Thursday, August 28, 2008

america, united

as the world prepares to hear barack obama give the most important speech of his political career, it's interesting to note that today marks the 45th anniversary of the iconic i have a dream speech, delivered by martin luther king, jr to well over 200,000 people at the lincoln memorial during the march on washington for jobs and freedom. no one seems to pay any attention to the fact that the speech was only 15 minutes long and the section that everyone quotes ad nauseum -- i have a dream, today! -- was improvised. actually, his advisors wanted him to leave that part out of the speech because he'd used it 30 times in the previous months and they were convinced that it was tired and that he needed something new. what they didn't understand was that with each delivery, he was refining the way he would express this idea. they stayed up all night writing a new section to replace it. when dr. king was up there and in the moment, he launched into it anyway, and the rest is history.

have you ever heard the entire speech? in a sound-bite friendly world, not very many people have, so i thought i'd post it in its entirety.

no one ever brings up the fact that in the last year or so of his life, dr. king was focused on poverty and the underclass of every race, and criss-crossed the country to create "a multiracial army of the poor." when he died, the poor people's campaign had already been assembled and he was in the midst of organizing a second march on washington to address economic injustice. he wanted congress to enact a poor people's bill of rights. dr. king called this "the second phase" of the civil rights struggle. the media predicted an insurrection. can you imagine?

i can't even begin to fathom what this country would be like if it fully addressed the class struggle and made a concerted effort to eradicate the american serf. the powers that be and the media elite have a difficult time acknowledging that such a person exists, in part because it's not in their best interest to do so. what's clear is that the race issue -- as real and insidious and as horrible as it is -- is used as a well-worn distraction to keep everyone's attention diverted away from the economic issues and what's really at stake politically. the i have a dream speech had such a unifying effect. for one bright, shining moment, we were america, united. and then they killed him.

i'm not so sure that the dream is coming full circle with obama's nomination, simply because of this historical and much heralded coincidence. there is a saying i live by: if you want to make your dreams come true, wake up. after watching the democratic national convention over the past few days, it's clear that many of us are wide awake and taking a stand, and that's a beautiful thing that gives me a lot of hope.

could obama unite us? the truth is, everybody talks a great game because they know the socially acceptable things to say, and they make every effort to be politically correct to avoid conflict and save face. everybody rehearses their political opinions before they leave the house. the bottom line is, what they do when they step into a booth to vote is another issue entirely -- if they make the effort and vote at all. remember: half the people in this country who are eligible to vote didn't bother to do so in the last election. that could very easily happen again.

there are others who definitely need a wake-up call about what's really going on politically, here and in the rest of the world. if mccain gets elected, they're going to get it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

hick hop, black country music and what's next

this happy moment in concert happened in amsterdam (where else?) this april on willie nelson's tour. note snoop's western wear look, complete with flowing locks and red bandana.

and this gleeful little tidbit called "my medicine" happened in amsterdam (of course it did!) on snoop dog's tour. when presenting himself to the hip-hop crowd, willie's got to represent with a gigantic cowboy hat. (heh.)

it's so obvious that they like each other and they're just messing around and having fun. my theory is that it was the gourds version of gin n' juice that sent snoop in this country direction, especially when he realized the vast audience potential and the money he could make. at this point, he can afford to experiment because he's as much of an icon as willie is.

delightful, isn't it -- this merging of country and hip-hop, what some are calling hick hop (or combining mountain music and hip-hop to make hill hop) as made popular by cowboy troy. all major label efforts made by snoop, willie and CT are fine, well and good, but it stands to reason that this sound came from somewhere. by following that twangy trail, we can explore everything that's wrong with this country right now. i think this sound speaks to an all-american class struggle that no one is willing to address. radio shows like holler 2 the hood are growing in popularity because today's urban and rural communities are waking up to the fact that they are the american underclass, irregardless of race. the american serf is real. this music is compelling people who wouldn't have anything to do with each other otherwise to stand together and connect. it will be more than interesting to see where this goes.

most people don't understand that black country music is not an oxymoron. to my ear, it's not about country and hip-hop as much as it's about country and black rock. but hey -- that's me. and i'm hardly the only one.

here's an interesting tidbit: no black rockers/bloggers that i know of are discussing any of this. they are going on and on 'til the break of dawn about what's popular, what's signed, what's got a major label deal with major label money behind it. they don't seem all too concerned about what's next, what's politically explosive, what speaks to class issues. most black rockers balk at the idea of country music melding with any black anything. heh.

we'll see what develops.

Monday, August 25, 2008

that smell

so last night somewhere before 11pm, i jump on the 1 train at 14th street, content to ride local all the way to my stop in west harlem -- especially since it's making express stops because of track work. i don't care because i've fallen headfirst into this book called deer hunting with jesus: dispatches from america's class war that my friend's brother highly recommended. i'm sort of zipping through it because it's so enthralling. after discussing bits of it with my friend, he's taken to reading it over my shoulder and picking it up when i put it down to roam through certain passages. i've already heard let me read that when you're done at least twice, so i know his curiousity is piqued.

anyway, i'm lost in the book. i'm also sitting by myself, with only one seat available next to me, on my right. on the other side of me is the door. anyone who's been on a subway at least once knows what section of seats i'm talking about. my point is, unless you're sitting with people that you know and love, there's only enough room for two people to sit comfortably in that banquette.

somewhere before times square, this french white girl plops herself down next to me and just as abrubtly, her french white male companion sits on her lap. i know they're french because they're speaking french but also because (yeah, i'm going to say it!) they smell. how do they smell, you ask? well, i'll tell you. they smell like they haven't bathed in days. they smell like they just ran a mile in their street clothes. they smell like they've never heard of deodorant but they've heard an awful lot about perfume and cologne. they smell like the back-end of my uncle hiram's farm. they smell like rank and file urban hippie co-eds. clearly, their euro was strong, but their b.o. was much, much stronger.

oh, wow. how can i say this? everything stinks in new york city and all i could think was, what fresh stench is this? if my world were an animated tv series, that would have been the part when that smell singed my eyebrows off.

i thought a lot of things before i got up out of my seat. i thought of pepe le pew. i thought, this is probably why i've never dated a french white guy. i thought about the palace of versailles, the royal chateau in the suburb of versailles, france -- 18,000 meters of jaw-dropping architecture and all the gilded frou-frou that goes with it, and not one toilet! where did everybody take a dump? why, on the stairwells, of course! i don't even want to think about who had to clean that up or what the place smelled like until they did. but that's exactly what i'm thinking as their collective french funk is shoving itself up my nose.

of course, they're flirting and giggling and carrying on, like they haven't got a care in the world. they can't smell a thing. wheeeeeeeeeeee!

as the train roars on, he laughingly turns and puts his arm up above her head so that he's bracing himself and sort of holding her, too. it's a move that gives me the full force brunt of the unholy stench emanating from his armpit. my nose begins to twitch involuntarily. its the proverbial last straw. i stand up just as suddenly as she sat next to me, and i turn to him and say, have a seat. they both look at me with blank startled faces. he says, you are getting off? i say, no i'm not. the girl begins to chatter at him in french and shove him off of her lap. he chatters back and doesn't budge. theirs becomes this weird tug of war, with him sitting there insisting that i sit next to them and her, trying to get him to move, insisting on the same thing. i watch this spectacle with an expressionless face and a level-headed disposition. finally, he stands up -- clearly annoyed. my, my, my. surprise! the american black girl is a killjoy. or should i say bitch? wouldn't be the first time. (heh.)

i turn to him and say -- just so we're clear -- are you sure you wouldn't like to sit down next to your friend? he says no. she says to me, please sit down. so i sit. and i'm thinking that's the end of it because he eventually gets a seat across from me. but he has the unmitigated gall to glare at me for most of the ride. like him looking me in the eye is intimidating me somehow. i ignore him. young. blonde. big, green eyes. short. yawn.

but the glaring doesn't stop. and as the local train goes express at 72nd street, he finds the grapes to confront me.

in this soupy, everything-running-together-in-one-long-sonic-blur of a french accent, he gets out of his seat across from me, comes over, looks me in the eye and says, why did you do that? why did you interrupt us? i want you to know that you were rude to us. i looked him in the eye and said, do you want this seat? yes or no. if you want it, i'll get up. if you don't, i'll stay seated. which one is it? we stare at each other. i mean i give him a good heavy level hard stare. the way crackheads do when they think you have money and they're thinking about beating you down to get it. you know the one. that sam jackson look that says, i'd shank you for a nickel bag and a carton of cigarettes. he tries to give me the same thing. in his head, it's working. in reality, it's not. clearly, i've known way more crackheads than he has. he repeats, why did you interrupt us? i repeat, do you want the seat or not? and then i say, it's that simple. no it's not, he countered. yeah, i say flatly. actually, it is. do you want the seat or not? more staring, while the french white girl says things like, don't. please stop. she doesn't understaaaaaaand...

i thought a lot of things before we got to the next stop. i thought, how am i the one that's rude when you're the one who smells like that? i thought, i really don't mind standing if it puts me upwind of that smell. i thought, i have got to learn conversational french so i can not only understand what french white people are saying as they sit right next to me, i can chew them out in their own language as they hop off the train. i thought, wow -- it's so shocking how calm i am. i never even so much as raised my voice to this skunk! i thought, french may have been the language of the aristocrats as far as the history of white people is concerned, but it isn't anymore. i thought, this settles it. when its time to live in a foreign country for a year, i'm going to have to live in france. so help me, Jesus.

evidently, i won the stare down and the argument because he didn't say anything else to me. i settled in with my book. and there were no parting shots as they exited at 110th street. still and all, i had a creepy feeling that i would run into them sooner rather than later. probably at a hotspot in my neighborhood. or worse yet, theirs.

paris, here i come.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

yes, another voiceover audition -- "pulp friction"

whether i'm singing or just talking, i've been twisting my voice around to make it sound like whatever i want it to be ever since i can remember. if singing is this close to the bone, can voiceover work really be that far off the mark? isn't it all some form of vocalizing? both have their own skill set but either way, i'm acting my way through it. and now that my commercial demo is up and at 'em online, there are a lot more voiceover opportunities coming at me all the time. weird, the way doors that i've walked past for years can suddenly spring open out of nowhere. i always thought, i have a nice voice, i should do voiceovers -- but i didn't have a clue as to where to begin and once i got ahold of that clue, i didn't know how to put it all together. but i'm past all that now. thank God.

i can't remember the last time i did an audition on a sun-drenched saturday afternoon that would normally find me running a 10 minute mile but i suppose there's a next time for everything. this one was for the pilot of an animated series called pulp friction that's similar to what you might find on adult swim. i knew that they wanted a monologue but i just didn't have one in me. after writing 3 one person shows, improvising whatever i need in the moment when i have to yammer on cue for 2 minutes has never been an problem. they warned that that they were videotaping, so i threw on a little makeup and, preoccupied with what i looked like, i zipped out of my place without a headshot/resume. super-smart, right? right.

i didn't even realize that i didn't have what i needed until i was in the elevator on my way up to ripley-greer studios. by the time i signed in with the audition monitor, i felt like a complete idiot. but that "i'm a complete idiot" feeling wasn't enough to make me not go through with the audition. i figured, whatever. the bottom line is, i'm here and how i feel about whatever ball i've dropped is irrelevant. feelings fake me out all the time. it's not that they aren't valid or real. it' s just that when the stuff hits the proverbial fan, they aren't the main thing i should be paying attention to. and too often in the past, that's the way the ball bounced. the smoke clears and phrases like, "i felt that this was..." or "i had a feeling about how we would..." feelings, whoa, whoa, whoa feelings. whoa. let's think this through: i'm not afraid to look stupid, probably because i know that i'm smart.

so i get in the room. it's a guy behind a camera and in front of him are three guys sitting at a long table. they are upbeat, genuinely interested, affable and friendly. how ideal is that? i told them that i forgot my headshot but that i'd email it right away. no problem. then i told them i had no monologue. that wasn't a problem, either. the guy all the way to the left gave me a copy of the onion and told me to read anytihng on the front page. just make it funny, he added good-naturedly, and as he did, they all nodded. funny, huh i mumbled as my eyes scanned the page. my gazed crash-landed on an article out of the ATL. i considered that to be a sign from God and began to read it in my best texarkana accent that i could muster. as i did, a strange thing happened: i killed. after a minute or so, they gave me a few pages of script and asked me to review 2 characters: clayton, the alcoholic easter bunny and craig, the reindeer that's also a thug-wannabe. both guys. when i began to ask questions, they showed me artist's renderings. i really loved the bunny. he was way too pink and cheery looking and fuzzy, and he clutched a bottle of hard liquor in one hand, and he looked really really fried.

i sat outside, a little dazed that i'd gotten that far and made some mental notes with script choices. when i went back into the room, i asked them if they knew who foster brooks was. i thought it would be interesting to play the bunny that way. all i got was blank faces all around, except for the camera guy, who remarked that when he was reading it that's who he was thinking of.

immediately, i thought of ozzy ozbourne who remarked that he'd never take up with a younger woman because they'd have nothing to talk about. sometimes when i get to talking about whatever i'm thinking of and i start bouncing stuff around to illustrate what i mean, i get blank looks like this. ew.

and yes, my friend knows who foster brooks is. thank God. but i digress.

i made it through that instant callback with flying colors and skipped off to the gym on 125 -- so happy, i ran a mile in 10 minutes. we'll see if i got the gig or not. the good news is, i didn't leave. i drove it home with one headlight.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

i love this song!

i have absolutely no idea why i love this song as much as i do. i think hip-hop is especially interesting when it starts bouncing around in other genres -- like country. (of course, the gourds version of snoop dog's gin n' juice comes to mind....)

does anyone know who recorded this particular song or where i can get a ringtone for it?

Friday, August 22, 2008

freddy king -- "goin' down"

i know that september 3rd is "freddie king day" in texas, but i thought i'd start celebrating early.

anyone that says aside from jimi hendrix and vernon reid, black rock guitarists don't really exist isn't paying attention. freddie king died way too soon. maybe if he'd lived through the 80s, more people would know who he is.

i absolutely drop-dead love this song. it's so heavy and righteous and free, in all the right ways. after listening to freddie king play guitar all afternoon, it's hard to take in the fluff that passes for rock and roll these days -- even if it's on somebody else's radio.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

anatomy of a scenario

on location at club kalua

it wasn't what i thought it would be.

i expected something bigger, grander. a bit of flash, at least. what i saw was a sliver of a building next to an auto body shop -- weirdly appropriate, somehow -- that squatted on a narrow street near a four way intersection that demanded the cars stop several feet away from the red light so they could make turns without hitting each other. the LIRR was right there, hanging above us in this stealthy ominous way, racing by every so often, its parking lots sprawling across the street from the action, this infamous gentleman's club, and all of us.

the sean bell film project

all of us was ed durante our somewhat fearless leader, tanya the ever-present script lady and james at the camera and at the ready, with a host of black actors that have worked with ed before, for the most part. all of us were dressed in black, as per ed's request. all of us were a little freaked out.

the sean bell film project

all of this was for the sean bell film project, organized by ed. this was some fast and furious-ness at work here, creatively. all the directors were given the same rules: one day shoot, two charaters speaking, no more than 3 minutes long, delivered in 7 days, all of them done by early september.

the sean bell film project

for ed's piece, all of us had to learn a monologue from hamlet. this would have been a cakewalk for me under ordinary circumstances, especially since i took a shakespeare workshop earlier this summer with jeff at dog run rep. and what with all the work they had to do, one would think that the least i could do was learn my lines. but once i was actually in front of the camera, all i could think about was these three brothers in their car getting shot at 50 times by cops that never identified themselves. my anger had long since dissipated. i was swimming in iambic pentameter, drowning in so much feeling, choking back something that felt way more like empathy than anything else. shockingly, ed didn't yell at me. to tell you the truth, i think i kind of wanted him to. anything to shake my lines loose.

and oh, what a beautiful day it was. there was something ironic and depressing and black-hearted and foul about all that sunshine and the picture-perfect blue sky wonderment that framed it so incessantly. yeah, the sun wasn't helping me, either.

it got even worse when we began to talk amongst ourselves and share our feelings about what happened. it got grim when we put ourselves in sean's place. it was james (the actor) who really brought me down when he talked about his bachelor party and dissected how it could have happened to him or any of his fraternity brothers. it was strange, all of us wallowing in our makeshift grief on the sidewalk as the bright sunshine made everything gleam like something out of a disney movie. somewhere in there, i walked to the bodega on the corner and got a piece of fruit and some tea and someone told a funny story and everything got a little giddy, because every thing was so sunny and so dark and so abysmally strange.

when it was all over and we were finally left with the unspoken question -- where did they shoot him down, anyway? -- we collectively walked around the corner to find our answer.

detail from sean bell's memorial wall

i tried to leave the sunshine there but it followed me all the way back to a gentrified west harlem, chok full of way too many hipster white people and the overbearing police presence that they brought with them. and so did this weird, weird grief that sits on my chest like a playful 2 year old and leaves me feeling like i swallowed a cinderblock.

i don't know what to do about a police force that won't collectively think before it shoots, especially when their guns are aimed at black men, or a local/state/federal government that won't prosecute the police officers in question when they kill innocent black folk and call it a "horrible senseless tradegy" or "a terrible accident" or "a case of bad timing" or a "misunderstanding" and all of the other phrases they use to justify themselves. i don't know how to battle any of that.

i am beginning to think that art can affect change. i'm beginning to want to make art that changes things. being a part of that process in someone else's project/vision is an important step to make towards creating something powerful that's mine.

this is how it begins -- someone or something inspires me and i get ideas...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

the sean bell film project

when sean bell was murdered by undercover nyc police officers nearly two years ago on what would have been his wedding day, the powers that be dismissed the entire incident and explained it away by blaming the victim. and just as in the amadou diallo case in 1999 wherein four cops opened fire simultaneously and emptied their guns on a stuttering african that spoke little or no english, all of the police officers were acquitted. there have been many more senseless killings, acts of aggression and the like but these two cases stood out for me because they seemed especially savage.

and yes -- i know that there are white people in this country who are convinced that they aren't at some sort of an advantage because of their race, but i don't hear tell of any of them getting shot at 41 times by cops just because they reached for their housekeys. if you are black, these streets are more than just dangerous. and if you are black and male, they can easily become a slaughterhouse.

once i got past my anger about all of this, i realized how frustrated i was. i wanted to do something, anything. write a song, maybe. make art.

a few days ago, i get a call from ed durante. he and a collective of filmmakers have formed the sean bell film project to (according to their press release) "create cinematic arts events that produce unique and nontraditional media coverage for human rights issues." brilliant idea. before he could tell me all the details, i said yes.

we're going to be shooting this weekend at the very location where the incident took place -- in front of the club kalua. each director in the collective will do a short of their own. ed wants to do a blip from hamlet, two very short male/female monologues. looking over the script makes me glad that i did that shakespearean workshop earlier this summer and warmed up to iambic pentameter all over again.

this is the way it happens -- you come up with great ideas and you find ways to execute them. all of a sudden, i'm a lot more hopeful and little less frustrated.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

good-bye, chef

first bernie, now issac. who's next?

i know he won two grammies and an academy award for shaft but millions know him for this song. i'm not a fan of south park but they have their moments and this is definitely one of them.

goodbye, chef. and issac hayes -- may you rest in peace.

the dark knight of artistic anything

the other day, my friend and i spent a better part of the afternoon wandering through the salvador dali exhibit at MoMA. this time around, the focus is on dali's paintings and film. i had no idea he was so infatuated with cinema. the visuals are fairly overwhelming, at first. it's high fun to let all of it overwhelm me, then find a piece that lets me get my bearings so i can ease my way through the rest of it, guided only by what intrigues me. everything is in chronological order, of course. what never fails to shock is how derivative his early work is. but i suppose that can be said about any artist.

when we left, i was feeling especially giddy. dali is a surrealist to the nth degree, so theatrical at times and very much a showman -- but somewhere in there, he was all business. how interesting to see how he dealt with hollywierd in its golden age. i'm fairly certain that his business manager/promoter/wife gala (who changed her name from elena, and who came from a family of russian intellectuals and who was 10 years his senior) was the one who was at the helm, constantly scheming on how to best manipulate the system to their benefit. God knows it's a full time job for somebody.

in his day, he was quite a brand. evidently, he still is.

afterwards, we went to see the dark knight. i'm not exactly certain how but the dali exhibit put me in the mood for this one. somewhere in there, in the capes and the drama and the explosions and the darkness, there was surrealism and a bit of camp and spectacle that took the edge off of watching The Dead Guy's Last Performance. i think that it was very important that mr. ledger had already established himself as a serious actor before he became a movie star. usually in hollywood, the movie star strives to prove that they can really act. in a day and age when most people who call themselves actors are waiting on tables or doing something else that's just as soul-destroying, it's a moment of triumph for any artist to see someone scale the heights and win.

and yes, i didn't love the movie but yes i did love his performance and yes, i would pay to see it again.

afterwards as we walked to the 70th street pier, i had mixed feelings. the whole world seems to be grieving the loss of such a young and talented actor, but if you stop and look around you, there are young and talented actors everywhere and once upon a time, mr. ledger was one of them. he was out of work, taking bit parts on tv shows and wondering what his next move would be, just like everybody else. once upon a time, halle berry was a hostess in a restaurant in this city. once upon a time, angelina jolie took classes at NYU after she did the movie Gia. somebody had to sit in the chair next to hers and pass her the class handouts and everything, like anybody else. once upon a time, richard gere was doing off-off broadway and taking bit parts in movies. that was him playing some greek guy in a kojak episode from 1976.

there's talented everything everywhere -- from the musician you just passed in the street, to that waitress you undertipped to the filmmaker you sat next to on the D train to the painter that sells his stuff on the curb in soho.

i'm not grieving for heath ledger, for all the work he could have done and didn't, because at least we got a glimpse of his talent. at least he did something. i'm grieving for the undiscovered ones -- the artists of every genre, from out of the remote past and into present day goings on in and out of the media's watchful buzzworthy eye. artists whose work didn't rank, not because it wasn't original or great or borne of genius but because it wasn't popular.

there were plenty of salvador dali's contemporaries who were more talented than he was, and who were doing much more interesting things. there is an actor who is giving the performance of a lifetime right now, off-off broadway -- far away from anyone's buzz bin. there are writers who are self-publishing, musicians who are self-releasing, visual artists who are laboring on and on in the bowels of academia. and they're all effing amazing. what about them?

there are so many unsung heroes and heroines in the world.

i know it takes more than talent to "make it," but some variables that have nothing to do with talent are way more overwhelming than others. like blind, stinking luck. but really, isn't that just strategic hard work? and what is making it, anyway? one of the hardest lessons that new york city has ever taught me is that everyone doesn't want what i want. some people are perfectly happy in a slayer cover band, playing bars and strip malls all over jersey and heidelberg. whatever blows your hair back.

what i'm talking about is something more -- a worldwide culture that glorifies what's popular instead of what's brilliant, or sometimes even good.

my friend carol fineman loves to say, "talent will out." it's one of her favorite phrases. i used to believe it but more and more nowadays, it's something that i can only hope is true.

Monday, August 04, 2008

what black men think -- a response to the "Black In America" CNN special

in the face of media hype and bunkum surrounding the CNN special on the state of our nation, it's always a good idea to get an intelligent thought-provoking black response -- especially if that response is from a black american man regarding statistics of black american males.

i don't trust anything the media tells me -- about what's happening in the world, on my home turf and most definitely what's happening with me and my black community. it's simply not in their best interest to tell me the truth. and that goes double for the government.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

rare jimi

everybody's got their favorite jimi. there's jimi with the perm and the ruffled shirts, fresh from london, humping his guitar when he solos and lighting it on fire and all that rot. and then there's jimi as black hippie with the headband around his afro, all tight pants and empassioned bravado. jimi -- always a mesmerizing visage regardless of which one you're casually observing.

this is my favorite jimi: steeped in the blues, blacker than thou, doing funky dance steps in a hard-touring chitlin circuit r&b outfit. (too bad there's no footage with him when he was with little richard...) i love this jimi especially because so many seem to have forgotten how bluesy he was, how close he was to those roots.

this is the oldest known film clip of jimi, in a live performance of the song shotgun with junior walker and the all stars. you can't miss him. he's in the back on the left, totally in step with his upside-down backwards guitar.