Pusherman


I have never seen the film Super Fly. I’m not sure what value 70’s Blaxploitation movies still have, except as relics of a more optimistic (and far more colorfully dressed) time in black culture. I’m not sure where the line lies between celebration and exploitation, and I’m not sure where movies like Super Fly would fall, in terms of social value. Their fashion value still lives on, obviously, though mostly in problematic and cynical ways. But if there’s one thing Blaxploitation movies gave the world, it’s some great music. In fact, Super Fly means more in the history of music than it does movies. Who cares about the movie when we have Curtis Mayfield’s famous soundtrack? Mayfield successfully navigated his career from innocuous Motown crooner to politically conscious singer and songwriter, and he helped open up the horizons of what funk and soul music could be about. The Super Fly soundtrack is his best known record and Pusherman is a signature classic. You could say, as people have said about the film as well, that it glamorizes the role of the drug dealer. But it’s not the voice of a man celebrating how bomb-ass fly he is; there are plenty of musicians who make bank glamorizing the hell out of the shitty former lives couldn’t run away from fast enough, but Mayfield is not one of them. It’s the tone of a man who knows his position in life and knows how the world sees him. “I’m that nigger in the alley” he sings, knowing that somebody has to be. He’s indispensable, a pillar of the community in his own fucked-up way. But no matter how much money he makes, no matter how fly his suits are or how souped up his car, he will always a scumbag loitering in an alleyway. Even if he went straight, even if he’d never started selling in the first place, he’d still be in the same spot, in the eyes of the world. Afros and pimp suits have cycled in and out of relevance, but the message of the song doesn’t resonate any less. Somebody has to be that man in the alley.

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