Questlove tells of musical journey

July 8, 2013

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson Musician Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson of The Roots attends Spike TV's "Guys Choice 2013" at Sony Pictures Studios on June 8, 2013 in Culver City, California.LOS ANGELES ó Ahmir Thompson is best known as Questlove, but beyond that itís hard to describe the guy simply. Heís the drummer in the long-running hip-hop group the Roots, who also serve as the house band on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Heís a producer whoís overseen records by Al Green and DíAngelo; he DJs regularly at parties in New York and elsewhere; he helped bring "Fela!" to Broadway.

And now heís written a book, "Moí Meta Blues" (Grand Central Publishing: 282 pp., $26) with the novelist and New Yorker editor Ben Greenman. In it Questlove recounts his musical journey ó starting with the years he put in as a kid with his fatherís touring doo-wop outfit ó but digresses regularly with deep (and deeply funny) analyses of the artists and records that shaped him.

"What do you do when just listening to the music you love isnít enough?" he asks. You think as hard about it as Questlove does here.

Q. Virtually every review of your book mentions what weíll call the Prince Incident: you, Eddie Murphy and the Purple One roller-skating in an empty rink outside Philadelphia.

A. You could say the book had its beginnings in a post started by (the rapper) Rhymefest and I on my website, This was something you donít see every day between two people in hip-hop: We were trying to see who had the biggest "Curb Your Enthusiasm" story ó something other than the normal celebrity encounter. And by the time it got up to 450 posts (about our unlikely meetings with famous people), someone took all my responses and made a separate site of those. I wasnít writing with the intention that blogs and periodicals and book companies would come around. But eventually thatís what happened.

Q. You had demonstrated that you can write ó and that youíve got stories to write about. And out of that came this book that feels like both a memoir and a collection of riffs on pop culture.

Q. I didnít know whose shoes to fit in (as an author). I guess itís assumed that I (would) take the position of an artist, but half the time I feel more like a critic. And not to mention that everything Iíve ever done is the No. 2 position: I was DíAngeloís co-pilot for "Voodoo." I created the Roots with (the rapper) Tariq (Trotter, also known as Black Thought). Iím the Paul Shaffer to Fallonís (David) Letterman. When youíre the second banana it gets harder, because how do you tell your story in first person, but without the revisionist thing of omitting someone elseís voice?

Q. In fact, you didnít omit him ó "Moí Meta Blues" features lengthy asides from your manager, Rich Nichols.

A. Once I got to the fourth chapter, I was like, "I need Rich." Heís always the angel-devil voice on my shoulders.

Q. Itís a book as much about other peopleís music ó and other peopleís lives ó as about your own. Youíll talk about your complex relationship with your dad, then swerve into a long thing on Diana Ross.

A. This couldíve been the worldís darkest story or it couldíve been the worldís cheeriest story. And if anything I think the book shows how much music was a refuge for me.

Q. Refuge or shield?

A. Right. I should send an apology note to all the engineers Iíve abused doing marathon recording sessions. The reason I had 19 hours to work on a freaking drum fill was that regular life was just too painful to deal with. But I had music, you know? This is my dream, but thereís a price to pay for it. Iím the only member of the Roots without wife or children, because you canít be this devoted to music and have a regular domestic life.

This book is maybe me coming to terms with the fact that within the next three years Iím going to have to say goodbye to some aspect of this obsession. I canít keep watching "Soul Train" six hours a day.



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