On P-Funk, Jimi Hendrix, and why I love science fiction

 

Jimi Hendrix

A buddy of mine refers to it as the “misfit heritage”. Probably as good a description as I’ve ever heard.

This goes back to my childhood days when I figured being ‘black enough’ was something to be concerned about. But only because I was too young and inexperienced in just about everything to know that, truth be told, being born black in America is ‘black enough’ by any sane definition. Blackness was not, and is not, some sort of contest. Nobody gets a door prize for being the blackest guy in the room, and the definition of blackness has absolutely nothing to do with the ‘hood or any other geographic location. Poindexter Peabody with the thick eyeglasses from the suburbs is every bit as black as Ice T, Dr. Dre, or whoever.

Which I guess brings me to why I decided to give this particular post this particular title. There are as many different ways of being black in America as there are black people in America, which means there are thousands of new and different ways being born each and every day. When I was a 12-year-old kid, my 17-year-old cousin Rowena introduced me to Jimi Hendrix during a two-week visit when she brought home the album “Smash Hits.” Being raised as pretty much the only black kid in a predominantly white neighborhood in a predominantly white school in predominantly white Denver, Colorado, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anybody that I didn’t know that much about black music back then. I came up on hard rock, and the first music album I ever bought was In a Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly. I later got turned on to Grand Funk Railroad, Humble Pie, and one of my all-time favorites, Led Zeppelin. It never even crossed my mind at the time that my skin was darker than theirs, or that this music wasn’t meant for me. Nevertheless, when Rowena showed up with “Smash Hits” that day, and I saw Jimi on the cover, my entire life changed. Here was somebody who looked like me who was playing rock music, and playing it better than anybody else I had heard.  Jimi let me know that there was a whole other way of being black before that question had even seriously entered my mind.

Parliament Funkadelic

Years later in high school I became a devotee of Parliament Funkadelic after coming across the album Maggot Brain in a buddy’s album collection. Once again here was a whole band full of black folk who were expanding the boundaries of traditional ‘blackness’ way beyond what many of us would have ever conceived of. Who thought of black folks and space ships at the same time? Had anyone before them uttered the phrase ‘specially designed afronauts capable of funkatizing entire galaxies’? Had anyone else ever imagined that an afronaut would look best in diapers with wings on his back? I really don’t think so. But to see and experience that rhythmic madness live and onstage was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had.

Something else which I have always loved as a writer and as a reader is science fiction/fantasy. Once again terrain rarely associated with we darker-hued folk, even though we are most certainly out there putting our own special spin on what the future holds. Science fiction and fantasy are the fruit borne by only the most active and daring imaginations, and as a writer that sounds like the place to be. It has always sounded like the place to be.

Because why not?

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About the author
kaoblues
Writer and musician.

2 Comments

rave1914

2014-03-31 22:01:24 Reply

….free your mind and, well, you know the rest…

    kaoblues

    2014-03-31 22:03:38 Reply

    Indeed I do. Indeed I do…

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