You don’t have to burn out OR fade away.

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411: KRS-One’s show at 9:30 Club (one of my Hannukah gifts to Sarah)

Listening to: KRS-One trying to get me to read a book

Think back to the best concert you’ve been to in the last year or two.

Did the music mean a lot to the fans? Did it cause them to re-examine their worldview? Did it turn them on to books that changed their lives?

At KRS-One’s recent DC show, there was a significant number of people who came armed with thick, intellectual books to show KRS-One how he had influenced their lives by turning them on.

I stood behind a well-dressed African-American woman who held aloft 500+ pages of Stokely Carmichael’s “Ready for Revolution” for an hour, hoping to catch KRS-One’s gaze. It occurred to me that this book weighed about five pounds, and repeatedly lifting it would make for an excellent beginner’s shoulder exercise.
My arms hurt just watching her.

Books by Cornell West were also in the house. Near the end of the show, what did KRS-One do? Not a cheesy encore, but instead, he urged everyone to read, and went back to sign books that he had brought to sell.

In the late 80’s when Sarah was getting into KRS-One, I think I was knee-deep in every Rush album I could buy. Affecting a faux Canadian accent and growing my hair like Geddy Lee (hey, wait, I still have that hairstyle…), my attentions were focused farther north, while Sarah was getting a double shot of inequity, anger and pride.

Every honest hip hop musician today acknowledges KRS-One as one of their key influences, or as one of their influences’ influences. Even Bradley, dead frontman for Sublime, sang “And I know, I know because of KRS-One”.

I was prepared for a disappointing show from someone who was angry, egotistical, bitter, broke, or otherwise poorly adjusted to a world where he had influence but none of the trappings. But that’s not KRS-One.

A man who shared the stage with and encouraged breakdancers (his own and dozens from the audience), other rappers (his own and some from the audience) is not an egotistical man. A man who never once bad-mouthed another rapper by name is not a bitter man. In fact, in the middle of the show he gave a hip hop history lesson of influences both before and after him while skimming over his own body of work.

That’s not a bitter man.

How many of our idols, our childhood icons, have not dealt with their age well? How many of them self-destructed, angry over the wealth of their successors, or their inability to deal with the fact that they’re no longer on the tip of everyone’s tongue? How many of them never got comfortable in the more valued part of the back of our brain?

To be a truly timeless artist, making timeless music is only half of your job. The other half is how you choose to spend your time while your music matures.

Perhaps because of his lack of wealth, or in spite of it, Sarah’s icon KRS-One has adjusted so that he will not self-destruct, thereby ensuring his message will be heard for generations to come. I wish all my icons had the same talent.