That Big Playboy in the sky works in mysterious ways. The Lesbian Johnny Knoxville and I had chosen to ride on Minder Binder's ska-punk Thursdays, expecting to find folks bouncing their heads to the sounds of local, Von Dutch-wearin', AFI wanna-bes. But when we arrive at that big, red barn on McClintock, the spot's deader than Spalding Gray in New York's East River.
"We had to cancel it because of the rain," the promoter tells us, out back near the large open-air stage. Rain? I look at the ground, dry as an AA meeting. There had been a thunderstorm and a couple of drops earlier, but . . . This town reminds me a little of my former home in Dixie, where we'd get that one snowstorm a year dropping about an inch of powder. They'd roll up the sidewalks for at least a week.
Just as I'm about to stroke out because my plans for a night of entertainment have been foiled by the weather, Jett spits, "Don't stress, my éclair-eatin' homie. If you stay ready, you ain't got to get ready."
"The Blunt Club, fool! It's every Thursday at the Priceless Inn, Price and Baseline. They've got break-dancers, breakbeats, and big, cheap-ass beers."
Turns out the Blunt Club is a sucka-free Thursday night event brought to you by graf-artist gone legal/urban-renaissance man Adam Dumper, a.k.a. Dumperfoo. He's one of the art rebels behind Wet Paint's "Final Fridays," as well as numerous other happenings in Tempe and beyond.
The Blunt boasts talents like "verbal taxidermist" Emerg McVay of Bionic Jive, and that über-suave sophisticate and PHX Picasso Jules Demetrius, whose robotic, agitprop stylings might give Dick Cheney that final heart attack we've all been waiting for. There's poetry, turntable virtuosity from DJs like Organic, break-dancing from troupes such as the Phunky Phoenicians, and a dressed-down, laid-back crowd that can best be described as "anti-Scottsdale." Seems like everyone's an artist, a poet, or a performer doing their best to blow down doors with their creativity.
There's a $5 cover. Inside, fat beats are pounding the walls as guys in hand-painted hats, worn jeans and tees talk up waifish, longhaired Norah Jones, Nellie McKay look-alikes. To one side's a long, rectangular bar where everyone seems to rock huge glass steins of brew.
This looks out onto a larger space with a stage, arrayed with four turntables and, at the moment, one DJ in a ski cap pulled low over his eyes. There's a smattering of bodies on the dance floor. Everyone else seems to be parked on a couch, or on a barstool, slightly fried. As I get a vodka rocks, and Jett a vodka-tonic, the crowd coming through the door grows denser, and the party spills onto the sidewalk. We gulp our drinks, then head outside for rotation as there's too much bass thumpin' for us to do more than mouth instructions to each other.
Out in front, we run into Gizmo, 27, a booful African-American gal with luscious lips and tricolored dreads held up in a black wrap. Dressed in earth tones save for her jean jacket, Gizmo tells me she's a cosmetologist at a Mesa salon by day and a DJ by night. I ask her 'bout the name.
"It started when Gremlins came out," she smiles warmly. "I was in a drill band when I was 8 years old, and I used to wear a Gremlins sweat shirt to practice all the time. I was the youngest kid, and my hair used to be in all these beads and braids, so I was kind of the showstopper. So everybody just started calling me Gizmo. Even my grandmother calls me Giz."
"Why are you here tonight, Gizmo?"
"To check out Organic. He's the dopest DJ in the whole wide world. I used to DJ here on Sundays. So I come here and bite his style. I pretend like I'm part of the crowd, but I steal his techniques and then I go home and practice."
"Better watch out," says Jett. "Your secret'll be out."
"That's cool," she grins. "I tell Organic that all the time. When it comes to DJ-ing, I think Organic has it all: rap, rock, spoken word. He even DJs cartoons, like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. He mixes a lot of old and new stuff together, so when he DJs, it's like a gumbo. He's got meat, shrimp, everything in there."
Gizmo's from Omaha, Nebraska, originally, but she moved down to Phoenix because she visited an uncle here, and loved it.
Jett nudges me toward one of the hosts, Emerg, who likes to be called Merg for short. Merg is about as large as I am, but blacker than me, fo sure, with a headful of short cornrows.
Merg and his group, Bionic Jive, have toured with Nas and Eminem, and he's kind enough to give me a copy of his eponymously titled solo CD this night, which I have since listened to and can testify is fresher than anything you can buy on a major label. Actually, Bionic Jive was on a major label, but now they're doing it independently at www.flexbeats.com.
"We're a little upset at the industry for how we got done," says Merg, puffin' a loosey in one hand, rockin' a black-and-white Allen Iverson lid and a silk, Hawaiian-style shirt with a gold lion on a black background. "But we're working on a new album right now called Passion Over Politics. We're about to sign a new deal, everything is good, and we'll be going back out on the road in June."
"So Merg, you got to tell us about Eminem: What's he like?"
"He's a cool cat. It's like touring with Michael Jackson, knowwhatI'msayin'? They be wheeling him out in an ambulance every night like Elvis Presley. Like somebody was hurtin', that's how they had to get him out. The guy even had a stand-in, a double."
"Like in his video?" asks Jett.
"Yeah, then he would go to the after-party with the chicks, instead of Eminem. We used to call him 'Partial Mathers,' or 'Partial Marshall.'"
"Nice job, layin' pipe for Slim Shady," says Jett, grinning and rubbing her chin.
"Naw," Merg shakes his head. "Thing is, the double was under contract, so he couldn't fuck with no women. You know? Then they could say, 'It was Eminem!' because the females didn't know the difference.
"Yeah, Bionic Jive, we had the party bus. We were the envy of the tour. The Girls Gone Wild camera crew was following the caravan and they were like, 'Yo, I wanna hang out with y'all because Marshall can't do nothing [with the ladies]; he's too large.'"
"I reckon those are the blue balls of fame," I say.
"Huh!" says Jett, not familiar with the condition. "Hey, check it, that's Jules Demetrius, the other host of Blunt."
There, indeed, was Jules, alias "Luke Warm, the metaphysically wrinkle-free," as he likes to call himself. (Actually, Jules wasn't hosting that night, just repping his own art.) Jules is so cool, penguins winter in Phoenix to take lessons from him. His friends say he pees crushed ice. Thin, with close-cropped hair, and smoking like a chimney, he's wearing a jacket I've got to get for myself if they have it in XXL: It's a blue windbreaker with a gas-station-style red-and-white Hustler patch over the heart, a product of Larry Flynt's Hustler Hollywood.
"Larry Flynt is my hero," he says. "Larry is the man."
"Yeah, Larry Flynt is God," says Jett. "I love that section -- what do they call it? Asshole of the month? We should nominate you, Kreme."
"Droll, Ellen Degenerate. Very droll," I smirk. Jules shows us some of his art -- a green, cartoonish masterpiece featuring himself as a lime-green projector with a super-high forehead. He lets drop that he's lived in D.C. and Philly, but says he thinks Phoenix is one of the least prejudiced places he's ever lived in.
"Phoenix?" I ask. "Land of Sheriff Jerk-Off? The city where a black kid was recently arrested for cocking his baseball cap to one side?"
"I've never been accepted like I have been out here," says Jules. "You see, I'm light-skinned and educated. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying certain [black] people aren't educated, but I call it 'disgrace-ism' when my own race says about me, 'He uses big words, reads thick books, fuck him. Fuck him.' But here, they hear my poetry, they see my artwork, and I don't get that attitude."
"That's weird to me," I say, "because I always think of Phoenix as having this really small African-American community."
"Maybe that's why it's different here for me," he says. "To be honest, when I first moved here, all I saw were white people, and I was nervous. If I saw two black people talking, I'd jump out of the car and ask them if I missed something or if there was a meeting I didn't know about."
Now, that's an eye-opening P.O.V. Always impatient, the Ritalin-riddled Jett tugs at my shoulder and whispers: "Kreme, you've got to peep this piece of eye candy."
I turn around, and there's a gorgeous Latina 21-year-old, with eyes as large as one of those Margaret Keane paintings. Jett's nearly licking her chops, and I'm with her on this one, 'cept conversation proves to be somewhat difficult. The girl's name is Christina. She's got long, silky black hair, and seems mostly preoccupied with spinning a blue New York Yankees hat on her index finger, which she keeps dropping.
"I'm Spanish and Italian," she tells us. "I'm from Manhattan. I've been in Phoenix about four years."
"So, uh, how do you like it versus New York?"
"It can be lame. But people do like to get fucked up a lot here."
"You mean, tweaking?" I ask.
"Nah, we keep it natural," she says, smiling that chronic-induced smile. She adds that she goes to Mesa Community College.
"Me too, sorta. I teach Phys Ed." Right (heh) a 300-pound gym teacher.
"Really?" she asks. "Wow!"
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God, I feel like I'm in that Dave Chappelle flick Half Baked.
"Hey Kreme," nudges Jett. "Let's go."
"Sorry," I explain to Christina. "My, um, wife's calling."
See you at the next Phish concert, Christina. You bring the good ganja, and I'll bring the bong.