Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"White people, get over yourselves..."

This is a cool vlog response to obama's speech about race in america by Dantrification, who's apparently "pretty fly for a white guy." Frankly, I can't believe that there are white people in this country nowadays (or anywhere, for that matter) who don't believe that white privilege exists -- but it's in their best interests to not dismantle a system that is tilted in their favor, so why would they?


White People, Get Over Yourselves from Dantrification on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright's NAACP Speech

I don't know about you, but i'm sick of conservatives and their scary controversial soundbites. i'm already seeing bits and pieces of Rev. Dr. Wright's interviews that are being distorted for the sake of summing it all up in a negative way for a 30 second blurb. after i saw his NAACP speech in its entirety (he's a tremendous orator), i wondered who else had bothered to do the same thing. So i thought i'd post the whole thing in sequence to make it easy for you, whoever you are -- and you can make up your own mind: is he right or wrong? is he nuts? or is he telling the truth?


Part One -- The Introduction

Part Two -- Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright's Speech

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Monday, April 28, 2008

Q&A with rev. jeremiah wright at the national press club

i'm soooooo glad that rev. wright has decided to come out of retirement and defend himself -- now, while there is still so much controversy swirling around his name and what he said, which was not inflammatory in context. i always thought the problem with the sermon was that no one who was criticizing it had actually heard the whole thing. now that they have, everyone is backpedaling because what he said was true.

of course, there were many white nationally known well-respected preachers who said outrageous things about 9/11 in the name of God and country and none of their remarks got anywhere near this much heat.

Friday, April 25, 2008

that's right. acquittal!

exactly 17 months to the day that sean bell was killed on the eve of his wedding day at his bachelor party, a judge hands down a verdict of not guilty on all counts for all three of the policemen involved in his brutal murder. they thought that he had a gun. they heard someone say, i'm gonna go get my gun. and that was enough. it was a 50 bullet barrage (50 bullets!) and -- surprise! -- a gun was never recovered on the scene. what's really surprising is that they didn't kill all of them.

the bottom line is, another innocent black man dies and no one is punished.

i understand that the police involved have supposedly proven that they didn't intend to kill mr. bell, but people go to jail every day for the rest of their lives for way less than this. we've all watched enough CSI and Cold Case Files (my personal favorite) to know that intent isn't enough to justify murder in the real world even if "i didn't mean to kill him" is all you have to stand on. there should be some sort of retribution in store for you if you take someone's life -- even if it is an accident, and especially if you're a cop.

white men rob, steal, murder. why don't we see more of this stuff happening to them? why are black men constantly in the crosshairs of some cop's gun in this city? why don't white men get shot at 41 times?

of course, now would be a wonderful moment for alicia keys (or any other hip-hop/r&b megastar) to write a powerful protest song about this, a la CSNY/neil young's "ohio" -- you know: something to get us thinking, something to unify us and start that pesky revolution she keeps going on about. after all, her latest media misstep says that's her intent, right?

where is public enemy when you really need them?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

what they're not showing you...

frankly, i was pretty shocked when i saw this: father michael pfleger, a long-time chicago activist and catholic priest defending rev. jeremiah wright and minister louis farrakhan. on second thought, it only makes sense. father pfleger knows both of these men and their work and history in the community very well, and considers them friends and colleagues. even on video, his righteous indignation is almost tangible. what shocked me was that any white anyone was coming to their defense in public.

it's way more than that, though. anyone that's really been paying attention knows that certain members of the religious right have said things that were way more inflammatory than anything that's ever come out of rev. wright's mouth. according to pat robertson and jerry falwell, it was the gays, the feminists, the ACLU, the 40 million abortions and more that have infuriated God and brought his wrath against us via the 9/11 terrorist attacks and hurricane katrina. it wasn't our foreign policy or our political involvement and nefarious goings on in the middle east and in other parts of the world. it wasn't COINTEL-PRO. or the FBI. and it definitely wasn't the CIA. oh, no. it was gloria steinem.

why haven't you seen any 30 second clips in the media of this father on fire in his pulpit defending rev. wright, with the white people in his congregation standing up and cheering him on? why won't the media show this over and over again?

what's clear is this: when white people in positions of authority speak against the government, they're being critical and are lauded as heroes; when black people criticize the government, it's considered treason and they are dangerous and subversive.

ps: sorry you've got to sit through the oh-so "fair and balanced" FOX News if you watch this clip -- but how one-sided they are only underscores my point.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

how do you "go green" in the ghetto?

i don't live in a house that i can trick out with the latest energy saving ideas. stuff like, if you lower the temperature of your water heater from 140 to 120 degrees, you can save 6 to 10% on your heating costs annually. none of that applies to me. my super regulates that stuff and the water is included in the rent bill anyway, so whatever. the refrigerator and the stove came with this apartment; i don't know how efficient they are. as far as i'm concerned, i'm lucky that they were relatively new when i moved in. i don't have a dishwasher or a washer/dryer. when it's time to get my clothes clean, i drop them off at the 24 hour laundromat up the street. stop driving that SUV? i don't even know how to drive.

i want to find the supergenius who's shoving all this green goodness down our collective throats and stick my carbon footprint where the sun don't shine. don't they know that they aren't talking to me? i live in the ghetto! what about us?

in this neck of the woods, everyone is just trying to make it from one day to the next. nobody is thinking about changing their light bulbs. they're thinking about what to do to keep the lights on. and you know what? organic fruits and vegetables are extremely expensive. when you're broke or just plain ol' poor, organic is not an option. they don't call whole foods "whole paycheck" for nothing. i think i'm batting a thousand by choosing healthy options but the ghetto doesn't make it easy for me.

when it's time to eat around here in west harlem, there's that smart black contingent that insists on vegetarianism/veganism and healthy life choices, with delicious hot spots popping up all over harlem, like Raw Soul. and then on the other hand, there are three McDonald's restaurants within a 10 block radius of my apartment in either direction. one of them is two blocks away. they're all bilingual, they're all open 24 hours a day and they all do a brisk business. somewhere inbetween those choices are all the "soul food" options that everyone loves to complain about: fried, greasy chicken or fried greasy fish, overcooked vegetables and nary a salad in sight. lifestyle choices abound.

not only does this stuff not apply to me, but i can't really afford to make the switch because everything that's green -- from the houses to the organic food and everything inbetween -- is so expensive.

you know what? ed begley jr. should come to the ghetto and give a tutorial to explain why we should all embrace his green way of life, so some single black mother with two kids and three jobs that's barely making ends meet can kick his wealthy, privileged pasty rump all the way back to mali-boo-boo. she lives in the projects. what does she need a vertical axis wind turbine for?

the question persists: how do you go green in the ghetto? here are my top ten suggestions.
  1. take a tote bag to the grocery store. yeah, i know. this is an easy one. that's why hardly anyone does it.
  2. ride your bike to work. actually, ride it everywhere. that's kind of a big deal in the city because the roads aren't as bike friendly as they should be. but they are more bike friendly than they used to be, nonetheless -- many avenues have bike lanes and zipping up the west side highway in a straight shot is dreamy, especially at night. the problem is, employers don't always accommodate the bikes. fortunately there are lots of parking lots in the city that do -- for free.
  3. stop taking cabs everywhere. the subway is way cheaper and usually it's faster. and yes, it's clean. usually the people who complain about how filthy the subway is are the ones who are turning it into a sty.
  4. change those filters in your AC units. i've actually got AC now! go figure.
  5. change the lightbulbs. until they figure out how enviornmentally sound those mercury-encrusted lightbulbs are (hint: they're not!) make do with a lower wattage.
  6. use rechargeable batteries.
  7. recycle everything. when i say everything, i mean anything that isn't biodegradable. sort through your garbage and stack/bind newspapers/magazines. sort through your clothes and donate them to the salvation army. toss out your old computer and other electronic goods in a properly designated area -- like your hallway. (that's how i got rid of my old tv/vcr.) here's a great idea: donate your old cell phone so a soldier in iraq can call home.
  8. shop at the new york city farmer's markets. that's right: you don't have to go all the way to union square for organic greengrocers' fare -- thanks to an initiative by the new york city health department that wants to get all urban dwellers eating healthier, you can shop in harlem, the bronx and brooklyn for fresh fruits and vegetables. and they take food stamps.
  9. get oxygen friendly houseplants. this is a big one, because it can detox your home enviorns and add a lot of life to them. who knows? i may make a pit stop to the plant district at the end of the month, to see if i can find a little tree of some sort.
  10. and last but not least...go organic -- or at least all natural -- if you can afford it. when it's time to eat, my motto is this: check the list of ingredients and don't eat anything you can't pronounce. there's lots of other everyday things to do, too. clean your hardwood floors with white vinegar. (my grandmother taught me that one years ago.) brush your teeth with baking soda -- because most of the toothpaste out there has a ton of sugar in it, anyway. (hey! she taught me that one, too.) leave off with the polyester and wear natural fibers like silk, cotton, wool. wear vintage clothing -- now that's recycling!
one thing is very clear: this go green movement isn't about using less gas or starting your own compost heap, per se. it's about changing your lifestyle -- because it's way too expensive to implement most of this stuff, anyway. it's comprised of very personal moment to moment choices that we make every day that can enhance our lives and hopefully change the world.

i wish i could live in a green house. the only ones who can afford them are rock stars and movie stars-turned enviornmentalists: people with millions to blow on bamboo flooring and proper insulation. anytime i hear these people going on about what i should be doing to save the enviornment, i start yawning because it's so obvious that they don't live in the real world, with real people's problems. believe me -- if i could, i'd live in one of buckminster fuller's dymaxion houses. oh, well. maybe i will get one someday, if i ever get loaded.

here's the question we should really be asking ourselves: who killed the electric car?

still and all, it would be nice to see the media address what the poor and lower middle class folk that can't afford to make this green move are supposed to do. that's what i want: more suggestions for the rest of us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


i haven’t won a photography contest yet but i did get one published, of harriet tubman’s home for the aged for a children’s book about her. and i’m waiting to hear back about another one that may get published in an online guide to new york city, of morris-jumel mansion. cool.

they both found my photos on which got me to thinking about registering some photos at getty images and a few other places with stock photos at the ready. if i get organized and do this the right way, maybe this could turn into another stream of income.

we’ll see. in the meantime, i’m getting back into the habit of taking my camera with me everywhere—especially now that the weather is great. there is so much beautiful architecture all over harlem, so many beautiful sights everywhere i turn, and no one seems to know it…

Monday, April 21, 2008

dim sum in chinatown

yesterday i went to have dim sum at grand harmony palace in the heart of chinatown with two friends who happen to be chinese and native new yorkers—miona is from the bronx and evan was born and raised on mott street. they both speak chinese as well, which isn’t always the case with the children of immigrants. usually, the push is to make their children and themselves as american as possible. by the time they realize that what they are is american enough, it’s usually too late. but that’s not the case with miona’s parents, who still don’t speak english. as i walked to our table in the restaurant, i could fully understand why.

the room was awash in red fabric on the walls, with chandeliers and gold touches all over the place and bright yellow seat covers and tablecloths that made everything look elegant and drab all at once. everywhere was a flurry of activity: babies crying, children laughing, old people chatting, everyone eating, and starchly uniformed servers with these huge layered trays on sturdy wheels moving slowly through the room like metal oxen, pausing for a moment at the hint of a signal that anyone wants anything at all. it was easy to make them stop where we were because miona loves food and evan was starving.

i found it especially amusing that no one was speaking any english whatsoever. the effect was not unlike a pane of glass breaking over and over again, at different pitches, and different angles, from different directions.

i followed their lead, pointing at things, then asking them to tell me the names of the things that i liked, then pronouncing them badly until they stopped cringing and i won their tentative approval. white teapots filled with crysanthemum tea were constantly refilled. if i wanted my tiny cup refilled, i tapped my finger next to the cup and kept tapping until i wanted them to stop pouring.

dim sum is the asian equivalent of english high tea but much, much tastier. it’s like a heavy snack (yes, i know—that’s oxymoronic, but it’s true). i love dim sum and i’ve certainly had it before but not in a place where that’s all they served at that time of day. and the experience of being the only black person in a gigantic roomful of chinese people was more than a notion. if you are of color, you are black as far as i'm concerned. that would include everyone except the white people -- and quite a few of them ain't telling it.

frieda kahlo was right: chinese babies are the most beautiful babies in the world.

one of the things that miona and evan couldn’t stop talking about was my impending nuptials in charleston, south carolina that are happening approximately a year from now. interesting but true: they have never lived outside of new york city. they both went to college in the area. miona travelled to southeast asia recently for some months and had great adventures but before that, she’d never really left home. so the south is this great mystery and they’re both wondering about the asian presence there.

what i’m trying to show them is that there has been a strong chinese presence in the south since reconstruction but they don’t seem to know a lot about chinese-american history in general. so i’ve promised them a reading list, documentaries, and welcome packages filled with maps and things to do when they get there. clearly, they want and need to be primed.

we’re already planning to have lunch in harlem somewhere soon. maybe the new italian restaurant up the street from me. i’m not sure. next weekend is already earmarked for english cuisine at my favorite anglo spot: tea and sympathy on greenwich.

all in all, a new and exciting experience. next month: i’m getting my learner’s permit!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Meet the Mandingos

my, my, my. such colorful times we live in.

what someone's sexual fetish is says more about them than just about anything else -- probably because sex isn't something that we learn by group behavior. whatever you're into is you. with sex tourism on the rise, it seems that people everywhere are becoming more open and deliberate about persuing that obscure object of desire. and the love/hate relationship that the world has with black people/black culture need hardly be stressed. with all of this in mind, here's an interesting article that some would hardly consider surprising.

They're gentlemen in the street, thugs in the bedroom, and your wife's steamiest fantasy.
-By Sanjiv Bhattacharya

Jeff didn't always like black guys. He was prejudiced—he admits it. As one of the few white kids at his school in the southeast of Washington, D.C., he fought a lot with black kids and was occasionally beaten up. When he later ran a string of gas stations, he was robbed: A black guy held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger—but the gun didn't go off.

"Honestly, that experience helped me a lot," he says. "I used to be very conservative. I didn't spend much money. Now I enjoy life. I'm much more open. Especially sexually."

It's a measure of how far he's come that Jeff (not his real name), now 40, is telling me this while we're watching a black guy have sex with his wife, Amber (not her real name), 37, at an interracial orgy. In Jeff's house. On his bed. The man screwing Jeff's wife is Branford (not his real name), a 30-year-old massage therapist who's not holding back—this isn't lovemaking, this is a proper pounding. Forget Amber—that's just how Jeff likes it.

In some ways, Jeff hasn't changed at all—he's the same football jock with small eyes, a wide head, and a big man's shyness; he's still a staunch Republican with a firm handshake and a solid golf game. But after surviving the holdup and two failed marriages, he set off in search of a new life. He moved from D.C. to Clearwater, Florida, where he sells mortgages, not gas. He bought a $700,000 home on a fairway of a country club, where he's yet to see a single black member. And he met Amber, a divorcée with a sag of victimhood on her face. Jeff and Amber have been married for three years and in "the lifestyle"—as swingers like to call it—for two. At one point Amber started talking about black guys. "I wasn't thrilled," says Jeff. "Nope, wasn't a fan." But she persisted, and he decided to go along. "I like seeing Amber get off," he says with a shrug. "It excites the hell out of me. And it's better if they're black. All Amber wants is sex. Black guys get that. And I know that Amber would never date a black man."

Jeff's casual bigotry aside, tonight's orgy is fairly typical. Amber's two boys, 11 and 13, have been shipped off to their grandparents' house, and their rooms have been suitably modified—the posters are off the walls, the clothes have been put away, and the lightbulbs have been changed to red. By 8 p.m., the incense is lit, the Jacuzzi's bubbling, and the DJ is spinning Sean Paul and Jay-Z by the swimming pool. Within an hour or so, the guests—23 white couples and 3 black couples—have arrived, all of them here specifically to have sex with single black men often a decade or two their junior. There are 12 such men in the house tonight. They call themselves Mandingos. And this is a Mandingo party.

In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco and the killing of Sean Bell, an unarmed black man, by police officers in New York last November, America's relationship with race—notwithstanding the enthusiasm surrounding Barack Obama's bid for the presidency—remains troubled. For the Mandingos, meanwhile, the parties continue. The man who arranged tonight's event, Art Hammer (a name he uses solely for Mandingo parties), started the Florida Mandingo group four years ago, just after his divorce. An enterprising 42-year-old black swinger from Tampa Bay, he has since become the go-to guy when it comes to organizing gang bangs and orgies for couples—the vast majority of whom are white—with a fetish for black men. So it was Hammer who sent the Evites for this "pajamas and lingerie" party and secured the attendance of the guests; it was also Hammer who booked the DJ, paid for the finger food, and brought the "courtesy condoms." Amber and Jeff just had to open their home. An advertising-sales guy by day, Hammer has done a bang-up job of marketing the Mandingos among the swinger set. The name Mandingo comes from Mandinka, a West African tribe that, in the antebellum South, was prized and bred for strength and virility. (Not that Hammer necessarily has Mandinka roots; he has no idea—"I'm Art Hammer," he says. "Not Art Haley.") Mandingo is now a byword for black male sexual prowess. When Hammer established the Florida Mandingos, two other (unaffiliated) groups—the So Cal Mandingos and the NYC Mandingos—were already up and running. Today new groups keep sprouting—in Atlanta, Chicago, Oakland—but Hammer's is the most prominent, the only Mandingo group invited to host a "Chocolate Fantasy Suite" at N'awlins in November, the second-biggest swinger convention in the country.

"The fantasy goes both ways," he explains. "The women get to fuck our guys while their husbands watch, and we get to fuck rich white women, really mutt 'em out. It works! But people in this lifestyle are affluent—I'm talking judges, CEOs, FBI agents, important people—so before they invite a bunch of black men into their homes, they want to know they're safe, they're not going to get robbed, and everyone is discreet. So that's what I provide—a gentleman in the street and a thug in the bedroom."

Hammer's "A-team" comprises 20 of the more than 100 single black men on his books; many of them are here tonight. "They have to have at least eight inches, and most have a college degree. They have to be able to role-play, and most important of all, they have to be gentlemen. It's the difference between Notre Dame, where you're a student-athlete, and the University of Oklahoma, where you're an athlete-student. We don't just take jocks."

Hammer is a model Mandingo, if a little old. Chipper and Ivy League-educated, he was raised on Long Island and served with the Special Forces. Almost half of the Mandingos at the party are ex-military men. There's also an accountant, an engineer, and a software developer, all in their early thirties. The youngest, Charles (not his real name), is 25 and a second-year law student. While they all uphold a strict standard of behavior, their individual opinions of these parties vary widely. Oddly, the crassest among them is the oldest, John, 47 (ex-Air Force, now a software salesman). Ever since his divorce went through in 2003, after some 20 years of marriage, he has been relishing his opportunity to "sling dick" without any responsibility. "Couples, for me, are perfect," he says. "There's no girlfriend-boyfriend shit. You keep her when I'm done—thank you very much. No valentines, no birthday. I'm a pig."

By contrast, Jared (not his real name), 36 (a car and pet-cleaning-equipment salesman who's in the Army Reserve), likes to write poetry and refrains from using words like pussy and fuck. He describes interracial orgies as a "heightening experience," proof that prejudice may be on the wane. "I find the yin and yang of the two colors mixing very erotic," he says. "I believe the world is looking beyond color now more than ever. And people are getting more attractive. Sexier people are having more babies. Look around!"

It's not clear where Jared is looking. These women resemble Kathy Bates more than they do Kathy Ireland. As they hover around the snacks on the kitchen island, the Mandingos mill among them in silk pajamas. And almost instantly, while the women's mild-mannered husbands chat about real estate and the PGA, the games begin. Hands rove from chicken wings to breasts, from chips to hips, from guac to cock. One couple grind by the sink and feed each other meatballs. Husbands and wives start slinking off with their chosen Mandingos. The party has begun its carnal ebb and flow, between nookie in the bedrooms and foreplay in the kitchen.

Hammer himself won't have sex tonight out of principle—the swinger equivalent of "don't get high on your own supply." He's the host here and a diligent one, always circulating and making introductions—he's the one who knows everyone's sexual predilections. Meanwhile, Jeff will manage to squeeze in two brief blow jobs before the night is over. The rest of the time he seems to be cleaning up empties and replacing trash bags. He's an obsessively tidy man—"my OCD husband," Amber calls him affectionately.

"No one's having sex on the sofas," he says, looking pleased. "I left the throw cushions on to encourage people to use the bedrooms—a little something I learned at the last party. Especially because we've got a couple of squirters here tonight. You don't want that on the microfiber. Not good."

Watching the Mandingos in action, one immediately notices two things: that most of them are packing more than eight inches, and that they're better-looking than the women they're pleasuring. Jared, for instance, is a chiseled and muscular six feet, probably the best-looking of the men. His first encounter is a ménage à trois with Maryam (not her real name), a pudding of cellulite, and her chiropractor husband, Rick (not his real name), who's all back fuzz and belly. Rick adopts a lavatorial squat near Maryam's face and thrusts his penis at her. Jared's presence seems like an act of charity, not that he'd say so himself. "No, no, there was attraction," he insists. "They're very nice, polite people. It's an inner attraction."

"Listen, black guys like bigger women because they can tear it up," says Branford, the masseur who had sex with Amber earlier in the evening. "They might look like librarians, but look at them go from room to room, taking double-digit dicks all night. It's awesome." In comparison, he finds that younger, hotter girls are scarcely worth the effort. "They think lightning shoots out of their pussy—'Oh, you want sex, what are you going to give me?' Here you get the soccer mom who's like, 'I just want you to fuck the living shit out of me.' That alone is hot."

Branford is an evangelist for the Mandingos. At the last 70 or so parties, he's brought his table and given free massages. "I make great contacts here," he says. "This gets my name out there; that's why I don't charge." The way he sees it, interracial orgies are the new golf—a way to interact with rich folks. Charles, the law student, also sees the benefits. "When you network with someone, it's because you have something in common. Whether it's golf or tennis or . . . .interracial sex," he says. "I haven't used it to my advantage, but I'm not opposed—I've definitely had sex with lawyers in the past."

According to Charles, both black and white friends he has told are usually intrigued, even impressed, by the Mandingo party scene. Shelby (not his real name), Jared's ripped 29-year-old cousin (ex-Navy, now a firefighter), tells me that those who are repulsed tend to be for sexual rather than racial reasons—men by the thought of having sex around other men, women by the wanton promiscuity. This isn't to say that they chatter about it at the watercooler—most of the Mandingos keep their weekend activities a secret from their co-workers.

But the Mandingos themselves have their own issues with the lifestyle. For example, there's seldom kissing or going down. It's a rule for some—Jared won't kiss or come unless he's with someone "special." Of course, the no-kissing rule is a prostitute's code. Not that the Mandingos get paid for sex—it's against the rules. Each guest at Hammer's parties pays an annual membership—couples pay $30 and Mandingos $75. Everyone pays an additional fee of $30 for each party.

But occasionally the rules are bent. Some Mandingos confessed to receiving tips of $100 and more after private sessions with couples at last year's N'awlins in November swinger convention. Others brag about the vacations they've been taken on. "I've been to Vegas twice, all expenses paid," says John, the software salesman. "The Bahamas, Miami. One couple took me twice. After a while, you feel like a piece of meat. But hey, they're not using me to mow their damn lawn. They're using me to fuck the wife."

Jared, too, for all his idealism, has felt used in the past. Once, when he was with a couple from Sarasota, the husband directed all the action and the woman didn't say a word. "I felt like I was just—excuse my language—'a dick' for his wife," he says. Unfortunately, a similar thing happens tonight—a heavily medicated husband starts belching out commands—and Jared just walks out, leaving the wife frustrated and embarrassed.

Jared believes that, the stereotype of black male potency notwithstanding, the fundamental dynamic in the interracial swing scene—that of black men dominating white women—is fueled by a combination of white guilt and female sympathy. But Hammer, who is an impresario of these fantasies, sees another potent element at play: the humiliation of the white husband. Up to four times a week, Hammer is asked to arrange cuckold scenes in which the husband is submissive to his wife, who is, in turn, dominated by a Mandingo. "He can't participate, he can only watch," he says. "And afterward, he has to clean her up." Then there are the public-humiliation fantasies, in which a white man asks a Mandingo to kiss and grope his partner in public while he watches. Even here at the party, there's an air of humiliation. Some of the husbands I speak with confess that they're no longer able to satisfy their wives. And while others say they get off on watching, they're never fully committed. "It kinda kills me sometimes," says one partygoer, Kevin (not his real name), listening to the submission fantasies of his girlfriend, Gail (not her real name). "Because I'm not dominant. I'm really an easygoing guy."

What all this means for race relations in the age of Obama is difficult to say. Though he's had a disappointing night, an optimistic Jared still likes to think that the more the races share fluids, "the more these taboos will disappear and we'll all realize we're not that different." But as the clock strikes three and only the stragglers remain, you see the races pulling apart. The Mandingos are hanging out by the pool table, talking reverentially about the white women they've had—"Dude, she took, like, 12 guys; her husband has to let her go, there's no way one man can satisfy her . . ." The only white people still there are out by the pool. Neither Amber nor Jeff will be seeing any of the black men they've invited to their home tonight until the next party, to be held in a month's time. Though Jeff has allowed Branford to be intimate with his wife, he won't be calling him for a beer after work. And if they should see each other at the mall, they'll usually look the other way—it's all part of the swingers' pact.

I find Jeff at the end of the night, busy cleaning up the kids' bedrooms—their grandparents will be returning them in a few hours, and the sheets need to be changed, the lightbulbs switched, the evidence removed. Shining a flashlight underneath the 11-year-old's bed, he tuts and tsks. "There, look, a condom wrapper! I missed one of these once, and the kids found it. You know, I leave a trash can in every room, but still, some people . . ."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

enough, already

when i read this, i thought, okay -- this really cuts it.

alicia keys' remarks are proof positive that pop stars, while exposed to so much information and culture in the world, are quite often clever on cue but as it turns out, aren't necessarily intelligent or even smart.

in all likelihood, a standard issue liberal arts BA from any state college could have fixed that, but oh well. now that she's read a few books and found her "political voice," we'll be subjected to more of these spontaneous outbursts of gut-churning "brilliance" from her. what's obvious is that she's a corporate tool with no room for political anything. why she doesn't see that is even more bizarre than what she said about tupac and biggie. the nanosecond she releases something political that doesn't sell, the label will make her release something else that does. when you're a corporate tool, that's the way it works.

what really cuts it for me is that every insipid little thing she says reverberates around the world a thousandfold, for anyone to edit and misinterpret as they please. that's why some artists don't do interviews. no one likes a pretty girl with a strong opinion but when what she says is this bent, everyone has a field day.

yes, there are a lot of artists who started their careers singing sappy love songs and matured to ultimately create political life-changing music. marvin gaye is a personal favorite. but that was the 70s, when the times made room for, and in many ways demanded such material. do you really think that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young could release ohio in this day and age? when the kent state campus shootings happened in ohio, those rich, famous, drug-addled rock stars were outraged enough to do something. in a matter of days, neil young wrote the song, they recorded it -- and it was flooding the airwaves within two weeks. (that's right: a protest song reached all the way up to #14 on the billboard hot 100. so there.)

nowadays, so-called artists are way more concerned with bling-bling and making money to write a real protest song. i know, i know -- everybody has their charities nowadays, their benevolent funds and organizations and whatnot. and i'm sure that those organizations do good things worldwide. but the upshot really is that their insipid yet danceable music is what's floating through everyone's consciousness. not information, not political awareness.

at this juncture, with our country in the state that it's in and now that she's filled our ears with audible well-produced fluffernutter, which would she rather have, as an artist: music that protests, teaches, inspires -- or songs that collectively numb us out? according to that pesky interview/article in blender magazine, apparently ms. keys would prefer the former.

hm. let's see what her next cd sounds like.

okay, so here's two sides of the same coin: the promo blip for the interview in blender and the clean up that ms. keys and her publicist attempted, to clear the air. interesting that she didn't correct any of that black panther stuff, or the tupac/biggie conspiracy theory. enjoy.


Alicia Keys has theory on Tupac-Biggie feud

Thinks the government and media fueled fued between the slain rappers

updated 6:21 p.m. ET, Tues., April. 15, 2008

There’s another side to Alicia Keys: conspiracy theorist.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter tells Blender magazine: “‘Gangsta rap’ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other. ‘Gangsta rap’ didn’t exist.”

Keys, 27, said she’s read several Black Panther autobiographies and wears a gold AK-47 pendant around her neck “to symbolize strength, power and killing ’em dead,” according to an interview in the magazine’s May issue, on newsstands Tuesday.

Another of her theories: That the bicoastal feud between slain rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. was fueled “by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing.”

Keys’ AK-47 jewelry came as a surprise to her mother, who is quoted as telling Blender: “She wears what? That doesn’t sound like Alicia.” Keys’ publicist, Theola Borden, said Keys was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

Though she’s known for her romantic tunes, she told Blender that she wants to write more political songs. If black leaders such as the late Black Panther Huey Newton “had the outlets our musicians have today, it’d be global. I have to figure out a way to do it myself,” she said.


Alicia Keys says comments to magazine were 'misrepresented'

NEW YORK (AP) — Alicia Keys says she's not a conspiracy theorist. In a statement issued Tuesday, Keys said she was clarifying "comments that were made during my recent Blender magazine interview since they have been misrepresented."

According to an interview in the magazine's May issue, the 27-year-old singer says: "`Gangsta rap' was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other. `Gangsta rap' didn't exist." She also is quoted as saying that she wears a gold AK-47 pendant around her neck "to symbolize strength, power and killing 'em dead."

"We stand by our story," Blender spokeswoman Kate Cafaro told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"My comments about `gangsta rap' were in no way trying to suggest that the government is responsible for creating this genre of rap music," Keys said in a statement issued by J Records. "The point that I was trying to make was that the term was oversloganized by some of the media causing reactions that were not always positive. Many of the `gangsta rap' lyrics articulate the problems of the artists' experiences and I think all of us, including our leaders, could be doing more to address these problems including drugs, gang violence, crime, and other related social issues."

As for the AK-47 remark, Keys said Tuesday that AK-47 is a nickname given to her by friends "as an acronym for Alicia Keys and a metaphor for wowing people with my music and performances, `killing 'em dead' on stage. The reference was in no way meant to have a literal, political or negative connotation."

When AP attempted to reach Keys last week about the Blender interview, her publicist, Theola Borden, said the singer was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

The multiplatinum star behind the hits "Fallin'" and "No One" most recently had success with her latest CD, "As I Am," which has sold 3.4 million copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

another tv star starts his theater career on broadway

the latest famous person to join the "i-don't-do-theater-but-i'm-going-to-be-on-broadway" category is mario lopez, star of saved by the bell. he's also known for guest stints on soap operas and tv shows like nip/tuck that allow him to show off that rock-solid backside of his, and of course dancing with the stars. most recently, he hosted last season's randy jackson presents america's best dance crew on vh-1 and the entertainment news magazine extra. busy guy.

they're picking him up today in a chorus line. he'll be there all summer -- just in time for the tourist season. i saw a chorus line when it was in previews and i thought it was so cool that there weren't any famous people in it -- just really talented musical theater performers. oh, well. when ticket sales sag, getting a name in there that middle america recognizes (because seemingly enough, that's who goes to see broadway shows in this town) is what raises revenue. and sometimes, it's getting that name in there when the show is cast initially is what allows it to open in the first place.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Miss Texas has been crowned Miss USA!

because of my bibical namesake, i take beauty contests very seriously.

that's right: ms. crystle stewart of missouri city, texas -- a teensy little rinky-dink town right outside of houston -- beat out fifty other beauty queens to be crowned miss usa on friday in las vegas, nevada. how cool.

here's the kicker, for me: she was chosen as 3rd runner up for miss texas twice and then first runner up for miss texas twice before she won the title of miss texas. she's 26, so she's been at it every year for quite awhile. i think that's a huge deal, that she kept trying until she won. it shows a remarkable sense of focus and diligence and determination. in an interview i saw this morning, she went on about how every loss was a chance to learn what not to do and what to improve. i love that.

i know this sounds cheesy, but it takes a lot of work to look good. nevermind all the workouts, the beauty treatments and having to figure out what looks good on you and what doesn't. if you're a modern girl, that's your gig anyway. it's the dental work that kills you. that alone is enough to cave most people in, because it's crazy expensive and it usually takes a lot of time to fix whatever is wrong. shifting teeth around and pulling teeth and stuff like that. you have to take out loans and work a second job and all this. i know my teeth are going to look great next spring, but right now i'm going through hell and high water and there's nothing pretty about it.

and yes, i'm sure that they're capped to perfection but miss usa has perfect-looking teeth.

i think it's very important when women of color win these beauty competitions -- especially in light of the fact that once upon a time not too long ago, it was unthinkable to include us. it tells the world -- and us too, because frankly some of us really need to hear it -- that we are beautiful, too.

but okay, so here's the real kicker in all this: i really do believe that you can use whatever you've got to glorify God, even if all you've got is pretty. think about it: queen esther was basically a beauty queen. she saved an entire nation, and how did she pull that off? it happened because the king thought she was more beautiful than any of the others. and once he realized that killing all the jews meant killing her too, everyone's life was spared.

what on earth did she look like? she must have been a real hot tomato. the bible says that queen esther "was lovely in form and features."

God, as it turns out, can use anyone, with whatever they've got.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

this is how they get down in the balkans...

a little perspective is always a good thing.

in this case, its a song we've all heard before: i will always love you, forever associated with whitney houston and her vocal powerhouse pipe-age, was originally a country song written by dolly parton to her mentor porter waggoner as a way of saying goodbye to him as she moved on from nashville to hollywood.

black country music, indeed.

this version is straight out of the balkans via their version of "american idol" -- this particular singer (with a warble that's so bizarre and so full of tremolo i thought she was middle eastern or something), is the popular favorite.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

it's all about "quality of life"...

when i don't have a day job, my life is so together.

i throw things away and i sort through reciepts and i streamline everything. i get really, really, really organized. i stick to a budget that's realistic and sensible. i keep a really clean apartment, because coming home to a clean place just plain ol' feels good. i have no idea why. it just does. (try it.) when a situation turns foul, home becomes a beautiful sanctuary. and there are other perks, too. i practice the piano when i wake up in the morning. i download a movie via netflix in the middle of the day. i work on my songs. i audition like crazy.

what's really bizarre is, i look great because i start almost every day with a solid work out -- and when the weather turns nice, i ride my bike everywhere. that means i stay lanky in this really righteous healthy vibrant way that makes everyone think that i'm in love or something. and i am. but that's not it, that's not why i'm glowing. i'm glowing because after the work out, i sit in that steam room until my skin turns to butter and my muscles stop going boing! i'm glowing because i always moisturize. i'm glowing because i have pre-paid facials in k-town. i'm glowing because i exfoliate every week. the kicker is, i end up wearing all the cool clothes in my closet -- fat, skinny and otherwise. every season, i tell myself wow -- i don't need new clothes. i need to stay a size 4/6.

i'm not lanky yet. i'm still shedding that desk job lard. but it is coming off, finally. and as i'm watching my midsection disappear, i realize three things:
  1. why should i strap myself to a desk job? i've already got health insurance with SAG and AEA says i'm vested with a pension. let's face it -- those stats make me a working actor in anybody's book. the freelance income is just another hustle. and as i've stated previously, everyday i really am hustling...
  2. surprise! if you're a medical copy editor, freelance work pays better than a staff position. funny thing: when i had a job, all the freelancers that would come in told me so. even my supervisor told me so! eventually, i got the hint.
  3. sure, i miss the steady paycheck -- but losing this weight is a good thing. when i had a day job, there was no time for the gym. and if there was time, i was too tired to go.
sure, i'm happy now. but even when things turn crappy (and eventually, they will), there's way too much joy in my life for me to not feel buoyant. i know that the joy will keep me afloat when everything goes south.

okay. back to my guitar, another pot of lapsang souchong and adult swim.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ned Beatty sums it up...

not to put too fine a point on it, but i think ned beatty rather succinctly sums up the state of broadway shows and the hollywood/fame star power deemed necessary to run them effectively in this new york times article.

it's more than a notion that there's a movie star-studded all black revival of cat on a hot tin roof that's up and running right now with terrence howard making his broadway debut as brick, the male lead. the reviews have been interesting, to say the least.

now that puffy has had his moment in a raisin in the sun on broadway (his first play and consequently, his broadway debut -- but of course you already guessed that, if you didn't know) and on television and india. arie is slated to appear this summer in for colored girls, who's the next star to grace the broadway stage to hone those acting chops and "stretch out in another direction"? 50 cent?

hm...he did make several movies recently...


Movie Stars Onstage: Big Daddy Speaks Out

Published: November 25, 2003

They say you need sexy young movie stars to sell Broadway shows these days, particularly when it comes to long, literate plays like Tennessee Williams's ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'' The current revival of ''Cat'' meets this requirement with Jason Patric, in silk pajamas that reveal his hairy chest, and Ashley Judd in a form-fitting slip.

But it is a slightly rotund, largely nondescript, highly experienced 66-year-old actor who critics say makes this ''Cat'' worth seeing. Ned Beatty is a movie star himself, though not the big box-office kind. And he says Broadway has come to rely too heavily on celebrities, thrusting them into challenging roles they do not have the acting chops to handle.

Tucking into a plate of shrimp scampi after a recent matinee -- hold the angel-hair pasta, per the Atkins diet, please -- Mr. Beatty engaged in a candid assessment of his co-stars. He said he very much liked his glamorous colleagues personally: Mr. Patric, best known for the film ''After Dark, My Sweet,'' and Ms. Judd, who starred in ''Ruby in Paradise.'' He simply thinks, he said, that they are ill equipped for their parts: Brick, a brooding, boozing former athlete mourning his friend's death, and Maggie, his long-suffering wife who craves his attention.

Mr. Beatty said of Ms. Judd: ''She is a sweetie, and yet she doesn't have a whole lot of tools. But she works very hard.''

And of Mr. Patric: ''He's gotten better all the time, but his is a different journey.''

Mr. Beatty had no similar criticisms for Margo Martindale, a veteran stage actress who was also praised by critics in her role as Big Mama. When asked whether she agreed with Mr. Beatty's perspective on their co-stars, Ms. Martindale said, ''These are lovely people, and I don't share his view.''

Ms. Judd and Mr. Patric did not return calls seeking comment. Mr. Beatty says Broadway is wasting the talent of better-trained anonymous actors all over the country. ''It's interesting to have people from film and television who can bring people into theater,'' he said. ''But the reality is, we have a lot of actors out there doing theater.

''In theater you want to go from here to there, you want it to be about something,'' he continued. ''Stage actors learn how to do that. Film actors often don't even think about it. They do what the director wants them to do, and they never inform their performance with -- call it what you wish -- through-line, objective.

''I think we've got those actors out there, and I think Broadway could be richer if it exploited that.''

Mr. Beatty seemed nostalgic for the cast of the revival's original London production. He was nominated for an Oliver Award there for his performance as Big Daddy, the bullying yet tender Southern plantation owner. ''I lucked out because I drew Brendan Fraser the first time,'' he said, speaking of the actor who played Brick. (Frances O'Connor played Maggie.) ''He's great at stagecraft, knows how to go from the beginning to the middle to the end.''

''I must tell you, that can be lacking in what we're doing.''

At the same time, Mr. Beatty said, his two young colleagues were giving him as good as they had. ''Nobody goes out onstage in front of people and does anything but their very best,'' he said. ''You just use it. That's what's there.''

Critics have hailed Mr. Beatty's performance as a high-water mark. ''What Mr. Beatty does better than any other Big Daddy I've seen is to convey without caricature the monstrous, exhilarated egotism of a man who believes he has outrun death,'' Ben Brantley said in his review in The New York Times.

Mr. Brantley also said: ''From the moment Mr. Beatty first shows up in the play's second act, he brings with him the invigorating breeze of passionate, scrupulously detailed acting.''

By contrast Mr. Brantley called Ms. Judd's performance that ''of a self-conscious pupil in an elocution class'' and said Mr. Patric ''appears to have spent many hours watching Marlon Brando and James Dean movies'' and ''takes Brick's self-anesthetized state to sometimes exasperating extremes.'' Similarly Entertainment Weekly called Ms. Judd's Maggie ''more of a fashion lynx than an alley feline'' and said Mr. Patric ''compacts Brick into cement.'' Even critics who liked their performances put Mr. Beatty's in a different category.

Anthony Page, who directed ''Cat'' in London and then New York, also suggested his own disappointment, saying that had he not had to leave for London to direct another play, he might have improved the performances of Ms. Judd and Mr. Patric. ''I think they're growing just by playing it,'' Mr. Page said. ''I wish I could have stayed in New York longer.

''I've been very happy with it certain nights,'' he added. ''It's not always completely consistent.''

Asked whether he agreed with critics who said that the production seemed lopsided because of Mr. Beatty's strong performance, Mr. Page said: ''It's been very helpful to have someone who's very much at home on the stage -- which Ned is -- to be in the center of the production.''

Mr. Beatty is, indeed, at home onstage. Although certainly best known for his career-defining performance in the 1972 film ''Deliverance,'' he spent much of his early professional life in regional theater, including eight years at the Arena Stage in Washington.

''I was probably averaging through a lot of my younger days 13 to 15 shows a year onstage,'' he said. ''And one time I figured out I was onstage more than 300 days most years.''

A poor student and weak athlete from Louisville, Ky., the young Mr. Beatty thought he was going to be a singer. But when he couldn't get cast in musicals, he started doing plays. ''I got lucky,'' he said. ''Theater was always lucky for me.''

He said he was never that picky about roles. ''Shoot, somebody offered me a job,'' Mr. Beatty said, ''I took it.''

Mr. Beatty made his Broadway debut in ''The Great White Hope'' with Jane Alexander and James Earl Jones, which originated at Arena Stage and moved to New York in 1968. Mr. Beatty rejoined the cast a few months into the run. He had not been back to Broadway until now, and said he was not particularly excited about it.

''I've done better theater other places,'' he said.

Mr. Beatty isn't crazy about New York. ''New York is what it is, a haven for millions of people,'' he said. ''My game plan for the rest of my life is not to live my life with that many people.''

He's been busy in his career making more than 100 movies, among them ''Network,'' for which he received an Oscar nomination; ''Nashville''; the first two ''Superman'' movies; ''All the President's Men''; and many for television. He also spent three seasons on the series ''Homicide,'' had a recurring role on ''Roseanne'' and has starred in various television specials.

It is Mr. Beatty's natural quality that made Mr. Page decide to cast him as Big Daddy.

''Not being highly educated or bred, Big Daddy came to the plantation in the Depression with no money or background,'' Mr. Page said. ''Ned himself has this terrific instinctive wisdom that makes him salt of the earth.''

Squinting through thick glasses to read his menu, Mr. Beatty did seem as human as the other imperfect souls twirling pasta in his midst, a regular guy with thinning hair who regrets his third divorce though he is happy in his fourth marriage; who says he does not see his eight children enough; who hasn't quite managed, despite the best of intentions, to stop working.

The role scuttled his plans for retirement, to spend more time cooking in front of ''Emeril Live'' on the Food Network in the new house he designed himself in the Sierra Nevada in California. Mr. Beatty had played Big Daddy in a summer stock production when he was 21. He liked the idea of going back at it.

Now, Mr. Beatty said, he plans to revive those retirement plans. For an actor who has done everything from Shakespeare to ''Showboat,'' enough is enough.

''Anthony keeps asking me about doing 'Lear,' '' he said. ''But I've done it. I've played The Fool.''

Thursday, April 10, 2008

random sightings from the gym

i ran into cameron at NYSC in harlem yesterday. we were working out next to each other on those machines that are like long distance ice skating. when he heard my name he balked and reached out to grab me. how sweet!

cameron and i did a production of the wiz in the round at the arena theater in houston, texas some time ago. i was addapearle. i was in the show for probably all of 15 minutes -- the beginning and the end, really, with one hot number to make me really happy. i heard that it might go to broadway, so i did the part because i wanted to be a serious consideration if that happened. george faison choreographed/directed this one. i'd heard the stories about him and how crazy he is, and somehow instinctively i knew that if i was funny, he'd leave me alone. and he did. we had something outrageous like 3 weeks to rehearse and that he got the whole thing choreographed and up on its feet in 9 days.

when cameron told me that he was still doing theater, i told him to stop. on-camera work pays so well, i'm not so sure i'll ever do theater again -- unless it's something that i'm writing/developing, or something that i can originate. we talked about our options on broadway and otherwise. cameron told me that india.arie is going to star in the broadway revival of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf as the woman in purple, with whoopi goldberg producing it. i had no idea she knew how to act. if you are a musician with little or no theater experience, is broadway really the place to learn? especially if you're doing an iconic black feminist play? hm...

i remember when molly ringwald did her star turn on broadway. and christine applegate. and john stamos. and deborah cox. and toni braxton. and p diddy. these people don't originate work. they guarantee ticket sales, bolster sagging box office reciepts and give themselves a little credibility. but at what price for the rest of us? at what price for broadway?

and therein lies the irony: for actors like cameron and i who want to originate work, it's a bleak scenario for us because we haven't done lots of film/tv. we're not famous musicians. not yet, anyway. as far as the acting stuff is concerned, all we can do is keep auditioning. all we can do is stay in a constant state of readiness. all we can do is wait our turn.

well. this isn't a waiting room situation for me. i don't like to wait for the phone to ring, so i'm doing all this other stuff -- like writing another one person show or making another CD -- while all of that acting stuff does whatever it's going to do.

of course, none of this has anything to do with being talented or being good enough. go figure.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

random sightings from my couch

i'm always seeing people i know on tv. it's the wierdest thing. this one gets a sit com, this one gets another national commercial, that one gets a psa. i'm watching the trajectory of everyone else's career from my couch. actually, that's what got me off the couch and actively pursuing on-camera work. i saw one too many people that i'd done theater with and i thought, i could do that. and as it turns out, i can.

last week was no exception. i was watching oprah the other day while i was doing lots of other things, like checking my email and cleaning house and everything else. there was a promo blurb about the show oprah's big give that caught my eye. a black woman on the show from the series who had caused a bit of controversy. everyone said that she had an attitude, that she was always snapping at people on the phone, that she wasn't a team player, that she had an ego. i stifled a yawn, disinterested. what black woman are they NOT going to say that about?

why did she look so familiar, i wondered. and then it hit me: i know's rachael hollingsworth!

i met rachael quite a few years ago when, after an audition and 3 callbacks, i did a master class for the disney musical "the lion king" wherein they taught us how to sing in several african dialects. for weeks we came in and clicked our way through it. rachael was tall, elegant, beautiful -- and funny. she had a great voice. i remember the african conducting the class kept flirting with her. her sister was a dancer -- also tall and elegant and beautiful -- and was already in the show. rachael was singing regularly with hank lane music and eventually i followed her there and did a few club dates, too. i liked her. i thought she was mad cool.

as it turned out, she was dating larry doberman, a friend of mine who was a broadway stalwart from georgia. larry was the only male negro in that lily-white musical crazy for you -- amongst many others. he has a truly beautiful voice. perfect lilt of a tenor, with range and power and grace. and he could dance -- and tap dance -- his butt off. how did i meet larry? we went through the governor's honors program in georgia together, with a concentration in theater. he's also an excellent photographer. (i'm still using his shots!)

anyway, i recall that rachael and larry were an item for awhile and after they broke up she headed west -- but not before she and i worked on that spectacular catastrophe, Marci X. i couldn't go to LA. i didn't know how to drive and the people -- black, white and otherwise -- freaked me out. so i knew that my transition to film/tv/commercials would have to happen on the east coast. but i distinctly remember telling her a heartfelt good-bye and wishing her well. some time later, i saw her on that courtney cox series dirt with a nice chunk of a role as a fashionista and i thought, good for you. hats off to any black woman in this day and age that can work in LA, no matter what she looks like.

so what was rachael doing on oprah? as it turns out, she was one of several contestants on oprah's big give. she made it all the way down to the final four -- her and three other people. whoa. now i had to stop all that other stuff i was doing and really take this in. this was crazy huge.

as it turns out, she'd gotten booted off the show and she was coming on to do this whole big explanation thing with oprah that continued after the show. ugh!

i saw clips of the controversial episode and as i watched the discussion online, i understood. as a performer, you're pushing yourself out there so hardcore with any opportunity that comes along. especially if you're on the verge. and let's face it -- you're always on the verge. as i watched rachael's interview, i remembered this wonderful interview i read on naomi watts where she was going on about how she was in LA and unknown and her agent/manager/person was reprimanding her because she was going into auditions and the producers that were considering her work could see how desperate she was, and it was turning all of them off. and her friend nicole kidman who was hugely famous, was telling her things like, no matter how bad you think you're doing, there's someone out there who'd love to trade places with you. and she would console herself by saying, okay -- i have a ratty old car, but it runs. i have a ratty apartment, but at least i'm not homeless. and so on.

i'm not sure how ms. watts turned off that "i'm getting old! i'm desperate! hire me!" approach when she would go into auditions, but she did eventually and now she's huge. i think i had that when i first came to nyc but after i finished college and fell into music and songwriting, my priorities shifted and i found myself not caring about a lot of that stuff anymore. my problem, i think, is that i should have shifted to film/tv/commercials a lot sooner, instead of sticking to theater.

i can't even imagine being consumed by "fame" and "money" and "making it" at this point. graduate school is an ever-present possibility and the auditions for on-camera work come and go but right now, all i can think about is getting better at playing guitar and writing better songs. i'm way more interested in developing ideas and writing stuff than i am in being the center of attention.

regardless, i know what that "pushing yourself out there" thing feels like. after awhile, it's like a reflex. so i could understand what happened with rachael and the carnegie hall moment and i could totally relate.

the idea of getting out of the way with your ego so God can work is an important one in Christianity, so this wasn't a new concept. the mechanics of how to do it is what's tricky. i think that oprah was clear with her explanation of what it is and how to approach it -- and in the end, the scenario was much the same as many online "after the show" moments: rachael sat there, nodding and crying and smiling and holding oprah's hand tightly, while oprah went on dispensing new age wisdom and courage, like a modern day yoda.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

where are our black leaders?

there are some who ask: why don't we african americans have more black leaders at the helm? the answer is, they killed them.

martin luther king, jr. wasn't the only one who was murdered. here's my personal favorite: fred hampton -- pre-law student, leader and tireless organizer for the black panthers. fred was shot down at the age of 20 in a chicago police raid. when a crossdressing closeted j. edgar hoover decided fred and his constituents were dangerous, the CIA, the FBI and the Chicago police department worked in concert to murder him and many others. of course, no one was jailed for any of this.

what was so dangerous about fred, anyway? was it the free breakfast program that the black panthers facilitated for underprivileged black children? was it his ties to communism and socialism? or was it his reigning cry: power to all people -- black, white and otherwise?

i think the argument was shifting from a racial to an economic one, and this made the government and the status quo very uncomfortable. remember: upon his death, dr. king was planning another march on washington, this time for the poor and disenfranchised. it had been building up for months in other parts of the country in 1967 - 1968. many thought that there would be some sort of an insurrection. and then they killed king, and the march never happened.

ever since then, the unspoken mantra seems to be -- distract them with race and gender issues, so no one will address economic issues. while we're squabbling, they're running us into the ground with outsourced jobs, non-electric cars, wars we don't want and debt that we could never hope to pay.

but i digress.

i love the way fred addresses a crowd. he talks as though he's speaking to one person, not a hundred. like it's just him and you, discussing things. and the call and response he initiates -- so southern, just like that twangy accent he refuses to gentrify. it's almost like he's chewing what he says before he says it. i LOVE that.

mostly, i love how impassioned he is and how knowledgeable and how much he cares.  he would have been a tremendous leader...

Friday, April 04, 2008

telling it like it is

on this, the 40th anniversary of martin luther king, jr's assassination, i think that it is important to pause and reflect on the state of our nation. as i solemnly watched the marches in memphis and atlanta on cable tv, it seemed rather obvious that the concerns of this generation are quite different than those of our parents. but not really. we can all use the same public bathrooms and water fountains -- but why would we? (ew.) yes, we can all vote (except when we are barred from the process, as in florida in 2000) -- but many of us do not vote, anyway. and no, we are no longer segregated socially -- except when we segregate ourselves. and if we're completely honest with ourselves, we'll admit that's most of the time.

the fact that his birthday is a national holiday is hardly enough.

this is about our collective lack of empathy. somewhere in there, all of this boils down to perception, to assumption, to racism, to our refusal to change or accept change in others. it's also about white privilege and the white progressives who refuse to acknowledge white privilege as a very basic tenet to the fabric of their american way of life.

i watched a news clip of obama's supporters chanting "race doesn't matter!" over and over again, triumphantly -- like their saying it made it true. of course, race matters. when you and your excellent credit are applying for that bank loan, when you and your master's degree are filling out that job application, when you're looking for a new place to live in the "wrong" neighborhood, race matters a great deal.

i think a part of what fuels the anger in my generation is that we were the promise of that dream. we were told that if we made good grades and went to college and finished our degrees and assimilated into the mainstream of american society, that dream of "race doesn't matter!" would be our reality. so we put blinders on, we ignored the naysayers, we worked hard, we did what we were told. and somewhere in there, we woke up and realized that assimilation is a lie. slowly, certain realities began to surface.

when dave chappelle walked away from that $50 million dollar deal and said, "the bottom line was, white people own everything," i understood completely. and then when he continued by asking, "and where can a black person go and be himself or say something that's familiar to him and not have to explain or apologize?" i thought, that pretty much sums it up. let's face it, people. if you want your dreams to come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up. if you think race doesn't matter, you're sleepwalking. how can the dream ever happen if we don't wake up and dismantle the status quo?

white privilege is real. as black folk, we aren't overly sensitive or paranoid to say that it exists. we're just telling it like it is.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Don't miss this CNN Special Report

on tomorrow night at 9pm, CNN will air Eyewitness to Murder: The King Assassination -- the day before the anniversary of the dreaded event. supposedly they've been given access to material that was completely off limits previously, including eyewitnesses, FBI documents, and the killer's room. this should be interesting. how cool that i don't have to turn to (white owned) BET for some kind of acknowledgement, that i can watch a program on a news channel that's fairly mainstream to see my story, my history. my theory is that when it comes time to making programming decisions at these networks, there are more and more black people in the room in positions of authority that can at least pitch an idea or make viable suggestions.

i have to admit: when i heard about this, i rolled my eyes and thought about last year's NBC News special about black women in america and how far off the mark they were. nevertheless, something in me is hopeful that CNN gets this right. trying just isn't enough. not anymore. we don't have that kind of time.

this is the first installment of CNN's Black In America series, so maybe the NBC News special got this ball rolling.

i know there's a documentary about it but here's what i want to see: a comprehensive expose about the chicago raid on the black panther party by the FBI's COINTEL-PRO that left fred hampton dead at the age of 20.

something in me knows that i'll see that movie when i make it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

a little bit of good news!

shocking but true: thanks to all the on-camera work i did last year, i have health insurance with SAG! i'm as happy as a clam at high tide about this. being an artist in NYC without health insurance is an unbelievably precarious situation. at least this way, if something happens and i have to go to the hospital, i'm covered.

too bad musicians don't have a union that provides health insurance. there is a musician's union but i don't know of very many musicians that are members. that union seems to be for people who do broadway and who are in symphonies and orchestras. everybody else is way too busy hustling up gigs in bars and whatever with their own bands to adhere to the unions' rules and regulations about where and when and with whom and for how long you can play. everybody else can hardly read music -- unless they're a jazz musician.

i'm already vested with Equity. the kicker is, if i keep this on-camera acting stuff up with SAG for a while longer, i'll be vested.