Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Run on, Sweetback!
Melvin Van Peebles - Come on Feet
This morning I appeared before the State Court of Cobb County in relation to a speeding ticket I received in February. On that star-crossed day I had gone to the Marietta DMV during my lunch break to get my license plates transferred to my new car and was rushing to get back to work. I know I was speeding, but it wasn't until I got pulled over that I learned that I was going 93 MPH in a 55 MPH zone (ouch!) My Litigation professor is a defense attorney, and his firm represented me and managed to get the court to shave 15 MPH off of the ticket, which (a) prevented the ticket from being a misdemeanor, (b) saved me up to $600 in fines and (c) prevented six points from going on my driver's license (I only got three). Although this morning it stung to have the judge admonish me and then fine me $420, there were people there in worse shape than me! My little brush with the law suddenly didn't seem too bad!
Today's selection seems humorously appropriate, although I wasn't thinking of today's events when I picked the tune over the weekend. Melvin Van Peebles' 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was one of the first "blaxploitation" movies and it was truly one of the more unconventional films of its time. (I'll refer you to this Wikipedia article about the film for quick synopsis and history.) In keeping with the unconventional nature of the movie, the soundtrack, which garnered release on Stax, was an equally-unusual piece of soul and funk. The soundtrack is of additional interest to soul and funk fans due to the fact that an early version of Earth, Wind & Fire provided the instrumental work.
"Come on Feet" was the backdrop to a sequence in which Sweetback, the film's controversial hero, flees on foot from the police. Once the obligatory siren opening is out of the way, an insistent groove drops into place and Van Peebles' rambling monologue captures Sweetback's thoughts, motivations, and even amusement at his situation ("What happened to the sun? It sure went away - it's blacker than a landlord's toe! I must've run all day! Yeah, must've run all day! Sure am a bitch!") There's this discordant guitar that runs along with Van Peebles' murmurings that is pretty cool (especially when it starts telescoping this urgent figure about 40% into the tune), and the whole thing, although pretty odd, really captures the essence of the scene.
Stax pulled a single from the soundtrack, the more conventional "Sweetback's Theme" b/w "Hoppin' John," and the album did fairly well, although not to the level Stax would achieve later that year with Isaac Hayes' Shaft score. The Sweetback soundtrack is available on CD and is worth checking out.