Coffee & Cigarettes: Topics of Race, Relations, and Music in the new era.

Part 1: In the Mixx
Back in the early 90’s a good friend of mine had an epiphany while we shared beers at a popular bar. For as we partook in the ancient ritual of male bonding, while seeking sexual encounters with the opposite sex, we observed a metamorphosis taking place within our generation. As the mixed crowd flirted and gyrate to rock and rap, we discussed that we were witnessing what we felt was going to heavily contribute to eventually ending racism. Our theoryzation was that the ability to mingle comfortably under the same grooves championed the melding of the various American cultures.
Generation ‘X’ as we are proclaimed, had grew up immersed in the relatively new sounds of hip-hop and ‘MTV’ videos. As we watched mega-cultural icon, Michael Jackson ride to the top of the R&B and pop charts effortlessly, dancing backwards on lighted yellow brick roads or battling dancing thugs or zombies we also watched him struggle with his own personal demons as the pressures of stardom zapped his inner soul. As we found out later a potent mixture of family drama, skin aliments, diet, and self-esteem played a part in his transformation into what we dubbed him as ‘wacko jacko’, what played out on the small screen was that this man, one of – if not the biggest icon we will ever witness in our lifetime, was seemingly having issues with his ‘blackness’. How fitting his follow-up to the supersized ‘Thriller’ CD, ‘I’m Bad’ was launched with the oddly communicated ‘Black or white’. While the song basically dealt with interactions presented in fact or fictional terms ala black or white. The sub-message, albeit unintentionally, presented itself strongly with his new facial cream, numerous chin and nose surgeries, and the slim posture was that our beloved Michael, all the way up to his untimely death, seemed to be confused with his own complexion.
The success of M.J., hip-hop, and MTV came only a mere twenty years since African-Americans celebrated the signing of the Civil Rights act which finally had given everybody equal rights in our America. For each age group this has represented something different, while our fathers were still adjusting to the new age, still weary after years of destructive violence and relentless condemnation, we basked in it, and were the first to enjoy the benefits. While our generation greatly appreciated the struggle our fathers, before us, gave, we still grappled with the aftermath and what exactly did it mean to us. In the late 60’s and 70’s as our parents, the baby boomers, grappled with war, protest movements, free love, drugs, and rock and roll, it left a wake of confusion as we watched them struggle with their identities. What now made a true American? What exactly ‘is’ a true American? John Wayne and Doris Day were the American standards of yore, now women had burnt bras, gays parade proudly down our streets, and rap icons Run DMC proclaimed to ‘Walk this Way’, jamming all the way up the charts with of all crews, seminal rock band Aerosmith. Hip-hop music with its thumping beats, poetic lyrics, and artistic imagery yelled loud and proud, who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going and everybody was welcome to join in the big party whether you got the message or not. While our elders chided us for not being radical enough as we still deal with lingering injustices, in reality our music was our protest movement. When we blasted Public Enemy “Bring the Noise”, rattling our trunks, moving windows and causing older folks to cringe – that was our protest. Hip-hop rebellion was just the beginning.
Like the Virginia Slim ad proclaims ‘We’ve came a long way baby.” It’s nothing now to have an Asian man mixing up the latest hip-hop with techno and new age music. Hell, half the time he’s making harder beats than his American counterparts. It’s not surprising to see an African-American male rocking a cowboy hat and tight jeans while bumping Big and Rich. Mixed couples can comfortably walk down the street holding hands with maybe only a few scorns from non-approving eyes. As all the cultures blend and mix we appreciate each other in ways our forefathers would have never imagined. While racism still rears its ugly head such as the anti-semantic old-timer firing in a museum dedicated to the past injustice against Jews, newer generations just don’t relate to the arguments of old.
From what we discussed those many years ago, now is enhanced by the fruition of all that good music, partying, videos, and Michael Jackson clutching his Johnson, screaming ‘Black or White’. We of the now generation, see black or white, or brown and beige, fact or fiction, much differently than our fathers of yesterday, we didn’t experience their pains and frustration firsthand but we felt the aftershocks, and that feeling erupted in our music. Generation Y is even further removed, reaping the benefits of cross-pollination. Just as IPod’s and the web today, are as normal as TV’s and automobiles’ yesterday, so is multiculturalism. In the wake of the success of Obamanation, with his own mixed heritage, change has come and its here to stay, and as the good Reverend MLK proclaimed in his famous “I have a Dream” speech, we the children, walking hand in hand, (not essentially) are recouping the benefits. As we all journey along our various paths discovering life, to take a moment to find comfort in the fact, that in a small crazy way, our generation did its task in shaping future cultural relations, all while shaking our ass, in the mix.


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