I’m puzzled by a few things with this Tiny Desk Concert. The first is a note that This story originally ran on Sept. 28, 2010. The second is the note that Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go music, died Wednesday. In 2010, he brought his full band to the NPR Music office — and put on a party like no one else.
That isn’t confusing in itself, but I have to wonder why it took them two years to air this concert, which is quite a fun rave up. Are there other shows they didn’t air?
Okay, so I had no idea who Chuck Brown was. And the blurb anticipated that
The name Chuck Brown might not mean a whole lot to people outside the Washington, D.C., area. … In D.C., Brown is widely known, even revered, as the Godfather of Go-Go, a title he’s held since the late ’70s. Though he started out as a jazz guitarist, Brown invented go-go, a style that incorporates funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and dancehall, and has mostly stuck with it ever since.
So, Go-Go, huh? I never heard of that either.
No one in D.C. can really explain why go-go hasn’t traveled beyond the city’s environs — we love it here, it’s all over our commercial R&B and hip-hop radio stations and, at least when I was in high school, a go-go in a school’s gym was the most packed party of the weekend. Chuck Brown is a local hero. A few days after he played our offices, Brown and his whole band played at the Redskins’ stadium for the halftime show. So to have Brown play a corner of our office — not a 90,000-capacity football stadium — was like a dream come true for a lot of NPR staffers. Sweat started pouring immediately, between the 11 musicians (that’s congas and a stripped-down kit; saxophone, trumpet and trombone; two backup singers and a rapper) and all the go-go-heads in our building.
Brown played four songs for about 25 minutes.
Go-go is mostly about the groove, though, and Chuck Brown just settles in and leans back. He showed up looking like a million bucks in a vest, Dior shades and his signature hat, and then he did what he does best — get the crowd on his side and hand its members something to dance to.
Go-go is based on a syncopated beat and the use of congas in addition to drums. So “Senorita” is like a combination of reggae salsa and 50s singing (I can’t help but think he sounds like Frank Zappa when Zappa does his rather funny voice). The song is slow but smoldering and fun to sing along to. There’s a Santana guitar vibe too.
“Chuck Baby” is the hip hop element of his music. His rapper is not very inspiring though. She seems a little stiff. And the song is a little flat when he’s doing the call and response–he sounds cool and seductive and they sound more bored than “naughty.”
Before the third song everyone starts chanting “wind me up chuck!” which he lets everyone know www.windmeupchuck.com is his website. “Wind Me Up!” / “Bustin’ Loose” starts with lots of call and response. “Bustin’ Loose,” is a funky song with very James Brown accents and everyone singing the refrain: “Gimmethebridgenow, gimmethebridgenow.” The song has been a hit in D.C. since 1979. The backing vocalist on this song feels a bit looser (apparent as she sings “I feel like bustin’ loose).
The crowd was yelling out requests, too: “Chuck Baby” and “Run Joe,” a go-go cover of the Louis Jordan song. “Run Joe” / “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” “Run Joe” has a Jamaican flair “Policeman is on the premises. What is he doin’ here?” His guitar playing is really inspired throughout the set, but especially at the end of this song. He does a lot of playing the same melody as he sings. The song segues into a version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” in which he slips in “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that go-go swing.”
This set was really a party. And Brown was just full of energy.
[READ: January 12, 2017] “Surrendering”
The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue. It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.”
This reflection beings with Vuong explaining that his family moved to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was two. He was an ESL student from a family of illiterate rice farmers who saw reading as snobby.
When he entered kindergarten, he found himself immersed in a new language. He quickly became fluent in speech but not in the written word. In fourth grade his class was given an assignment to write a poem in honor of National Poetry Month. Normally his poor writing skills would mean that he was excused from such assignments. He would spend time copying sentences out of books in the classroom. But this time he decided to be ambitious and write a poem.
When he handed his poem in, the teacher held it up and said “Where is it?” The teacher meant the poem that he plagiarized. He even tipped over Ocean’s desk so all of the contents fell to the floor.
Weeks earlier was in the library (hiding during recess). He was listening to a cassette called Great American Speeches.
Through the headset a robust male voice surged forth…the man’s inflections made me think of waves on a sea. Between his sentences, a crows–I imagined thousands–roared and applauded.
A narrator named the man as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He didn’t know why a doctor was speaking like this–perhaps there was medicine in his words.
His own poem was called “If a Boy Could Dream.” It was an ode to spring and contained words like “promised land” and “mountaintop.” He understood his teacher’s confusion–he was a poor student, after all.
He knew he was “a fraud in a field of language, which is to say, I was a writer.”
A fitting story for Martin Luther King, Jr Day.