(Reprinted from Crudbucket 7: The All Grown Up and Nowhere to Go Issue in honor of my recently published essay, The Butt Song on The Rumpus.)
My dance style is Devo, heavy on the herky-jerky and lacking in any but the smallest glimpses of what one would call a sense of rhythm or finesse. It’s something about my shoulders. They remain ramrod straight no matter how much yoga I do, or how many times Mr. Crud lays his hands on my shoulders and urges, “Relax.”
How I ended up on stage at the 9:30 Club, dancing to a song exalting the glories of booty shaking with the horrid rock-rap fusion band The Hard Corps is one of the great mysteries of my life.
|Not this Hard Corps.|
|Yep, this one.|
That night I shone with excitement. My friend Colleen and I drove 2 hours from our smallish college town in the Shenandoah Valley to the big city, Washington D.C. so that I could bask in the glow of the first rapper—not counting the Beastie Boys—to steal my heart: Ice mothafuckin’ T. I know this admission jeopardizes any sliver of street cred that I had, but I didn’t really catch the wave of hip-hop during its initial heyday. I enjoyed the Run D.M.C./Aerosmith version of “Walk This Way” and I enjoyed the Beastie Boys enough, but high school’s racial-social segregation and my own need to define myself as a punky depressed girl through my music collection—the usual suspects: REM, The Smiths, the Sex Pistols—kept me from opening myself to the possibility that I might actually like that crazy rap music. Then came Ice T’s “Original Gangster” and everything changed. I played that cassette 24-7 and developed a heavy duty crush on—do people call him this?—Mr. T. My boyfriend at the time taunted me for my T love, curling his lip with disdain as he said, “oh, he’s so smooth.”
Ice T also fancied himself as a sort of intellectual of the street and even—don’t gasp—a feminist. To a Riot Grrrl like myself, this made all the bitching and ho-ing almost acceptable, except that his feminism mainly extended to his song “That Bitch Tried to Kill Me,” which, he explained, shows how a woman tried to kill him with sex, how she had the power. You can find more of his theories and explorations of gender relations in The Ice Opinion. You can borrow my copy.
Colleen and I arrived early. This was our first real rap show and we wanted to be up front. Although it was a mostly white crowd, there were more than just a few black people sprinkled amongst the Mohawks as was the case with most of the shows I saw at the 9:30. The bill was the Hard Corps, Ice T, and then Ice T and Body Count, his new rock-rap band that gained notoriety for “Cop Killer.” (You can borrow my Body Count CD too. Actually you don’t need to return that one.)
The Hard Corps started out the night enthusiastically enough, but my eyes were fixed on the corner of the club where black clad bodyguards surrounded the Sultan of Smooth. Like every other famous person I’ve ever encountered excepting Thurston Moore, he was short. While the bad rap metal screamed from the speakers beside my head, I got lost in my fantasy of being Ice T’s new purple-haired Riot Grrrl pal. He would whisper smooth nothings in my ear and I would gently educate him about his flawed Bitch-Tried-to-Kill-Me logic. (Is that totally fucking racist? Shit. I also had this fantasy about Anthony Kiedis so maybe not.) Ice T was ready for feminism. He already had seen through other power structures of society without stepping foot in a Sociology class. Women were his blind spot, likely due to his years of pimping. I could work with that. I was at the start of my early feminist cycle, still willing to accommodate a certain degree of misogyny if someone showed the slightest glimmer of promise. At a Positive Force meeting an icebreaker question involved whether Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” was good or bad for the ladies. I was pretty much alone in defending Mr. Mix-A-Lot. At least he’s trying to be female positive even if it still focused on a woman’s body fitting a certain standard, I explained to mostly icy stares. Ice T caught me at a good time. In a few months I would be sucked into active disgust for everything with even a whiff of sexism.
Lost in my revelry and undressing Mr. T with my eyes, I mechanically danced to the Hard Corps. “Alright y’all, you know what time it is,” the lead rapper said. Suddenly hands reached down into the audience and pulled me onstage. Colleen and a couple of other front row women milled around behind the band, our eyes frantically adjusting to the spotlights blinding us. The other women were smiling. Colleen and I shrugged at each other and giggled nervously. Then the beat, then the bass, then entreaties to shake it, and then, for the sake of my dignity, I have mostly blacked out my hip hop dance debut.
I know that I moved my butt around in some way and one of the band members attempted to get in a groove with me, but my rhythm-less jerking stymied him and he moved onto Colleen who had some hidden reserve of booty shaking skill that surprised me. Damn! Where was I when the booty skills got passed out? With all the women paired up with one band member or another, I was all alone, spazzing around in my purple velvet pants—which at least did show that I had a big old butt—and black t-shirt.
The lights let me pretend that Ice T had returned to his dressing room, that he wasn’t scratching his chin and laughing at the silly white girl. The lyrics started to penetrate my fog of nerves. My cheeks blazed as I realized that this was the rap-metal version of “Big Bottom.” How had they known of my posterior gifts? The stage cut me off at the waist. Was it obvious from my face? Did I have a large-assed face? After the longest song ever, someone mumbled a thanks, pulled me in for a quick hug, tucked a tape, Def Before Dishonor, in my hand, and helped me off the stage. Colleen followed.
“That was awesome,” she said, her cheeks flushed with exertion and eyes brighter in the lights.
“Yeah, wow,” I said. We high-fived and acted like the chosen.
I wondered if backstage, somebody would be getting chewed out after the show.
“Explain to me again how you picked out the least funky ladies in the entire audience?”
“That one DID have a huge ass,” he would say in his defense. They would nod reflectively.
Ice T would pop by, tossing his two cents into the mix, “You gotta admire her balls.”