Richard Pryor Is It Something I Said?


Posted by Al Barger on March 26, 2004 01:51 AM

Let's frame this commentary as more a testimonial, rather than really any attempt at a critical review of this 1974 nightclub recording.

Now, I have undoubtedly picked up numerous phrases and sayings from this recording that I have to be mindful of saying in polite and/or black company, but I wouldn't trade this for anything.

Said differently, this recording has implanted deeply enough in my brain as to defy a fully rational dissection. Richard has worked on my brain with this thing since I was about 15. It occurs to me that I listened to this at least 100 times in high school, and have bought it again repeatedly on CD.

For one thing, I can see in retrospect how significant this recording (and some War 8-Tracks) were to forming my views and expectations of black folk. Not having happened to live around many black folks significantly until years later, this record was the PRIME example that came into my path of a black man talking straight and open.

I particularly appreciate the pure paranoid vision of Vietnamese boat people (the "New Niggers") in ESL classes "learning how to say 'nigger'- so they can become good citizens."

Mudbone, sitting around the barbecue pit in Peoria, Illinois, gave me the most succinct point of understanding how a black guy from Missisippi under Jim Crow might have some issues with society. Payback for the hateful fat "collard green eatin'" white bitch in the outhouse was priceless.

But Mudbone was maybe even funnier with the "Little Feets" story about taking his afflicted buddy to the voodoo lady, with the tattoo on her big titties and the crazy three legged monkey.

All this stuff comes slinging in attached to jokes such as to mask the pathos. For example, "Cockeye Junior," the evil son of the old white boss, and the confusion caused by his bad eye. "He was hard to work for, see, cause his eyes went every which-a-way, see. He'd say 'Nigger, pick that up,' and four or five niggers bend down." After about the 50th time laughing at that joke, the scope of the pure humiliation sinks in. And it's STILL funny.

Now Mudbone had just been stepped on for being a black man living under Jim Crow. But in the rest of the album, note how thoroughly the modern characters were doing the damage to themselves. There was a bit of protest about "just us" in the courts and such, but obviously these people were their own worst enemies- ESPECIALLY Richard himself with the coke and the crappy attitudes toward women. I'll call this honesty- owning his own behavior.

"Niggers be holding them dicks too, jack. Some white people be going, 'Why do you guys hold your things?' Say, you done TOOK everything else, motherfucker."

Even the album cover is a riot, one of only a dozen or so vinyl albums I've bothered to save, with Richard tied up, about to be burned at the stake- apparently by some evil cult. "Is it something I said?" Ah, I've known that feeling- especially from my time at Blogcritics.

There's a universality in all this material that transcends being about black folks. Ultimately, we're all niggers up in this bitch.

To that end, it is well known among my people that when eventually I drop over, they are expected to play the "Eulogy" that he preaches for a wayward brother at the start of this album. I have visions of my hopefully by then middle aged nieces and nephews standing over my beautiful corpse, as Richard explains,

He faced the ultimate test...Whether or not you can survive death- that's the ultimate test for your ass, ain't it? So far don't nobody we know has PASSED the ultimate test- least of all this nigger laying here.




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