The Broadway Squad pt II
The first time I had ever heard music by Mary J. Blige was when my friend Dodi brought it over to Jeff’s house. It was a cool blend of R&B music that was blowing my mind. Mary J. Blige is probably one of the smoothest and most prolific R&B singers of our time. Of course, that may be an exaggeration. There was Aretha Franklin and other singers, but Mary J has been doing her thing for several decades now with the level of class that's far above her peers.
In my late teenaged years, I slowly begun to explore sounds outside of my comfort zone which was funk, soul, and jazz. Cleveland nightclubs started to call my name. There was a place in particular that I loved called the Nine of Clubs. It was a place that people in my neighborhood called “the weird people’s club” because it only played “weird people's music.” To us it was just acid house , techno, and early forms of trance. The gentrified form of that music today is called EDM. I loathe EDM because it has taken all of the grit and flavor out of the music and left us with a sickly-sweet pumpkin spice latte version of what used to be a rich and soul fulfilling drink of sound.
I also started to listen to a lot of rock and roll . My older brother, Brian, was the first of our house to get into rock and roll. Actually, I should say pop rock. His favorite bands at the time were Styx, Men at Work, and Journey. There was something about the music, the rhythm, or the lyrics that got his autistic brain spinning hard. When he first started listening to it, I thought he had lost his mind. Those kinds of sounds were foreign to us on our side of the bridge on Broadway Ave. But the more I listened, the more I began to hear the musicality and the more I understood why my brother liked it.
Our preference of music often comes with our internal biases . Just like all of America with the exception of my Demilitarized Zone between Dave's supermarket and the intersection of Broadway and Miles, people's musical tastes were as segregated as the city itself . In fact, all cities in America had neighborhoods that were segregated. Through the segregation of these neighborhoods came the segregation of musical tastes. Although rock and roll had originally been invented by black people, somehow it had transformed and caught hold in the white community and became “white people’s music”. The same is true for techno, which was invented in Detroit by three black dudes in their basement tweaking knobs and whirring synthesizers . It took hold in Europe and now we have EDM.
My mom was into the early forms of techno. She was a musical Explorer who listened to all kinds of things from deep soul to reggae to techno. She never really liked rock though. She used to have a record in the house by a group called Laid Back. The song was called “White Horse”. My brothers and sister and I used to put that record on and run around the living room jumping and dancing. It was the coolest thing we had ever heard. Or maybe it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. We were too young to understand the song was about heroin usage.
Techno was starting to make a blip in our neighborhood but it hadn't quite gotten to the point where it was beyond weird people’s music or music for B-boys. On the late-night DJ mix programs, that used to broadcast from Cleveland’s all black radio station, WZAK, dudes would mix techno, house, and hip-hop for hours. I guess the people who called techno music “weird” probably didn't stay up till midnight listening to WZAK, which also had Quite Storm, the absolute best midnight slow jam program.
In school ultra-cool kids would bring their boomboxes into class and play songs by Kraftwerk or the Art of Noise and begin to do their dance routines. There was one kid in particular I remember. His name was Peter Whitt. He was a tall, lanky, string bean looking dude but he had such fluidity of motion. When he turned on his techno tunes, he transformed himself into an other worldly figure. I always wanted to learn how to do what he did but I was too shy so I just sat back on my desk, listened deep, and watched as those black magic prodigies moved their arms and legs like they were out made of liquid.
So, when Dodi brought in a Mary J. Blige album and talked about how brilliant she was, I was excited. I think I may have been the only one of the Broadway squad to get excited. She put the record on and I listened. I could see in her beautiful smile and in the way she swayed her head that the music had something in it. After that, I became a lifelong Mary J. Blige fan. That was the most beautiful thing about Dodi. She always brought us something new to experience. She was the most well-read of us. She read so many books that I don't think that I could count them all. I certainly couldn't compare myself to that. If memory serves correctly, she had mastered the art of speed reading. So, she could get through a full novel in a fraction of the time it took any of us. She was also the first of us to get into college. I think she received the scholarship to attend a fairly decent school. We went there sometimes to visit her and experience what college life might be like . Dodi helped fuel my dream of one day going to a university. That's why, when the guy approached me and recruited me to his school, I was ready, even though I felt going to college was financially hopeless.
Dodi was not only my good friend but she was also my role model. I was in awe of her intelligence almost to the point of worship. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to be a person of learning like she was . I wanted to travel the world and have adventures through the pages of books like she did . I wanted to step in the halls of learning and absorb knowledge just as I had seen her do a year or two before me. The Broadway squad was full of characters. I was a dreamer, Jeff was a geek, Alan was the goth, Vince was the Prince, Andre was the gentle giant, Sharon was the goofy cheerleader , and Dodi was a street-smart, book-smart, acid tongued devil.
It's funny that she would be my role model because most guys find their role models in sports figures or other dudes in the neighborhood. My dad left before I was born so my chance at having a male role model wasn't all that good. In many ways, it may have been a blessing in disguise because it freed me from the unconscious following of expectation. I could pursue the brightest stars around me without a second thought. My first great role model was my grandmother.
I saw my future in Dodi. Although we both grew up in our own different types of ghettos me in the black ghetto and Dodi and the white ghetto, we both found a way out. I know without question or doubt, that my road out was paved by my admiration of and love for her.
To be continued…