Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chuck Brown and Information Literacy

Chuck Brown passed away yesterday, Wednesday, May 16th, after a long battle with pneumonia. He's not terribly well-known outside of Washington, DC, though he did have a hit with "Bustin Loose," and invented a style of music known as go-go that doesn't have much appeal outside of DC.

You might recognize this song as the main sample in Nelly's "Hot in Herre."

What does this have to do with information literacy? I've mentioned before that DC and I have a complicated relationship. My place of work educates more graduates of DC public schools than any other private institution of higher learning. If you work in academia, the odds are good that you look like your students, your patrons, your audience. I do not look like the community the library serves, and go-go is my entre, a secret handshake that I use with my students, who see my skin, hear me talk, and might otherwise be skeptical. One of the first questions I get in any one shot session is to tell them a bit about myself. Name-dropping go-go helps me connect with many students. It's a signifier, that even though they took two trains and a bus to get here, even though the (mostly) awful public school system has failed them, even though they might see me and think of me as a structure to be overcome or ignored, we have something in common. And having earned that, it's easier to teach; the learning can begin.

But go-go is not just a tool. The first concert I ever took my five-year old son to was a go-go concert. Why? Because playing go-go is like having type-O negative blood, the universal donor. If you play go-go, you can play anything, and Chuck Brown often did. Jazz, funk, Latin percussion, dub reggae, calypso, R & B, soul, hip hop.... If you're in a go-go band, this is your set list.

For readers of this blog not from DC, here's a go-go primer. By way of introduction, I lead with some songs that are clearly go-go, though the artists might not identify it as such.

Amerie's "1 Thing" was a hit in 2005. While not from DC, though she did spend some time in Virginia during her formative years, though I can't say for certain that's where this sound comes from. Go-go is often referred to as "R & B with a pocket," meaning extra percussion with two or more time signatures, and slowed, stilted beats.

Beyonce and Jay-Z's "Crazy in Love" is perhaps the most popular go-go song of all time, though neither of them would label it as such, the influences are unmistakable.

That's not Jay Z's only foray into go-go. Here he is biting the lyrics to Rare Essence's "Overnight Scenario."

Here's the original, a consensus best song for go-go heads. Rare Essence and Jay Z settled out of court after the former sued the latter.

Here's my favorite go-go song.

Rest in peace, Chuck. Thank you for helping me connect. Thank you for the music.

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