When I was a in my twenties I was lucky to begin free-lance writing at the Village Voice, an alternative weekly in New York which, largely because of the great music editor Robert Christgau, had an amazing roster of black writers who were documenting the vast array of popular culture that was rising out of the gritty city and transforming music, film, literature, theater, art and all the spaces in between. Stanley Crouch, Lisa Jones, Barry Michael Cooper, Joan Morgan, Harry Allen, Carol Cooper were among the folks who’s by-lines appeared regularly.
But there was no one with the style, insight and range of Greg “Ironman” Tate, a D.C. native filled with enthusiasm for the bohemian, the adventurous and the radical. Greg was a fabulous writer who understood rhythm, metaphor and hyperbole like a master musician does harmony, timber and tone. Sentence for sentence Greg was one of the best writers in a publication that was all about attitude, personal POV and cultivating your singular voice.
Unlike some of my VV comrades, who boasted and strutted when they had a big piece on the paper, Tate was always easy going and mellow, an disarming manner that made him a natural leader. Off the page he co-founded the Black Rock Coalition and a marvelous ensemble, Burnt Sugar Arkestra, which took his extensive musical taste and manifest it in covers of classics and original compositions that reflected his critical insights. In the community of NYC artists who came of age in the ‘80s Greg was a touchstone and mentor.
I haven’t cried yet about his departure. I have just moved through my day in a daze, stunned that I won’t read another piece by him, see him with his band or sit down with him again in fellowship, talking about where the culture was, is and will be. I do a lot of documentaries now and had plans to include him in several of them, because Greg knew so much and was great at sharing his knowledge. There’s no one that can fill the void he left. He was that unique and that brilliant.
If you haven’t read any of Greg’s work find both volumnes of FLYBOY IN THE BUTTERMILK as well as any of his essays in art catalogs or recent journalism. After you finish you’ll be smarter, well entertained and ready to read them again. The most recent Burnt Sugar Arkestra album ‘Angels Over Oakanda’ was released in September.
I am just very sad.