May 2001
Exclusive: “The Burning of Superflyville”- Part II of IV

Exclusive: “The Burning of Superflyville”

by Michael A. Gonzales

Excerpt from Babies & Fools, copyright 2001



"Hear Freddy's been at it again," laughed ma, pouring glasses of Yargo sangria. "I don't know what's worse, him messing with those young girls, who are taking his money or all the cash he owns Big Daddy. I overheard Freddy joking about throwing a bomb in the record shop one night. Lot of good that'll do. Hell, he might blow himself up messing with bombs."

Over the drunken gloom soundtrack of Little Jimmy Scott crooning "Wee Hours of the Morning" while both of them lounged on the oversized couch, Jill replied, "What makes men act so nutty at that age. Freddy's old enough to be our father. God bless the dead, but when his wife was alive he was a different man. A church going man.  Now all he believes are females and horses.

"That's because she was a strong woman," said mom, indignantly.  "He needed that strength to hold it together. Now look at him, all dried up like a leaf. Freddy's a weak man, you can see it in his eyes.  Either one of those fast broads or Big Daddy is going to be the death of him though, just watch."

Moving away from Mr. Freddy's window wonderment, I tried not to glance at the burned-up and boarded movie-house across the street. It was still hard to believe that The Tapia Theater a former celluloid castle that had been our brown city equivalent of Willy Wonka's amazing chocolate factory, was now a hollow shell where rats the size of cats dwelled. Crossing the street, I could still smell the ash of charred seats and the chemical scent of burned film reels.

Unless we were on punishment or visiting our fair-weather father's in distant neighborhoods, the weekends we "reserved a row" for the crew in the middle of the theater.  When the doors opened at noon you could bet your last dollar we had paid our seventy-five cents and was seated by 12:15.  Surrounded by neighborhood wildboys who danced to funky film theme songs in the aisle then later screamed stupid snaps and curses at the torn screen--usually during a roaring car chase, a moaning get down tonight love scene or a yelling kung fu master sailing across the hazy Hong Kong sky.  Every Thursday evening when I picked up my allowance, I watched in silent reverence as two skinny workers changed the red letters of the marquee sign.

Puffing from raw dawg stank sacks of budda bless, our minds drifted through these illmatic blaxploitation scenes where bo-dep bros named Goldie and Pretty Tony argued over hoes (The Mack), a bald-head pimp Willie Dynamite repented for his sins, while down the block his mentor, at least in our minds, Tommy Gibbs was dressed in jointski pinstripe suits and a Dobbs hat: with his diamond cool flair, Gibbs was smooth as ice everywhere.

Played with pure flamboyant gangster boogie by the already arrogant Fred (The Hammer) Williamson, the uptown funk of Black Caesar opened with James Brown's fiercely brilliant "Down and Out in New York City," a track that all the reefer heads could relate to: cruising 125th Street in a shiny player mobile, profiling in whiskey bars like he was the king of Black Metropolis, his "by any means necessary" style mirrored the notorious real-world adventures of folk hero Nicky Barnes. Believe me, Sidney Poitier might have been called Mr. Tibbs, but Tommy Gibbs would've cracked his jaw.

Do you want to discuss this article with other community members? Have any comments on black film?  Then go to our Community section --