs would discover a kitty is in their bowl. I was just waiting and watching. What kind of rituals do these punks do? (While reliving this era for this story, I don’t recollect any member of Bad Brains referring to themselves as punks). [Bad Brains] were a band, and they played hardcore. They were straight up brothers from District Heights MD, so I guess being called a punk wasn’t ever gonna be cool. (Too close to Jim Crow, nawmean?). Then “they” came to the stage, and the air in the room got slow and heavy with anticipation. This group of young Black men of different shapes and appearances were like some new kind of life force – a unified extraterrestrial-like harmonious and highly organized organic organism; a band. Dr. Know came first, then (fine ass) Darryl, next Earl sat behind the drum set, and then a small wonder of a man, HR, stood behind the mic. The brother of my soul brother #1 Greg Tate, (co-founder of the Black Rock Collation, along with Vernon Reid and Konda Mason) Brian put it best “ the most intense moment of any Brains show is that split second right before they actually start playing.” It really was like some sort of spaceship launch. Doc puts his fingers on the neck, HR grips the chrome, and you can literally feel every heart in the room pumping hard to irrigate all the rushing blood, 5-4-3-2-1, then BANG!!! The sound was so large and strong that my feet lifted off the floor. This band of magical nomads smashed the very atmosphere with their precision, freedom and energy. Yo, I was in some new breed of joy, pure creative expression, loud, irreverent and stone cold funky. But what I think I fell in love with, what caused my love at first bite, was not that they managed to rock so hard with skill and soul. It was how they rocked with “the quickness” that permanently infected me. These were urgent times, you see. Reagan was running amok pillaging the budgets of community programs. Love Boat (aka Angel Dust aka PCP) was sinking the lives of the poor Black young folk who substituted street corners for recreation centers. Bad Brains channeled the urgency of the times and transformed it into ridiculous licks, riffs and the craziest “throat” performances ever. So when I say they played with the quickness, I don’t mean fast, I mean quick. The Brains made quick sound. They knew their life would not last long, so, like lightening, like a storm they let us know that full throttle freedom was possible. Vivian took me backstage to meet the band. After causing such mayhem (the whirling and flying mosh pit at Brains shows was a tornado unlike any other) on the floor, they were oddly graceful, quite even. Fans and groupies were everywhere, but other than the band no Black skin. Until me, that is. A happy Black girl, showered, sober and in an outfit without holes, I was introduced to everyone but ended up in conversation with Earl the drummer. His vibe was soft and slow and shyly sexy. Things were exchanged and I became his girl and he was my first boyfriend, sort of (the Brains were the consummate rock band and for any one who’s ever dated a rock star you get it). Unlike many of their white counterparts, this band was not reckless or sloppy or drunk (though the weed was potent and plentiful). They were sensitive brothers who loved each other and the music; it was the fans that were problematic. The Bad Brains became righteous Black men, Rastafari (rumor has it after meeting Bob Marley back stage at a Stanley Clark concert) and their fans committed and large in number, were primarily white, male and mad. Earl and I talked about the unique schism of being a Black artist in isolation, like Jimi Hendrix, Basquiat (a new art phenomenon at the time) and Leontyne Price. How do you stay balanced when your Black soul is pouring out beauty over an audience bed of all whiteness? But we found each other one badass Black rock band and one deeply devoted Black chick fan. So I then safely checked other bands like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Big Audio Dynamite, Henry Rollins and the Dead Kennedy’s. I liked how the music made me feel, loose, free and of course, hard. I had given myself permission to feel all that without trading in my DC Black girl card (still a proud card carrying member). Bands and musicians like Labelle, Parliament Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Betty Davis, James Brown and later Prince and Cameo gave me a firm foundation of the philosophy of being Black cosmic and dangerously free (especially Labelle). Alas, the quickness runs out of time. Bad Brains never made it to MTV, and I made it to NYU and fell head over heels with Hip-Hop. Public Enemy bit me like the Brains, they were the soundtrack of the time, an accurate audio account of what was going down. Yet my love affair of Black rock was still nourished throughout the ‘90s with bands like Eye and I, Faith, The Family Stand, Follow for Now, Skunk Anansi and of course Living Colour. (Vernon Reid and I became fast and furious friends when I told him he was in the ranks of my favorite guitar players, Sonny Sharrock, Jean-Paul Bourelly and Dr. Know). But rock in all colors faded as Hip-Hop defined the edge of the new millennium. Granted some came with hardcore spirit, like Onyx and Body Count while some mashed-up like Run DMC with Aerosmith and later Jay-Z with Linkin Park and that was cool. But the big rock of love had passed for me. But all is never lost, only different. The freshest thing about today is how strong and easy the black rock scene is. However, I have not been bitten by any particular band (though BZR Royale’s got that rare “deep throat” thing like Corey Glover and HR – hell, NO body has a sound like HR), and the Noisettes are blazing and Tamar Kali is the ABSOLUTE truth). What I dig is the scene, man, there are full on movements. Like the Afro-Punk festival is gonna be crazy this year (July 4th-13th in BK, NY) with 40 bands, skate park and films and GhettoMetal (gotta love that name) continues to evolve. Now it’s the Black rock fans I adore; thousands of Black and brown kids moving free and hard. The first time I saw an all Black mosh-pit at a Game Rebellion show (one of my daughter Elenni’s favorite bands), I nearly wept. We’ve come a long and hard way baby, but we’re still here – out of isolation, in plain sight. Black, hard core, rocking and taking our own sweet time.

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