Electro Funk: The Fourth Wall, Basquiat, and Fab 5 Freddy by Anja Wade

Basquiat, Six Crimee (1982)

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy used to hang out and make art in a very gritty 1980s New York. Disco, funk, Neo-expressionism, activism… The lines all blurred. I thought of this as I came across new sounds to jam to with my guitar. I suppose it makes sense to zoom out first. 

Graffiti’s something like hieroglyphs or writing etched in glass. And tags are a written language that you either know or you don’t. When the pandemic hit, the graffiti downtown exploded. I started seeing graffiti on cornerstones, walls, pavement… Scrolls of angular script whose elision belied a deeper meaning. 

Well aware that I was a guest in the neighborhood, I watched as the alley behind my building filled with more tents. I read in the news that nearly half the workers at a local grocery store had contracted Covid. I had gotten used to standing on the landing and gazing at the downtown skyline, observing all of Los Angeles intersecting at once. 

One day I looked down to see a girl my age taking a sponge bath in the alley. She used a razor and a bucket of water to shave her legs. Two blocks away, another luxury apartment building went up. You could hear the buzz of saws and shouts of construction workers in the distance. Fruit stands, sunshine, trash, money… it all comingled as bachata wafted through the air. Everyday my heart broke a little more that this beautiful city took the brunt of the pandemic so wordlessly, so quietly. 

Of course there were riots. Of course it wasn’t quiet. But the everyday living got quieter. The people got quieter. Heads down, fatigued and focused on getting to work without incident. M80s went off regularly, as did stun grenades when the National Guard rolled in to town. Fireworks are commonplace in LA. But it was hard to know what was real and what was not. I waited for Hollywood’s fourth wall to come down. The night that the National Guard arrived, I woke up with a literal gasp to an explosion so powerful I felt it in my chest. 

Maybe all of that simmered in my mind as it felt right to play music that reminded me of hip hop pioneers. Anyway. Here’s to those who were fighting the fight before. 

Anja Wade Copyright 2021


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