21 February 2017 ~ 1 Comment

I’m Your Mamma, I’m Your Daddy, I’m that Nigga in the Alley!

When I was a kid, so-called blaxploitation films were a hot ticket! Who wouldn’t rather see black folk kicking white ass all over the place? Not to mention black tits and ass!

 

When Superfly was first released, I was too young to actually go and see it in the theaters. But it was such a phenomenon — talked about in the black community with equal adoration, reverence, and sensationalism as, say, The Godfather was talked about in the mainstream community — that I felt like I had seen it 50 times over. I knew the whole movie, every scenario, damn near line by line, thanks in part to my older brothers (also legally too young). They went to see it soon after it was released and several times after that, and would come home afterward bragging and spewing spoilers.

Yes, it was the rave, which is actually saying more than you might think.

This was in the heyday of this genre…just a year before Superfly, Isaac Hayes’ well known theme song for Shaft had actually won an Academy Award. So, the market was proliferated with these movies. Quite a few of them starred black household names like Pam Grier, Richard Pryor, Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, etc… So, to stand out, even in the “B” heavy blaxploitation genre, was an accomplishment, particularly for a movie with no big black names attached to it.

Well, rather, only one big black name attached to it.

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Asking my mother to take me would have gotten me laughed at (“Boy, you better get outta my face for I go upside your head with this frying pan!”), and my father, well, he was a rolling stone and was out there in the streets trying not to gather any moss by this time. So I begged my oldest brother to take me, (cause he pretty much did whatever the hell he wanted to, our acting paternal figure). I just had to see what everyone was talking about, and eventually, maybe a year or two after its release, I wore him down and one day he dragged this whining ass 8-year-old third-grader with him.

Over the years I would get to see it again and again, for films stayed in circulation back in them days, if it filled seats. It was a crowd favorite on the 42nd Street of my youth. This was before VCRs and such, been when home entertainment in the hood was a 12 inch black & white TV with a hanger and aluminum foil for an antenna and a pair of pliers acting to change to one of 7 available channels.

The first time I saw Superfly was at the neighborhood theater, a raggedy rat and cat infested sticky-floored, rank smelling shadow of its pre-white flight glory, known to us as the Regent.

It was located on Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue, in the heart of Bed-Stuy, and I remember it well for it, and the Banco theatre, of equal description –perhaps worse — a block away, were the only theaters we were allowed to go to as kids where rating rules were never enforced. Rated “R” only meant there’d be tits and ass and blood, and that you had to be tall enough to be seen when you handed the cashier your $1.50. As long as you had the price of admission there was a seat with your name (among other unmentionables) on it.regent2

I sat through two other films before it. I think they were Trick Baby and The Legend of Nigger Charley, but one of them might have been Shaft (which I and anyone black with eyes had already seen) before the main event: the outrageously lauded Superfly!

It didn’t disappoint.

So, I sat there in the dark, distracted every so often by something furry brushing across my legs, or the cats patrolling the aisles apparently to keep the rats from taking over, absorbing this movie I was legally and emotionally way too young to get with my brothers only a handful of years older than I, feeling like one of the big boys;

a little child runnin’ wild.

“Little child, runnin’ wild, watch a while, see he never smiles. Broken home, father gone, mama tired, and so he’s all alone. Kinda sad, kinda mad, ghetto child thinking he’s been had.”

Familiar characters and locales filled the screen. I’d gone to Harlem several times and of course even in Brooklyn cats decked out in furs and pimping caddies were not a rare sight; nor were drugs and prostitutes. My father smoked marijuana like it was cigarettes and my streetwise brothers would point out the “hoes” on Fulton Street from time to time. No, nothing aside from the brief nudity and sex scenes stood out as anything I couldn’t see off the screen on the streets on any given day.

There was something else I realized was very familiar, as well.

It was the soundtrack!

The three of us, my brothers and I, and dozens of others in the half-filled auditorium, had a little singalong going through a number of the songs, particularly my favorite at the time, “Freddy’s Dead.”

“All I want is some peace of mind, with a little love, I’m trying to find. This could be such a beautiful world, with a wonderful girl, ooooh, I need a woman, child. Don’t wanna be like Freddy, now. Because Freddy’s dead.

Everybody’s misused him, ripped him up and abused him. Another Junkie plan, pushing dope for the man, a terrible blow but that’s how it goes. Freddy’s on the corner, now. If you wanna be a junkie, wow! Remember Freddy’s dead!”

See…

At the time, there was an epidemic making life in an already disenfranchised community even bleaker and far more dangerous. Black people were dropping like flies, either from having their souls twisted by essentially dealing death to their brethren, dead from overdose, or damn-near dead — real life Zombies walking the streets. Daily you’d encounter someone in one of these conditions. Heroin was a staple, the suppliers we called Pushers and the afflicted we called Junkies. And so well before I saw the movie and could put a face to the “Freddy” of Curtis Mayfield’s cautionary groove, I knew what Freddy looked like.

I knew him too well.

My school at the time (as I wrote about extensively in my book “Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist”), located not far from where I sat that day at the Regent, had made Freddy’s Dead a kind of anthem against being on either end of the drug transaction, a melodic, poetic warning that both dealer and user usually one way or another wind up the same way: dead.

It was true then and it’s true now.

“…if you lose don’t ask no questions why, the only game you know is do or die!”

Curtis Mayfield had found a way to disseminate a “stop this drug madness” caveat throughout my community, and black communities far and wide, like few others had been able to. He put it in song, tapping into a timeless oral tradition that kidnapped and monetized African bodies brought with them like spiritual contraband; this unsanctioned heritage they smuggled aboard slave ships from the motherland and kept it hidden, folded into their anguish.

Mayfield embedded this message of self-love, that unfolds and expands into a love of family and the greater community, in a musical missive…and not just a song, but some of the coolest effing music ever heard! Replete with tales from the soul of the ghetto borne by rhythms that hearken to tribal drums and ancestral assonance, the cries of the lost and found here in the wilderness of North America. Encoded with cool, decoded by the yearning heart of the blues…so much so that it became cool to actually stop doing drugs, or to never start in the first place.

You could always refer to something Curtis Mayfield sang:

I’m so glad I’ve got my own, so glad that I can see, my life’s a natural high! The Man can’t put no thing on me!”

That’s the power of his music!

Without evoking a god or a savior, without calling for or even mentioning prayer or meditation, every song on the album, EVERY Song, he laced with the keys to salvation. And though I couldn’t grasp all the adult situations the movie alluded to, the music was a miracle of exposition even a 8-year old could unwrap and savor.

And then…as I sat there singing and grooving to the irony in the lyrics of his ballad to the drug pushers, known as Pusherman, I saw him for the first time (though thankfully not for the last). Yep, there he was performing in the movie in a little nightclub in Harlem.

That Nigga in the Alley himself: Curtis Mayfield

“I’m your mamma, I’m your daddy, I’m that nigga in the alley! I’m your doctor when in need, want some coke? Have some weed…you know me, I’m your friend, your main boy, thick and thin, I’m your pusherman!”

Thank you Maestro for being there for us like a loving parent, and for being that nigga in the alley, chasing kids away and warning adults of the death that dwells down those dark corridors of the soul. You were our main boy, thick and thin, our doctor when we were in need…you were the ultimate pusherman, sir. Only, you dealt life through your music!

And what you’ve given us keeps us on a natural high.

Loco

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One Response to “I’m Your Mamma, I’m Your Daddy, I’m that Nigga in the Alley!”

  1. Danchan 27 February 2017 at 6:36 pm Permalink

    Hey Loco. There’s a cafe in Kyoto called Zaco, near Hyakumanben intersection, just by Kyoto U. Yoshida campus. The owners a real nice guy. Has a massive record collection. Jazz. Soul. Blues. Back in the 70s he used to help get musicians over from the states for doing gigs for local officionados. Anyway, he has a poster of Superfly on the second floor. Heh.

    Check it out next time you’re in Kyoto, and tell him I sent you. Guaranteed not to regret it.


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