I love Jack Parow, but only if he loves me back. If he doesn’t love me I’m going to kill him. I ask him if he loves me. He says he doesn’t, he doesn’t even know me. He says this with his eyes because I’ve put tape on his mouth. His words hurt me, they hurt me in my heart, so I punch him in the face. I wait for him to fall over backwards and hopefully hurt his back on his hands tied behind the chair, then I jump on him and talk to him, this time using my mouth.
“Where is the safe, Jack?” I ask, screaming just a little bit. “Where is it?” While I’m holding him up by his leopard print dressing gown I’m thinking that he actually has quite a nice, friendly-type face. But then he smirks at me, blood leaking through his teeth, and starts laughing. I decide to head-butt him to show him I really mean business when my friend Piet calls me from the passage. He’s found something.
“Cut,” says Ari. Everyone laughs, the whole crew. I help Jack get up.
“Here ou,” he says. “You funny. Nice one!” Well I wasn’t trying to be funny but getting a compliment is always good. We bump fists, then he does this whole cool Afrikaans rapper handshake thing, palms wiping then some kind of thumb twiddling then he pulls the “pin” from my hand, like it’s a grenade, and puts his hands up in surprise like it just exploded. He really is quite friendly.
Ja-see, this is cool, I’m thinking. Jack Parow is showing me cool moves.
Ari Kruger is busy directing the new music video for Jack’s track ‘Afrikaans Is Dood’, off his Eksie Ou album. The video is being produced by Little Big Productions for MK MVP. Ari had this idea where he wanted to make a movie more than a music video, an action movie actually, and he thought ‘Afrikaans Is Dood’ was the perfect song.
About a week before, he phoned me about the idea, saying:
“I want you to play the bad guy in this video I want to do for Jack Parow.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I was thinking,” said Ari, “that your character grew up with Jack in the Bellville area, and you think you were supposed to be famous, not him, but fate dealt you a bad hand. Now you want to steal his hat, and his chain, and his book of rhymes, so you and your friends break-in and take them.”
“Alright.” I said.
“What happens?” Asked Ari, “when you take Jack’s hat and chain and rhyme book away?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“Jack has to fight for it,” said Ari. “He has to suffer. It’ll make a great video.”
The first day I met Jack Parow I didn’t know what to expect. He has a big reputation. He’s the rapper from Parow, the one who got pulled off the stage in Durban because some guys in the crowd wanted to fuck him up because he was swearing too much. He’s famous, a celebrity. Celebrities can be tricky. They can make the shoot easy, and they can make it hard. Also, celebrities have a way of getting under your skin, they’re living the life that I want, or think I want. Jack was late for the wardrobe call and no one said anything, we just got on with getting everyone else ready, wondering. Finally he arrived. I was nervous, I wanted to be cool. I tried to shake his hand but he had a whole lot of stuff with him, props and clothes that he’d brought along. So he said, “hang on a second, ou,” and put his stuff down.
“Jack,” he said.
“Milton,” I said.
We shook hands, and that was that. Now we were working.
Later that day we were at the stunt rehearsal. Things were smoother now but Ari’s desire to see Jack suffer was clear. It seemed Jack would have to battle me, get punched and beaten, battle my sidekick, battle my other sidekick, and chase me down through the city before finally getting his hat back. Right then he was practising his fight scene with Kyle (Piet). They go for it. Jack slams the cricket bat against the wall, Kyle ducks then jumps on his back like a demon monkey, throttling him with the electrical cord, as per the plan, then Jack bumps his head against the brick wall, hard. Klunk. We all freeze.
“The celebrity’s bumped his head.”
“This prima donna fuck has bumped his head.”
Everyone looks at Ari. It’s his video. He’ll have to deal with it. Ari looks straight ahead. He hasn’t moved. We look back at Jack. He hasn’t moved. It was a hard knock. Kyle’s standing next to him, he hasn’t moved. Jack shifts, slaps his head, then shakes it.
“Shit,” he says, “that was sore.”
“You okay, man?” I ask.
“Ja, bru,” he says, “I’ll be fine.” Then he gives a smile. “I may not look it, dude, but I can play. This is nothing.”
That night I watch Jack Parow music videos. They’re all there. Jack and Francois, Jack and Gazelle, Jack and Die Heuwels. They’re all mates. Big deals. Musicians. Celebrities. I decide to do some character work. I focus on Jack’s face in the videos, all his faces, and nurture some hate. I tell myself that I want everything that is his, that everything that is his should be mine. I tell myself that I hate Jack Parow but I know that underneath it’s a different story. I love Jack Parow, but only if he loves me back.
The next day we’re at a guest house in Monte Vista that Ari reckons is the perfect spot to make into Jack’s music video house. Sometime during the morning Jack is having a cigarette outside by the pool. I decide I’ll go and see if maybe we can talk.
“I went to Parow once,” I tell him, by way of a crafty opening, “to watch Sepultura at the Civic Centre. Man, it was awesome. It was totally rad. It was so hectic that afterwards I had to drink water, not beer.”
“Fuck,” he says, “I didn’t know they played in Parow. That must have been insane.”
“Ja, Parow is a pretty rad place,” he says. “I go there a lot to get inspiration. Bars in Parow are kak interesting. I was in this bar playing pool with this ou, and he’s dik fuckin’ inbred. He’s like young, like 23, wearing a vest, he’s got chains, jewellery. We playing, I’m acting all natural, but I can’t stop noticing that there’s this old toppie standing close to the bar by the doorway to the kitchen. He’s rocking himself, like forward and back, his nose is bleeding, and he’s staring at me and this ou. I mean, fuckit. ‘You wanna know why the old man is crying?’ says this ou, ‘I fucked him up.’ I think, okay, and I keep drinking. Later on this old man comes, he like creeps over all scared, the younger guy has gone to the toilet or something, and he asks me if I want to know why the other oke fucked him up? Okay, I say, how come? ‘Because I told him,’ says the old man, ‘I told him it’s wrong to sleep with his mother. He’s sleeping with his mother. He’s sleeping with her.’”
“Now I’m not joking,” says Jack. “That is exactly what happened.”
Eight hours later and we’ve been on the shoot for 13. Roland, the owner of the production company had told the owner of the guest house that we’d be out of there after ten.
“Ari,” says Roland, pulling at Ari’s sleeve, “we’re way over. The old man’s freaking out.”
“I can’t drop any shots,” says Ari, dangerously calm at this late hour. “It’s all telling a story. What do you want me to do? Make a shit video?”
Roland steps away, politely declining to vent. I’m only half listening. We’re set up for a very important shot in the life of my character. This is the moment I’m going to get Jack’s hat, chain, and book of rhymes.
Piet has his grinder cutting into Prow’s safe. It’s coming, now, we’re moments away, soon were going to have it all. The door swings open, the inside revealed. I reach out, into the universe, past the sun and the milky way and take hold of the book. Ari cackles. We’re still rolling. I turn to Piet to give him the smile Ari asked for, the expression of my everything, but instead of smiling I kind of bite the air, like some kind of … I don’t even know, some kind of deeply creepy guy. No one says anything, silently the camera tracks back, the crew focused. I turn, looking at Jack’s book of rhymes in my hand, then I start laughing, no sound just my shoulders jumping up and down, because that bite was funny, it was fucking weird, and everyone else starts laughing too. Even Roland’s laughing.
“What’s the secret to Parow’s success?” asks Ari between mouthfuls of meatloaf and brussels sprouts. We’re talking after the day’s shoot, one thirty in the morning at his parent’s house where we’re both staying for the duration.
“I don’t know.”
“I’ve been going to this business course, on Monday nights,” says Ari, “and one thing they say is you should be able to make a silhouette of yourself, if you want to be a brand. Who you are should be visual. That’s a huge mark of a successful brand, if you can recognise it instantly.”
Ari has blue eyes, he’s sweet looking. He’s a devil because he looks kind of like an angel. He’s the sweetest kid, but no topic will make him uncomfortable, he’s happy to go anywhere.
“That makes a lot of sense.” I say. “If anyone has a silhouette, at least in this country, it’s Jack. Did you hear what his mom said?”
“He was telling us at the wardrobe call. His mom was in Mozambique when she saw some figurines on the side of the road, you know, a guy selling curios, and he had a whole line of Jack Parows, a whole lot of little carved guys with long peak hats just there on the side of the road, in Mozambique.”
“Ja. So his mother stops and she asks the guy if he knows who the person is that the carvings are of? He says Jack Parow.”
“Yes. Crazy, hey? So his mom bought a whole lot.”
“You see,” says Ari, “that’s what this video’s about. We’re fucking with Jack, fucking with the whole concept of Jack. We’re taking his silhouette away from him and were going to see what that does to him. This video is a test. For Jack, the whole market.”
Ari thinks. He composes. “What happens,” he finally asks, “when you take his silhouette away? What’s left of the man?”
The next day I’m watching Jack Parow intently, wondering on Ari’s question. “What’s left,” I’m thinking, “when you take the hat away? Who is he?” It’s the perfect day for these kinds of questions. We’re shooting all the crowd scenes which means the production company has tried to organise as many extras as possible. Nobody’s getting paid so it’s all about using Jack’s fame to get them to come. By two in the afternoon some have arrived, groups here and there, of young girls dressed as women.
“There he is,” whispers one of them. I watch as Jack comes stalking out from inside the club to the rest area busy messaging on his phone. He’s wearing his costume, leopard print dressing gown over jammies, his feet in slippers, cuts and bruises painted onto his face with his hair cut short. He doesn’t look like Jack. There’s no curly hair, no funky tekkies and definitely no long hat. He looks older, naked, Ari’s tests have taken their toll. He’s absorbed my punching and ridicule, he’s survived getting bashed with a lamp and thrown into a TV and fought back by using three video cassette tapes, the lamp and an actual video machine to nail my pretend sidekick and lover in the face till she was unconscious, then he actually battled Piet in the passage (not what was rehearsed), being throttled with the angle grinder chord, before moering him over the head with one of his gold records. Now he’s sitting there like a cranky bear messaging on his phone. He takes no notice of the girls even though they’re close by. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even hear them.
“How many videos?” I’m thinking. “How many groupies? How many parties? How much brandy and beer?”
You can see he’s tired, he’s living a heavy life, riding the Parow train hard.
“Jack,” I say, “how you doing?”
His expression is everything. At first he looks up at the sound of his name, he doesn’t know me, his eyes are dull, then he recognises me and the grey sheen evaporates. He brightens up, it’s automatic.
“I’m fucking lekker my bru,” he says, smiling. “How’s your Vanilla Ice self?”
“Ja, man. What you up to?”
“I’m trying to stay ahead, my bru. December’s not looking so good. Bookings are down, like way down. The economy’s killing us. I’m supposed to be making my money in December. I’ve got to hit December hard and then I can take off in January. We releasing a Eksie Ou special edition in December, so I wanna back it up, you know?”
He pulls an Eksie Ou Special Edition CD out of his pocket and opens it up. “We’ve put a drinking game in it.” He shows me. “That’s kif, hey?” He’s on auto-pilot, the CD’s old news to him, but he’s proud too. His phone rings.
“Sorry, I have to take this.”
I check the CD. All the design work, the styling. The hat, the ‘tache, the lips, the faraway look in the eye. It’s produced by his own label, Parowphernalia, as is his braai sauce, his signature caps, his jewellery, his clothing range, he’s even got a computer game. I pocket the CD and step outside.
Fokofpolisiekar are setting up for a show on the lawn (we’re at the Klein Libertas theatre, Stellenbosch) so there’s all sorts of tech guys and roadies and band members milling around. Fokof begin their sound check, belting through bits of numbers. These are the guys, this is the band that changed things, that started today’s Afrikaans revolution. Sure, there were those that went before, many of them (let us not forget and remind everyone of Bitterkomix), but these guys made English guys want to speak Afrikaans, made English guys embarrassed to be speaking kak taal with an accent. How did they get here? What’s up with Bellville? What’s their silhouette?
When they’re done Jack comes outside and sits with them, chatting over a few beers. Now it’s the King’s table. Jack and Francois and Hunter, chatting. We’re all aware of it, all of us sitting around watching and not watching. Me and the army of Fokofs in their skinny jeans, Jack standing out like a Kingly thumb in his dressing gown and slippers.
“Me and Francois, we want to work in Afrikaans, we wanted to say something about being Afrikaans, about what Afrikaans is,” says Jack. We’re in Ari’s girlfriend’s car quickly nipping off to some new location in the town. Ari’s taking the time to get all the answers he can.
“How long have you been rapping for?”
“I’ve been rapping for like… 13 years,” Jack replies, “a faaackin long time.” He’s sitting in the backseat, Ari in the front, Jack lounging like he’s in charge.
“Did you have any other names?”
“Jassis man, lots. Umm… Muis is Baas, Quick Draw McGraw… I rapped all over the fucking place before any of this kak happened. I used to rap with Juda and MC Dread where I was the only white ou there. I’ve been fucked up lank times for being white. I’ve been in this game a while.”
I can confirm this. My friend Johann told me he used to know Jack before he became Jack, because he was friends with Jack’s then-girlfriend’s sister. Johann told me that Jack always used to rap at places they went to. Sometimes it was embarrassing because it drew attention, but they were supportive because he obviously had talent. The thing is, no one knew, or thought, that his talent mattered. They thought it was pointless.
“I used to be called Bongscare.” Jack laughs. “Thank God I didn’t become famous with that kak name!”
“Why do you think Jack Parow has been so successful?”
“I think it’s just right, man. It’s the right thing for me. It just happened, I just found it and now I’m going with it. I’m on like a Jack Parow wave. I must be saying what people want to hear.”
Ari’s peering at Jack in the rearview mirror, watching his eyes, hoping to get underneath the hat.
“Why haven’t you made it big in America?”
Jack doesn’t hesitate. He takes each question as it comes.
“I’ll say I don’t want to,” he starts, “not saying that I could if I did want to. But I went there and I played for 4000 people in LA. It was killer. Before the show I found this like rubber 2Pac mask so I walked onto stage with this mask on, no shirt, all fat. They fuckin dug it. But it wasn’t for me. Everything’s surface there. I had some meetings, I had offers, proper offers, but they wanted me to translate my stuff into English. I don’t want to do that. I think my stuff will lose its power in English. It’s supposed to be Afrikaans. So I dig Europe much more, and they dig me there. I don’t know, I guess they used to listening to lyrics they don’t understand.”
We stop and shoot guerrilla style in the street, simply knocking on the door and asking if they don’t mind if we can use their driveway. Some kids walk past, two of them under ten years old and one of them says, “Jack Parow!” We stay for 45 minutes. By the time we leave there’s 20 kids following Jack around.
“They’ve all got my songs on their phones,” he says. “They download it. CD’s aren’t worth much nowadays. They’re just a calling card.”
Back at the club it’s time for the scene where Jack and I confront each other on the stage in front of the screaming fans. Everything is ready. I get up there in front of them, standing close to Jack so that they think I’m cool too. “How the fuck?” They’re thinking. “Who is he? Why’s he so special?” That’s my power now. I pretend like Jack and I are old friends, I make jokes, I make eyes at him, I try to look Iike I’ve done this many times before. The stunt guys have set the crash mat up in the crowd and shown all these young Stellenbosch res boykies what to do, how to get out of the way when I do the final dive, but also to help if something goes wrong. The shot’s set up and ready. I take my place on the side of the stage.
I open Jack’s book of rhymes, and there’s nothing in it. The book is empty. My ticket’s not there. I look up to see him standing on the stage, beaten and fucked but there, and he laughs at me. He’s laughing. Something breaks in my mind, I start running…
I run onto stage, screaming, ready to rip Jack’s head off and look down his throat, to rip apart so angry is my character, that again nothing is going to work out, so angry that my character is half blind and easy pickings as Jack grabs the extra-long peak of cap and swings it.
I grab the cap. That fuckers trying to take my cap, the cap is mine!
Cool as the devil Jack swings my character around then plants a hefty knee to his chin. My chin. He hits me in the face, bang in my fuckin jaw, the crack is loud and the stars are bright. Cart-wheeling, I watch as Jack stands back, showboating, then lifts his leg. He plants his slipper straight in my chest and I can’t do nothing, I’m off balance, I’m flying… wondering… and then hit the mat. Oooff! It’s over. That scene is over. I’m relieved it’s over, and sad.
“I feel like I’m on auto-pout,” I say to Jack, later, sitting on the fire escape at Buchanan Square in Woodstock. People have been taking pictures of us all day, all the time.
Jack laughs. “Ja, bru,” he says.
“I’m serious. All I’m doing is pouting all day. Every time someone takes a picture. It’s becoming second nature.”
“Killer,” says Jack, “I like that. Auto-pout. This video is going to be cool. I think I’m going to grow my hair long and cut it like yours. We should go out together. The people will freak out.”
I wonder about that. Is he serious? Would it happen? I don’t drink, so it might be weird. The two of us are watching Thomas the Gaffer setting lights up on the third story of the building across the way so that the wide shot where our cars arrive at the club will look great. We’re about four hours over, around one in the morning again, and it’s pretty obvious the whole shoot’s slipped into casual mode.
“What do you do?” asks Jack.
I tell him, a neat little version of my whole history, a vast summing up of every nuance that got me to this point, now, sitting on the steps with Jack Parow.
“How old are you?” He asks.
“Thirty-one.” I say. “How old are you?”
“Thirty,” he says, “I thought you were about thirty-three.”
“Have you got any kids?”
“I’ve got one. He’s nearly ten.” I say.
“How’s it going with your kid?”
“It’s hectic, bra,” says Jack. “I’ve been away for a month so my girl has been doing all the work, I mean all of it. I got back yesterday and then I’m straight onto this. We were supposed to go out tonight. We got a baby-sitter, booked a place and everything.”
“Our baby’s four months old. It’s hard fuckin work.”
We watch Thomas way over on the other side, fiddling. The rest of the crew are sprawled around the square, resting, Roland’s pacing up and down.
“Why didn’t you go for that American deal?” I ask him, “that seems crazy.”
“I thought about it a lot,” he replies. “The thing is, it’s all about the future. I think if I want to keep going for a long time then I’ve got to make sure that I’ve got a good base. Like David Kramer and Koos Kombuis.
“Those guys,” says Jack after a pause, “even if they’ve done nothing in ages, even if they’ve properly disappeared, like done nothing in three years, four years, if they play they sell out shows. People will travel to go and see them. If people hear one of them’s playing two towns away they’ll go make a mission to see them, even after all that time. And that’s because they’ve nurtured their audience. You’ve got to nurture them.
“I made a decision in my work,” he continues. “What I think is that I need to keep rapping for here, because here is my base. If I respect my audience they respect me, and that’s what’s going to give me long life.”
“Still, it’s crazy to turn that down.” I say.
“I know. But fuckit.”
Ari appears, sucking on a green lolly pop. We both eye him. He’s got the same look he had this morning, and last night, and tomorrow. He’s waiting for something interesting to happen, he’ll go anywhere, he doesn’t judge. He eyes us back.
“Dude,” he says. “I can’t fucking believe you said no to America. Don’t you wanna be big?”
By three-thirty we’re finally headed home. Ari and I are giving Jack a lift to his place and he’s asked if we can stop for smokes at the Shell. Jack goes inside, still wearing his gown and slippers, still with cuts and bruises all over his face. He’s big and looming in the fluorescent, yellow-lit shop, talking some kind of kak with the lady at the counter.
“We should get a photo of this.”
Ari gets out the car, his iPhone in his hand. Now I’m watching the two of them talking all kinds of kak with the lady at the counter, two different sorts of freak.
Where does he get his power from? Where does anyone?
There’s a shot in the video that’s telling, it’s right before the end. What’s happening is Jack’s entered the club and seen my character on the stage. He watches that guy then pulls his face determined. He starts tearing his way through the crowd that have forgotten him, happy to have a new hero in a heartbeat.
“Kak fokken sexy,” he’s rapping, pushing his way through the mass of young flesh, the mass of young tits and muscles, young minds and eyes all moving. “Don’t you judge me,” he’s saying, pulling those little chicks aside, throwing their boyfriends away, “I’m always fokken hungry, vet fokken maag but the kinders still love me.” He’s a bear coming, he’s Yogi Bear shaved and zeffed with a diamond brain and a sugar heart but shot, bleeding and no one cares. He’s got no hat, no silhouette, he’s fighting to stay on the screen. In that image it’s Jack battling to be Jack, him against the world, him against the market, him against all the foes and vyande stacked up high against him. Ari got it right. His idea worked. I’m reminded of Marilyn Manson. In ‘Lamb of God’ off of the Holy Wood album:
“If you die when there’s no one watching,” he sings, voice ripped, scarred and real, “and your ratings drop and you’re forgotten, If they kill you on their TV… Then you’re a martyr and a Lamb of God.”
There’s something there, I’m thinking, something of the same question in what will happen when you take an artist’s persona away. What happens when you take away the fame? Jack feels raw to me, prepared to put his body on the line, his heart, prepared to be his act. He keeps coming, riding the wave of the beats of his new, hopefully hit track. He’s not stopping.
“Afrikaans is Dood,” he blasts out to his re-won faithful, “Afrikaans is Groot.” The sound’s distorted and the kids can’t hear well. “Afrikaans is Dood,” they wail back at him, “Afrikaans is Dood.” I’m thinking, “Fuck. That’s not what he’s saying, he’s saying the opposite.” But they’re not listening to him, they’re not seeing him. Standing there, soaking up their screams, I’m thinking that these kids don’t know what they’re hearing, they don’t know who Jack Parow is at all, they haven’t even started to see beyond the hat and the chain. But I do, I’m thinking, I understand Jack Parow, I’m thinking that Jack Parow is mine. I feel all satisfied. I believe myself, for a moment, then I laugh and go sit with Ari. There, watching the monitor, it was clear to see that what happens when you take Jack’s hat, his rhyme book and his chain away, is he takes them back. Because they’re his.