August 20th, 2012

It’s the 10th anniversary of Clipse’s Lord Willin’. Inspired by my brother’s piece about the album in its time for Stereogum, I dug up this essay I wrote for The Philadelphia Independent on “Grindin’” and drug lingo. It’s not online, so major thanks to B. Michael Payne for this rather unorthodox reconstruction. Click to enlarge and read. 

October 25th, 2011

What I Learned

Bryant Gumbel uses a plantation analogy—sorry, he doesn’t really think the NBA is a plantation—and sensation ensues. Bill Simmons employs a insider-y business term, a week after harping on how little college the players attended, and “Twitter” seizes on its nastier connotations. So basically, any language connected to slavery freaks out white people, and writers who use millionaire jargon can’t expect their audience to know exactly what they mean. Wait a minute, that’s not right. Case #1: The language of slavery makes some people uncomfortable because it shows the speaker still has those dark days as a point of reference. Case #2: Corporate-speak tells you all you need to know about the aspirations, and sympathies, of a writer. 

Trust me, I know how hard it is. Do you know hard it’s been for me to adjust to the popular usage of “deconstruction”? One of the pitfalls of communicating with a wider audience, I guess. 

June 28th, 2011
There’s this book called ‘Voices of Baseball’—I don’t know if it’s in print anymore. It’s a book I got when I was a kid; I think it came out in the Eighties. It’s not an oral history of baseball, but it’s basically a book made out of quotes pulled from all different kinds of sources and then arranged by subject, including teams, cities, players, eras, race, drugs, sex, and the history of the game. Sometimes I think my whole idea of poetry was shaped more by books like that than by poetry books.
Anselm Berrigan, in my interview with him for the Poetry Foundation.
May 29th, 2011

Chris Herren, former Nuggets and Celtics guard, and son of the Boston metropolitan area, has a new memoir out called Basketball Junkie. His hometown of Fall River looks pretty nice, so I’ll refrain from pulling out references to The Town, and I’m sure his last name is an unlucky accident. There are plaques around Seattle (a major dope town) to commemorate famous herons, and no one laughs about those. There are two kinds of people in Seattle: oppressively healthy, and virulently unhealthy, and never the twain shall meet. Anyway, about Herren’s book: I read an excerpt in SLAM, and it was gripping enough. The title, though, opened up (ahem) an old vein for me. “Basketball junkie” or “hoops junkie” have always been two of the sillier bits of lingo in the sports lexicon. I wish someone could tell me that they sprang from the streets, where drugs were a real risk.

Alas, I suspect they’re an absent-minded usage in the finest post-Trainspotting/heroin chic tradition. But whatever, I DID NO RESEARCH. Just thinking out loud on ye olde Tumblr, which is way safer than that beastly Twitter. So while this is something of a wake-up call to that expression, it’s also an irony that never should have been possible in the first place. It also makes me that much more uncomfortable at two of my favorite business names: “Bath Junkie”, a national chain, and Seattle’s “Thai Junkie”. Do these people even know what “junkie” means? Didn’t they see the movies? Bathtubs have a very literal place in the literal world of real junkies; it’s where they’re put in case of near-death. Similarly, Thailand is lousy with smack, as both a pipeline and a place where tourists can cop for their pleasure. I get that these are meant as innocent word-play—”What? Us, sleazy?”—but instead of divorcing themselves from reality, they’re sunk in deeper than I think they’ve ever considered. Oh well. At least it’s not “Tie Junkie”, which is what I initially assumed it to be.