Netflix continues to make better shows than anything on the networks or cable. They’re killing it with the Marvel series, the Voltron reboot was excellent, and Stranger Things is just straight up amazing. They continue this winning streak with Baz Lurhmann’s new project, The Get Down.
For those that don’t know, The Get Down is about a talented young wordsmith, Ezekiel, torn between wanting to follow his music and feeling pressure to go to college and get out of the South Bronx, pretty much the worst place in America at the time. When he meets a DJ and tag artist, Shaolin Fantastic, a disciple of Grand Master Flash, Zeke and his friends dive into the burgeoning music taking over the streets and slowly usurping Disco.
Besides being a great show, it hits me right in the childhood. I was born in the Bronx in 1977 (the year that the The Get Down takes place). Though I obviously can’t remember anything from that year, I do remember the early days of rap. I don’t really remember DJs like Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, or DJ Kool Herc. My memories are more of Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh.
I remember the cardboard the B-Boys would spread out in the concrete courtyard between the high rises of Co- Op City, where I grew up. I remember kids rapping on the school bus to PS 83, a school surrounded–like every other school–with iron bars and barbed wire. Why a Co-Op City kid would be sent to a Morris Park area school is a different story, but my first school years were at PS 153. I remember the energy, the music, and the streamers of destroyed cassette tapes.
I didn’t exactly grow up poor, but Co-Op, like the rest of the Bronx, wasn’t the best place to live. I lived in a 33 story apartment complex in a highly diverse neighborhood. I always saw police tape when I went to the store. I didn’t know what they were until I was older, but I saw broken crack vials in the playground sand. I didn’t know why my neighbor’s apartment always smelled sticky sweet (yes, it was weed). I remember rats and cockroaches in the basement laundry room. It’s all as vivid as yesterday, and in some ways, even more so. I had no idea that it was bad. To me, it was home.
This is Co-Op City.
And yes, I remember the graffiti, beautiful graffiti, in the stairwells. Graffiti back then wasn’t about the silly gang tags that you see today. It was real, artistic expression, colors and designs that captured my imagination. My parents didn’t like me in the stairwells often, but my best friend lived on the floor beneath me (I was on the 20th floor) and that was the way to go.
I remember all of these things, but I feel that I can’t consider myself a true New Yorker. I’m more of a Bridge & Tunnel guy. We left just after I finished 3rd grade. I had my NYC experience, but the truth about NYC is that there is no “authentic” NYC experience because there is no “authentic New York.” NYC is a city of many cities, every neighborhood has it’s own culture. Bed-Stuy is different from Forest Hills is different from the Upper West Side is different from SoHo is different from Arthur Avenue and so on. That’s the beauty of the city: it is a patchwork of dozens of cultures in a hundred neighborhoods.
Still, I feel like calling myself a New Yorker is fraudulent. I never had to worry about paying rent or getting a job. I never had to worry about subway tokens (the new generation will never know this). I rarely went to Manhattan until I was a teen living in the suburbs. All I had to worry about was playing Skully and sandlot baseball, watching my father dominate at Paddleball, and chasing down the Mister Softee truck (the Mister Softee music is still the theme music of summer to me).
We also had roaming Jamaican beef patty trucks. This is well before lunch trucks were ubiquitous.
When I moved to the burbs, I never fit in with those kids. They all lived there all their lives. I was an outsider, the kid from the city, and my ways were different. They didn’t even know what Skully was!
But this isn’t about me, this is about The Get Down. I love how they were able to combine realism with fantasy. You’ll have to watch to understand.
SHAOLIN’S THE DJ THAT WE CALL CONDUCTOR CAUSE SHAOLIN FANTASTIC’S A BAD MUTHAFU…
I love NYC history. If you don’t believe me, check out my novel The Watchmage of Old New York. It’s an alternate reality about the antebellum city (1855) during the mass Irish/German/Black immigration, but with tons of magic and myth.
Have a great one, and KEEP READING!