The Breaks: Life Lessons from Kurtis Blow

There is a lesson to be learned in these lyrics from the 1980s break dancing hit “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow.

The man himself… Mr. Kurtis Blow

“If your woman steps out with another man
(That’s the breaks that’s the breaks)
And she runs off with him to Japan
And the IRS says they want to chat
And you can’t explain why you claimed your cat
And Ma Bell sends you a whopping bill
With eighteen phone calls to Brazil

And you borrowed money from the mob
And yesterday you lost your job
Well, these are the breaks
Break it up, break it up, break it up”

I was watching a break dance video that popped into my news feed on Facebook and the back beat to the song was the “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow.  This song was HUGE in the 1980s and, to this day, is used in some form or another at every Break Dancing Competition that is held. It has stood the test of time.

Anyway, after being reminded of this pioneer’s song, I looked up the video on Youtube to jam to it for a while this morning and while listening to the lyrics I had an epiphany.

Kurtis Blow is sending us all a message about putting life into perspective:

Some times in life… bad things happen, but those are the breaks.

Deal with it.

Simple, straight forward, and seemingly easy to simply gloss over, but by accepting what has happened and not dwelling on the past, you can do what you need to do now to make it better.

When I was in Cambodia, my debit card got stolen. I was in Sihanoukville, a random beach town hundreds of miles from any main city. I was stranded with no money, no access to cash, and an infection in my leg. Yes, I panicked at first, but then I realized: those are the breaks. Through a loan from the owners of the hostel that I worked at and a wire from my sister, I survived until my debit card reached Sihanoukville only 2 weeks later.

My parents passed away when I was 21. It was terrible. It shattered my world and completely changed the course that my life was going in. Nobody should have to go through that, but that’s life. And as such: that’s the breaks, that’s the breaks. I couldn’t dwell on it. I just had to live my life.

So, when life knocks your ice cream cone into the dirt, remember what the immortal Kurtis Blow wants you to know:

These are the breaks.

How My Changing Musical Tastes Have Come Full Circle

(Note: Most of the links in this article are to YouTube videos of the songs)

Browsing my Pandora station list, I spy the recent “Celtic Thunder” addition and I can’t help but think of how my musical tastes have so radically changed over time and have come full circle.

As a kid, I listened to whatever my parents had on the radio (although I pretty much constantly jammed to my Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack on my Walk-Man). It was usually Oldies (a collective term which both robs authenticity from and is the highest compliment of a song) and a bit of modern country. My Dad’s best efforts to expose me to good music (Credence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Dooby Brothers, The Lovin’ Spoonful) and my mom’s best efforts to indoctrinate me with Elvis (more on that later) were very much in vain. When I was 10 I loved Coolio’s hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” and I played the hell out of my sister’s Fuji’s CD and TLC “Waterfalls” single. Then of course there was the WWE Entrance Music CD phase.

But for the most part, I never had a huge interest in music.

Then came 8th grade and I listened strictly to hip-hop and rap. This is pretty much all owed to Eminem’s “Slim Shady LP.” I was an akward 15 year old white kid with kind of baggy pants (sorry, no surviving photos…) and all of the lyrics to Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Notorious BIG songs memorized word for word. By far, my favorite CD was NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” album. I loved those old school kicks and the hard rock-based bassy beats. To this day, I have a complete gap of knowledge of anything non Hip-Hop/R&B that was released between the years of 1999 and 2010 except for a few token very popular songs (ie: Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” and Blink 182’s Enema of the State album). I couldn’t and still can’t name a single Third Eye Blind (except for Jumper, because of the Yes Man movie version), Matchbox 20, Sixpence, Creed, Nickelback, or any alternative rock songs (as Monday night trivia at FW Sullivans has made abundantly clear).

This was compounded by the “Hyphy” movement of the early and mid-2000’s. This was the second San Francisco Bay Area Golden Age of Rap. I dug the heck out guys like E-40, Mac Dre, The Team, Turf Talk, Yukmouth, Keak Da Sneak, and countless others who most people have never heard of, but are widely known throughout the Bay Area. This also made me a fan of Bay Area rap from the early-90s when first wave of Bay Area rapper’s blew up like Spice-1, Celly Cel, JT The Bigga Figga, and Too ShortRappin 4 Tay made one of my all time top-10 CDs “Don’t Fight The Feelin’,” featuring the hit “Player’s Club” (it’s just an everyday thang).

Something happened around when I was 18 or 19 (2004). I was going through a rough time in life, and I actually discovered Johnny Cash and Country music. I think I liked the story-telling, song-writing aspect of this music; which is what I liked most about Hip-Hop. I also dabbled in some other songs and music, but I still pretty much exclusively listened to rap.

Then I moved to Reno when I was 21 (2007) and pretty much stopped listening to music. There was no version the Bay Area Heritage Hip-Hop Station 106.1 KMEL there, Pandora didn’t exist yet, and most of the radio was terrible. I mostly just listened to NPR through college, though I also started listening to the Classic Rock station and flirted with other songs I heard that I liked (most notably “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver).

Then, something magical happened. I discovered Karaoke.

Enter… the Elvis phase.

I became almost as obsessed with Elvis as my mom was. One thing to understand is that my mother was an Elvis fanatic, with a capital F. Growing up we had walls and shelves full of Elvis merchandise There was always Elvis’ silver-tongued lyrics coursing through the stereo system. I guess when I hit 24, my Elvis gene activated and BAM! – I was all about some Elvis. Elvis led to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and others of that Rock & Roll and Rockabilly style.

Then came Memphis, Tennessee.

Posing in Sun Studios on the microphone that Elvis supposedly used.

Posing in Sun Studios on the microphone that Elvis supposedly used.

With a half-desire to be an Elvis Impersonator, a yearning to experience Graceland (somewhat underwhelming),and a thirst to behold Sun Studios where Elvis recorded his first singles; “the birth place of Rock & Roll” was a natural stop on my 2012 road trip that I took on my move from Nevada to Virginia.

It was a musical awakening.

Memphis opened up a whole new world of music to me. B.B. King’s Rythm and Blues museum and the Staxx soul museum showed me the roots of where this Rock & Roll and even Hip-Hop music came from. I learned about Soul music via Otis Redding and Sam Cook; and Blues music such as BB King and John Lee Hooker. I learned about the fusion of Black Gospel and Country that led to Blues and then Rock & Roll, and, basically, all modern music.

What I knew as “Oldies” suddenly split into at least 6 different genres (Soul, Funk, Blues, Rock & Roll, Folk Rock, and Rockabilly). Songs that I heard as a child on the “Oldies” station suddenly had artists with names, producers, studios, influences, and off-shoots.

I began to appreciate Blue Grass while living in rural Virginia by attending the Blue Grass Festival in Amelia, VA. I learned that Blue Grass is actually countrified Irish and Scottish folk music.

On a whim, I typed in “Cool Jazz” in Pandora and was enjoying a genre that I had never been remotely interested in before.

I completely lost interest in Hip-Hop, other than a few select artists. I think it was more of a function of hating radio hip-hop and just over-saturating my brain with it when I was younger, than not appreciating it.

I met some traveling musicians in Spain who I later visited in Italy called the “Rubiconians” who played a Punk/Ragae/Island fusion that blew my mind and helped me to appreciate that Latin style.

The one type of music that I never really got into, and assumed that I never would, was very fast metal. Then Chris Jericho played his band Fozzy’s songs on his Podcast. I liked them, so I bought the CD. Even the really fast loud growling stuff was good to me. I tested the water with a Seether Pandora station and enjoyed it quite a bit. I even began having an understanding that Metal and Punk are completely and why. (Thanks Chris Jericho!).

Now I’m enjoying for the first time, in a long time, my “Bay Area” Pandora station.

The only constant through all of my life musically?: A thorough love of Weird Al Yankovich’s entire collection.