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Six degrees

Mark Peters

 

Grandmaster Flash, one of the founding fathers of hip hop, will be delivering his message to Hong Kong partygoers as he spins the wheels of steel at nightclub Nova on Friday. The DJ, from the Bronx, New York, has always been fascinated by electronics and spent his childhood taking apart and "repairing" home appliances. He became a technical pioneer by adapting a microphone switch that allowed him to mix music from two turntables without losing the beat. In 1981, Grandmaster Flash was left in no two minds about whether to stay or go when he was forced offstage by a barrage of spit and drinks while supporting British punk rockers The Clash …

Upon the band's arrival in Japan in 1982 (on a tour that saw them play in Hong Kong), drummer Topper Headon was upset to find there were no drugs available. To make up for it, he proceeded to inhale from a large canister of oxygen throughout the gig, but was tackled to the floor by a roadie after smoking too close to it. The song Ghetto Defendant, from the group's multiple-platinum-selling album Combat Rock, features spoken words by American poet Allen Ginsberg …

A leading figure of the 1950s Beat generation, Ginsberg famously denounced American capitalism in his poem Howl, the publication of which was challenged for violating obscenity laws. It contained graphic details of both hetero- and homosexual acts but a judge, declaring it to be of "redeeming social importance", ruled against banning it. After a chance encounter in which they tried to catch the same New York taxi, Ginsberg began a lifelong friendship with Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche …

A pre-eminent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, the "tulku" introduced the esoteric practice of Vajrayana to the West but was seen as embodying "crazy wisdom" by more orthodox Buddhist scholars. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, drank, smoked and slept with women from the age of 13, eventually passing away from liver disease, aged 48. Students of the maverick, who once hired William Burroughs to teach literature at Naropa University, which he founded, included archduke of glam David Bowie and Canadian musician Joni Mitchell …

The folk icon only became interested in singing following weeks of being bedridden in hospital after contracting polio as a child. After hearing she would not be able to go home for Christmas and might have to live the remainder of her life inside an iron lung, Mitchell began singing Christmas carols as loudly and as often as she could. When she later acquired a guitar she devised many alternative tunings so she could play with her weakened left hand. An all-star tribute concert was held for the Grammy Award winner in 2001 and featured as guest presenter, actor Laurence Fishburne …

Aged 14, Fishburne, best known for playing Morpheus in the Matrix trilogy, spent two years in the jungles of the Philippines filming Francis Ford Coppola's war epic Apocalypse Now. In 1983 Fishburne starred in an unofficial music video for the anti-drug song White Lines, directed by then New York University student Spike Lee. The song, by Grandmaster Melle Mel, leader of the Furious Five, was credited to Grandmaster and Melle Mel - in order, it is claimed, to fool people into presuming the involvement of his estranged Furious Five cohort, Grandmaster Flash.

 

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