My 3 Train Ride with Brooklyn Writing Royalty
I get star struck. As a member of the media I shouldn’t, but I do. Over time I’ve learned to develop a level of professionalism and candor with men from Clint Eastwood to Melvin Van Pebbles. However, when it comes to men/women of music, my eyebrows raise, my heart flutters and my brain churns. Whether it’s Bill Withers or the Sugar Hill Gang, my need to be a career opportunist nearly goes out the window, replaced by my need to inform them of their supreme importance to the world at large and their specific affect on my psyche and personal development.
On June 4th, 2010, my hero worship led me to the Schomburg Center for the Reseach of Black Culture in Harlem USA. An extension of the New York Public Library system, this turned out to be a place I was ashamed as a black writer for not taking advantage of sooner. I was there to attend “After the Dance: Conversations on Michael Jackson’s Black America,” a two day seminar covering the multi-tiered cultural impact of the late singer/songwriter. The main attraction of the evening was a lecture by author Nelson George and journalist Toure. As an avid MJ admirer, I’d be intrigued regardless, but Nelson’s presence superceded any need for me to learn more about the gloved one. A life long Brooklyn resident, Nelson George has provided me with blueprint of achievement to which I’ve modeled my career after: a music critic, magazine editor, television producer, screenwriter and filmmaker. His finger, along with Toure’s, fellow Brooklynite and a contributing editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, is on the pulse of various musical and cultural pulses the world over. Scheduling conflicts prevented me from seeing him at three separate speaking engagements, all near the BCAT Media Center where I work, but this way my day off and a hurricane wasn’t going to keep me from getting to the Schomburg Center.
“There he is,” I loudly whispered to myself. While standing in the lobby of the Langston Hughes Performace Hall in the Schomburg Center, author Nelson George emerged from the auditorium to use the restroom and meet with collegues there to hear him. While everyone else were caught up in their respective conversations, eating appetizers of fancy nachos and fruit kebabs, my eyes followed Mr. George with the precision and scope of a sniper rifle. I was the only one in the room anxious to shake his hand at that time. I felt nervous and foolish. I was able to hold it together long enough to get into the theater for the lecture. Naturally, I sat in the front seat. Throughout the two hours I was there, I listened to those two Brooklynites speak in depth about Michael Jackson’s musical impact, backed out with tremendous socio-political insight beyond my own comprehension. I was so close to the stage, that when either one of them got stuck with a fact, I blurted it out just loud enough so they’d know it was me that said it. Twenty minutes in, Toure looked at me and said, “I’m loving you already, my man.” I had no idea Christmas came in June, cause I just got a gift! It even got to the point when they’d look at me and ask to clarify who wrote what song on which album and so on. Afterwards, I spoke to Toure in the lobby and he told me it felt like I was the third panelist. I apologized for being to overzelous, but he encouraged it. That’s when I looked for Nelson. He was in the doorway of the foyer, singing books and taking pictures. I had him sign my copy of his memoir “City Kid” and showed him my notebook adourned with quotes from his books I’d written down over my career. He seemed flattered. I thought that was it as far as my chance to speak to him, but, lucky for me, I was mistaken.
I exited the center and headed for the 3 train to come home. As I walked down to the subway platform, there were Nelson and Toure, waiting for the 3 train headed toward Brooklyn. We all got into the same car, sat down and talked. Just talked. No longer were we in the setting of two men of greatest offering their wisdom to the less fortunate; we were on even keels. Three Brooklyn music writers shooting the breeze. Ninety minutes earlier, I got to engage in a Q & A portion of the lecture, of which I’d prepared previously. Upon walking to the microphone, I claimed up; spoke softly and looked at the floor as I asked about MJ’s comparison to Tupac Shakur and Marvin Gaye. In that subway car, I got a second chance; an opportunity to showcase my well researched chops on music and culture; the knowlede that seems to impress the people I speak to at work everyday. One of the main reasons that I write is because I can never seem to articulate verbally how I feel about something definitively. Writing gives me the chance to revise and present at my greatest potential. But today, I was determined to talk to Nelson and Toure as if they were two guys attending a BCAT Media Center orientation. We spoke about MJ – of course – Broadway, hip-hop, the film “A Soldier’s Story” (segued from Denzel Washington’s appearance in “Fences”) and Spike Lee’s foray into alcohol, Absolut Brooklyn. I walked that fine line between dominating the conversation and observing all that each had to say, all the while acquiring knowledge and insight on improving as a writer that I so desperately yearned for. Toure got off at Park Place for another engagement, prompting Nelson to put on his headphones and listen to his ipod. I went about my business as well, listening to my mp3 player and writing down all that I’d experienced that night, something that Nelson wrote about in “City Kid;” writing down everything on commutes from point A and point B. But for me, it had become habitual, and not for show. At that point, I could care less if Nelson had seen me. I was off in my world again…until his stop came. He touched me knee to grab my attention, said goodbye and that it was nice talking to me. At that point, I needed two Excedrin tablets because I was developing a migrane from overt smiling. I walked home thinking “This is one of the greatest nights of my life. If nothing comes from this, this’ll make a great story to tell.” Well, does it?