Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Crazy Homicides - Twilight of the old Brooklyn

This is a story I wrote about The Crazy Homicides, a gang in Park Slope, Brooklyn when i started my recording studio there 27 yrs ago, back when the neighborhood was in a major downward spiral.
My studio is still there , and it's now a land of baby strollers, micro-breweries and fancy coffee shops.
Bill Laswell, producer, and then studio partner, is involved in this story. And Africa Bambaataa also got drawn in.


The Crazy Homicides - Twilight of the old Brooklyn

Last month I took a car service into Manhattan from my neighborhood in Brooklyn. The driver was a Dominican or Puerto Rican about my age. The conversation quickly embarked on "the changing of the neighborhood", the most common form of small talk in NY since "where were you on 9-11". This stroll down memory lane turned into a "where are they now ?" of a peculiar group of Brooklyn residents in the late 70's-mid 80's - The Crazy Homicides. You could easily pick them out all over Park Slope, Sunset Park and Gowanus, cause they had a specific style. They all wore Union cavalry hats - the kind with a small bill and a flat droopy top, and motorcycle-type leather jackets. 
 My driver gleefully boasted "my brother was one of their leaders. He was a very, very funny guy". I was stunned, and shot back, "I was mugged once by a group of the them, and the one who did all the talking, was in fact, very,, very funny !". The driver, without any sign of discomfort retorted "yep, that was probably my brother".
  He continued with a gushing description of one of his brother's top career accomplishments - a victorious battle about 8 blocks from where my recording studio was then, and is now: "They (the rival gang) left the pool hall and were hanging on 10th St. My brother knew that they were waiting for more guys, so when they were about 30, he sent 20 of his guys down from 5th ave, and another 20 up from 4th ave. He had them trapped - 6 or 7 of them ended up in the hospital" ...Ahhhh - epic Brooklyn history.
  So, this is how my own "funny" encounter with The Crazy Homicides went, 27 years ago.
 I was walking near my recording studio with Bill Laswell (Material, and major record producer). He was my studio/room mate at the time. Three Crazy Homicides approach from behind: "Hello, we're Brooklyn muggers, and you have to give us your money". The put-on announcer voice was disarming. I turn around to see three guys with big smiles, grasping big screw drivers, in Union cavalry hats. The jovial tone made me decline the demand for money, and we kept walking. Me and Laswell made the mistake of starting to talk about music. "Oh, artists" the funny guy says, "now we'll have to throw you in the Gowanus Canal". The canal was, and is today, a fetid and toxic body of water on the edge of Park Slope. I quickly coughed up $40.
 The mugging really ate Laswell up. A couple weeks later, we had seminal hip-hop artist Africa Bambaataa at the studio. Bam, as everyone calls him, had himself been the leader of a gang in The Bronx called The Black Spades, that he later transformed into the pacifist and utopian Zulu Nation. There always were a handful of young devotees from the group following him around. Laswell had the vision of a great moment, The Zulu Nation taking an assertive stand against The Crazy Homicides, in a defiant display of confidence. So, off they all go for "a walk", unbeknownst to Bam, to find the Homicides. Laswell spots a few of them in a Blimpies. "Yo, why we goin to Blimpies ?" Bam inquires. Now Bam had quite a gregarious style, as you might imagine an African king - leopard cap, lots of  jewelry, a staff. As they walk into Blimpies, the Homicides turn to face Laswell and Bam, in a moment of silence. Then one of them bursts out: "Yo, it's Mr T !". The two watch stone faced as the Homicides burst into a torrent of laughter, practically falling out of their seats "hey, Mr T !". Well for those too young to remember, Mr T was a very popular black action movie and TV star, who sported a heavy gold jewelry style, years before mainstream rappers like LL Cool J  and Run DMC wore heavy gold chains.
  Back in the cab - year 2008 - two men from Park Slope, Brooklyn are reminiscing about a neighborhood that's practically been erased from memory. I find myself lamenting the demise of a violent neighborhood gang, who had style and humor, and in that sense seemed kind of smart. We arrive at my destination, and the tone in the cab changes.
 As sadness overtakes the driver's face he says "sorry about the $40". I don't think the look of sadness was about the $40, because he still charged me $30 for the ride. I think that in apologizing, it became clear that we'd moved forward, but that there's a trade off. And that part of us that is mythologized with Jesse James and the OK Corral, and Don Corleone in The Godfather, is really just below the skin, periodically finding a toe hold in our aspiring utopias.
 By coincidence, I decided to buy a new lock for my door tomorrow, because I didn't feel safe enough. I think that ties it together nicely