An Eye for a Truth: Bushwick Bill in extremis
"It's fucked up that I had to lose an eye / to see things clear." The words are those of Bushwick Bill: pornographer, dwarf, misogynist, rapper. Bushwick is the gnarly-voiced singer of the Geto Boys, the Houston gangster rappers who before last year had firmly established themselves as the most unredeemedly revolting rap act in-the country--something of an achievement, I think, given the music of late. With songs like "Mind of a Lunatic" the band gleefully chanted scenes of rape, murder, and mayhem over unoriginal beats and a tinny production, and managed to sell more than half a million copies of their first album. Picked up by Rick Rubin's Def American label (the Australia of rock, where a lot of social outcasts end up), the group managed to lose Rubin his major-label distribution (Geffen, to that company's credit). The band even had the distinction of having a compact disc manufacturer refuse to press its record.
Last summer, Bushwick Bill, high on grain alcohol, fought with his girlfriend; the fight ended when she shot him--in the eye. Bushwick said he'd deserved it, even asked for it: he'd threatened to throw her kid out the window. It was a pretty good sign that the Geto Boys' life was following their art. The album they released soon after, however, contained, amidst the usual bullshit, one song, "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," that didn't fit in. It was an understated track based on a lilting, ominous, exquisite guitar line. Over it, in their usual discordant, inarticulate way, rappers Scarface and Bushwick laid out two wrenching tales of drug-induced paranoia, depression, pain, and insanity. The song winds you up and never lets go: it's one of the most powerful and far-reaching rap songs ever recorded, and indeed it spawned a frightening video and put the group back on the charts. The pathologies exhibited on the rest of the record make the song seem a fluke. But now, more than a year later, Bushwick Bill has resurfaced with the shocking "Ever So Clear."
On one level, nothing's changed: he's inarticulate as ever, producing one stultifying rhyme after another and dropping cliches like bowling balls. But still you listen; though it's a very old story, it's never been told quite like this: A four-foot-something ghetto high-school misfit is taunted by boys and ignored by girls. He joins a band, makes a bunch of money, and finds that while he's now popular he can't trust his friends, men or women. He immerses himself in Everclear, the 190-proof grain alcohol, and ends up losing an eye, with shards of bullet and bone still in his head.
It's all told quietly, over a very soft piano-based backing track marked only by an eerie recurring sample of a woman's cry. Bushwick has a moral to hit us over the head with, of course: it's the "see things clear" line, accompanied in the video by the unpleasant sight of him removing his new glass eye. Lest we miss the point, the video's last scene is of Bushwick walking on a beach, his stumpy arms dangling. Over the picture is scrawled the legend, "Don't try this. Learn from my mistakes."
The moral I take from "Ever So Clear" is slightly different. It's that you never know where a song like that is going to come from. Up in Lake Forest, the city council is preparing to prosecute record stores that sell obscene albums to kids. What the burghers of Lake Forest do means little by itself, of course. Their kids have cars, and can make runs over the city line to get their N.W.A. and Geto Boys albums. But in principle this is the sort of thing that, spread throughout the country, might have effectively silenced the Geto Boys long ago. I don't think that Bushwick Bill's old records are necessarily bad for kids, any more than his new ones are necessarily good for them. I myself didn't care at all what happened to the Geto Boys until a year ago. But we should maybe be a bit more humble in the face of the slithery, unmanageable thing we call art. It lurks everywhere, festering and growing, and eventually appears in the damnedest of places--even in the soul of Bushwick Bill.
Turn Down That Damn Music!
Whatever caused the residents of Tinley Park to complain about the noise from the World Music Theatre last week, it wasn't U2. The band's volume was actually quite low; I think an unusual wind blew some of opener Public Enemy's very loud bass-in-your-face down on the hapless suburbanites. Here's a more interesting issue: Jam Productions has always said that the World's capacity is 28,000. It was the U2 organization's understanding, however, that 32,000 seats were available for each of the shows. Jam owner Jerry Mickleson says that there's "no set number" for the World's capacity and that the 32,000 figure was "totally wrong." There were, he says carefully, 30,000 "paid admissions" to each show....Dance-club DJ Joe Bryl (whose name I misspelled in last week's Calendar) is selling off a chunk of his record collection to pay some bills. Several thousand items are available, Bryl says, with the focus on singles and albums, domestic and imported, from the late 70s. The sale starts at 9 Friday and Saturday at the Torchlight Cafe, Paulina and Lincoln.