My Pop Life #197 : My Adidas – Run D.M.C.

My Adidas – Run D.M.C.

My Adidas
walked through concert doors
& roamed all over coliseum floors
I stepped on stage, at Live Aid
All the people gave & the poor got paid
And out of speakers I did speak
I wore my sneakers but I’m not a sneak
My Adidas cuts the sand of a foreign land
with mic in hand I cold took command
my Adidas and me, close as can be
we make a mean team, my Adidas and me
we get around together, rhyme forever
& we won’t be mad when worn in bad weather
My Adidas.
My Adidas.
My Adidas
*

It was September 1986.  My girlfriend Rita Wolf and I had gone on holiday to San Francisco together, and stayed with her friends Lisa & Bryan alongside Alamo Park, picturesque wooden houses around a green square with a view of downtown off to the north.  We were both in our late 20s, working actors, no kids.

Alamo Park, San Fransisco

The plan was to enjoy the city a bit, then hire a car and drive out to Lake Tahoe – I think we’d both been to San Fran before, and explored Alcatraz, Haight-Ashbury, Berkeley and Golden Gate Park, so fancied a trip in a car, one of my favourite things to do in the world.  Hire a car and D R I V E.  I’ve written about a few of these trips before : Lost Highway, America, two songs about travelling through this nation, by Hank Williams and Simon & Garfunkel (My Pop Life #148  and #130 ).

This trip took us east across the Bay Bridge to Oakland and up Highway 80 past El Cerrito.  Terrible memories of Simon Korner and I being trapped with a weird Vietnam vet back in 1976 – a guy with a head so full of shit that he wouldn’t stop sharing with the two teenagers he picked up hitch-hiking.  As the road stretched on and the miles fell away, the memories faded.  Sacramento.  Then Highway 50 to the lake.  Took about 5 hours I reckon.  What a beautiful place Lake Tahoe is.  Fringed by pine and fir trees, it’s at a high elevation and has a number of top ski resorts in the winter months.  We drove around the California side of the lake to the address on the piece of paper (pre-internet or mobile!!) which read

Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, U.S. 50, Stateline, NV

which meant that we were just inside Nevada and that our hotel was also a casino.  We checked in and looked out of the window, which was like this :

and since it was early evening by then, descended to the restaurant to eat.  Imagine our surprise dear reader when it became clear at some point after sitting down and perusing the menus that we were sitting by a stage and that in 15 minutes, the great Donna Summer was going to come on and sing us a few songs.  Extraordinary.  But that is the thing with these casinos – the whole Nevada experience – a show, then gamble gamble gamble.  We’d gone there for the trip, for the lake, the desert, but Donna was a completely delightful shock.  She had a mini-orchestra with the band and performed all the great disco-era songs – or almost all anyway : Bad Girls, Hot Stuff, On The Radio, I Feel Love, She Works Hard For The Money, Love To Love You Baby… she was amazing and in a normal blog, she would be the point of the story.  This is her in that era, singing with Joe Esposito in Sahara, Lake Tahoe :

Amazing right?  It would only be right and fair to remember that around this time, Donna had made a born-again Christian mistake regarding gays and AIDS/HIV, a statement which she regretted for the rest of her life.  She apologised for it in 1989 – apologised to her significantly gay fans, such as my brother Paul, who felt betrayed after lifting her up in the disco years only to be brushed aside as the terrible disease struck in the mid-80s.  The whole Vegas part of a career is odd I think – like a bubble which exists off from reality, where people go to hide and make money, protected by the Mob.  I’m thinking Elvis, Frank, Louis.  Names so big they don’t need a second name.  Donna wasn’t in that bracket, but she was making somebody serious money and had been for over 10 years.

We were very happy to see her.  One of my favourite artists, regardless of her religious shallows.  The following day Rita and I drove around the lake and visited Carson City the state capital, then on to Virginia City, an old Wild West style town in the Nevada desert.

Great.  So far, so travelogue, with the open goal of a live gig by Donna Summer spurned by the blog.  Ye cannot top that young man surely.

Maybe not, but the point of this chapter is hip hop.  By 1986 we’d all heard The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the former lifting Chic‘s ‘Good Times‘ note-for-note with a bippity-boppity rap over the top, the latter painting a vivid picture of New York’s urban decay with the memorable punchline :

“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under”

which Rita and I had altered slightly in our childish schtick to –

“it makes me mumble how I keep from going crumble”

I was bumbling along in 1986 at 29 years of age, done my youth cults, been a hippie, a skinhead, a mod, a punk, a glam rocker.  I dabbled in a fashionista sense in the new romantics style without really embracing the music much – Culture Club, yeah, Duran Duran, nah.  I just didn’t like half of the songs of that cult.  I was into Madness & Elvis Costello, Crowded House & Talking Heads, Kate Bush & The Pogues & The Style Council.  A smattering of african pop – Sound D’Afrique LPs and Fela Kuti, some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Youssou N’Dour, some soul music courtesy of Randy Crawford, Prince & Sade, bit of Dr John, bit of Laurie Anderson.  Y’know.

Then I heard it.

Barrelling along Interstate 80 coming back into Oakland we’d picked up a local radio station.  A local BLACK radio station.  Sadly segregation in the USA is still practised widely even now in 2017, and certainly was in 1986.  Even today there are very VERY few radio stations that play black AND white music in the same programme.  The fact that it is possible for me to write “black music” and assume that everyone knows what is meant by that is actually pretty depressing to be honest.  Like : google ‘Darius Rucker’ for example.  I’ll tackle it on another blog – but I live in this big stupid segregated world with my black family. I’m white.  We’re humans.  But that’s a whole other subject.  At this point in my short sweet life I was going out with an English Bengali woman,  “whatever” – right ?

tic ta tic tic – a dumbadumdum

A bass-line which came from below the car, below the street, and a hi-hat which was a metallic scratch from a distant satellite dish.  Stretched between these two extremes of sound, a scrunchy crunch like a door slamming & a car crashing – the whip-scratch of a vinyl record being dragged back under a stylus on a turntable, all overlaid with a man’s voice talking about his trainers – in rhythm. That’s it.  A drum-kit & a voice – and a deep deep bass that you could hardly hear, but was inside your bones.  If you listen to this track on a computer, it sounds tinny & trivial, although the rap itself is till tougher than leather – heh heh see what I did there…No,  you have to have the bass, on speakers or headphones.  In a car you get all that top & bottom, and to have this crunching space-age noise with all the clear blue sky in-between each element was perfect, my perfect introduction to hip hop, the new sound of America.

Obviously I was late.

Hip hop had been developing very nicely thank you since The Message, especially in the South South Bronx, Brooklyn and the other boroughs of New York City.  Run-D.M.C. were on their 3rd LP by the time this Pauline conversion hit me & the shining light came down from above and converted me to the five elements of hip hop (9 or 4?  5 for me) which I would immerse myself in over the following years.  I was hooked after one song.  This was like the legend of heroin or crack – one puff and you’re hooked For Life Mate!  It was true after all.

Graffiti is one of the five elements of hip hop – 5Pointz, Long Island City

I bought the album Raising Hell within days, with Peter Piper, It’s Tricky, You Be Illin’, the mighty Walk This Way.  It is no exaggeration at all to say that this LP changed my life completely.  If you were mean you might say that I appropriated this black culture and made it mine, stole it, used it, colonised it.  If you were me you might say that this was my culture too, because all the culture I receive and have always received is mine to have and to hold.  It comes from somewhere of course, but where it goes is everywhere.  We’re sharing, aren’t we?

Yes, I was late late late- but what had I missed ?  The first Run-D.M.C. album called simply Run-D.M.C. (above) had been released two years earlier in 1984 and had a tighter, sparser, punchier sound than the hip hop of that era which was still decidedly funky and rolled along with melodic hooks (Kurtis Blow).  They followed that with King Of Rock in 1985.  But even before the 1st album they’d released the seminal single It’s Like That (That’s The Way It IS) with Jason Nevins in 1983 – and this is the groundbreaker sonically.  Those spaces I’d heard on My Adidas were carved out of thin air back in 82-83.

Rev Run, DMC, Jam Master Jay in 1985

Run-D.M.C. come from Hollis in Queens, which is way out past Jamaica, Queens on the Long Island Rail Road (on the way to Long Island where Public Enemy emanate from).   Joseph Simmons (Run) and Darryl McDaniels (DMC) used to rap in the park together, although Simmons had already DJ’d for rapper Kurtis Blow who was managed by his brother Russell Simmons of DefJam Records.  Run and DMC rapped in front of DeeJay Jason Mizell one day in the park – Jazzy Jase he was known at the time – and they all hooked up.  They wouldn’t record anything until they left high school, and Russell Simmons oversaw their first single It’s Like That/Sucker M.C.s at the end of 1983, with Jam Master Jay on the decks as Jason was now known.

The first album broke the mould of hip hop – not only with its sound, but with the style of the band which had come from Jay – Kangol hats, one-colour track suits and sneakers with the laces taken out.  This was “street” and cool, because it came, like later fashion tropes, from prison garb.   But it was the music, the stripped-down, rhythmic interplay between DMC and Reverend Run (who became ordained as an actual minister in 2004), set against the crisp turntabled beats, rockin’ bells & occasional rock guitars produced by Jam Master Jay and producers Russell SimmonsRick Rubin which became an integral part of the bedrock of old-skool hip hop.  I went on to see them live three times in the 1980s, all in London, they were always immense.

hip hop block party in New York City, late 70s

The great tidal wave of hip hop that crashed into my life was partly me doing catch-up on these early days of Run-D.M.C. along with Afrika BambaataKurtis Blow, Boogie Down Productions, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim and Public Enemy, Salt’n’Pepa, Roxanne Shanté, Biz Markie, Schooly D, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, The Juice Crew, EPMD and Doug E. Fresh.  A great surge of creativity from the streets.  It was extremely exciting.  And then it was all about keeping up with what was coming out right then in the late 80s – 7A3, N.W.A., De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, The Beastie Boys, Tone Loc, Queen Latifah, Young M.C., Spoonie Gee, through to Tupac, Ice-T, De La Soul and Master Ace.  I should also mention the British hip hop scene – Richie Rich, Demon Boyz, London Possee, Cookie Crew, Derek B et al.  Rapping even then in an English accent. I would go off a lot of the hip hop in the early 90s after the gold came back, the social comment of PE and KRS-1 got drowned out by the gangsta rap and macho rubbish that followed.  But until 1991 I bought pretty much every single and album that came out, all on vinyl.  Always been an old skool head.

So obsessed did I become with this new music that it occurred to me that it was going to change the world.  A few of us felt the same way – but it must be recorded that the vast majority of people (that I knew at least) :

a) didn’t like hip hop or rap, or whatever it was

b) thought it wouldn’t last longer than a couple of years, and then

c) real music would come back

In contrast to this I was deep in the flow, going forward.  I felt that this was new, like rock ‘n’  roll was new in the 1950s – a new form – and it wasn’t going anywhere.  It was pregnant with possibilities:  musically, as a dance form, in graffiti, in poetry and, I felt very strongly, in my own arena – drama.  It felt inherently dramatic – it felt as if whole dramas could be constructed out of this new speech.  It was thrilling.  My diary for 1986 records a meeting that I had with Paulette Randall in the latter part of this year.  We talked about creating a play about the hippie convoy (my idea) and urban homelessness (Paulette’s idea) using raps between the scenes or maybe even in the scenes (like a musical).  Soon we would take the project to Joint Stock, where I had worked (with Simon Curtis directing) on Deadlines in 1984/85 (see My Pop Life #185 ). Using the same working method, Paulette & I created Sanctuary, a hip-hop musical which would later transfer to Washington D.C.   See My Pop Life #86, My Pop Life #137 for further adventures.

Little did I know that almost 30 years later I’d be watching “Hamilton” at the Public Theatre in New York, before its Broadway run, using all these ideas and more –  like an opera where all the dialogue is rapped.  Brilliant game-changing show. This was my inchoate dream in 1986 – but it had taken this long to become a commercial reality.  It was truly inevitable given the power and dynamism of the form, but perhaps it needed an audience born after 1990 to appreciate it, to allow it to flourish and grow.  Some things change slowly.

I changed quickly though.  I’ve always been a faddist, and I embraced this new fad with an irritating born-again fashion victim’s zeal & passion.  Money would be spent on vinyl.  Gigs would be attended.  Plays would be written.  This LP in particular was hugely influential on my style of rap writing, which would win me writing awards in two years time. Meanwhile Rita & I enjoyed the remainder of our trip to California and got back to London to find that she was expected for work in Manchester the night before.  One bowl of grape nuts later & we were driving up the M6 in my spangled blue Vauxhall Wyvern ‘Eddie’ to Chester Zoo and the set of ‘One By One’.   Rita was in front of the cameras within 20 minutes of arrival as I changed a flat tyre.

As for those Adidas, well, talk about a signpost to the future.  I still have my pair of Adidas Sambas.  It’s impossible now to speak in a generalised way about “hip hop” as you could in the 1980s, it is so diverse and has so many branches & flowers & languages.  Not only do we now live in hip-hop wallpaper, we now live in sneaker ubiquity.  The idea of the label.  Logo as clothing as status.  Never mind beats in a rhyme. The song is a damn commercial for Adidas & Lee denim!!

standin on 2 Fifth St.
funky fresh & yes cold on my feet
with no shoe string in em, I did not win em
I bought em off the Ave with the black Lee denim
I like to sport em that’s why I bought em
a sucker tried to steal em so I caught ’em and I fought ’em
& I walk down the street & I bop to the beat
with Lee on my legs & Adidas on my feet
& now I just standin here shooting the gif
me and D & my Adidas standing on 2 Fifth
My Adidas.
My Adidas.

Tick ta tick tick ~ Badumbadumdum.

The space inside this song is ridiculous.

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