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After months of playing air guitar to ‘Free Bird’, what really got me into guitar was watching a documentary about Jimi Hendrix and picking up the Woodstock soundtrack. Listening to his version of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘Purple Haze.’ My brother played acoustic guitar and, idolising him, I thought, ‘I’m going to get a guitar.’
I was teasing my brother that he was penniless, homeless, jobless. Right now in his life, racism isn’t the central highlighting force: it’s the world of work and economics. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t influenced by racism, but when he wakes up in the morning the thing that’s driving his world is really issues of class, economics and power as they articulate themselves.
My brother was a year younger than I am and he was never in the home with me hardly at all, … My mom had to take him to every school there possibly was to get him some education. He ended up first in Columbus, Ohio, for grade school, then went to a high school for the deaf and Galludet in Washington.
I was broke until I was 40. Really broke. I could get by, but I had nothing. No health insurance, so if something happened I was screwed. I was lucky my parents had money and my brother was willing to support me for a long time. Once I started doing standup, I had an income, and that was amazing to me.
I don’t think I will ever be able to really articulate how bizarre it was to hear my name at the Academy Awards. I’d watched in my pajamas the year before! I felt numb – dazed and confused. I remember feeling light – weightless. More like limbo than cloud nine. At first I was like, This is my statue; nobody gets to touch it. And by midnight I was like, Please, someone, take this statue; it’s too heavy! So I gave it to my brother, and he went off with it.