To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor
by Kevin Young
ART-WORLD PHENOMENON Jean-Michel Basquiat was prolific in his short lifetime, creating an exhilarating new art inspired by music, language, and black ... Show synopsis ART-WORLD PHENOMENON Jean-Michel Basquiat was prolific in his short lifetime, creating an exhilarating new art inspired by music, language, and black American cultural icons." To Repel Ghosts" synchronizes the harmony and discord of Basquiat's canvases, adapting them as a bass line to improvise and play upon. Young renders ambitious, celebratory poetry of the everyday and the exalted -- a double-album in verse, a jazz symphony, a hip-hop opera -- taking Basquiat's funkified history and making it sing. Structured on two "discs," To Repel Ghosts shows five "sides" of the artist, exploring the rise and demise of a painter who helped break through the art world's color line, first as SAMO(c) and then as a downtown art-scene wunderkind. Here are riffs on -- and extended rhapsodies for -- a pantheon of black genius: ballplayers, comic book and folk heroes, boxers, and especially musicians: Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Robert Johnson, and Grace Jones. This kaleidoscope of lives emerges in "To Repel Ghosts" to provide a unique foil to Basquiat's own bout with fame. As an urban epic in the tradition of Langston Hughes's "Montage of a Dream Deferred" and Federico Garcia Lorca's "Poet in New York," "To Repel Ghosts" poignantly charts Basquiat's era, its popular, social, and racial energies and excesses. An album of our times, it is a powerful statement on a now-gone genius, and our recently completed century.