Swing Shift by R.J. Smith
August 22, 1989
Forty-eight hours in the feeding-cycle of New York City. There were Uzis, Public Enemy regrouping, and a clique of blond babes orbiting Axl Rose at the Cat Club. All of this connects. How was your week?
Start the clock August 8, last Tuesday, when Public Enemy’s vox pop Chuck D faxed all over town the word that PE was back together. The rap group disbanded late June in the wake of an anti-Semitic interview Minister of Information Professor Griff gave to The Washington Times (portions of which were reprinted here, fanning the fire). That’s when Chuck D began saying Griff had “sabotaged” the group’s values, and kicked Griff out. Next day, he said Public Enemy was folding up. Last week Chuck announced that Griff apologized to him, if not to the rest of the world. PE is now ready for a comeback album, and, according to the press release, a new title for Griff: “Supreme Allied Chief of Community Relations,” who “will not be available for interviews.” Griff will work in the black community, says Chuck, particularly with youth programs. This is like a white-collar criminal evading hard time. Who would you rather have teaching the kids, Ollie “1200-hours-of-community service” North or Professor “Why do you think they call it Jew-elry” Griff?
Some will now think PE never planned on cutting Griff out for good, that the breakup was a fake (they were performing even after they “split”), that everything was a face-saving half-step. I don’t think so. Chuck D’s running around in circles, saying things his actions contradict a day later, then saying something the next day that nobody expected. Contrary to D’s say-so, Griff has been answering questions at least as recently as August 3. (“What I said was 100 per cent pure,” he told the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. No impurities for Griff.) And fellow group members Flavor-Flav and DJ Terminator X are working on the convenient escape route, the solo project. Steady Public Enemy are not. Griff can always phone Armond White at The City Sun if he wants to talk.
At the end of Chuck D’s statement, he says, “Please direct any further questions to Axl Rose.” That’s because by any standard, the Guns n’ Roses singer and stereo-destroyer gave an interview to Rolling Stone (August 10) that should have set off something like the Griff aftershock. GNR’s minister of information has a way with words, like those on the song “One in a Million”: “Police and niggers, that’s right/Get outta my way/ Don’t need to buy none/Of your gold chains today,” and “Immigrants and faggots/They make no sense to me/They come to our country/And think they’ll do as they please/Like start some mini-Iran or spread some fuckin’ disease.”
He uses nigger, he told Stone interviewer Del James, because blacks have been known to use the word, so why can’t he? “I don’t like boundaries of any kind.” (Wonder what GNR guitarist Slash, the child of an interracial marriage, thinks about that.) Axl justifies the immigrant line because people from “Iran, Pakistan, China and Japan” give him bad service at store counters. I’m not kidding. He says he was once chased out of a 7 -Eleven by an Iranian, and so he’s got a right to sing the National Front blues.
As for faggots, Rose says, he’s not antigay. “I’m proheterosexual. I can’t get enough of women, and I don’t see the same thing that other men can see in men. I’m not into gay or bisexual experiences. But that’s hypocritical of me, because I’d rather see two women together than just about anything else. That happens to be my personal, favorite thing.”
“I don’t understand it,” he says about homosexuality. “Antihomosexual? I’m not against them doing what they want to do as long as it’s not hurting anybody else and they’re not forcing it upon me. I don’t need them in my face or, pardon the pun, up my ass about it.”
This platinum punster’s remarks, one should think, would have ignited some response from a press (including Rolling Stone) willing to cover Professor Griff’s outburst. Rose’s status as a star and Rolling Stone’s status as a well-circulated starfucker mean the interview reached scads more people than Griff ever did. There have been no outbursts, no statements of explanation, and very little coverage.
Edgy observers from Public Enemy’s label, CBS, and MCA, with whom Chuck’s negotiating, attended the June 21 press conference where Chuck kicked Griff out. A CBS spokesman said PE “made the right decision” in ousting Griff, and Newsday had MCA muckamucks troubled by Griff’s remarks and PE’s connections to Louis Farrakhan. But Guns n’ Roses’ label, Geffen Records, still loves its white supremacist. I called the company hoping to talk with Axl, saying I wanted to ask him about the Stone interview. “We’ve gotten a whole bunch of requests about this, and management is saying no to all interviews,” said Geffen’s Bryn Bridenthal. She said Geffen felt no need to issue a statement about Rose’s rap. “I wouldn’t have anything else to add in addition to it. I don’t think there’s anything left unspoken,” she explained. Axl stupid question, get an Axl answer.
Please direct any further questions to Axl Rose.
August 10, two days after Chuck D said that, Dave Herndon, the Voice’s former managing editor (currently an editor at Newsday), bumped into Axl at the Cat Club. Identifying himself as a journalist, Herndon asked if there’d been any fallout from the interview. Naw, Rose said. But it had been, he divulged, quite a struggle getting the interview in the magazine. Rose said he’d bargained for months with Rolling Stone, refusing interviews unless he got the cover, unless his “best friend” and RIP Magazine editor Del James got to do the interview, and unless another pal, Robert John, got to take the photos. While it appears that Rolling Stone fellated Rose on all counts, a spokesperson denied caving in to his demands, saying access determined their decision. Here’s a magazine, which reported Public Enemy’s comments as news, running an interview packed with racism/homophobia/immigrant-bashing. Nope, no news story here, just wisdom from a superstar.
Stone’s silence illustrates what kinds of hate are widely acceptable right now — racism and homophobia and immigrant-bashing, though not anti-Semitism. Moreover, if you’re white and sell enough records, they’ll overlook anything. Long as they get a slice. Geffen’s Bridenthal wanted me to know “how hard [Rose] worked on that interview.” Maybe Rolling Stone should have given him a byline.
In the time between Rose’s scene at the Cat Club and Chuck D’s press release, Mordechai Levy got hyped. He’s the head of the Jewish Defense Organization, a group for whom maybe one follower put it, in Newsday, for all the rest: “This is Judaism, not that humanitarian crap.” Levy was arrested after firing wildly onto a Greenwich Village street. The man who said of Public Enemy, “We’re gonna bring these people to their knees,” managed only to bring 69-year-old, air conditioner repairman Dominick Spinelli to his knees, by firing bullets into Spinelli’s van, one lodging in his left leg. Levy was shooting wildly from the rooftop of his building on Bleecker Street, firing at two visitors who had come, he has said, to kill him. He missed, hitting Spinelli, parked nearby. When police arrested Levy last Thursday afternoon, they found a Ruger mini-14, and in his apartment and car, an impressive cache (an Uzi, AR-15 assault rifle, .22 rifles, and pump-action riot shotguns, tear gas, etc.).
Levy has mounted a war against Public Enemy since June. He claims to have organized record store boycotts, has leafletted against the group, put scary-sounding anti-PE messages on his phone machine, and paid at least one visit to their management offices.
There’s a Biblical injunction to the effect that you need not worry about staying close to your friends, but better cling to your enemies — they are your enemies, after all. Levy stayed close to his. An underhand grenade toss from his home is the office of Rush Productions, Public Enemy’s management. The rap group’s private publicist, Layla Turkkan, said, “Maybe I’m listening to too much PE, but it’s the most extraordinary coincidence that he should live there, like, three doors down.”
Levy, it turns out, has resided there longer than PE has been around. But go tell that to anybody from Rush and see if they look any more relaxed. Maybe Levy’ll run into Public Enemy next time they play a free concert at Rikers. Rolling Stone can send Axl Rose to cover it.