Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Paula Jane posted a link on her facebook to Rufus and Chaka Khan doing a couple of songs—including the incredible Tell Me Somethin Good—and it reminded me of the first time I saw em—it was on Soul Train, which I watched faithfully on channel 39, every Saturday at noon. I was pretty young, but I gotta tell you, Chaka had quite an effect.

Don't get me wrong, I loved Rufus—they seemed like about the coolest motherfuckers on the planet—I loved how the guitarists dressed, their Panther-like personas—you know? This badass Bobby Seale kinda thing, tall and defiant, using their guitars like weapons in the social revolution we all imagined was happening around us. And that sound—it just sorta cut right through you. They could fucking play.

But Chaka.

Oh, Chaka.

Chaka moved me.

Chaka affected me in a special way—the kind of way that my football coaches had warned me about.

Understand, I am the son of a beautiful woman. All my friends had crushes on my Mom. I didn't like having them over to my house, cause they would construct reasons to be around her. They would sit at the kitchen table, and stare at her. Wherever we went, I would see men gawking at her—winking, whistling, surreptitiously ogling. It was sickening, and I hated them—hated that leering, wet-lipped countenance that would transform them, from Jim, the produce manager at the Texas Super, or Cooter, the smiling half-wit who bagged our groceries, into disgusting, degenerate assholes. "Not me," I would tell myself, in my most earnest, aggressively certain inner voice. "I will never be like that."

And it was true. I was not like that. Until that day. And Soul Train. And Don Cornelius—the real Godfather of Soul, with apologies to James Brown—telling us about a new band. And Chaka beginning to move, and sing, and move some more.

I felt a tremor. What was that?, I asked myself, perplexed. How odd. Hope I'm not coming down with something—Coach won't like it if I miss practice. Chaka is writhing, though. Thrusting her hips a little, on the chorus. The room begins feeling warm. I feel another tremor—then another. Then it was like the scene in The Wolfman where Lon Chaney Jr. watches himself, helplessly, and in mute horror, as he becomes something else. Something monstrous. I felt my face burning, my lips become dry as ash, my eyes narrow into a pathetic approximation of a leer—and I realized: I was becoming like them.

I had previously been affected by Laura Petrie and Emily Hartley—though my attentions were, in comparison, vastly more chaste. Coach Green wouldn't have condoned my furtive admiration, but he would've let it slide. Not this, though. Not in a million years.

Just looking at Chaka could cost our team 2, maybe 3 wins. And I didn't care.

I was no longer pure, of heart or mind. And body was operating on borrowed time.

When she finished, I sat there awhile. I resolved to do more sit-ups, more push-ups, for the next week. Run a few extra laps. I would avert Coaches look, the next few days. Maybe he wouldn't be able to tell. Maybe everything would be as it was. Maybe we could still win district.

But deep down, I must've known better. We didn't win district. And it was never the same.

Two videos, for your perusal. First, the very recording I told you of—Rufus and Chaka Khan, premiering Tell Me Somethin Good, on Soul Train. I'm sure you'll understand, after you see for yourself. And please—for God's sake—hide the small children and the Republicans.

Next, Soul Train line-dancing to Love Train. My Mom told me line-dancing came from the fifties—said they did it on American Bandstand sometimes, to songs like CC Rider, and The Stroll, which was actually written as a line-dance. I fucking loved it when they did it on Soul Train—it was just so damn cool.

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