Superfly

It was Christmas Day back in 1997.  I was dating the Drama Queen, and Black Cloud was dating her best friend. I was home from college, we had all finished up with family time, and we were excited to meet up and head out to a movie.  We were all Quentin Tarantino fans (who wasn’t back then?), and after the excruciatingly long three year wait since Pulp Fiction, it was finally the release date for his third film, Jackie Brown.  Little did I realize it at the time, but I was about to have my first experience with a blaxploitation flick.  Or at least an homage to a blaxploitation flick.  Actually, after the movie I was a little disappointed.  Yes, Jackie Brown had Samuel L. Jackson, but drug-pushing Ordell just didn’t seem nearly as cool as the wise hitman Jules from Pulp Fiction.  And although Tarantino found another aging-actor to be a lead, Robert Forster’s performance as Max Cherry seemed a little stiff compared to John Travolta’s masterful portrayal of Vincent Vega.  And there was only one scene out of sequence (the money exchange at the mall near the end of the movie)!

Well, it wasn’t until after the success of the  Kill Bill films that I went back and gave Jackie Brown a second chance.  By this time, DVDs had become the medium of choice, and in one of the special features on the Jackie Brown disc, Tarantino talked about many of his influences coming from exploitation movies, and specifically blaxploitation movies being the inspiration to take the lead character in Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch and change her into a black woman.  Then, he went out and hired the queen of blaxplotation movies, Pam Grier, to play the lead and even made the title an homage to one of her most famous films, Foxy Brown.  I was intrigued.  So of course, I went out and bought a box set of Pam Grier movies, as well as several other exploitation movies that Tarantino has sponsored for re-release, and I dug into the genre.  For those who aren’t in the know, exploitation movies were basically a genre of cheaply produced movies in the 70s that featured lots of sex, drugs, fast cars, and motorcycles.  Blaxploitation movies were the black version of the genre, and usually were set in the inner city and had stories about pimps and drug-pushers.

So the connection here is that this album is the soundtrack for the blaxploitation movie Super Fly (yes, the movie title is almost always printed as two worlds while the album and song title is usually printed as one).  So I picked up this album for $5.82 on Amazon, and as I listened it I thought in my head that this would make a lot more sense if I watched the movie.  Fortunately DVD copies of Super Fly are super cheap (the sequel was never released on DVD and VHS copies of that are super pricey), so I picked on up on Ebay for $6.89, and after I watched it, the stories behind all of the songs all sort of clicked into place.  In a way, this is sort of an answer to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.  Marvin Gaye released that album in 1971, and here in 1972 Curtis Mayfield answers this is what’s going on…drugs, violence, death, and a never ending vicious cycle of life in the inner city.  The two albums even share many musical commonalities, including the smooth, high voices of the singers the string arrangements that soar overtop of the horns and the Congo drums.  Superfly is a bit funkier though, probably due to Mayfield’s wah-wah guitar playing and some phat bass lines.

As for the movie, Super Fly is interesting in as much as it doesn’t glorify “the life”.  In fact, it shares a major commonality with Jackie Brown in that the leads in both movies are trying to get out of “the life”.  And to do so, both characters are trying to pull one last big score that will let them escape to a new life and a chance to go straight.  The obstacles in both movies are pretty much the same…drug lords who won’t let anybody leave their business, cops who may or may not be on the up-and-up, and friends of questionable character and trustworthiness.  Hell, the climax of both movies is virtually the same, with both Priest (the lead in Super Fly) and Jackie using a decoy to smuggle the money out while he/she allows him/herself to be captured and ultimately confront the bad guys.  Oh well, nothing Tarantino does is truly original…he just improves on things…

Super Fly

Other lists: Curtis Mayfield ranks at #40 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, #34 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, and #98 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped three spots from its original position at #69 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

My favorite track: “Pusherman”

Honorable mention: “Superfly”

Quote: “We’re all built up with progress, but sometimes I must confess: We can deal with rockets and dreams, but reality…what does it mean?”

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