Tuesday, July 6th, 2010


Amy Wright


Do I want to witness the convergence of forces
that have acted (and continue to act) on me?
               -Ander Monson

What kind of girl do you take me for?
I want you on my team
So does everybody else
-Nelly Furtado


A white boy cruising the grocery store parking lot, ghetto blasters throbbing his shiny red, gifted Camaro, will seem ironic but it’s not. Music is a pistol, a featherbed, a whip. There’s power in it, especially rap. So much willful freedom.  “That feeling that you get inside your stomach is our proof,” Brother Ali chants like a hungry mongrel pulling out of hell with a caramel strand. Street preaching. Adamancy of belief. It seems like anger but is defense, the best of which, the footballers say, is a good offense. You can punch your way through anything. You can knock down the guard and sidle in. 

I met the artistic director for a Colorado magazine at a dinner party. She was working on a project to conceptualize the new American cowboy. “It’s overdue,” she said, describing the ideas they put on the table, which had to be wiped off: “We’re starting from scratch.” But of course the archetype is embedded in us and our relationship to it is a commentary on us. The new icon will wear the old one like a tasseled jacket. We prefer our leather broken in and our skin spf’ed. I don’t know what they’ll come up with, but I hope it accounts for white southern farm girls listening to Ol’ Dirty Bastard. 

You can call me Dirty, and then lift up your skirt,
cause you want some of this dirty. God made Dirty
and Dirty’ll bust your ass.

That line is tough as a muddy truck, which where I come from is sexy. I wanted to be above such overt ploys to diminish a woman’s sexual power, to overtake it, sully it. But I wasn’t above it. I was energized by it—even fortified, though I wouldn’t have used that word to describe why I turned toward such expression after family holiday gatherings. ODB was one of my reinforcements, my posse if I am allowed that term toward the bastard, with his gold tooth shining on an album cover I had to hide from my father.
I looked up his real name once, and found he has some great aliases—Big Baby Jesus, Osirus the Father, The Man of All Rainbows. He has funny ones too—Peanut the Kidnapper, Ol’ Dirty Chinese Restaurant, private jokes strewn like a trench-coat of many colors, as if his fans recognize his name as a repository for something more telling than a rapper.
What reassured me was his insistent self-expression, not just confident but foisted upon us like an errand: “This is who I am. Now go get you.” Like a declaration of independence, a mode of being no audience can reach. That’s the solitude of the cowboy. It is perhaps the offering every singer brings to the stage, but what ODB showed me is the meanness of it, the brashness of one’s appetite for individuality, the brutality of that drive, which cannot but work in the face of resistance because everyone else is not you. Love is not a battlefield, as Pat Benetar says, but becoming yourself is.
ODB may in fact have achieved that perilous balance for the artist—by and through which a limited perspective, such as misogyny, is illumined as the laughable limitation it is. Of course, I could be wrong; he could just be a man who wandered so far into his limitation that he came out the other side. But either way, his lyrics remind me to defend myself, because it’s worth more than money—to ride side-saddled to the open plain and widen the circle back to yourself.



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