28 August 2009


Alright - Allen Anthony

Like any kid with decent taste in music who grew up during the Golden Age, I fell in love with ATCQ's "Electric Relaxation" the minute I heard it.  Since then, I've had a little love affair with Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew," which Tribe sampled to make their classic hit; the song appears on Midnight Marauders which is, at this very moment at least, my favorite Tribe album. 

I was reminded of the sample earlier this week when I read about Joy Jones' use of the bass line for her song "Over."  Frankly, I don't really like this song; I find it boring, and unlike some of the commenters, I don't think this is "proper" use of Autotune--proper use might be no use at all.  That said, I love Madlib's "Mystic Bounce," and developed a crush on Miss Jack Davey for the way she flipped the Tribe joint.  On the low, I have mad love for Allen Anthony's "Alright."

Anthony, who you may remember from the 90s group, Christión (who I also dug), released this jam in 2003.  I don't think I've ever talked to anyone who liked Christión or this song, but I'm ok with that.  I still like "Alright" even if I am the only one. Maybe I just like nigs rolling through the 'hood on ten speed bikes instead of 20s.  Whatevs.

Cruelest Summer (Ever!): Reading Rainbow

If you had asked an eight-year-old me what my goal in life was, I very well might have told you that I wanted to appear on Reading Rainbow as a reviewer.  I envied those kids, wanted to be like them.  I just didn't know how to get on the show.  I never did figure it out.  I am still severely saddened by the fact an appearance on Reading Rainbow cannot be one of those 25 random facts about me.  It might be a greater disappointment than my not winning Nickelodeon's "Meet The Jets" contest back in '86.  I still think my mom didn't get my postcard to the USPS on time.  (I'll never forgive her.)  I also never won those coveted 5 minutes in a Toys R Us.  But that's another story.

I practiced for my television appearance, though.  I'd sit at Nannie's dining room table, armed with a kids book, doing my best imitation of the kids who were lucky and savvy enough to land a gig on the show.  I'd retell the juicy nuggets of the story in the perkiest, most excited whisper I could muster; I didn't want to disturb Nannie and Papa watching the CBS stories.  After I concluded my synopsis with my version of "...well, you'll just have to read the book to find out!" I'd smile into the imaginary camera recording my audition and hear the three-note "dundunnnDUN!" in my head.  All right, Mr. Burton, I'm ready for my close-up.

I'd like to think that I wasn't the only kid who made believe that she would get her first taste of celebrity on Reading Rainbow.  Of course, child stardom is fleeting, and had I made my debut on RR, who knows what might've happened?  The fact that I was funny looking as hell probably prevented me from a brief career as a child star, followed by a steep fall full of drug habits and stints in rehab.  But RR was about so much more than being on television; it was about loving to read--the worlds books would take you to, the adventures you would take.  And I am so sad that the next generation of young readers will not have LeVar Burton as a companion on these literary expeditions.

After 26 years, PBS is over the Rainbow.  No one wants to fund the show's broadcast.  To add, times are changing.  According to an NPR story on the cancellation, the end of the show "can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling."  So, in other words, how can one love to read if one does not know how to read?

I never thought those two things were mutually exclusive.  But since I'm not an education expert, just a person who has always loved to read, I guess I'm wrong.  I can only speak for myself, but I've never wanted to learn how or continue to do something I didn't (think I would) love.  I think I became a good reader because I love doing it.  I was surrounded by folks--like Nannie, Grandma Charlotte, and my mom--and shows like RR that made reading exciting, and frankly, cool.

Learning how is never enough.  I learned how to solve an equation, but I don't do it anymore because it's no fun.  Eventually I will forget how to solve for x.  Part of that has to do with how unnecessary algebra is in my life, but it also speaks to the excruciating pain I feel when I see letters and numbers together.  I never learned to love it as I learned to do it. 

Even though I see folks with books all the time, I can't shake the feeling that people don't read anymore.  With things like Kindle (book purists like m'self [should] find these machines sacrilegious)  and libraries providing so many other services you forget they do things like lend books, I get the sense that so many of us never learned to love and appreciate the feel and smell of books, the way the words appear on the page.  And I'm afraid that with the absence of shows like RR we'll create a generation of kids who will only think of reading as fundamental, a necessary ill of life.  As someone who has dedicated her life to unlocking the worlds that literature holds, I can't stand the thought.  I already deal with an English department full of folks who don't seem to love reading.  I need a reason to continue to believe that somewhere someone's young, new romance with reading is beginning.  The end of RR is a deluge of water upon my torch.

I will cherish my RR memories, and keep practicing my book reviews.  It's all I have now.  Still, I can go anywhere--including back to childhood.  Reading Rainbow says so.

26 August 2009

Summer Explains it All: Jail Time for Dummies

Any of you following the NFL might have been slightly shocked when the details of Plaxico Burress' sentence became public.  Even I was surprised by the severity of his sentence, and I've been watching NFL players tango with the (in)justice system since well before, um, Ray Lewis?  For those of you who have not diligently observed the latest parade of black (American) footballers marching from locker room  to lock down, here's what happened: Plaxico Burress, former wide receiver for the New York (football) Giants and quasi-legend of Super Bowl XLII (he caught the game-winning touchdown and predicted a Giants win) turned himself in to authorities in December 2008 for unlawful possession of a handgun.  According to reports, in November 2008, Burress, though not licensed to carry a firearm in New York City, brought a gun with him to a New York City nightclub.  While on his way to the VIP section of the club, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg.  Burress then checked into the hospital under an alias (he claims someone else registered him under an assumed name); though the hospital was required by law to notify police when treating the result(s) of a shooting, it was never reported, and NYPD wasn't aware of the situation until it became news.  Unlawfully carrying a firearm in New York City is very, very illegal.  Consequently, Burress was indicted on two weapons charges.  Due to NYC's mandatory minimums for unlawful gun possession, Burress' lawyers reached a plea deal, and last week he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Damn.  Burress got two years for accidentally shooting himself--and this was the result of a plea deal.  And Burress is rich!  So much so that he's hired a prison consultant (another example of white folks making up their own jobs) to let him know what life in the slammer will be like.  Dude, Dante Stallworth served 30 days for killing somebody else; Burress has to serve at least 20 months of his sentence--for putting a hole in his leg.  Maybe homeboy should've hired a differnt lawyer.

I know, I know, I know.  New York gun laws are harsher than a sandpaper diaper.  And Mayor Bloomberg made it pretty clear that he wanted Burress to become the poster boy for, well, stupidly bringing a gun up in the club and shooting one's self.  Still, two years seems a bit austere, especially for someone who could post $100,000 bail, no problem.  So I thought: How did that happen?  What has the world come to when folks can't buy their way out of jail time?  And then, though I suck at math, I started calculating things, and came up with what I call "The 24-Month Formula: How Plaxico Got Locked Up for Being a Sucka."

Here's how (I imagine) the sentence was determined:
  1. Scrabble, anyone? P-L-A-X-I-C-O.  That's 18 points, plus 50 points for using all your tiles. No points for double or triple word scores.  Let's not get greedy.  Total: 68 months.  
  2. Wait, I forgot something! In his E:60 interview, Burress said his teammate, Antonio Pierce asked him for a lift to the club (Go green!  Carpool!).  Pierce lives in the same complex where another teammate, Steve Smith was robbed.  Burress said this fact compelled him to go back home and pick up his heat.  With New York traffic, illegally parking (with the hazards on), and running upstairs to the crib, my guess is that put him off schedule, say, -40 minutes.  He might've missed the no cover before 10, but it's always fashionable to show up at the club late.  Total: 28 months.
  3. So much for elasticity.  Burress just put the gat in his waistband.  He didn't bother with a holster.  Besides, how seriously can you take a dude who puts his nine in a holster? Real gangsters aren't afraid to put the steel right next to the jewels.  Holsters are for mark ass busters!  I'm guessing Burress realized he'd forgotten the gun's jacket, and had to decide whether or not to leave the gun naked.  Obviously, he opted to leave the holster at home.  The time it took to come to that conclusion?  Well, Burress is a wide receiver, and in general only two other positions score lower than WRs on the Wondelic.  So, let's say, +5 minutes.  Total: 33 months.
  4. Party like a rock star.  Burress probably left parking to the valets, but he had to go through security.  According to Burress, he got patted down by the bouncers and went the metal detectors.  Bypassing the club line + having a gun (and security doesn't care) + passing the velvet rope? -10! Total: 23 months.
  5. Super Bowl shuffle.  Burress and the homies couldn't chill with the common folk because they're celebrities and Super Bowl heroes.  New York loves you forever!  Burress did catch a touchdown during the big game and predicted a Giants win, though the then-undefeated Patriots were a heavy favorite.  Plax is no David Tyree, but he did make the game-winning catch.  Nice.  -20 points. Total: 3 months.
  6. Watch your step. Burress trips on the way to the VIP section.  Not a good look for wide receivers, who are known for their deft footwork on the sidelines.  +5. Total: 8 months.
  7. Better safe(ty) than sorry! I'm not Beyonce, but something tells me that if I were a boy (who liked to put guns in my waistband), I'd be sure the safety was on.  Just in case, well, you know.  Obviously, Burress didn't do that.  +5.  Total: 13 months.
  8. Butter fingers.  Burress said he felt the gun slip, and tried to keep it from falling.  Instead, he pulled the trigger.  Nice catch.  Maybe this is why the Giants were so unwilling to renegotiate your contract.   +2 months. Total: 15 months.
  9. Good aim! But you didn't shoot anyone else, Plax.  Way to go.  -1. Total: 14
  10. In the immortal words of Biggie Smalls: Niggas Bleed. Burress said he didn't realize he shot himself until he saw blood on his Chuck Taylors.  Dude, that's a gun shot wound.  Plax, I know you're a football player, but if you spent most of the 2007 season not practicing because of an ankle injury, how do you expect folks to believe you didn't know you shot yourself until you saw your own blood?  Unless you lathered your thighs in novacaine, you're a big fat incarcerated liar.  Or were you under the influence of drugs?  If so, that would explain numbers 2-9.  Either way, that's +3. Total: 17 months.
  11. What's in a name? Burress says someone else checked him into the hospital under the name Harris Smith.  His explanation of why it was impossible that he came up with the pseudonym is paper thin (+4), but it's a much better alias than Ron Mexico (-2).  Total: 19 months. 
  12. Have you updated your shot records?  Burress had a gun license (-6), but it was a Florida license (+2).  An expired Florida gun license (+4). Total: 19 months.
  13. Knowledge is power.  Unless it's a Super Soaker, if you're going to carry a gun, please know the rules and regulations of the environment in which you plan to carry.  +5. Total: 24 months.
  14. Learning that if you're going to shoot yourself you better do it in a place like Texas? Priceless.  
Please note: though we are glad that a black man--and not a fellow coworker--shot himself this time, these kinds of antics will not lead to beer at the White House.  Watch and learn.  How was my math?

25 August 2009

Trouble the Water on DVD

If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to add Trouble the Water to your Netflix queue, or rent it--people still do that, right?  It was released on DVD today.  I wrote a response/review of the documentary after seeing it at the Black Harvest Film Festival last year.  Trouble the Water, which follows the before, during and after Hurricane Katrina experience of ninth ward residents Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband, Scott, got nominated for an Academy Award, but I guess a French guy on a wire--voluntarily danger--was a lot more compelling than being reminded of this country's EPIC FAILURE during the disaster.  That shit is a movie-going buzzkill. 

The other week, my dissertation writing partner and I were talking about extreme sports.  Neither one of us could understand why folks find watching and/or participating in them so much fun, so fascinating.  In response to our lackluster feeling about the genre she quipped, "Being black is an extreme sport."  Remembering Trouble the Water, maybe she's right.  Check it out.

24 August 2009

Happy Birthday, Connected!: More than Beats, More than Rhymes

I can't believe it, but five years ago today, The Foreign Exchange (@nicolay and @phontigallo) released their album, Connected.  It's pretty amazing stuff--just great hip hop.  What makes this album even more amazing is the fact that these cats instant messaged, e-mailed, and snail mailed beats and vocals back and forth to each other.  (At the time, Nicolay, who was living in the Netherlands at the time, would compose the beats and send them to Phonte [of Little Brother fame], who was in North Carolina.)

I was in Dusty Groove when I first heard the opening bassline of the now-classic "Nic's Groove" (still a scorcher).  I stopped fingering through the used cds, and asked the cashier what they were playing.  I copped it, and have been a fan of this duo ever since.

TFE keeps getting better.  Three years after their debut, they released the absurdly awesome Leave it All Behind which, to my mind, was one of the best albums of the year.  Recently, they announced that affiliates Zo! and Carlitta Durand will each be releasing material on Foreign Exchange Music.  On September 15, Nicolay will release City Lights 2: Shibuya.  (For a taste, and a free download, click here.) 

As a fan, I just can't get enough of this duo.  They make classic, quality records and are engaging and entertaining live.  These are the type of cats who deserve our support.  Stand up for good music.  Happy fifth birthday, Connect.  And many thanks and mad love to Nicolay and Phonte for holding it down.

The Foreign Exchange (featuring Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, Zo! and the Els)

21 August 2009

Sweet Lies of Sweet Love

I've been listening to a lot of Sade over the last week. Couldn't sleep the other night, and I needed some dulcet tones to calm me down. I ended up spending most of the night falling in love all over, realizing that I had neither truly listened to nor appreciated "Like a Tattoo" properly. It's a splendidly brilliant and melancholy song. I've no idea why isn't wasn't my favorite before. It is now.

A new Sade album is supposed to drop at the end of this year. I hope so.

(And, yeah, she could get it.)

20 August 2009

Feel LIke a Woman?


New obsession: Gender Tests. Yesterday, I read an article about South African runner Caster Semenya, who has been asked by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) to take tests in order to confirm that she is, in fact, a woman. Apparently she got really good, really fast, and that raised some estrogen levels, er, eyebrows. The 18 year old has been slaying the competition during the world championships, which probably did not help her case.

This situation is both infuriating and fascinating to me. I want to make an informed commentary, but I don't know enough. Though I do not enjoy science, I want and need to know (so much) more about this whole process and its social ramifications. I've checked wiki, a homie sent me a pdf of "Dueling Dualims," and another friend of mine has been kind enough to send me some links. I've posted them below, beneath the video.

In the meantime, here's a question: It seems like we might need to reaccess how we organize competitive sports, especially track and field. If we no longer divided competition along gender (sex) lines, how would we do it?

Gender Test Timeline

Doses of Watson and Crick:

19 August 2009

Today in Pre-Race History: Mad Men as Race Men?

I like Mad Men. It's a good show, well-written and -acted. All of that. I'm not turning myself into a Mad Men avatar like other fans, but I get the allure. (Besides, there's no maid's uniform.) The world of Mad Men is sleek, shiny, colorful; it totally messes up my "the only colors available in the olden days were black and white" argument. I probably think this way because I am, like, totally generation neon. As good as it is, MM is also very white--whiter than, say, a drinking game at your local frat house. But I value MM for what it is, which I suppose could be described as privileged white people being their privileged white selves.

The show's pretty blatant about the smoking, the booze, the misogyny, the racism and sexism, and other things we like to pretend only existed in times like the 60s, especially since we're all post-everything now. I even appreciate the way black people are portrayed, which is to say they appear sparingly and as they need to be in this world: as maids, as elevator men, as waiters, as silent(ly?) as possible. That's where and how I expect to see black people, if at all, on a show like MM. I don't anticipate seeing black people, say, on Cheers or... Animal Planet, because voluntarily kicking it with alligators and mambas seems like some white stuff to me. So I definitely don't imagine the Negroes of MM chatting it up by the new Xerox machine--unless they're cleaning it. And if they're cleaning it, they need to hush up while they do it. After all, white folks is trying to work.

Due to my position on blacks and the show, I had that "Really?" face as I read Latoya Peterson's blog about Mad Men and race. In it, Peterson argues that people of color, particularly black people, are rarely seen on screen, and when they are their appearances are brief, sporadic, and often nonverbal. For Peterson, this suggests that (the creators of) MM don't want to engage with race, which is totally weird especially since it's the 60s, and there are colored drinking fountain signs, like, everywhere (below the Mason-Dixon). She writes, "Although [lead character, Don] Draper has a gift for engaging and seeing through marginalized types—the unwed mother, the Jewish heiress, the closeted gay man—in the case of the black characters, the relationship never goes beyond shallow conversation."

Um, yeah. Maybe I've read Invisible Man a few too many times ("I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." [That's on page three, and I didn't even have to look.]), but it seems to me that that's exactly how black people are supposed to be on a show like this. The characters Peterson lists are all necessary components to Draper's life; he works with them. He doesn't volunteer to hang out with baby mamas. He has to hang out with baby mamas. And further, these characters, though marginalized, are citizens, to some degree, of the province of whiteness.

This is just an educated guess, but race is an abstraction to white people, especially privileged ones who only really only need to interact with them when they need a shoe shine, and I think the show reflects that. But I get it. When I think about the 1960s, I think of Negroes marching in uncomfortable clothes during a hot ass southern summer, and water hoses that might have been a welcome way to cool off had it not been for the force and the German shepherd trying to bite that ass. Maybe I think about a hippie or two or the obnoxious-ass Beats. But it's mostly black kids trying to go to school. Sometimes these memories are interrupted by Tom Hanks with a buzz cut, but I quickly remember that that was just some movie. The images are so ingrained that I forget that there were people, very privileged people, who were incredibly distanced from this movement starring our nation's minions. Blackness is something MM characters don't engage in because they don't have to. And that for me is not about not wanting to discuss race, but rather a really powerful, subtle commentary on race. I think what Peterson calls "shallow conversation" is in actuality something much more than that. The presence (and absence) of blacks is subtle, but intentional, signaling the insulation whiteness provides from aspects of American life that take race and racial difference as a matter of existence. Not every model comes with a veil.

I think those popular images of the 60s stage a desire in us to see everyone who lived during the period being profoundly affected by what was happening in the world. Perhaps it establishes an expectation that the stories we write that take place during that epoch deal with the fight for civil rights on some level. And maybe said images also create the assumption that a discussion on race and the 60s must happen through the conduit of black people and the civil rights struggle. MM shows us--with intention--that there were plenty of people who could afford not to care deeply about any of it, that white privilege is predicated upon being able to choose apathy with little to no ramifications, and it is exactly because black people are only seen on the margins that we can understand this. How easy could it have been to simply have a white elevator operator or waiter? When I watch MM, what I see, especially in the second season, is not simply how whiteness can protect one from the harsh realities of race, but also the pillars of that same (fantasy of) whiteness seemingly start to crumble--which perhaps speaks to both now and then--as if someone tied a sleeping Samson to them and he woke up--irritable and in need of a stretch. The race commentary on MM can be understood as the delineation of extreme obliviousness to (colored) folks on the margins, and the disrobing of some of the fantasies of whiteness. And because black characters especially have been employed in deliberately subtle and provocative ways, I think the story might arc into an interesting commentary on race--marching black folks and all.

One of scenes in Season 2 that stuck out for me was the moment in "The Jet Set" episode where Don has ventured to Palm Springs, California, with a young woman he meets at a hotel during a business trip. After sex, the woman opens a Faulkner novel, The Sound and the Fury. Don asks her what she thinks about the book, and she admits not being overly enthusiastic it. This scene parallels the previous episode where Paul Kinsey, the bearded wannabe playwright, has gone to Mississippi with his Negro girlfriend to register voters. (He gets dumped during, or some time after, the trip.) But there's even more significance. This is Faulkner's novel about the slow decay of a once prominent white southern family. In TSATF, part of what's happening is the crumbling of whiteness, its facade, and the myth of the South. Similarly, the patriarchal white world established in the first season of MM is ripping at the seams by season 2. Reality has waged war on the image of perfection, and there's not enough alcohol to go around. Folks are clinging to their race and gender privilege as if it is the last life preserver on the Titanic. And when those cards are declined, the characters TOTALLY FREAK OUT. It's great tv.

What's more, Faulkner's novel ends with an Appendix, or what is sometimes referred to as the fifth chapter of the book. Faulkner added it in 1945 because, frankly, what literate person knows what the hell is going on without that thing? It provides a family tree, brief descriptions of the characters, a time line, etc. Draper rips out the last page of the book because he needs to write down an address. What's on the last page? A description of Dilsey, the black servant who has taken care of the Compson family for years. The line? They endured. Yep. That's it. Faulkner offers rather generous explanations of other characters and events, but those are the two words he provides for Dilsey. And that's the page Draper, who has constructed his own (rapidly changing) world of privilege, presumably rips out. Right there in the California desert, a place where one can escape one's racial past (dissertation plug). He never reads it, and neither will the owner of the book. It's been rendered unnecessary, unimportant--and this act of erasure of Dilsey and who and what she personifies says a lot about Draper and his world, and I don't think the symbol was a fluke.

Peterson ends by averring that if MM continues to keep race at a distance in season three, which takes place during the pivotal year of 1963, then the writers of MM are cowards. But just as one of the characters called black kids trying to integrate "troublemakers," I think the MM response to the March on Washington, for example, may be just as quick, but incredibly telling. One need not have a black family move next door to properly comment on race. Sometimes the very fact that the black family doesn't live next door offers a more interesting, nuanced conversation.

Though it's hard to determine writer's intent, I think the evidence on the television suggests that the creators of MM are thinking about race much more deeply and deliberately than Peterson claims, not that they're scared and hence distance the subject. I know I don't think about the war, or a whole bunch of other stuff that historians will deem significant, everyday. If 40 years from now someone wanted to create a show about someone like me, it would be thoroughly inaccurate for them to write narrative where I was directly affected by it. It would be more precise, and perhaps more telling, if they imagined it the way it happened.

Whatever the case, I sincerely hope the third season of MM is as interesting as the first two. Third seasons can be tricky, and horrifically disappointing to viewers. Trust me. I know. I used to watch Heroes. And Weeds.

14 August 2009

Cab Calloway‽

Went out last night, and the dj played this. Remembered that it's my second favorite video of all time.

13 August 2009

Year 2: The Wrath is Coming

Silky Johnson is my hero.

I celebrated my first anniversary of blogging bliss here at Gayle the other day, and since then I've started thinking about what I might want to accomplish during the second year and how I could improve my game. (We're newlyweds, so I still care.) Word on the street is that it's a good idea to have things like goals. So this is my effort.

In the first year, I wanted to reacquaint myself with the blogging world, wade in the water a little bit. If I am speaking hyperbolically--and usually I am--I pulled a Lauryn Hill (except I sold, like, zero albums and made, like, no money) when I quit updating my initial blogging venture. Though I achieved some semblance of the popularity I never got in high school, the whole thing made me feel immensely uncomfortable. Perhaps my disappearing act was akin to quitting the team right before the playoffs--and just after a rather stellar first season on varsity--for fear of fumbling at the wrong time. Starting Gayle was like joining the chess club to fill the after school activity void.

I've enjoyed getting acclimated to my new small little corner of the internet. It felt like moving to a new town where no one really knows me. I've gone from city to country, with five miles between me and and the rest of civilization. If I scream, no one will care, no one will hear me. I'm ok with that. Or maybe I've gone from the suburbs to the city, for the blogosphere population is ginormous, and no one, except for the occasional tourist, pays much attention because the streets are too crowded and folks have their own destinations in mind. Whatever the case, it's great to be here. Maybe someone will be inspired by my work and sample me.

The other night, during that half sleep/half awake phase, I dreamed I wrote a "Start a Rumor Monday." I have no idea what I wrote, but I know it was about Barack Obama and that I borrowed the title from a song by 90s girls group Exposé. It was totally weird. But I've been having weird dreams lately. The other night, I dreamed that I had become part-owner of my late great-grandmother's former home. I returned to it only to find that it had become a crackhouse. I spent the rest of the dream chatting it up with Ice-T, coming up with a really gross concoction--that reminded me of that anorexic woman on Intervention--to help this drug addicted prostitute beat her addiction. But I digress.

Anyway, I woke up, and thought about the possibility of resurrecting SARM in some form here on Gayle. I don't want to go backwards, but I feel like those rumors were the best venue for me to hate on the ridiculousness of the world. Folks on planet Earth are a hot ass mess, and the best way I know how to express my irritation is with a little dose of hateration. What the citizens of this world need now is hate, sweet hate. And I think I'm going to give it them--periodically. I'm up for it. I've been jogging, pounding dead cows with my bare hands, eating raw eggs for breakfast. And yesterday, I caught a live chicken.

Stayed tuned. Wrath Wredux Cometh.

Here's a bone (to pick): Lil Wayne is a muthafucka.

12 August 2009


(Yes, I'm writing about Michael Joseph Jackson again. So what? I'll write about what I goddamn please. Sue me. You'll get a Uni*ball pen and a worn copy of The White Boy Shuffle. Besides, it's his birthday month.)

Last week, my good friend Rrrr and I got together for drinks ($2 Pabst Blue Ribbon--not because we're hipsters [gross!], but because we're broke-ass grad students) and to catch up a bit. Early in the conversation realized that we hadn't seen each other in quite awhile. The last time we hung out, Michael Jackson was still alive. The revelation felt a bit weird, but we figured out why. We--and by "we" I mean I--had shared our trauma with each other over the internet. Rrrr thought we'd talked--yeah, like used our mouths--about it, but we came to the understanding that I had emotional and verbal diarrhea all over my facebook updates, and she was sweet enough to clean up the mess read them.

That night, she told me that a few weeks ago she had been having dinner with some folks and one of them took the opportunity to share a smug assessment about MJ's death. Rrrr, because she's the homie, the apotheosis of awesome, and just a top-notch human being set those folks straight. I told her about a similar conversation I'd had. Then just the other day, another friend and I were talking about situations we've had where we've felt compelled to "defend" MJ. I've actually said not mean things about Joe Jackson. No, really.

This isn't entirely new. While he was alive, I made and listened to my share of MJ jokes and criticisms; I've tolerated them. But my "Don't you talk shit about Michael Joseph Jackson!" rants are legendary (in my mind) and by far outnumber the moments when I agreed with someone's unflattering assessment about some part of his life. Since his death, though, I've become increasingly sensitive to simplistic and negative reactions to him, his life, his eccentricities. I've been bothered by the shrugs, the glib reactions, the harping on child abuse allegations. I can't stand the blanket [no pun intended] "Michael Jackson was a child molesting, self-hating weirdo" statements folks continue to make. It's as if his death never gave them pause; that it meant nothing. Might as well talk the same shit about him, I guess. Makes me want to scream.

I want to ask each of them: How can you just pretend not to give a fuck?

I told Rrrr, I later told my other homegirl, I will tell anyone who will listen: Folks out here need to stop frontin' on MJ like he wasn't the GOAT, and like he didn't at some point have a positive effect on all of our lives. THERE. WAS. NO. ONE. BETTER. THERE. WILL. BE. NO. ONE. BETTER. EVER!!!! Who's next, player? Beyonce? God bless her. We can learn a lot from Ms. Knowles--seriously. But Sasha Fierce ain't got nothin' on Billie Jean, whether or not the DNA test came out in her favor.

Maybe it was the Pabst (beer is cheap, but gross), but I sat next to Rrrr struggling to come up with an appropriate age for someone to get an "I'm too young to appreciate MJ an any level" pass. Elvis means nothing to me beyond the inspiration for an ill line P.E. line. (Muthafuck him and John Wayne.) He died before I was born. I don't care why people want to believe he's still alive. I don't care. I imagine that I will (eventually) encounter some folks who will truly not give a damn about MJJ. Maybe--by some tragically terrible parenting mistake--my girl Saf's kid Micaiah, barely two, will not care about MJ. Maybe she'll just think he's a weirdo. A magical moonwalking sidewalk-lighting weirdo, but a weirdo, nonetheless. So I decided that no one under the age of 10 could be held to the Michael was Magic standard.

But then I saw watched this two-year-old boy taking MJ mad seriously.

And then I went to E's* summer camp showcase. (Three friggin' hours of kids performing in a hot ass school gym. Three hours. But she invited me, and I just can't have her bringing my absence up in therapy 15 years from now. So I went. And sat. And sat.) And you know what I saw? Performances inspired by Michael and his little sister. These kids, who weren't old enough to remember jheri curl Michael, had learned some of the choreography from "Thriller" and "Beat it" and "Rhythm Nation." And I missed Michael all over again. How can you not dig (if you will) the picture of five black boys doing their best MJ imitations to "Smooth Criminal"? As I sat there, recognizing the beginnings of Janet Jackson's "Control" (This is a story about control. My control. Control of what I say. Control of what I do...) I Benjamin Buttoned my way back to six, when Michael and Janet Jackson were the most important people in my world. And as I watched the kids on stage, the kids in the crowd respond to the music, I knew that they felt the way I did circa 1986.

How can adult, who has had a lifetime to be wowed by Michael (and Janet) Jackson's magnificence, just be on some Michael wasn't shit but a skin-bleaching child molester game? How, if you have witnessed HIStory for your whole freaking life, can that be your only assessment of the man? How can you pretend not to have not tried to moonwalk? Or busted your ass trying to do "the lean" (or that "Pleasure Principle" chair trick)? What the fuck is your problem?

This is not to say that the man in the mirror shouldn't ever be critiqued. It is, after all, what folks started doing as soon as they could no longer understand him. But why is there such an investment in distancing one's self from the way MJ might have, on more than one occasion, made you feel? Why is there no room for nuance, to appreciate the genius of a flawed man? Why is there no room to confess that even on his weirdest day, Michael Jackson was still an awe-inspiring and breathtaking son of a gun? Why do some of us want to act so unaffected?
If a bunch of kids--who have to be convinced that that odd looking man dancing on top of an SUV is the same dude on their auntie's Thriller record--can discover and appreciate the pure essence of the man, well, why can't we all? Hell. Amish people were affected by (the death of) Michael Jackson. And so were you. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar--and an asshole.

*E is the gf's daughter.

11 August 2009

Cruel Summer

R.I.P. John Hughes

It's been a tough summer for 80s babies. Though Purple Rain--and my sister--turned 25, those of us who remember taper-legged jeans and neon colors the first time around have had a rough summer vacation with the death of Michael Jackson and now John Hughes. Frankly, the shit is freaking me out. I'm getting old(er).

My obsession with John Hughes movies might not make much sense. It doesn't seem, after all, that he imagined a world that included someone like me (a young, black working class, dagger in training). But the fact remains that I was and continue to be hypnotized by all things Brat Pack. I've always identified with Hughes' outsiders. Maybe whiteness is universal. (Dude, I kid.)

I was very young when Hughes' movies were first released, but with cable and VCRs, I was able to develop the healthy addiction of watching them over and over and over and over. 80s flicks, The Young and the Restless, and music videos were what kept me quiet and occupied. The movies were especially important in the molding of my young mind into the piece of crap that it is today. Though my environment was never reflected on screen, whenever I watch 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, She's Having a Baby, The Breakfast Club all five of my senses are allowed to remember the 80s of my youth and how desperately I sought Susan wanted to be older. Wait. Did I just type "of my youth"? I am getting old. And corny.

I hear it was a sucky decade, but for me, the 80s were totally awesome. And those who made it that--MJJ, Hughes--way are going away. How is a person who had a Rubik's Cube toybox supposed to deal?

Perhaps I should try a little tenderness:

10 August 2009


Dear Gayle,

It's been a year. Happy anniversary. See you tomorrow.


07 August 2009

The Skin I'm In

About a year or so ago, I saw a mint copy of The Year of Roosevelt Franklin at Dusty Groove. Wish I had had the dough to buy it. Oh well. Enjoy.

05 August 2009

Baatin & JD: Rest in Beats

Couldn't let the week go by without honoring Baatin of Slum Village, who passed away unexpectedly last Sunday. Zo! (you maybe have seen him on tour with Platinum Pied Pipers and/or The Foreign Exchange or know him from Zo! and Tigallo Love the 80s) posted this tribute to Baatin and Dilla to his youtube page. It's a great homage. Mad love to Zo! for sharing this with us.

04 August 2009

Today in Post-Race History: Hooray, Beer!

Let's face it, no one wants to sit around with the President, Joe Biden, Skip Gates, and some random police officer--with "diversity" training--drinking beer and pretending to talk about race. Sure, it's a (free?) trip to the White House and all, but I don't want to explain to Joe Biden what I mean by calling him the Pras of this Obama outfit with a bubbling belly full of Bud Light. (Buy American.) I'd be sitting in my chair, staring at the filth, counting Secret Service dudes, and trying not to hum Stevie and Sir Paul's "Ebony and Ivory" too loudly. Besides, I'd rather drink Hawaiian Punch and ask BHO how many times they've had Harold's flown in. But who can end racism when a black person brings up chicken? Personally, I firmly believe we might perfect this union more expediently over a 4-piece wing dinner (fried hard, salt, pepper, & mild sauce), but that's probably just me. Besides, I don't want to be blamed for getting the Bill of Rights all greasy. Either way, let this be a lesson to you (white) police officers out there: if you arrest the right black guy, you'll get invited to the White House. Don't shoot him, though, because that's not cool.

Anyway, trying to impress your new, black feminist love interest by pretending not to be high and staying awake during Daughters of the Dust (not that I've ever done that) is probably a more comfortable and entertaining night than being a part of this effort towards interracial inebriation (and I like free alcohol), so I've decided to make up some stuff. I thought: what might those Secret Service dudes have heard during Beerfest?

Here, in a rather desultory order, are some snippets from my somewhat gruesome and inappropriate imagination:

Gates and Obama: No, Joe, Dred Scott is not a good name for a reggaeton group. Besides, there's already a rapper going by that name.
Crowley: They're right. I think I arrested that guy.

Obama: So I said to Sasha and Malia the other day, 'Look, if I catch Bo doing a doodie in the Lincoln bedroom one more time, I'm going to hire Michael Vick as a dogwalker. I hear he's looking for a job.' They said, 'No, daddy! We'll call PETA!' So I said, 'I'm the president. You can call PETA. Heck, I'll call PETA for you--on the RED phone. But please know I will arrest their leaders, detain them at an undisclosed location for an indeterminate amount of time, and feed them dead houseflies.' Needless to say, Bo is doing his business outside, and I haven't had to veto his ass.
Biden: If you talked to Congress that way, we might get something done.

Gates: Part of the reason I was late coming home that afternoon was because I stopped in Africa on my way back from China to look for Obama's birth certificate. It wasn't until last week that I found out it's been in Cornel West's afro the whole time. Now, Lou Dobbs wants to shave his head.

Biden: Stop me if you've heard this one already. Homer Plessy, Sally Hemmings, and Barack Obama walk into a bar...
Crowley *laughing, trying not to spit out his beer*: I know this one! Tell it! Tell it!

Obama: Obama: Maybe it's the facial hair, but I think Ben Bernanke kind of looks like Uncle Pennybags. Which reminds me, I was playing Monopoly with some of my staff the other day, and Tim Geithner nearly went bankrupt trying to put hotels on Baltic and Mediterranean.
Crowley: Who ended up winning?
Biden: The Chinese.

Gates: It took several years of debate, but the last time I picked up my Harvard sweater from being cleaned, I finally convinced my Cambridge dry cleaner that The Canterbury Tales in Middle English is indeed worse than water boarding!" [*cue* collective fake laughter]

Biden: So, Crowley, what kind of music do you listen to?
Crowley: I listen to a lot of hip hop. My favorite song is Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?"
Obama: Really?
Crowley: Yeah. Told you I wasn't a racist.

Gates: Crowley, I still can't figure out why you arrested me. I'm just as white as Obama. I should know. I took a DNA test, and shared the results with the world during one of my famed documentaries.
Crowley: Yeah, I heard you were 50% white, genetically speaking. That's why the charges were dropped.

Obama: Officer Crowley, when I said "stupidly," what I meant was, you behaved in a manner that would have been perfectly acceptable had you not been arresting Professor Gates.

Crowley: I have no idea why anyone would think I am a racist. I use "A More Perfect Union" in my diversity training seminars all the time.

Gates: Crowley, I have to admit, that "yo['] mama" line in the police report was pretty terrible. It was so bad that I wanted to swat you with my cane. Have you not heard of my work? I've heard better quips on the yard at Harvard University, where I teach. You could've done much better. Let me teach you how to signify. Barack, yo['] mama's so white, you got elected president. [Confession: that's a semi-recycled joke]

Obama: Let's go inside, guys. The Real Housewives of Atlanta is on.

03 August 2009

Tony! Toni! Tone! Has Done it Again

I have some actual entries in the works that will be posted over the next few days (hopefully), but yesterday I decided that I really need to dedicate some of my internet space to the genius of Tony! Toni! Tone!. I was supposed to be working on my dissertation chapter when I decided to make a grilled cheese sandwich. For whatever reason, the original three T's jam "The Blues" sneaked into my head, and after rocking out a bit in my kitchen, I surfed on over to youtube to find a clip. This, of course, led me to the Tonys' song, "Whatever You Want," by far my favorite (love) song by them--yes, I love it more than "It Never Rains in Southern California," "Me and You," or Saadiq's solo joint from the Higher Learning soundtrack, "Ask of You."

This little trip in memory lane of the internet superhighway made me think how much I really love T!T!T!, and I don't talk about them enough. The Wiggins brothers and their cousin, Timothy Christian Riley made great R&B music throughout the 90s, and are thoroughly under-rated. Snippets of their early, fun and brightly-colored music videos sometimes starring sorely missed funnyman Sinbad flash in my mind as I write this. The videos, combined with their quirky sound endeared them to my siblings and me. How can 4 kids under the age of 10 resist whistling along to the sonic quirkiness of "Born not to Know"? I remember when my stepdad brought their debut, Who? home. That and EU's "Da Butt," released maybe 6 months earlier if memory serves, are the two records that work as the soundtrack for the moment in my young life when I was enduring the rather rough transition of becoming part of a blended family. Back then, I resented my stepdad for being, well, my stepdad. But whenever he played "Little Walter" I forgot to be mad at him; had it not been for T!T!T!, I'm sure my memory lapses would have been less frequent.

I grew with T!T!T!. As my ears evolved, I began to appreciate their musicianship. Though history requires that they be dubbed a New Jack Swing group, as I re-listen to their records, I realize just how much of a mischaracterization that is. New Jack sounds like a quick fix compared T!T!T!'s deliberately and precisely crafted music. I suppose a drive-thru/slow food analogy would work here, but I think you get it.

The Tonys, of course, have moved on. Dwayne Wiggins had a brief solo career. Saadiq has written and/or produced mad jams for neo-soul's [ugh] finest including D'Angelo, Jill Scott, and Ms. Badu. He formed Lucy Pearl with Ali Shaheed Muhammed (of ATCQ) and Dawn Robinson (of En Vogue). (Outside of "Dance Tonight," I never got into them. I think I just wanted them all to stay in their original groups.) Had it not been for Leave it All Behind, Coultrain's debut, and Jay-Z's appearance on the "Oh Girl" remix, The Way I See it would have been my favorite album of 2008. That said, Saadiq's "The Big Easy" is my favorite Hurricane Katrina-inspired song.

But for me, none of that stuff touches T!T!T!. Perhaps that has to do with the role they played in my young life--their music conjures memories, feelings, things I can't get back to. Everything about T!T!T!--their outfits, their hair--was so fresh, original, and fun. I wish I could've preserved that somehow. A little bottle of T!T!T! sunshine, where it never rains.

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