Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Kwanzaa! Day One: Umoja (Unity)

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa -- the stopgap that happens after Hanukkah and  Christmas, when everyone spent too much, ate too much, stayed out way too long or hung out way too late.  For some it's Boxing Day, which is just another boost that keeps the party going. It's the perfect moment to come together, probably because you're still with family, still on vacation, still away or at least in holiday mode.

I have to pause and reflect, to count my blessings, to say grace and to be grateful and to let my soul be glad, to let go of whatever I shouldn't be holding on to, to hold still and let all this music, all these ideas find their way out of me.  There is family and there are friends who are family and there are those we love and there are those who love us. Every day there is more love. God bless us, everyone.

Enjoy the classic sounds of Queen Latifah's U.N.I.T.Y. -- and for a classic post on the first day of Kwanzaa, click here

Monday, December 08, 2014

Sew What?

I'm so happy, I could spit sunshine.

I splurged today and bought a Singer Sew Essentials container -- a modern day sewing basket. It's got 165 pieces that fit together nicely in this nifty, snap together plastic satchel of a box, which basically means it's got everything I'll need to start sewing all over again.  And I mean everything. Bobbins. Seam rippers. Pins. A jillion yards of thread. Everything!  I'll keep my old sewing kit for the overspill.  It's cloth and a little dingy but perfectly useful. I just needed to cook with gasoline.

I can build on this -- one stitch at a time. I'll start by making small repairs on everyday things. A hem here, a pair of socks there, a missing button on this, and on and on.  Once I'm really comfortable, I'll yank out my sewing machine. I have to get proper sewing scissors, beautiful shears.  Sewing is fairly relaxing work that's hardly distracting once I get into the feel of it. It leaves my mind to wander and that's when ideas come to me.  Get that left side of the brain going and the right side of the brain is free to wander and explore.

This is a new beginning that's really me going back to the beginning.  What's new is what I used to do. I learned how to sew when I was a small child.  One summer, my Godmother/Aunt Doris enrolled my cousin Leslie and I in sewing classes at the Singer sewing shop in the local mall. I started by making simple things, like a-line skirts. My Aunt Doris gave me my own little sewing basket and looked over my shoulder from a great, grand distance -- she was an expert seamstress -- and by the end of the summer, I could make my own dresses.  By the time I finished college, I fell off.  I had a stint in the costume department of the theater wing that was fun but that came and went. Now that wearing vintage is essential, I'm pretty crafty -- and those sewing skills have come in pretty handy.

I'm already thinking about stuff I want to make, stuff I have to mend, stuff I want to take apart. Hopefully when I get dressed, I won't look like anyone else.  I'll look the way the music sounds.

The older I get, the closer I get to the kid I used to be. When I am old, I will be that girl all over again -- living in the Lowcountry, knitting and sewing and baking and cooking, floating on my back in the water and swimming for hours on end, running just for the feel of my legs spinning out from under me, reading and researching ideas and writing and thinking and making cool art and dreaming of living in New York City...

Monday, December 01, 2014

Joy, Unspeakable Joy

Interestingly, the theme for December's NaBloPoMo is joy, which -- unlike happiness -- is of the divine.  There is the work -- gigs that are work and auditions that feel like work and boxing that's nothing but work -- and all of the goals and priorities that swirl around me constantly, like determined fireflies. And there is all of this work that happens inside of the work -- voice lessons, guitar practice, writing a song down as it comes to me. Somewhere in there, joy remains a constant. It's an invisible string that runs all the way through the fabric of my inner world, somehow setting things right. When the filth of the world won't subside and I have every reason to be depressed and angry, joy lets me keep my spiritual equilibrium and I bounce like a bright red rubber ball.  Joy, unspeakable joy. For this, I am truly grateful.

There's a lot of things that make me happy but I can think of very few things that give me joy.  Music is definitely one of them. So is performance.

This is probably my favorite song in the entire history of ever. I think the whole world should hear it. 

Behind, every dark cloud
There's a silver lining
And after each rain storm
There's a bright new sky

When troubles grieve you
And friends deceive you
Oh don't worry
It will pass over by and by

When troubles pull your heart strings
Don't be discouraged
And even though pain and misery
Fill your eyes with tears

These troubles will soon pass
Yes, soon they will depart
Oh hallelulah,
They will pass over by and by

So remember

Weeping may endure for a night but
Joy, joy, joy, joy
Joy Joy will come
Joy, Joy
Joy, Joy
Joy, Joy

Weeping may endure for a night,but
Joy, joy, joy, joy
Joy Joy will come
Joy, Joy
Joy, Joy
Joy, Joy

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Black to the Future!

This is me, displaying what can only be described as a Jack Johnson level of Unforgivable Blackness at the 2012 Baltimore Comic Con.

You're welcome.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Indigenous People's Day!

Please don't make the mistake of thinking that everyone in the Americas celebrates Columbus Day.  America has its hotspots -- there'll be a big parade in New York City and San Francisco likes to celebrate in the streets, thanks to the large Italian-American populace there -- and so does South America but for the most part, acknowledging what this day encompasses means having to embrace the enormity of what Christopher Columbus really did

The 6 million dead because of Hitler is a constant reminder in the media, in movies, in museums and memorials all over the world -- and yet as overwhelming as that loss is, it is dwarfed by the 100 million dead at the hands of Columbus.  The Europeans conquered through disease, not warfare.  Smallpox obliterated the nation.  Smallpox! And that wasn't the only disease, either.  Think of it: at least 90% of the Native American population, gone. In comparison, The Black Plague wiped out 30% to 60% of Europe.

And that's just one of the things Columbus did.

I can't believe Italian-Americans can't come up with another hero to celebrate. What about Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer that disproved Columbus' claim that Brazil and the West Indies were Asian outposts?  South America was initially called America because of him. What about a saint or a priest? San Gennaro, anyone?  Whatever.  With each passing year, throwing that parade up 5th Avenue becomes more and more ridiculous.  Everyone will eventually move on without you.

Actually, everyone is moving on without you.  Seattle and Minneapolis are the latest cities to celebrate Indigenous People's Day, amongst others -- but it should be noted that South Dakota has celebrated Native Americans Day for the past 23 years.  (Freakin' yay.)

So call it what you will --  Dia de la Raza, Native Americans Day, Indigenous Resistance Day or even Indigenous People's Day. But please don't call it Columbus Day.

To touch and review last year's Indigenous People's Day blog post, please click here.

This 1992 poster was created by Seth Tobocman to counter 500th anniversary celebrations of Columbus first arriving in the Americas and to celebrate 500 years of resistance.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My next t-shirt...

I seriously love this -- but where's the black female version? Black women are killed by the police, too.  Doesn't everyone know who Eleanor Bumpurs is? Don't get it twisted. The police shoot black people. Period.  Yes, they shoot black children. And they get away with it.

Get your t-shirt here.  You're welcome.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Happy birthday, John Lennon

John Lennon would have been 74 years old today. Imagine that.

If this song -- from his last album Double Fantasy, released posthumously in 1981 -- doesn't sum up his mindset in the last years of his life, nothing will.

Watching The Wheels

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I'm o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
When I tell that I'm doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there's no problem,
Only solutions,
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
I tell them there's no hurry...
I'm just sitting here doing time,

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Quote of the Day - on Family

"So much of what is best in us 
is bound up in our love of family, 
that it remains the measure of our stability 
because it measures our sense of loyalty. 
All other pacts of love or fear 
derive from it and are modeled upon it.
                                                 -- Haniel Long

Friday, October 03, 2014

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Some reviews for my Black Americana album "The Other Side"...

Here are a few review quotes for my self-released Black Americana album The Other Side – available now from your favorite digital retailer, including iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.  I'll keep adding more as they come in. And if you'd like to give the full album a listen, try Spotify or

"Secrets do have a way of leaking out, and one that desperately needs to be heard is Americana/country/ jazz singer, Queen Esther. Every song is sung with passion and fire, by this underrated female singer who should be a musical giant." -- Country Music People (UK)
"...the most exciting Afro-Americana release of the year.  She sings Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner” (by the Creole songwriter Paul Pena) and original gospel and rockabilly tunes, but the bulk of the album is devoted to hard-country numbers that could have been taken from a Connie Smith or Lee Ann Womack record but were in fact composed by Queen Esther herself. These are ballads and two steps about romantic crises, and the strategic unsteadiness in her glowing voice suggests not the cool self-assurance of an urban sophisticate but the heart-on-a-sleeve transparency of a small-town innocent." -- Paste

"This album is amazing. And very difficult to classify. Can you imagine a black Lucinda Williams? Not like when she plays the blues torn from her first albums, no. A black Lucinda Williams in pop, rhythm, blues and even gender roots Americana. So it sounds, if you can imagine such a hodgepodge somehow, the latest album from this brutal, original, explosive singer." -- Vanity Fair (Spain)

"Our admiration for Queen Esther is almost beyond measure." -- Rootstime (Belgium)

“Queen Esther’s new album The Other Side is unlike anything you’ve heard in recent years…or possibly ever.”  --

"Queen Esther literally has the voice of an angel." -- Jersey Beat

"In a world where so many artists are carbon copies of one another or rely on technology to hide a lack of talent or originality, Queen Esther comes across like a real lady with real talent who isn't afraid to bare her soul to the world." -- BabySue

“Simple intentions and promises gently take your hand as Queen Esther smiles in the knowledge that ‘sweet dirt can’t hold me’ before she hops aboard Ronny Drayton’s jet fueled guitar lead to arrive in ‘Sunnyland’”Alternate Root

“Queen Esther takes "Jet Airliner" back to its Paul Pena roots and imbues many of her tunes with a Ted Hawkins-meets-Loretta Lynn vibe.”East Side Slim’s Picks

“Queen Esther taps into a new musical genre, "Black Americana" as she mixes together pieces of folk with country, blues, jazz and soul to create some wonderful new sounds.” – JP’s Music Blog

"It’s the melancholy country cuts that Queen Esther excels in. 'I’ve Come Undone Again' is a particular highlight; a splendid slice of melancholy country complete with Hank Williams-esque melody and all. 'Love Is a Wrecking Ball' and 'I Feel Like Going Home' are wrought with emotion and are likely the best tracks here." -- Americana UK

 "Pedal and lap steel guitars, boom-chick rhythms and Atkins/Travis guitar picking dominate this set. Queen Esther's vocals, meanwhile, even at their hardest-rocking, invoke the high-and-lonesome plaintiveness of the honky-tonk/bluegrass/rockabilly continuum as much as they do the harsher-timbred blues tradition." -- Living Blues

"‘The Other Side’ is a collection of material that defies pigeon-holing, yet the intriguing term assigned to it seems to sum up the way black and white musical traditions intertwine in perfect harmony." - For the Country Record (UK) 

“In short: A masterpiece of an extremely talented singer / songwriter who can compete with the major players in this field, such as Lucinda Williams.” – Blues Magazine (The Netherlands)

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Mercury in retrograde? AGAIN?

At 1:02pm Eastern Standard Time on October 4th, Mercury goes retrograde in Scorpio.  It'll go retrograde in Libra on October 10th until it things go back to normal on October 25th. Whenever this backward spin somehow drags everything forward, I usually get a sudden ah-ha moment when my hard drive stops working or a phone call won't connect *or something!* that makes me feel like a gigantic hippie.  And then everyone in my world lets out this collective groan as they brace themselves for the inevitable -- miscommunications, missed connections, problems with electronics of any kind, having to hurry up and wait for the most basic things, and so on.

Like the pull of the moon on the water, it seems that the planets are always yanking hard in some way or another.  When Mercury is in retrograde -- having the appearance of traveling backwards in the sky -- it takes on aspects of the planet in whose house it resides.  Every planet has its own attributes. Scorpio is emotional intensity. Libra is balance.

You've heard all this before, haven't you: don't get married, don't sign any contracts, don't start a new business, don't spend any money, don't make any important decisions, don't buy anything new.  I don't pay any attention to any of that stuff until I'm looking for an explanation as to why something weird happened. When all else fails, I hibernate -- especially when it's cold. Aside from slathering myself with gobs of patience, crawling through a 7 day cleanse along with  21 days of eating clean and a fairly steady diet of bikram yoga should be enough of a calming distraction.

The thing to do is redo, renew, review -- and, for me at least, rehearse.  I'll be singing and playing at Lincoln Center on November 15th as a finalist in the Mountain Stage NewSong Contest, so this month is prep time.  I dug through my hard drive and found three songs I forgot I had.  What's especially annoying is that one of them is really good.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fall Bucket List 2014 -- The Harlem Edition

Sure, I made a list like this last year but it wasn't comprehensive enough -- and it was way too generic.  Maybe this one is way too personal. No need for candy apples of any kind (I won't jeopardize my dental work!) or football (I'm only remotely interested...) or haunted houses (in other parts of the country, they're really haunted!) or hayrides, which aren't as fun as you might think.

The list above is for a suburban midwesterner.  This list isn't specific to Harlem, per se -- but I am, more or less. This neighborhood's ongoing tide of gentrification makes me feel like even more of an outsider than I did when I got here. If you're in New York City and if you're as geeky and curious and insatiable as I am, and if you're not interested in going where everyone else boldly goes, this list is definitely for you.
  1. The New York Comic Con -- October 9 - 12 at the Javits Center! That's right, kids -- I'm going to the nerd prom. Wheeeeee!
  2. Exhibit #1: See Prune Nourry's Terracotta Daughters at FIAFFrom the website: An army of young girls assembles in the first U.S. showing of Terracotta Daughters, a monumental exhibition of 108 life-sized and individually crafted clay sculptures that recall China’s famous Terracotta Warriors.
  3. Sample the fall menu at The CecilI will miss the Frogmore Stew but I am very much looking forward to the bold, inventive additions to the dim sum menu and yes, their African/Asian take on roast duck.
  4. Do a 30 day cleanse. This time around, I'm doing The Clean Program for at least 21 days, I'll be incorporating a 7 day cleanse initially and I'll be working out. Yep -- I'm going to be a lot of fun in October.
  5. Go to a drive-in movie!  Click here for a list of five movie theaters that are less than a 2 hour drive from New York City.  I'll make a picnic basket and maybe we'll catch a double feature...!
  6. Go to The Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Flotilla -- October 26th, 3:30pm - 6:30pm This is way more fun than wandering through a pumpkin patch. It's a family-friendly, beautiful and yes, free annual event, sponsored by the Central Park Conservancy and it features music, arts and crafts, and glowing pumpkins, floating across the water at sundown.
  7. Exhibit #2: See Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion at the New York Historical Society. From the website: ...explores the centuries-long history of trade and immigration between China and the United States—a history that involved New York from its very beginnings—and will raise the question “What does it mean to be an American?” The exhibit narrative extends from the late eighteenth century to the present and includes all regions of the country, thus interpreting the Chinese American saga as a key part of American history.
  8. The Apollo Theater Presents Apollo Uptown Hall: The Harlem/South Africa Connection -- October 12th, 3pm. This panel discussion will feature Harry Belafonte, former Mayor David Dinkins and other notable speakers/activists. And yep, it's free.
  9. Exhibit #3: The Matisse Cut-outs You're welcome.
  10. Wine Tasting Series in The Balcony Lounge at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This happens on the first weekend of every month.  And MPB says it's delicious. I have a serious thing for this lounge, anyway -- mostly because they have wifi and they let me stay for as long as I want.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

That climate change march, though...

The largest climate march in history happened this week, with 2,808 events in 166 countries --  some guesstimate that well over 400, 000 people took to the streets in New York City alone -- and it was virtually ignored by every major news outlet in this country.  And then the next day, like a proper right cross that should follow any decent left hook, Flood Wall Street happened.

 Here's what they refused to show you. 

Sunday's People's Climate March

Monday's Flood Wall Street

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Voter Registration Day - September 23rd

I considered registering to vote to be a part of an important rite of passage and because of the stories my Southern, Depression-era father somberly told whenever the mood struck him, I took the entire process a little too seriously.  I knew it was a drop in the bucket of electoral votes but I wanted to believe that my drop somehow mattered, that I mattered.  I wanted to be a part of the process. I didn't think I had any right to bitch about the system if I didn't vote.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that for the powers that be to fight this hard to disenfranchise so many, voting must count for something.  This is the epitome of institutional racism: that the white people who are in power would create laws that would make it as difficult as possible for the poor, the marginalized and people who are of color to vote.  Every state is its own little kingdom, creating its own set of hoops and hurdles that everyone must unravel and traverse.  It's extremely difficult have a voter registration drive in Texas.  I have to show a birth certificate to register to vote in Kansas.  If I lose my house in Florida -- and let's face it, everyone is losing their house in Florida! -- I lose my right to vote. Lots of people -- the elderly, for example -- don't have government issued photo IDs or a driver's license.  And if I'm an ex-felon that's paid my debt to society and if I'm in Iowa, I am permanently disenfranchised.  Is it a surprise that only 70% of those who are eligible have  registered?

As an African-American that's two generations removed from slavery, I'm not big on state's rights.  As far as I'm concerned, this is the part where the federal government should step in and regulate most of this stuff -- and that's not bloodly likely. 

They're making it hard for us. Don't make it easy for them.  Know your rights. Register to vote.  And then, yes -- vote.

To register to vote online, click here.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "How To Make Love To A Negro Without Getting Tired" by Dany Laferriere

How To Make Love To A NegroHow To Make Love To A Negro by Dany Laferrière

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Making love to a Negro isn't frightening; sleeping with him is. Sleep is complete surrender. It's more than nude; it's naked. Anything can happen during the night, when reason sleeps.” - Dany Laferriere, How To Make Love To A Negro

the complete title of this book is how to make love to a negro without getting tired. apparently the combination of black men and white women bonking is fairly combustible subject matter the world over -- even canada's montreal, a place that constantly reassures us is free of racial tension/problems. mr. laferriere is well aware of all of this and works every bit of it to the hilt. what's interesting is the way he delves into why interracial relationships with white women are such a threat to white men. this book -- his first novel! -- is white hot brilliant and just as fresh and relevant as when it was published in 1985. this stuff is free-wheeling and provocative and it just pops right off the page.

i love the way he and his african roommate discuss classical literature and philosophy and art and sex and food and life, the way he dissects a coltrane solo while going off on some stream of consciousness rant about rich white people and how bizarre it is to wander through their mansions when they aren't there and have violent dispassionate sex with their seemingly chaste daughters, the way he listens to big band jazz and vocalists like ella fitzgerald as his thoughts slide between communism, the last white girl he had and how wierd she was, and marinating a pigeon he killed in the park for that week's last summer day because he's so perpetually broke. heh.

so much of this reads like stream-of-consciousness prose -- smart, insightful, bitter, and very very funny. it spun out so easily, like i fell into his private thoughts, and he let me stay there for as long as i wanted. because i read/heard/knew most if not all of what he referenced, the book became almost four dimensional and i enjoyed it even more. not surprisingly, there were critics who assumed a black man DIDN'T write it, because he would have to be a certain kind of literate/well read/educated to have referenced the things he did.

all in all, a really good read.

ps: if you want another kick in this direction, i highly recommend "heading south," (written by dany l.) set in the 70s about older white female tourists who go to the beaches of haiti to be sexually serviced by beautiful young boys.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers - "Touch The Hem Of His Garment"

As the story goes, this legendary group were in the studio finishing an album and one more song was needed, so Sam Cooke asked for a Bible, it fell open to this verse and he wrote this song on the spot.  And the rest is history.

Listen in and be blessed.

Oh, there was a woman in the Bible days,
she had been sick, sick so very long
but she heard about Jesus was passing by,
so she joined the gathering throng
and while she was pushing her way through,
someone ask her: 'What are you trying to do?'

She said:
'if I could just touch the hem of His garment
I know I'll be made whole'

She cried:
'Oh Lord, Oh Lord and Oh Lord, Oh Lord'
Said :
'if I could just touch the hem of His garment
I know I'll be made whole'

Oh, She spent her money here and there
until she had no, had no more to spare,
the doctors, they'd done all they could
but their medicine would do no good.
When she touched Him The Saviour didn't see
but still He turned around and cried
'Somebody touched me'

She said:
'It was I who just wanna touch the hem of Your garment,
I know I'll be made whole right now'

She stood there crying:
'Oh Lord, Oh Lord and Oh Lord, Oh Lord'

'If I could just touch the hem of His garment,
I know I'll made whole right now' 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quote of the Day: "I'm not watching all-white movies anymore."

"When you do the math it just doesn’t add up.  A movie costs about $13.75. Plus parking and snacks.  On average, I’m spending about $25 every time I go see a movie.  I usually see a movie at least 4 times a month.  That’s $100 a month.  Multiply that by 12 months and I’m spending $1200 a year on movies alone.  That’s rent money.

I’m wasting rent money on these films that purposefully exclude me.  Why would I do that?  That’s completely insane.  

If I took that $1200 every year and put it in my savings account I could invest in my own original content.  I wish I’d thought of doing this years ago.  I’d probably be directing a feature film by now.  But as they say, there’s no time like the present."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Book Review: "The 50th Law" by 50 Cent and Robert Greene

The 50th LawThe 50th Law by 50 Cent

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

i don't like 50 cent. i never have and i probably never will, in spite of the way he's recently cleaned up his image and repackaged himself to mainstream/middle (white) america, readying all of us for his next incarnation. he's not stupid. he knows that his gangsta rap moment has played itself out and it's time to move onto the next -- probably acting (he's getting his tatoos removed for this purpose) and producing. there's an astonishing amount of money in film/tv, no matter which side of the camera you're on. truthfully, he's become more of a businessman and haberdasher, like most of his ilk who are successful -- with a line of clothing, vitamin water and whatever else makes him more money, all the while maintaining a menacing dangerous image to validate his brand.

and therein lies the problem.

it started out with its heart in the right place, as a way to report what the black urban underclass was experiencing, something that the rest of america was blissfully unaware of. but eventually, when hip/hop and rap saw the money, it branded and sold itself to the highest bidder in the name of multiculturalism and opportunity. now it's pretty much a black-faced caricature of itself. the thug posturing and posing that's supposed to represent all black american men of a certain age. the idea that bitch=(black) women. the casual/liberal use of the "n" word. and many more things that have fostered a climate in our culture that's perpetuated almost as many stereotypes about black people to the world as stepin fetchit, arguably.  all for the sake of money, material things, and beef/"reputation" (whatever that is).

i hope it was worth it.

so i was thinking all of these things and more as i read this book. i read it because a friend suggested it and admittedly, i am a huge fan of Robert Greene. i've read pretty much all of his books and i think he gives an interesting and thought-provoking take on media, power and societial dynamics. this book is basically mr. greene taking on the idea of fear, the 50th law, and using 50 cent's life story and personal philosophy to augment and illustrate his intent. mr. greene didn't take this lightly. he followed 50 cent for years and was a fly on the wall in his life in and out of boardrooms, heady confrontations and power moves. he did his homework, and it shows.

it's a provocative premise. curtis "50 cent" jackson is probably the only gangsta rapper out here that was actually a gangster in real life and not a wangsta, someone that cultivated that image to make money. rick ross (the boss), for example, was a corrections officer in florida for years -- and in spite of him insisting that it's not true, there are pictures and paperwork to prove it.

we've all heard tell of what it takes to be a gangster. why not hear it from the source?

this is what makes the book a fascinating read. it delves into the details of mr. jackson's life as a drug dealer in queens and his rise as a gangsta rapper to pull up details that augment this idea: all of us have the capacity to live a fearless life, and to live life to the fullest, and to live to the fullest of our potential, we must find a way to eliminate that fear by any means necessary.

apparently, curtis has come a long way. it's no surprise that what he has observed by working for gangsters initially and usurping them to create his own power base has come in handy when doing business in the corporate world and the entertainment industry. what i find interesting -- and yes, hilarious -- is the way mr. jackson will drag any rapper (rick ross), any dalliance (vivica fox), any former friendship ( floyd mayweather) through the media muck with unbridled glee, ridiculing and humiliating them all the way. yet he has carefully refrained from even so much as mentioning his brief relationship with ms. chelsea handler. ironically, he has done this out of fear, i imagine. at least that's what the look on his face says whenever her name is mentioned. ms. handler takes no prisoners.

i don't want to get into too much detail. it's a very juicy read and in the end it didn't tell me anything that i didn't already know about fear and how it can undo you. but i must admit, mr. greene found a very interesting way to tell it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Edwin Hawkins and The Edwin Hawkins Singers -- "I Believe"

This song -- commissioned by pre-war singer/actress Jane Froman in 1953 for her tv show The Jane Froman Show as a response to the Korean War -- was the first hit song ever introduced on television. She said wanted to give people hope.  I don't know if it worked but it's a popular and enduring song that transcends genres.  Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- has covered it, from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra to Mahalia Jackson to Dolly Parton. 

Interestingly, Ms. Froman -- an educated Midwesterner (from Columbia, Missouri), a classically trained vocalist (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music), a genuine Hollywood movie star and a chronic stutterer  -- has not one but three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I've heard this song before, quite a lot. I don't like it or dislike it.  It's just there, like pleasant aural wallpaper.  Kinda pre-hippyish in this deliberate way that's so sincere, it's not schmaltzy at all. 

It's like that song Misty: You know it even if you think you don't know it. You don't quite know how you know it or when you learned it. It's just there, stuck in your head, like an earworm you carried into the world at birth.

What better gospel choir to do this song justice than the iconic Edwin Hawkins Singers?

Listen in and be blessed.
I believe for every drop of rain that falls
A flower grows,
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night
A candle glows,
I believe for everyone who goes astray,
Someone will come to show the way,
I believe, I believe.

I believe above the storm a smallest prayer
Will still be heard,
I believe that someone in the great somewhere
Hears every word,
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
Or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
Then I know why,
I believe.

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
Or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
Then I know why,
I believe.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Quote of the Day -- from Ta-Nehisi Coates, on Mike Brown

And if Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic. I had my first drink when I was 11. I once brawled in the cafeteria after getting hit in the head with a steel trash can. In my junior year I failed five out of seven classes. By the time I graduated from high school, I had been arrested for assaulting a teacher and been kicked out of school (twice.) And yet no one who knew me thought I had the least bit of thug in me. That is because I also read a lot of books, loved my Commodore 64, and ghostwrote love notes for my friends. In other words, I was a human being. A large number of American teenagers live exactly like Michael Brown. Very few of them are shot in the head and left to bake on the pavement.” 

                         —  Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That brother in last night's Ferguson City Council meeting, though...

Say what you will about what may or may not have happened a month and a day ago in Ferguson, Missouri -- one thing is frightfully clear, to anyone that's actually paying attention to any of this: there is NO going back to the way things used to be.

Just look at this brother right here at last night's city council meeting.  He is on fire. 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Mike Brown -- One Month Later

One month ago in a place that hardly anyone had ever heard of,  police officer Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown multiple times at close range in broad daylight -- and then proceeded to blow his brains out.  According to several eyewitnesses, Mike Brown -- a college-bound high school graduate -- had both of his hands up when he was murdered. Officer Wilson never called in to report the shooting and he never called for an ambulance. Mike Brown's body laid in the street where he fell for more than 4 hours. Eventually, an unmarked black SUV came and took his body away.

At this juncture, I should probably tell you that the population of Ferguson (a suburb of St. Louis) is about 21,000 and 70% black. Out of 53 cops, only 3 are black. The mayor and five of the six city council members are white.  Ticketing, arresting and otherwise harassing black folk is big business for Ferguson. More on that some other time.

Let's be clear: Officer Wilson never called in to report the shooting because they turned it over to St. Louis county police almost immediately.  Oh, but that didn't stop them from turning over an incident report and video in which Mike Brown is allegedly guilty of stealing cigars.  (Nevermind Fox News and their idiocy. Cue Kevin Sorbo and his racist rant about Ferguson.) Interestingly, the store didn't call the cops -- a customer did.

Watch your back, black folk: customers can get you killed. Just ask John Crawford -- a few days before Mike Brown's murder, he was shot 10 times while holding a toy gun in Wal-Mart as he chatted on the phone with his girlfriend, who was in another section of the store.  Ronald Ritchie, an ex-Marine (that's not true), called 911 while his wife April (who had a broken ankle and was on the phone with her mother) trailed behind Mr. Crawford in a Wal-Mart scooter at what she described as a "safe distance", waving people away from him.  No one else in the store was alarmed by Mr. Crawford. A month later, Ronald Ritchie completely changed his story.

The kicker is that Ohio is a right to carry state.  That means you can openly carry a firearm in public.

Right about now, the attorney general of Ohio is hoping that this case goes away so no one's career gets tanked and those cops and yes, you too,  Mr. Ritchie -- because this is all your fault -- don't get sued into oblivion and see some serious jail time for murder.  As far as I'm concerned, the rest of his natural life wouldn't be long enough.

But I digress.

Cops arrived on the scene that afternoon with assault rifles because angry residents refused to disperse, and wanted answers.  That's when everything went beserk and suddenly, Ferguson was on full blast. Twitter was on fire with moment to moment updates as everything unraveled, from photos of German shepherds attacking black folk to a militarized police presence to the barricade that ultimately shut the police out of the neighborhood after the cops deliberately destroyed Mike Brown's memorial. And that was the first day.

Officer Wilson was secreted away immediately and his identity was withheld by the Ferguson police department for almost a week. Apparently, this was long enough for him to erase any unsavory tidbits on his social media and hide with his family in "a safe place" -- with pay and benefits, of course. 

What's the upshot?
  1. The Ferguson Police Department is facing a federal civil rights investigation, headed by Attorney General Eric Holder.  And what they've found so far is pretty disturbing.
  2. The Ferguson City Council (which met for the first time today since Mike Brown's murder) is assembling their first ever police department review board.
  3. Black folk in Ferguson have been holding a slew of voter registration rallies.
Know justice, know peace.

Oh -- and about that Ferguson City Council meeting...

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Le'Andria Johnson's Auditon for Sunday Best

When Le'Andria Johnson showed up from Orlando, Florida to audition for BET's reality tv show Sunday Best, she was already a seasoned performer, producer and a singer-songwriter. She had led the prayer and praise worship in her father's church for years and had been singing since she was 2 years old. She was also twice divorced with 3 children and had just lost her house to foreclosure.  Jump cut to the end of the story: not only does she win season three, the 7 song album they quickly release debuts at number one on the gospel chart and her life is nothing but roses.

Of course, another hit album, a Grammy and plenty of scandal quickly followed -- but it's interesting to see the moment when the world discovered her, and to watch everything change and shift at the judges' table just as soon as she opened her mouth.

I love this woman's voice.

Some people think that this is what's supposed to happen when you sing gospel music, that you are supposed to let God move through you and sing from your soul.  I think this is what's supposed to happen when you sing anything.  Or what's the point?

Here it is, Le'Andria's audition tape. Listen in and be blessed.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Cartoon Saturdays -- Bugs Bunny: Hillbilly Hare

Because it's really not Saturday morning unless I'm watching Bugs Bunny in my underwear -- and because I'm such a generous and benevolent monarch (heh.) -- I thought I'd post this little gem for your cultural edification/amusement/etc.  And you can sing along and everything! Wheeee!

I'm going to serve up a weekly heaping helping of Chuck Jones to the world any Saturday it strikes my fancy.  God, I love him.  How sad am I that we never met.

This stuff will never get old.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Joan Rivers, we hardly knew you...

Love her or hate her, one thing is certain: Joan Rivers -- a first generation Russian Jew from Brooklyn -- was a trailblazer and a genuine powerhouse that became a hit on The Tonight Show at 32 and never stopped working.  Some performers hope for a victory lap in their old age -- a gig that allows them to step out into the spotlight and shine once more before they leave this world. Elaine Stritch had a wonderful victory lap. So did Alberta Hunter and Eartha Kitt.  Joan Rivers, on the other hand, was sprinting around the track of life and when she checked out of here, her career was on fire.  At the time of her passing, she had a reality tv show, a ridiculously popular youtube show (In Bed with Joan!) and a fashion talk show on E!  Nevermind her stand up comedy appearances, her must-see red carpet interviews for the Golden Globes and the Oscars, and all that  jewelry she was selling -- of her own design! -- on QVC.  She wasn't just working. She was culturally relevant. That's a formidable accomplishment.

She finished at Barnard College with a major in English Literature and anthropology -- which seems ideal, in retrospect. She's one of the few comedians that actually wrote her own material.  Actually, she wrote 12 books (!!!) and released several comedy albums. She didn't win every award out there but she was nominated for a Tony, a Grammy and won an Emmy in 1990 for her daytime talk show.  And she's the first woman to host her own late night talk show on network television.  Think about it: how many women have they allowed to take that coveted late night seat, to even co-host?  Can you name three? Unless I'm seriously missing something, Joan Rivers is the only one I can think of.

After a certain point, I made a point of ingesting as many biographies, autobiographies, documentaries and Behind The Music episodes that I could. Everyone's trajectory is so revealing and important, and teaches so many lessons about what not to do and how this business really works. A part of it is a history lesson but what I look for is the cautionary tale that's inherent in just about all of them. The documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is essential must-see viewing for any performer.  It's a glimpse into her work ethic and the anatomy of the machine that she built to propel her business of show forward.  And somewhere in there is the Joan that hardly anyone ever thought they knew.

Godspeed, Joan Rivers. What a fantastic life you had.  Long may you run.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

How To Deal With The Police -- A Cheat Sheet

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ” -- James Baldwin

I have been stopped by the police on numerous occasions for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  Usually they back off when they realize I'm not the black woman they were looking for. Or expecting. Or something. Jedi mind tricks don't always work, though. The last time this happened to me was in the subway at Times Square awhile ago. I had walked through an open exit door with a herd of midwestern tourists at rush hour because the turnstiles were faulty.  I was repeatedly told that the condition of the turnstiles didn't matter. What I did was wrong. None of those tourists were detained, of course.  When I pointed this out, they ignored me. 

The first thing they did was put my name in the system.  The disappointment they felt when nothing came up was nearly tangible.  They gave me a summons, anyway -- with the hope that I'd pay the fine and be done with it. Problem is, I refused to pay the fine and I wanted the whole thing expunged. I contested it and spent the next 6 months unraveling gobs of red tape in one Waiting for Godot take-a-number-and-wait situation after another until finally a random person behind a desk turns off the tape recorder in the middle of The Interview That Settled This Whole Thing and tells me off the record that I was right, the cops were wrong and they were probably hoping I wouldn't follow through so I'd be in the system. That's the kicker: if my name came up at all in the system, that would have meant that the cops could cuff me and take me downtown immediately -- no questions asked.

Apparently, once you're in the system, you're screwed.

Any cop that stops me had better have a bloody fantastic reason for doing so because if he doesn't, I will roast him whole. Here's my super-short list of what you should know if they stop you:
  1. If the police stop you in New York, you don't have to show them your ID -- unless you're driving.
  2. If you're being detained by a cop, he can't hold you for more than 20 minutes and he can't search through your stuff.
  3. You can film the police as long as you don't interfere with what they're doing. And yes, EVERYONE should film the police. 

I'm fairly certain that Marlene Pinnock is grateful to David Diaz for shooting the video of that California Highway Patrol officer straddling her MMA style and pounding her in the face with his fists. Even Fox News couldn't justify this one -- and you know they tried. I hope they sue that cop into oblivion. Or at least an early retirement.

Monday, September 01, 2014

September's NaBloPoMo: Healing

What does healing mean, exactly? Is it all interconnected -- mind, body, spirit -- or can one experience a profound healing in one area of one's life and complete rot in another one? Is it perpetual? Can someone's body be overwhelmed in the process of healing and wear itself out in the process? Is there ever a moment when I can declare that I am truly healed in every way imaginable?  Won't I be like Sisyphus, constantly striving and ever reaching for healing of some sort but never quite getting there?

I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke cigarettes -- or anything else for that matter. I stay out of the sun and I'm so Howard Hughes obsessive about my skin, I wear sunblock in the shade.  I definitely don't do drugs recreationally. I don't do these things for fairly obvious reasons, of course. I make sure that I drink this green stuff for breakfast habitually and I pop these vitamins after every meal.  I am making it my business to physically exhaust myself on a daily basis with boxing, bikram yoga, pilates and anything else I can stand,  to get my body back and keep it once it gets here. And as if all of that weren't enough, I usually eat clean. Yet in spite of my best efforts, there are moments when I can feel my body struggling against whatever modern day toxins the world is inflicting upon me at random. And I sometimes wonder how any of it is affecting the rest of me...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Renisha McBride: Sweet Victory

This murder broke me from the inside out: a young black woman (a teenager!) with a dead cell phone wrecks her car in an unfamiliar (white) neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, knocks on a random door for assistance and gets shot in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun by none other than a middle aged white man who -- irony of ironies! -- "didn't want to be a victim".

It could have been me.

We've seen this scemario before, haven't we. The media roasts the victim while the "victim" awaits their inevitable "not guilty" plea. And I must say, they've got their routine down pat.  As if on cue, Fox News went in on Renisha's character, her background, her past -- whatever they could sensationalize with the usual white (male) conservative malaise.  In the meantime, Mr. Wafer told the cops the gun discharged accidentally. During the trial, he said he shot her in self-defense. After about a month of the pomp and formality of a trial, expert testimonies and a river of tears from Mr. Wafer himself, something inside of me began to numb out a little.  I remember thinking that if he went free, that would mean that violence against  black women would be condoned, sanctioned even. But it already is, in a myriad of ways.

Why should anyone expect justice for Renisha? They had video on Rodney King and none of those cops saw the inside of a jail cell.  After his latest misadventure -- brandishing a loaded gun at his pregnant girlfriend -- even Florida cops think George Zimmerman should be in jail before he "accidentally" murders someone else.  And then there's Marissa Alexander. She stood her ground -- and now she's facing 60 years for firing a warning shot.

And then, out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened: the jury returns with a guilty verdict on the second day of deliberations for all three counts.  Michigan, you have done the nation proud.  This is the one place in this country where you can't shoot first and ask questions later. Now let's wrap this up and send him to jail for the rest of his natural life. Selah.

My question is, why didn't he call 911 when he heard a suspicious noise on his porch?  If you are safely tucked behind two locked doors, why would you open them to shoot someone? Why did he find his 12 gauge shotgun quicker than he found his cellphone?  That he has the brass to breeze past that last one -- and in tears, no less -- was nuts. He just knew he'd walk. 

In a world where more white people believe in ghosts than racism, where the military enacts regulations and strict codes against black women's hair in its natural state, where those who are privileged and entitled are convinced they are not, where the past is rewritten or forgotten at random, willful ignorance flourishes and we are rendered invisible by the media, by the entertainment industry, by the government, by gentrification -- in a world where there is no justice and very little peace, the unthinkable has happened.  We won. In Detroit!

To see Mr. Wafer's testimony, watch the video below.

Now if they'd just stop chasing Assata Shakur...

Monday, August 04, 2014

Quote of the Day -- from Stokely Carmichael

"I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. (applause) For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being, and therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn’t know that. Every time I tried to go into a place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, ‘He’s a human being; don’t stop him.’ That bill was for that white man, not for me. I knew it all the time. (applause, cheers) I knew it all the time.

I knew that I could vote and that that wasn’t a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill for white people to tell them, ‘When a black man comes to vote, don’t bother him.’ That bill, again, was for white people, not for black people.
So that when you talk about open occupancy, I know I can live anyplace I want to live. It is white people across this country who are incapable of allowing me to live where I want to live. You need a civil rights bill, not me. I know I can live where I want to live.”

                                       - Stokely Carmichael, 29 OCTOBER 1966

Friday, August 01, 2014

What is mnemonic, anyway?

A mnemonic is a device -- any device, tangible or intangible -- that assists in remembering something.  As an actor that's had to ingest iambic pentameter whole and spit it out at will, I'm well acquainted with this idea. Strangely, I've never given it a name.  Yeesh -- I never knew this had a name. 

And what is bullet journaling, anyway? Sounds like a gigantic, well-organized to-do list.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Happy birthday, Emmett Till

If he hadn't been kidnapped in the dead of night and murdered by Roy Bryant and his half brother JW Milam for whistling at Mr. Bryant's wife Carolyn on a dare, Emmett Till would be 73 years old today.

It really wasn't that long ago, was it.

The nation (read: white people) couldn't believe that an all white, all male jury took less than an hour to deliver a not guilty verdict. They really couldn't believe that they weren't ever brought up on kidnapping charges. The kicker for the rest of the world was that nobody in Mississippi (read: white people) seemed to care. It was just another day, same as any other -- except it wasn't. This became the spark that started the civil rights movement. To read an account of the murder trial, click here. If you'd like to read the killer's confessions as published in the January 1956 issue of Look magazine (including letters to the editor -- some of which are straight up creepy), click here. To view the documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, watch below.

The widow of one of the killers -- Juanita Milam -- died recently. Hm. I wonder where Mrs. Carolyn Bryant is now?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

TONIGHT: Queen Esther at Bushwick Burlesque!

Yep, that's right: yours truly will be performing -- singing, folks, not stripping (!!!) -- at Bushwick Burlesque tonight, in a bar called Bizarre. The show starts at 9pm, there's a $7 suggested cover and it will be way, way too much fun.

I love this hot little gig. It makes me feel like I finally ran away and joined the circus.

Hosted by Fancy Feast and Scary Ben (with Dick Jones taking care of pick up!) the line-up includes:

DJ Johnny Horrible
Chris McDaniel
Rosie 151
Apathy Angel
Witti Repartee
Cherry Typhoon (Japan/ Canada)
Baron (Japan)
Leena Vie (India)
...and yours truly!

Here's Pearl Noire, going for broke at a Bushwick Burlesque a few months ago...

Monday, July 14, 2014

If this doesn't sum it up, nothing will.

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”  -- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Pops Staples -- "Serve Somebody"

 Bob Dylan wrote it but Pops Staples simply owns this song. His version is so good, the original doesn't cross your mind at all when you listen to it.  That's what's supposed to happen when you hear a cover song.  A great artist makes it their own so completely, it obliterates any other version.

Who's thinking about Bob when they're listening to Jimi Hendrix's cover of All Along The Watchtower?  Is anyone thinking of Otis Redding when Aretha Franklin sings Respect?  Does anyone even know that it was his song first?

Here's Pops Staples version of that gospel song/secular favorite, Serve Somebody. Listen in and be blessed.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sunday Sermonette: Bob Dylan -- "Serve Somebody"

I had a real chip on my shoulder ever since I can remember about Bob Dylan because everybody talked about him like he was some kind of almighty but whenever I listened to his voice, it went through my head like a nail.  He's not a vocalist, he's a poet, everyone would say. I just couldn't hear the words. His voice was in the way.   And then I tripped up over Tangled Up In Blue on Napster a million years ago when everyone was listening to Napster and couldn't stop clicking repeat. Actually, I still can't hear that song without fighting the urge to hear it again and again.  It's like I'm overhearing this jagged, random, scattered conversation with someone else that's so full of feeling and wonder and his voice, it moves me so. And then it's over. And I don't want to be over.  So I click repeat.

That's how I found Manu Chao, too. Napster! And I'm still crazy about him. I have dreams about writing music with him, collaborating with him, running away to South America with him to make beautiful art. But that's another story.

So now that I can hear the poetry inside of the sound of his voice, I don't hump his leg feverishly like the rest of the world does but I have to admit, there are moments when I hold him in my arms.  This is one of them.

Contrary to popular opinion., there's a lot of beautiful gospel in secular music. I'll be featuring some of it here in the next few weeks. I quite like this song because it's a complex subject (for some) and yet his delivery is so nursery school simple and straightforward, it's almost sing-songy.

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Might be a rock'n' roll adict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody's landlord you might even own banks.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say.

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.