The Crystal Text
I had been thinking about DJs this morning, so it felt like synchronicity to stumble across Ernesto Priego's commentary, ÉCOUTE: SOME NOTES ON DEEJAYING. When I was living in Tampa in the early 90s, I was friends with several DJs. David G and I would sit smoking, drinking, and talking over the music while he pulled out obscure house, hip-hop etc. LPs, after our shifts as pizza cooks. He would spin in clubs around Ybor City or homes and apartments in South Tampa. I remember his interest in my manuscript for a novel I had recently finished. He said: "It must feel good to have completed a work of art." The novel was, however, unreadable, though fragments of it ended up in later poems. My house in Ybor was a good gathering spot, close enough to the life of 7th Avenue to partake, but it also had the back yard and trees to sit under.
Jody mainly chose hip-hop but I remember Bob Dylan on a mix tape she made for me. How much of this is fiction? How much do I invent or remember through a distorted lens? But that's what the writing promises, the pleasure or nostalgia of fiction. She used to visit me in Ybor from across town but we hardly ever talked about music. When she'd practice on her turntables at her apartment in Hyde Park, earphones hanging off one ear, she'd be deep inside her own realm, much like my own version of calm, with books in the library. (Freestyle Fellowship: "Me know some DJs get them flow from the radio / Me know some poets get them flow from the bibliotheque"--Inner City Griots, 1993) She once mentioned that Djing was instinctual for her, that it was about the pleasure of discovering records she had overlooked in her collection. When I'd see her spin at places, she was always very serious, unsmiling, only concerned with the collage she was building. Afterwards, we'd meet up and she'd return to her loquacious, ironic personality.
H, who I rented a room from at the converted warehouse on 19th street in Ybor, would also DJ at parties we had there, or up by USF, in North Tampa apartments or outdoors in the woods of Lutz. He was librarian of beats, knowing exactly what sound would fit the mood of each room or night, from ambient airs to EPMD's Hardcore: "I'm terror, new edition to rap era / I can't be beat, I'm too sweet plus clever / I'm smart, yes, I'm a so-called genius..."
My neighbor at the house on 5th Avenue in Ybor was Edwin, who would DJ at The Castle once a week (before it went Goth). He played strictly New York hip-hop, but really just whatever the best was each week, always schooling his listeners by staying updated and obscure, B-sides, codeine remixes, arcane. The prolific nature of rap music at that time was astonishing, new records coming out it seemed daily. That's what we thank the DJ for, his/her gathering and anthologizing the dozens of styles out at that moment. Maybe the best hip-hop show I've ever seen was in the back room of Edwin's store, Blue Chair Music, where Tap Ghost and Phobia had about 50 of us entranced. Edwin had knocked on our door late one night, telling us about a show we couldn't miss. College Hill and West Tampa gangsters, friends and family of the band, other young DJs and MCs, and a few of us Ybor "artists" crowded into that small room, unbearably humid & dense with smoke & noise.
It was thanks to these friends that I began to think about the parallels between writing and DJing. With both arts, one gathers and archives moments for the reader/listener to consider. Also, the silence required of the practitioner, isolation and the practice of talking to oneself through others. The blog might be a form of DJing, especially this method of borrowing texts and posting them here...that continuum of intuition, my own and others'. Stumble of paragraphs. Missive scratches.
The turntable could be that crystal text Clark Coolidge seems to hover around, obsessed by its transparency and the unnameable pull of its density. Pulling fingers toward one's ear and the listener's distortions. None of it was real.
The paragraph diminishing to a skip on the vinyl.
"The music levers into brain, insists
I listen to it. That I have no other
life I am a listener. (Am I lighter?)
He plays an old text, he
does it. He plays on
a text otherwise lifeless. The pressures
of his hands become my voice nodes,
stepping off the inner gradients to a varying density.
I bent my lower lip just now.
The stanzas are of gold or brass
or a folded glass shocked full of bright
outer data. Silly words, give up your
completions. The music will not spill.
It is incapable of other than his hands."
(Clark Coolidge, The Crystal Text, Sun & Moon Press, 1996)