Of course ODB would never have ordered any kind of whiskey cocktail—or turned one down if you handed it to him.
The [Wu-Tang Clan] is heavily involved in the sale of drugs, illegal guns, weapons possession, murder, carjacking and other types of violent crime. – FBI memo in the file of Russell Tyrone Jones, aka Ol' Dirty Bastard\n
My words can't be held against me / I'm not caught up in your law – Ol' Dirty Bastard\n
This week, I raise a glass to the immortals—those life-changing artists to whom we give our unconditional love, focusing on the brilliant work they produced over the distracting complexities of their real lives. Personally, I’m pouring a little liquor out for Ol' Dirty Bastard.
True story #1: During a languorous, pressure-cooker summer on my college campus, I worked alongside a ponytailed RPG enthusiast from Steubenville, Ohio. His name is lost to the Nabokovian abyss (so we’ll call him Ponyboy), but I’ll never forget a tall tale he told about his sleepy-sounding hometown. According to Ponyboy, “everyone” knew the Wu-Tang Clan ran guns through Steubenville, and Wu-Tang associates often squared off against local Crips. After one major arms deal went wrong, a skirmish between Crips and Wu-Tangers spilled over into a local convent. Grazed nuns! Statues of saints covered in blood! Ponyboy spun an evocative yarn. I figured he was full of shit.
This week’s news suggests he may have been half right. Ponyboy was onto the arsenal, at least—newly-released documents from the FBI’s ODB file confirm that shit was real in late-nineties Steubenville. A troupe of gun-runners loyal to the Wu really did feud with the Crips when they weren’t shipping an arsenal of weapons out to Staten Island. Killarmy, indeed.
Yet I can’t believe Dirt Dog had any part in the illegal activities described by the Feds. ODB’s persona depended so heavily on playing the court jester (as he said in “Got Your Money”: “Recognize I’m a fool and you looove me!”), that it seems impossible to envision ODB orchestrating any kind of criminal activity. He was the polar opposite of a shot caller. More to the point, Dirty’s music has become such an indelible part of my own history, soldered to me like the metal in his mouth, that I can no longer see beyond the persona to the man Russell Jones really was. Whoever that might be.
True story #2: At the end of a minor outpatient procedure a few years ago, a Cleveland Clinic anesthesiologist brought me back from the Land of Nod by asking the usual array of simple questions about reality. She got as far as What is your name? Me: “My name… is the Ol' Dirty Bastard, but you can call me Big Baby Jesus.” The anesthesiologist took a step back and told my wife: “We’ll give him a few more minutes.”
ODB has been among the statuary decorating my subconscious—occupying my subconscious, even, as the last story suggests—since I first heard a snippet of “Brooklyn Zoo” (“I never been tooken out/ I keep MCs lookin out”) during a DJ set in London. He made real strides into my cerebrum on the afternoon in 1998 when I strolled into a rap record shop on St. Mark’s Place in New York, the ear-splitting brilliance of the TJ Hooker-sampling “I Can’t Wait” stopping me dead in my tracks. Dirty’s been gone more than seven years, and I still pitch my editor an ODB story for this column at least once a month (The anniversary of ODB’s death! ODB’s birthday! My birthday! Purim!).
What I mean is: ODB is a part of me now, and it will take more than a few heavily redacted, half-allegations of RICO activity to erode all of that. If you have someone like that in your life, you might like a drink.
The Call: Mnemonic Mixology
Ponyboy may have pulled the images of his convent-defiling Steubenville shootout from a heavy metal or horrorcore video, or from one of his late-night LARPing sessions, but the vivid images of bloody statues provide an apt metaphor for the way dead artists tug at our souls from beyond the grave.
To commemorate those bloody Steubenville statues, I devised a Blood and Marble cocktail, tweaking Absinthe Restaurant’s recipe for a Blood and Sand, subbing out the Scotch for WhistlePig rye from Vermont, where the state rock is marble.
Blood and Marble:
¾ oz. WhistlePig Rye whiskey
¾ oz. sweet vermouth
¾ oz. Cherry Heering
¾ oz. fresh orange juice
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.\n
Of course, ODB would never have ordered any kind of whiskey cocktail—or turned one down if you handed it to him. As Jaime Lowe, an author whose psychic sculptures seem extremely similar to my own, writes in Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB, “Even as a teenager, ODB was known for shoplifting forties as fast as he could drink them. One of his early managers said that when ODB drank, he drank it all and whatever was around—that was before he replaced the bottle with a crack pipe. In some ways ODB’s life was thirty-five years of drunken boxing... he started slow, with a simple malt liquor; a forty of Olde English. Like he said, ‘I drink Ol' En-glish, so I speak Ol' English.’”
Feel free to throw back a shot instead of my high-falutin’ cocktail, and to chase it with whatever high-test Forty filler might float your boat. Just pour a little out first—for Ason Unique, aka Dirt McGirt, aka Ol' Dirty Bastard. For the lost souls who populate your own subconscious and whose memories are beyond sullying, no matter what unsubstantiated conspiracy stories the FBI might float. For the Eskimos, for the submarines, for um, um … yourself.
Send your reminiscences about booze and/or rappers, dead or alive, to email@example.com.