The Return of Pimpolo
My man called and asked me, “Do those people down there know what you do? They might know what you do because what you do got you to be who you are.”
This same friend once said to me, “Duke I know you and your past. You ain’t a thug or a pimp… but you do have some thuggish and pimp-ish ways.”
It suggested a pimp, never a Pimpolo. Also, I have the heart of a pimp and the charm of a gigolo. A pimp wants every woman in the room… I just wanted two.
Sometimes people say shit to you and you know exactly what they mean. Now this guy still plays three times a week, sometimes more, and teaches. Every time I see him play I am jealous of how up his chops are. That only comes from playing. Now, I still don’t sound bad. I just played the Savannah Music Festival with Dr. John and I sounded pretty good. Still to be out there doing it night after night, not that I want that, but it is just that demanding pace that keeps your skills more than just together.
So I started doing shit. Working with a young female rapper, taking a fledgling producer and showing him a thing a two. I am editing a longish 600-page novel and am 150 or so pages into a 260 page I hope love story. So I am “doing shit”.
I don’t believe in destiny and luck and all that mystical shit. Things do happen with incredible coincidence sometimes. For instance, out of the clear blue I run into this guy who gave me the name Duke Bootee after almost 40 years. He was also one of the best entertainers I ever worked with. He did a couple records for Warren Brothers produced primarily by one of my teachers and mentors, Mtume. This was before video and the records never captured what he was truly like.
Next thing I do is go to motor vehicles to get new plates and out of the clear blue the woman gives me “RAP4995”.
Next a local artist, whose work I had been seeing around, asked if I would be the subject of one of his pieces and it wound up by sheer chance in the very hallway I stand in at the window before and in between class where students can ask me any social and life questions, but nothing about school. It is always a time of varied and interesting conversations.
Now this giant portrait of me, taken from the front page of a local weekly, holds down one wall. When asked to say something at the unveiling I simply thanked Savannah State University for giving me a home and Dr. Faries and Panhandle Slim (the artist) for putting my image up on a wall without “Rest in Peace” on the bottom of it. This was done in conjunction with April National Poetry Month. My quote made the National Public Radio feed.
So shit has been happening…
For some of us there is this funny need that can be an ache to do something, or say something about the shit we see going on -- the suffering, the sadness, the pain, and the joy. There are blessings in just seeing the sun rise but I have been driven to play, sing, write, teach, learn, experience, travel… all these things help me find my way back inside.
An associate told me “art is my life”. I smiled and suggested to him, “life is my art”. That is a distinction with a great difference.
Doing what I do becomes a different task when your belly is full and you have seen half the world. As I am known to tell people, and it is true -- “Me no must work… I and I work ‘cause me a workin’ man. But see… me no like dat job… me no feel no way… I and I fire that job.”
For me the challenge is in the proclamation. I want to do this shit no matter what it is – sex, business, love. If I am in it, I am in it to win it.
A female friend, when reading about some of my latest shit -- playing with Mac (Dr. John) and seeing some shit on the national N.P.R. feed, sent a text telling me about an old friend who is the Poet Laureate of a major city. She asked, after talking to and congratulating the woman, about me after having not spoken a word to me in over 45 years said. “I don’t know what he is doing but I am sure whatever it is he is successful at it.”
That seems to be the case but there is always a price to be paid. Having come through this shit (life) relatively unscathed I don’t want to fuck up now and as my father was known to say when questioned about some of my successes, “The jury is still out on that nigger.” He knew, and was also fond of saying; “Three mistakes in a row and let’s see where you are then Mr. Big Shot!”
For one, it seems I hover above this deep pit of all my life’s threatening vices – food, drugs, and sex. For me it has always been ‘anything worth doing is worth over doing’. There is no miraculous recovery from folks in that pit and no one cries for the fallen acrobat.
Still in all I feel it is worth a try. I think I can navigate that minefield without suffering the usual trauma. One of the blessings of a young naivety is that you have no idea of what it will require for the fans and success you crave or what families will be left by the wayside on some moral high ground.
It comes down to what you have to give, how bad you want it and then what are you going to have to do to keep it. I came to terms with my working class roots early. We were ‘man’ children. I married my ‘round the way’ girl and we have been together 50 years. In my time of need she spent 19 nights by my side in the hospital. She nursed me back to health more than once and talked me through my ‘mania’ more times than I care to recall. I am known to say, “That’s my bitch. I don’t care if she is bald headed, ain’t got but one titty and two teeth. Where I go she goes. If that bitch shot me I would just have to get some bullet proof pajamas.”
I am and have always been loyal in my way. I am not one of guys who is going to get some 15 or twenty-year younger version of my wife. That just ain’t me. Loyalty wears a bad fitting suit sometimes. I have worn my glad rags and want to put them on again. Not every day, but maybe just on the weekend like my old man used to suggest to me in vain. “You need to get a regular job and do that shit on the weekend.” I have, as I say, always been ‘in it to win it’. If you ain’t trying to win why play at all?
So here I go. It was always with me… family, music, money, drugs, pussy… in some order or another with family always first. I haven’t done drugs in nearly 15 years so that shit is out. I ain’t got nothing against them but for me they just don’t add up -- six or seven hours of feeling like a super hero and then two days of feeling like a wet food stamp, not to mention my head and shit. Pussy has always been… as much as I like and enjoy it… its problems. Now I don’t like problems and there has never been any woman I have ever been around that at some point I didn’t look at her and think ‘this bitch is a problem’. Now, pussy is never out of style -- it just isn’t the ‘be all and cure all’ for me that it seems to be for some people. It just ain’t that important. When you make the switch from quantity to quality, as our generation had to do if you were going to stay alive, you begin to evaluate women more by what they are saying. I still like most women better with the sound down. “My wife and I have the perfect relationship. I don’t want to hear shit she got to say and she ain’t got shit to say to me.”
If ever a man loved a woman, I love that bitch. Anybody who knows me knows that shit. There were and are very few women who can make me do shit I don’t want to do and she is one of them. You know, the one that at Valentine’s Day when you were about to throw away some dumb butt ugly girl’s card with ‘Be My Valentine” on it after eating her candy – you hear someone say, “Eddie Fletcher don’t you dare throw Pamela’s card in the garbage… you know she likes you.” My response in the third grade was (and can be now) “Fuck Pamela… she’s dumb and she is butt ugly’.
Looking at Rosita, I would back up and thank Pamela for her card. I might even tell her she looks nice today. Certain women have that effect on me. They keep me honest and tethered to my more compassionate self ‘cause Lord knows most of the time I just “don’t give a fuck.” This attitude, as existential as it sounds, ain’t always so great. The adjustments I have made to keep this woman around me are life saving.
But now, as then, I have to do what I have to do. I just can’t do it to the same degree. I want to do it the same way but not be as obstinate as I was. “I’m going to do this shit. You can hang on or hand up.” I use to also say, “Woman, if you stay with me you will live better than anyone in your family.” And she does. My wife retired at 55 and didn’t start getting her pension until sixty and her social security until sixty-two. I am still working and won’t get my social security until next year when I am 66; she took hers at 62.
There is much to consider when you are comfortable. Leaving that comfort, even for a couple of hours, requires a ‘good goddamn reason’. So I am at it again… I have a couple killer ideas and after playing some old tracts for my students they liked most of them proclaiming, ‘That’s that 90s shit we like.” That kind of conversation gives me the confidence I need to see if I can make it happen again.
There is a certain benefit to living 65 years. For instance, when “Uptown Funk You Up” was the record of the year my son called and suggested, “Looks like you’ve lived long enough to be back in style again. That video looks like all the old soul and show bands you and your boys played in back in the 70’s and 80’s.” And it is true that history does repeat itself surely in art, fashion and music.
In a time where playing and practicing tracts have become nearly obsolete… kids are getting tired of the blow dried, singing to a tape track of entertainment; some people want more. I have been lamenting the loss of musicians being able to just groove. Grooving is a selfless act. Everyone holds it down and it is essential for a groove that everyone plays their part. These kids today don’t know how to groove ‘cause the groove is selfless, not selfish.
So I got a few ideas. If I can find the right bitch girl rapper, the right group of ‘young mostly white boys’, I can teach to groove like Al Green while ‘Sponge Bob’ does the Harlem shake, then I am on my way. But sadly there are few ‘ready made’ and it looks like I am going to have to do what I do… produce.