“As I Walked This Land Of Broken Dreams…”

01.13.09 9 years ago 46 Comments

“…I had visions of many things. But happiness is just an illusion, filled with sadness and confusion.” – Jimmy Ruffin, Motown

“I’m absolutely wasted,” said House Shoes, my Michigan friend and California family. “I’m wasted” being his M.O. on nights like this. It was his release party for his King James Version at Fat Beats. No other state was expected from Shoes other than complete annihilation. Shit faced-ness. Three sheets to the wind. Piss pants. All of that.

“You going to make it through the night?” I asked, filling my plastic cup with keg beer.

“So what?” he responded, then fell out laughing at just how House Shoes-ian of a reply “so what” is to a yes-or-no question. He relayed the story through Henney-soaked smiles to all within earshot, and then again outside to Bishop Lamont, who laughed with the force of a man of authority. I was startled to see Bishop at first; not because I didn’t think he’d come to this event but because seeing folks like him in such familial settings still trips me out, almost three years later.

Shoes finished his Newport and moseyed back inside as King James Version swooned “…she used whip me with a strap, when I was baaaaaad.” I turned to tell Bishop how much I loved the show he did with Black Milk at The Knitting Factory and I had no idea he was also such a comedian. He smiled warmly as if I was the first person to pay him such a compliment and gave me a side hug as he thanked me. I asked was he going to the after party and he said maybe, but he had promised to stop by Kardinal and Akon’s video shoot first. All of this only possible in Los Angeles.

Shining cars cruised below, down Melrose and through the mild January night to some unseen coke party in the Hills or Big Industry meeting on the Paramount lot. Josh, a recent transplant from Michigan, looked out to the fading horizon and said “We live here. I can’t believe we live here.” Rock-a-billy low riders rumbled, tattoo guns blazed and Soul sang sweetly among the walls lined with posters and vinyl in Fat Beats. Behind the register stood Shoes, behind Shoes the magazine Shook, behind the cover of Shook the feature article I wrote about Shoes and Hip-Hop and Detroit. It was the reason I came to California — to go to Grad School and write my Hip-Hop opus. All of this only possible in Los Angeles.

“I wrote my thesis about Shoes,” I said to Guilty Simpson and Black Milk at a Do Over last Summer. We waited by the BBQ grill for our plates of chicken burgers and macaroni salad, nursing half-cups of sangria. They already knew me as a writer but were wide-eyed at the prospect of writing a Masters thesis about Shoes, of all people. “It made me really miss home. Sometimes I really want to go back.”

“Why?” laughed Black, or maybe it was Guilty… but the sentiment was shared. “Ain’t nothing there. L.A. is where it’s at. Everyone moving out here.”

“You planning on leaving Detroit?” I asked, curious.

“Nah,” said Guilty, or maybe it was Black. “Nah, somebody got to stay.”

I raised my glass at the notion and we moved on to lighter matters as Shoes joined the conversation with a verbal flogging of my tendency to date hobby rappers. He said I needed to stop because, as my big brother, he would “be forced to shoot a motherfucker in the face.” He and Guilty launched into a fatherly tutorial on “these L.A. motherfuckers” and how wrong they were for me, or any woman for that matter. This conversation only possible in Los Angeles.

ALL of this. All of this only possible in Los Angeles. And yet here I am packing my bags for Michigan.

The state I could never work out of my system, nor wanted to. The state that waited for me with open arms and heavy heart at the prospect I might find a reason to never return. To be swept up in Hollywood and under a rug of blue collar bootstraps who have little to concern themselves with proverbs of Glitz and Glamour. The state gave me music and opened my ear to song, but has little care for who I meet while out in L.A.. The first question in Michigan was never who sang the song, but rather how well. Never who played the instrument, but how well. Never who made the beat, but how well. You’ve got to work harder than a name for respect in The Great Lakes state. Your name doesn’t mean shit if you can’t do it better than best.

Michigan. My home. My sigh of relief. My cool gust of Winter wind and heat swelter of Summer sidewalk. My full intake of family, of breath, of life. My Love.

And though I’ll miss Los Angeles — primarily the second family I’ve come to love and will hate to leave — and all the opportunities I’ve been afforded while here… for me, nothing is possible without Michigan.

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