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Leaving Ground Zero: DC: The Farewell Tour
Rawlins Park, May 2009
Simultaneity of Wind, Water, Ducks, Sirens, Homeless, Pedestrians, Traffic
This is where my father ate lunch in the early 60s, and where, until Brown, little black kids swam in segregated D.C..

A couple of days ago I wrote about what I hated here. Now comes some of the things I really love. It's very strange and it doesn't exist in Washington, D.C. except for the entire [majority] black population.

I have written here about my Go-Go at the Smithsonian epiphany, when I went down to the brown bag lunch time lecture on D.C.'s indigenous music, expecting a crowd of perhaps 50 -- the usual size for these esoteric yet superficial talks.

There were at least 3,000 people there, all of them in crisp creased blue collar uniforms. The subway drivers, the UPS guys, the janitors, the mailpeople, the bus drivers, the dental hygienists and LPNs in their pink scrubs, the people you always wondered about how they kept their shit together to send, as they all do, their children to Catholic school and on to college. The godfather of GoGo, Chuck Brown, was there. Everyone had mind-bogglingly sophisticated questions about studio technology, music business contracts, music theory and so on, and Chuck Brown -- also amazingly groovy after 180 years of playing rough, nut-cuttin' crowds at the Ibex -- oh, the Ibex -- had nothing but the sweetest love and brilliant advice to give back.

Everybody had both a right livelihood and a right vocation, as Buddha in his Noble Eight-Fold Path recommends. We are stardust. We are golden. We are million year old carbon. And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Here it is the same. It's not that everybody is a rock star, although there is some of that. It is that everybody is an artist. The busman at the greasy spoon, El Fonz, has a closet full of vintage '50s clothes. The prune-like little old lady in the tennis hat is a Joyce scholar who leads Albuquerque's Bloomsday celebrations, and is heading up the Finnegan's Wake reading group. It reverse engineers, too: Dennis Hopper, to whom the Macondo Manana [TILDE!!!] devoted its own full page non-wire service obituary, purpose-written in gratitude and fraternity,* filmed part of Easy Rider here, and spent a lost decade getting high in Taos with all the rest of the hippies. Indeed Hopper's life is almost like my neighbors', Mr. and Mrs. Roper. The childhood on the Kansas farm and the always moving West. People like that never come to Washington, D. C. -- even if what's really wrong with all those Congressmen and Senators, which you only get after staring at them for a decade -- or looking down on the truly horrifyin' sea of hair plugs visible from the Senate Press Gallery -- is that they're the same people, with one difference. They're the high school debate champion, heliocentric, if you will: blossoming in the limelight. I am old enough to remember the Old Skool Pre-TV Senators. George Aiken and Mike Mansfield loved each other and had breakfast together every morning in the Senate dining room. I had breakfast with them once. They called each other Damon and Pythias, and had no hesitation, assuming I was literate and would know what they meant. Aiken was in his 80 and Mansfield in his 70s. They were totally studly and funny and twinkly and principled or unapologetic when they were not. Aiken is most famous for his end-the-war strategy: we should declare victory and pull out. Which is what sort of happened.

Now they all have that orange, bouffant, televangelist look and are like zombies who only come alive when the little red light comes on. There is no colloquy between the parties -- and I think performing politics rather than executing policy is the reason. Ron Zeigler, skipper of the Disneyland Adventureland jungle boat ride, I remember you too. Your tan. Your fisheyes. Your soft babyass double chin.

Elsewhere in D.C., and here in Macondo, one enhances one's livelihood -- and one's immortal radiance -- by having a vocation. One is a real person in the old school, manifest your destiny, godfather of gogo, Aiken and Mansfield way. This force of inner light creates true immortals, not pastiche collage personalities like M.I.A.'s.

If you are a subscriber to the Washington Post, do us all a favor and gank the magazine piece, Chuck Brown's Long Dance, post it, and link in the comments here.

Never mind. Here 'tis:

When Brown is ready to make his speech, it's a rambling mixture of reflections and rhymes. He speaks of his gratitude to the city that has been devoted to him and his music, amazed at how a poor boy that shined shoes down the street could grow up to have a street that bears his name.

"I love ya'll so much," he says. "I remember when the only people that wanted to take a picture of me -- 50 years ago -- was the police," he laughs. "You understand what I'm sayin'? Thank you to the city and to all of you for giving me all this love, all these years."

When the Chuck Brown Way sign is revealed, the crowd cheers, Brown's face, behind his large black sunglasses, crumples with emotion. He reaches for his wife and pulls her in for a tight embrace.

The fans at the foot of the stage strain forward, reaching out their hands toward Brown. He bends over, shaking hands and offering thank yous.

"I'm not going nowhere," he says, looking out over the crowd. "Like I said before, 'Every time I hit this stage, I become enraged.

"'Ya'll party so hard, I forget about my age.'"

*Macondo Manana Hopper Obit )
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Acey and me cross the Mississippi in a monsoon, June 9, 2009

Selling the last remnant of my east coast connection -- apartment went to closing Friday -- seems to make an inventory of the past, present and future pressing.

Well. Here I am in a place where if there is anything first rate intellectually or artistically, I haven't encountered it. I used to collect performances of La Bayadere back east, which is probably the apotheosis of my effete mandarinness.

Just came from a lecture and demo on traditional [native American] gardening, which was too diffuse and not informative enough, given the four hours set aside for it. Ditto the Tsankawi expedition we made, about water management structures by an anthropologist who -- well, one of the ones who'd give his subjects blow jobs if they let him any closer, a terrible undercurrent in the field. My sistacousin is a real expert on certain pre-Columbian matters (PhD., Yale) and this cat was just full of shit on a topic both she and I have a lot of interest in. The botanical garden curators, from whom I hoped to learn something, are both arrogant and lazy -- a corporate culture which seems endemic to the place (talked to somebody at the trad gard workshop today, an environmentalist, who applied for work there and rejected their acceptance on account of same). The uni will build but not buy slide projectors for the art history department.

A general impulse to fuck with the Indians and go for the baloney, which I sense is both a Macondo aspect -- Coronado came here looking for Cibola, the seven cities of gold, which the Indians he left alive kept telling him were just a little farther on -- and a Californication issue, all artificially watered Tea Party lawns, Zorro/hidalgo mystique, and tooth veneers. I live next to a park named after the genocidaire of the Navajo which is, in turn, next to the country club and the Pueblo Moderne little theater building designed by the local architecture luminary John Gaw Meem. The previous mayor so prided himself on his descent from Onate [TILDE!!!!!], best noted for cutting the feet off the Acoma Indians who rebelled against his draconian demands for military supplies, that the mayor had the statue of a conquistador to be placed in front of the museum stamped with his own face, to commemorate Onate. This the city council, full of chicanos and native American-descended mestizos, roundly and completely refused to do. This is the west from which Cali gets a lot of its tropes and a good portion of its water; so too does ABQ look to Cali for a lot of Didionesque suburban tract ethos, Mulhollandesque water rights skulduggery, and a kind of rundown Route 66/atomic/Googie/Unser Museum/lowrida/kar kultur/'50s energy. Lt. Uhuru's son lives in Silver City. I am in love with the busman at the local greasy spoon. He has a big black greasy pompadour, fold-up dark wash jeans, a zoot chain for his wallet, and a closet full of vintage '50s clothes. Get your kicks.

There is much to love here.

Tomorrow, the good.


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January 2012



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