• Michael Rickard II

Giving Voice to the Voiceless Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” Part Two of Two


Fantasy Theme Two: Endurance

The fantasy theme of endurance reflects the fantasy characters’ ongoing efforts to deal with something unpleasant; in this case, the terrible conditions of the jungle-like city. The lyrics explore this theme through its depictions of the characters, their actions, and their settings, showing the varying degrees of success people have in enduring these woes.

The narrator begins his lament “It’s like a jungle sometimes, It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under.” The narrator is unsure of how he can maintain his sanity. He has no choice but to stay in the city as, “Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice.” “I guess I got no choice” combined with the “makes me wonder how I keep from going under” illustrates the narrator’s despair. “He can’t take the smell” and “can’t take the noise” of the implied setting of the city. As shown earlier, the jungle can be dangerous and the narrator shows his concern when he says, “Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run.” The narrator is close to the mental breaking point as he says, “Sometimes I think I'm goin' insane” and threatens to “hijack a plane.” The narrator endures tremendous stress and appears to be crying for relief. The crazy lady is another example of the different fantasy characters’ endurance. This character is “livin' in a bag” and “Eatin' outta garbage pails.” This fantasy character and her actions show how she endures and it can be argued she represents some of the homeless people in the city, they too trying to survive. She had trouble coping as she, “…went to the city and got social security” but apparently, this was not enough as the narrator continues her story, “She had to get a pimp, she couldn't make it on her own.” Still, there are moments of hope shown in the lyrics. For example, the narrator talks of the character “stabbed in the heart” who “got a transplant for a brand-new start.” We do not know what will happen to the man after his new start but he has a chance to live and endure. The lyrics also mention the girl who “fell on the subway train” and “got her arm sewed back on again.”

The lyrics show that seeing through illusion into reality is one way for a person to endure. The narrator’ s son tells him he knows how the world really works, “My son said, Daddy, I don't wanna go to school/Cause the teacher's a jerk, he must think I'm a fool.” The son perceives education as futile, perhaps having learned this lesson from his dad who complained earlier of having “a bum education.” The teacher represents what society tells the son (and other people) life is supposed to be about but the son sees through this, saying, “Cause it's all about money, ain't a damn thing funny” and “You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey.” The fantasy setting of the “Land of milk and honey” can be seen as a sarcastic description of society and the American Dream. The son has likely heard his teacher tell him that America is a land of opportunity but the son sees through this myth and knows success is not attainable by everyone nor by the same methods.

The lyrics show some characters slip into fantasy to endure their day-to-day problems. The narrator’s mom uses the television to watch TV nonstop, “she watches too much, it's just not healthy, All My Children in the daytime, Dallas at night.” In a sense, the narrator’s mom is losing touch although not as much as the Zircon princess (aka crazy lady) who has lost her mind in trying to cope, and relies on a pimp to get her through.

The fantasy theme of endurance is explored through the character of the newborn child whose life is examined from cradle to grave. Grandmaster Flash shows that the child is born innocent and that he has no predisposition towards crime. “A child is born with no state of mind” and “Blind to the ways of mankind” This is important because the lyrics will suggest that the child’s efforts to endure the jungle-like city leads him to crime. Even God realizes the odds are stacked against the newborn as seen by “God is smilin' on you but he's frownin' too/ Because only God knows what you'll go through.” The fantasy character of an omniscient deity and His action of acknowledging the inequality the character of the child faces (and arguably others in the city) lends credence to Grandmaster Flash’s lyrics.

As we saw with the fantasy setting of the jungle, life is second-rate with opportunity limited. The fantasy character of the newborn child grows in the fantasy setting of the ghetto. A ghetto has many meanings, one of which “the poorest part of the city” (“The Ghetto”), can apply here. The song’s lyrics are vague until now whether any of the fantasy characters are somewhere very poor (although it is implied). Here, the fantasy setting of the ghetto is used to establish that the jungle-like qualities of the city require greater endurance here than elsewhere.

Growing up in the ghetto, the child envies the criminals’ and their wealth, “You'll admire all the number-book takers” to the point that “droppin' outta high school Now you're unemployed, all non-void” and follows the path of crime, first acting like a gangster then trying to be one, “Walkin' round like you're Pretty Boy Floyd” (referring to famous gangster Pretty Boy Floyd) and “Turned stick-up kid,” As we see life in the jungle is not easy and the child fails at crime. His fantasy actions lead to him going to prison (“Got sent up for a eight-year bid,”). The character’s situation worsens as he is abused in prison, “Now your manhood is took and you're a Maytag/Spend the next two years as a undercover fag.” A “Maytag” is “a prison term for a young inmate who performs sexual favors for a dominant top in exchange for protection” (Kelly). This proves to be something the child cannot endure and he kills himself, “Bein' used and abused to serve like hell/Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell.” The fantasy character of the child, his actions, and his setting show the desperate moves he makes to endure, moves that lead to his death.

It could be argued that these fantasy characters, actions, and settings combine to form a fantasy theme of survival “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist especially despite difficult conditions.” However, the word endurance, “the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time” seems more suitable as misery seems constant in “the jungle.” Also, survival implies difficult conditions but endurance specifies pain and suffering. The fantasy characters, actions, and settings seem to support the theme of endurance over survival.

Rhetorical Vision

A fantasy theme analysis of the lyrics suggests a rhetorical vision of the city as a dangerous place whose residents must possess tremendous endurance to deal with their constant suffering. Sometimes, songs can be used to provide rhetorical strategies for coping (as seen with U2’s song “One Tree Hill”). Here, Grandmaster Flash does not offer any rhetorical strategies for survival. Instead, “The Message” acknowledges how bad things are for some people and its rhetoric functions so people enduring in the city understand their plight is not unknown.

CONCLUSION:

There is symbolic convergence between Grandmaster Flash and his audience. Grandmaster Flash uses symbols they and his audience agree on. It can be argued Grandmaster Flash’s ultimate goal is to achieve symbolic convergence with a new audience, one that can help remedy the problems discussed in “The Message.” (It bears mentioning that “The Message” would inspire hip hop artists to make songs about social injustice, giving a voice to the voiceless).

An analysis of “The Message” and its rhetorical tools shows a way to give voice to the disenfranchised and to convey their suffering to a new audience. Grandmaster Flash uses fantasy themes to create a worldview that describes this suffering and the world the disenfranchised live in.

LYRICS TO “THE MESSAGE”

It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

Broken glass everywhere People pissin' on the stairs, you know they just don't care I can't take the smell, can't take the noise Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice Rats in the front room, roaches in the back Junkies in the alley with the baseball bat I tried to get away but I couldn't get far Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

[Chorus] Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge I'm trying not to lose my head It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

Standin' on the front stoop hangin' out the window Watchin' all the cars go by, roarin' as the breezes blow Crazy lady, livin' in a bag Eatin' outta garbage pails, used to be a fag hag Said she'll dance the tango, skip the light fandango A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses Down at the peep show watchin' all the creeps So she can tell her stories to the girls back home She went to the city and got social security She had to get a pimp, she couldn't make it on her own

[Chorus]

It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

My brother's doin' bad, stole my mother's TV Says she watches too much, it's just not healthy All My Children in the daytime, Dallas at night Can't even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight The bill collectors, they ring my phone And scare my wife when I'm not home Got a bum education, double-digit inflation Can't take the train to the job, there's a strike at the station Neon King Kong standin' on my back Can't stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane Sometimes I think I'm goin' insane I swear I might hijack a plane!

[Chorus]

It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

My son said, Daddy, I don't wanna go to school Cause the teacher's a jerk, he must think I'm a fool And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it'd be cheaper If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps Cause it's all about money, ain't a damn thing funny You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey They pushed that girl in front of the train Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again Stabbed that man right in his heart Gave him a transplant for a brand new start I can't walk through the park cause it's crazy after dark Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw Hear them say "You want some more?" Livin' on a see-saw

[Chorus]

It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

A child is born with no state of mind Blind to the ways of mankind God is smilin' on you but he's frownin' too Because only God knows what you'll go through You'll grow in the ghetto livin' second-rate And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate The places you play and where you stay Looks like one great big alleyway You'll admire all the number-book takers Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers Drivin' big cars, spendin' twenties and tens And you'll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers Pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers You say I'm cool, huh, I'm no fool But then you wind up droppin' outta high school Now you're unemployed, all non-void Walkin' round like you're Pretty Boy Floyd Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did Got sent up for a eight-year bid Now your manhood is took and you're a Maytag Spend the next two years as a undercover fag Bein' used and abused to serve like hell Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell It was plain to see that your life was lost You was cold and your body swung back and forth But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song Of how you lived so fast and died so young so

[Chorus]

It's like a jungle sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under

Works Cited

Foss, Sonja. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice. Waveland Press Inc., 2009.

“The Ghetto.” Merriam-Webster. http://www.merriam webster.com/dictionary/ghetto. Accessed 30 Oct. 2016.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. “The Message.” The Message. Sugarhill Productions. 1982.

Songlyrics. http://www.songlyrics.com/grandmaster-flash/the-message-lyrics. Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.

Kelly, Paul. “Maytag.” The Urban Dictionary. 23 Jan. 2004. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Maytag. Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.

“Music and Social Justice.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/music-sj. Accessed 24 Oct. 2016.

OFFICIAL SITE OF AUTHOR MICHAEL RICKARD