Here Comes the Hammer (again).

As Tony Blair said, I want you to think back… no, really think back. It’s 1990, the San Francisco 49’ers pummeled the Denver Broncos to win the Superbowl, Ghost was tops at the box office and war in Iraq loomed on the horizon. In every American town people went on about their business, unaware of a cultural explosion hissing in the distance with an ever shortening fuse. Then, on one warm June morning, the radio brought down a musical revolution on the heads of ill-prepared Americans like a hammer… an MC Hammer.

If the aliens had chosen this particular moment in our planet’s history to make their arrival, they would likely have been confused by the whirling dance moves and giant pants that were gradually overtaking our lifestyle. To explain this phenomenon would have been impossible, and certainly would have forever shaped our image in the galaxy. “The Earth People… they each move like a gazelle, but in large swishy pants.”

Fortunately for us, there were no close encounters that summer. But for many in rural, Eastern Kentucky, this first encounter with hip-hop music could have fallen into that category. It was a strange rhythm from a far away land (Oakland), there were no heavy guitar licks, there were no banjos, and the pulsing beats found their way so deeply into American culture that even my grandmother was familiar with the chorus.

MC Hammer permeated every aspect of American life, from the airwaves to the water cooler. His flashy, often ridiculous presence launched a line of toys, a Saturday morning cartoon and perhaps most importantly, introduced a new type of sound and culture to mainstream audiences. Of course, everyone is familiar with their own stories of the summer of 1990. Hammer touched our lives, and almost as quickly as he came, he was gone.

As a kid, I was certainly a fan of Mr. Hammer.  The media blitz associated with his work seemed to be particularly targeted directly at me.  As I thought back on what it meant to be an MC Hammer fan, I remembered story after story, all relating to his general hammerness.  I remembered really, really wanting a pair of “Hammer Pants,” only to be informed by my mother that they were ridiculous, and that one day I’d “regret ever having owned a pair.”  At the time, this seemed like history’s greatest crime against humanity….

Thanks mom.

I can even remember a specific story of one of Powell County’s most legendary figures.  For the sake of decency, I’ll withhold his name, but the story goes like this:

Mr. X, a middle-aged Clay City resident, was back on the market and looking for a lady to call his own.  As people in late 80’s/early 90’s Powell County did, he headed out to the Dixieland Lounge in neighboring Winchester.  Now, you must understand that this gentleman, going gray in the hair department and rhythmically challenged, fancied himself quite a dancer.  Of course, no dancer could possibly be expected to keep their seat when the summer’s biggest jam hit the speakers… I’m talking of course about U Can’t Touch This.  When the opening notes hit his ears, Mr. X could be seen dashing for the dance floor ready for action.  He spun wildly around the floor, cutting hammeresque moves from side to side, even freezing in suspended animation when he was ordered to “STOP,” before returning to action with the eventual “HAMMERTIME!”

So, if this cultural force could bring out the inner superfreak in Mr. X, surely the people I knew would have equally compelling stories.  Thus began my quest.  I set out, with the aid of MSN Messenger and an email address or two, contacting those that were currently “available” for their own personal stories of the Hammer era.   And now, a stroll down memory lane.

Kevin Hall:

To start, I still know the first verse to 2 Legit 2 Quit — “Sweat … running all over my chest. I don’t quit, no, I just press/Harder than I ever did before…” OK, I’ll just stop there; you get the picture. Keep in mind that I’ve heard this song exactly once since the mid-1990s (God bless XM Radio’s ’90s channel).

What else? How about watching a recorded version of the U Can’t Touch This video with Chris King, pausing, rewinding, pausing, rewinding, all in an effort o learn the lyrics (and, secretly, the dance moves). Then, we would argue over the lines, particularly the “i’ve been around the world, from london to the bay. it’s hammer, go hammer, mc hammer, yo hammer and the rest can go and play” lyric. that, of course, might be the wrong words, but that’s how i hear them and rap them. (yes, i rap. poorly).

Finally, what male from that time period didn’t want a pair of “Hammer” pants, yhe curtain-looking trousers that gave a whole new meaning to baggy. He looked like a reject from the Aladdin casting session, but that didn’t stop any of us at Powell County High School (white, country boys, mind you) from copying the look. The problem was that no one could find a true replica. Apparently, these pants were only available to world travelers, perhaps in locales such as London, or maybe the Bay. So, I bought the next best thing, a pair of somewhat baggy sweatpants. I later learned they were the “zubaz” pants weightlifters wear. I’m still ashamed.

It should be pointed out that Kevin wasn’t the only person to fall into the “zubaz” trap.  Due to the confusion of children and parents alike, MC Hammer unintentionally started a fashion trend in the Appalachian region.  Weight lifting pants, as they slightly resembled hammer pants, became all the rage in Powell County.  You can actually still see the occasional pair today, if you frequent the right (wrong) Clay City hot-spots.

Of course, not everyone admits to rockin’ the zubaz fashion.  Take Sarah Fortney for example.  Then mild-mannered high school student Sarah King, she claims to have owned an actual pair of hammer pants.  Sarah declined to go on the record officially, but alleged that there was even a photo floating around this world of her in the pants.  A little bit of research, an overpriced private investigator and a trip to Nicaragua later, I have unearthed this photo.

mc_sarah.jpg

I must say, those are legitimate hammer pants… the resemblance is striking.

The significance of all-things MC Hammer related is well reported in this harrowing tale from Brinton Epperson:

When I was a boy scout and going through the Order of the Arrow ordeal, part of the ordeal demanded that no one speak from daylight until dusk.  Now occasionally you might hear a whisper here and there, but most everyone took it seriously.  After all, we’d already been through a night out on the ground with no tent, and let me tell you, 100 yards from the marshy side of a lake on August 2nd is no place to be without protection from the insects.  Breakfast was a mini-box of cereal and barely enough milk to get it moist.  Water all day long had been scarce, and we were required to work in the hot sun, making repairs all over that camp.

Finally we were granted a quick reprieve during lunch, time enough to eat the two pieces of white bread and the slice of bologna, and then enough time to take a very short nap if we so desired, and let me tell you, I desired.  Just as I achieved light snooze status, one of the other scouts came up and sat beside me.  In a quiet voice, I hear, “Hey.”  I’m thinking, here he is, not only breaking the rules of the ordeal, but more importantly waking me up.  It must be something important. I open my eyes.

He continues, “Did you hear MC Hammer is dropping the MC?  He’s just going to be Hammer now.”  I was a good scout.  I didn’t throw him in the lake.

No rule was too precious, no sacrifice too great for Hammer… something we can all understand.

Even for those that may have been too young to completely understand the power of his work, (MC) Hammer had a profound effect on their young minds.  Take this gentle reminisce from Jeff Stiles:

How the MC Changed My Life
By Jeff A. M. Stiles

There were tons of books in my childhood, each dripping with the culture of places and times we’ll never grasp with our displacement, but I recall the assault of Relativity.  Even in my pre-teens, the devastating piece stood out among the Mona Lisas, the Starry Nights, the scores of “classics” recycled in so many high school text books and Wal-Mart posters.  M.C. Escher’s mathematic take on his art, to the uninitiated, sounds like a heartless and stale take on the form- the rigid design of algebra would seemingly prevent any improvisation or passion, two very important elements of any piece.  However, particularly with Relativity– the horizontal stairs, the doors on the ceiling– it is clear that not only is Escher– wait, wait, what?  MC Hammer?  Oh…  well, I don’t know.  I was like four when his first album came out.  I guess I remember listening to him when I was a kid, but… yeah…

Amen, brother Jeff… Amen.

The presence of a young Hammer had a profound impact on all of our lives.  His kind words and inspirational calls for each of us not to touch things, to remain legit and to tell him if we’ve seen her defined a generation.  It wasn’t just flashy moves and giant pants, it was an entire nation growing together in a funky, yet refined way.  We loved Hammer, and he loved us.  From the Pepsi ads to the endless stream of professional athletes in his videos, even down to a memorable take on life with the Addams Family, Hammer touched us all.

I would like to take this moment to pledge my re-allegiance to you, Hammer.  The time has once again come to turn this mutha out… and nobody does it better.

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4 Responses to “Here Comes the Hammer (again).”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Anyone who disputes the power of the Hammer is either a) too young to remember or b) lying. Everybody, and I truly mean every single person I knew at that time, loved MC Hammer.

  2. hungry bobina Says:

    doo doo do doodoo da da dadaaaaaa CAN’T TOUCH THS

  3. the cow Says:

    MOOOOOOO

  4. the cow Says:

    MOOOOOOOO

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