“I’ll be glad when you’re dead you rascal you”- Louis Armstrong
It is interesting how many bleary eyed fawning mementos of the dead seem to pile up as if inconspicuous sign posts along a routeless road to nowhere. Everyone wants a piece of the scattered carcass. Something to hold onto. Something to claim, “Oh he was mah man’!
“A baddd brother”!
Some even eulogize before that carcass is cold in the earth, “He left a legacy”!
Yes Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) did leave a legacy. A man of letters, a very public on-line newszine flippantly referred to him as an, “controversial activist”. I couldn’t help but disdainfully recall his “activist” days coming to a crashing halt with lucrative tenures in academia being dangled under his once white folks hatin’ flaring nostrils.
Suffice it to say in many circles be they public or private it is virtually verboten to go against the grain concerning which way the wind blows Baraka. A complex individual whose literary reputation measurably outweighed authentic social activism over the past 30 years, since the hot heat fizzle of the so-called Pan African movement where Baraka elbowed his way to face time. He became through no fault of his own - a self indulgent caricature of himself. A quite unapproachable sort, not a ‘man of the people’ type as some would seek to romantically color him, Baraka’s acerbic tongue and ‘winner takes all and all be damned’ cavalier asides were something of a weary and tiring road show as years went on. He seemed to be living off the fumes of a bygone reputation as a firebrand disrupter of All American liberalism and conservative tastes and thought.
And no, he was not the obliging humanitarian. Never media conscripted for sanctified sound bites like a John Hope Franklin or a Lerone Bennett. Baraka if anything was never the genteel observing bystander.
In essence he’d become the crotchety old man who walks up and down the block railing at grocery store prices, shouting at passing cars and conjuring ethereal images of long gone foes and opponents.
I was never given to iconic ‘group’ think fascination. Never mind his wanton shotgun styled demagoguery masquerading as poetic thuggery. The ‘bad-ass’ negro glissen had worn thin just as had his hustle of being the all encompassing black radicalist spokesman. For some he helped clarify their identity in the ongoing drama of American culture. For this they’ll heap caskets full of praise. Right now the way I see it his volumes of poetry will never help pay not one bill.