Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chuck Brown and the Heart of the City

Chuck Brown died yesterday.  The Godfather of Go-go is gone. The man who has been central to the identity of black DC has departed this life and left us with only music and memories. It is generally assumed that while his body is gone, his legacy will reverberate within the soul of this city for generations, but is this true?

Chocolate City isn’t so chocolate anymore and is getting less so with each passing day. Like most major cities in America, gentrification is changing the way our neighborhoods look and feel. If you haven’t been to DC in the last few years, to come back and see how much it has changed can be quite a shock. Many neighborhoods are unrecognizable to old residents.

Chuck Brown’s death can be seen as symbolic of the death of the DC that many of us know and love. He created a sound that unified a city. Go-go is a major part of what makes DC unique and now, with gentrification, DC is on the verge of becoming just another run of the mill town.

A lot of people moving to the city don’t recognize the rich culture here outside of politics and monuments. Not only are long time residents being physically forced out of their neighborhoods but the essence of the city they’ve called home, long before  suburban life became un-cool, is evaporating.

During the coverage of Brown’s death on WUSA 9 News last night, a reporter went to the local radio stations and had DJs explain what Go-go is. That’s like having someone explain Jazz on the local New Orleans news. Who exactly are you talking to?

For them to frame it that way, would make it seem like black life here is a sub-culture rather than the dominant culture. Why not assume that residents in the District, black or white, are familiar with Go-go at least enough to recognize it as an art form unique to the area?

Seriously, if you live in DC and don’t know what Go-go is, please move. You’re a poacher.  Just like the hunters that kill elephants just to take the tusks and leave the rest to rot, that’s what you do to our city when you don’t recognize the beauty outside of the latest condo or trendy café.

I’m not saying all DC residents need to be in the go-go every weekend, or ever for that matter, but how can you LIVE here and not recognize an art form that has been the lifeblood of the people for decades? That’s ridiculous.

In Natalie Hopkinson’s essay on The Root she says, “Simply put: Go-go never sold out. There is a grit and texture to the music — sometimes derided as 'pots and pans' — that gives voice to the communities where it was created and from which profits are taken."

So, what happens when these communities are no more? Will the heart of the city cease to beat? I don’t know but what I do know is that Chuck Brown made a tremendous contribution to music and DC culture. For that, we will always love and miss him. R.I.P. Chuck

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