Charles E. Richardson

Old school, new school, no school

I was reminded last weekend by the Soul Jam at Henderson Stadium why I like “Old School.” It’s a label you can slap on in the middle of almost any conversation — with the right generation of people — and they’ll instantly know what you mean.

If it’s music, “Old School” takes me back to a time when musicians were musicians. Let me explain. They could play instruments. They didn’t have tracks (recordings of someone else playing the music). When Cameo played “Word Up” the guitar was real. The drums were real and so were the folks playing them. You don’t find that often, particularly in rap music. I’ve been listening to Confunkshun, another Soul Jam group, since the middle ‘70s and when they hit “Love Train” my head goes straight “back in the day.”

Unfortunately, “Old School” artist are falling left and right. Prince? Gone. I remember playing his first album on KUOP-FM in 1978. The song, “Soft and Wet.” But of all his 39 studio albums, the one that sticks in my mind most is the opening guitar riff, then percussion, from the 1984 “When Doves Cry,” from “Purple Rain that sold more than 22 million albums. Thirty-two years later, Prince would die — alone — in an elevator in his home.

Prince, however tragic at the end of his life, wasn’t the recluse that Michael Jackson had become. He will have been gone seven years on June 25. Both men were talented beyond measure but they shared death by pharmaceuticals. They weren’t the first, nor will they be the last to meet their end in this ignominious way. I could go on and on, but enough about dead people.

There is something else about “Old School.” And I don’t know whether it’s the music or the ravages of time or the maturity that time brings. I would worry about being in a crowd of 3,500 young people at an outdoor venue waiting in the hot sun to see a rap or hip-hop artist. In fact, I wouldn’t do it. Young people are too brash and crazy. They’ve been watching too many movies and playing video games and have no idea what life is all about. They believe they are invulnerable — though the evidence is all around them proving they are not. They don’t know how precious the next breath is.

But in a crowd of old schoolers, I’d have no worries. People don’t trip. Little bumps, stepped on toes, spilled beer and stuff like that, rolls off old schoolers’ backs. Why? Because they’re old enough to know what life — and death — is about. Add to that divorce, taxes, accidents, hospitals and a host of other things young people who think they’re bulletproof have no knowledge of yet. That’s why old schoolers can have a good time when they’re around other old schoolers. They can tell lies and draw belly laughs from their just-as-old friends who know the truth.

The young people who get so upset about nothing wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a Bid Whist card game for all the yakking that goes on around the table. You have to be able to take it and give it. Playing the “dozens” today would probably get you killed — but old schoolers know how to verbally joust. It’s an art form.

Now, don’t take their kindness for weakness. That would be a mistake. They can take out a can of whoop-ass if need be. If you don’t mess their mamas, their wives or their children, you’re generally OK.

And that’s my advice for keeping this summer peaceful and calm. If you’re a new schooler or no schooler, don’t sit at home on your momma’s couch. Get a job doing something. Cut grass, wash cars — anything. Help yourself and old schoolers will help you.

If you’re still in school, stay there. If you dropped out, get back in. If you’re headed for college, stay safe and watch out for people who look as crazy as you.

Charles E. Richardson: 478-744-4342, @crichard1020