From the mouth of someone more inclined to synopses of major life episodes, 2003 in a nutshell reads something like this:
“An escalating romance falls disastrously to the wayside when, a year shy of graduation, Luke Kirkland moves across the country with his band, Night Rally to give a music career the old college try instead.”
Unfortunately, brevity has never been my strong point. Instead, I find it’s taken almost three years to sort through what happened that year and 70-something minutes to narrate it. Boo Radley Bruises Badly is a twelve song sculpture of those twelve months, a four course conclusion to a four season psychologue, an album of opposites and obstacles, of assimilation and isolation, and a mess of confusion becoming perfectly certain of what it’s doing.
Perhaps too certain…
I’ve always feared becoming an apologist for Boo Radley Bruises Badly. Perhaps I’m too quick to assume the listener’s surprise upon hearing split personalities duel for the spotlight. “I’m listening to a love song. Now I’m listening to a rap song. Again, love. Rap. Hmmm. I’m confused.” How are we to justify the juxtaposition of such musical styles? It was never my intention to become a musical Dr. Moreau, piecing and pasting spasmodically at whim. On the contrary, Boo Radley was a rap alias confined to a world that had transformed suddenly and dramatically and whose narrative had been and was being sussed out into rock songs. Boo Radley Bruises Badly became a coping mechanism, a project without conditions beyond the consideration of the events of 2003, and ultimately a collection of songs that could only stand apart from one another at the risk of sacrificing the gestalt and misunderstanding the narrative.
But this conflagration is a convenient opportunity for a larger musical discussion. On the one hand, escaping the love song in rock music is impossible. Songwriters incessantly delving into their personal love lives comprises the great majority of rock music’s subjects. The romance of the breakup song or of the unrequited love song remains so appealing to the musical audience largely because of the excitement not of meeting one’s match, but of pursuing one’s match. On the other hand, rap music and the “hip-hop” culture in many ways approaches a celebration of pure escapism. While the content of many songs attempts to elevate or address problems of great import affecting the artists, there is nevertheless a violent opposition to the conditions of earthly life. In fact, the urgency of the sentiment is nearly apocalyptic and/or suicidal in nature and expresses itself as a desperate lashing out at all who might represent and/or fulfill the weaknesses of earthly life. In the end, both are concerned about encountering something else that can be both one’s glory and one’s downfall. For rock, the love song is the yearning for the other. For rap, the battle is the yearning for the other.
Despite the success of artists like DJ Shadow and the “Get Paid” rap industry machinery still supporting producers such as Kanye West, I find it hard to imagine that Boo Radley Bruises Badly could ever be released legitimately. The number of samples I’ve co-opted for my own psychiatric ends could never be fully given their due. Ever since the crime spree that was P. Diddy’s career, the successes of the rap world have relied increasingly on original beats. The sampling hey-day is long gone. No one can afford it anymore. But while I would never insist that a musician be denied his monetary compensation for the use of his recorded material, it is unfortunate that artists can’t be honest about their inspiration. A million hacks with guitars have ripped off other artists’ songs without batting an eyelash and without the Puritanical slap on the wrist of a “Cease And Desist”. Doubtlessly, there is something innately shameful about the sample. The feeling of dependence upon others for inspiration or of incompetence in comparison to those who have influenced will always soil the creative achievement in some manner. But as if this weren’t enough, many go so far as to label those who sample as thieves and condemn the practice as destructive to the spirit of artistry or to the gasping illusion of a rock and roll ethos. Musicians are thieves first and foremost. It just so happens some build beautiful artifices out of the many things that fit into pockets. We should be so lucky as to profess our debt openly without being assaulted by the weapons of those who falsely claim license to cast the first stones, be they rolling or otherwise.
Ironically, the recording’s fate is potentially the same as that of Harper Lee’s hero: its public life will remain a relatively private one. As is the case in To Kill A Mockingbird, I don’t guess that’s such a bad thing. Nevertheless, Boo Radley will push on in his guise, though this guise will, from here on out, enjoy rap’s respite exclusively. Love songs will perhaps find their moments or even their proverbial R&B hooks within the bounds of their rap counterparts. But they will be few and slight impressions on a dreaming recluse whose monogrammed chest will be henceforth embroidered Initials B.R.