COLUMN SEVENTY-TWO, JUNE 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz
TRIBUTE TO ICEBERG SLIM:
I LIKE ICE
Josh Alan Friedman is the author of the seminal Tales of Times Square
(Feral House). The drawing above of Iceberg Slim and his children is by Josh
Alan Friedman's brother, Drew. The following article (Copyright © 1995 Josh
Alan Friedman) is republished here with the permission of the author. More
writings by Josh Alan Friedman can be found at http://www.joshalan.com
A mere 20 years ago, the
"canon" of Negro Lit---Black American novelists in print ---seemed
preposterously thin, scattered and barely represented at mainstream bookstores.
A handful of chosen authors received literary knighthood, but no matter how you
sliced it, James Baldwin's lofty intellect landed squarely in the liberal white
establishment. The one-hit wonders, like Ralph Ellison's 1952 Invisible Man,
or Claude Brown's 1964 best seller, Manchild in the Promised Land, were
grounded in the Queen's English---as was the great Richard Wright before them,
whose lean, mean prose hammered home the Negro experience to generations of
Iceberg Slim burst forth
in 1969 as a savagely gifted storyteller, whose paperback novels sold in
unprecedented numbers in the ghettos. Iceberg Slim was the nom-de-pimp of Robert
Beck, whose seven books sold six million copies by the time he died in 1992, at
73. Beck briefly graced Tuskegee Institute's 1930's college rolls at the same
time as did Ralph Ellison. Beck dropped out, having chosen his calling---for
which Tuskegee offered no degree. Years later, had it come to a streetfight of
words, Iceberg's "masterworks of pimp profanity" could have cut down
Ellison's milquetoast prose in a Harlem minute.
He wrote flagrantly in
the pre-Ebonics lingo of Chicago's South Side---which even today repels the
upwardly mobile Black middle class. Iceberg's books contain glossaries of
underworld Negro slang that went out with minstrel shows and burnt cork
Like the painter Grandma
Moses, Iceberg Slim was reborn an artist after age 40. His third, and harshest
prison sentence---10 months in steel solitary at the Cook County House of
Corrections---finally crushed the pimp right out of him. Vilifying past
predatory values, he exorcised his demons into folklore, leaving a seven-book
legacy. Pimp: The Story of My Life, contained bookend warnings against
the life. But Iceberg's masterpiece only bolstered pimp liberation amidst the
blaxploitation movie craze. In Times Square, for instance, a hundred
fur-coated Superflys lorded over a thousand streetwalkers, taking renegade
control of 8th Avenue. For them, Pimp declassified the sorcery
of whore control, became a textbook for wannabe's, and lent ethnic pride to the
Pimp still holds
as perhaps the greatest chronicle ever written on male-female relations. In the
flush of literary success, white feminist-journalist types sought out interviews
like intellectual groupies. Pimp philosophy, Iceberg believed, might be adapted
to mainstream relationships. "My theory is that some quantum of pimp in
every man would perhaps enhance his approach to women," he told the
Washington Post. "Because I think it's a truism that women gravitate
to a man who can at least flash transient evidence of heelism. . . Women are
prone to masochism, anyway. I think if you are able to manufacture a bit of 'heelism'
in your nature and give them a sense of insecurity as to whether some voluptuous
rival might come along and steal you, then you are a treasured jewel."
The thrill, Iceberg told
the L.A. Free Press, came during youth, where he described "a vacuum
that is filled by the joy of learning the intricacies of being a pimp. . .For
really, what is the bedrock of all male aspiration, if it isn't cunt and money?
Now here the pimp, what has he got? All kinds of beautiful girls, who bring him
cunt and money. Kiss and suck and love him. . . .on the surface, of course,
because beneath, they really pray for his ruin."
An underlying trait
common to career pimps, Iceberg found, was a hatred of mother. "I've known
several dozen, in fact, that were dumped into trash bins when they were. . .
only four or five days old."
Pimping was a black man's
hustle---Iceberg claimed he never saw a white player in his league. Whites were
rare, he explained, "Because there's so many other areas of chicanery,
which are much more lucrative, that are open to white fellows." Iceberg
referred to white women, in the historical sense, of course, as "alabaster
Black pimps of yore (denied entry into the corporate death culture they enjoy today) chose to use their superior intellect to enslave women, avoiding the
at the age of 42
world. But controlling 10 women at a time could really fray a fellow's nerves.
One must summon endless schemes and deceptions to stay one step ahead of his
treacherous charges: "A pimp is happy when his whores giggle," Iceberg
wrote. "He knows they are still asleep."
One wrong turn, and Candy
Man Dan could "blow whoreless."
Iceberg told the
Washington Post he retired from the life at age 42 "because I was
old. I did not want to be teased, tormented and brutalized by young
whores." Girls raised on TV, brainwashed by its tease of material wealth,
could no longer fall for the cheap glamour once utilized by Iceberg's generation
of pimps. (In those days, a pimp could tack upon his hotel walls yard rolls of
satin from the fabric store, and dazzle the bitches.)
At the age of 55, with
four young children, he said, "Now my ambition is to be as good a father as
I was a pimp." Anxious to feed those four hungry beaks, as well as cushion
their future, the middle-aged Dad wrote, gave lectures and stayed square. It was
tough adjusting from Big Daddy to just plain daddy. At first, his infant
daughters were like "little whores," he said. He had a morbid fear of
being kissed by them, and would only pick up his kids with their backs toward
him. Through grit and determination, and the aid of his new wife, Iceberg
eventually fit in---comfortably niched in Los Angeles halfway between Ward and
His second novel, Trick
Baby, abounds with the preposterous racial torments that Blacks and whites
alike once rained upon the poor mulatto or octoroon. Any such person, it was
once assumed in the ghetto, must surely be the offspring of a black prostitute
and a white trick, thus the title Trick Baby (talk about your snap
Iceberg Slim's second
novel is the story of his prison mate, the great Chicago con man Johnny O'Brien,
of Irish-African blood---known as "White Folks" to his friends,
"Trick Baby" to his enemies. Looking like the twin of Errol Flynn,
Folks could have entered white society, but spent his early career on Chicago's
South Side, preferring to flimflam his own people. Folks fell insanely in love
with a white blueblooded "Goddess." For the wrenching scene in which
she discovers his darkest secret, read on:
lovely rose-tinted face stripped itself barren of color, beauty and its
fictitious youth. The twisted, stark-white face of a stranger, a popeyed thing
gritted its fangs and hurled itself toward me in the half darkness. It stared
into my eyes evilly and silently.
it chanted in a throaty whisper, "Mr. O'Brien, don't you ever, ever, ever
let any, any, any insult to Bradford Sherry reach my ears. I could kill you. You
miserable coon-loving tramp, white trash. I was insane to let you touch me. I'm
going to abort this little bastard inside me. My advice to you is to see a
psychiatrist and get treatment, and the reason why your stupid mania for coons.
come in my direction again. Find a putrid coon girl and live unhappily ever
after. Now, bum, I'll take you to your car."
ripped the ruby and platinum necklace I had given her from her throat and rammed
it into my shirt pocket.
savagely twisted the key in the ignition. She thundered the engine and shot the
Jaguar into screaming reverse.
head was in a spinning roar of anger and humiliation. I was silent until she
stopped beside my Buick on Lake Street. I got out and slammed the door. I
reached in and took my topcoat off the back seat.
Goddess was grim faced, staring through the windshield. I stooped down and stuck
my head into the sedan.
said slowly, "Mrs. Costain, I really shouldn't hurt an elderly broad, but
I'm going to deliver unto you one of your ineffably wonderful maims of the soul.
You want to bet it won't thrill you?
don't have to go to a headshrinker to find out why I love Niggers. I got the
sanest reason there ever was. Mrs. Costain, a Nigger has been fucking you in
your ineffably white, Anglo-Saxon pussy for months now.
licked the coon like a lollipop. And you've loved every minute of it, haven't
you, Mrs. Costain? Mrs. Costain, you have a bona-fide bastard nigger baby in
your sacrosanct guts.
father is white. My mother is a coon. I can furnish proof if you think I'm a
liar. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri on January fifteenth, Nineteen-hundred
and Twenty-three in a nigger pigsty just a stone's throw from 14th and Vine
out the records if you doubt it. I don't want you to miss the full bang of the
maim. But then, you don't look thrilled at all, Mrs. Costain. What's wrong? Have
you lost your taste for screwy thrills?
look like you just heard that dear old Daddy had croaked. Which reminds me. You
might tell him that nigger Johnny O'Brien spat in his face in the Pump Room.
Goodbye Mrs. - "
didn't finish. I had seen her knuckles glowing whitely on the steering wheel.
Her head had been shaking on her trembling shoulders like a broad with
should have warned me. She stomped on the accelerator. The Jaguar had hurtled
forward and flung me to the street like a rag doll. I bounced and tumbled for
was lucky Lake Street had no traffic at the late hour. I lay with the breath
knocked out of me, and watched the Jaguar careen and weave at suicidal speed
down Lake Street.
White Folks suffers an alcoholic nervous breakdown over the Goddess breakup, but recovers to leave the black ghetto. After his childhood mentor, master con
Iceberg's prose grew more sophisticated as his success increased
man Blue Howard dies,
'Folks leaves his side of the tracks to practice con in the high-finance white
world. Iceberg continues the story of Trick Baby in his novel, Long White Con.
Iceberg's prose did
indeed grow loftier in sophistication as his success increased. One of the
journalistic sketches collected in The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim, shows
him humbled before the Black Panthers:
kicked black women in the ass for bread. How many you got now?" comes a
young Panther. Rather than chop him down with his "still-remembered
masterworks of pimp profanity," Iceberg admits to himself that the Panthers
are "superior to that older generation of cowards, of which I am
part." He leaves with "genuine tears rolling down my joyous old nigger
Holloway House, the
independent Black publishing group in Los Angeles, which has published Iceberg
exclusively in paperback, since 1969, features Iceberg's seven novels as its
flagship titles. You won't likely see Pimp on Oprah's Book Club, which
bestows instant best-seller status. But Holloway House says Pimp has sold
2 1/2-million copies to date, and is currently under option to Island Films,
with Quincy Jones as producer. Trick Baby, an early 70s blaxploitation
flick, is currently being remade by Universal, it's original studio, according
Mitchell Neal brazenly states books by black authors were unavailable during the
60's---not only dismissing black establishment writers of the era, but poets
(Leroi Jones---now known as Amiri Baraka), playwrights (Ed Bullins, Melvin Van
Peebles), show-biz bios (Sammy Davis ' Yes I Can!, Pigmeat Markham's Here
good pimp doesn't get paid for screwing. He gets his pay-off for always having
the right thing to say to a whore right on lightning tap. I knew my four whores
were flapping their ears to get my reaction to this beautiful bitch. A pimp with
an overly fine bitch in his stable has to keep his game tight. Whores constantly
probe for weakness in a pimp.
fitted a scary mask on my face and said, in a low, deadly voice, "Bitch,
are you insane? No bitch in this family calls any shots or muscles me to do
anything. Now take your stinking yellow ass upstairs to a bath and some
shut-eye. Get in the street at noon like I told you."
bitch just stood there. Her eyes slitted in anger. I could sense she was game to
play the string out right there in the street before my whores. If I had been
ten-years dumber I would have leaped out of the 'Hog' and broken her jaw, and
put my foot in her ass. The joint was too fresh in my mind.
knew the bitch was trying to booby-trap me when she spat out her invitation.
"Come on, kick my ass. What the hell do I need a man I only see when he
comes to get his money? I am sick of it all. I don't dig stables and never will.
I know I'm the new bitch who has to prove herself. Well Goddamnit, I am sick of
this shit. I'm cutting out."
stopped for air and lit a cigarette. I was going to blast her ass off when she
finished. I just sat there staring at her.
she went on, "I have turned more tricks in the three months I have been
with you than in the whole two years with Paul. My pussy stays sore and swollen.
Do I get my ass kicked before I split? If so, kick it now because I'm going back
to Providence on the next thing smoking."
She was young, fast with trick appeal galore. She was a pimp's dream and she knew it. She had tested me with her beef. She was laying back for a sucker response.
disappointed her with my cold overlay. I could see her wilt as I said in an icy
voice. "Listen square-ass bitch, I have never had a whore I couldn't do
without. I celebrate, Bitch, when a whore leaves me. It gives some worthy bitch
a chance to take her place and be a star. You scurvy Bitch, if I shit in your
face, you gotta love it and open your mouth wide."
rollers cruised by in a squad car. I flashed a sucker smile on my face. I cooled
it until they passed. Kim was rooted there wincing under the blizzard.I
went on ruthlessly, "Bitch, you are nothing but a funky zero. Before me you
had one chili chump with no rep. Nobody except his mother ever heard of the
bastard. Yes, Bitch, I'll be back this morning to put your phony ass on the
rocketed away from the curb. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Kim walk slowly into
the hotel. Her shoulders were slumped. Until I dropped the last whore off you
could have heard a mosquito crapping on the moon. I had tested out for them,
went back for Kim. She was packed and silent. On the way to the station, I
riffled the pages in that pimp's book in my head. I searched for an angle to
hold her without kissing her ass.
couldn't find a line in it for an out like that. As it turned out the bitch was
testing and bluffing right down the line.
had pulled into the station parking lot when the bitch fell to pieces. Her eyes
were misty when she yelped, "Daddy, are you really going to let me split?
Daddy, I love you."
started the prat action to cinch her when I said, "Bitch, I don't want a
whore with rabbit in her. Iwant a bitch who wants me for life. You have got to
go. After that bullshit earlier this morning, you are not that bitch."That
prat butchered her. She collapsed into my lap crying and begging to stay. I had
a theory about splitting whores. They seldom split without a bankroll.
I cracked on her, "Give me that scratch you held out and maybe I'll give
you another chance."
enough she reached into her bosom. She drew out close to five bills and handed
it to me. No pimp with a brain in his head cuts loose a young beautiful whore
with lots of mileage left in her. I let her come back.
After Iceberg Slim became
the American ghetto's best-selling author, he released a masterful performance
album of poetry called Reflections in the early 70s. The timbre and meter
of his voice is so hypnotic, it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how
We can only speculate that Iceberg's literary education in prison included the discovery of poet Robert W. Service, whose meter he emulates. Service wrote doggerel epics at the turn of the century, like The Cremation of Sam McGee. As Service wrote of what he knew---the Klondike and the Gold Rush---so did Iceberg write what he knew, using the form made popular by Service. ##
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