These two songs are forever linked in my head, cued up to a certain time and place.
“Pusherman,” done by Curtis Mayfield for the “Superfly” soundtrack in 1972, hid its tough message under Mayfield’s falsetto and a solid soul/funk groove. The fantastic percussion subtly added some street cred.
It was a song you could play anywhere in the winter of 1972-73 and get away with it.
Not so “The Pusher” by Steppenwolf. Nothing subtle about their 1968 cover of this Hoyt Axton tune — growling, spitting out “God damn, The pusher/God damn, God damn, the pusher/I said God damn, God, God damn the pusher man.”
Found that out one night on the way to a junior varsity basketball game. Someone on the bus played the Steppenwolf cut a little too loudly, sending “God damns” raining all over the place.
“Hey!” the coach yelled from the front of the bus. “Enough!”
Enough for him, maybe, but not for us.
“Hey!” he yelled a little louder, a little more insistently. “I said enough, all right?”
I wish I could say someone had the presence of mind to follow it up with Curtis Mayfield, but all I remember is an awkward silence … then a few quiet laughs among the lads and another Steppenwolf song, the volume turned down just a tad.
So here, 34 years later, is that sequence, the way it should have been on the school bus to Shawano that night.
“The Pusher,” Steppenwolf, from “Steppenwolf,” 1968. (Also on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack, of course.)
“Pusherman,” Curtis Mayfield, from “Superfly” soundtrack, 1972.