A former graffiti artist from Hyde Park, Billy Wimsatt is now a national community organizer. His first book,”Bomb the Suburbs: Graffiti, Race, Freight-Hopping and the Search for Hip-Hop’s Moral Center,” is perhaps the definitive work of hip-hop literature, structured like a sprawling mix-tape, filled with attitude, contradictions, goofball humor and acute self-awareness. More than fifteen years later, he follows it up with an equally playful but far more sober, evenhanded memoir-cum-manifesto, which lightheartedly retracts some of his youthful venom and takes a hard and well-informed but hopeful look at the sociopolitical terrain of the Obama era.
The book is an incredibly useful how-to for political activists, profiling such outliers as Van Jones and acknowledging hard truths about money and mental health. His examination of the cultural stagnation of the seventies, eighties and nineties is remarkably detailed, calling out segregationist radio guru Lee Abrams along with Reagan, Wall Street and other obvious cultural villains. He’s been called “the spiritual heir to Norman Mailer,” and, like Mailer, his favorite subject is himself, and he’s at his most interesting when he makes his politics personal. His writing really hops to life when he uses his own experiences as teaching tools, whether a personal history of electioneering or a horror story about having his youthful oversharing used against him in the New York Times. He earns his self-mythology.
Throughout the proceedings (consisting of self-contained essays, flowcharts, top-ten gags and other miscellania but ultimately coalescing far more effectively than “Bomb the Suburbs” did), WUW remains defiantly unfashionable in his optimism, eschewing the cynicism of “South Park” Republicans and “Daily Show” Democrats and defending today’s plugged-in “millennials” as “the most progressive generation in history.” At a time when the far left is demonizing him as much as the far right, our man still thinks of our 44th president as “a community organizer from the South Side of Chicago” and his success a historic inspiration. It’s not just Obama haters who will find much to argue with Wimsatt about—almost everyone will. And the ultimate point here is that big fights are still worth picking. (Emerson Dameron)
“Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super-Movement”
By William Upski Wimsatt
Akashic Books, $14.95, 216 pages