Anne Germanacos | How She Made Beats
Anne Germanacos completed an MFA at Bennington in 2003. Her stories and essays have appeared recently or are forthcoming in AGNI Online, Black Warrior Review, Florida Review, Chattahoochee Review, Salamander, The Diagram, Pindeldyboz, and Santa Monica Review, etc. A story published in Fourteen Hills recently received the Holmes Award for emerging writers.
How She Made Beats
Frederick Law Olmsted:
Negro women are carrying black and white babies together in their arms...
Watching my parents die slowly, incrementally (very often they come fully alive before succumbing again to the descent), came together with the revelation of rap music. I cant say which came first, the awareness of my parents descent, or the overnight conversion to the music. Lightning-quick.
For better and worse, hip represents a dream of America. At its best, it imagines the racial fluidity of pop culture as the real America, the one we are yearning to become.
Whos this kid Im trying to be? Hes a dance Im trying to invent.
The symphony Id write, if I could get someone to give me the musical background I need, would combine:
Me? Beat-up pumas, loose (but not exactly falling off) jeans. White t-shirt most days. Black, the others. Baseball cap. They hate me because I switch teams, but I dont really have a team. Theyre all equal. And thats weird, I know.
I want to crack the code.
....art, for Goethe...was all about a voyage to the other,....not concentrating on oneself....There is more of a concentration today on the affirmation of identity, on the need for roots...Its become quite rare to project ones self outward, to have a broader perspective.
Some people who are primarily interested in classical music are disturbed to find that they recall the words and lyrics of popular songs more easily than they remember the music which means most to them.
Music deals primarily with time. Absorbs, displaces it.
A man whose wife died refused to listen to music for months afterward. Music gave him a self that reminded him of his wifes absence. So he protected himself by not listening.
Im not sure whether I read this in the paper or someone told me about this guy. Or did I dream him? Is it me, fifty years down the road?
He wants to dance his way in.
If he could catch them unaware, and dance his body into their midst, maybe theyd forget their expectations. But he has to catch them by surprise and startle them into concentration before any one of them has had time to reflect.
They turn from their metal lockers.
He hears the clang and tucks ear to shoulder, untucks, triangles his right leg against the other, goes down in a fast splits, come up to his heels, rises to his toes. Touches hand to eye, salutes, twists into a spin.
Theres a rhythm to his motions, a music hes following: the clang of metal lockers, Doc Martens and Tims against the linoleum, the high warble of hysterical girls, the motion-stopping grunt of the boys. He stops on one foot, diamonds the other against it, brings blue into his arms, angled, lets it go. Shuts his eyes then opens them.
Are they even looking? Has anyone even noticed?
Music is a temporal art. Its patterns exist in time and require duration for their development and completion. Although painting and architecture and sculpture make statements about relationships between space, objects, and colours, these relationships are static. Music more aptly represents human emotional processes because music, like life, appears to be in constant motion.
In music, something ineffable and internal meets something ineffable and external. Subjective and objective meet. How to talk about it?
wrote that life would not be living without music. He also wrote that hes not interested in a god who cant dance.
Music is nothing without the performer, the listener, the dancer. Of course its nothing without the note, the breath, the hands, the instrument.
Rap a tat tat. The way to whip a (white) life into something other than crap.
I cant think in rhyme, cant make my brain do it. (Is it only a matter of time?)
In how many ways does a rap song sing?
: Beat, words, melody.
white kids emulate black kids who emulate older blacks, who are themselves emulating a previous generation of blacks, all the way back to the beginning? (Or: the beginning of slavery?) What IS at the very beginning?
Do you know what a nerd is? A nerd is a human being without enough Africa in him or her...
So this is what happened: I put a CD on their almost antiquated player and when they heard the music, the two of them, my gram and her old man, gramps, stood up and started dancing. Theyd hardly touched each other since this disease tapped into their brains, sucking things out, putting new, odd stuff in.
First she got up and moved her arms in perfect time to the beat. He just sat there watching, tapping time against his knees. Then he got up and separately, not touching, did his own thing.
In some pre-literate cultures rhythm is so highly developed that Western musicians cannot reproduce its complexities.
I can concentrate only on euphoria. What's the (fucking) problem?
The language the boys make when theyre together is a language I can almost (but not quite) crack. If occasionally I crack the code and see them naked, I retreat quickly, pretending I havent seen a thing.
No matter how important lexico-grammatical meaning eventually becomes, the human brain is first organized or programmed to respond to emotional/intonational aspects of the human voice.
Among the books left in Tupac Shakurs library: Homers Odyssey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Moby Dick, Jamaica Kincaid, Salinger, Marquez, Richard Wright, George Orwell, Freud, Styron, DuBois.
The ancient Greek verse line behaved differently. Here the musical rhythm was contained within the language itself. The musical-rhythmic structure was completely determined by the language.
A startlingly high building? Or squat, gargoyled and buttressed?
Music creates order out of chaos; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent; melody imposes continuity upon the disjoined, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.
Measures split into beats. Beats split into more beats. (Can it go on ad infinitum—a millionth of a beat?) Beats within beats within measures create complicated rhythms further complicated by words, broken into syllables, accentuated by beats within measures and the meaning of words themselves. Ironized by the music. (Irony: the separation of words from meaning)
can throw off the usual sense of a word. Music upsets language, but it always starts in the body. Heartbeat and breath. Blood.
Isnt there something similar in your lives if the song makes you cry? Or is that merely testament to your sentimentality?
These voices in my head, mens voices, black mens voices. How did they get there? Why do I persist in putting them there?
I want to crack the code of hip-hop, walk around inside.
Why do white boys want to be like black boys?
What does rap unwrap?
Some kids at my school call each other wiggah without any idea what it means. I mean, whats that about? The waistbands of their pants hang around their thighs and they dont know WHY.
Im nothing without music. Sometimes I dare not listen.
so all of this is fine, right, but then my mother starts listening to this stuff and it turns out she likes it almost more than I do. Hows that? And whats it about? And I start freaking out because a mother isnt supposed to like this stuff, I mean shes almost 50, plus shes white and I dont think she has any black friends. (I do.)
So one day I decide to test her, thinking she doesnt really know what shes talking about. I put on about three seconds of each of the biggest rappers, and she guesses each one correctly without even furrowing her brow. This seems weirder than weird and for a while, I stop listening to rap and move in another direction, classical, if you can believe it. But raps irresistible; I cant stay away.
Measuring the distance
Its been said that hip-hop measures the distance between the ghetto and white suburbia.
How did it happen that you found yourself walking this line? Guilt? Attraction? Angst? The slow-poison of a seemingly charmed life? Boredom?
Youre white and middle-aged; the attraction has become a compulsion.
My son and I agree on rap—that the music is stirring—though possibly for different reasons. We both love the music, particularly certain songs, for reasons that are beyond us: to understand, wed have to think about rhythm, melody and tone. Posture? How the words sound as theyre hammered into the beat.
In some songs, the beat cradles the words, and the two become confused. Meaning comes at a further remove; were always convinced first by the beat.
Sometimes, by the time you get to them, the words hardly matter and anyway, by then, its impossible to retreat: the beat HAS you. Beat claims first loyalty; words come next.
So a middle-aged white woman finds herself mouthing gangsta words, powerless to deny the beats claim.
In their heart of hearts, they wish theyd been born with a different skin-color. It may sound like the easy way out, this wishing, but sometimes it feels like the only possibility.
What else can they do? Slash themselves to pieces? Destroy the white race in themselves? Color themselves differently? Michael Jackson, in reverse?
Is it mad, rude, or criminal to be white, thinking about blackness? Is it impossible to feel anything but sentimentality? Which feeling is useless. Destructive.
Sometimes a rap records great because of the millions of kids in the burbs it touches; it doesnt have to be ghetto, but it helps. That record might be as close as those kids ever get to the hood...
All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it.
As long as you think youre white, I have to think Im black.
Why do we feel notes in different parts of the body? Because hearing, when we were fish and reptiles, ran the length of our bodies.
The Look of It
Just how does music look when laid out in space? Colorful, morose, static, wavy? Round? Angular? Brilliant? Blue?
The look of music. Taste being another story altogether. (Bittersweet?)
The urge toward whats over there but also (obviously) right here. What could be urging you toward it but something resonant inside? And thus legitimate?
Since music is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods...
said he played the rests better than other pianists.
An epileptic fit provoked by music, more often by an orchestra than a single instrument or voice.
What music does:
By holding the brain within a pattern of expectation and fulfillment, anxiety builds up and then is absorbed. Its cathartic. Emotion takes care of itself.
Jelly Roll Morton had a diamond in his tooth.
I wanna be black.
We thought that we were black. We were sometimes disappointed when we passed a mirror.
Cantor Arluck (Harold Arlens father) on hearing a Louis Armstrong recording:
(in Yiddish) Where did he get it?
Talking About It
Heres where it starts:
I say, Sometimes music is the only thing in the world that touches me. My friend Sandy says, Me, too.
But what is that touching? That sense of being saved? And in alluding to music (because were not doing much more than that when we talk about it) how can we cross linguistic barriers and invent a language using what we learn from music, including its ability to silence us while filling us with feeling? Is there something we can apply to human relationships, and particularly those between people who seem, on the outside, for whatever reason, to be different?
Is the erasure of difference not the point at all, or a point many would abhor?
Is race our way of talking about music? Or is it the other way around—music, the only respectful way of discussing race? Mostly, of course, rather than talking, we end up dancing.
The boy, with sarcasm:
My mom knows more about rap than I do.
Copyright © Mudlark 2006