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Social Studies

Live in Concert

By Vincent Williams | Posted 4/22/2009

It's probably a good thing to start with the fact that I had been drinking. And, when I say, "drinking," I don't mean a-couple-of-brews-while-I'm-grilling-burgers drinking, I mean, me-and-my-brother-no-plans-on-driving-settled-in-for-the-evening-at-my-parents-house-brown-liquor-grown-man drinking, and while I wasn't drunk, I was certainly chatty. So, you'll have to excuse me if, while we pontificated on serious matters like school vouchers, stem-cell research, and figuring out exactly where Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes fits into the overall Apes film timeline, I didn't really notice my brother's boy was not only not drinking, but was texting back and forth with someone like a teenager. And, yeah, after about six fingers of Booker's, I didn't say much when said friend announced that he was taking us to go see Rakim.

Because, honestly, it was friggin' Rakim. Paid in Full, master emcee, revolutionized hip-hop Rakim. If you love hip-hop, Rakim is a living monument. And I'm not going to say Rakim sightings are like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot or nothing, but, y'know, over the years, I think it's fair to say he's become sort of like a hip-hop blue whale or something. I mean, I know what a blue whale is, and I believe they exist, I've seen pictures and videos of them, but I've never been in the presence of one and I don't think I know anyone who's ever really seen one in real life. So, on top of the whiskey, telling me we're going to see Rakim? Well, hell, you might as well tell me we're going to see Santa Claus.

But, sure enough, we go see Rakim. And, though he's got to be 128 years old, and most of the audience is old enough to be making phone calls checking on their babysitters, he gets up there and spits and, dammit, it's like it's 1988. I mean, "Paid in Full," "I Know You Got Soul," "Mahogany"--he's killing it and, man . . . I heard Rakim perform "Eric B. Is President." When Rakim opened his mouth and said, "I came in the door/ I said it before," I almost started crying a little bit. Seriously, I have waited two decades to see Rakim live.

So we leave, and it's 2:30 in the morning. The three of us walk to the car in silence, because, again, all of us are in varying states of disbelief because we saw something we've waited over half of our lives to see. Then my friend ruins it by saying, "I think we just saw our Miles Davis." And he's right. Like Davis, the enigmatic, infinitely cool Rakim changed the way his form works, but at the moment of my greatest music-lover triumph, the comparison just served to remind me of my greatest music-lover tragedy. Because I could have seen Miles Davis live, but I didn't.

What had happened was, my first real girlfriend--we dated for 10 months, but we probably should have only dated for six months. Well, at month eight, she calls me one day and says she and her family have tickets for Miles Davis and asks me to go. It was 1990, and I knew who Miles Davis was, but in my callow youth I didn't really appreciate what it meant to say you had seen him perform and, well, long story short, I disliked her so much at that point that I turned down the tickets rather than spend an evening with her and her parents. And, a year later, Miles Davis was dead. I'm shaking my head in disgust at my younger self right now as I type this.

I think, as fans, most of us have these "one that got away" stories. The Miles Davis story is the most tragic one of my life, but I've also just missed seeing New Edition and Public Enemy, and I once walked past Living Colour as they were giving a free show. And my wife's aunt has a horrible story about having tickets to see Bob Marley right when he got too sick to perform.

That Bob Marley story is actually an example of why I don't talk to older people about their concert tales, because how can you win with them? I mean, my dad talks about eating pig feet with Junior Parker and Etta James, my godfather has a story about watching Ray Charles perform at some juke joint. Friggin' old people just get on my nerves, but then, going forward, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be one of the obnoxious people that I complain about when it comes to this kind of conversation myself because the other night, I got to see Rakim live.

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