A RIOT GOIN’ ON Van Hunt

Fear and loathing in Tokyo, and how Sly & the Family Stone
changed one man’s life.

 

BY
VAN HUNT (w/FRED MILLS)

 

Last
January Blue Note Records had planned to release soul crooner Van Hunt’s third
studio album, Popular, even going so
far as to announce a teaser digital EP (titled The Popular Machine) while sending out advance copies of the
full-length to the press. However, in December
news arrived that Hunt and Blue Note were parting ways. No exact reason was
ever given other than the following stock parting-of-ways statement issued by
the label:

 

 

“Van
Hunt and EMI/Blue Note Records have mutually agreed to part ways. Van Hunt
would like to sincerely thank EMI for their support over the years. With
everyone’s commitment and dedication from both Capitol Records and Blue Note
Records, Hunt has enjoyed incredible critical acclaim as well as multiple
Grammy nominations and a Grammy win. Plans are currently being made for the
release of Van Hunt’s third CD, ‘Popular;’ the label to be announced.”

 

Some time later Hunt expressed doubts over whether the record would ever see
the light of day, stating in an interview with Atlanta newsweekly Creative Loafing that he has “no idea
what’s going to happen with Popular. They own the master on that. They
opted to not sell it to me at a price that I could afford. They’ve got it and
I’m sure they’ll come out with it when they deem it necessary and profitable…
They didn’t think that they had enough money to really propel my project to
where it needed to be. They would consider my project to be a little more pop
than what their artists normally sound like. It would take a little more money
to promote me as opposed to their
regular artists. They didn’t wanna spend it.”

 

It’s now October and the album still hasn’t come out, but luckily for his
fans, Hunt remains active and has been working on new material, reportedly
having completed ten new tracks and getting a new website underway at
VanHunt.com. He’s also been busy blogging at his MySpace page, in particular penning a
quirky entry titled “There Was A Riot Goin’ On (i didn’t even notice the
earthquake)” which looked oddly familiar to us at BLURT. Upon close
examination, we realized it was an article he’d
submitted to us
when we were still known as Harp magazine as part of our ongoing back-page series of artist-penned
essays, “Reflections”; at the time we’d planned to run it in our January issue,
but then when the album got scrapped the article did too. (Hunt’s MySpace
version has some small variations from the Harp submission but it’s essentially the same piece.)

 

So with the anniversary of Popular‘s
non-release creeping up, we thought this would be a good time to give Hunt a
long-overdue plug by publishing his original essay, below. It’s even more
timely offering it to you now: next week Hunt travels to Japan for a short tour that will include a pair
of Tokyo dates
(listed at his MySpace page). Here’s hoping he doesn’t have to contend with any
earthquakes during this particular visit. And here’s hoping that somebody at
Blue Note finally gets a clue and gets the album issued – we still have our copy,
and we’re still diggin it, and it’s too good to sit on the shelf. For the rest
of you punters, if you’re impatient, never fear: it’s all over eBay. [- FM]

 

 

****

 

 

 

 

THE
PLANE HAD NO SOONER TOUCHED DOWN in Tokyo
than we were barefoot and cross-legged on the floor. The restaurant was brave
to invite four musicians-who sometimes played basketball with no socks-to take
off their shoes and join the dinner party. Amos, the bass player, was adamant:
“Naw, chief. I can’t take off my shoes.” “Why not?” “I
got holes in my socks… right on the toe.” His voice was almost inaudible
when he said this. “I’ll meet ya’ll later. I think I saw a Kentucky Fried
Chicken up the street.”

 

I
thought his resistance was funny; Amos must have feared that his feet were treacherous!
But, then I caught reality. Amos was a Christian. He said so himself.
Evidently, judging by his behavior in Europe,
when Christians were away from the church for too long they had to forfeit a
portion of their paychecks to whorehouses. So that was it. Amos was going to
find some pussy.

 

That
night I fell asleep quickly. For the first time we could afford to have our own
rooms. So I celebrated with a dream.

 

R.E.M.
had tranquilized my muscles by the time Sasquatch bent his frame over the tip
of the trash dumpster where I was hiding. I’d already run through the tenements-high
jumping children and junkies. None of them could help. None of them could hear
me asking for help. After fighting all night for survival, this was how it was
to end. Like the black guy in Night of
the Living Dead
.

 

I was
about to suck Sasquatch up into the vacuum cleaner when the dream reset. I awoke
to Asian light rays and in a bed that was shaking. By the time I wondered if it
was real, the room fell still. At breakfast I foretold of the advent of an
earthquake. My bandmates, manager and Japanese escorts all looked at me in a
manner not dissimilar to the guffaw and ridicule of the damned in the stories
of Nostradamus and Noah’s Ark.

 

“Laugh
if you will. But I felt a tremor this morning.”

 

After
the show I asked Freddie, our lead guitarist, if he had some music for me to
listen to. But that was before I found a book in the drawer of the nightstand, The Teachings of Buddha. I couldn’t
crawl up next to the writing and relax. So, I took off the book’s ugly paper covering.
The solid black binding underneath made me more comfortable and convinced me to
try again.

 

Before
I knew it, I had read for so long that my ass was numb. Blood flow caused it to
hurt when I rolled over to my left shoulder to look for the records I copped
earlier from Freddie. The first one I came across was called Fresh by Sly and The Family Stone. I started
to put it back in the pile. But right arm yanked himself when I saw the green
Adidas. I said, “Any nigga willing to wear THOSE grass-green tennis shoes with
THOSE moonbeam shades and THAT Halloween wig warranted a listen”-the same as Freddie’s
other offerings. (The truth was, I only banged my head to Ben Harper and The
Innocent Criminals because I didn’t want Freddie to complain out loud when I plagiarized
his licks for my guitar solo.)

 

The
first beat of Fresh stepped on my
genius. How did this man record the music, that I only hear in my head, 30
years before me?

 

I was
immeasurably lost. But my life wasn’t changed. I’d heard every note of this
album-even though I hadn’t played it. It was known to me. But the second album
I put into my portable player was worse. It crawled along with a sick engine. The
sonics morphed and waned each time the singer screamed his claims. “My
only weapon is my pen. And whatever frame of mind I’m in… I’m a songwriter…
a poet… aaaahhhhhhah.”

 

I told
Freddie I didn’t like this album There’s
A Riot Goin’ On
as much as I liked the first Sly album, Fresh, but again, it was a ruse. Because, in one night, Sly had shut one
door and opened another. Much like the God of the Christians and the Buddhists promised
to do. There’s A Riot Goin’ On gave
me a star to shoot for and legitimized the romanticism of my ideals. And with
the impression that this masterpiece left on the world, it also gave me a
marketplace in which to sell my greatest work.

 

“Big
Love! Wake up!”

 

“What?”

 

“You
didn’t feel that?!”

 

“Feel
what?”

 

“They
just had an earthquake! We gettin’ outta here!… Tonight!”

 

 

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