Someone handed me a hardback copy of Carl Hancock Rux, his book, Asphalt. I could feel by the way it came to me that it was there not because of âhey you really need to read thisâŠâ It was handed to me because this person frequently gets freebies based on the marketing motion toward âcreating buzzâ and pushing things like books into optioning deals for the promise of making movies.
It should be no surprise that when Carl Hancock Rux gets the news that some ânobodyâ with a lowly Blog, using the words âBlackâ and âwhiteâ in public, is talking shit about his novel, the idea that this ânobodyâ would have any kind of connections to people who option books for movies would be the last thing on his mind. I look forward to reading in an anecdote from the Carl Hancock Rux journal (?) about him using the word the âlollipopâ on a person that he knows can get him past his current entry-level position at Epic records after said person critiques his work. Since he just knew he was writing to a ânobodyââand he knows this ânobodyâ is easily dislikeable by the properly assimilated people of all skin colors living in good state of Texasâhe would feel safe to be as ironically warlike as possible. And Iâm saying that his warlike behavior is of the same irony as a self-described feminist being hopelessly patriarchal. It should not have been so easy to find himself and so many of his devoted followers so damn violent. With âfriendsâ like thatâŠ
This is what happened about a week ago: I did two things in the general direction of Carl Hancock Rux:
One. I grouped him in with Saul Williams and Michael Franti and I called that group the âchocolate ilk.â
Two. I said that the paragraphs in Asphalt were âneedlessly dense.â
After doing those two things, you can read my carefully preserved adventure with about three Rux âsupportersâ in a Web-2.0-drive-by and Rux himself finishing me off in âSaul Williams Has to Pay His Gas Bill.â Rux and his posse left comments that are deeply invested in warlike foundations that make almost every American citizen mentally prepared for training in the armed forces. I was expecting something closer to a Buddhist-American style of condescending pity for my âirresponsibleâ behavior. Instead I got blacktop shit you yell out during a basketball game from people I just know canât really play basketball. All I asked was that they read my work with intent to expose the details of what they read instead of skimming and dropping blankets on it. When someone with connections in Hollywood gets a free book to read, Rux and affiliates are asking that someone to read not skim, right? Karma? Some people are graceful, thoughtful and fastidious. Such people are really, really awesome.
I read a few lines in Asphalt. Poetry is my bias so I got close to the words. Sometimes the author does want you to get that close. Sometimes the author just wants you to be impressed that they have a book published by the âproper authoritiesâ and you just shut the fâ up OâReilly-factor style. But I get close to the words. You can read some of them at carlhancockrux.com. Here is a move that jumps out at me:
A rapturous wind wrestled with himâŠ
Here is more alliteration:
âŠa boy crossing pernicious pavement channelsâŠ
âŠstraight and steady steps of celerityâŠ
His fertile flesh wrapped itself around a skeletal frameâŠ
When you read these lines in isolation, do you find them appealing? This question is not a matter of warlike absolutes. No Greek dialectics and persuasions here. There is no right or wrong answer to my question. This is a question of aesthetics. This is the reason why Vernon Reid is in the title of this Blog post because his name reminds me of questions for a certain kind of aestheticâwhat Trey Ellis called almost 20 years ago, âThe New Black Aesthetic.â But before we get to what I think is the fun part, letâs dabble with some old Negro spirituals that have been sung since the founding of Monticello.
Letâs sing that song called âIâm jealous of Carl Hancock Rux because he uses long words like celerity and I canât. Oh, Lawd.â When you download this song and play in your iPod, of course you canât hear where my thang is coming from! Of course I would say that Ruxâs prose is too dense because I canât read long wordsâŠ Right? (Affirmative?) The irony comes when the chocolate ilk of fine intellectuals skim over the content of my next paragraph thinking they know what they are reading but showing me little comprehension because they know itâs a waste. Right? It should be so easy:
The writer Bryan Wilhite would not use the word âcelerityâ to describe anything of human motion because the probability that the reader will mistake the word âcelerityâ for the word âceleryâ is very high in Bryanâs little world of obscure loneliness. It does not matter how large the vocabulary of the reader may be. It matters very little that there is a common morpheme between the words âcelerityâ and âacceleration.â Mistakes still can be madeââcelebrityâ? And the risk is too high based on my inability to understand how these moves help tell the authorâs story.
Because Bryan Wilhite would not make literary moves like these does not imply that other writers should not dance like thisâassuming such an implication is based on cultural baggage that I canât carry right now. Simultaneously, when writers actually do bust moves like these, it should not mean that I must not talk shit about them. I do this fully expecting to be treated the same way. Where do you think the dozens come from? The dozens means there are factors of 12 different ways to talk shit about somethingânot one way, featuring the word âbullshit.â Where did all of that braggadocio in hip-hop come from? Why does bell hooks write about âcritiquingâ so much? Am I going to wait for an invitation from Brown University for a âwritersâ workshopâ to start talking shit about other writers? Do I need to pass a course in âproper mannersâ and etiquette, get my certificate in âpolite discourseâ before I start talking shit about other writers? Who will be in charge of the class? In case you are taking writing classes at Dakota State University, you might read this:
Style is the way the writer uses language. The longer the work the less important language becomes. Above all, the writerâs work must tell a story. The writer should not be more concerned with the words used than with the story the writer is trying to tell. Donât be a fanatic about words. The language is less important than character and plot. However, a combination of a good story and good English will be a delight to read.
Mistakes in English amount to author intrusion and detract greatly from the story being told.
The most effective writing uses the active voice. Shorter, concrete words tend to be stronger. Long words tend to be abstract. Avoid wordiness. Write in a concise, precise, concrete, and specific manner. However, recognize that English has an enormous number of words in it, and the words can have very precise meanings. Sometimes no other word will do. And be specific. Donât mention just a tree; say what kind of tree it was.
The choice of words can help set the tone of the story.
Beginning writers may get defensive and touchy about their style. When offered constructive (or maybe destructive) criticism about their style, beginning writers may tend to say something like, âWell, thatâs just my style.â The implication being that the reader must like whatever style the writer chooses to use. But that is backwards. It is up to the writer to please the reader, not the other way around.
The way my background in free-association works a line like âstraight and steady steps of celerityâ invokes green celery stalks walking through yet another âpost-apocalypticâ landscape. Sorry for the âdestructiveâ criticism. I was attacked by a phalanx of pointy green lettuce as a child. It scarred me. Carl and his gang can sigh a sigh of relief that I am âthe only one in the worldâ who thinks of stuff like thisâŠ Right? âŠworse is my very, very strong suspicion that Carl is trying to let me know that he is aware of the existence of the word âcelerityâ instead of letting me know that the entire English language is garbage heap of stolen words obtained through violent conquest and that, as a Black writer, he can both use and escape the English language simultaneouslyâŠ
You can see this same desire in Carl in the comment he left on this Blog when he explodes with a myriad of details about African history that I am supposed to assume that he does not know aboutâŠ that behavior reminds me of a young Wynton Marsalis doing parlor tricks with his trumpetâlike how long he can a hold a note while cycling breaths through his noseâŠ There were reasons why Miles Davis told Wynton to get the fâ off the stageâŠ and not all of them has to do Miles abandoning his first wife and children and Miles being on cokeâŠ but now âit does not matterâ because Miles is dead and the stage is owned by Ticketmaster. Right?
But letâs not talk about Miles Davis (again). Letâs talk about Vernon Reid and Jimi Hendrix. Here in the rasx() context, Carl Hancock Rux, his choice of English words, is governed by the same aesthetic core that makes Vernon Reid pick up the guitar. I have never said that Carl Hancock Rux cannot write just like I have never said that Vernon Reid is not a musician. ButâŠ ButâŠ My ear for music comes from the rhythm-based world of Jimi Hendrix. So too comes my ear for English wordsâŠ Letâs not get cartoon simple and assume one is accusing one of not âbeing blackâ (or one never listening to Jimi Hendrix)âI took great care to write about âBasic Blackââso letâs move within the Blackness and really see how big it isâŠ
You seeâŠ Jimi Hendrix is a great, rhythm guitarist. He is so great that he taught me my definition of what jamming isâŠ Jamming is about having multiple responsibilitiesâbeing responsible for the self and responsible for the group. The group interoperates in rhythmic structuresâthe self operates in the soloâJimi Hendrix is arguably the inventor of the guitar soloâespecially the eleven-minute solo. But he never got so lost in the solo that he failed to show responsibility to the group rhythm by jamming the enormity of his solo into the precise times of the rhythmâeven when he was not-necessarily stoned out of his mindâŠ this âobedienceâ to rhythm, this ability to move effortlessly from a cosmic scale to a subatomic one comes from Jimiâs rhythm guitar backgroundâall those tough years on the chitlinâ circuit being oppressed, ignored and secretly admired by his fellow Black musicians and front menâŠ There is a great scene in the David Henderson biography of Jimi Hendrix, âScuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child, with Little Richard lecturing Hendrix for hours about who was the pretty oneâŠ âIâm the pretty one!â squealed Little Richard.
For track, after track, after track Vernon Reid has a different approach to the guitar. Vernon has enormous down pat. I am unable to locate my understanding of jamming and rhythm in much of his work. This does not mean that Vernon Reid cannot hear three time signatures in his head at onceâI just fail to see this hearing express itself in the body of work of which I am aware. This does not mean that I am attacking Vernonâs ability to play musicâhe just canât play the way I understand what playing isâŠ Like Carl Hancock Rux, Vernon explodes towering structures that seem to go up and up but never get down. Here is Trey Ellis writing about Vernon Reid:
Vernon Reid, then 26, shook the sweat from his short dreads arcing out from his forehead before grinding his third encore solo into a psychotically distorted explosion. A black lead-guitarist playing funked-out heavy metal. Well Iâll be damned, I remember thinking.
I do admire the writing of Trey Ellis and I appreciate his honesty about being amazed that a Black man can play guitar that way. But my familiarity with cats like Sonny Sharrock or Blast Murray prevents me from celebrating the novelty of the moment. This âholding backâ from the celebration of new-found neo-blackness on my part makes me look like a âhaterâ to the misinformed. Sorry about that. But Black is huge, baby and I have my children to support emotionally as they learn something new. Once you get grownâor walking around acting like you are grownâ, baby, you are done with the kid glovesâŠ I canât pretend to be shocked with you about how big Black isâŠ and I canât be silent all the time while you are conspicuously amazedâŠ As far as Iâm concerned, Jimi Hendrix is Rock Nâ Roll as amplified Blues with exquisite tone paintings from the studio that I know Brian Eno weeps forâŠ Prince only played like Hendrix in obscure night clubs, in surprise performances, or maybe one night on a tourâŠ thereâs a reason for this that is both respectful of Hendrix and prideful of Prince.
And, Mr. Rux, Prince knows that all the critics love you in New YorkâŠ
I can easily see a critic in praise of both Rux and Reidâthat these artists represent an âevolutionâ along the timeline. But the very concepts of âevolutionâ and time lines are Western instruments mistaken for universal ways to be in the universe. Itâs sad to see black people using these instruments based on the assumption that these are only tools availableâŠ And this is why I say that Carl Hancock Rux, in spite of his myriad of African details, is deeply unconcerned with where my thang comes fromâŠ Scholars of European roots can write very important African historiesâŠ I would not trade Zaslavsky, Bernal and Blackmon for Skip Gates. But when it comes to knowing the esoteric symbolism of rhythmâhow musical rhythm is a symbol of the renewing reliability, precision and pulsating fidelity of communal peopleâthis just canât be an intellectual exercise lost in the head. This must flow through the whole body. When itâs in you, it got to come outâŠ and you feel so good, you be boogie-in just the same, O LordâŠ We gots to shake that thangâŠ Incarnation is eternalâŠ mere demonstrations are temporalâŠ Humans cannot function optimally within systems ultimately based on self-alienationâŠ humans of African descent in particular and the indigenous in general know non-self-alienating cultural systems as ancient heritageâŠ the white world, overpopulated by people of all skin colors, would dismiss these cultural systems as âutopiaâ and/or âmyopiaâ and then move on through the timeline keeping it realâŠ
When I write words for fiction, my concern for the rhythm, the sound, the syntax, the semanticsâand the âmetaâ data, including the fact that the reader is reading the page itself must be addressed by meâŠ Kurt Vonnegut and Trey Ellis play around with these tasks in very humorous waysâŠ (I am the least concerned with plot (more timeline shit)âwhich is one reason of many why I have not been published in the âmainstream.â) There is a great move in Milan Kunderaâs The Unbearable Lightness of Being when he stops you from âgetting lostâ in the story for a moment to tell you that smoke is wafting over the letters on the pages then he slides right back into the storyâthatâs jamming to meâŠ I likes that shit.
This Hollywood idea of making the viewer forget that they are watching a movie can sound very admirable but this power often used to control, contain and pacify people rather than empower peopleâŠ This Hollywood idea (among many others) influences writers of fiction. Writers of fictionâespecially writers who âquestionâ a higher power in the universeâshould not indulge in more irony and use the convention of the god-like narrative voice without question. So, whenever a ânew,â âfresh,â literary voice comes out in the world of fiction, I look for that god-like narrative voice in their work for an easy way out of reading yet another book. I understand that millions of you like that shit so just go âhead and be millions of mufukkas likinâ that shit.
When I saw Alice Walker read in person years ago, I noticed she stood pigeon toedâthis supposed âpettyâ and âsuperficialâ observation of mine made me realize that her prose also stands pigeon toed (compared to Toni Morrisonânot mine)âŠ You might feel uncomfortable with a âmisunderstandingâ for the artistâs work until you become aware of these âsillyâ details like posture and whether they use words like âperniciousâ in casual conversation such that spittle comes out of their mouth in an awkward, goofy-ass, posh-accent lispâŠ Here in my squalid little world of savagery everything to the smallest detail informs the work of the so-called âartist.â The natives want to know whether the foreigners in the pith helmets bearing chocolates have bowel movementsâŠ
Me knowing something as insignificant that carlhancockrux.com runs on an Open Source content management system called âexponentâ and that he is listing the email addresses of his management and agencies in the clear at the bottom of every page of his Web site tells me just a little bit more about the artistâŠ When Carl Hancock Rux makes the decision to sing for a record label, he is using the same decision-making âmechanismâ that can write the words âequestrian swaggerâ on a page and list those email addresses on another pageâand he stands back and says, âThatâs cool. I like that.ââand the critics stand back and say, ââŠbrilliantly colorful and seriously inclusive.â
You see, Carl, letâs have a non-conversation about another small artistic moment in Asphalt. Whenever you compare the attributes of a black male to a horse, your work will likely be called âbrilliantly colorful and seriously inclusiveââŠ You got to watch that word âcolorfulâ and how it is used in the âmainstreamâ to describe work done by blacksâŠ this is why I would not use the words âequestrian swaggerâ to describe any of the motions of my Black characters. It is just too easy for the non-conscious racial programming of the âwhite audienceâ to kick in and see you as âinclusiveââŠ In my unpublished, âbullshitâ fiction manuscript, I compared the fine white facial hairs on a female characterâs light skin to the mycelium of a fungus knowing quite well that a move like that would be repulsive to the Bohemian editor and more so for the literary agent. Why would I do something âcrazyâ like that? Donât I want to be published by the âmainstreamâ? Yes I do. But Iâm the guy who writes the âfungusâ stuff. A different guy writes the âequestrianâ stuff. Hereâs a great line from David Byrne:
How many people do you think I am to pretend I am somebody else?
Not that many long words in itâŠ Let me try to think of a line with long words in it that I actually likeâŠ
No, Iâm serious about thisâŠ not sadistic like some male living stereotype from a poor girlâs childhoodâŠ I wrote a whole series called âLines in the rasx contextâ you knowâŠ
Oh, you donât read my work?
People donât read long pieces on the Internet?
No printer? âŠwaste paper?
YeahâŠ busyâŠ Hey, Carl, I like the first and last sentences in Keseyâs One Flew Over the Cuckooâs Nest:
Theyâre out there.
I been away a long time.
I dig almost every economical sentence Octavia Butler puts downâŠ Iâm going to have to check her work for S.A.T. vocabulary wordsâŠ (I can just see Phil Hartman saying âjejuneâ with such relishâŠ) Anyway Mr. RuxâŠ Importantly, I am well aware how insignificant my aesthetic and opinion are to you and your many, many fans and well wishers of the 2008â2009 academic year. There is no need for them to remind me of this in various violent sweeping generalizationsâgeneralizations like âthis is bullshit.â Only young people have the excuse of inexperience to be fascinated with letting âlosersâ like me know just how much they donât give a fâ about me and my opinionsâŠ For you dudes over thirty, I fully expect you to be a bit more precise in your countering of me (or agreeing with me)âŠ or just be silent like Nixonâs majorityâŠ most of us have to go to work in the morning so thereâs not much aesthetics contemplation timeâŠ
Feel free to leave comments about Carl Hancock Rux in particular or the issues presented around him generalâŠ I would not make this offer without my optimism that I will actually learn something newâŠ So far 0 commentsâŠ remember that scene in The Simpsons when the nerds press the button on the answering machine, âYou have zero messagesâŠâ? âŠand all the nerds go, âWhewââŠanother sigh of reliefâŠ
One, pristine, hardback copy of Asphalt was donated to the Inglewood Library. My youngest son dropped it off with me along with back issues of MSDN Magazine a few Thursdays agoâŠ A whole generation of Inglewood youth has an opportunity to read Asphalt without me and my funky opinions. Theyâre out there.
I been away a long time.