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25th Anniversary of Public Enemy & Spike Lee’s Legendary Collaboration…

Riot on the Set: How Public Enemy Crafted the Anthem ‘Fight the Power’

Twenty-five years after ‘Do the Right Thing,’ Spike Lee, Public Enemy and Branford Marsalis reflect on the film’s anthem

Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy [Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy [Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy perform in New York City.
Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By Kory Grow from Rolling Stone

“We needed an anthem,” Spike Lee said. “When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting. I wanted Public Enemy.”

The director may have asked for an anthem for his 1989 chronicle of big-city racial tensions, but what he got was a salvo. A quarter of a century has passed since Radio Raheem’s boom box served as a megaphone to a generation, spreading Public Enemy’s rap reveille over and over again in the movie, but “Fight the Power” has not lost an ounce of its revolutionary power or poignancy. Chuck D’s lyrics praising freedom of speech and people uniting while decrying racist icons still sound just as vital as anything Pete Seeger wrote, and production team the Bomb Squad’s ultra-modern collage of funk and noise for the track has never been replicated. The fact that Public Enemy made multiple versions of the tune – including the Branford Marsalis–infused, free-jazz cut for the movie and the more straight-ahead approach on their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet – only shows the versatility of the song’s message.

To celebrate the legacy of the tune, and its impact both in and out of movie theaters 25 years later, Rolling Stone caught up with Lee, Marsalis and Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav and the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee and found out how they made an anthem.

Where does the “Fight the Power” story begin?
Chuck D: Spike, [producer] Bill Stephney, Hank and I had a meeting, and Spike simply said, “Hey look, I’ve got this movie based on all this tension going on in the New York area, the clashing neighborhoods, and I’m looking for an anthem.” All I remember was Spike was saying, “I’m looking for an anthem.”

Hank Shocklee: Spike’s original idea was to have Public Enemy do a hip-hop version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is kind of like a Negro anthem or spiritual. But I was like, “No.” I opened the window and asked him to stick your head outside. “Man, what sounds do you hear? You’re not going to hear ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in every car that drives by.” We needed to make something that’s going to resonate on the street level. After going back and forth, he said, “All right, I’ll let you guys go in there and see what you guys come back with.”

When did the “Fight the Power” concept come up?
Chuck D: We like to work from titles down, so we came up with “Fight the Power” first. It was inspired by the Isley Brothers’ song “Fight the Power.” But the challenge was, could we make something entirely different that said the same thing in another genre?

Shocklee: We lived in the suburbs and were sandwiched by nothing but white communities. It was like we were the leftovers: We got what the white communities didn’t want to have, we got their spillovers. So we always had to kind of fight this adversity. We wanted to just make something that was going to say, “I’m mad as hell, I’m not gonna take it any more – I’m going to fight the system.” So that song that the Isley Brothers did, “Fight the Power,” resonated, but their version was a little soft. It didn’t resonate as deeply as I thought it should.

Chuck, at what point did you write the lyrics?
Chuck D: I was getting ready to head out on a European run with Run-D.M.C. in the fall of 1988. I remember writing a big chunk of it on a plane as we were flying over Italy. And D.M.C. was probably in the chair next to me. So I had the aftereffect and the glow of Run, D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay to inspire me, so to speak, in the writing of some of the lyrics.

“Freedom of speech is freedom of death” is a line that has always stood out. What prompted that?
Chuck D: A lot of that stuff like that line is like Bob Marley or Frederick Douglass: “There’s no progress without struggle.” There are a lot of things like that that I was able to incorporate it in there.

Why did you pick out Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 single “Don’t Worry Be Happy” as a negative thing?
Chuck D: Because”Don’t Worry Be Happy” doesn’t apply to protests. If you’re not worried and you’re happy, you’re like, why protest? Not everybody’s gonna feel like that.

What inspired the line about Elvis and John Wayne being racists?
Chuck D: [Comedian]Blowfly had a record called “Blowfly’s Rapp”in 1980. And there was a line in there where one of the characters in the song was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and basically he had a lyric, “Well, I don’t care who you are, motherfuck you and Muhammad Ali.”

Why did you pick Elvis Presley and John Wayne, specifically?
Chuck D: Elvis and John Wayne were the icons of America. And they kind of got head-and-shoulder treatment over everybody else. It’s not that Elvis was not a talented dude and incredible in his way, but I didn’t like the way that he was talked about all the time, and the pioneers [of rock & roll], especially at that time, weren’t talked about at all. When people said “rock & roll” or “the King,” it was all “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis, one trillion fans can’t be wrong” type of shit.

But as far as “motherfuck him and John Wayne”… yeah, fuck John Wayne to this minute [laughs]. John Wayne is “Mr. Kill All the Indians and Everybody Else Who’s Not Full-Blooded American.” The lyric was assassinating their iconic status so everybody doesn’t feel that way.

Is that also how “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” came about?
Chuck D: That came from the fact that Spike also discussed how there was a wall in the movie with people we respected as heroes on it. So “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,” was saying, “You know what, we’ve got heroes on the wall, too.”

Flavor, how did you end up getting the John Wayne line?
Flavor Flav: A lot of the songs that Chuck D has written, I took parts. I’d say, give me this part, give me that part. And I’m very grateful for the lines he gave me. I ain’t gonna lie, because those are the most memorable parts of the record.

Was “Fight the Power” the first song considered for Do the Right Thing?
Lee: That wasn’t the first song they submitted. It was not “Fight the Power.”

What was it?
Lee: Not “Fight the Power.”

Shocklee: It was “Fight the Power.” He got the preproduction version. It was a sparse outline of the idea of the song. Spike, with all due respect, is not a rap guy, so he’s not gonna understand where it could go until it’s a finished production.

Chuck D: [Laughs] Spike misconstrued it as being a different song. It was a song in a rough stage with different elements brought up to the front. But Spike used it, because he had to present the film to a bunch of different investors. I remember checking out a screening with Hank in Brooklyn, and Spike had put in the rough draft of the song, and every time he played it, I was sinking in my seat, because I was like, “Oh shit. The song is not complete. It sounds like shit to me. And he’s going to put in the movie this many times? What the fuck!” I was like, “Man, we’ve got to come better than that.”

Hank, what was your goal when you were putting together the music for the track?
Shocklee: I wanted you to feel the concrete, the people walking by, the cars that are going by and the vrroom in the system. I wanted the city. I wanted that grittiness, the mugginess, the hot sticky, no-air vibration of the city [laughs].

How did Branford Marsalis get involved?
Branford Marsalis: I think it was Spike’s idea. I don’t feel at that the time that P.E. or Hank would have been suddenly compelled to use a saxophone.

Shocklee: I wanted to have a sax in the record but I didn’t want it in a smooth, melodic fashion; I wanted someone to play it almost like a weapon, and Branford was the guy. He came in the studio and he was incredibly gracious and very humble. He treated us as if we were musicians just like himself.

Marsalis: Hank did something that I’ll never forget. He made me do one funky solo, one jazz solo and one just completely avant-garde, free-jazz solo. And I said, “Which one them are you going to use?” And he said, “All three of them motherfuckers,” and he threw all three up. And the shit was killer. You had this Wall of Sound come in and the saxophones came in, and it was a Wall of Sound to accompany a Wall of Sound.

Branford, coming from a jazz background, what was it like playing over a Bomb Squad track?
Marsalis: It was not a normal chord progression. If it was C minor then it went to A-flat 7. It has the same sensibility as a James Brown tune, which is completely where they got it from. If you listen to when they go, “Fight the Power” and you hear that voice that goes, “Aahh,” that voice is not in the same key as the other shit. A musician would never do that. But it works. It unwittingly helped me expand my brain in a way.

Did you think you had a hit?
Chuck D: No, but when I heard Spike Lee put it 20 times in the movie, I was like, pssh. We realized early that film was probably going to be our outlet to deliver shit. We couldn’t rely on radio.

Marsalis: They had the greatest marketing tool in the world. They had a movie that people were going to see two and three times, that was going to be all over the world and it scared white people half to death — which ensured that it was going to sell.

Flavor Flav: When “Fight the Power” was being created, all I did was just come in, lay down my lyrics and I was out. I didn’t know that the record was going to be as big as it turned out to be. I just wanted to make a great record and keep it moving. And next thing you know, this phenomenal record was being played on the radio over and over and over. I’m like, wooow. This is crazy.

Chuck D: For all the talk about “Fight the Power,” there was always resistance to Public Enemy. It really got no higher than 16 on the R&B/black charts, which just goes to show you how much help black radio and urban radio gave us. It didn’t even crack the Top 10. It’s crazy, because in hindsight when they talk about the Number One rap record that meant something, “Fight the Power” is always at the top of those charts.

The B side to the original 12 inch features a hilarious meeting between Spike and Flavor. How did that come together?
Chuck D: They’re having a conversation – about what? Who the fuck knows. Flavor won’t remember it [laughs].

Flavor Flav: I don’t remember the B side.

What did you think of the movie’s opening credits, when Rosie Perez shadowboxes to the song?
Flavor Flav: It was just incredible, man, hearing my voice in a movie [laughs]. It was buggin’ me out. It was like the first time I ever heard “Public Enemy Number One” on the radio. It gave me that kind of feeling. Then also hearing my voice all throughout the movie – because that’s the only record that they really played in that movie, [actor Bill Nunn’s character] Radio Raheem would play nothing else but “Fight the Power” on his box, man. It was just an incredible feeling.

Chuck D: It was cool, because I thought I could get away with not doing a video [laughs].

Marsalis: I dug the song. I thought it was a hit from the get. I mean, Rosie wasn’t my favorite dancer necessarily, as someone who had a relationship with the arts that was rather broad. But it was cool. It was great to see. You know, Rosie was fine as hell so I didn’t object to that.

Shocklee: The track intensified the story. When Radio Raheem was with the boom box playing that song, that’s what was happening at that time, exactly. You could have walked out the theater and into a pizza shop, and that would have happened at that moment.

What do you remember about making the video?
Lee: All Chuck D and I wanted to do was reenact a march. So we had everybody show up. We marched from a specific space through the streets of Brooklyn and ended up on the block where we shot the film. We had to do it there. The movie is shot on one block. Stuyvesant Avenue, between Quincy and Lexington in Bed-Stuy. So we definitely wanted the destination of the march was the block where we shot the film. The stage was there. Perform.

Shocklee: That video was a really good thank-you that Spike did for us. We didn’t get paid for using the song throughout the film. It was the first big production budget that we’ve ever had for a video. When I first got the treatment, I thought it looked very simple. It was just, “Hey, we’re gonna do this march, make it seem like it’s a march on Washington, but we’re going to do it in Brooklyn.” I got to the set around 5:30 in the morning, and people were lined up. It looked like the Million Man March.

Spike, how did you get so many people there?
Lee: We just put the word out: “Public Enemy video.” People showed up. The police were scared though.

Why?
Lee: That many people? They always get scared. But there was not one incident. It was great. And the police were not a problem. As long as you’re done by 6, we’re all right.

Chuck D: It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn. It was seriously a black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.

Chuck, what inspired the video’s intro, where you talk about the Civil Rights March on Washington from 1963?
Chuck D: I remember coming on in the video saying that the whole concept of the march in Washington wasn’t complete, but my words weren’t as sharp as I would like them to be, so I ended up saying, “That’s some nonsense.” And the way it was cut, I sound like I’m out of my damn mind [laughs].

Flavor Flav: That was one of the most craziest days of my life. But it was so amazing. It was my first time ever really doing a video shoot. And with that many people at my video shoot, it was crazy. Not only that but we had Jesse Jackson there, Al Sharpton was there, Tawana Brawley was in the video, too, as well. And the whole of Bedford-Stuyvesant. We had a good time that day, man. I would give anything to live that day one more time, that day was so amazing.

Flavor, who is the little girl you’re holding at the end of the video?
Flavor Flav: That was my daughter Shanique. She was three years old at the time. Now she’s 28 [laughs].

Lee: Chuck and Flavor just had so much fun. It was a great day. VH1 named it the Number One hip-hop video of all time. Well deserved. Rightfully so.

The version of “Fight the Power” on Fear of a Black Planet stripped away Marsalis’ solo and remixed the Elvis line. Why make different versions?
Chuck D: “Fight the Power” came out on Motown first, because of the soundtrack, but we were with Sony. We had to pull some structural things in order have “Fight the Power” on Motown as a single but also our own video on Sony and then being on Fear of a Black Planet the following year as the final track.

Shocklee: Putting on the Public Enemy album, it just didn’t make sense to have the same exact version. And I’m a big fan of each. Each record, to me, should live in its own space.

Finally, now that 25 years have passed, how do you feel the song holds up?
Chuck D: I feel like Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome.” “Fight the Power” points to the legacy of the strengths of standing up in music. Spike really made that record what it is. Because who puts a song in a movie that many times? Who does that?

Flavor Flav: I think it’s one of the most amazing things that Chuck has ever written. I’ve always looked at Chuck as one of the most amazing writers and lyricists ever. And a lot of the stuff that Chuck wrote was all accurate information. Chuck has been right a lot of times and that’s why I always backed up my partner.

Marsalis: Come on, that shit is anthemic. And for all of the people that love popular culture, there are a handful of songs that are actually anthemic in hip-hop or otherwise. And that one is one of them.

Shocklee: I think it was Public Enemy’s and Spike Lee’s defining moment because what it had done was it had awoken the black community to a revolution that was akin to the Sixties revolution, where you had Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. It created such an energy surge throughout the community that it became the template for every artist, every filmmaker, every rapper, singer, and it also sparked community leaders and teachers to understand the power of hip hop. And it made the entire hip-hop community recognize its power. Then the real revolution began.

 

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Limits of the Imagination…

An actor who auditioned for my latest film Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire just balked at our offer to participate in the film (I offered a part!) The actor interrogated my partner: “How much and when will I get paid?  What are you shooting with?  And what do you intend to do with the film after its made?”

We wanted to reply to this lost soul:

“We’ll pay you what that silly television show paid you to shake your ass for a bunch of rich gangsters in “cool” 1920’s gear. Sound good?  We’re shooting with AK-47’s (we no longer believe in cameras). And we intend to hide the film in an insane asylum until it burns down and someone can find it in 50 years.”

I have no idea what has happened to the Actor.  There is a strange new breed of actors that have come of age in the new millennium, actors reared on proxy, business kits, the internet, American Idol, and marketing showcases.  Actors have always been a strange, insecure, odd breed of artists.  They are, actually, the odd man out even among artists themselves – because their art is inextricably bound up with social systems, the zeitgeist, the ebb and flow of capitalism and getting ahead, etc.  And I understand this.  It is a harsh world and one must be crazy to be an actor.  The rejection, the disappointment, the nutjobs who manhandle your career, the evil back-stabbers who thwart a good audition, the jealous types who make sure you never get a good role or opportunity — I know it happens.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve experienced it.  But that’s also why I stepped back and away from the tide of Show Business and why, at the tender early age of 21, decided completely that mainstream Entertainment Industrial complex wasn’t for me.

I have no tolerance for actors who aren’t artists and I really don’t know what to say to actors who actually care about Hollywood.  I look and crave for the actor who wants and NEEDS to act – to save his or her soul.  Not to feed a mortgage or dignify his parents greed or justify their own egotistical cravings.

I have swept floors and worked in warehouses in 100 degree weather in the middle of New Jersey to feed my own habit as an artist and to ensure that I could remain true to myself.  I don’t judge others who do what they have to do – either for money or for the proclivities of their soul — but I cannot for the life of me understand the sad pathetic insulting requisitions and inquiries made by actors who APPROACHED ME and submitted to our ULTRA-LOW BUDGET SAG film only to try to play “Mr Hollywood Big-Shot” when we offered them a part.  

For all you lost in the wilderness:

I am Dennis Leroy Kangalee.  I am not Darren Aronofsky.  I am not Steve McQueen.  I am not Kelly Reichardt.  I do not say this to disparage these talented individuals, I say this to clarify:  even if I had the support and access to money that they do, I’d still make my films the way I have always approached cinema and theater and I would still be only concerned with expressing my own madness and trying to find some peace within.

Actors are emotional athletes.  They should not be Corporate Soldiers.  If your concern is “what camera” a director is shooting with and NOT about the character or the ideas of the director, etc – then something is wrong with you.

There is utter transparency with my work, my reputation as someone who has NEVER EVER sold out, bought in, copped out, or stood down. I’ve had my work screened in Burkina Faso, Paris, Berlin, and New Orleans when the establishment at the NY TIMES refused to acknowledge my work or that of any other ‘African American art’-filmmaker’s work. I am a man who has wiped down counters and cleaned fridges in order to pay my actors, musicians, etc.  And I am proud of that.  And I take great offense when I post what kind of union film this is (they are even lucky I am dealing with a such a corrupt organization such as SAG), and yet get treated like my work is not as “important” as the mainstream independents’ is.  My work is actually more important. And, frankly, we need directors and writers and actors and producers who challenge ALL status-quos and try to make films that are less like a real estate deal…and more like a poem. Here’s my suggestion: When you walk into an audition and ask Spike Lee or Martin Scorsese what they intend to do with their films and get a response, then I’ll reconsider my righteousness.

But only a little.

*

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New Poet Cinema Preparing for First Production of 2014

New Poet Cinema - photo by Nina Fleck

New Poet Cinema – photo by Nina Fleck

After a long stretch after our 2011 collaboration Gentrified Minds, I am proud to announce that my partner, Nina Fleck, and myself have resumed work on a series of films that are at once personal and political and highly personal. Like poems.  Shards of Glass Spindled Tears Broken Dreams a trilogy of short films meditating on the nature of disappointment and endings will be shot and edited in May, 2014.  We’ve allowed our approach to “Avant-garde”  and experimental films to be highly intimate and informed by our work as poets and theater artists.

Currently we are looking to hire a MALE actor, 50, any race, with a tragic face that can emit a quiet intensity and one capable of expressing without speaking. 
Actor must also but must be comfortable interpreting and reading text aloud as you will be recording a poem as a voice-over. 

Union and non-union actors.

Email us for more information. One day shoot and voice-over recording in May. Paid. New Media SAG Agreement.

(Note: Year round,  we look for actors and actresses; performers who think OUTSIDE the box (or “models” in the Bresson sense) and possess expressive faces who can easily identify with themes of failure, death, memory, injustice, and the desire for hope.   A link to the New Poet Cinema project will be published by May 1st when the film is in production.) 

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The Nomad Junkie Interview – 2011

Read Sylvia Harvey’s interview with Dennis Leroy Kangalee at the closing of his 2011 performance piece, “Gentrified Minds” which was not only the end of a whole performance project, but his last sigh as his alter-ego, ‘the Nomad Junkie’ — which he abandoned so he could move beyond his rage about gentrification and the death of neighborhoods and, specifically, New York City.

Dennis Leroy Kangalee
*The interview originally appeared in the Bed-Stuy Patch as a part of the column Change for a Dollar that focuses on gentrification.

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For a Second I Thought I Was Mahler

DLK as Mahler

Stepping back in the room, I caught myself 
Frozen
Like a cat burglar who had lost his cool
And for a second I thought I was Mahler —
Perhaps it was my high forehead
And my reversed sloped hair
As if my roots were growing out of the crown of my head and up backwards
Towards the sun (or the Aliens who had neglected me)
I was disappointed to not have looked like Prince
But maybe that’s the price you pay
For living past the age you wanted to die at
I thought I knew that profile anywhere, having seen it stretched across the banner of an old friend’s door 
He was a classical musician
and loved all things sad
 
He would play Elgar on a piano
and insist that it sounded better without an orchestra,
We traded stories of madness and caught each other once again
years later when we both did our stint at Paine Whitney
Our vitals were low, we were anemic, we were angry, we were young
 
And once when I stepped into the sun, my wife cried
And when I asked her why
She said I reminded her of something she had forgotten about in her heart
And while I was hoping it might have been Prince or some rock ‘n roll revolt 
That jarred her memory —
It was the moving shadow around my head, landing into the new apartment we
had just rented —
 
And I cursed myself as I heard our new neighbor jerking off his new leaf blower 
in a coarse Sunset Park afternoon up on the highest hill of Brooklyn where some 
Rich and poor are now living closer and closer —
 
I heard the faint notes of a symphony spilling out of a broken heart. 

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“What Happened to the Brother on the Block? (The NY Horror Vol.1)” – Spoken Word Recording

“What happened to the brother on the block? He turned into a Starbucks!”

Inspired by the Twilight Zone, the comedy of Pryor & Mooney, Theater of the Absurd, & the Folkways Spoken Word Recordings, this darkly-poetic satire about corporate-friendly gentrification in “21st Century Urbana” was recorded in one take in May 2010 and was mixed by Isaiah Singer, who applied spare musical arrangements and sound effects to support the “surreal midnight vulnerability” of Kangalee’s reading. The result is a perfect introduction to Dennis LeRoy Kangalee’s dramatic spoken word and fiction.  It was the first installment in a series detailing the gross bizarre suburbanization of NYC and, of course, led to his theatrical realization of “Gentrified Minds(The NY Horror Vol.2)” which includes an abridged version of this story via his now abandoned persona, the ‘Nomad Junkie’. .

Read an excerpt of the original story here.

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The Chase Bank Murder

The climax from my 2011 performance of “Gentrified Minds” in which the Nomad Junkie invokes the refrain from my earlier short story, “What Happened to the Brother on the Block?” — my surrealist tale about corporate friendly gentrification..one that has become more and relevant, especially in light of the sinister times we live in, the demise of community, and the psychopathic behavior of JP Morgan Chase & Co. With a nod to Gil Scott Heron, Lou Reed, and the spirit of the NYC protest poets — this was punk theater all the way…

*

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Tourists in Harlem…

The Nomad Junkie’s comedic interlude about ignorant, annoying, and ultimately racist tourists assaulting Harlem and “inner-city” enclaves. Written & performed by Dennis Leroy Kangalee, directed by Nina Fleck. This excerpt is from the 2011 premiere of “Gentrified Minds” at the Downtown Urban Theater Festival at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center.

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A Loser Can Surely Find Time For Love

Poison 42 - A Loser Can Surely Find Time For Love (Dennis Leroy Kangalee) by Nina Fleck
Before that I thought I was just another waking asphalt animal perched on his shaky brick-limb trying to do what it is that rats do to stay alive.

The rats are the true underground.

Hamptons in Harlem.
Condos creeping.
My belly is torn asunder.

They’ve pulled apart the letters of alphabet city.
Don’t mind me–it’s just my feet are getting wet and I never realized I could swim. The Mets are Citibank pets in steel cages.
Plastic surgeons from the west coast have brought their palm trees with them, they’ll be importing the rest of the emptiness later.
They’re sending me to the outbacks, the caves in the dunes where books meet man and clean hands are an ideal to achieve.


Losers
Like Loners
Make the
Best
Lovers.
They have so much to give.

They don’t need me here. Give me my apocalypse and ship me out soon.

I am not sure how long I can carry this battery.

*
originally published in the Lower East Side BOOG City poetry journal, Summer 2012
& included in the chapbook “Lying Meat”

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Notes of a Devolver: Part Two

 Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery by Charles Bell, 1815.

Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery by Charles Bell, 1815.

I was sitting on the cross-town bus, heading east just barely past the park.
It was sunny and the ancient sadness of the fires roared down on us cutting through the trees and grass and the tall buildings sparkled and I remember thinking how pretty – how truly pretty – life was untouched. How amazing a sun, how incredible our land actually is. How important architecture could be…if we were as human as we think we once were. And I remember my stomach griping and bursting inside as if the plastic of my soul was beginning to stretch and finally snap.

Staring out into the sun long enough I always think about the beauty of birth and the horror of slavery. I wonder what the animals have thought. I wonder what the butterflies have thought. I certainly know what the sharks have thought. Sometimes, late at night-early in the morning far deep in the pocket of the twilight, I can hear them burp. And I have no pity for them and I explain this to the Animal Rights People. Believe me, I tell them, they have eaten a great deal more than some people ever will.

It is in the shade, only in the shade, that I can reflect upon myself. As soon as the bus dove back under and the park and the sun and the painful poetry all vanished harshly – and not without cruelty like a gambler’s luck – I am able to hide and die a little in between the tall buildings and skyscrapers which cast the only eternal harmlessness that we can still rely on. They got it all wrong – she or he or it or whomever they were that proclaimed a “little death” is in between our loins and our orgasm. All great fucks are affirmative and they give us sunshine inside where we cannot seem to be touched. A little death is not between two lovers – it is stuck somewhere between our organized madness and the revolving doors of Monday-through-Friday and the urban renewal of more shadows to lurk behind and more sadness to cover your cup.

The bus ride was peculiar as all things seem to be when you’re looking for signs. It was empty and the tryptophan roared.

The old man’s name was Harvey and he had eyes the color of smog-infested snow. At first I thought he might have been blind. His hands were like overgrown claws. His face was etched in a permanent scowl and I expected a gruff, ornery voice. But is was tender and buttery and tended to trail off and get lost in the back of his throat. He had muttered something to his sisters, two well-dressed old ladies, and it wasn’t until he pushed back his cap that I noticed the small hole in the center of his forehead, as if a tiny third eye had not quite grown in.

I looked up and read an ad on the bus: Save Darfur, People Are Dying.
Outside a homeless man struggled with his cardboard box, the wind pulverizing the flaps at the edges and sending endless newspapers into the air. I looked back at Harvey.

“You lost?” he asked.

“No…”

“Oh. You look lost.” 
I didn’t tell him I was going to a job interview. I don’t think I said anything. “I feel lost,” he said. He turned to his sisters, “We’re all lost aren’t we?”

“Hmm,” the older one said.

I got off on 66th street and walked south. Before I reached the end of the block, I turned and looked, as if I knew. Harvey stood at the corner like a face from some ancient circus poster. But with the sun dazzling the way it was I could not tell if he was smiling or frowning and from where I was standing his lips appeared to be two glistening orbs circling and crying out to God knows what.

Angels, demons, we are all the same.

*

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