"The Tao of Wu" by The RZA
The first thing this book taught me was that I know very little about the Wu Tang Clan. Frankly, I missed a whole bunch of hip hop in the '90s and am retroactively (and embarrasingly) trying to play catchup. I've got a lot to make up for on that front, so they're in the B rotation right now.
(For some odd reason, The Ascendant is in the A rotation. Like, a lot. I *should* be listening to more acoustic artists to get my strumming homework ingrained in my skull, but I digress.)
Second, I learned that I *thought* I grew up poor, but I was wrong. We were just broke. Broke is when you have a roof over your head and your own bed, and clothes and food most of the time. I still went to school, nobody jumped me to and from said school, I wasn't hustling on the streets at the age of eight. Not even *close*.
East Coast, Staten Island projects is a whole different world, and I'm not sure I want to learn much more about it. I try to imagine raising my daughter in that world and it frightens me. Then I remember that many *are* raising children in that world, and I'm speechless.
Next, I learned that there are so many strains of Islam in this country that I may never know of them all. In SoCal in the '80s, my siblings and I were taught to steer clear of bow-tied black men holding pies, but in retrospect, this was bullshit from my fallen Catholic parents. Now I see that the many paths of Islam are a way to educate young black men who have pushed the mainstream aside - or been forced out of it and into incarceration.
There is a whole dissertation worth of stuff here. When RZA starts talking about the Five Percent and the Nation of Gods and the Lessons and the Divine Mathematics - my head exploded. There's a whole WORLD here that I know absolutely nothing about, and more importantly, I don't think it's for me to know about. I am not the target market.
Still, it makes me wonder how much of the world I'm not seeing. (And the first thing I thought of to prove the point? Go watch Jidenna's video for "Love Live The Chief". WTF is going on there?)
There are so many things for me to learn that I may never circle back to the teachings RZA talks about in this book, but it was definitely eye-opening.
As for the music, and the philosophy, and the craftsmanship RZA writes of in this book - what an amazing mythos he has! It's *fascinating*. And while I have all of my life pulled elements of novels and songs and comics and fables into one of my own -
(how many times have I introduced myself as "Daemon"? Countless times. And how many times has anyone asked me where it comes from and what it means? Zip.)
- it was fun and powerful and interesting to read about this man who has done the same thing several times in his career so far.
Still, back to the music. Quote that currently has me gobsmacked:
"You and your life - it has a consistency, no matter what you go through. You just have to be detached enough to recognize the good and the bad in yourself and not judge either one. You are a 64-track recording - the tracks are always there, they're always with you. Sometimes the harsh tracks are cranked up and the rest are rolled down to zero. Other times the sweet tracks are high and the darkness is low. But it's all you."
While that seems like more of an over-arching life philosophy - and of course, it is - it is currently serving to remind me of two things:
1) Sometimes I suck. Keep playing anyway.
2) Sometimes you have to turn some shit down while you crank other stuff up. And what I have to crank up right now is my beginner's mind. Start over. Start from scratch. Begin again.
Only recommended to those who are fans of the Wu Tang Clan or want to learn more about RZA. Might be too esoteric for anyone else, though I don't regret the time spent reading it.
Next read: Elvis Costello's book. More news as it happens.