The 4th Pip: Whiplash* — Part VI
A fast whip and a slo-ho-ho lash. Red’s back on stage at the Apollo. (7 minutes)
The Volume I Dedication
David and Carolyn sat in the front row of The Apollo Theater in Harlem absolutely gobsmacked. Red, their fellow Whip* had been called up to the world-famous stage.
Red now stood behind one of three microphone stands. Wilfred Frank, the self-proclaimed 4th Pip was instructing him. “You pull the “whoo-hoo” train horn after I sing ‘leavin’ on a midnight train.’ Tug, tug, whoo-hoo. Can you do that for me, Red?”
He could. Pulling the Midnight Train to Georgia train horn was the simplest move in his entire Volume I of My Diary of Pips Moves.
It was Move #1.
The “B” above the “G#”
Red leaned into his microphone.
"Would you prefer that I take the Edward Patten woo-hoo or Bubba Knight’s? I'd be delighted to take the tenor part if you are unable to reach the G#."
The kid was entirely too calm for an audience member up on a stage. Fear flashed in Frank’s eyes, and he overcompensated with a forced laugh, turning his back on the boy to face his audience.
“Let’s do it, Red,” said Frank. “Hit it, Chainsmokers…”
There was an unfortunate lag for Frank asThe Chainsmokers were caught out. It wasn’t clear what possible reason the three of them could have been so colossally distracted, but the trio raced to put down their beers and cigarettes, and fired up the first few hasty bars of Midnight Train to Georgia.
Frank went into slow standing groove #1, and, to the delight of everyone except Wilfred Frank, Red also dropped into slow standing groove #1 . They moved in perfect unison.
"Why don’t you go with Bubba. I’ll take the high G#," Frank said.
Slide left basic, right-hand ice cream scoop and silent clap #2, slide right basic, left-hand ice cream scoop…
“Real slow now. Stay with me, son. Stay with me,” said Frank.
Red’s first body blow to Frank was a surprise harmony, hitting the B above Frank’s G# during the “whoo-hoo” precisely on the “3 and.”
Frank was staggered, but not floored. In a blinding riposte, Frank went into knee crouch angled airplane twirl right.
Red was not caught out. It was like he knew.
But Frank wasn’t caught out on Rip’s slide left #2, “curtsy skirt lifter”….
It was like he knew.
The two of them had spent some time in front of the same footage watching The Tonight Show, Tuesday, June 4th, 1978.
Backwards Tiptoe Hustle & Soundless Clap #7
It became a dance off between adversaries, each with a begrudging 14th round respect for their opponent.
Two step slide forward, hard finger point, stand tall, and "whoo-hoo” on the 3 and.
Clean as two lean, mean machines.
Shuffle groove with soundless clap #7 , backwards tiptoe hustle…
So, so sweet.
Thrilled in spite of themselves, they still tried not to get seduced by the synchrony. Neither wanted to get dropped to the mat from a loss of focus.
Air quotes on "superstar,” finger wag on "didn't get far…"
Back and forth the two went, toe-to-toe.
They peppered each other with critiques, even if the choreography required directing their insults at the back of each other’s heads.
Frank: “Look at that. You ain’t a Pip. You’re a Pup.”
Red: "You stabbin’ when you should be pokin’."
Frank: "You slide any further back, you gonna be in Atlanta."
Unison backwards mini-jog, surfboard arms right descent, and pump up, surfboard arms left descent…
Damn. The crowd was roaring with amazement and ripe language.
Red: "Too tight ain't right. Don't force it now. Don't force it."
Frank: "It's ‘fah’ not far. Pop it, Red. Pop it."
Red: “I have one question for you.”
Frank (singing for the first time): “What is the one question you have for me?”
Red threw his arm in the air, froze his body in place like the final shot of a French film, took a long pause, then snapped his fingers loud enough to blow the hall doors off their hinges.
Red: “Why you sell your car, if you was moving back to rural Georgia? You plannin’ on hitchhikin’ to the farm?”
It would have been more typical of Red’s formal spoken language to use the subjunctive mood “if you were,” not to mention a handful of other suspect subject-verb agreement choices, but the audience was way beyond all of that now.
But it wasn’t the subjunctive that threw Frank. The fact was, Red had put Frank on the ropes with the hitchhiking body blow. Frank tried to shrug it off with a 360° spin but finished up, catastrophically, around the 347° mark.
He should have never sold the damn car. It was the middle of the night at the station when he got to Georgia, and he had no damn car. He was still kicking himself.
Frank went back into knee-pop #1, bell bottom shake, but after the 347° his heart wasn’t in it. The only other time in his life he had spun a 347° was the afternoon of his midnight train to Georgia.
It was like everything had almost come full circle.
A Vast Arcing Parabola
As for Red, he had suffered through a lot of school assemblies for this triumphant moment.
He was about to cement his career as the world’s One True 4th Pip with his trademark mic kick-down #8, toe bounce leverage pop, mic snap back, snap mic pass left, snap mic pass right, eyes stage right #2b…
But at the penultimate moment of eyes stage right #2b leading to his crowning Elvis freeze, he caught sight of the Apollo’s legendary Sandman.
The Sandman was standing in the wings staring directly at him. His chin rested on his hands folded over the top of his broom. Red crashed into his microphone stand and fell to the mat.
His microphone came undone from its toppled stand with a horrific clunk and rolled away in slow motion in a vast arcing parabola.
A Microphone Under the Bed
It was the same Elvis freeze that crashed him into the bedside end table and destroyed his Gladys Knight and the Pips Christmas Album when he was ten.
Once he checked the kid was alright, Frank made a point of triumphing over Red like Muhammed Ali, his microphone clutched ferociously in his right hand, but then felt silly about it and didn’t know what to do with his body. Below him, Red crawled painfully across the floor — in slightly slower motion than the rolling microphone.
The microphone and its cable arced further from the tips of his fingers every time he closed in. In the front row, David was thinking it was like a Vietnam war movie, and Red was going to get to that ammunition if it killed him.
For her part, Carolyn was thinking it was like when she stretched for something out of reach beneath her bed.
Red’s agonizing crawl smashed records for the longest silence in the history of the Apollo Theater. And when every last right-hand in the audience had covered its mouth in shock, Red’s fingers finally touched the microphone. He tippy-tippy-tipped the mic back towards himself. You could hear the mesh of the microphone rotating against the stage floor.
Then, maintaining the same exquisite slow motion tension, Red turned his head directly to the audience.
A Deep Announcer’s Voice
And he grinned.
A big broad grin.
And, in a deep announcer voice and the dramatic pauses he learned from Carolyn…
“Ladies and Gentlemen…”
The tension became so unbearable that old women began to pass out…
“I present to you…”
Oh my god…
The Boy Could Move
David and Carolyn shot up, thrilled to be included finally and bounded out of their front row seats. Carolyn — who always had a feel for a moment — fired up a locomotive, flat-palm-chug-step towards the stage stairs. David fell in at her heels.
Every two measures Carolyn turned her head sideways to the audience and said, “A fast whip,” and two beats later, David added with more mischief than he was entitled to as a 20-year-old virgin, “and a slo-ho-ho lash.”
The Sandman’s chin fell off his broom, and the old tap dancer nearly lost his own balance.
And in spite of a life spent trying to prove that he was the world’s One True 4th Pip, Frank extended a hand to help Red from the floor. There might actually be two of them.
Cause, brother, the boy could move.
Boy, could the brother move.
Feel something. Twice a week.