CHOCOLATE GENIUS / “Half A Man” (Acoustic Version)

There’s nothing like divorce to let you know what kind of person you really are. You can have all kinds of high opinions of yourself, all kinds of ‘If it was me and I was in that situation, I would do this or I would do that.’ You can talk a lot of shit about the choices other people make, but it’s not until you have to choose between your home and your sanity that you find out who you really are and what you’re really made of.
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Marc Anthony Thompson has been there, I can tell. Hell, anybody could tell. Thompson is the main songwriter and frontman for the New York band Chocolate Genius. Their 1998 CD Black Music is one of those invisible triumphs (by American pop music standards anyway). Maybe one hundred thousand or so people have ever heard Black Music, but judging by the ecstatic listener reviews at various online CD retailers, nearly all of them seem to agree that it’s a great album. If there was any justice in the world, Black Music would be triple platinum and Thompson would be so rich he’d have to figure out something other than his small personal issues to sing about. As it is, I don’t think he’s going to have that problem.

Thompson sings in a mumble and writes lyrics that make you want to cry despite not understanding what the hell he’s talking about. “Tell my tree, sorry I went soft,” he murmurs midway through “Half A Man,” “For each new leaf falls like a cough.” You’re sitting there trying to figure out what he’s getting at when he follows that up with, “I was almost your Dad / But I turned and I ran / I ran half of the way home / Like half of a man.” Which pretty much speaks for itself.

If you look at it from a certain point of view, there’s something kind of funny—or at least fucked up and ironic—about a prodigiously talented and rapidly-aging singer-songwriter laboring in near-obscurity while self-parodying teenagers rule the public airwaves. Maybe that’s why Thompson named his band Chocolate Genius. Maybe that’s why he named the band’s first album Black Music. And after that one flopped, named the second one Godmusic. Like, “Oh, an album whose title promises to encapsulate a wide swath of the last 200 years of recording history isn’t enough for you? Try this.” Or maybe Thompson was just referring to the fact that his band’s music sounds anything but ‘black.’ More like Lou Reed or Leonard Cohen, I guess…except with a real rhythm section. And if you don’t get the sarcasm (Thompson’s, not mine), you might want to turn down that Justin Timberlake record and think about it again.
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Thompson writes love songs too. Sort of. Except his idea of a love song is something like “A Cheap Excuse,” a ballad that consists mainly of Thompson crooning vicious little nothings in an unfortunate young lady’s ear. Stuff like, “Your new man took your picture / …And every time I see it, I find a new way to crawl” and “If you break my heart / I will reach for your throat.” And then there’s “Hangover Five” (which comes right before “Hangover Nine”—I’m dying to hear 1 - 4 and 6 - 8 ) where Thompson drops this one on his ex: “I lifted a glass and it kicked my black ass down to the sidewalk / The last thing I heard before my lunch hit the curb was your name.” But if all Thompson were was a bitter, hard-hearted cynic, Black Music wouldn’t be nearly as good an album as it is. Through tunes like “My Mom” (in which he simultaneously consecrates and excoriates his parents and his childhood) and “Hangover Nine” (“Oh, my God / I will never do this again”) Thompson shows another side of himself, a very real, very human side.

By the end of Black Music, you’ll feel like you’ve just been visited by a fiercely intelligent, darkly comic semi-misfit—a man whose once-outsized ego has been beaten and battered to the point that he now accepts that he, like the rest of us, is no better (or worse) than the rest of us. Thompson’s lyrics can be harsh and damning, both of himself and others, but they can also be unexpectedly comic and surprisingly sentimental. “They got five televisions in a house full of three,” Thompson begins “My Mom.” “Look up on the fake fireplace, you know the bucktoothed boy’s me.” I know it’s possible to hear ridicule in those lines, but it’s just as possible to hear the love.

—Mtume ya Salaam

          An army of one         

His half is better than a lot of people’s whole. He’s also what the old folks used to call “touched.” He holds deep conversations with himself. Out loud. Even engages in brilliant arguments back and forth. With himself. How he has managed to stay crazy for five albums is a mystery to me. Not what he saying, or how he is saying what he says. I can understand the meanings. I can understand the music. I just marvel that he has so consistently been his crazy self.

Obviously this man is dedicated to his music. I don’t listen to him often, but when ever I do, I hear him. I mean, really hear him. He’s the genius child of the family. Left his senior year of high school. No one has seen him since except once on a television special. He is rumored to be alive and kicking. In Amsterdam or was it Suriname? People like him are special and challenge us all to get up, get out and be all that we can be without joining up with the system.

I like some of this. I like some of this a lot. A whole lot.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 1st, 2006 at 12:27 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “CHOCOLATE GENIUS / “Half A Man” (Acoustic Version)”

Ruby Says:
October 1st, 2006 at 10:03 am

I really enjoyed those Marc Anthony Thompson tracks. Thanks for introducing me to him!

You have, by far, the most interesting, thoughtful, and well-written music blog out there. I really appreciate what you guys do, and I enjoy getting your RSS feed every week. Keep up the good work!

Ibeshe Says:
October 1st, 2006 at 1:06 pm

These tracks hurt. So beautiful. Can’t beleive that I’ve never heard him before. About to do the blast e-mail to friends and family. This DEEP Black Music. That old Timey, heal your soul while smackin’ yo’ ass type of soul rectification. It is astonishing that he can be so himself and get his music out there. I hope we can spread it further. Thank you for posting this man’s music.

hardCore Says:
October 3rd, 2006 at 10:38 am

thompson is quite the poet, quite the singer, and quite the musician.

overall, this current entry has been my favorite. mystical and dark, but extremely heartfelt. makes we wonder what’s going on in your lives. thanks and peace.

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