As a young buck, I listened to music. A lot of music. Everything from Hip Hop to Punk rock to Classic Rock and beyond. I also played basketball. Let’s rewind. I lived basketball. I was a Philadelphia 76ers fan who got pissed when they traded Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland, so pissed that I became a NY Knicks fan and never looked back. The players I watched hoop it up: Doc, Moses, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins..I could go on, were how I remembered basketball. However, when I discovered soccer it was game over, no more hoops. That is for another story though. While I played, watched, and was a fanatic for basketball, I had a friend in high school named Mark. He was a year older than me. Mark, his brother (a few years younger than me) and I all played basketball for the same team in South Jersey. We all became good friends, and for most of high school and the summers after, I pretty much stayed at their house. We got into trouble, played hoops, drank beer, and listened to music. Mark knew I loved Hip Hop, so one day while we were all having lunch that his Mom made, he brought out a few cassettes his brother was into. One was The Surf Punks Locals Only!, the other Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation To Hold Us Back.
When people ask you about pivotal times in your life, when certain music grabbed you and changed your outlook forever, this would be one of them. That record rocked my world. Of course his mother, Marge, would bust our balls and ask: “Why are you listening to that stuff for?”. She would then keep us in stitches with more ball busting, all the while feeding us until we couldn’t eat any more. I was treated as one of the family, not immune from the ribbing from their mother, and never forgot those times in my teens and early twenties at the Jersey Shore. As we all got older, and started to all be scattered all over the United States (both boys graduating from Notre Dame, a school their Irish mother was proud of), visits were fewer, and phone calls came about once a year from Mark. He got married, moved away and we fell out of touch. I last saw him when I was on tour in about 2004 in Atlanta, and we haven’t seen each other since. When I was in the area where I used to live, I always stopped in to see his mother Marge. Again she would open up her house to me like I was her son. Eventually I moved away and you know how the story goes: “life gets in the way”. I reached out to Mark’s mother last year so I could reconnect. When I called her and she found out it was me, she asked the same two questions she had always asked: “What the hell do you want”? (with a chuckle), and “Are you married yet?” (a question she was always relentless with). I informed her 1, I wanted to get in touch with her son, and 2, yes I was married. We reflected on old times, laughed, and I wished her well. As I stated earlier, life gets in the way, and Mark and I kept missing each other. I still consider him a good friend. A friendship transcends boundaries, and even though we’re older (and hopefully wiser), I look forward to a time when we see each other again.
On Friday, I found out that Marge passed away at the University of Pennsylvania from a long battle with lung cancer. When I heard the news I was instantly transported back to a teenager, blasting Public Enemy from a boom box and shooting threes off of the garage in her back yard. As sad as I am, I’m happy she isn’t suffering any more and is at peace. I will hold many fond memories of the time spent with her and her family, and how indirectly, even if she didn’t know it, she got me into Public Enemy.
Rest In Peace Mrs. O
Margaret (Welsh) Olkiewicz 1944-2012
Nice piece. My experience, though perhaps a decade earlier and in another part of the country, was much the same. Keep on keepin’ on, sir.
If you like Public Enemy, I think you might like my blog, Rhymes and Reasons. It is a series of interviews with hip-hop heads who discuss their lives in the context of a few songs that matter to them. The interviews tend to focus on questions of justice like racism, sexism, sexual violence, white privilege, etc. I hope you enjoy it.