Saturday, November 30, 2013

That Latest Obsession -- Historical Boyfriends!

Whilst perusing the internets for visual inspiration, I tripped up over My Daguerrotype Boyfriend -- an absolute motherlode of historical hotties from (mostly) the 19th century, when photography was brand spanking new and portraiture was all the rage. 

Having a boyfriend from history isn't anything new for me. I'm always flipping through a history book and crushing on someone -- and with websites like Historically Handsome Men, Fuck Yeah Historical Hotties, Bangable Dudes in History (a personal fave for the pie charts alone) and more, there's plenty to support my strange habit. My eye usually latches onto stuff like this because I genuinely love history.  After awhile, I started to wonder what the people I would read of actually looked like.  And then I started to wonder about everyone else. I began to dig through old photos, researching, looking for a glimpse of a real face.  And all at once, I would find them. Most of the time, they seemed just as startled to see me.

Case in point?  The German Federal Crime Police Office took four contemporary paintings to create this photograph of Mozart, circa 1777.

It doesn't matter if I'm mending a day dress, rereading a biography or singing at a 1920s tea social. Peering into the past illuminates the present.  A lot of what seems convoluted nowadays -- especially in politics -- is much more easily understood in historical context. 

And besides, all of this is great fodder for spinning yarns into songs that make you want to sing along with them. If I'm nothing else, I'm a storyteller.  And all of this feeling and inspiration has to go somewhere.

Peter "Black Prince" Jackson, c. 1900. From Jamaica by way of the Virgin Islands. Not surprisingly, he was also known as Peter the Great. His claim to fame? He won the Australian heavyweight title in 1886 with a knock out -- after 30 rounds. (ka-BOOM.) I can feel fearlessness emanating from him in waves, from all the way over here. According to the website: This boxer boyfriend found his calling after putting down a ship’s mutiny using his powerful fists. (He pulled that off as a teenager, folks.) A fine specimen of physical development indeed.

His tombstone says, This was a man.  Now that's an epitaph.

Believe it or not, this is President Rutherford B. Hayes when he was in his twenties. I always wondered what was under all that beard.  In later years, he looked like he smelled of foot odor, mulch and a great deal of regret. (Don't believe me? Click here.)  Who knew he was this gorgeous? 

Unknown Japanese man from the 19th century. Stunning, isn't he. His hair softens that hard steady look but I'm fairly convinced that he's looking right at me.  How old is he?  How long is his hair?  Is that the handle of a knife at his waist? *sigh* I have way too many questions...

I know this sounds hokey, but I can't believe how real he looks. 

 Sioux Indian smoking a cigarette, 1908 -- looking absolutely drop-dead resplendent.  I love everything about this picture.  And him. Simply put, he's beautiful. So confident and self-assured and so styled out, it hurts a little. I don't know what I love more: the whiteness of his shirt, those (beaded?) cuffs or the look on his face.

Tintype of an unknown young man, 1850. His gloved hands, those clothes, the glowy halo around him. So lovely. His dress is straight out of antiquity but that face is here and now. Seriously, this brother looks way too familiar. As God is my witness, I could have sworn I saw him last week on 135th and St. Nick.  I remember him because he smiled at me as I passed him by...

Friday, November 29, 2013

Post Food Fest

This Thanksgiving, I didn't eat myself into a coma.  Please congratulate me.

What's more, I actually enjoyed the dressing.  I managed to relax. I made a delicious dessert. I enjoyed the day -- and the company. Somewhere in my recent past, I realized that I don't love roast turkey as much as everyone else does,  so oversleeping and inhaling leftovers in my underwear doesn't happen anymore.  After wandering through The Met to see the latest exhibits and having jasmine tea in the Balcony Lounge, MPB and I ambled home to nosh on world class Mexican food (alhambres!) for dinner and watch a movie on Netflix.

*GASP* Could it be that my "relationship" with food has finally taken a back seat to the rest of my life?  Let's see what develops...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oh, Kanye -- Part 1: That Confederate Flag

In an interview with AMP Radio, Kanye West said, "The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way. That's my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I wrote the song, 'New Slaves.' So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what you gonna do?"

Later in the same interview, he said, "It's colorless also. It's super-'hood and super-white-boy-approved at the same time."

When I heard about Kanye West's latest controversial explosion -- incorporating the Confederate flag into his tour merch designs as well as his personal life (wearing it as a patch on a green bomber jacket on a recent visit to Barney's) -- I thought it was a gag someone made up at The Onion.  Things are going so well with this latest flap that he's opened a pop-up store in Soho that sells these Confederate items.  While the irony of rednecks the world over lining Kanye's pockets by showing up at his concert and purchasing a t-shirt that bears the symbol of his ancestor's pain and oppression isn't entirely lost on me, there is much, much more to all of this that completely and utterly misses the mark. 

Of course, we expect these "outrageous" antics from Mr. West, and while many (but certainly not all) are standing in what appears to be a long, long line to congratulate him on his latest bit of controversy, let's be clear on one thing: Kanye West is hardly the first black rapper to embrace the Confederate flag.  Lil' Jon did this more than ten years ago -- and on the cover of his third album with The East Side Boyz, no less.

The picture is one of complete defiance. Look at that stance. There's nothing agreeable or subservient or compliant there. He is flanked by The East Side Boyz, their expressionless faces and white t-shirts further exaggerating Lil Jon's approach as well as the entire scenario.  As the flag drapes his shoulders like a cape, Lil Jon is almost daring the viewer to take that flag away from him.  Both of the flags in the background are on fire -- as if to counter the crosses that the KKK would burn "religiously" to intimidate black folk and other undesirables, he now burns their flag to intimidate them -- and he is on fire, too.  He is burning it down, as it were -- symbolically burning down the old South and what those traditions represent while holding onto what it means to him. Very nearly lit from within with a kind of makeshift rage that some would want to call urban propaganda, and with that gleaming trademark dental work run amok, he is the living embodiment of what some consider to be The New South. 

Kanye West, on the other hand, is from the Midwest (yes, he was born in Atlanta, GA but he left as a toddler, was raised in Chicago and is about to relocate to a Bel Air mansion). The flag may symbolize many things for him as an American and as an African-American but because it's not a part of his culture, he is far removed from it in a way that Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz are not. 

He is also extremely well off, quite famous and insulated from much of the reality of (Southern) black life, so its altogether likely that there's a quite a lot that he's probably not aware of. It should also be noted that Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz -- along with several other black Southern rappers like Outkast, Ludacris and David Banner -- have used the Confederate flag in the recent past. Kanye, on the other hand, is flat-out selling it.
What did Lil' Jon say when the press questioned him about draping himself with what many consider to be a symbol of racism and hate? "I'm from the South. That's what it represents to me.  We're Southern-born and raised. The flag is part of us. We look at it as just being proud to say we're from the South." 

In a review of the CD, Lil Jon elaborated thusly: "As a Southern group, we chose to bring the issue to the forefront in our album packaging. We're basically mocking racists on one hand by wearing The Confederate Flag, but at the same time we're repping the South. Do you know how infuriating it will be for a redneck to see me, a black deadlocked rapper, wearing The Confederate Flag around my shoulders? It's almost as bad as me dating his daughter. The Confederate Flag ain't going nowhere. It's part of Southern life and a reality of where we're from. Getting rid of the flag will not get rid of racism. Our album cover was our way of burning The Confederate Flag and all the racist mentality that comes with it; but we're also wearing it to show our love for The South." 

Lil Jon went on to say this: "The flag is a symbol and people attach their own meaning to it. To me The Confederate Flag is just that, a flag. We grew up seeing that flag everywhere. It's more offensive to the older Southern black folks who understand first-hand what the flag symbolizes, but I don't think younger folks view the flag in the same way."

Furthermore, Lil' Bo, one of the East Side Boyz, said: "Being born in the South, the flag has a different meaning for me than it would to people who aren't Southern. On one hand, I know a lot of lives were lost on both sides over it, but on the other it's a symbol of racial hatred that Black people in the South want to forget. It depends on which side of the line you're on."

Even if Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz did this as some sort of marketing ploy that would differentiate them from the rest of the Southern hip-hop herd and sell more albums, it makes the powerful statement that Kanye's flag-waving cannot because it's coming from young Southern black men.  For Lil Jon, waving this flag carries the weight and meaning and rebel intensity for which it was initially intended -- and in doing so, it is innately subversive.

In the next installment of Oh, Kanye -- Part 2: That Confederate Flag, we'll do the unthinkable and look at the flag in context.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Sermonette

Here's Andre Crouch -- one of the founding fathers of 70s soul-infused gospel -- singing He's Brought Me This Far.  Listen in and be blessed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Sermonette

...and now, a word from Walter Hawkins' Love Center Choir as they perform the classic Follow Me from their mega-award winning album Love Alive!  So soulful, so funky -- and yes, it's pure gospel. I listened to everything as a small tyke but songs like this are what I sang in the junior choir, this is what came out of me on a daily basis.

Listen in and be blessed!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Foodie/Eat Clean/Eat Local/Farm Share Alert!

Newsflash: If you're in Harlem or Washington Heights, Corbin Hill Food Project's Winter Farm Share 2013 - 2014 is now available! That's right: affordable, farm-fresh, locally grown produce -- and lots of other things like eggs, butter, honey and yes, lamb -- for us uptown dwellers.  For more details, please click here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The African-Americans: Many Rivers To Cross

If you've missed any of the brilliant six part PBS documentary series The African-Americans: Many Rivers To Cross, it isn't over yet. The next segment airs on Tuesday, 8pm - 9pm.

This particular segment is my favorite, so far. In it, we take a trip to The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, located on the campus of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. To their credit, this museum isn't open to the public.  According to their website, "Visitation is offered only as part of a university-approved academic course, workshop or seminar." 

This is a jigsaw puzzle from 1874, made by the McLouglin Company called Chopped Up Niggers.  I don't know what's more offensive -- the caricatures (who looks like that?!?) or the threat of violence that the title implies.

It's quite breathtaking, how just how far white people went with this imagery and how hard, how tirelessly they worked to distort who we are so they could justify their hatred and ignorance. What am I saying. They're still doing it.

In the meantime, D.E.B. DuBois was presenting hundreds of beautiful portraits of dignified, educated, purposeful black people from the state of Georgia to Europeans during the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.  

Nevermind the thousands of black performers that travelled internationally since the 1860s, giving the world a glimpse of our true collective blackness. We'll talk about that some other time.

Please check your local listings. This series is essential viewing. (And no, you can't see it outside of US territories.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

That New York City Hustle!

This is what it feels like to live and work in New York City as an artist when you aren't a millionaire or a trustafarian or a rock star or otherwise bankrolled comfortably -- from my perspective, anyway.  Nothing ever slows to a complete halt. Everything is on and coming at you and coming on strong and the hustle never, ever stops -- and that's just what it takes to pay the rent. Nevermind what it takes to make art -- that is, if you're the kind of artist that makes art.

(Actually, a hamster on one of those spinning habitrail wheels would have been much more apropo but I couldn't find that gif.)

Let's face it: when rich and famous rock and roll icons like david byrne are threatening to leave the city and a well-established writer like andrew sullivan can't last a year, you'd think someone would sit up and pay attention.  But no.  Something else will have to flip everything upside down. Like everyone leaving, en masse.

What's different nowadays is that I hit the ground running for my projects. If I were sitting by the phone and waiting for it to ring so I'd have work, I'd be running a lot harder than that.  I've been running for so long, it's almost impossible to keep still.

Nimble, aren't I? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Veteran's Day - A Reality Check

If Americans were exposed to the real cost of the Iraq invasion in human lives -- the civilians (difficult to calculate) as well as the soldiers (remarkably accurate) -- the public outcry would have ended the war years ago.  Instead, the media gives us highly sanitized, government approved, jingoistic images that have lulled us over the years into condoning what former President George Bush described as early as 2008 as "the biggest regret of all the presidency". Interestingly, in a 2010 memoir, he felt no need to apologize, although he couldn't rid himself of a sickening feeling in his gut whenever he thought about it.

No one seems to be paying attention to the fact that the war cost $2 trillion dollars -- and that figure could easily triple in the oncoming years.

As of 2009, the Pentagon will allow photos of military casualties with permission from their respective families. That doesn't make sense to me. Once someone joins the military, they quite literally belong to the government -- even when they are deceased, at the point of return. That point of return translates to thousands of caskets, draped with the American flag, coming off of those planes. War photography brought the reality of the Civil War into the conscience of the nation at a time when the medium was new and certainly untried in battle.  World War II was splayed out starkly, in black and white, while Vietnam was in technicolor, full on. We saw everything: civilians, officials, dead bodies riddled with bullets, battle-scarred children and babies, government tribunals, you name it. Where are our generations visuals for the wars we have fought -- for Afghanistan, for Iraq?

I'm convinced that photography could change the outcome of any war, if the powers that be were to sanction it.

As our former president searches for a way to defend the indefensible and everyone else gathers their apologies, their explanations or their standard issue mea culpa for the sake of posterity, there are some important lessons in all of this that shouldn't be missed.  Lessons like question authority, don't stop thinking critically and don't assume that the experts aren't infallible.  Those are lessons for all of us.

There are some who believe that former President Bush and several key members of his administration should be tried for war crimes against humanity -- 269 war crimes, to be exact. There are some who have already convicted him of those crimes -- and Tony Blair, too.  The whole world is watching, even if we aren't paying attention. That alone should go a long way towards explaining why so many nations refuse to hold America in such high regard.  They're getting the full story. We're getting FOX News.

In the meantime, it's our soldiers -- and their families -- who pay the ultimate price.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Sermonette

 ...and now, let us take a moment to sing -- and in some cases, learn -- The Black National Anthem (sometimes referred to as The Negro National Hymn), brought to you by Ray Charles. Enjoy and be blessed!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A new Jimi Hendrix documentary on PBS

I missed the new American Masters Jimi Hendrix documentary Hear My Train A Comin' on PBS the other night but thankfully, all is not lost.  It's available online until November, 2017.

The very short clip above explores the origins of the Electric Lady recording studio.  Its interesting to note that even though he was in the eye of a pretty tumultuous storm of rock and roll excess, Jimi Hendrix realized that he needed a place to record his music -- and before he left this world, he made sure that he created it.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Food = Medicine

I call myself a meat-eating vegetarian because once upon a time, I used to eat the world and truth be told, that was a fun way to live. Nowadays, I realize that my stomach has quite literally turned on me. If I want to stay lean and strong and have a lot of physical energy, and if I want to sing like a bird, I simply can't eat whatever I want, whenever I want.  I came to a fork in the road: either I could eat healthfully and mindfully or I could let myself go and eat with abandon. I've chosen the former but I'm certainly not immune to the latter, especially if I'm traipsing through the Southland.

I had to rethink my relationship with food -- and because of this country's propensity towards genetically engineered foods and the industry's refusal to label them, I've had to relearn the basics. I've made a lot of mistakes along the way. I've definitely had plenty of teachable moments that had me slowing down and listening to my body and readjusting when things didn't work. Learning to eat clean is a process. It took a few times to grow good habits and make them stick, and thankfully, they are sticking. The easiest things to let go of are corn, soy, breads, white rice and junk food. The hardest things to give up are salt and sugar -- because basically, they're in everything.

I'm starting to do bits of research here and there on the free radical theory of aging -- that is, we age because free radicals damage cells over time.  Free radicals are everywhere and they damage everything. Your body produces free radicals when it breaks down food, for example.  As the theory goes, antioxidants can combat and defeat free radicals. Where do you get those? In the food you eat! There are some foods that have more antioxidants than others. They are called superfoods. Eating clean forces me to eat nothing but superfoods -- which contain everything you need for optimum health and weight loss.

Like I said, this is an ongoing process for me. I never went whole hog with fast food so it hasn't been that much of a struggle -- it's not like I had to lose 100 lbs -- but still, it's taken a great deal of effort for me to stop eating anything that's processed.  There are moments when I fall off but for the most part, I've created good habits for myself and radically changed my relationship to food and how I eat.

Onward and upward, folks.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Today's the day, folks.

I don't care who you vote for -- vote.  After all, it's your civic responsibility. You certainly don't have any reason to complain if you don't.

For a comprehensive voter's guide, click here.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Love the skin you're in -- or else!

Once upon a time, I was invisible -- more or less. I glided through the world, unnoticed. No jaws were dropped when I walked into a room, no readjustments were made. Black girls who were extremely light or dark were considered especially exotic and desirable, for whatever reason. I existed in that dead zone of brownness that rendered me generic at first glance. I flew below the radar -- and because I didn't know any other way to be, I enjoyed it quite a lot. This went on forever, really. This went on for my whole life.

I instinctively knew that good health was paramount to a great quality of life. What good would it do for me to conquer the world if I didn't have the energy to enjoy it? One memory that stands out from my high school years (and yes, that will probably stay with me forever) is a of a painfully on trend black girl with unspeakably horrible skin who, in a moment of clarity on a schoolbus, stopped hating me long enough to concede that my skin was so beautiful, it quite literally took her breath away. That totally freaked me out -- probably because I knew it was true.

I didn't take up smoking or drinking in high school or college, and I didn't do drugs. Those were expensive habits and I never had money. Maybe things would have been different if I could have attracted a guy to pay for all of that stuff but nope, I couldn't do that, either. I did what I had to do to stay lean and strong -- mostly running and weight-lifting -- and thanks to the heart attack Daddy had when I was 9 years old, I wasn't in the habit of eating garbage -- or junk food, which was considered expensive and a waste of money.

I didn't realize it at the time but by putting those good habits in place on automatic, I was setting myself up for success. After a certain point, they become so much a part of my everyday life, it felt wrong when I didn't do them.

Hear this, loud and clear: There was never, ever, ever a moment -- as a little kid or as an adult -- when I did not moisturize my skin on a daily basis. I used everything from Palmer's Cocoa Butter to Vaseline Intensive Care but God knows, I used something. Presenting oneself to the world with ashy skin was akin to sloth of the highest order. It simply wasn't an option. Period. When I got to college, I kept moisturizing, I wore sunscreen every day, I got facials every month and I slept in a sports bra to keep my breasts stationary. (More on that some other time.)

Relocating to New York City didn't change anything. I found a decent gym, a facialist, an eyebrowist and I got to work. Did I have money? Of course not. I was still broke as hell, living hand to mouth in an SRO on the Upper West Side and barely getting by. But I was lean and strong and healthy, and my skin looked amazing. I realized that God gave me everything I needed to maintain myself, physically. All I really lacked was discipline.  That was the real struggle.

And now?  My routine hasn't changed. I still take care of my skin religiously. I still hit the gym, hard. My body has changed, so I'm better off if I eat clean. The really weird thing is, all of a sudden, everyone can see me -- which kind of makes me wonder if I was ever invisible in the first place.

Whatever it takes. I'm not giving up. I'm not going to let it drop. I'm going to fight for my good health all the way down the line.

For me, that starts with my skin.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sunday Sermonette

This is one of my favorite songs ever, as led by the legendary Rev. Clay Evans -- evangelist, civil rights leader and founder of Chicago's Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, otherwise known as The Ship to its many parishoners. 

Rev. Evans story is a fascinating one.  It was when he was hard at work in a music club in Chicago as a porter that he realized that he could sing. Instead of joining a band, he became a pastor and sang gospel music. (Ah, the road not taken.) With weekly sermons via radio and television that reached millions, he rose to prominence in the pulpit, politics and gospel music, having co-founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) with Rev. Jesse Jackson, serving as pastor of The Ship for 42 years and releasing more than 3 dozen albums with his gospel choir -- many of them, award-winning classics.

Listen in and be blessed.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Queen Esther sings Billie Holiday at Superfine!

Great news, y'all -- I've got a three month residency at DUMBO's Superfine! I'll be there on the first Sunday of every month for three months, starting January 5th from 7pm to 9pm. Reservations are strongly encouraged. 

I'll be accompanied by guitarist Marvin Sewell and bassist Ben Rubin. Expect to hear a tonnage of Billie Holiday's rare sides.

126 Front Street, Brooklyn NY 11201
(718) 243-9005
Bar open Sun.-Thu. until 2 a.m.; Fri.-Sat. until 4 a.m.