Boogaloo Pow Wow
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
Oh my god, I can't believe that photo's been unearthed. How young do I look there? It's like seeing a ghost.
That was my Diana Ross phase. She was everywhere then. The Supremes blasting out of all our little radios. Much to my parents' annoyance. The sound of young America. For all young Americans. I really wanted to be Diana. And yeah the boys liked me looking like Diana. Something to do with the eyes they said. Oh sure.
That picture. It was taken by a guy called Bruce Davidson. He's quite a respected photo-journalist. Y'know one of those characters whose pictures of certain times say so much more than all the historians' texts. But that night I had no idea we were part of anything special.
It was just another night out. Part of the ritual then. Get yourself all dressed up. As beautifully as possible. Turn yourself into a work of art. Go down whatever club in the neighbourhood was playing the latest music. Preen and dance and flirt ... I'll tell you what. I went to England once, and visited one of those old stately homes. There were these peacocks on the grass. Showing off their feathers. That's what we were like. I tell you, that hair, that took time and trouble.
And now they're using that photo to sell back to us some of the music from those days. It's funny. We just took that stuff for granted. It was all around. A mad mix of rhythm and blues, what we heard on the radio, and the sounds that sort of defined where we were from. The neighbourhood. The Puerto Rican roots, the Cuban rhythms. Mainly the noise. All that clapping and chanting, the sirens and horns. Joyous stuff but a real din.
Boogaloo? Did we call it that? It was background noise. The soundtrack of my youth. I didn't hang on to any of the records. I don't think I could dance to them now in quite the same way. What is it? 40 years on almost! My grand daughter, she thinks it's hilarious. I don't think she'd thought of me being young. Ah life.
And there's Ricky behind me. There was always Ricky behind me. That's the bit that breaks my heart. He was like my guardian angel. My mentor. My protector. We were never lovers. He was just, well, inscrutable. I think he had this crazy chivalric notion. Wanted to be like the guy in that Pygmalion story. But doesn't he look so sweet there? Desperately trying not to look at the camera. But he was so vain. His heart would have been bursting. Heaven only knows what he went through to get that shirt. I don't even want to go there.
He was always thrusting books at me. He knew I was bright. I was kind of flattered at first. I loved books. I ate books. But not necessarily the books Ricky wanted me to read. How many 16-year-olds on our block were going to read about the Black Panthers? Whoah, it was getting heavy. And who knows what strange stuff was going on behind those shades? Still, I loved him dearly, and wonder so so often about what happened to him and where he could have gone. Maybe it's better not knowing.
I think he would have been happy I went back to college when my kids had grown up. And he would approve of me helping out at the community law centre whenever I get the chance. The community's changed. The issues hardly have.
Maybe I know now enough about the world to realise how a lot of these songs were sort of exploiting us. Old men cashing in. Muscling in on our exuberance and rebellious spirits. Musicians who must have wondered what the whatnot all that boogaloo and shing-a-ling stuff was all about. But that's the way it goes. We didn't care then. Why should we care now?
The last song on this record. That's the one that really works for me. Dianne and Carole. Feelin' The Pain. It's a real big ballad. Very dramatic. I loved that soppy sounding stuff. Wailing girl groups. I would go on and on at Ricky about how we needed our own Martha and the Vandellas. Imagine a Puerto Rican Supremes shaking their stuff! Grrr. The boys would have been purring. How come that never happened?
I can't believe I'm admitting this. But I wanted to write songs. I really did. I read about Carole King and Up On The Roof. What a song. I dreamed of being like Carole King. She fascinated me. I wanted to write songs like her. Songs that said something. Reflecting the times we were living through, but which you'd dance madly to, or you'd hug someone really close all the while it was on. And you'd play it over and over.
Songs, yeah, I used to keep a notebook filled with words. Ricky was the only one I ever showed it to. He understood. Though I'm not sure he really approved. He used to promise he'd get Ray Barretto down to our club and introduce me. Yeah yeah yeah. Somehow these things never quite work out do they?
Look I dug these out for you to see. The very same earrings. The ones in the photo. I kept them all this time. Did Ricky give them to me? I think you know the answer to that one don't you?