jeudi, juillet 27, 2006

DMX: The Soul of a [Tortured] Man

As a voracious reader, I have recently tried to make some system to the type of books that I will read at any given point. Recently, I have decided to read books in clumps based on author (i.e. Stephen King), profession (politician, writer, etc.) or genre (fiction, self-help, etc.). This summer, I picked biographies and autobiographies of musicians, a subject that I was not well versed in. Sure, I knew the music but I didn't know the person. I read bios on Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, Charlie Parker, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis,. etc. and common themes began to develop --- drugs, sex, alcohol. In short, is the quintessential musician a tortured soul?

Enter DMX. He is perhaps one of the most unabashedly tortured souls in contemporary music today. Even in hip-hop, where lyrics resound with a motley of violence, women, drugs, bling, and sex, the musician elicits control, asserting that s/he is in charge. Even if the public and the private converge, there is an attempt to forge a separation. Not with DMX. His public and private is almost indistinguishable. When Eminem spits about his demons he does so with a mischevious sense of humor replete with puerile antics. As Tupac asserted his demons, he also wrapped them amidst a warm coat of braggadoccio and smooth, witty banter. DMX crafts his music amidst his tortured self, each track each album eliciting the suffering and self-destructiveness that makes DMX the lost soul that we all know. He has built a hugely successful career with his candor. In 1998, his blockbuster debut, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and follow-up, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood went to number one (in fact, all five of his albums have made their debut at No. 1).

His new reality show, DMX: Soul of a Man, is full of X's virtually schizophrenic behavior and personality --- he's high and he's low, he's loquacious and he's reticent, he' excited and he's mellow, he's angry and he's at peace. A man whose troubles are not just internal, he's been arrested and done time for charges as varied as crack and cocaine possession, impersonating a federal agent, reckless driving and animal cruelty. So where does DMX fit in the larger scheme of pop culture. He's a renegade, not afraid to show that's he's not in control, he has at many a concert gone off on tangents full of his own personal suffering , immediately follwing that by going into prayer. X is a wild card. Perhaps the contemporary female equivalent of X would be Mary J. Blige, famous for her own poignant brand of suffering that she has so brilliantly performed on canonical albums such as My Life and Share My World. However, Mary has evolved -- she no longer tortured, she's happy. The last two albums have marked her ascent out of the demons that have plagued her for quite some time. But X doesn't seem like he is going to be happy --- at least not yet.

What would X be like (and he music for that matter) without his suffering? Is there a happy DMX? Can DMX be a well-adjusted, centered, mental stable person and still be a successful musician? It seems strange to imagine DMX minus the torture, they seem to be so inextricably linked. If you haven't already seen the show, I would suggest you look at at least one episode. Its interesting to see DMX on his own personal and spiritual journey towards peace, where God and the Devil can show up in one breath.

Jimi Hendrix died in bed at the age of 27, choking on his own vomit as a result of a drug overdose next to a white woman that he had just finished having sex with. Jim Morrison died at 27 of a heart attack due to his frequent drug use. Janis Joplin also OD'ed in her late twenties. Marvin Gaye died in his early forties when he was shot to death by his mentally disturbed father who abused him when he was growing up. Kirt Cobain committed suicde by shooting himself in the head when he was in his twenties. Charlie Parker died in his mid thirties and when the coroner got to his body, asserted that he had the body of a man in his late fifties. Miles Davis, though he lived to be in his sixties, was plagued with physical ailments and his own series of violent demons throughout his life. All brilliant musicians but all severely troubled. Though I wouldn't label DMX as brilliant, he is definitely a relevant artist and a singularly defiant figure in contemporary pop culture and hip - hop today. Can DMX find happiness? Or better yet, should he?

gimcrack -- n: 1. A showy but useless or worthless object; a gewgaw adj: 1. Tastelessly showy; cheap; gaudy

“If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive” --- Audre Lorde