expression of interest in making a video documentary on The Last Poetsfeaturing footage from the concert A monthor so later, Jalal, Suliaman El-Hadi, and a percussionistwhose name escapes me, arrived at my apartmentto unload their bags before walking over to Brown University'sAlumnae Hall. The room was packed, and the largely white audience listened respectfully; but the performancewas less than spectacular. Framed by enormous velvet curtains, the three figures appeared tiny on the stage, shuffling awkwardly under pale yellow lights. Like ageing rappers, they fought to generate enough energy to fill the hall, and visibly struggledto connect with this polite congregation of privileged twentysomethings. Ov~rwhelmedby the demands of live coverage, my videographywas dismal, makingthe event seem even more stale and lacklustre.
By the next autumn, I had graduated and moved to Manhattan, where I took a job as a stockman in a secondhand bookstorenear Union Square. Unloadinga box of paperbacksone afternoon, I looked up to find Jalal headingtoward me down the aisle. We greeted each oIher, and he asked me about the video project. Too embarrassed to tell the truth, I mumbled that I was still working on it and quickly changed the subject. From then on, Jalal stopped by often and we struck up an odd friendship. An autodidact with boundless linguistic cleverness, and a conspiracy theorist with a keen sense of history and politics, Jalal was an immensely fascinating companion. At once hustler and sage, he would set up meetings in Central Park to insist that I buy his own ragged copy of Delights Of The Garden for ten dollars and to offer lengthy interpretationsof its cosmic vision. Incessantly he recalled his curriculum vitae, railing against Gil Scott-Heron and the rap community for ripping him off without acknowledgmenr and reminding me that he had worked with Jimi Hendrix on the single "Doriella Du Fontaine", the jailhouse story of a ghetto hooker that Jalal recorded under the pseudonym Lightnin' Rod due to his conversionto Islam. Upon learningthat I suffered from chronic back pain due to heavy lifting at work, Jalal volunteeredto become my acupuncturist. I was sent off to esoteric bookstores to look for a copy of The Yellow Empemr's Classic Of Internal Medidne and to strange apothecariesto buy exotic herbs.Within days I had my first session with Jalal; he covered me with needles and explained the peculiar sounds of various pulses.
Uneasy with the role of apprentice that I had fallen into, I spent less andless time with Jalal, who, I think, had also come to realise that I was a poor patron. By the end of 1988 1 had left New York and moved to California.Years later, I opened up a copy of The Wlage Voiceto find that Jalal's former colleaguesand rivals, Abiodun Ayewole and Umar Bin Hassan, were touring with Lollapaloozaunder the Last Poets name. I imaginedJalal's anger and the increasedsense of disenfranchisement and disrespect he must have felt. But I knew somehow that he would be busy refiguring the schism as a necessary stage in his elaborate picture of universaljustice.