From my inbox:

“I’m starting to work on a profile, and when I do that I always love to go back and read great profiles for a little inspiration. I was wondering if youd be willing to ask the gangrey crowd for their favorites.”

So …

22 thoughts on “Mailbag

  1. One of my favorite profiles appeared more than a decade ago in The Boston Globe. It’s Mark Feeney’s profile of Richard Nixon, a guy I didn’t think I wanted to know more about. Forgive the length of the post, but this is an extraordinary piece of work in just 2,800 words. I couldn’t find a web link, so here’s my copy:

    On Saturday, Richard Nixon celebrates his 80th birthday. World leader, master politician, unindicted co-conspirator, “not a crook,” a national figure in six decades, 37th president of the United States (and the only one ever to resign): There has never been anyone like him.
    He was the first Californian in the White House, the first emissary from the Sun Belt. Yet has there ever been anyone less California, less caressed by the sun? That dark glower, a spiritual five o’clock shadow to match the one on his face (no, to surpass it): Nixon was like a vampire, shunned by the sun and shunning it. Think of him, standing there in his suit at San Clemente: a buttoned-down man facing a surfboard-filled sea. Wing tips on the beach. Ronald Reagan was of the West but not from it. Nixon was the reverse.

    More important, he was from the future: the West ascendant, the Pacific Rim regnant. Isn’t that why the Eastern Establishment hated him, because they could see he meant their fall? Before Nixon, the Eastern Establishment could live with the conservative wing of the GOP, even dominate it. Joe McCarthy was a sodden joke. Bob Taft, “Mr. Republican,” had been a Yale man, the son of a president, rooted in the solid, stolid Midwest. Goldwater? Goldwater was a department-store cowboy, not to be taken quite seriously (certainly, the voters didn’t). But Nixon, Nixon would not be denied. He was a serpent from the garden.
    Worse, unlike a Goldwater or, later, a Reagan, Nixon had the gall to insinuate himself into the Establishment.

    He was a rootless man who wanted so badly to belong – so badly. He emulated the swells with a gunmetal ardor: the selection of Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate in 1960; the move East in 1963; the white-shoe law firm; the Upper East Side address; the daughter who went to Smith and married an Amherst man (the other daughter went to Finch and married a Princeton man); the lunches at 21 and Le Cirque. His political mentor was Thomas E. Dewey, another poor boy who used a law degree and a well-publicized gift for toughness to make his way into the inner circles. But, unlike Dewey, Nixon never managed to fit in with his presumed betters.

    There were other reasons for the patricians’ scorn for Nixon (hisduplicity, his sanctimony, his transparency), but ultimately it came down to his representation of a future that meant their relegation to a past – with his hovering presence there to remind them of it.

    Even so, in classic Nixon fashion, he was botching it. He failed to see that the Sun Belt was the future, that what he had abandoned, not what he pursued, was where America was going. Of course, how could he have seen the future when what blinded him was the radiance of the past, the aura of history?
    There is nothing more un-American (that crucial term in the Nixon lexicon) than “history.” Yet, it was history that obsessed him. Hungry for its validation, he wanted to enter its pages, to be a statesman – to matter. When Richard Nixon looked into the mirror it wasn’t a Herblock cartoon he saw, it was a craftier Disraeli, a mightier Metternich. History meant the big time, the fastest track, the place where no competitor could beat this most achingly competitive of men. So he installed the recording devices whose tapes he would cite to prove his greatness, which would detail his decision-making, be the centerpiece of a presidential record whose archives would awe historians with an immediacy and comprehensiveness unmatched by any other.

    That is what he envisioned. What he got was evidence of his wrong-doing, the “smoking gun” that would force him from the White House. It was his obsession with history that destroyed him and, having destroyed him, mocked him, too. For the Nixon Presidential Library doesn’t have the documents, doesn’t have the tapes, doesn’t have the records as other presidential libraries do, but is instead a kind of Potemkin village for posterity. “The only presidential library run without taxpayer dollars!” the taped message at the Nixon Library proclaims. What it leaves unsaid is that that’s because Congress didn’t trust Nixon with the artifacts of his own presidency. Rather than a monument to Nixon’s reputation, the library became its mausoleum.

    Wing tips on the beach? All they leave are footprints in the sand.
    The Germans have a superstition about the “doppelganger” or ghostly double. Should you ever glimpse your doppelganger, you die. Alger Hiss and Richard Nixon were doppelgangers – resembling each other right down to their names’ easy assonance (the sibillance, the hiccuping short “i”).

    Both were young men on the make – Hiss’ shabby-genteel Baltimore not being much better than Nixon’s genteel-shabby Southern California – who wanted to become the same thing, pillars of the Establishment: lunches at the Council on Foreign Relations, unread articles in Foreign Affairs, membership in the Century Association, a clutch of honorary degrees. It was not to be.

    They are like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moriarty going over the Reichenbach Falls together, locked in a lethal embrace. For if Hiss was the making of Nixon – Nixon’s pursuit of Hiss’ perjury secured the young congressman’s national reputation and led him to the Senate – Hiss also doomed him as surely as Nixon and HUAC doomed Hiss himself. After Hiss, Nixon would always be seen as unscrupulous, second only to Joe McCarthy in redness of tooth and claw. Never could he attain the status of statesman he so desperately desired – certainly, never attain it in the eyes of the intellectual and cultural elite whom he hated even as he craved its approbation (there is a logical contradiction here, but not a visceral one).

    Hiss had gone to Johns Hopkins and Harvard Law. Nixon worked his way through Whittier College and Duke Law (where he felt such pressure to succeed he broke into the dean’s office to find out his grades, – the first “third-rate” burglary associated with his name, but not the last). Hiss clerked for Justice Holmes. Nixon tried to become an FBI agent – and was rejected.

    It could have been different. At the end of his junior year in high school Nixon won the Harvard Club of California award; there was talk of a scholarship to Yale. It was unthinkable, though, that he’d go East: The money wasn’t there; it was too great a leap. Instead, he plugged away – and became president. It was the glamour boy who ended up in jail. How much you want to bet that still makes Nixon gloat?
    Going to Harvard would have been the death of Nixon. He would have ended up a Wall St. lawyer, earning a good salary and tidy professional reputation, – but little else. His burning resentment dissolved in weekend golf and nightly scotch, he would have had high blood pressure by 35, a heart attack by 40 – and if that didn’t kill him, a stroke would have at 45. There would have been a nice little obits in the Times and Herald Tribune, a poorly attended memorial service. And that would have been that.
    There is this solemn preposterousness to Richard Nixon. It is at once what is most human about him – and most appalling. Some musicians have perfect pitch. Nixon has the existential opposite: perfect clunk. With soap in his mouth and lye in his heart, he has slunk through public life, arms outflung, tailored suit always ill fitting: Uriah Heep giving a press conference. The “Checkers” speech is the great touchstone here. A touchstone not just in being an example of solemn preposterousness that which Nixon could never top (“The kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and . . . we are going to keep it”), but also because the solemn preposterousness worked.
    It’s too easy to make fun of Richard Nixon, to feel superior towards him. For he was Middle America: in his rootlessness, in his yearnings, in the values he professed . . . even unto his relentless uneasiness, his crepuscular weirdness. He didn’t just name the “great silent majority;” he was its vessel, too.

    So much of his success had to do with cultural roots (Stephen Ambrose is very good on this in his multivolume biography of Nixon). So much of the hatred he inspired had to do with cultural roots, too. Nixon realized this: at once dismissing the “trendies” and “elitists” and courting their approval, even going so far as to keep Daniel Patrick Moynihan as house philosophe during his first administration.

    Other president’s have had brain trusts; only Nixon had a house philosophe. And nobody cared, except to dismiss Nixon as a climber and Moynihan as an opportunist.
    Moynihan left Nixon two legacies: “benign neglect” and the Family Assistance Plan. The first was misunderstood and taken to be code for racism (racism from an administration that – even if despite itself – oversaw the integration of more school systems than any other had or would). The second became the kind of grim cosmic joke only Nixon might inspire.

    The Family Assistance Plan of 1971 – in effect, a guaranteed wage for poor families – would have been the single most significant piece of social legislation of the second half of the 20th century. But a Democratic Congress refused to pass it, and it was Nixon – Nixon – who proposed it. That, and not the Great Society, may now be seen as the high-water mark of domestic liberalism. From there on, it was all downhill.
    “We are all Keynesians now,” Nixon said in 1971. With those five words, he acknowledged the complete bankruptcy of traditional American conservatism – and so initiated the triumph of what succeeded it, with Ronald Reagan at its head, a mere nine years later.

    Think of Nixon at that moment as a kind of court fool and high chamberlain rolled into one: “The right is dead,” he proclaims, “long live the right.”
    Does Richard Nixon have a favorite artist? He plays the piano and has professed a regard for Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Why not a taste for the visual arts, as well: Grant Wood? Edward Hopper? Norman Rockwell? Sir Edwin Landseer? Ad Reinhardt, perhaps, with his all-black canvases?

    No, Ed Ruscha – it must be! – the Southern Californian who paints high-gloss words and phrases.

    “Pink Lady.” “Checkers.” “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” “Nixon’s the One.” “Great silent majority.” “CREEP.” “Peace with honor.” “I’m not a crook.” “I gave them a sword.”

    So many possibilities. Too many (that’s what makes Nixon Nixon).
    “My mother felt that I had some aptitude for music, and when I was seven years old I started to take music lessons from my uncle. . . . I have often thought that if there had been a good rap group around in those days, I might have chosen a career in music instead of politics.”

    Richard Nixon
    The famous picture of Nixon shaking hands with Elvis: It’s like absolute superego colliding with absolute id, black hole side by side with supernova, a constellation of incongruity.

    (The meeting was to discuss drug enforcement.)
    He called his memoirs “RN.” It’s plain what he was after: the pathetic aping of FDR and JFK and LBJ (even HHH), the desire to be one of the big boys. If the journalists wouldn’t accord him the honor of the initials treatment, very well, he’d show ’em: He’d do it himself. The poor dope. Didn’t anyone ever tell him that it had nothing to do with them? It was because editors couldn’t squeeze “Roosevelt,” “Kennedy” or “Johnson” into a headline – whereas “Nixon” was short enough to fit.
    No president since Theodore Roosevelt has written more words, published more books. Nixon, who was uniquely despised by intellectuals, was as intellectnam, and Nixon the one who got us out. JFK stole an election, but Nixon had to plead “I’m not a crook.” JFK invaded Cuba and then risked a nuclear war over it, while Nixon opened up China and ushered in detente with the Soviet Union – one guess whom history sees as the peacemaker, who as the warmaker?

    Ah Nixon, he just couldn’t win.
    He was the most hated president since FDR: not simply vilified or mocked or scorned (Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson scored pretty high in that category, too), but loathed, abominated. Just as FDR had been “that man” to the right, Nixon was the prince of darkness, evil incarnate, to liberals. Opposing him wasn’t merely a matter of politics, but of morality. Himself given to the worst sort of cant and superiority, he inspired the same in his enemies. If ever there was a man who shouldn’t have bothered with an enemies’ list it was Richard Nixon: life being too short – and political life being far too short – for such an immense undertaking.
    Was Nixon evil? A lot of people think so. Even some Republicans (it was Bob Dole who dubbed Carter, Ford and Nixon “See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Evil”). But as one looks back, so much of the rhetoric about him seems more a function of the times than of the man himself. He was a hypocrite, certainly – but not all that much more so than most successful politicians. No, it’s that Nixon went to such extremes: so priggish when righteous, so ruthless when amoral.

    One man’s Mad Bomber is another’s Fighting Quaker.
    What he really wanted was to be simultaneously famous and unknown: the smiling public man who was privately invisible.

    This is the single most fascinating thing about Richard Nixon: the desperate desire for opacity on the part of such a painfully transparent man. Maybe that accounts for the success of his marriage. How many public figures have been able to mask their emotions as well as Pat Nixon? The one thing her husband wanted more than almost anything, she possessed. (It is fitting that they should have met at an amateur theatrical, that she was briefly a Hollywood extra.) But even after more than half a century of marriage, he’s yet to learn her secret.
    The politician’s paradox: Insecurity is the most powerful engine of ambition; yet insecurity is the most powerful impediment to successful leadership. You need insecurity to get you to the point where you can accomplish anything. You then need security to bring about those accomplishments. Has anyone ever illustrated that contradiction better than Richard Nixon?
    Think about the harshness of his boyhood (for some of it, “horror” is not too strong a word).

    Having to get up every morning at 4 to go into LA to get produce for the family store.

    Growing up with a mean, grim-tempered father – his meanness made worse, no doubt, by the constant comparison in their son’s eyes with his saintly wife.

    Saintliness, for that matter, can in some ways be an even harder burden for a young person to bear than meanness. Near to tears, sounding almost drunk, Nixon declared in his last speech as president that “My mother was a saint.” Who can say how much the unreachable example of that saintliness – and saintliness can easily descend into sanctimony – was a constant reproach, so constant that even (no, especially) at his nadir, there it was filling his head.

    Above all, having to watch two of his brothers die long wasting deaths. There has always been something dark about Richard Nixon – “Darkness Visible” would have been a better title for his memoirs than “RN” – but the darkness had understandable origins.
    He never could decide whether he wanted to snarl or suck up. So he would do both, and invariably at the wrong time. A lapdog that bit, a mastiff that wanted to be stroked: a hound that, in the end, just wouldn’t hunt.
    In 1971, Nixon traveled to the bedside of Samuel Goldwyn, the movie producer, to present him with the Medal of Freedom. At the conclusion of his remarks, Nixon leaned forward to hear the old man whisper, “You’ll have to do better than that if you want to carry California.” Only Goldwyn’s son was within earshot. Afterwards, Nixon went up to him. “Did you hear what your father said? He said, ‘I want you to beat those bastards!’ ”
    The obsession with toughness – diagramming football plays, handling the “Six Crises,” screening “Patton” before invading Cambodia, “stonewalling,” asking David Frost if he’d done “any fornicating this weekend,” wanting so dearly to be one of the boys – and how it just made him look so silly. Worse, it made him look weak.

    Tough guys don’t resign.
    All along what he should have been cultivating was his radical apartness, his truest self. This was the ultimate appeal of Richard Nixon, the key to his extraordinary electoral success (seven wins in nine campaigns – four for five at the national level): No other political figure has so fiercely embodied the isolation that undergirds American individualism, the solitude frozen in at its red-white-and-bewildered core. He was – he is – a sequoia-knot in the American grain.

    “Always remember,” he told his staff the day he resigned, “others may hate you – but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”


  2. They’re commonly shared and well-known, but I’ll post them anyway.

    Tom Junod on Roger Ailes:

    David Finkel on Larry King:

    Gene Weingarten on Great Zuchinni:

    Tom Wolfe on Junior Johnson:

    Gay Talese on Sinatra and DiMaggio: and

    Gary Smith on anyone, but here’s him on a convicted high school basketball star, a Mennonite basketball coach and a man who couldn’t read:

    Chris Jones on Roger Ebert:

    Also, search for David Finkel on the man who hit the Sunshine Skyway. May 5, 1985 in the St. Pete Times.

  3. I often try reading these two for last-minute inspiration:

    Kelley Behnam’s profile of a Colombian magician. It’s such a simple story, so tautly and powerfully told. Every time I read I think, “I should be able to do that,” but I haven’t come close yet:

    Ron Suskind’s 1995 profile of Cedric Johnson, an ambitious student in one of Washington D.C.’s worst schools. Again, this is simple, but told so well. And the follow-up to this story is dynamite too:

    • The story unfolds like a Gary Larson cartoon you’d tape to the fridge: stealthy animals outwitted by the glare of headlights, crafty men in flannel, the Farther Side of an America that both hunts the wild and shops Home Depot. The story has dark, twisting roads on crisp and creepy nights. In the ongoing saga of Man vs. Nature, it has brief encounters with what are not exactly the Lord’s smartest creatures.

      Dan Brown (“You Whack ‘Em, I Pack ‘Em,” reads his business card) is humble, tenderhearted. All of this will either give you hope in your fellow man or gross you out entirely.

  4. Everywhere inside the Trump Organization headquarters, the walls were lined with framed magazine covers, each a shot of Trump or someone who looked an awful lot like him. The profusion of these images—of a man who possessed unusual skills, though not, evidently, a gene for irony—seemed the sum of his appetite for self-reflection. His unique talent—being “Trump” or, as he often referred to himself, “the Trumpster,” looming ubiquitous by reducing himself to a persona—exempted him from introspection.

  5. Three pieces that expanded my idea of what’s possible with a profile:

    1. Jeff MacGregor on Don King, which is pretty much my favorite thing ever, and more a profile of 20th Century America, I think:

    2. J.R. Moehringer on Pete Carroll, in which the structural conceit of the piece tells you something about the subject:

    3. Bill Zehme on Heather Graham, maybe the best deconstruction of empty celebrity profile writing — and the limitations of all profile writing — ever penned:

  6. Michael Hastings on the Runaway General:

    … The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority…

    By midnight at Kitty O’Shea’s, much of Team America is completely shitfaced. Two officers do an Irish jig mixed with steps from a traditional Afghan wedding dance, while McChrystal’s top advisers lock arms and sing a slurred song of their own invention. “Afghanistan!” they bellow. “Afghanistan!” They call it their Afghanistan song.

    McChrystal steps away from the circle, observing his team. “All these men,” he tells me. “I’d die for them. And they’d die for me.”

  7. Richard Ben Cramer on Ted Williams is my favorite story.

    “IT WAS FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, when achievements with a bat first brought him to the nation’s notice, that Ted Williams began work on his defense. He wanted fame, and wanted it with a pure, hot eagerness that would have been embarrassing in a smaller man. But he could not stand celebrity. This is a bitch of a line to draw in America’s dust.

    Ted was never the kind to quail. In this epic battle, as in the million smaller face-offs that are his history, his instinct called for exertion, for a show of force that would shut those bastards up. That was always his method as he fought opposing pitchers, and fielders who bunched up on him, eight on one half of the field; as he fought off the few fans who booed him and thousands who thought he ought to love them, too; as he fought through, alas, three marriages; as he fought to a bloody standoff a Boston press that covered, with comment, his every sneeze and snort. He meant to dominate, and to an amazing extent, he did. But he came to know, better than most men, the value of his time. So over the years, Ted Williams learned to avoid annoyance. Now in his seventh decade, he had girded his penchants for privacy and ease with a bristle of dos and don’ts that defeat casual intrusion. He is a hard man to meet.”

  8. “Old” by Mike Sager. Not online, I don’t think, but in one of his story collections. One of my favorites, just a profile about an old man, going about his life. I’m pretty sure Sager was there when the guy got up (by letting himself into the old man’s house with a key he left for him, if I recall) and there when he went to bed. Complete immersion, you could say. It shows because it’s one of the most vividly detailed stories, ever. I was always like, “How did he *know* that?” or “How did he *ask* about that? Well, he witnessed pretty much everything firsthand, I’m pretty sure. I recommend seeking it out.

    Also, this story, which I’ve shared once on Gangrey, but I’m going to re-post. It’s not really online, either.

    Andrew Corsello on three stories about Christopher Walken, from GQ, years ago:


    One day in the early 90s, my friend Michael traveled to L.A. on business. The flight sapped him, so after checking into his hotel room he decided to decompress by the pool. The day was bright and hot. He began to doze. Halfway between wakingness and dreams he sensed something, a sudden absence of pressure on his eyelids – a cloud passing before the sun, perhaps. But it didn’t pass. He opened his eyes. A man, silhouetted, standing over him. And then a voice.

    “The sun is hot.”

    The words emerged in the disquietingly blank voice of a man under hypnosis, and Michael recognized instantly, even before his eyes adjusted, that it was Christopher Walken standing over him.

    “I like the sun,” Walken said.

    Michael sat in his lounger looking up at Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken stood there staring down at Michael. Moments passed.

    “Do you like the sun?” Walken asked.

    Michael felt something was expected of him, but didn’t know what.

    “Um, sure, I guess?”

    Walken stared. More time passed.

    “I like the sun,” Walken said.

    Then he withdrew.

    A few years after this incident, my friend Fabrice was driving around the Upper West Side of Manhattan on a Saturday morning in January looking for a place to park. It was early, just past seven, and brittle cold. For some twenty minutes he searched in vain. Finally, he decided to position his car near the corner of West 80th and sit, with hazard lights blinking, until a space opened on the block. The cold and the monotony and the chick-chick of the blinker numbed his mind. He went dumb. But then, in his brain: a gleaning, a proximity alert. Slowly he turned and looked. There, at eye level, inches from the glass – fogging it with his breath – was Christopher Walken. He wore a bathrobe and a pair of slippers. Fabrice beheld the Transylvanian countenance, the shock-treatment hair. Walken, in turn, beheld Fabrice. This lasted several moments. Fabrice felt an unfathomable need to explain himself. Then, while still pinning Fabrice with his gaze, Walken raised his hand, pointed a finger at an old yellow Cadillac parked several yards away and asked, “Would you like to park there?” His tone of voice was so queerly neutral, though, that it sounded more like an observation than a question. Fabrice responded by sitting very still.

    “I tell you what,” Walken said, pulling a set of car keys from the pocket of his bathrobe, “you park there.” Then he strode to the Cadillac, entered, fired the ignition and drove off.

    Not longer after this, Walken starred in a Broadway musical adaptation of James Joyce’s The Dead. A friend of someone in my office worked on the production as a stagehand. As the stagehand tells it, the cast and crew were relaxing backstage one afternoon when Walken, who until that point had been standing off to one side, interrupted the conversation with an off-point question.

    “There is a show on television. The Nanny,” he said. “What is the name of that woman who plays the nanny?”

    “That would be Fran Drescher,” someone offered.

    “Fran . . . Drescher.”

    “Yup. Fran Drescher.”

    Walken considered this.

    “Fran Drescher . . . Fran Drescher . . .” he mumbled, slowly drifting out of the room. “I would like to fuck that woman, yes!”

    The sun, the parking space, The Nanny – what are we to make of these things? How are they linked? What can be learned from the meteorological observations and traffic heroics and corporeal urges of Christopher Walken? Is it the fate of humankind always and merely to declare, “Walken! What a fuckin’ fish-eyed freak! Ha!” And walk away?
    I do not think so, because halfway through the run of The Dead, I spent an entire day in a dimly lit room, drinking coffee, with Christopher Walken (this came about because of my job). And here is what I found.

    I found that Christopher Walken is a man who walks through the world as if through a dream, blissfully unaware that most people are frightened by him, and inexplicably unaware that he is a cult figure. One reason for this – which everyone already knows – is that at an early age, Walken was sucked into a galactic wormhole, then spat out half a second behind (or was it ahead?) of the reality the rest of us occupy.

    But there is another reason. It is this: Christopher Walken brooks no division between the lives he leads on and off-stage. He welcomes into his performances whatever happens to be in his head when he’s put before a camera or an audience. His words: “Life should always be integrated – no actus interruptus. There are two moments that are enemies of a movie actor. One is when that damn thing [the clapper] goes clap! The other is when a director says “Cut!” Such violent, violating moments. But the best directors know that. They make [the clapper] just a quiet little swipe past the camera, the idea being, “Okay, whenever you’re ready, the camera’s rolling.” And instead of, “Cut!” they let the camera roll for 20 seconds because somebody might do something interesting. They’re like lifeguards who just let the kids, you know, play.”

    Apparently, Walken has – in at least three instances – taken this principle of ‘open borders’ to its logical conclusion in his everyday existence, eliminating the barrier that all adults, save saints and sociopaths, place between their internal and external goings on, between what is or isn’t ‘supposed’ to be said to other people, between strangers and friends. (He is not so different, I suppose, from a young girl I saw last week in a grocery checkout line. She was with her mother. She couldn’t have been more than six. She was white. As her mother paid the bill, she looked up at the cashier, a black woman, and in a loud, clear voice, said, “Excuse me, ma’am. Are you black?” Her mother gasped. But the cashier, who knew where the question was coming from, merely smiled and said, “Why, yes, young lady! I am!”)

    This way of being is precisely what makes Walken likeable, if spooky. It creates within and about him a feeling of first things that allows him to approach the world without assumptions, and on its own terms. It is a kind of passport, this way of being. To wonderment. To a younger, more inquisitive version of one’s self. To the simple and ancient realization – long forgotten by most adults – that the sun is hot, and amazing, and quite likeable.

    So yes, my first response to these three tales of Walken was, “Walken What a fuckin’ fish-eyed freak! Ha!” To a large extent, it still is. But now, upon further reflection, it occurs to me to take at face value – as a child might – these observations and questions which Walken felt moved to share with three complete strangers. And I find – as you surely do, too – that in all three cases, my response is a pleasurable and fundamental. YES.

    I do like the sun!

    I would like to park there!

    I would like to fuck Fran Drescher!

    Andrew Corsello is a writer for GQ magazine.

  9. This must be read– or rapped– out loud. I present Tom Junod on Li’l Bow Wow (circa ’99, courtesy of Heckert, forgive any typos):

    1 If you could live any way you want, if you could live any way you please, if money was a virus and you caught the disease, if your money scrubbed you so clean and new, you smelled Bubblicious and so did your crew, if you spent your life just licking your lips, laughing at the crackers taking little sips, and when you had to choose between Bentley and Benz, you said, Take the Ferrari”… what do you do then? Because when you could get takeout from the restaurant you own, and when your fingers do the walking, they go to “Crabs, Stone, and when you could order caviar in your all-meat sub, would you eat your dinner at a gentlemen’s club? You know, the kind of place with “upscale” pretensions, the kind of place that thrives during concrete conventions, with an army of strippers, all casually gesturing–hey, if silicone were steroids, this would be pro wrestling …. And now, to a special room reserved for “VIPs” comes Atlanta’s hip-hop impresario, Jermaine Dupri.
    “Any way he wants? …. Any way he pleases?” Shit, Jermaine’s got clout like the winning team’s got Jesus. And almost every night, he’s here with his crew, because on his solo album, Life in 1472, he drops some rhymes on how he lives the life, “eating crab and watching bitches shake shit all night.” So now here he is, ’cause the night’s still young, and strippers are to rappers as archetypes are to Jung. And for Jermaine, this Gold Club’s just another of his mitzvahs–, it don’t matter that tonight’s two nights before Christmas. He’s got the private room, bodyguard at the door, he’s got preferential treatment, like Gotti at Scores, he’s got this crazy white bitch, bucking in some homey’s lap, while the rest of his crew takes a fucking nap.All she’s wearing is white boots, laced up to her knees, and if she says, “Brother, may I?” well, she don’t say, “Please.” Because while she’s grinding the homey’s joint to glory, she’s also telling Jermaine some stupid-assed story, which, despite the fact she might be hooked on phonics, comes out of her mouth in the purest ebonics.
    See, now that rap is the music for children of all ages, it’s pretty easy to see that this shit is contagious, and if you give it to a Frenchman, whose tongue is simon-pure, soon it’s, “Wuzzup, nigga?” instead of “Mais bien sur,” and though this stripper is probably from some farm in Alabama, she’s trying to sound like the baddest mammajamma, so that even the homey in the grip of her thighs starts making faces and rolling his eyes. But Jermaine listens to her story, ’cause he’s the kindest of dudes–he just happens to like strip joints (for the music and the food). And now he’s hungry, so he orders the jumbo platter of crab o and giggles when a damn reporter offers to pay the tab, because the platter, when it comes, is so damn large, . it would get its own space in Evander’s garage, and that kingcrab leg, it’s so damned heavy, it’s like the sparerib that tips over Fred Flintstone’s Chevy.
    Now, Jermaine’s got his own company, So So Def, and when cliques have beefs, he’s the motherfucking ref, and now, when it’s nearly three in the morning, he’s the only member of his crew who’s not yawning, and when all the other homeys make motions to leave–like, “Hey, Jermaine, it’s motherfucking Christmas Eve!”–Jermaine (who calls himself “Don Chi Chi” and comes on like a mobster) is eating crab, saying, “This sure beats Red Lobster!”

    2 NOW, FOR ALL Y’ALL WHO DON’T KNOW WHO JERMAINE IS–well, you ain’t dead yet, just on intravenous, and we’ll call the doctor, and instead of sutures, we’ll ask him to give you a glimpse of the future. ‘Cause just like his rival, Sean Combs (aka “Puffy”), Jermaine’s shaping the mind of your sweet daughter, Muffy, with his raps and his glossy R&B productions, giving the youth of America vital instruction on the American Dream, circa Y2K, when rock ‘n’ roll’s as old-school as Robert Goulet. See, Jermaine, he don’t do this shit alone–hell, he’d do solitary with a pager and a phone. It’s almost like he’s this whole new species: the first human being with a cellphone prosthesis. A psychologist would call him “outerdirected,” though his fellas just say, “Motherfucker’s connected.” He’s a commercial rapper, not at all like Wu-Tang (his biggest hit song:”Money Ain’t a Thang”), but where he courts little Muffy–where he tries to seduce her–is as Atlanta’s leading hip-hop producer. And though you might think his power is strictly local, he’s twenty-six years old and a certified mogul, and he says if you come to him and want to start rapping. “If I got to steal your soul, I’ll make sure it happens.”
    So there’s a second character in this play or drama, and just like Jermaine he lives at home with his mama, or else he lives with Jermaine when he comes to Atlanta and thinks of Jermaine as his personal Santa. And he’s in Atlanta all the damn time, because word is Jermaine’s gonna feast on his rhymes–he’s this skinny little fella, hardly any fat in him, but word is Jermaine’s gonna make him go platinum, like he did with Kris Kross, Da Brat, and Usher, like he did with Mariah (but did he bum-rush her?). This brand-new rapper is supposedly a def MC who’s already got his rapper’s secret identity, the way Bruce Wayne’s got Batman and Bond’s got 007–hey, the references are apt: This rapper’s only eleven.
    It’s like he shows up one day, with his past all hazy, onstage in Atlanta with Jermaine and Jay-Z, and though the boy has flow, no motherkissing doubt, isn’t it kind of late for a little tyke to be out? He’s got a real hard vibe and eyes meant for fame, he’s got long braided hair, he’s got the motherfucking name, he’s got tomorrow’s Air Jordans, he’s got the Timberland boots, he’s got diamonds in his ears, he’s buying Fubu suits. And he’s going with Jermaine just about everyplace he go, because though he lives in Ohio, he hates the damn snow. So when JD has a birthday and politely extends invitations to two thousand of his closest friends for a party he’s having at symphony hall, celebrating glitz, glamour, and unmitigated gall, the kid’s right there with him–“Would you look what he bought her?” r (See, Bow Wow’s so pretty they think he’s his daughter.) And when he meets the celebs, his ice ain’t meltin’, even when it’s, “This here’s Mariah, and this here’s Elton.” A child like that, he’s gonna have his hit. “But would you look at his eyes? It’s like they seen some shit.” He don’t move an inch, he’s always watching Jermaine, like someone tempered by fire, impervious to pain, and he’s like a hardened veteran with his concentration, ’cause you can’t be a child in this hiphop nation. And even a few months later, when ’tis the season, well, you always know the kid’s there for a reason. At Jermaine’s Christmas party, it’s three in the morning, and the club’s closing down, the lights blinking in warning. Bow Wow’s still as a statue, like a sculptor chiseled him, standing behind Jermaine like a Fruit of damn Islam, ’cause Jermaine’s the DJ, he’s scratching his vinyl, and with that crazy little nigga no party is final. And at an hour when Bow Wow should be dreaming of toys, it’s “All you niggas making money, make some motherfucking noise!”
    And now it’s two days later, the kid’s looking at the menu, sitting with JD in some salmony venue. And the waiter is poofing, he’s selling squid ink and jus, and the special today is bone-marrow mousse. You see, Jermaine takes him here to see what he chooses–the kind of information JD always uses–and he wants to see if this kid has been around, but when he pours oil on his bread plate, it’s like, “Oil? From the ground?” Remember: It’s anything he wants, anything he pleases, but when the waiter flounces back, he orders “burger with cheeses,” because he’s a kid after all, and that’s what he eats, and if Jermaine wants to transform him, it’s far from complete. He don’t even look like a rapper, ‘cept around his neck there’s a medallion so heavy, it drags his head to the deck. It’s made out of platinum and specially mounted with 131 diamonds. (Bow Wow’s mother knows: She counted.) Jermaine gave it as a present or as a down payment on a house, and the thing is in the shape of Mickey fucking Mouse. And there’s the look in the kid’s eyes when he talks about the past–it’s a heartbreaking look, like, “Oh, this won’t last.” See, when you ask this little boy where he comes from, he gets all serious, like he’s got a conundrum, and he starts biting his nails, like Shaquille laying bricks, and he says, “I could have been a millionaire when I was six.”

    3 NOW, FROM THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS A CONCERN: If a kid listens to hip-hop, like, what does he learn? Commentators asking if it’s good for the people, like hip-hop’s a church, with a motherfucking steeple–Bill Bennett, DeLores Tucker, you know, that ilk, talking like all music should be motherfucking milk. Well, listen up, laydeez, with your backyard bug zappers, take a look at your son–he’s already a rapper. Take a look at this table, in this Ohio school, black kids, white kids, all acting ghetto cool, like going to the lunchroom means laying down beats, as much as it means eating mystery meats. Yeah, the food still sucks, it’s like Ken-L Ration, but now you hear the soundtrack of our miscegenation, in the form of the beat that one kid makes with his hands, you know, the hip-hop beat that his parents can’t stand. And so it’s kind of like doo-wop or maybe like punk, kids making homemade music to that tick-tick-thunk, yeah, tick-tick-thunk, right there on the table, from the fists of a child dreaming of diamonds and sable. And all the boys going around, talking about their flow, ‘ ‘cept for Wes–“He listen to country, so what do he know?” Bunch of sixth-grade knuckleheads, trading knee-slappers–: they don’t know that in their midst is a genuine rapper.
    Now, he’s the smallest of the boys, but he’s easy to recognize–he’s the one with the hair, he’s the one with the eyes. He’s the one who looks like he’s made out of gold, he’s the one who’s already bought, already sold. He’s grown up fast, wondering, “What happens if my star dims?” and he dreams of hiring his best friends to bodyguard him. See, he’s an only child who dreams about sisters and brothers, who tells strangers he has siblings, according to his mother, who likes to buy gifts for people he just met, ’cause if they don’t know him now, they just don’t know him yet. And maybe that’s why as he calls this lunchroom crew to order, he tells them to speak into some old guy’s tape recorder. Any kid sits down, he says, “Tell him your name!” like they’re all gonna rise to riches, bitches, and fame, because he knows that in hip-hop a name is more than a fact; it’s the beginning of the rhyme, it’s the beginning of the act. So now all these kids, one by one they confess: It’s “Brian,” “Scott,” “Eric,” “James,” “Kenny,” and “Wes,” all except one bruiser, whose T-shirt says, STEVE AUSTIN GONNA SLAY THEE; he looks at the recorder, says, “Fuck you, pay me.” Now, the one called Bow Wow, he says his name is Shad (not to get too ecumenical, but it rhymes with “God”), because he hasn’t told these boys his secret ID,. and in school he’s “Shad Moss” until “Bow Wow” is meant to be..’ Because what’s he gonna say–“I got my name from Snoop” ?–to a bunch of boys as country as a chicken coop?
    But that’s right, Snoop Dogg himself gave him his moniker; he’s even got the pictures his mother took with her Konica of him hanging with Snoop, Suge Knight, and Dr. D-R-E when he was with Death Row Records, a genuine DPG. That’s “Dogg Pound Gangsta” to you, if you a civilian, if you don’t know that “Death Row” also meant “selling a million,” if you don’t know it meant all sorts of mean gangsta shit, so your soul went to the devil when you got your first hit. But he was just a little kid then, and now he’s all grown up, and he’s deep in his comeback, now that JD has shown up. So he figures he’ll tell his homeys at least the start of his tale, about being in Death Row like Jonah in the whale. See, all little kids like to state their ambition–“I want to be a fireman!” or “I want to be pitchin’!” But at an age when kids dream of being cowboys (not rustlers), Bow Wow told the world, “I want to be a motherfucking hustia!” On the album called Doggystyle, the one Snoop put out first, he was just six years old, and Snoop hired him to curse. He also went on Arsenio, like Snoop’s little caboose, and then starred in the video for the song “Gin and Juice.” Now when he mentions that clip, he’s like a ghost who says “Boo!” Wide-eyed white kid at the table says, “That was you?” But another kid pipes up, like he’s getting played for the fool–“If that was you, why you still going to this ghetto school?” Now, this is pretty funny, ’cause the school’s middle class, and where the ghetto’s got concrete, this has trees and grass., But when some new kid asks, “How’s this a ghetto, please?” the kids sing in unison: “They serve us crusty cheese! They give us mushy salad! There’s water on the floor!” Yeah, the world is a ghetto–all props to War. And then the class clown named Kenny, he’s trying to school us, says, “We all ghetto now, and we all ghetto fabulous!”
    So now they all go to the auditorium, with Bow Wow as their leader, his girlfriend’s in there, and he’d like to meet her, to tell her friends he’s a rapper, for confession brings relief. Well, he does and guess what? The news invites disbelief. The girls are all grinning, with their rapt mocking faces, with their glittery skin, with their glittery braces, like Shad is some band nerd, trying to play “Taps” for them, until a girl volunteers, she’ll believe if he raps for them. “Rap for us, Bow Wow,” that’s the chant of these girls. “Rap! Rap! Rap!”–that’s the chant of the world. But Bow Wow don’t say nothing, he don’t rap nor sing; hey, recess is over–the bell’s gonna ring.

    4 NOW, WE’LL START THIS SECTION IN MEDIA RES, and if you don’t know Latin, get out my face, or if you want to go where the rhymes are dope, get out your Norton Anthology, read Alexander Pope (that old gent had the couplets, he had the hit list; too bad the rhyming Englishman probably also had syphilis), because we’re not about the words now, we’re about the tunes, we’re gonna send bad-boy Jermaine to his motherfucking room–no, not like his dad nor like Tina, his mother, nor like his imaginary sisters nor like his imaginary brother. See, Jermaine’s an only child, just like Bow Wow is, too, and like Bow Wow he’s little, about five feet two, dark skin, braided hair, with sort of bulgy eyes, but you can ask Mariah Carey: It’s not about size. The fella’s been the shit since he was soiling diapers; by the time he was toddling, he was a little pied piper. His father is in the biz, so he grew up with music, and if he hears a song once, he knows if radio can use it, ’cause it’s all instinct with him, it’s all solar plexus, and if he’s searching for a hit, he don’t have to use Nexis. His house is modest, and he lives downstairs from his mother, and his studio and his bedroom are right next to each other. Yeah, at the bottom of his house, right there in its bowels, right next to the bathroom, with the JD-embroidered towels, is the studio where Jermaine works, where he goes all night long, where he’s working right now, turning beats into a song, so that the house is shaking, with the lights all blazing, and Jermaine’s as happy as a frat boy at a hazing. The first thing he tells his artists is Don’t sleep, don’t even try–“you’ll have plenty of time to go to sleep when you die.” Oh sure, he’ll vacation, he just came back from St. Bart’s–you know, the kind of place where they arrest you for farts, the kind of place where you got to pay to look scruffy-he was kicking down there with Russell Simmons and Puffy, and with L. A. Reid, dividing spoils over libations, yep, one of those things you call a working vacation.
    And tonight he’s back to work, doing a remix–pronto–working with his crew like the Lone Ranger with Tonto. Now, you may ask, Hey, what the hell’s a remix? Well, it’s something like unwinding some swell double helix: You take the song’s heart out, you put your own heart in, and then the record company gets to sell it again. JD’s the Remix King: He gets a chance he never fails one, and so he has become a sort of Hip-Hop Pygmalion. See, he doesn’t limit his remixes to someone else’s tunes; no, he remixes his artists, whom he feeds with a spoon. And so if he likes going to strip joints for a little T&A, what he really loves is messing with folks’ DNA. Inside his little studio there’s no picture of girlfriend or wife, just cards from rappers and singers–“Thank you for changing my life.” He’s been a wizard so long, he’s almost old-school, a hip-hop rabbi with an R&B shul, and back when Melanie Griffith didn’t need Oil of Olay, he was buying his first drum machine on layaway. He was only twelve years old, dancing on the Fresh Fest tour, because he’s always been about getting asses on the floor. And just seven years later, he was walking in the mall, when he saw two little homeys just having a ball, and a bunch of little kids following everything they do, so Jermaine Dupri decided to follow them, too. They reminded him of himself, yeah, that’s what he thought, but to make them more like him–well, that’s what he sought. So to get their attention, like that old lady with the Clapper, he walked up and asked them, “Hey, do you want to be rappers?”
    He didn’t come on like no gangsta, talking Glocks or gats, he was just a mild-mannered nigga in a big floppy hat. And he brought the kids to his house, had Tina teach ’em to dance, and then made them fashion victims, wearing backward pants.And when it came to rapping, he put his rhymes in their mouths, then it was like, Yo, motherfucker! Hip-hop in the South!See, the two boys, called Kris Kross, were barely adolescent, but Jermaine wrote “Jump” for six million prepubescents, and so began the rise of Atlanta’s hiphop economy, which will always be bullish, just as long as there’s wannabes, with Jermaine at the center, calling himself “the Wizard of Oz” (though he has to admit, he passed on Left Eye, Chilli, and T-Boz), and with Chuck D and Too Short in ATL to cap their careers–ask Chuck D why, he says, “More colored folks here!” So now after New York and L. A., make Atlanta number three. “What about New Orleans?” Hey, fuck Master P.
    Now, some say rap’s not music, because it’s often played with machines and therefore sounds downright hostile to human beings, but now, in the studio… well, critics probably haven’t seen this–Jermaine, in the studio, is like some mercenary genius. Because though he don’t take drugs and rarely gets drunk, his eyes roll back in his head at the tick-tick-thunk. It’s like jazz in the studio, though it’s samplers ‘stead of horns, and though the beat never changes, it’s like it’s waiting to be born.And Jermaine listens to that shit for like hours, dancing, scratching, and sweating till he be needing a shower, waiting for something to happen, “listening for the hit,” until at five in the morning he says, “Yeah, I think that’s it.’ It was like a ghost dance or something–there was nothing said; Jermaine says his crew knows what to do from “the bobbing of my head.” So now the crew takes a break, starts playing with JD’s toys–that house like the playpen of the world’s richest little boy. Then one of them asks, “Did anyone catch that diss by Chris Tucker? Another says, “Yeah, that high-voiced nigga one funny motherfucker. He was talking ’bout Jermaine, saying the music, it’s so sweet but he’s so small the picture on his license shows his feet!” Now the crew’s all falling out laughing, slapping each other five, saying Jermaine’s got fifty fucking cars he’s too short to drive, and Jermaine’s standing there about the size of Cupid, and he sounds like a little kid when he says, “Y’all are stupid.”

    5 BUT NOW WE’LL CHANGE FOCUS, GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING, because you know that hip-hop is all about winning.”The American Dream”–you always see it written in quotes, but only when the writer’s in position to gloat. ‘Cause if you deem such dreams corny as a silo, well, you don’t know what it’s like to be from Columbus, Ohio, like this woman named Teresa, working three jobs because she’s afraid of being left behind with the mob–no, not “mob” meaning “gangsters,” pulling scams; “mob” meaning “losers,” eating nothing but Spam. So that when her son Shad is born, as if in golden raiment, she accepts his beauty as compensation, or payment. The child is “special,” “advanced,” born dreaming of riches, and sometimes at night, when Teresa’s washing the dishes, and she’s afraid her life is on the short end of maybe, she’ll turn to Shad and say, “Rap for me, baby.”
    See, from the moment he heard rap, that shit just stomped him, and at four years old, he’s memorized all of Straight Outta Compton, and though when he’s at home, he’s a merry little prankster, he starts entering talent contests under the name of Kid Gangsta. And in 1993, when Death Row Records comes to town, with Suge Knight, Dre, Snoop, and the mighty Dogg Pound, and the MC asks the crowd to send a local rapper to the stage, they pick Kid Gangsta off the floor, though he’s six years of age. He gets passed overhead, like it’s some sort of ritual (who knew that virgin sacrifice could be this habitual?), and when he starts rapping, no one laughs–he’s not funny; no, he’s got this command, so they start throwing money. He’s standing onstage, like the Pinball Wizard in Tommy, and when he goes home, he says, “I did it, Mommy!” He says they’re all at the hotel waiting for Teresa to come back, because Death Row wants him as the tour’s opening act. See, Snoop took one look at Shad and was immediately besotted: He has the looks, the charisma–this kid’s just got it.” And so like in Greek mythology, Athena born in Zeus’s brain, Snoop says, “Kid Gangsta? Uh-uh. I’m giving you a name,” and like Dick Button flipping his wig over a triple salchow, he tells Shad, “You look just like me. You’re a little Bow Wow.” So Teresa drives to the hotel, asks, “How long do we wait? …. Three hundred pounds of Suge Knight says, “Bus leaves at eight.” So is it, “Whoop, There It Is”? No, it’s “Whoop, There He Goes.” Next morning Bow Wow’s on the bus with a case full of clothes, and for him it hardly matters that he’s been discovered, because he thinks that in Snoop he’s found his big brother. But then the tour gets canceled–“anticipation of violence”–and after all that expectation: nothing but silence.
    Bow Wow moves to L. A. with his mother, Teresa, goes to the studio every day but winds up eating cold pizza. ‘Cause Snoop gets charged with murder, has to be an escape artist, and so he forgets how tender this little boy’s heart is, and though Suge puts him up in a hotel, Which is luxury-snobby, Bow Wow spends a lot of time by himself in the lobby. His life is a banquet of candy bars and Skittles, and he whiles away the hours telling patrons jokes and riddles. And Death Row has no fear of this little boy running wild–no, what scares them is that he might act like a child. And when he falls for the hotel manager, and she for him, a Death Row bodyguard won’t even let her teach him to swim, because he belongs to the Row, and he might drown in the pool, and when Teresa’s not there, he doesn’t even go to school. See, he was supposed to sign with Death Row and right away start rappin’, but now he barely sees Snoop, and it’s like: What happened? So Teresa goes back to Ohio, still hopeful for the best–she gets the name Bow wow tattooed to her leg and her chest–and she makes the decision to leave her son behind, because though he’s eight years old now, it might still be his time, and there’s a couple offering him a nice place to go, these two aspiring rappers by the name of Tommy and Lo. He lives in their house, in a quiet part of South Central, and the love he feels for them, well, it’s elemental, and so he’s happy, though he keeps waiting for Snoop to phone, and eventually his mother summons him home, where one day he gets news no child should have to hear:Tommy and Lo are both dead, each shot behind the ear. It was an execution-style thing, a real duct-tape affair–and Teresa knows she’d have lost her son if he’d stayed out there, and the city of L. A. becomes the one thing Bow Wow truly fears, and the kid doesn’t stop crying for like three solid years, so that the day he signs with Jermaine and has something to show, he looks at the sky and says, “See? I did it, Tommy and Lo!”
    Now Teresa got a good job, and she’s married a good man, but she still thinks that for her son God has got a plan, so when JD came around, she was like, “Shad’s got a brand-new start,” she’s still got the words BOW WOW tattooed right above her heart. And when she says, “Rap for me, baby,” his rhymes are ripe with brilliance, whether due to loss of childhood or maybe childhood’s resilience. Because when you meet him in Ohio, you don’t expect no Little Bo-peep, but when you open his bedroom door, he’s playing hide-and-seek. And if his innocence is broken, like a bottle into shards, why’s he offering you the best of his collected baseball cards? And all the time you’re with him, he barely mentions Snoop; he’d rather show all the dunks he’s learned on his Nerf b-ball hoop. And so with legs splayed like Michael Jordan, through the air he hurtles, and when he touches ground, he says: “Now, do you want to meet my turtle?”

    6 NOW, I KNOW THAT AFTER BOW WOW’S TALE, we might need a little levity, but right now the best I can do is offer a little brevity–a short stanza, in which the supporting players take a bow, and submit to the game called “Where are they now?” Now take Death Row, for instance–they have surely changed; and if you read the trades, you know it’s not all growing pains. Motherfuckers used to be, “You want to fuck with us? Try us!” Now Suge’s in jail, his empire’s like the wreck of Ozymandias. They say, “There was once a Bow Wow, but we don’t know where he is.” Asked for further comment: “Don’t you know what kind of company this is?” And Snoop is still drawling, doing the bounce for Master P, but everyone knows he sounded better G-funking with D-R-E. Snoop remembers Bow Wow, sure, with love and affection–“I tried to give him guidance and positive direction.” And though he was facing a murder rap and all the attendant gloom, “when we was smoking weed and shit, I made sure Bow Wow left the room.” ‘Fact, he was bringing the boy to his own label before that hit the skids, then he gave him to Jermaine because “Jermaine is good for kids.”
    So then how ’bout Kris Kross–like the biggest kid act ever? Remember them in those backward pants? Wasn’t that really clever? Ex-manager talking the other day says when he sees ’em, he feels funny. “Well, they’re not really cute anymore. I hope they saved their money.” Yeah, “the light-skinned Chris,” Chris Smith, got some pimples turning twenty, and he still dreams of those unspoiled days before anyone had any–any pimples, any money, anything but dreams and love–before Jermaine chose them in the mall, like an angel from above. “Did you know JD’s got a picture of my face tattooed on his shoulder?” It’s the only place where Kris Kross hasn’t gotten any older.

    7 DO YOU THINK THAT ANY OF THE HIP-HOP prophets could have possibly foretold the day when America would have a hip-hop Super Bowl? Do you think that even Malcolm saw the day when all the rich corporate debtors were partying their ofay asses to the tune of Jay-Z’s “Can I Get A…”? Do you think that when brother Martin was dropping fast and futuristic, he saw the moment come to pass when capitalism looked so… idealistic? Do you think that when old Booker T. was putting his thinking cap on, he saw the So So Def army on Collins Ave., swigging magnums of Dom? Do you think that W. E. B. DuBois, whose outlook was never sunny, foresaw his talented tenth saying, “Show me the money?” Or that Fred Douglass would be Dirty Birding, worrying about the weather, sayin’ after twenty years of hiphop, it’s the best time to be a black man ever? So all you folks watching the game, with your TV and lasagna, welcome to Miami–the hip-hop nation is upon ya. But before you start worrying, crying, “What we gonna do?” remember what the nation already is: more American than you. You listen to Snoop and DMX, whining, “Mommy, they’re psychotic!” when it’s really just those two crazy dogs barking crazy patriotic, and so Miami is like a swap meet, buncha homeys saying, “What you got?” Puffy Combs: “I got the villa.” Jermaine Dupri: “I got the yacht.” Yeah, for seventy thousand smackers, JD’s got a weekend of floating wealth, a boat called the Octopussy–couldn’t have named it better himself. So now we’re stepping aboard this frigate: Yo! Ahoy, maties!–you better start calling cabs for your belowdeck ladies, ’cause at noon, here comes JD’s ma, with her matriarchal clout, meaning that when Tina is coming in, all the hoes is getting out, and this tub is full of homeys waking up, their personal myths enlarging, and by the window at least a dozen cell phones are recharging. There’s PlayStation on the big screen, a battle between “Big Bob” and “Rock,” and there’s three personal bodyguards and at least a half a dozen Glocks. And on the teak deck, there’s white folk in white shorts, serving up the food, and as tasty as this pasta is, well, no one’s trying to be rude, because though the grub is quite exotic, nothing we get in our cribs, we really need some meat for our motherfucking ribs. So no offense intended–though y’all probably don’t get this shit from Sting-but we’re also gonna get a bag of takeout from the local Burger King. And from the speakers around the hot tub, Jagged Edge is crooning loud, and Captain Pierre says that for the Octopussy, “this is… an interesting crowd.”
    Then finally there’s some activity from the grand-master suite; at one o’clock we finally hear the pitter-pat of little feet, and it’s Jermaine, rubbing his eyes, and Bow Wow, finding the head–see, both of them so little, they can sleep in the same bed.And now onto the deck comes the captain of So So Def, having a contest with a little boy to see who does his yo-yo best, “and then they start slap-boxing, like brothers sharing bunks, and when JD gets his jab in, he says, “Ohio niggas are punks.” Yeah, they doing everything together, like the brothers they never had, though some might think that in Jermaine, Bow Wow has found his dad. And Jermaine has the kid in training, working on his dancin’, telling him that come next fall he’ll be bigger than fucking Hanson. And yet Bow Wow still gets nervous, is still biting on his nails, because now, at age eleven, he thinks that at age six he failed, and when he goes to JD’s studio, he wants to open that door, like Burgess Meredith in Rocky II, saying “What are we waitin’ for?” He’s afraid it’s gonna be like L. A.–afraid of all that pain–he don’t know that he’ll keep on waiting, till he turns into Jermaine. It’s how Jermaine works, going back to Kris Kross, the first one: “Bow Wow and me together will make one powerful person.” And so before Bow Wow can make it, he’s got to reach this goal–he’s got to let Jermaine Dupri get his hands on his soul. And for Jermaine, there’s this question, from the other side of the door: How can the little wizard steal a soul that’s been stolen once before? Step one: take him shopping, show him what he’s got. Step two:let him sleep on the motherfucking yacht. There’s no need for the wizard to slip the boy no potion–he just takes him out Jet Skiing on the motherfucking ocean, and then takes him to a club, where the sistas got no shame, ’cause it’s a bikini contest, sponsored by Jermaine. They both come through the crowd, riding big men’s shoulders, and if one’s eleven, the other don’t look too much older, and he’s probably the only man in the world who can act the mack while he’s riding through a club on piggyback. Now they both go onstage, and Jermaine takes the mike, and he starts telling the contestants exactly what he likes, and Bow Wow’s up there, cool as one of Langley’s spies, though sometimes, when the lights are bright, he covers his eyes. And Jermaine’s saying, “Bitch, is that all you can do? You’re gonna show me everything before we are through.”

    8 IF YOU COULD LIVE ANY WAY YOU WANT, if you could live any way you please, if money was a virus, and all you do is sneeze, would you go to find the very heart of hip-hopping in the fundamental practice of shopping? If you could define what is meant by “having it all,” would you spend the twelve days of Christmas in an Atlanta mall? And if you could lead your crew through any door, would you choose the portal of the Hermes store? It’s pricey in there, and lest anyone starves, you know what the French say: Let them wear scarves. And now to offer Season’s Greetings–comme on dit, “Wuzzup?”–Jermaine’s spending like five hundred bills on a motherfucking cup, while some khaki’d client who’s probably still not hip to the Del-Tones has this look on his pink face like “Negroes with cell phones!”
    ‘Course Jermaine’s on the horn, but now Bow Wow is, too; he’s talking to his mom about something he don’t want to do, because it’s December 23, and she wants him back soon, but “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is not exactly a hip-hop tune. And so he’s arguing, saying he don’t want to get on a plane, because the weather is bad, and he’s afraid of the rain, and he’s hoping neither Mom nor stepdad Rodney will object to Christmas Eve with the wizard who put Mickey Mouse around his neck.But when the phone rings, it’s Rodney, who knows no dog always gets a bone; ’twas two nights before Christmas–he says, “Bow Wow, come home.”

    • So then how ’bout Kris Kross–like the biggest kid act ever? Remember them in those backward pants? Wasn’t that really clever? Ex-manager talking the other day says when he sees ‘em, he feels funny. ”Well, they’re not really cute anymore. I hope they saved their money.” Yeah, “the light-skinned Chris,” Chris Smith, got some pimples turning twenty, and he still dreams of those unspoiled days before anyone had any–any pimples, any money, anything but dreams and love–before Jermaine chose them in the mall, like an angel from above. ”Did you know JD’s got a picture of my face tattooed on his shoulder?” It’s the only place where Kris Kross hasn’t gotten any older.

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