It’s not often that music changes your life, but Public Enemy managed the trick for me. I quote the more famous “Bring the Noise” in the title, which was covered by metal/thrash band Anthrax, but the song and video (because during this time videos were a HUGE part of music) that really blew my mind was “Night of the Living Baseheads.” Check it out, and see how video could be seen as an art separate from song, but one that worked together with music to create something entirely new:
To this day I can’t quite put my finger on what it was about this that shook me and awoke me. I think it was how explosively the video and song blew up the racial stereotypes accepted in the small town I grew up in. You know all the cliches already: “race card,” blacks supposedly aren’t worried about crime in their own neighborhood, and all the other blame game bullshit middle class whites like to push on people who have lived a different experience.
This pretty much kicked all that in the teeth. Every idea the other middle and lower middle class white goofs like me had were challenged. This one burst of noise and image forced me to rethink all the bullshit they held dear to their heart (and which many of them still do).
It was just a song, yes — and still is — but it was one that demanded attention from anyone willing to open their ears and mind. It changed me.
Later it was the stellar, rock-inspired “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” which was simultaneously a song about frustration and inspiration, a balance of rebellious attitude and self-empowerment I still admire today:
And after that was the BOMB, the big one, a song that dragged Public Enemy into all sorts of controversy but which I admired not just musically — no rap track before or since has been as dense and challenging, and as in keeping with the music sensibilities I’d develop — but also lyrically, because it was defiant as hell in a way that would make Johnny Rotten proud. It challenged me as a listener and forced me to unpeel every word uttered by lead man Chuck D. What did the he mean by that? What was he getting at? Was it bold? Was it bigoted? Was it punk? Was it protest? To this day I cannot answer those questions, but I love pondering the questions.
I ended up memorizing it. I could rap that shit hard, or at least as hard as a soft white Piney dude could. That in turn connected me with some people who have since turned into old friends, if only because we found a connection in this insane, daring, to this day revolutionary song. I’m talking about “Welcome to the Terrordome::
Over the years my love for Public Enemy never slipped. Through a weird connection too personal to go into here, I ended up having contact with a band member and getting stuff in the mail from them. It was wild. Went to a giant comic convention in NYC almost entirely to see Chuck D speak about comics, and had an awesome time sitting there with my (then young) son and hearing a perspective our lily asses couldn’t ever know. Dude was still opening my eyes years later.
And so on and so forth.
Most of all, I have and do just love the hell out of their MUSIC. Even now, 25+ years later, this shit is POWERFUL. They are still making music, too, and it’s still fantastic. The other day I was writing and couldn’t be bothered to get up to change my MediaMonkey list, so I asked The Kid to choose something for me. With no prompting, he picked a later PE record I hadn’t listened to much. And it was awesome. Awesome.
There are few bands that have actually changed my life. My Bloody Valentine. R.E.M. Jane’s Addiction. And without question, Public fucking Enemy.
Bring the noise, dammit.