I was recently at a great Carnegie Hall event, sponsored by the Notables (under-40 patrons), called Redemption Song. When the email announcement came, I signed up instantly, because of the fantastic list of artists who were going to talk, perform, and hang out afterwards: the original drummer from Guns’n’Roses, the original guitarist from KISS, “DMC” from Run-DMC, and moderated by the frontman for Black Flag. All bands that I liked, so I was psyched!
Until the first 2 minutes, when I realized that they were there to talk about sobriety. How alcohol and other substance abuse affected their careers, how long they had been sober (for one of them I think it was about 10 minutes), and how they found Redemption.
“Aaaaaah,” I said to myself, “this is what happens when you don’t read the fine print on the invitation…” But much to my surprise, these people managed to make an otherwise dreary subject both hilarious and inspiring. I guess having that ability is part of what made them superstars in the first place.
After the stage performance, I got a bit of time to speak with Darryl McDaniels (“DMC”), and was truly blown away by his tenacity, and current dedication to a not-for-profit helping to bring children together to mend the conflicts between nations. Even more impressive after hearing his stories about falling offstage from drinking too many 40’s of Olde English 800… hearing himself the next day in the studio and realizing how the thing he thought made him “the king of rock” was actually destroying his career… And then becoming suicidal after learning about his own adoption (the guy actually was not born in Hollis, Queens, like he thought when he cut those songs)… To turn that all around, and still have energy to give to others, I think makes a true hero.
When I was 12, my family moved me from suburbs of Long Island to downtown Manhattan, and in the new urban environment I took a strong liking to rap music. At the time, I felt very much “city”. I had lived in Brooklyn when I was a baby, and even today I can’t go for long without the intensity of New York. On Long Island my classmates were listening to Led Zeppelin, Rush, Queen, and The Who… but the second my feet landed back in the city, I felt that Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, and later LL Cool J, NWA, and Ice-T were the ones who were “telling it like it really is”. Plus you can dance to it.
But back in ’83, before Run-DMC did their crossover cover of “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith, white kids weren’t supposed to listen to black music. (Yes, they called it that.) I got teased in the 9th grade for liking rap, and until mainstream pop artists like Peter Gabriel started putting backbeats in their songs, and Sting did a thumping drum interlude in Englishman in New York on 1987’s album “Nothing Like the Sun,” it just wasn’t considered okay for white people to like rap. Obviously now Eminem, with >$1B revenue, has changed that, but at the time it was hard. Even the people of color said, “hey man, why are you listening to this, it’s our music.”
How far we’ve come! It’s good to see the world has evolved to the point where one of the most traditional of classical venues, Carnegie Hall, opens its doors and its stage to greats like DMC, who continue to touch so many lives.
Music is just music, man; I feel sorry for anyone who only listens to one type of music.”