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Every morning, Genghis Glover leaves his uptown home and travels downtown by bus. He arrives at his job at the federal General Services Administration building at the corner of 7th and D Streets SW by 7:30 a.m. He spends the day doing everything from installing ceilings to vacuuming office floors. He finishes up at 4, rakes in a paltry wage, and heads home.
It’s an honest day’s labor, but it’s a bit of a come-down from his days at the forefront of the go-go scene, D.C.’s indigenous corner of the music world. He used to earn enough money pursuing his passion to forgo punching clocks and emptying vacuum bags. In the go-go world, Glover is known as “Big G,” leader of the District’s popular Backyard Band. For several years, Glover and his bandmates made a good living pumping out the nonstop go-go beat to crowds packed into local clubs, especially the Ibex on Georgia Avenue NW.
Their gig as full-time musicians, however, effectively ended on the night of Feb. 5, when an Ibex patron attending a Backyard show allegedly shot and killed D.C. police officer Brian Gibson, who was waiting in a patrol car at a red light outside the club. The slaying prompted an immediate backlash against go-go clubs across the city. The Ibexwhich had had an uneasy relationship with the neighborhood for yearswas closed shortly after the incident, and the sign that used to promote the upcoming shows remains dim to this day. A multiagency task force has since focused on other city go-go clubs in search of liquor-license violations.
Mayor Marion Barry, D.C. councilmembers, and community activists have hailed the go-go crackdown as an overdue effort to restore order to a musical nook of the city that had gotten out of control. The connection between music and violence is always a source of hot debate, but go-go’s opponents say that since the crackdown began, the neighborhoods around the clubs are quieter, and taxpaying residents feel safer. And they’re apparently not too interested in how it has affected go-go artists like Glover.
Not so long ago, the nine-member Backyard Band played six spots a week, and each member pulled down $1,500 a week. In addition to paying the bills and then some, the circuit conferred a modicum of local fame. The Ibex, which regularly hosted upward of 500 go-go enthusiasts, was the city’s foremost go-go club and a launching pad for recording contracts and other shows.
Since the closing of the Ibex, Glover and his bandmates have scraped along with spots at the Metro Club, the Capital City Pavilion, and Del Rios, which is located in Langley Park, Md. The three weekly spots, though, net each member a meager $300. Despite its popularity on the local go-go scene, Backyard has been unable to score any work at other D.C. clubs that have survived the crackdowna situation that Glover blames on city authorities.
“The clubs that we were playing in, the police told the owners, ‘If you let Backyard play in there, we are going to take away your liquor license, and you won’t be able to make any money,’” says Glover. “We were forced out of the club because the club owner is not going to go against the police, because they have to feed their family just like we have to feed ours.”
In a sense, the Backyard Band is being penalized for being on top of the scene. The group’s fame has transmuted into notoriety, and many of the bookers in town won’t touch it. During his time fronting Backyard, Glover has seen trouble rear up while he is onstage and knows as well as anybody that go-go shows sometimes have more than their share of violence. But he thinks it’s misguided to go after the music instead of the people perpetrating the crimes.
With the shows dried up, Glover now works day shifts to support his 3-year-old son, Javon-Shaquille, and to avoid backsliding into his previous life as a street tough. He claims he has been shot five times. He spent a year in jail awaiting trial on a cocaine trafficking charge. “In the street life, I was constantly watching my back, and when I woke up in the morning I had to have a six-pack of Heineken and a ‘J’ of marijuana,” Glover says. “I don’t want to go back that way, but sometimes dudes make you want to do that.”
For now, though, his maintenance job with Jewell Industries, a contractor for the federal government, is secure. Marian Harrington, a project manager with Jewell, says Glover is one of her best workers; he constantly asks if there is anything that needs to be done and gets along well with the rest of the cleaning crew, she says.
“I think it is very unfair that before people get to know people they just automatically assume the worst, if it is go-go, if it is a club, whatever,” she says. “It’s been a short time, but listening to him talk, I was surprised because I thought he would be different. That’s wrong on my part.”
Glover wishes the city government approached go-go with his boss’s open-mindedness. Instead, he says, Barry and police Chief Larry Soulsby have made his art a scapegoat for the killing of Gibson.
“I feel for that man, because he had a family to feed and a life to live, but you can’t just shut us down like that because the man got killed,” Glover says.
“If the man had gotten shot in a Giant food store parking lot, would they close down the store and blame the killing on the food? No! They wouldn’t do that, and you can’t just blame it on the go-go music, because that ain’t right. It just ain’t right.”
But city hall’s contempt for go-go hasn’t kept it from crawling to Backyard when the need arises. This spring, the mayor’s office drafted Backyard to play in Futurefest ’97, a Memorial Day-weekend celebration on U Street NW. Backyard delighted the crowd with a 15-minute set that featured a couple of the band’s most popular numbers.
Appearances at events like Futurefest, Glover says, will help the band reconstruct its past. “We will be playing six nights a week again,” he says. “The Backyard Band is trying to reach out a hand to the youth. We want to see these streets safe for everybody, just like everyone else.”CP