Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Carol Mae

Before I set foot in Minneapolis, before I could mouth consonants, before everything… she baptized me in a kitchen sink somewhere in the midst of New Orleans. Raising four children, married to a trombonist, recently becoming a great grandfather, on Thanksgiving, her invite list stretched as far as 3rd cousins, cooking for a crowd equivalent to a wedding reception.

A kind, gentle, and reasonable tough lover, her shoulders sank a bit lower than the rest. Carrying the addicted, treating the ill, melding pic-a-biscuits to perfection, and biting bullets just before returning them to the sender, you’d have to ask where the time went to foster a home, a family, where the hell the time went to foster herself. Something that seemed to stand as constant as gravity, I never questioned if she ever buckled underneath it all, cried amidst the chaos, or lost the love for split seconds at a time. If she did, it didn’t show. Not by any 7th Heaven means of smiling while dying on the inside, good ol’ Minnesota Caucasian passive aggression, but more so a straight glance to the heart. If you fucked up, you’d know it. A balance of all things, she was… and although things have changed, she still is.

I love her to no end, to no memory I can conjure when I began to love her. You could say throughout my existence, I’ve always loved her. On the contrary to the notion, I can remember the moment I began to fear her. My cousins and I were playing in the front yard of my mother’s house. Evan & I were around the age of 9, while Hugh was a eager 7. Knocking on the front door of the house, we rarely opened or used unless to grab mail, no one answered. Too tired, lazy, and selfish, we continued to knock. No one answered.

Could’ve been my mother, aunt, or even Annie (my sister) to answer the door, and everything would’ve went kosher. This was not to be. Of all people, She… answered the door. “Go around to the back”, she declared. Totally caught off guard, jaws dropped to the sidewalk, “What the fuck”, repeating in our heads, she slammed the front door. And it was on.

You don’t tell a pack of 9 yr. olds to go around to the back when the front door is clearly open. Now, I won’t name names, but one of us, not me, was absolutely furious. Beyond all impulse and ill temper, he shouted “FUCK YOU!!!!”.

I took a triple take as to what just went down. “Whoa”, I thought. That takes some balls. I’d never say that to Her. I mean, I’d think that, but I wouldn’t say that out loud. The punishment that would ensue could potentially make Singapore look like a gentle state of repercussions. Whatever, She couldn’t hear it , right? I heard her close the other door to the porch, she’d have to hear that through two doors and half a living room- Whooom! The front door swung open.

Tears in her eyes, “What did you say?!?!”. Uhhhhh, uhhhhh, I ran. A conference was held later that family dinner. One of my cousins was punished, never heard exactly what they did to him, but his mouth didn’t open for the rest of the day. How’d she hear what he said? Super powers, Wolverine ears, Spider- Sense? I don’t know what it was, but it scared the shit out of me. From that day on, not only would I never say a cruel thing to my grandmother, I can’t remember a time that I’ve garnered a cruel thought towards her.

As a child, I respected her out of fear. Encountering all I have since then, the respect remains, but not out of fear. It was just a year ago, I sat in a hospital waiting to hear the doctor’s verdict on her arhythmical heart beat. Earth teetering on a thin line, as most do in a hospital waiting room, the nurse came out to invite me to visit her. There she lay, tubes plugged into her old body, conversing and laughing with my mother like a lunch break. Looking mortality in the eye, she smiles.

I asked her what she wants for Christmas a few weeks ago, and she told me to just write. “I still have all your cards. Don’t buy me anything, I don’t need that stuff. Write me something nice for Christmas”. Certainly not the first, and mos def not the last, but here you are Carol, grandmother. Merry Christmas, and Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mixtape Mortar: Mohammed Take The Wheel

It rocks, a little bit, not enough to move out of the ditch. The wheels twist, but the ice doesn’t give. I’m stuck. Honda & I are absolutely, unequivocally, totally, utterly, stuck.

My connection to my car is that of Denzel Washington’s arm in Virtuosity. My Honda is my mechanical limb. While others use vehicles as an ego, pride, or genitalia extension, Honda and I are in a whole different waiting room. Honda and I are bound by a fiery past, distorted history, and tumultuous trust. Right now, I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. Turning for a gas station in the depths of suburban hell, I landed us into a snowy situation. Yes, you could say Honda & I are “fucked”... for the moment.

Driving by, a man stops in his giant Suburban and offers to help, for $20. I have no cash. He says he’ll be right back, jumps in his truck and zooms off. He never came back.

A woman stepped outside of her nearby apartment and offered help. She pushed, I pushed, we pushed… nothing.

Seeing the road blockage, a guy in a jeep passes by, offers to give me a bump with his vehicle from the back to push me into the drive way. “I’m actually trying to back out of the drive way and get to that gas station a hundred feet down the road.” “Uh, ok, well, good luck”, he drives off.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing can help this situation. The dry sullen feeling of helplessness passes through me like a ghost. Phone’s outta batts, Honda’s gas light’s on, and me on the final bit of sanity I have left. I drop back into the car. Close the door. It’s my chest, my breathing, my body’s juts out of my control… the anxiety kicks in. The tears collect, and then dissipate with the widening of both eyes. Get a hold of yourself, man. If we can just get to the gas station, we have a shot at getting the f--- out of this God forsaken suburb of white hell.

The anxiety sets in deeper. It’s not the car, it’s everything. The situation manifests into everything… anything… everything… burning 600+ mixtapes in time for the release party, the plans to visit my father in New Orleans, the guy from LA that calls and visits to make sure the other music project is going up to code for the powers that be, grandmother's heart, Annie's wedding, take a day job or keep floating with monthly concerts...

The wind conducts the snow sideways, so hard that I can’t even see the gas station less than a half-a-block in front of me. There goes the breathing again. I grab my chest, feels like my ribcage is about to implode and take me to the hereafter. Sidenote: Anxiety is accidentally locking yourself in a closet as a child, being trapped in a prison tube from Minority Report, except there’s no brain relaxing mechanism to keep you from knowing your surrounded by a glass wall. Anxiety is clausterphobia, the scene from Star Wars where the walls close in on Han Solo, the slowly falling spiked ceiling from Indiana Jones… pause.

Take a brief moment from your head, and it just might save you from thinking purely irrationally. I turn on NPR for a minute. “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” the game show is on. Another minute passes, and I make a plan. If I don’t get out of here, I’m going to have to break into the nearest 4 wheel drive and skirt this hell hole… and of course I’m kidding. The plan: get a f’ng shovel from the gas station and start puttin’ in work- wait, who’s that?

Out of nowhere, kid with a shovel slowly paces towards me. I can’t tell if it’s to say, “Your kind ain’t welcome in these parts”, or to actually help me outta this pit. He doesn’t say a word, and just begins shoveling around my car. “Try it now”, he says. Honda budges a little more. Shoveling and hand-scooping commences, “Try it now”, he pushes on the damaged hood. We’re out. At least it’s straight…and again, more shoveling commences. And we’re out, for good this time.

Call him Jesus with a stick, Muhammed with a winter coat, or just call him Eddie Shovels… the kid is ethereal in some form or manner. He disappears back into the white blanket of snow crossing the streets. I thank him, and make it to the gas station to pump $2.36 worth of gas into Honda. Make it back to Mpls.

Stepping into my mother’s house and being yelled at to wash the dishes… never felt this good. 

Toussaint Morrison Mixtape Release Party
Friday, Dec. 17
9pm at the Triple Rock

Sunday, Dec. 19
5pm at the Triple Rock
all ages

Both shows 8bucks.
6bucks if you have a color-flier with you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mixtape Mortar: Driving Ms. Isa

Her car broke down, the promo vid won’t be anywhere near badass without her, we have to pick her up... I am nervous. I’ve come to terms with it, and I don’t care to say it out loud. Two six foot tall gentlemen with cameras suffocate  my Honda’s backseat, as we trek to the deep east side of St. Paul to pick up the crown jewel of Midwest music, Modern American allure, international clout- she’s too many things to put into a word, a phrase, a song. Murals run along side the open-ceiling tunnel ascending to the queen’s household.

We’re here. I’m so jittery I have to stop to use the restroom at a local bar. Wouldn’t dare use hers. Haven’t even met the woman- “But, hey, can I acquaint myself with your toilet”. Na, what if she weirds out easily… then the whole promo shoot’s a bust…

Final call, “hey, we’re outside”. I’ve never seen her in person, only magazine covers, newspaper covers, online blogs, StarTribune headlines, etc.  She steps into the car and begins talking to me as if the conversation began 5 minutes ago. More than a step ahead, more than a trend cooler, she brings every vulnerability, you quite possibly have, to light. I say “smoke”, she says “blaze”. I say “drive”, she says “roll”. Not even my vocabulary can stack up.

The thing with Maria Isa is… absolutely nothing. No filter, no restraint, no passivity. She confronts the present moment like time, and calls out the giant pink elephant even when it’s not in the room. In the face of a no-bullshit personality, I’ve seen men go defensive, intimidated, challenged… whatever they can cling to in dealing with their own fear. However, with Maria, it’s comforting. She speaks on Pawlenty, grants, upcoming mixtapes, music videos, awards, activism, doesn’t pronounce a single Spanish word with an English bastardization to it, and on.

I begin to believe the term “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” falls short against her schedule. The way she speaks of her plans for the next several months, whether it be community organizing, music, or networking, you can begin to feel just how much s—t you could’ve been doing with your time. Get on her level… I’m working on it.

So much to be said, but within the short evening I was able to spend with a handful of local & national musicians, and Maria Isa… There’s a beauty to wearing your vulnerability, there’s a warmth in dawning your scars like short stories of small victory , there’s something to smiling an entire car-ride from East St. Paul to North Minneapolis. Most emcees' feelings have translated into words, but hers have translated to action. 

Our evening errands finish, leaving Mortimer's in uptown, I give departing words to the camera crew, the handful of spoken word affiliates, and Ms. Isa.. “Speak with your heart”, she says... "You can't go wrong with that". And I want to, and I have been. But what of it when your heart weighs like a wet sandbag drooping atop your stomach, pushing through the day is parallel to navigating a two-wheel drive through a blizzard, and common sense has officially left the zip code. I've been a sensitive, over-analytical sponge for the past 2 weeks, and I can't tell if it's coming or going. "When does it wear off?", I wanna ask her, "and how do you speak with a heart that won't listen to any other part of you than itself." There's so many things I want to say, but the words keep bouncing between my gut, artery, and frontal lobe that I'd swear there's a tennis match going on.

I want to tell her my heart's been selfish and soaking up every bit of emotion I can plausibly put out into the universe, without going into cardiac arrest (cue: smallest violin). And I'm getting there. Although I may not understand why emotions are kickin' my ass at the moment, I don't believe it's for my understanding right now. 

I looked back at her, and smiled...again. "Speak with your heart"... it's been years since I've heard someone say that. I'll thank her for the reminder, later.

Toussaint Morrison Mixtape Release Party
Friday, Dec. 17
9pm at the Triple Rock

Sunday, Dec. 19
5pm at the Triple Rock
all ages

Both shows 8bucks.
6bucks if you have a color-flier with you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interview With The Franpire

Woke up with Henry draped atop my knee just before I lost all feeling in it. He murmurs something in Dog, I can’t make out. It’s not to go outside, it’s not to eat, it’s just a “ehhhmmmm”. Could translate for “Damn Toussaint, you one lazy-ass m----f----a”. I see where you’re coming from, but I disagree Henry, I just disagree. Problem with my line of work, at the moment, is I stay up to f’ng 3, 4 in the morning and wake up round 10am. It doesn’t look good on paper, but it makes for a damn good album campaign and potential tour.

I grab my laptop, the promo vid for the Triple Rock is at 700 somethin’ and’ll be over 1000 by the end of the week. Nice. However, I’m totally not 100% finished with these final songs for the Reid Project. Has to, must be, will be… done by tomorrow, or else that ass is toast.

I’m up, I’m up. Respond to a few old emails, shamelessly tag the promo vid on a few walls, and it’s on. Phone rings. Old acquaintance wants to get coffee. Luckily, I just cancelled the 2nd to last studio session with Reid, with hopes that I’m done by tonight and on point for tomorrow’s session. Sure, coffee sounds coo. Head out, and bam, here we are… coffee like it was yesterday, conversation nicely held, the holidays upon us. Several laptops on the table, several cell phones on the table, and a lone pen. Someone take a picture, this might not happen again.

Bordering on a year since we last spoke, discussion has never been the hard part for us… it’s the ending. The walkaway, the way you leave things. Clearly it hasn’t sat well with her, hence the email titled “truce”, the phone call, the “isn’t this awkward” rant, etc. We were horrible at endings, and something as simple as coffee has taken almost a year to come around to.

Streamlining through small talk, somehow the conversation turns to… the past. Passive bickering from both parties ensues. “Toussaint, I have no ill will towards you. I’ve never said anything against your name after the break. I don’t go on public forum and talk about these things.” A calm resolves the exchange… she grins, widens her gaze into my face, leans over the table from her casual posture (pause: let’s take a moment. True Blood? Yeah, before the vamps jump into a human neck, they take a slow approach and then the film editor fast forwards their move into the bite. I don’t think she’s seen the show, but at this point she’s already giving a clinic on it.)

The 2 seconds it takes her to position her phrase as she reaches over the table with a comforting hand (ref: barista woman at Arkham CafĂ©, aka Spyhouse on Hennepin), you can almost taste the attempt of manipulation in the air.  Still holding a half grin, it drops right before she says, “Toussaint, I’m not on any bad terms with any of my ex’s.”

I looked around the coffeeshop waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out, waiting for everyone to get up and yell “surprise!”, waiting for confetti to drop. And it’s at this moment, that whatever has manifested between her and I… isn’t important. It’s come down to the personal gratification of bridging a friendship. Personal, not mutual. Once you’ve invested personal gain into a relationship, connection, or anything between two human beings, you’re talking compromise of self-respect, dignity, and all things that make us genuine. Basically, she’s talkin’ business.

The way she said it, or the potential fangs that flashed when she smiled after it. Poor ex-boyfriends. Man eatin’, chewed up and left for self-esteem repair, a heap of mental scar tissue, and a reluctance to let the guard down.

To move forward, your guard must be down. We’ll get into it some other time, but the fact I genetically carry my father’s face looks like I’m wielding the biggest shield in Hyrule. My natural expression, of looking pissed off/over-confident, is out of my control and couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyways, getting back to the fangs...

Couldn’t help but smile back, “I’m sorry, but I’m not any of your other ex’s”. These jokers think civility means compromising more than it’s worth.

Here, let’s dial back to middle school…
When anyone on the playground disrespected you or your crew, there was always a moment of disdain, an absolute tarnishing of the relationship between you and the culprit. Perhaps you were the culprit, ran off with a kick ball in the middle of someone else’s game, it was still understood that respect has left the building and it was every kid for her or himself. As they say, “It was on”. The time of it “being on” could last for 5 minutes… or 5 months. However long it lasted, respect was in question until both parties resolved the issue and squashed the beef. The catch to the resolve is when someone returned for a truce, it had to be assessed by the other “is this kid just making things good to fuck up again?”, “can I trust this person?”, “is this person being friends with me again just to use my Sega Genesis?” Whether you asked these questions consciously or not, your brain still made calculations of the connotations that come with a reconnection.

After that, there was still one more catch! Say you made amends, you then had to ask yourself: is this fair? I believe in forgiveness. For love of a higher power, I believe in total, utter, selfless forgiveness. I still speak with my father, pray for his health, and am at coffee with a past dragon that set flames to innocent village upon village, but life is short, and the people in your corner are few and far in between. Is it fair to you to let this person back into your life? How much of you do they deserve? Your time is precious. There are no forms or request slips to hand to the supernatural, asking for just a few more days on earth. Been thinking about it a lot lately, but if go tomorrow, or my car spins out on an icy road and I bite it for good, what do I want to leave behind? Sounds disparaging? Good, it should. Have an end in mind.

Being fair can entail someone undeserving of any part of you… just as much as all fairness can entail a reconnection and the two of you deserving every bit of each other.

Of all the encounters across the country, of all the backstabbing, hand shaking, mutual agreements and disagreements, social hand grenades, back handed compliments, picking fights & blowing kisses, mornings-after, fires started, off-the-cuffs, of all the social vine swinging endured throughout this ridiculous and beloved life… give respect where it’s due. However, it’s not due here… yet. She goes on to explain she’s seen the blog, she doesn’t harbor any spite, she’d never advertise a public forum about me or the past… and that’s fine. I haven’t/wouldn’t do the same.

Writing is for me. It’s my selfish means of organizing the world as I see it. Some people pick up guitars, some people take to pianos, some people pick up a bottle of jack and oxycontin… we all let it go, one way or another, but in the end we’re forced to deal. Whether it’s a healthy means of dealing or not, the universe will balance it out… one way or another.

Coffee? Sure sounds great. Friends? Eh, give it a few years. Sometimes dust on the playground never settled ‘til high school.

Besides, the pen isn’t moving today, grandma’s heart is arhythmical to the point I call the woman just to hear her voice, mom needs a peace of mind only a six-digit number will suffice… it’ll balance out… one way or another. All this, but absolutely no ill will for the old flame sitting across the table, none at all… just a bit of disappointment. She was the means to put the pride down, stop time, cut the bs, rush to the ER, place in the realms of Unconditional, Everything, & Anything… and now it’s deafly sad and obvious, the friendship she wants has nothing to do with terms of the mutual… just business.

It’s gotta be for more than this.

“Was good seeing you. Have a good one”. Left the table, moved it to a different shop. Gotta figure out how I want to spend this time with my grandmother, the next chore that’ll make my mother’s life just that much easier. It’ll all figure itself out… right?... one way or another.

If there was anything taken from the meet, it was the distant memory of the old flame saying something. She said it during one of the several breaks. She cried, “Toussaint, several years from now I’ll have a career, and you’ll still be sitting in a coffeeshop, writing.”

I laughed out loud to myself, sipped my coffee… and began writing. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

4am Phone Call

Feels like something let loose in my throat and split open the scar tissue from utilizing improper singing techniques (aka screaming at the last show), paired with the sensation of my heart beat through my ears and brain… the remote control is going to be my God for the next few days of agony. Every fiber of me is shut down, due for renovation, and in sleepless pain. I’m sick. It’s the night before Thanksgiving, and several million chores have yet to be done. My mother’s house is less than spacious, even less-so in the face of 15 guests for dinner. Gotta get this thing up to code for tomorrow. Gotta… do… chores… (sleep).

(Phone rings!) Holy, sweet Mary Magdalind. Who- what time- 4am? What!

Sprung awake, unexpected, to a Thanksgiving Eve/Thanksgiving 4am phone call. Sloppy to get to the dresser, I make it just in time.

I don’t think, in these moments. These moments aren’t meant for thinking. 2am is understandable, bar-close, drunk, lack of better judgement, etc. 3am, meh, you can kinda apply the same logic, that’s a little more desperate than anything. 3am is almost more suitable than 2am, though. People are lookin’ for parties after bar-close, somewhere else to self-destruct, escape themselves, find a fight, who knows. 3am suits better because it says “Hey, I found somewhere or some people that’ll put up with my ass for at least 60 minutes, do you have any better offers." 2am, on the other hand, is like “Of all the low-lives on my list, you’re at the top. Entertain me…now.”

We’re not talking about either of those. We’re talking about 4AM!

The witching hour, the span of time where bad decisions, future pregnancy, long-term addiction, and dirt hill champions are made. When ambulances are called, super-heroes are summoned, and disaster has already stricken twice. This is the hour of the blackout, the dismembered, the moments of your life your brain will struggle to push through the paper shredder. Remember that time you lost your pants, tried to steal the keg tap, barely evaded the cops, never got that person's name after intercourse, ran off with your best friend's ex-significant other, and woke up naked on a couch? Yeah, that all happened between the hours of 3:30 and 4:30am.

I digress, a call at 4am in the morning could still fall into the booty-call realm of 2am or 3am, but 4am is on some other shit. 4am is almost degrading. It says, “I know we broke up months & months ago, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to touch someone elses genitalia, and I’d like to go with good ol’ familiar tonight, and not have to deal with you the next morning. Deal?” But then, a 4am call could inquire, “I hate you so f----ng much that I want to sleep with you to spite you... now” Which in that case, is almost a little more endearing. (Perhaps you've been the recipient of one of these calls in the past, or the culprit dialing out. Either way, these types of things go without saying.)

In retrospect, these are all easy and plausible notions to think while a phone is ringing in the dead of night, now…a week after the fact. However, in the moment, none of these come to mind. My first instinct was someone’s hurt, in trouble, thinking of doing it this time and ending it for good, arrested, or in a situation where their livelihood is at stake. I come from a family of healers and nurses (jea, they synonymous). I’d say worriers, but these folks have been working in the hospitals since Ireland, came over here and continued. If worrying was the verb to apply, I don’t think the tradition of working with the sick with pending anxiety attacks would be encouraged. Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma, all consolers of the soon-to-pass away and folks fallen to eyeball-deep in the gutter.

Thinking someone would need my assistance out of a ditch… it wasn’t. Far from it. Someone called for the potential opposite… to put me in the gutter. Not even thinking, I picked up the phone… it’s (anonymous name, I won’t even announce her already-given moniker, seeing that would drive her incensement further. I don’t know the code of a blog, but just for this one, I’ll leave’er out.) Didn’t wanna sound like an asshole, but it was the night before Thanksgiving Day, “Are you fucking drunk?”. “No”, she answered gladly. Which then brings me to a realm I didn’t even want to step into, I ask myself, “Then what the f--- is she doing calling me at 4 in the morning!?!?” First , I was worried that she was about to be Taken, like the chick in the Liam Niesen film, and with the only split-second she had to call someone, she accidentally called me before destined to a life of Prostitution and involuntary drug use in the dirty bloks of Eastern Europe.

Not even close, she goes on to quote something from this blog (my blog), and correct me on something I had written a month ago. Thirty days ago. 4 weeks ago. Please, I hope you’ve had enough time to absorb something someone said 1/12 of a year ago, for you to make proper critique at four in the morning (and it’s at this point, I’ve realized just how many times I’ve typed 4am, and am now thinking of different ways to spell the bugger.)

Drop my throbbing skull in the hand not holding the phone, wipe the ducts of my eyes, take a breath… Of all the things to call a man at this hour for, you call to correct a blog. Usually I’d have the decency to explain it a bit, but at this point, we go back & forth several times- “Ok, please. Call me when the sun is out. I’ll deal with it then. Goodbye”, my departing words. One of those hang ups where you can’t tell if it’s mutual or not, but could care a f--- less if it was.

The moments with women where you could easily stab the words in the air “Bitch please!”… but don’t… I believe is a higher power’s means of testing your tolerance and ability to proceed into the big picture.

I wanted to tell her so many things, wanted to tell her how she’s going to become a great nurse sooner than someday, how she weathers like a f’ng champion in moments her siblings and parents go at it like rabid dogs & republican pundits, that her smile can light up the shittiest dive bar in Milwaukee to bring a glint of future hope to any pass out drunk fortunate to get a glimpse before blacking out, that she broke the mold a long time ago and won’t have any problem exceeding future expectations. But I don’t… I don’t tell her a piece of it, because it’s f----ng four in the morning, I’m sicker than an ER, and I’m pretty sure I’m not getting back to sleep  ‘til the tryptophan kicks in from the Turkey… 15 hours from now!

Messaged her the next day, but forgot to include the part where I say get new friends and siblings, if they’re going to take online text as word of God before consulting you. In the heat of adversity, including a measly blog, the people in your corner won’t need any delineation from you to know what’s what. Chalk it up to miscommunication, and unless you are the chick from Taken, and a split-second away from being forced into an Eastern European whore house… please don’t call me at 4am.