“If this is hell then I’m lucky.” In the Eye of the Storm, Listening to DJ SCREW

Jasmine Amussen

Debuted in March 2020 to staggering crowds, “Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City through Mutated Lenses” – a multi-disciplinary exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, featuring archival materials and contemporary artistic responses to the life, work, and impact of the late, great DJ SCREW – was extended until April 25, 2021, following a year of pandemic-related closures. The following micro-memoir, written by Jasmine Amussen and originally featured in 032c Issue #38, follows a series of interviews with exhibition organizers, advisors, and participating artists, all expanding on the DJ SCREW story.

It’s an unsettling feeling to know the happiest time of your life has passed by. This knowledge comes on slow, and then suddenly you know for certain you will never be that happy, ever again. It is arithmetic certainty that one day we will all eat our last bowl of ice cream, and we will never taste something sweet again.

The taste, for me, my last moment of true happiness, is laying in my room with my sisters. We’re all as naked as one could be, because this was New Orleans and we didn’t have air-conditioning. I’m 16, and I didn’t know, I didn’t know that this would be the last time I would be happy. My sisters and I are passing around a Gatorade bottle, red flavored, half full of vodka. The taste is disgusting, but the boys who think we are triplets down on the other side of the parish convince us that the Gatorade will keep us from becoming hungover. This is a lie. It’s May 2005, and my sister is recording songs from the radio on to tapes. It’s been awhile since we’ve gone down to Canal Street to buy CDs, and she’s obsessed with Screw music. She’s 15, and a bit faster than I am. She swears one day she’s going to marry Lil Wayne. This is the last time my sisters and I will be together, and the last time I will be happy. The vodka is disgusting, the heat is oppressive, and Screw, Screw adds to the malaise and end times feeling. We listen to June 27th, 1996, over and over and over. It’s the only thing that feels real. Our underwear matches, the soft cotton ones that come in a six pack, because my mother still purchased our clothes. We’re living in a house built by my enslaved ancestors, where my father was born and will die. It was falling apart before the storm, never mind what it looks like now. It’s a weird nowhere time, and it’s so hot. We spend most of our time in our underwear, reading, painting our nails, drinking alcohol, listening to screw. I like June 27th the best because it takes up one tape side perfectly. So I didn’t have to think, or pay attention.

Screw, I think, could not come from anywhere but from where it is hot. And this is not the hot of a European heat wave; this is 45°C, and it is this every day. I got stranded somewhere in northwest Texas, and pulled over to the side of the road. My sister, Camellia Rose, screamed. The heat had started a storm: swirling lightning strikes and bright pink and green sky. The heat was so intense I hadn’t even noticed that we were surrounded by flames. We got back in the car and drove faster. It was surely a sign that if we didn’t make it to New Orleans soon, Texas would kill us. We did not return to Texas together, ever after that.

I stopped listening to Screw after that summer. Katrina took it from me, as it took all of my happiness. It took everything, really, from me. It feels so much like a feverish, happy, glowing moment, it seems totally unreal.

I listened to Screw again, for the first time in a very long time. I don’t run my air-conditioning during the day anymore. Because it spreads Covid, because it’s bad for the environment, because I just want to try and be happy again.

If this is hell, then I’m lucky.

"Slowed and Throwed: Records of the City through Mutated Lenses," installation view. Photo: Emily Peacock; courtesy of the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston (CAMH)


TextJasmine Amussen

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