#27. I met my only hero, Chuck D (feat. Flavor Flav & Prof. Griff) (Post-Katrina New Orleans, 2007)

Chuck D had something important to tell me (!?!?)

This is a list of 18 plot points of the most interesting event on my life. I’ll someday write my formal Chuck D essay — or my Chuck D book — when the occasion’s right. In the meantime, I strove to make this list poignant and fun to read:

  1. Chuck D of Public Enemy is the only human I’d call my “hero.” His ability to critique white America while also drawing us in, changed my life forever. Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad’s ability to lay poetry over noise also spun my brain, regarding art and music.
  2. Though I’ve seen just about every musical act I ever loved, I never saw Public Enemy during its heyday. In high school, I had tickets to see P.E. open for Sisters of Mercy (?!?!) but got grounded and couldn’t go. That was before I realized that no parental punishment could ever be worse than missing my favorite band in its heyday.
  3. Once I became a journalist, I knew I’d someday interview Chuck D. They say never meet your heroes; I never even wanted to interview Prince. But I just had to interview Chuck D someday.
  4. Prince and Public Enemy were the first two acts to ever release music online, and Chuck was one of the first artists of his stature to keep a blog — which seemed quickly typed on a Blackberry, on a plane or something. His typos inspired me to write to him in 2000, and tell him he needed an editor. “I write all that shit on Blackberry on planes etc…” he said when he wrote back! He said he’d consider me! A month later he wrote on his blog that he’d acquired an editor, and it wasn’t me, but he mentioned me by name. 13-year-old me would never believe that Chuck D and I kept in contact a tiny bit for several years.
  5. When P.E. came through New Orleans in 2007, I finally interviewed Chuck on the phone for Gambit Weekly and AntiGravity. With the half hour I was allotted (very generous!), I’d planned to ask about music, and also about the racial implications of Hurricane Katrina. However, Chuck and I talked about Katrina for 30 minutes before he had to move on to another interview.
  6. Because we didn’t get to talk music at all, Chuck called me back a few days later! For another 30 minutes, we discussed music topics, like how sampling is maybe the only art form to ever become illegal. “Well, there was Lenny Bruce,” he astutely added. “But yes, exactly.” We even argued a bit, about the use of backing vocals at live shows, and about Rage Against the Machine (he loved them; I did not). And with that, I figured, I did it! The end. However…
  7. P.E.’s post-Katrina New Orleans show was fucking amazing, with Chuck and Flav backed by a live band, and all the original S1Ws including Professor Griff. At one point, Chuck sat on a stool and read the lyrics to P.E.’s Katrina charity single, “Hell No We Ain’t Alright.” As he closed that piece and put the stool away, he mentioned that he and Griff’s pay from tonight show had been donated, and that he’d visit a local arts high school the next day…
  8. After the show, I talked my way backstage. On my way to the dressing room, I shook Flavor Flav’s reluctant hand as he breezed past me. Professor Griff was a little nicer. Chuck sat on a couch, seeming tired and a little grumpy after an athletic two-hour concert. But he remembered me and our interview, and when I asked him if I — a music teacher focusing on rap — could tag along to the high school tomorrow, he gave me his personal cell phone number. 12-year-old me woulda never believed it.
  9. I called off work and met Public Enemy at the address Chuck D texted to me (!?!?) At the high school, I hung back behind the band and a dozen people following Chuck to the classroom, trying not to draw any attention, since I’d already gotten more than enough time with my hero. However, well-rested now and happy, Chuck made a point to break away from his posse and fans for a moment, and walk and talk just to me. I told him all about my rap class, and gave him a CD of my students’ newest songs. I’d already come to realize that Chuck’s social skills were finely tuned, and though he could be short with people in a pragmatic way, if he sensed you were part of his real army, then he’d put you in his real army.
  10. During that exchange, I offered to take Chuck and crew on a “Katrina tour.” He told me that task had been promised to local “art critic” Doug MacCash, who did not deserve such an important honor, because he is the worst art critic humanity has yet produced.
  11. Chuck sat among of a group of about a dozen high school kids, and handful of teachers, plus fucking MacCash. Instead of lecturing, Chuck mostly asked the kids questions about their artistic aspirations. This example really taught me a lot about how to interact with my own students. These teens then rapped for Chuck, and one even beatboxed. I was already amazed to be part of this, before Chuck said to the class, “Michael over there also teaches. Tell them about your rap class, Michael…” Holy fucking shit.
  12. For some reason MacCash had to cancel at the last second — turns out I’d wished just hard enough — and some members of P.E. stepped up to me and asked if I’d take them through the destroyed Lower 9th Ward, on the other side of town, about a mile from my house.
  13. If your idol was Keith Richards, you’d probably want to get fucked up with him. If your idol was Chuck D, you couldn’t do better than walking around insane Katrina wreckage bitching about the government and society and racism. On that chilling tour, I took them to see the house with the long car on its roof with another house atop that car. I took P.E. (sans Flav and Griff) into a flooded church in the Lower 9, where all the pews were covered in a carpet of dry, cracked mud, and band instruments (drums, trombone, tuba, etc) hung from the rafters —it almost looked faked, like a movie set.
  14. After our tour, Chuck dropped me off at my house, where he signed the back of my favorite guitar while his posse all played with my pet goat, Chauncey. Surreal to have my hero literally in the house.
  15. In 2009, I published a New Orleans travel guide for music fans, and since I’d given P.E. such a great tour, Chuck D agreed to write a blurb for my book, in which he called me a great tour guide and a “true community light.” I still cannot believe that.
  16. Several years later, while at Buku Fest with my friend Jeremy and his boss, insult comedian Tony Clifton, who was scheduled to perform, I noticed P.E. was also on the bill. Jeremy had carved a Public Enemy logo into his shoulder, but had never met his idol. So, after P.E.’s show, we walked over to their backstage tent. We stepped in to find Chuck D sitting on a couch across the room, holding court. When Chuck saw me, he stood up and said loudly, “Michael Welch!” and walked across the room to greet us. I felt 20-feet tall.
  17. The next year, P.E. performed two back-to-back shows at Essence Fest, both of which I enjoyed, but didn’t go backstage. Then prior to P.E.’s JazzFest 2014 appearance, I again interviewed Chuck for Louisiana Weekly. Because I had already asked him every question I’d ever wanted to ask since I was 13 years old, I instead asked more personal questions; at age 48, Chuck had just fathered another baby, and so I asked him about fatherhood. At some point, he realized we weren’t just catching up, and that these represented my actual interview questions. “Wait, this isn’t going in the article is it?” he asked. When I said yes, he replied, “No. Fuck no.” After that, I decided to never try and interview him again; I d run out of questions for my hero.
  18. Still, every time Chuck D returns to New Orleans, I drop his people an email and he puts me on the guest list. They say never meet your heroes, but my hero Chuck D is exactly who he seems to be.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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