Almost 14 months after I started working on it, my essay on Black Metal and loving music made by racists, rapists, and the like is finally out. It began as me reporting on what was to be Leviathan/Wrest's sentencing for SPIN--except he was found not guilty on all but one charge, sentenced to time served (I could detail it here more, but it sounds like all he was primarily guilty of was being in a really toxic, mutually abusive relationship) and my kind editors were like "yeah go long if you want!" because I got to 800 words and realized I had a much bigger story to tell/issues to discuss. I interviewed probably 18 people and my initial almost-finished, please someone save me from myself draft turned into 5600 words, 1200 of them were reporting on on Wrest, another 1200 was about how no one in metal wanted to address it or talk about it--just total shut it down denial, people did not want to report on the charges even because they did not want to be out of the scene's graces. There was a longish digression about 90's irony, Bush's wars and everyone being on cocaine and dancing to House of Jealous Lovers basically made this happen. Because of some things beyond everyone's control, the story lost all three news hooks by the time August 2012 rolled around and the piece got killed. Also, no one said this, but the story was unwieldy at best. I don't know if anyone anywhere would have been like "Why yes, I have real time to invest in handholding on nearly 6000 words of unfinished business about how we should probably be ashamed about liking everything we like!" So, I sat on it and sussed out future hooks and album releases to tie it to that never came to fruition, and finally got up my meddle in October to even look at it again. The draft was so sprawling I felt frustrated reading it, and didn't know what the strongest argument was in there--it was humbling to feel lost in the piece. I thought about hiring people to help me edit it but just kept coming back to it every two months or so and by late spring it was perhaps broaching "not bad" and I knew that once there was a news hook, it was at least pitchable. Piece still needed work, I was free to shop it and then when Burzum got arrested last month that was my window and I brought it to Steve Kandell, who was actually the first editor on it back when it was at SPIN, and he took me in to the Buzzfeed editorial manger--where it now rests it's weary head.
I wrote about this Superchunk record for SPIN, which was hard to listen to. Old punx make a feel bad record about outliving your friends. I could relate to it all, couldn't hear the whole thing without crying a little. Grown life creeps up on you. JJ has been dead a few years come end of this month. I don't bother counting years--I don't feel comfortable putting that space between us. I measure how long she has been gone, casually, against how long I have been a mom. She died in August and I got pregnant right after Halloween. Sometimes, usually when I am giving the kids a bath or out on a walk I just think she would have liked to be here, she should be helping me, she would have loved them so much. After I talked to her mom this spring and found out that JJ was trying to live, not trying to die --it changed the frame, made it fresh, made it tragic, not inevitable.
There are things you don't realize must be practiced for pre-school. We have been working on shoes on the right feet, peeing in the right places for a year. But today we began on lunch. As in from the lunchbox, no help. We have two weeks to get the hang of what gets thrown away, what comes home. I put a little tray, like for eating breakfast in bed, out on the porch infront of the stoop, and I packed Wm.'s lunch into the Curious George lunchbox from the Des Moines garage sale, put a muffin I had baked, grapes and a string cheese sprung from it's tuff wrapping into their little zip up baglets. There was a napkin for his lap and a drink he had open with no help. I had leftovers of last nights dinner. We mused about lunch at school would be like. A lady walked her freshly laundered puff of a dog past the porch and we exchange dog-related pleasantries. BYE! yelled Wm. While was deep in his eating, I gingerly pressed his tagaderm bandage back into place on his forehead. His beautiful birthmark is gone. His beauty mark we called it. It had to go, for his future health. I asked him if his head felt ok. "I liked my beauty mark," he replied. "I did too, kiddo." At dinner, he asked if they were going to put it back on one day. I felt like I could have cried. Three is too young for all of this.
Later we laid on the couch and looked at the sky. Today was a take it easy day, post-surgical chilling. He got to watch another movie. An unprecedented event--two movies in two days. Both viewings were the DVD of Airbuddies I picked up amid a trade at Reckless, where the kids DVDs are always like $4 at most. I discovered at the end of todays viewing, a bit of a shock during the final credits, Don Knotts died amid production of AirBuddies, a movie wherein he voiced a Bloodhound dog that is a life companion to the 800 year old Sheriff. Don Knotts is dead. I had no idea and I didn't expect to find out from this talking dog movie sequel.
I did this Chance piece for Chicago Magazine but then he flaked on the photoshoot twice so sans art, it got trimmed to about 2 paragraphs. It almost did not happen at all--my editor had confirmed a plan, but when it came time, Chance refused. Like, we did not even get to the end of the block and it seemed like the story was DOA. We drove around downtown and tried to hash it out but he was adamant. Also, he had some place to be soon enough that a plan to go anywhere but on a 3 block walk was going to be impossible. I mean, I understand, Chicago Magazine is not XXL or whathaveyou. So meanwhile I am trying to reach my editor at the magazine and see if she is ok with a drastic change of plans. But apparently there is no direct outside phone number and no one at the Tribune knew how to transfer me and it was like four phone calls later, Chance smoking outside the car while I try to get the operator at the Trib to patch me through to a guy in sales at the Magazine to tell him to go give my # to the editor. It was like the eighties. Anyhow, she sagely said "well, this is your story now, the story of the non-story, so report that." I did. Not included: our run in with the janitor from his high school and that every single person he met, spoke to or recognized he mentioned Acid Rap and it's street date, his confession that he wants to be as famous as Michael Jackson, and that when we parted he mistakenly credited the previous two stories I had written about him to my male colleague, the intrepid Leor Galil, saying how much Leor's piece in the Tribune meant to him. "Actually, that was me. Both of those stories were mine." Awkwardness for us both was avoided by me just saying bye and getting into my car and driving away.
I am not positive that he wasn't tripping towards the end of the hour.
Anyhow, here was the full piece as it originally existed:
Chance the Rapper doesn't want to go home. He just came from there, he says. The 20-year old rapper is in the passenger seat of my car. We were slated to drive around his Southside neighborhood, Chatham where grew up and now lives with his girlfriend. There are a flurry of excuses: it's hot out. It will take too long and he has to be to the studio in an hour. The 'hood where he lives is just where he lives he says, his story, of how he went from half-dropped-out burner kid to Chicago's next big thing, he insists, "happened here". He motions with his hands to indicate that here means exactly where we are--downtown.
Despite his casual air and congenial charm, Chance is keenly aware of his image, his story and how much it constitutes his appeal. Beneath his earnest demeanor lies a kid who has mapped every inch of his hustle. Chance is a favorite with high school kids, in part because his story could be theirs. He paints himself as the one kid amid the overachievers at Jones Prep who did not care about his future. Likable but a loner, he got busted smoking weed while ditching class at Millennium Park and spent his subsequent 10-day suspension recording a mix tape album of songs that birthed his rap career. His is a ground level stardom, someone kids can touch and talk to when they see him on the train or in the street--he is someone they could ostensibly become. The young MC is very clear on the importance of his apocryphal tale and that is the only one his is inclined to tell. And so we will not begin our story of Chance the Rapper in Chatham, we will begin where he says it began: the library.
It is difficult to ascertain whether Chance is famous citywide, but in the six-block proximity to Jones Prep where we walk, he is the Mayor of the Underage with his giant backpack and mismatched shoes, greeted constantly by name, with handshakes, pounds, dap. He gamely poses for pictures, is offered lights for his ever present cigarettes, kids prod his memory to see if he remembers the last time they met--at the library, in the parking lot of their school when he was selling tickets to one of his shows, that time their cousin introduced them. Stepping out of the car outside of the Columbia College dorms, there is the waft of pot smoke and then someone yells "Whattup, man!" A former classmate from Jones pulls Chance in for a half-hug, and exclaims "He was the craziest motherfucker in school!" The old friend passes Chance his joint, Chance plugs his upcoming mix tape by name and street date, they exchange numbers after the kid offers his in case Chance needs a hook-up for weed.
We make our way down the street, heading to Juggrnaut, the hip hop clothing store that has hosted all of his mix tape releases, drawing hundreds more kids than they can accommodate in the tiny space. Owner Roger Rodriguez brags that they have known him since back when he was "Just Chance. Before he was Chance Thee." In the store, the half dozen dudes shopping for looks look up but play it like they are not noticing Chance, who refers to the store as his home. He he would sometimes spend six hours a day there, writing rhymes or just hanging out. That doesn't really happen anymore. Two middle school-age boys in uniforms pass by and pause when they catch sight of Chance through the open door. Chance gives them an acknowledging wave. They wave back.
After Juggrnaut, we head East on Washington and make a left on State and head into the YouMedia center on the ground floor of the library. "The first time I came here was to rap," he explains. Chance was Kanye-obsessed and in a rap duo with a friend ("we were terrible") and had heard that the library had free recording studios. The center also offers free workshops; "Production, software, piano lessons, music theory--I took all of them." He quickly became the star of the popular Wednesday-night open mics. "This place made me what I am today." He swings the door to the recording studio open and pops his head in, five teenage boys are inside, one is behind the mic, the rest behind the computer. "Y'all recording?" he asks. "I used to be recording in here--I don't mean to hold up your session." Chance acts oblivious but the boys are stunned silent. This is a little like Michael Jordan suddenly siddling up while you're free throwing in the driveway.
By the time he ducks back out a minute later nearly a dozen boys has amassed in a semi circle. There is a round of handslapping. "All y'all rap?" he asks. They all giddily introduce themselves by names they rap under. Dre Valentine, E-Man, Vic-Ivy, Psycho Ten Times. The iPhones come out and there is a group shot. They are all 15, 16, 17--same age as Chance when he started camping out here, all from the Southside, just like him. A kid who raps as Esh explains, "Everyone knows this is where Chance made 10 Day." We decide to leave, as it seems every kid in the library has just suddenly realized Chance is here.
Within the next half block he is stopped and recognized by the a janitor from Jones Prep, three girls he knows from YouMedia, two each get a picture with him, the cousin of his DJ and three rappers he knows from street ciphers. I ask one of them, Pres, why Chance matters--why is his success so important to Chicago? "Everyone feel like he's on his way up. He's the voice of the youth in the Chi--but he is just part of it. He's the light barrer."