He asked, "Who are you?"
Good question, but I wasn't the subject of this peculiar exchange. That would be Marc Anthony Thompson, aka Chocolate Genius. A ghost in my machine. The prophet who proffered godmusic (CD released in 2001) as an alternative to the devil's Pop music and before that the black man who dared to define black music (1998).
So what was (or is) black music?
It is Nina Simone singing, "Black is the color of my true love's hair." Or it's Nina Simone singing. Or it's Nina Simone. Or it's Genius on all the reasons that he's "Half a Man." Or maybe it's his apologetic lullaby "Stupid Again," which is about far more than being sorry, because it takes a genius like Genius to admit to being something less than a genius.
What is godmusic?
God said to the prophet Jeremiah: "You will remember my words. One day they will come to you like fire in your mouth." Genius sings: "Poets talk/ they don't know/ stupid motherfuckers/ hat in hand."
God will do that to you. God and love.
This started as an e-mail interview, but I was getting lost in the poetry of our wires criss-crossing creating power lines of fractured prose. I needed to know when and where he was. It was October, a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.
Genius: "a benefit in nyc, a basement in nyc, the roxy in los angeles and last night san francisco. the new york shows were haunted by brand new ghosts. while the los angeles shows had familiar ghosts and the show up north had friendly ghosts. new york needed the godmusic. los angeles doesn't need anything, and san francisco is blurry."
Yes, New York needed the godmusic right then. We all did and still do. Good morning, America.
Four years later, the Genius is back, and with Black Yankee Rock he has incorporated himself. Chocolate Genius Inc. is the man, his band, his traveling sound system, and this Rock feels something like a mission statement.
Me: "black music had the feel of a personal narrative, godmusic more like parables."
Genius: "Can't parables be personal narrative? Hmmm."
He's right, of course, but it's just rare, far more than it should be, to find music where these notions aren't mutually exclusive. And with Black Yankee Rock, the script has been redefined. It's less narrative and more of a direct and intimate dialogue. It's Genius speaking one-to-one to us as parents, siblings and lovers or a campaign to share secrets among members of the communities or even the country.
Black Yankee Rock is real music. In fact, it was supposed to be real music, the next installment in a quartet trio of albums, an even-sided triangle. So given the chance to reconnect, to revisit with Genius, I asked him about the sudden change from real music to Black Yankee Rock.
Genius: "Yes, real music was the original title. Then, right before deadline, I had a vision. The full-on Burning Bush shit. That Black Yankee Rock was this place. Like Xanadu. Like Compton in the '50s."
I like the notion of this place. It feels like a spiritual home. I tell him Cincinnati could use a piece of the Rock in a bid to draw him here. But upon deeper reflection, I realize that the Queen City has its own trace elements of the Rock.
Soon, those of us in the know will be saying goodbye to Sid D'Sousa as he dances off to new exciting destinations. We'll be Red and Blue brothers, but I want to say thank you to Sid. In my five years in Cincinnati, especially the last two or three, he's been the unofficial face of the Queen City — a tireless booster and man about town in the classiest sense, a sign of the diverse potential that exists here.
And besides Sid, I can point to Robin Harrison, the Beau Alquizola Band, Pamela Myricks, Brian Joiner, Lee Zellars and the Newbees as just a few trying to lift us "maybe over Black Yankee Rock."
I hope that, by mentioning them, someone reading this asks, "Who are they?" The question might be the first step of a journey through a back door or down the street or across town. That's how it started for me, the outsider, the Southerner-turned-Northeastern transplant still trying to find what he's looking for.
Meanwhile, the genius of Genius is his ability to be nothing more than who he is. He's come from on high or "Down So Low" to point us in the right direction, and he's shown me there are other tour guides out there to make sure we don't stray too far off the mark.
I hope to see you when I get there.
CONTACT TT CLINKSCALES: letters(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here in the third issue of each month.