PODCAST: The Wire's Kima, Bubbles, and Omar at Harvard

Photo via the Harvard Crimson

As the audience was filing into last night's "The Wire at Harvard" panel, Professor Lawrence Bobo leaned over and spoke to Bubbles.

"You saved it for me," Bobo said.

"I saved it for you?"

"In the last show, when poor Duquan went down," said Bobo. "I said, 'At least I got Bubbles.' "

"In the last season," Bubbles said, looking down the table to where Omar sat, "I thought, 'Somebody is gonna go.'  You know how David Simon thinks. It's either gonna be you or me. I was hangin' myself. My character -- my real-life character -- passed away of AIDS. I thought I was gonna go."

Omar, remembering the first time he saw the series's closing montage -- one of the great final phrases in American visual syntax  -- said, "I could not talk, bro. I had to take off my hat, I had my hat over my face."

"How about when you got popped?" Bubbles said. "The hate mail. It was like -- people was mad. More than sad. It was: 'How you gon' do Omar like that?' "

And that was before the panel started. For fans of The Wire -- and the biggest Wire fans in the house may well have been the tenured guys at the podium -- Thursday night's mini-cast-reunion was like Oscar night. On stage: Sonja Sohn (Kima), Andre Royo (Bubbles), and Michael K. Williams, who may never again walk down a street without someone shouting, "Omar's comin'." From Harvard: Larry Bobo, William Julius Wilson (who, it was announced, will be teaching The Wire for credit at Harvard next year), and Yale scholar (and Huffington Post contributor) Brandon Terry. 

In the wings: Donnie Andrews, introduced as the "real-life" Omar and inspiration behind the character, now working with troubled youths in Baltimore. Wikipedia tells us there were four real-life Omars, but Andrews looks the part. (Wire fans will also recognize Andrews from the series; he was one of the two brothers who strapped Omar with a phone-book flak jacket in prison.)  Also in a supporting role: the Rev. Eugene Rivers, who, like Andrews, came off the bench to drop some wisdom from time to time. 

The topic: how to turn The Wire  -- a text that Professor Wilson has said outstrips sociology itself in its reflection of urban poverty and the cultural forces that shape it -- into a tool for education and public policy. The subtext: a reason to talk deeply about how awesome The Wire is. Brandon Terry brought both together in a five-minute sermon about Bodie as "a metaphor for the wider breaking of an American promise," and framed Marlo Stanfield's immortal line "You want it to be one way, but it's the other way" as the drug corner's ultimate challenge to a broken social contract.

All three Wire vets were greeted with rock-star applause, though the loudest surely went to Omar -- and to Andrews, his real-life counterpart. Nick Balkin, a Wire fan and publicist for Berklee College of Music who was in the audience, said he was struck by "how close the actors' personalities were to their characters. Bubbles was self-deprecating and funny. Omar was fiery and serious." Sohn started out quiet -- but once she started talking about her work with inner-city youth (including a program here in Boston at the Ella J. Baker House), her voice rose into the familiar crusading cadences of Kima Greggs. (Sohn said she founded her non-profit, Rewired For Change, after a group of Wire cast members reunited to canvass for Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.) When Williams read a stark, terrifying letter from one of Sohn's troubled kids, he could've been reciting Omar's back-story. 

It was a conversation, in short, that any serious fan of The Wire would want to hear. And since the panel sold out quickly -- with ticketless fans lining up hours early in the hopes of securing a seat -- we thought we'd bring you the panel in its entirety, for posterity. Click on the file below to stream, or right-click and save-as to grab it for your iPod.  

PODCAST: Kima, Bubbles, and Omar: The Wire at Harvard (mp3)
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