Thursday, January 31, 2013

DBB meets Iceberg Slim

Some interesting remarks from pimp-turned-author Iceberg Slim (1918-1992) starting around the 1:30 mark of this clip, particularly his declaration that he liked "to give proper credence to the humanity of underworld people." That got my attention because some of my favorite crime writers (Guthrie, McFetridge, Stella, et al.) write sympathetically about bad people.

And the preface to Slim's autobiographical first novel, Pimp, is a reminder, if one needs reminding, that sympathy need not imply approval:
"The account of my brutality and cunning as a pimp will fill many of you with revulsion, however, if one intelligent, valuable young man or woman can be saved from the destructive slime; then the displeasure I have given will have been outweighed by that individual's use of his potential in a socially constructive manner. ... Perhaps my remorse for my ghastly life will diminish to the degree that within this one book I have been allowed to purge myself. Perhaps one day I can win respect as a constructive human being. Most of all I wish to become a decent example for my children and for that wonderful woman in my grave, my mother."
Another Slim novel, Trick Baby, has Iceberg in jail when the light-skinned con man character whose story the book tells is tossed into the cell. After initial suspicion, his reaction to the newcomer is practical, endearingly human, and pretty funny:
"So, since I was getting rather elderly for the pimp game, I figured I'd pick his brain and play con when I got out. After all, I'd picked Sweet Jones for the secret of the pimp game."
"Within a couple of days," the prologue goes on,
"White Folks and I were like brothers. A prison cell has the strange power to quickly create friendships and trusts that would never happen in the free world. I guess it's the lowliness and misery that draws two cellmates close enough to confide their secrets. And plus, in Folks' case, the sleeping pills."
*
The clip to which I linked above comes from a documentary on West Coast rap that proclaims Iceberg Slim an important influence.  Ice T talks about his debt to Iceberg Slim, from whom he took his name. How many forms of popular music take their inspiration from crime novels?
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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