– Ghostface, “Belt Holders”
Essentialism is ridiculous, I learned in Lit 101. Identities are always in flux, changing with the times. Nobody is bound by their socially-constructed religious or gender or skin-tone tribe; that’s ridiculous! Just pulling this random example out of thin air: you can be a woman feminist with a master’s degree who is also a part-time studio apartment swimsuit model; these are not opposing things. The notion of “false universalisms,” that there are attributes that all members of a particular group share, is dead. Canadian white women aged 18-24 are like this, and Black men who wear suits are like that; ridiculous. Really. All of that aside, the truest thing in apt. 15 today is that if a subject has Watts in its name, it is a wonderful, high-quality thing. Everything with Watts in its name is amazing! Everything.
(The exceptions, because of course there have to be some since blog posts never go as smoothly as you’d like, is former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, and the Watts uprising of 1965. Neither of those things is wonderful, and neither did any good for anybody.)
Alan Watts, philosopher, radio host, friend of John Cage and Gary Snyder and other sensitive white men of whom my parents are fond. Known for his radio show, for making Buddhist tenets easily digestible by white kids In Search of Meaning (my parents, ca. 1974), and for such snippets of genius as “No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart,” and “Saints need sinners,” and, regarding the use of psychedelics, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.” Oh. Word.
Hating ass individuals come in droves with this guy, like they always do with popular people; Watts was often criticized by fellow Buddhists for not interpreting Buddhist texts accurately. Russell Simmons relieving himself in his solid gold toilet before he goes to yoga knows a little something about that. But how can you fault somebody for wanting to spread some kindness and free us all from the rotten cycle of samsara? Get a grip, people. Watts saw a basic human alienation among Westerners that he felt the need to soothe, and his radio broadcasts are quite pleasant to listen to. I think Watts did more good than harm, and his place on this list is well-earned.
Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band. They’re the reason this whole idea sprouted in my brain, and the first Watts-related thing I wrote on the list. Charles Wright got his start playing in clubs where ladies took their clothes off, which is so funny because, years later, this lady enjoys taking her clothes off to Charles Wright! I’m sad to say Express Yourself is the only record from Watts 103rd in my collection; the reissues aren’t hard to find at Amoeba, so there hasn’t been that panic I usually feel when I’m missing an endorphin-swirling funk classic among my records. I could go get In the Jungle, Babe tomorrow if I wanted to, and if I had any money left over, You’re So Beautiful (with the superfine “What Can You Bring Me?”* that punks jumped up and got beat down to in ’93). Express Yourself was released in 1970, but even in 2010 it hasn’t lost its sweaty power. You put it on and Charles and his boys are still bumpin & grindin like a slow jam, and Cali is still where they put they mack down; gimme love.
The Echo Park Eagles are currently 0 and 1. Opening week (last Sunday) I dressed in a cozy sweater, loungey underpants, and socks to watch various football games you can see on basic cable, and waited for someone, my pretend boyfriend like Pharaohe Monch, to join me. Nobody came. Evidently you people hate a skinny girl who can make good baked chicken and who has 10,000 records and a backyard weed farm. So I hugged Charles Wright (in 12″ form) and documented my ridiculous pouty face to show the Internet, my actual boyfriend. Nobody gets me like he does.
Michael Watts, producer, label owner, deuce chunk-er, Screwston work put-er in-er. Texans from his neighborhood swear he invented the “chopped and screwed” term; since I have no reason to dispute that, I’m posting it here like it’s the truth. Back in ’05, I thought I was real cute and funny when I wrote in my “Music” section on my MySpace page, “anything as long as it’s chopped and screwed.” 5 years down the road, ain’t shit changed; I still represent Swishahouse* (*2005-2006). Michael gets a place here mostly because of all the one-liners in “Still Tippin‘” –
Boss Hog on candy.
It takes grindin to be a king.
I got the Internet goin nuts.
Another thing I like about him is that instead of “5000 Watts,” his nickname could be “5 Kilowatts.”
Reggie Watts, 21st Century Schizoid Man. Included here because he’s post-comedy, post-weird, has a nice thick head of hair, and is probably deeply depressed—everything I need in a man. He’s the smartest guy in the room and I always tag along behind the smartest guy in the room, hoping he notices me. And everything in his act sounds like something out of a Doom song.
Wattstax, 1972 concert. Just…oh god, it’s the most amazing thing, I can’t believe I even have to describe it here. Go watch the movie, motherfucker. Rufus, Isaac, Carla, the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, and numerous others lift ev’ry voice and sing at the mighty Coliseum. And it only cost $1 to get in!
Sweat plus bass plus absorbing the crowd’s collective high from Jesse Jackson’s call-and-response means I surely would’ve gotten pregnant at this event. “In Watts, we have shifted from ‘Burn, baby burn’ to ‘Learn, baby learn’,” Jesse says, without a trace of corniness. Later, Rufus Thomas comes on stage to do “The Breakdown”; “Ain’t I’m clean?” he rhetorically asks, 30 years ahead of Kanye’s whole Dear audience, please tell me how great I am and how fucking fresh my Junya Watanabe dunks are act. WATCH IT, I said.
The Watts Towers, tall, spindly, metal/glass/mosaic/mesh/mortar/porcelain creatures rising from south Los Angeles concrete, built by immigrant hands. Simon Rodia was a construction worker from Italy who built the thing over the course of 33 years and called it Nuestro Pueblo—“our town.”
“(Rodia) constructed a dream-like complex of openwork towers . . . and encrusted them with a sparkling mosaic, composed mainly of what had once been refuse,” said Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker, in 1965. Like the architectural, tangible version of the Dust Brothers and Paul’s Boutique, kids! Soon there’ll be a skatepark there, too.
“Watts Riot,” Kam feat. Ice Cube. Fightin the police with my peers/With head & shoulders, and no more tears. Shampoo raps! Love some shampoo raps. DJ Pooh produced this in ’93, and the place and time from which it came is clear when you hear that beat, so crowded and filled with sirens. Kam had that serious voice like a university professor, making everything sound important. Cornel West in a clean white tee and Chucks.
Do people in Brooklyn actually say “What it look like”? I’ve heard that in song but I just don’t know. I can tell you that when Roger Troutman sings “In the cityyyy of good ol’ Watts,” like that’s something that locals say, he’s just repeating what Ronnie Hudson sang in “West Coast Poplock.” Ronnie himself made that up. Good ol’ Watts. Nobody actually says that in LA. I mean, nobody used to say that; now they do. It’s been added to our lexicon because it was stated over a catchy melody, like “Inglewood always up to no good.” I’ve heard people say these things. Such is the power of song.
Naomi Watts. Straight men, you’ve seen Mulholland Drive, right? That’s what I thought! Hi, straight men! She’s on the list because everyone, everyone loves a blonde fake lesbian. Additionally, she makes good film choices, and her man is Liev Schreiber, San Fran-raised offspring of superleftists and foxy tall artistic strong-facial-featured man of Judaic extraction. She and Liev do it in sweaty and intense fashion every night, I’m certain. For the revolution.
Honorable mention: the Watts Prophets. Semi-honorable mention: Charlie Watts (meh), drummer for the Rolling Stones. He’s so very meh (I’m not really a Stones girl), although the first 10 seconds of “Paint It Black” succeeds in its goal of making me feel like I’m surfing in the great blue ocean while also pointing a rifle out of a helicopter above the jungles of Saigon.