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Homegoings #1: Bobby Hackney Jr. (Transcript)

A thin grey line.

A conversation with Bobby Hackney Jr. about Black grief, resilience and music.

This is the first installment of Homegoings, a special series from Brave Little State that features conversations with musicians of color who live in Vermont. Follow the series here as we release new episodes weekly through June 15.

Note: These transcripts are provided for accessibility and reference. If you are able, we strongly recommend listening to this episode here. Please check the audio before quoting in print, as the transcript may contain minor errors.

The transcript

From Vermont Public Radio, I’m Myra Flynn, and today is the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.

A sad reality is that his murder was not exceptional, and also, that the leading cause of many Black American deaths, is homicide.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how people die. Because how people die, in a community, shapes how people grieve.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] Like, it's, it's very gut-wrenching. It's a very, very gut, gut-wrenching, like physically and emotionally to like, you know, hear stories like this and experience this

That’s Bobby Hackney Jr. A musician who lives in Burlington.

Bobby and I spent some time talking about grief. Specifically, Black grief, as Bobby, and his brothers who make up his band-- are all Black men.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] Hopefully, we'll get to a place where this won't have to happen, that we can celebrate people when they're here. And when they're alive. And we don't have to, like, you know, after someone dies in such a brutal way, celebrate, you know, go back and celebrate who they were, much rather celebrate people as, as when they're here and knowing that they'll still be here in their lives wouldn't get robbed from them, you know, in such a brutal way, just because of you know who they are because they're Black or Brown a POC or whatever.

Oddly, the shape of Black grief is not always a sad one. Sometimes, in our culture, as I also identify as Black, grief can simultaneously hold mourning and sadness, alongside full displays of joy, healing, dancing, good food, and more often than not, at its center is music.

These layered displays of Black grief, have a name: Homegoings— an often elaborate African-American funeral tradition marking the going-home of the dead.

I remember attending my grandmother’s and I think if anyone dropped in to witness, it might not have looked like we were grieving at all.

It’s almost a celebration of the resilience that walks alongside Black grief.

So in that spirit, we are presenting a special series with musicians of color who live in Vermont. In each episode, we’ll talk with an artist about some of this stuff, and we’ll hear their music.

Welcome to Homegoings.

Bobby Hackney Jr. is one-third of the band Rough Francis.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] Rough Francis is a brother band. So it's me, my brother, Urian and my other brother Julian.

Black musicians are often associated with the sound of founding musical genres like RnB, hip-hop, and reggae. However the Hackney brothers all but decimate that stereotype.

Rough Francis is pure punk-rock.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] ...I got into punk rock, through my skater friends, and I started going to 242. And that kind of changed my whole world.

242 Main, was an all-ages punk venue in Burlington.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] And I became, you know, part of the Burlington Vermont punk scene, instead of playing in punk bands and hardcore bands that when I was a teenager,

And for Bobby? Music is quite literally in his blood. Bobby’s father and uncles were also in a super successful band in the ’70s. A fun fact he never even knew about until he was an adult.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] And then, you know, as I got a little older, and started to have children of my own, me and my brothers discovered that our father and uncles, we're in this other band that started in Detroit, in the 70s, called Death. And that was just like, a big family surprise that you know, just like hit us out of nowhere.

I was floored by this, nearly inherited coincidence. Can you imagine learning, later in life, that your dad and uncles were also players in a super-niche-all-Black-punk-rock brother-band?

Mind, blown.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] And it was like this big, actually, a secret our dad didn't really tell us anything about it. Until we found out ourselves and then we confronted them, and he told us the whole story, and then it kind of unfolded into this thing.

This thing became kind of a big deal. Bobby and his brothers continued to play locally but covering the music of Death, in tribute to their father and uncles.

Before they knew it, they had a pretty sweet buzz brewing in Vermont and beyond. Media outlets like the New York Times began to reach out and even released a story on the family band who spun their secret into stardom.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] Uh that was pretty much the start of Rough Francis was, you know, us being a tribute band to our father and uncles band, and then we use that as a springboard to, you know, do our own thing. And here we are now. And that was a long story. It's always a long story.

You know, something I’ve always loved about the genre, punk-rock, is that it is both a sound and an adjective.

Like: That is so punk-rock!

To me, the phrase punk-rock, it’s synonymous with something radical.

To be radical in joy, rage, and sadness—is pretty punk-rock.

And it brings up some other thoughts about this specific Black grief I talked about earlier.

When so much Black art is born from loss and pain, does grief have a sound? And if so, do we have to consider that some of our favorite Black music is actually the sound of musicians grieving—radically?

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] For some reason, you know, like, ever since I was little, I was always drawn to more aggressive music. Like there was something about the energy. And just like the directness of punk rock music that spoke to me. And I remember... Actually, this was like a very pivotal moment, when I was in eighth grade, I remember seeing the Rodney King beating. And that really had a huge impact on like, you know, my perspective on American racism that was like the first time I got to see firsthand like, what it looks like, like what systemic racismlike that's the product of it right there. And like, you know, the fact that you know, all those police officers were acquitted and nothing happened. That really had an impact on you know, me, and like my perspectives.

Bobby and I talked about being Black musicians for well over an hour. In Vermont, it’s a rare opportunity to have that safe space and time together. And I asked him how his grief is taking shape these days, given this morbid anniversary. And in keeping the traditions of Homegoings top of mind, how he might choose to send George Floyd home?

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] I want to send him home, just saying that we're always thinking about him and thinking about the other George Floyd's out there.

Daunte Wright, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Philando Castile...the list, goes, on.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] It’s a constant thing. And we just have to keep it in the front of our minds all the time. And, you know, through our, through our actions and the people that we, we, we surround ourselves with, and just have that consciousness there all the time.

More from Brave Little State: How To Support Vermonters Of Color: 'Listen To Us'

“Tito’s Revenge” is off the 2019 Rough Francis album Urgent Care, and we’re back with Bobby Hackney Jr., who sings lead vocals.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] Well, with this song, “Tito's Revenge” it’s pretty much just like, thinking back on how long, you know, we've just been held down, held, held down and held back for so long, that I'm talking about, like, you know, mainly, you know, Black Americans. And at some point, you know, once you when you’re held down held back so long, there's the there's a breaking point, and those breaking points, you know, just kind of, they lead to change. And, you know, all the all the people that came before us, they they had to pioneer, they had to be the pioneers, it always they had to be the first ones to, to do this or do that. It's still happening today where, you know, we to be heard, we have to, we have to fight extra hard and extra long to just get our —just to come to the table sometimes.

That fight Bobby talks about here? Is nearly palpable in “Tito’s Revenge.” It shows up in the cacophony of electric guitars, hard-hitting drums, and what’s called a growl in this genre, (better known as scream-singing).

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] So the song is just about recognizing that struggle but also saying that we will get there. You know, it may take us extra-long and might you know, it when you know, you're trying to be heard, trying to just do the things that everybody else can do. We will get there. And sometimes it most of the time it's not it's not too pretty, but it does happen. It's it's a very joyous moment. And you know, we would move on to the next thing, but I don't know, it's just about like that constant struggle that we face. You know?

You may have noticed that Bobby says “You know?” often. And sadly, I do know. I’ll admit, many tears were shed while creating this episode. And as our series continues, I’ll expect many more will come.

And Bobby agrees that this constant cycle of loss and grieving and strength and upholding—can be pretty exhausting.

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] It is. Yeah. very exhausting.

But there is a healing in unpacking our grief together.

As it turns out, community is pretty punk-rock.

Now, let’s listen to “Tito’s Revenge.”

[Bobby Hackney Jr.] Turn it up really loud. If you're wearing headphones don't turn up too loud. But uh, if you're not wearing headphones straight up really loud. That’s my only recommendation.

Credits

Thanks for listening to Homegoings, a special series from Brave Little State. We’ll be releasing a new installment every week for the next month, so keep an eye on your feeds.

To see a photo of Bobby Hackney Jr. and the rest of Rough Francis, and check out the lyrics to "Tito’s Revenge," head here.

I produced this episode and composed the Homegoings theme music. Mix and sound design by Josh Crane and...me! Our digital producer is Elodie Reed and the executive producer of Brave Little State is Angela Evancie.

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio. As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

We’ll be back soon. Until then, remember: Be brave.

the word homegoings written in white lettering, with a yellow crown over the "m," surrounded by cutouts of black and white lilies and carnations
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Homegoings is a special series from Brave Little State that features conversations with musicians of color who live in Vermont — about Black grief, resilience and music.

Follow the series here as we release new episodes weekly through June 15.

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