Grim Reaper Bong

Timo Parfitt

  1991. A light drizzle fell on a poster stuck to a morris column in the central platz of Hannover. That same drizzle had been falling for the two years my family had been in Germany. We spent our time arriving at the store after it closed and filling out the wrong form. I stood before this poster, a child with Music Television in his heart. Prince had taken me in, Madonna knew my pain. It was a shock: not since Martin Luther had a poster caused such a stir. MC Hammer was coming to Hannover. The salacious transmissions that flickered on the television were not mere illusions. I gazed at those glad tidings, I welcomed Hammer as savior.  

Hark! / When the youth climbs upon the altar / The ceremony has begun / When thumb flicks bic / Grim Reaper Bong appears / Novelty water pipe / Officiant to personal autobaptism / Physical and Meta / Ceremonies require wardrobe / Grim Reaper Bong’s robes pool at His feet / MC Hammer’s pants balloon at the thigh / The clock strikes Hammer time / Let us kneel /
All Hail Grim Reaper Bong

In the months before Hammer apparated, I fell under the spell of a hip young priest who taught the weekly “Religion” class at my grundschule. He soft-sold some of us on altar boyhood. In no time, I was up on the altar, decked out in full garb, strutting my stuff at the low-stakes, weekday masses. If God caught any of our sets, I didn’t spot Him. One afternoon, one of the other boys declared with great authority that wearing glasses worsened nearsightedness. After that day, I would squint my way home along the edge of the forest, glasses in my pocket.  

He belched his first known breath / When a boy named Tony found / That if he detuned the strings of his guitar / His accident-mangled ring finger could still bend their strings / It made a low rumbling sound / Fit for a southern Lord / Tony formed a band and called it Black Sabbath / Grim Reaper Bong is widely suspected to have / Orchestrated the accident / To expedite the advent of heavy metal / Hymnals in His honor  

We stored all our garments in massive wooden closets in a room behind the altar. On top of the white alps we wore surplices whose color marked the holiness of the day. The stern old priest warned us to only ever hang them back coat hanger facing in. That way, in case of a fire, someone could rush in and unhook them all at once. During mass I listened for my cues: sit, stand, pour wine. Wednesdays the crowds were sparse, a smattering of widows. There was something about sitting there, though. All these people coming together to witness something, sit in opposition to something.  

What I wouldn’t give to reencounter / The untouchable through communal ecstasy / The untouchable borders oblivion / Grim Reaper Bong ferries souls across one at a time / Life liberty and the pursuit of private oblivion / I entered this plane through a back alley headshop / Where He stood sentry / On the bottom shelf of a display case / Black robed and bone faced / He clutched scythe / His body took to my hand / I mistook the nature of my discovery / Introduced him to my records / An untethering from the known universe / Resinous afternoon pilgrimages in His Name / Passing glimpses of shadow worlds / Sleep comes to the Dopesmoker / His appetite was endless / Offering after offering / Song after song / Curls of smoke suspended in thin winter light / I laid my body down  

1993. MC Hammer sensed the spectacle could always be bigger and Grim Reaper Bong agreed. His next tour, nearly a year long, featured additional backup singers, dancers and sets. Hammer took another rip off Grim Reaper Bong. The 1995 tour budgeted a million dollars for costumes alone. Grim Reaper Bong prodded Hammer to ever greater heights. Tours became so elaborate that even his platinum selling records couldn’t offset their costs. Then, in 1997, citing declining sales, Capitol Records canceled Hammer’s record deal.  

In Berlin’s cavernous night clubs / Hammer time arrived sometime after three / To the horde splayed between the colonnades / Day became night became day / MDMA crystals dropped into a Becks Gold/ Delivered personal not communal ecstasy / Over time / I could only watch the ceremony / Even there among the congregation / Under the barrel vaults / I was alone with His Highness.  

Sitting on my father’s shoulders, I watched Hammer’s feet live in the air. He crab-moonwalked, a beam of light in sunglasses. His trousers caught wind like a sail, they billowed, accentuating the mystery of his movement. A phalanx  of dancers swirled around him, their smiles rendered indistinct by motion and distance. MC Hammer was a gravitational force, one that pulled those present together until we weren’t performer and spectator, or really individuals, at all. He pulled us all so far in that for a moment there, we were one.  

Since 1997 their paths haven’t crossed / Except that one time at a Melvins show / Playing with Big Business / Two drummers / Two bassists / Created a cavern endlessly deep / “Night Goat”  turned me into a tuning fork / I looked up /  Grim Reaper Bong was now on bass / MC Hammer had taken over both kits / All around me / Something revealed itself / Grim Reaper Bong and Hammer stood up in unison / Their instruments played themselves / Bong took Hammer’s hand / I gave myself over to a pink beam of light / It ripped the clothes from my body / Majestic forces coalesced / With eyes closed / I presented my tongue for cosmic transubstantiation / Hammer was right / You couldn’t touch it  


Timo Parfitt is an essayist, critic and medical writer based in Chicago. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Contrary, Punctuate, Thread, Newcity and Deadspin.

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