A stage name, an ephemeral idea, a dream of self expression and accomplishment, Jimmy Universal first became a part of myself as a young man watering and seeding bagels with furious fancies dancing in my brain.
I had become enamored with the wordplay of hip hop, finding in it a discrete passion and applied intellect of stark dichotomy to the simplistic meanderings offered by the traditional genres I had been raised on.
In my youth, I saw nothing but the trite offerings of its public face, and in turn I paid it no mind. Where I would later come to notice depth of applied ideas, my young mind failed to notice nuance behind veneers of puerility. As I entered the world at a large, seeking independence and blossoming socially, I was asked by those I respected and looked to, to try and take it seriously, to look deeper.
And as I explored the mountains of offerings before me, I did begin to see. The visceral expository and delivery often promised but seldom conveyed in poetry. The complexity of thought expressed more tangibly than the careful pacing of traditional music allows.
There was so much to admire, so much to cling to, so much to digest, and yet, something was lacking. A depth of ideas was missing by my own standards, even as shallow waters were beyond my skills. But even if I might never achieve the potential I felt, the mere act of trying felt so vigorous. Even if I might play no part but the fool, the spirit of self belief ringing in the voices of the beggared bards healed a soul fractured with doubt and isolation.
So as a fiery young mind, hungry for creative expression, bursting with desire to prove and apply my intellect, the gears of war began to turn. The bagel baker sang songs under his breath, and rambled and rhymed. He trained a mind keen at reaction to struggle at self expression, and he sought to learn through imitation of his new pantheon of inspirations.
And through the days of hard and lonely labors, he dreamed to be seen, not as the meager man he was, but as the dream constantly summoned. When the art was ready, it would be performed.
And on that day, when they were awed, they would ask, “Who is he?” His simple name wouldn’t do.
So he dreamed of names, as he dreamed of songs. So many felt right, but only one rang true.
It seemed so strange. Too long. Too pretentious. Ever slightly off.
But as he spoke it under his breath, he felt so in touch with an awareness that spread and captured the gravity and size and depth and flux of an inner spirit he yearned to understand as much as it drove him unquestioningly.
Always he was searching, but nothing else quite won. So he held it close, and time passed and he practiced.
Till one day, among musician friends, among his idols and his mentors, a song was recorded in jest.
Timidly, he sat to the side, as he always tended. But their encouragement to participate found that delicate balance between soft support and playful pushiness. He labored at his paper as all the others gave their jolly mockeries and laughed in the delight of casual fun and clever nuance. And when it came to be his turn, he stood as tall as a timid man can, never expecting to be revered, only hoping to be accepted.
He returned from the microphone to a hero’s parade, to praise, excitement, to cheers and drinks. The star of the show they told him. The hidden gem. Guests of mild interest grew quirk eyed for the finale and heaped him with praise. It was too good to be true, but god it felt good.
The word genius was thrown around, not an uncommon scenario among this circle of peers. In a ring of alcoholic musicians, a studious academic often found himself charmingly victimized by exaggerated expectations. But this night was different. He had not only impressed upon them, he had shocked himself with even meager accomplishments. And he wondered, am I truly as great as I might have dreamed? Can I truly fill that ephemeral void in the content of hip hop? Can I make hip hop that calls to me and have it seen for something great?
The time had come to say the name, but even in the excitement and praise, it didn’t feel safe. It wasn’t in the spirit of the game.
The song was a sequel, where he had watched but hidden for Act I. There was time to prepare something more appropriate in between, and he played that card instead. On the first go, each player had chosen a pseudonym that included a place: Tommy Bahama; Joey Panama… he chose an exotic location notorious for its counterfits, action, and science fiction motifs: Jimmy Hong Kong.
They loved it. I loved it. It was good. Fun to say. Full of imagery. Fitting. It would do nicely.
But as the work days returned, and he tried to play with my new identity, it never quite had the same pizazz. The syllables were wrong. The symbolism was wrong. It was fun, but it was us. It wasn’t me.
Soon it would be time to prove it was not a fluke. The first solo song. The pieces were coming together. Joey had a sly beat on the machine when he got home. Choice lyrics had been piling up in his mind. And as they talked and schemed about it coming together, the Hong Kong moniker kept coming up, and finally he found the courage to say.
Actually, I’ve been thinking about something else.
And the eyes were on me. Not with enthralls and cheers as before, but with suspicion, for now they not tell whether I was threatening to sabotage the game with something lame or offer a stroke of genius.
“Well, let’s hear it, Jim…” Joey, always the pusher.
It came out too timid. It all sounded wrong to wrong. I knew there was something wrong about it. I always knew. Damn-it. I always knew. But at least the band-aid was off.
Except their stares were slightly frozen, in a way that twisted my insides, even more as their eyebrows began to shift with a cringe of suspicion and doubt.
But even as they swallowed a sour pill and all of the ways it was wrong, their expressions began to contort in an opening awareness. And in those plodding micro ticks of the clock stern stares turned to grins and began to grow with excitement.
And they repeated it in turn.
With widening smiles.
Joining each other.
At me, firmly.
Jimmy Fucking Universal
With fisted beers in cheer.
Jimmy God Damn Universal
In serious, softly.
You did good, Jim. They told me.
It was good.
Fuck yeah Fucking good.
And it was perfect. Not just the name, the moment. Subtler than I could have ever imagined. Softer, more forceful, more personal than any scenario I dreamed, all at the same time. Every bit as validating as I needed and hoped for.
I was Jimmy Universal.
I was potential.
I was power.
I was clever.
I was coy.
I was everything I almost was.
Every dream that had carried me away.
I was a journey about to begin.