Ahhh….memories…The recent induction of Public Enemy into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has the moments flooding back in a swirl of baton swings and siren wails. Those were the days, my friend, as Lauren so wistfully recounts in Broken Hallelujah‘s chapter entitled, Hank:
“The beginning of the end was upon us, and we knew that our carefree, masked days of raucous protest, of listening to Public Enemy rap, ‘F*CK THE POLICE,’ while we ran to the nearest safe house, were, rather sadly, numbered.”
And they were, but what those days instilled in us could not be obliterated by what waited for us outside the hallowed halls of academia. This was for many of us the first time in our lives that we could challenge and agitate in a way that had actual implications for the society in which we lived–squatting with the homeless (until canisters of tear gas literally smoked us out…campus police really not giving a shit about student status or bourgeois ties)…marching for the rights of university students in Central America–Public Enemy rapped about a different reality, an insidious all-encompassing omnipresent form of oppression which permeated every aspect of the daily lives and shackled souls of a certain segment of the population, but we appropriated it as our own; our language may have been different–certainly more middle class for many, Southern Cal Valley for some–but Public Enemy gave us the badass attitude we so sorely needed to begin to effect the change that we, in the microcosm that was University life, wanted to see in the world at large. Another lesson learned on campus was that if not The Man himself then most certainly the infrastructure of think-free-and-shut-up existed only to keep order and NOT to further our cause. One of my favorite photos of this time–in addition to the one posted (note my free-flowing eighties curls)–is during one particularly contentious stand-off. My best friend, A, is facing the police line in staunch defiance, her middle fingers raised, her mouth and nose covered by a kerchief, “WE GOT TO FIGHT THE POWERS THAT BE,” conveyed by the look in her eyes.
So, thank you Public Enemy for the courage and conviction you unknowingly offered our fledgling university community of radical thought and well-meaning action. Who would have known then that the prophets of the marginalized would twenty year later enter the ranks of the immortalized…the revolution changing but not fading “As Long As The People Got Somethin To Say.”