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The mayor chokes on the go-go issue.
From the moment he first entered District politics, Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been denounced as a carpetbagger.
Opponents once claimed that Williams, who’d spent much of his life outside the District, didn’t even know that the new convention center was going to be built near Mount Vernon Square—not Mount Vernon, Va.
Over the past four years, however, the mayor has made little progress in building up his D.C. credentials: After a whole term in office, Williams apparently doesn’t know what go-go is.
The mayor’s go-go gap comes to light at a time of political activism by the genre’s musicians. The go-go community, in the person of publisher Kevin “Kato” Hammond of Take Me Out to the Go-Go magazine, will be lining up with the rest of the special-interest groups in this fall’s elections. Hammond says he will send letters “outlining go-go’s plight” to office-seekers, and a committee of bands, managers, club owners, and others will use the responses to come up with endorsements.
When asked on Aug. 25 how he planned to win that endorsement, Williams was baffled. “No one would be surprised,” the mayor said, “that I’d ask, ‘What’s go-go?’”
For the mayor’s benefit: Go-go is the District’s indigenous popular music, the funky grooves and distinct syncopated beats born here under the influence of creator Chuck Brown.
“Oh, Chuck Brown,” Williams said. “So you’re talking about back in, like, the ’30s and ’40s?”
With a mayor this musically uninformed, it’s no wonder the city just watched the demolition of the cabaret where Duke Ellington got his start.
What’s go-go? “It’s a genre which has had an impact nationwide,” says the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, Williams’ leading challenger. “But of course had its birth here in the District of Columbia. And I think we should embrace it.”
Wilson has something of a rapport with the go-go scene. Many go-go acts take part in the annual Unifest cultural celebration founded by his Union Temple Baptist Church, and he knows many go-go musicians.
“I like the music,” Wilson says. “I like the beat. It’s a good African beat. And certainly it could be a very effective teaching tool, with good and positive lyrics.
“As a mayor,” he adds, “I would find ways to foster that positive, wholesome environment.”
The go-go community is looking for more than fan support. Amid crackdowns on go-go clubs, Hammond says, it will be looking for a pol who’ll lend a sympathetic ear, someone willing to work with go-go lovers, such as former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.
“In Marion Barry, that’s what we saw,” Hammond says. “We saw him face to face.”
Not that go-go is purely about self-interest. Health care and social services, Hammond says, should also be on the issue agenda.
But between the two write-in front-runners, it seems clear who’s going to get the go-go vote. “I’m already behind in getting that endorsement,” Williams concedes.
Here’s what other mayoral hopefuls are saying about go-go:
* Osie L. Thorpe, Democrat: “Well, I don’t listen to much of any kind of music. But I don’t knock music. Music was here before I got here, and it’ll be here when I’m gone. It’s the words you’re saying in the music that I’m concerned about.” Lyrics such as “kill a woman” don’t fly with Thorpe, he says.
* An official with the campaign to elect the Rev. Douglas E. Moore, Democrat: “Go-go is a very good exercise. People work up a sweat. It’s a good music for people who are young and like a good workout.” The Rev. Moore is opposed to the violence that’s associated with the scene, she says, and he would encourage club owners to clean up their act.
* Faith, Democrat: “I have a dream about this city. I’m trying to make an international cultural center out of D.C., with all the cultures performing all over the place. Go-go will be part of it because it’s part of our culture.”
* Steve Donkin, D.C. Statehood Green Party: “I’m not, like, totally into it. But I know it’s homegrown D.C. music, and I’ve seen Chuck Brown a few times. I’m totally in favor of freedom of music.” Donkin says that it’s not fair for authorities to single out go-go as promoting violence. “I know there have been crime problems in the parking lot near Madam’s Organ a couple of times,” he says, “but I don’t see police cracking down on the bluegrass crowd.”
* James W. Clark, Democrat: “You’ve got bad crowds in everything. But I don’t think it’s the music that makes them violent. it’s just the content of the character of these people.” As long as most go-go-lovers behave, Clark says he’s “not gonna say nothing bad about the music.” CP