Seven years

I dunno

As if we needed a reminder that 2016 is somehow still alive and kicking, and there are more calamities yet to come, the Queen is dead.

And I have no earthly idea how to feel about it.

As a God Damn American, of course, I don’t have to feel a thing about it. We made our feelings about monarchy well known in 1776 and in my lifetime I’ve seen no reason to revisit them, and at least for me the most intellectually interesting thing about this comes from wondering what exactly would have to take place to shut down the entire British monarchy. Twitter has been on fire all day, particularly Irish Twitter, and I have no beef with anyone who has chosen to spend their day gleefully shitting all over the entire establishment. This lady, to put it mildly, bears responsibility for a whole lot of genuinely terrible shit. I don’t need to give examples; they’re not hard to find right now.

Then again, she’s been Queen for literally my entire fucking life, and if I’m being honest I have some trouble reconciling the kindly-looking old lady in the brightly colored outfits that she has been for as long as I’ve been aware of her with the History’s Greatest Monster treatment she’s been getting online, and it’s weird to me to acknowledge the fact that it feels like we’re talking about two different people. Intellectually I know better, of course. I get that that’s a weird thing to say. But it’s how I’m reacting.

I’m not in mourning; I’m not going to miss her. I spend very, very little time thinking about the monarchy. I would be happier if it were gone, but my wife pointed out during dinner tonight that King Charles, who is 198 years old, an actual vampire, and is somehow this woman’s son, is going to be the first full-blown figurehead on the throne, and that’s kinda close enough? Take most of his money, turn Buckingham Palace into a museum, and let him cut ribbons at department store openings until he inevitably dies on the throne six months from now. But I don’t think it’s unfair to say that one of if not the most influential figures of the twentieth century passed away today, and that’s worth taking some time to reflect upon.

RIP, Shock-G

I don’t think that my wife actually realized what she was doing last night when she told me Shock-G had passed away. We still don’t know why; the most recent news I’ve heard was just that he was found in a hotel room. He was 57.

Here is the thing to realize about Shock: he is the guy on the left in that picture, with the zebra-striped hat. Here is the other thing to realize about Shock: he is also the guy on the right, in the big hat, sunglasses, and prosthetic nose. We call that guy Humpty Hump.

Humpty Hump and Shock-G are the same guy.

I have told this story somewhere before, I’m sure: I was, and remain, a huge fan of Digital Underground, as well as a huge fan of Tupac Shakur, who got his start with them. Everything you’re going to read about Shock is going to talk about Digital Underground’s debut album, Sex Packets, and the breakaway hit from that album, which was The Humpty Dance. For my money, their second album, entitled Sons of the P, is not only the group’s magnum opus but perhaps the single most underrated album in the history of hiphop. That album is burned into my bones. I will still remember lyrics from it when I have forgotten my own name.

I did not realize that Shock-G and Humpty Hump were the same guy until a few years ago.

Y’all need to realize that all of this was before the internet. I didn’t watch a lot of MTV, so my main exposure to DU was through their music. And not only do Shock and Hump’s voices sound distinctly different, but they layer their voices over each other and duet each other all the time on their albums. I’m listening to a song right now called Arguin’ on the Funk that is literally just a track of Shock and Humpty yelling at each other. Shock regularly used body doubles, both on stage and (obviously) in pictures so that he and Humpty could appear in the same place at the same time. They’d both be on stage at the same time, Shock doing all the rapping and the guy playing Humpty just lip-synching. Or sometimes he’d just put on the nose and glasses mid-song and switch parts. (And sometimes he’d have Tupac on stage doing the Shock-G parts, too.)

And then I randomly saw this interview, recorded in 2002 (although I didn’t see it until much later,) where he’s telling stories about Tupac, and … well, the whole interview is worth watching, but forward to about 1:25, where his voice shifts down into Humpty’s register for just a few seconds:

And … mind. Blown.

I had no goddamn idea. None. And yeah, I feel like a dumbass, but I maintain that if you knew these guys in a pre-Internet, pre-YouTube era, there was no fucking reason to see through the game. Like, they’re literally climbing all over each other on the videos. They’re both there. And, sure, they look alike, but the one dude is wearing the big glasses and the fake nose, so you’re basically just going by the jawline.

(This is why Superman being Clark Kent is not remotely as inconceivable as people believe, by the way. I never realized that Shock-G and Humpty Hump were the same guy because I had no reason to even imagine that to be the case. Superman and Clark are the same thing.)

It sounds like a gimmick, I know. But the guy was brilliant, and Digital Underground’s music was next-level. Like a lot of these pieces, I don’t know how to end this. We’re damn near exactly five years out from losing Prince, and I think that’s the last time a musician’s passing hit me this hard. I wasn’t ready for the world to not have Shock-G in it any longer, and 57 was way too fucking young for him to leave.

Sunday odds and ends

DMX hit the scene in 1998, my senior year in college, a time when my musical tastes were probably as far away from hiphop as they’ve been in my life. I can’t pretend I’ve ever really been a fan, although X Gon’ Give It To Ya is an immortal banger, and the guy’s voice was something else. But it’s been amazing to see since he died just how many people have been coming out of the woodwork to tell stories about him just being a great person, or stories about running into a generous stranger that end with “… and then it turned out that guy was DMX.” I’m at the age where more and more people close to my age (he was only about 7 years older than me, which doesn’t feel like much) are passing on, and I can only hope that when I go there are more positive stories told about me than otherwise. Rest in power, man.

Speaking of rap music, and forgive me, because given DMX’s placement on this it’s going to feel like shade, but this dataset investigating the vocabularies of various rappers is really interesting. Especially so when you scroll down and look at when they sort everybody by the era they’re most associated with.

I bought Taylor Swift’s reissue of Fearless, mostly because her last two albums were so (sincerely) fucking good. I’ve talked a lot of shit about her music over the years– and most of it I still stand by, frankly– and buying the reissue was almost more of a political decision than it was a musical one, because I so very much adore the idea of her responding to someone else refusing to sell her the rights to her own music back by shrugging and using her songwriter rights to rerecord every single bit of it. At some point a switch in my head has flipped with her, though, and where I used to have all of her music inadvertently memorized and didn’t like it, now I have all her music inadvertently memorized and fuck it I’m listening to it on purpose because I’m grown and if I wanna be inconsistent I’m going to.

I still think she and Lil Nas X should write a song together, just to see if the entire world wakes up the next day with it memorized.

I go back to work in-person tomorrow, for the first time in, basically, thirteen months. I’m surprisingly sanguine about it– I was expecting to be climbing the walls today, and I’m really just not right now– but I still haven’t resolved some basic issues about what the next few days are going to look like that I’ve been mulling over for the entire break. I still don’t quite know how I’m going to handle my at-home kids; believe it or not, me being at home is easier for doing in-person and at-home at the same time than being at school will be and I don’t know how well all of that is going to work. I know I need to do some grading today one way or another, and I think for at least tomorrow I’m going to more or less give the at-home kids the day off; I’ll do a review assignment of some sort (everything this week is going to be review, since ILEARN starts a week from tomorrow, which is the real reason they’ve brought all the teachers back) while I sit down with the in-person kids and get them sorted out.

I’m going to take a shower– it’s past noon and I’ve had lunch, so I feel like it’s maybe time for that to happen– and then get that grading finished (hopefully somebody did something to catch their grades up this week, but I’m not holding my breath) and then we’ll see how things go.

RIP, Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine passed away last night. I have twenty-three books by her in the house, with one preordered (what I assume will be the final book in the excellent Stillhouse Lake series) and three more freshly ordered and on the way, as I decided to get off my ass about finishing the Great Library books. That’s without having read anything from what’s probably her best-known work, the fifteen-book Morganville Vampires series. And once those incoming four are all in the house I might have half of her books; the total is approaching sixty, many of them bestsellers.

She is, by any measure, one of my favorite authors– I probably have more books by Stephen King and I might have more books by Seanan McGuire, who is similarly prolific– but that’s it.(*) Rachel had already survived a battle with breast cancer earlier in her life and was diagnosed … last year? Earlier this year? Fairly recently, one way or another, with an aggressive soft-tissue sarcoma that finally took her away from us last night. She’d been open on her various social media feeds about the cancer and the toll it was taking but was writing until very close to the end; recent tweets from her still refer to the forthcoming Stillhouse book as the “newest” in the series and not the “last.” Hell, for all I know she’s written three more of them and they’re just waiting to be published. She was fast enough; it wouldn’t really be a surprise. Various surgeries and chemotherapy didn’t work, and I suspect by the end she was going through something very similarly to what my mom had to endure for the last months of her life, where the wounds from ostensibly lifesaving surgery simply wouldn’t close up and heal. Her assistant more or less officially took over her Twitter feed on Friday, letting us all know that it wouldn’t be long, and the official notice that she was gone came this morning.

I never met Rachel; she was reasonably active on the con circuit so if she hadn’t gotten sick it probably would have happened eventually, but you can’t read eight thousand pages of someone’s work and not feel like you know them on at least some level. I think we would have gotten along pretty well, and one way or another, she will be missed.

Fuck cancer.

(*) It is literally hours later, and because this is exactly the type of nerd I am I eventually found myself unable to not determine this for sure. Total number of Seanan McGuire books: eighteen. First count of Stephen King books: at least 38, but his are spread throughout the house and are in a bunch of different types of editions and there are a few titles that we have more than one copy of because before marrying me my wife occasionally bought books on her own. I would not be surprised to discover that I missed as many as half a dozen, but that would probably be cancelled out by the ones we have duplicates of, so let’s say “around 40,” call it a day, and hope that my brain doesn’t demand further clarification at 4:00 in the morning.