Is Like Little Richard Is

In a 1991 Taco Bell commercial, Little Richard tells you who he is. That he is. He reminds you because he has to. You don’t remember. You never do. So he tells you. Even though he tells you to your face, you try to read between the lines, the signs and the neuron sequence that is a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom. 

This is (partly) why you don’t remember.

So, in the first three whoop-scream-shouted words of the commercial, Little Richard tells you again.

He tells you he went doorstep to doorstep, singing for dimes, while growing up in Macon, Georgia. 

He tells you what his father thought of him. 

He tells you about his song “Tutti Frutti” and does his Pat Boone impression for you. 

He tells you he has a master’s degree in architecture from the College of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. 

He tells you he earned his doctorate at Billy Wright State University.

He tells you he’s designed things and built things, great things. The kind people covet. The kind they absorb, the kind they abscond with. 

Little Richard tells you he is the architect of rock ‘n’ roll. The king of it. He tells you this because he is. 

He tells you he’s pretty. Because he is.

In the commercial, Little Richard wears his Sunday best: a coral pink jacket bathed in the shout of a quasar, and a lime green viscose shirt that says, to you, When you’re rockin’ and a rollin’, can’t hear your mamma call. He plays a coral pink baby grand in the back seat of a baby blue Cadillac driven by a young woman wearing a chauffer’s cap and an Ultra Brite smile, her left gloved hand on the Caddy’s wheel, her right gloved hand holding a coral pink car phone to her hair-hidden ear.

Baby, I’m going to The Bell, Little Richard tells you.

You have to remind people, he tells you.

Sometimes, you have to tell people there’s something in it for them. Witness the 59-cent selections he’s telling you about, the tacos and tostadas and burritos and more. Plus the free cold Pepsi refills. And sometimes, there’s something in it for everyone, Little Richard tells you as the Caddy blows by a roadside sax player blowing notes into the setting sun. And just as the sun does a number on truth under the cloak of twilight, the Joshua-Tree-lined route messes with your mind’s eye’s rearview mirror: It morphs into a Taco-Bell-billboard-heavy highway to heaven. Or maybe it’s a dusty California road to what’s right, to what’s real. To what’s remembered.

I see — past is prologue, you tell yourself.

Nope, Little Richard tells you. I never stop a-rockin’, I never stop a-stoppin’ — a-stoppin’ into Taco Bell, he says.

And while he’s telling you this, he’s telling me there is no past, there is no future. Only the present. There is is, he reminds me. Is like Little Richard is. 

No matter what your name is or how well you handwrite it, your name is, Little Richard tells me.

No matter what I feel about my phantom hair flip, my hair is.

No matter what my whoop-scream-shout sounds like or is like, my whoop-scream-shout is.

No matter what happened to my heart, my heart is.

No matter what I see when I look in the mirror, I am (is).

And no matter what I think or you think or anybody thinks about Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Billy Wright or Ruth Brown or Chuck Berry or Lavern Baker or Bo Diddley or whoever, Little Richard is — is as in is the architect, is as in is the king. Is as in pretty. Is as in here. Is as in is. Always. 

And while Little Richard is telling me this, reminding me, reminding us, he’s getting what’s his. He’s getting it because that’s what never stop a-rockin’ means, he’s getting it because getting it is an ever-present form of becoming. The way Little Richard is, the way is is. As Little Richard tells Ultra Brite woman while the sax player urges him on in the wane of this messaging moment:

Run for the border gonna get me some

Take a short cut if you know one, hun

Little Richard, he’s making a border run

Pat Foran misses Little Richard and so does his phantom hair flip. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Trampset, X-R-A-Y and elsewhere. Find him at and on Twitter at @pdforan.

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