Friday, December 31, 2004

by Mickey Hess

In a restroom someone has drawn the left half of a pot leaf. Like a lesson in symmetry, one of those explore-your-artistic-talent kits you get in the mail. Underneath it someone else has written "Please finish." As if he can’t wait to see how things are going to turn out. There is no more of this anticipation left for 2004. It has done, mostly, what it will do. Snow outside my office window, falling on the giant stone statue that looks to me exactly like the W symbol of one of my favorite rap groups. At night it is illuminated by spotlights. In the sun it casts a Wu-Tang shadow over our campus walkways. I bought a Wu-Tang Clan DVD to make me feel better about Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death. But the concert footage, from only five months ago, has the opposite effect. ODB sits in a folding chair through most of the show, and looks like he’s too tired even for that. There’s a moment during "Cherchez LaGhost" when Ghostface walks over and sings directly to him, caresses his cheek, as if to ask "Are you ok?"

The end of things makes us think of their beginnings, and of where we expected or intended them to go. Has 2004 done what I wanted it to, and is there promise that 2005 will work harder? I remember a night last December: I am driving home from an out of town reading listening to Ol’ Dirty’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. I received this album years ago as an Easter gift from my mom, the CD nesting in green plastic grass among Cadbury eggs. But tonight I’m listening to it differently. There’s some urgency there I never considered. Listening to such an amazing album, one I’ve memorized so thoroughly, creates an anxiety all its own. I’m barely two verses into "Brooklyn Zoo" and my mind is racing ahead to "The Stomp" or "Dirty Dancin'". It’s like the track listing can’t keep up with me. An hour later it’s the same thing with the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, the first album I bought with my own money. Then Ill Bill Is the Future, my new favorite CD, and a throwback to the Licensed to Ill era. The track sequencing is put together so smoothly that one song flows right into the next. I anticipate these changes. I’m one verse ahead of Ill Bill. I have no time for end fades on songs, no time to listen to the chorus repeating fainter and fainter until it disappears into dead silence until the next song begins. I like songs that begin with sirens, with gunshots and threats, albums that keep it moving. Driving home to Louisville at 2 in the morning, though, I’m wondering what this anticipation costs me. I look for ways to make things move quickly, to keep them exciting, but this now has me looking for endings everywhere because I’m ready for the next thing and the next. And that’s the problem tonight. I’m impatient with the Beastie Boys. I’m yeah-yeahing "Time to Get Ill," hitting the track advance button because by verse two I already know what time it is. It’s time to move on. On my second listen tonight, I fast-forward through the ends of some songs. This is blasphemy for me, as I believe the Beastie Boys should not be interrupted. I justify it as excitement for the upcoming track, but it turns into something different. Soon I’m skipping entire songs. "Girls" seems to be null and void now. "Slow and Low" is better on the live in Japan bootleg. I turn to the Wu-Tang Clan, scoring a mid-Indiana hour with their first album. "Hut one, hut two, hut three, hut! Ol’ Dirty Bastard live and uncut!" Exclamation points at the end of every line. I skip the slow songs, rushing through to the CD’s end, and the silence hits me hard. There’s no more Enter the Wu-Tang. That’s the end. I know for the rest of my drive that this is part of a larger problem, this inability to appreciate "Protect Ya Neck" while it’s playing, and my need to always look ahead to the next track, as if things can only get better. I fast forward through 2004 and its long car rides, through the New Year’s Eve countdown, my birthday party, and a funeral. When I was a baby, my mom tells me, the only way to get me to sleep at night was to take me for a long drive in the car. This stayed with me, and when I first got my driver’s license I used to fall asleep even on a short drive to work. Tonight, though, I do not fall asleep. I do not switch out Enter the Wu-Tang for Wu-Tang Forever. I do not push play.

Mickey Hess wrote a book called Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory. "Looks pretty good," says one reviewer.

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