Call it a block, I've got nothing lately. Well, don't let that stop me from revisiting old times...
I think it was the summer of '93. My Nashville record store days. The chapter where I was in one of those "none of our friends could tell if we were dating or just close friends" relationships. I had come across the first hip-hop artist I could get into a year or so before when I worked at Turtles on Nolensville Road. My store was stocking top sellers like The Geto Boys and N.W.A., and hip-hop may as well have been as gangsta as the rest of the guys in the rap section to my uninitiated ears. One day the BMG rep stopped in and handed me a stack of discs for in-store play. These stacks that the label reps would give us were always like manna to us music lovers -- some good stuff, some bad stuff, and you could always count on one clerk finding his or her newest favorite next great artist among the unfamiliar CD spines.
On this day one stood out to me. Me Phi Me. From Murfreesboro as I recall. After one listen, he was my newest favorite next great artist. So unlike what I was used to hearing from the rap world, Me Phi Me's "One" disc featured so much actual music. Not just samples of old songs behind rap, but fresh and original guitar tracks. "Not My Brotha'" opens with a cool harmonica and sings a song about not being pressured to remain tight with a trouble-maker just because that trouble-maker shares a skin color with you. Where Ice-T was earning his dead presidents while singing about a "Cop Killer" in his heavy metal outfit, Body Count, just a year earlier, Me Phi Me was singing and writing about peace, love, and education. The positivity within was simply uplifting and hopeful. Me Phi Me should have at least been as big as P.M. Dawn.
Anyway, 1993 found me working at another record store -- Waves Music in Green Hills Mall. The clientele was quite richer and certainly whiter. There was little if any demand for the hard rap that was so popular at the little store next to Harding Mall. If anything, we sold movie soundtracks and original scores to Broadway plays there. The Saturday matinees would conclude and here would come their audiences, moved by a Van Morrison track that played as the credits rolled, they were at my counter with a credit card ready for swiping.
If the customers' tastes of Turtles-Nolensville Road were more of the outlaw variety (popular sellers from Merle Haggard to DJ Quik), then Waves-Green Hills had the "life is easy and safe" crowd covered (Kenny G. to Barbra Streisand). But one genre that sold well at both locations was hip-hop. At both brik-and-mortars, I could sell a lot of Arrested Development ("Tennessee") and Digable Planets ("Rebirth of Slick") with minimal in-store play. US3 was also pretty huge in '93 with their jazzy "Cantaloop." What frustrated me was my inability to convince a lot of people that Me Phi Me was their newest favorite next great artist. He didn't have the street cred that the Nolensville Road shoppers required and his music wasn't in enough movies for the Green Hills kids. (Actually, his "Revival" is in Reality Bites and we did sell a ton of that movie's soundtrack, but it seems that Lisa Loeb's "Stay" was the only reason anyone bought that.)
I was at least able to bring the love of Me Phi Me's music to my close friends. He played a show at 328 Performance Hall one night and we all squeezed into my Ford Tempo, cranked David Baerwald's "Triage" disc ("I am your waiter/I am ordinary/and the wildest in the world!"), and made our way to 328 that hot summer evening to dance and party to the organic and seductive sounds of Me Phi Me in a venue where we more often heard the likes of Dash Rip Rock and Mojo Nixon. Sadly for the artist, it was far from packed, but those who were there had the big time. There was plenty of room for bad and buzzed dancing for lost in the moment 20-somethings like us. What was educational and enlightening on CD was absolutely sexy and primal in a live setting. The world spun solely because those at the show were cool enough to let it.
Angie and Hollie and Ray and Susan were my fellow dancers in crime that night. Susan was my undefined relationship. If there is one thing I like about this current era of MySpace and Facebook, it's that there is the good possibility that I can look up one of those old friends and exchange a few emails where one of us will ask, "Do you remember the night when we saw Me Phi Me at 328 Performance Hall?" and the other will reply, "Wow. Yeah, wasn't that an awesome night?"
We've all surely changed so much since then, and I bet that we all like where our lives are now. But it's nice to reflect back, filling in the forgotten details with imagined cool scenarios, and remembering that we were once the wildest in the world.