(Ask me anything?)
You Could Have It So Much Better
Paul F. Tompkins
Robyn Von Swank
Emily Maya Mills
April Richardson, Go Bayside (via okfuckit)
I continue to stand by this statement.
This is a picture my friend Chip took four years ago at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday jam at Madison Square Garden. Again, the man in this photo was NINETY (90) years old. Look at how psyched and full of life he was! Moments earlier he was SHREDDING on banjo. It was awesome.
Obviously celebrity deaths are weird territory, as you didn’t know them personally, yet they gave you so many memories with their work. I went to New York four years ago to celebrate my 30th birthday, and while there, my friend Billy was like, “I’m playing Pete Seeger’s birthday party if you want to go!” He and my friend Vaughn got me and Chip and our pals Barbara and Bob in to the show and even backstage, where we got to rub elbows with Pete and fuggin’ Springsteen and Tom Morello and even Oscar the Grouch (ha!), and Chip lost his mind when he got to meet Joan Baez. But the reason this occasion will remain one of my fondest memories forever and ever is because everyone was so KIND. Everyone. I like all sorts of music, and I like all sorts of musicians: Sometimes I want to see a dude in leather pants do drugs and be ridiculous and larger-than-life, sure. But there’s a reason my absolute favorite tunes are ones made by aging socialists: THEY ARE NICE PEOPLE. They’re just compassionate human beings, and that is primarily what their art is based on and motivated by. We need Pete Seegers just as much as (well, I think MORE than) we need Mick Jaggers. We need people influencing future musicians to want to change the world for the better just as much as we need archetypal rock stars inspiring weirdos to fuck it all up.
This guy was like a gentle grandpa to me, a total stranger, when I met him on the night of his birthday party. He influenced the works of other truly nice people whose albums can be found on my shelves, and for that, I am really grateful. Rest in peace, Pete. I hope I’m half as excited to still be here as you were when you were celebrating 90 years of just trying to do some good.
The first time I ever came to California, I landed in San Francisco. I was 19; I was traveling with my best friend, Millie, to visit our mutual pen pal/zine friend (remember zines?) Heather, and to see a band called The Lucksmiths. We flew across the damn country — from Atlanta, Georgia — to see this band play, and our flight ended up being delayed, and the plane hit the tarmac at probably the exact moment the guys were finishing up their last song. It was a bummer, but not for long, as soon we were at Heather’s house in Berkeley, surrounded by new friends, ready to explore the Bay Area. After a couple days of BART and burritos and Amoeba Records and Rasputin Records and Lookout Records (I’m sure you can tell where all my money goes), we decided we should focus on a very specific goal: finding MC Hammer.
We had recently watched Mr. Hammer’s Behind the Music on VH1, and I was pretty determined to have my picture taken in front of the fabled Hammertime Gates, the opulent, gold-adorned iron barricade surrounding his mansion that we assumed to be in or around Oakland. (Please keep in mind that the Internet was still pretty rudimentary at this point, so just Googling something wasn’t really an option yet. Also, please know that I was not being “ironic,” thank you very much; one of the first concerts I went to as a kid was MC Hammer — with Boyz II Men opening — when I was in fifth grade or so.) A group brainstorm session to determine how we could find his house produced the following very practical ideas: figure out at which church he had recently become a pastor, and “follow him home after the service”; call the police and say, “Something’s going down at Hammer’s house,” and then listen for the sirens and follow them to his manse; call the local hip-hop radio station and ask them for his address. I know what you’re thinking: “Well April, all of those make perfect sense and probably would have immediately yielded the desired result.” True, but we chose to go with the last option, the least Three Stooges-esque one of the list. So I asked Heather what the cool rap station was in the area, and when she turned on KMEL, I got on the horn to them immediately. The conversation went something like this:
DJ: “This is KMEL…”
Me: “Hey! So, uh, where does MC Hammer live?”
DJ: “… What?”
Me: “I swear this isn’t a joke! I came from Atlanta to visit, and I want to see the Hammertime Gates!”
DJ: “Um, hold on.”
(A minute or so passed before we heard the DJ say, on air, “So, caller, what was your question again?”)
Me, trying to block out the maniacal laughter of everyone else in the house: “I seriously want to know where MC Hammer lives!”
DJ: “And you’re from ATLANTA? Home of all things hip-hop? And you came out here just to find MC Hammer? Are you serious?!”
Me: “I am serious! I want to get a picture of his gates!”
DJ: “Girl, you’re crazy. I don’t know anyone trying to find MC Hammer these days. I think he might live in Tracy now, anyway…”
Me: “Tracy? Uh, okay. Thanks!”
DJ, laughing: “This girl is here from Atlanta looking for MC Hammer!”
I then asked Heather, “Tracy? What’s that? Is that a place? In Oakland?” “Dude, sorry — we’re not driving to Tracy,” she said. “But congratulations! You just got on the air on KMEL and basically told everyone in the Bay Area you flew 2,000 miles to find MC Hammer’s gates.”