Interview with Retread Jones
by Lael Ewy
The following interview was conducted between myself and the noted African American author and critic Sisyphus "Retread" Jones in his home in Newton, Mass. on July 17th, 1999.
LE: How did you feel about the way Arch De-Lite was received by the critics?
SRJ: Poorly. It's as if the Man had his feelers out for me-an F.B.I. of critics. The Black Establishment wasn't so pleased either. I got a lot of flack from Steele and Mfume for embracing so-called "Gangsta Rap" as a poetic style. I don't even know what "Gangsta Rap" is.
LE: So the whole rhythm and poetic design of Arch De-Lite is totally unrelated to hardcore hip-hop culture?
SRJ: Of course! How can I not write about the streets? How can I not be influenced by the beat-boxers and the b-boys rocking the corner on a Friday night? How can I not be influenced by the rhythm of the nines [9mm handguns -Ed.] as they pierce the projects with their projectile howl? The homeys' hoopties with their boomin' systems? How can I not make that part of my purview, my life force?
LE: But you grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, a bedroom suburb of Kansas City.
SRJ: And my folks each had six-figure incomes. Your point?
LE: Well, I . . . .
(SRJ looks down his horn-rimmed glasses at the interviewer)
LE: Your poem "Ho-Bitch," where did this particular poem come from?
SRJ: It's all about the macroeconomic implications of the WTO and its attempt to integrate world markets. The life of the Ho-Bitch is symbolic of American workers screwed up the ass by the disparities between themselves and the rich of their own nation due to their jobs being exported to counties with few or no labor laws.
SRJ: Sure. But it's also about this ho-bitch slut I once dated. . . .
LE: Dis you, did she?
SRJ: Dissed my ass from here to Tuesday.
LE: Your poem "My Mitochondria" has gotten a lot of press as being indicative of the new directions of American poetry.
SRJ: Shit, dawg! It is the only new direction of American poetry! By combining the socio-economic/Marxist lament of Run-DMC's "My Adidas" with the awareness of recent genetic research, I tap into both the pains of living in contemporary society with the need to get back to the divine Matriarchy. Since the mitochondria power the cell . . .
LE: So it's all about power.
SRJ: What isn't? You know the real problem we face today is the "Black Man's Burden." So long has Black culture been the driving force in American culture that we find the traditional roles reversed. The advent of Jazz as a factor in popular culture in the 1930s marked a steady movement toward dependency on Black art, music and fashion--not to mention slang. Without the Black man American music would be John Adams and Phillip Glass, and considering their rhythmic bases, not even them. You'd still have Barbie, but can you really imagine any fresh or phat fashions coming from that? I didn't think so.
LE: So you're saying the stress to create is now on your shoulders.
SRJ: I'm saying it's hard for the Black man to keep you whites clothed and entertained and happy. If we stopped feeding you culture, you know what you'd have? A revolt, that's what you'd have. We'd have white kids lined up waiting to get into the ghetto so they could get them some culture.
LE: So how do you suppose we check this problem?
SRJ: We don't. The issue will be settled by the marketplace. You literary types really don't know anything about money, do you? It works like this: the increasing Negritude of America can only last so long. All culture demands change and if it doesn't, the need for novelty in the economy will. Poke'mon is already making inroads. The Next Big Thing will be Culture'mon: the ascendency of the Japanese. Historically, one group does all the work: it produces for the lazy and empowered. After the material supply comes the cultural production. The rise of Jazz immediately proceeded from Emancipation and the integration of the Black worker into Northern industry. Latino culture has become important to America as migrant Mexican workers became a big part of the American economy in the 30s through the 50s. Japan established its domination of our material culture in the 1970s. It's their turn.
LE: What's to become of Black culture?
SRJ: Assimilation, just like yours. Without European instrumentation and orchestration there couldn't have been Jazz. Without Black culture there wouldn't have been Pop, so no Ricky Martin. The Japanese ascendency will be much the same. We'll still be here, we'll just be more Japanese.
LE: Sounds grim.
SRJ: No more grim than the Chicago Symphony Orchestra wheeling out yet another rendition of Beethoven's 5th. Irrelevancy is always hard to take.
LE: Point taken. Thanks for spending this part of your busy schedule with us.
SRJ: Peace out!