Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So Ends Another Era...

I came home from work tonight and popped onto Facebook to see what everyone was up to, and if anyone was on to chat, and I came across something that floored me. One of my friends posted his status as being “sad that the Original Gangster Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite passed away”.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Rudy Ray Moore was a prolific, if not raunchy comedian/actor who rose to fame in the mid 1970s with movies like DOLEMITE, DISCO GODFATHER, and my personal favorite, PETEY WHEATSTRAW – THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW.

I immediately went over to CNN.com to see what kind of eulogy they had prepared for him, and there wasn’t even a blip of a news item announcing his passing. I did a google search and found that RollingStone.com reported on it, stating the following:

Dolemite actor Rudy Ray Moore died last week due to complications from diabetes. He was 81. In addition to being a blaxploitation film icon thanks to Dolemite, his character’s fast-talking, street-walking persona served as a blueprint for many hip-hop stars whom he would inspire. Moore was one of the early champions of the hip-hop culture and collaborated with artists like Snoop Dogg, Big Daddy Kane and 2 Live Crew (on the song “Throw the Dick.”) After starting out as a singer, Moore made the segue into comedy, releasing over 30 comedy albums and appearing in 18 films over the course of his career, but he’ll always remembered for his role as Dolomite, the silver-tongued pimp. Moore helped paved the way for comics like Richard Pryor, as Moore’s records were often so controversial for their language that stores would either refuse to stock his albums or place them behind the counter in brown bags. In 2000, Moore resurrected the Dolemite character for the first time in 20 years for the Insane Clown Posse film Big Money Hustlas. Moore is survived by his daughter and 98 year-old mother.

Sadly, this was written as if it were merely culled from bio information the writer may have found on Wikipedia, not by someone who actually appreciated (let alone was even familiar with) his work. What is more depressing is that IMDB (the almighty authority on all things film-related) didn’t even have a Trivia page or Bio listed for the man. It’s as if he was merely another inconsequential actor wading in a sea of mediocrity.

I am doubly saddened by this whole ordeal, because I have a lot of fond memories that circulate around Rudy Ray Moore. A friend and I used to celebrate his works, with an ample supply of malt liquor, on weekend nights, with many an evening culminating in the viewing and recitation of the aforementioned PETEY WHEATSTRAW or one of the DOLEMITE flicks.

On a trip to New York City this past spring, I even picked up a copy of the PETEY WHEATSTRAW soundtrack on vinyl!!! I was shocked that a label would recognize the understated, classic R&B brilliance of the album. I have even heard that they also released it on CD! Of course I highly recommend checking it out.

More recently, PETEY WHEATSTRAW became a clinching factor in my bonding with a couple members of Snoop Dogg’s entourage during his 2008 Summer Tour (alongside 311 and Fiction Plane). I had bumped into a couple of the guys at a nightclub and mentioned that I remember them from the Snoop Dogg show the night before in VA. We got to talking about the philosophy of Snoop’s music, which is, in essence, an update and a celebration of classic R&B and funk, and we eventually got on the topic of movies. I told the guy (who I later found out was Snoop’s own half-brother Bing) that I was a big fan of those 1970s movies like COOLEY HIGH, SHAFT IN AFRICA, BUCKTOWN, TRUCK TURNER and PETEY WHEATSTRAW – THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW. He was actually awestruck that I had even heard of the movie, most likely because I am white – yeah, I know it’s a semi-racist assumption, but honestly, can you blame me for thinking it?

Although I spent a good chunk of my youth in a suburbanite setting, another good chunk was spent in some not-so-friendly areas. I was somehow drawn to these urban films, probably because of their harsh, yet easily relatable, visions of life. I was captivated by their rawness, their crassness…their ‘realness’. I expressed this to Bing, and I can’t help but think we developed a sort of kinship in that moment, but then again, that probably could have been due to the Cognac. Anyway, we ended up singing the PETEY WHEATSTRAW theme song in the club for a bit, and that is one of those little memories that I will honestly cherish for some time to come.

But back to Moore; his films, while cheaply produced, were full of comic action, music, and inventive storytelling. Moore’s blending of martial arts, gangster action and comedy was pioneering, and to date, I don’t think anyone has managed to bleed the genres as seamlessly as he. Sure, you can say that he wasn’t the greatest actor, but his movies were so full of heart and his passion for expression that you really couldn’t help but adore him. He was silly when he needed to be, but when he was serious, his coldness could chill you in an instant.

Now, as you can see, I was more familiar with his films than his comedy albums, and it does somewhat shame me that his albums have largely passed me by. But I suppose now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with his non-film work. Then again, it may make me just a little bit sadder that another genius has been extinguished. Regardless, I am sure his albums will bring a smile to my face.

Of course, there are many dissenters out there, who would quickly pass him off as a callous, untalented hack. These are people who cannot look beyond a fleeting glimpse; they do not want to understand. And it is even more distressing to think that there are thousands of people out there who have never even heard the name Rudy Ray Moore, because popular media has shunned him for so long. While an incredible advocate (and practitioner) of The First Amendment, Moore was semi-silenced for many years by our lovely fundamentalist, mass appeal media system, which abhors anything that isn’t quite “family-friendly”.

Thankfully, there is a DVD box set out there containing 7 of his classic films, and many of his CDs are still in print, so we can still revel in his brilliance.

Rudy Ray Moore, you will be missed. May your legend live on to affect (infect) many generations to come. Thank you for the memories.

1 comment:

CrazySexyMetalChick! said...

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