Saturday, August 23, 2014

James Brown Song Test

Some critics have argued that in making rhythm so important and de-emphasizing melody and harmony as much as he did that James Brown routinely created or sang songs that all pretty much sounded alike, regardless of what the actual lyrics or title said. I disagree with this but even I must admit that on some tunes it could occasionally be a task to ascertain what James Brown was actually saying. Some relatives have even jokingly had the audacity to tell me that once you got past the "Maceo will you blow?" and constant "Uhhhh!" and "Hit me Fred!" exhortations nobody actually knew lyrics or titles to James Brown songs because they were too busy dancing to try to decipher Brown's grunts. Hmm. It's not well known but actually James Brown and I were very close friends. You could say that he was a godfather to me. It's only now that I can share the story of the night that James Brown and I had dinner together. You might say we had a funky good time. Ahem. How funky are you? Every single sentence in the (100% accurate, completely true to life and certainly not at all entirely made up from whole cloth during a remarkably boring mid afternoon conference call) story below the fold has at least one James Brown or related artist song title/lyric embedded within. There are over 35 songs/lyrics contained. How many can you find? Are you on the One? Are you a true Godfather devotee with plenty of funk in your trunk or are you just moseying through life faking the funk (or using Google)? Are you Sir Nose D'voidoffunk? We'll see. ;-))

Book Reviews: Under the Dome, Black Pulp, No Hero

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
When you're one of the world's greatest writers sometimes even your older ideas are still golden compared to everyone else's. Under The Dome, as King explains, is an idea he had way back in the 70s if my memory of his author's note serves correctly. He published it a few years ago. I just recently got around to reading it a few weeks ago. A television miniseries has also been made from it. My understanding is that the TV series is quite different from the book.
As usual King has a tremendous and unerring capacity for creating believable characters who are mixes of love and hate, good and evil. He's quite the people observer. Many of his characters have ugly little resentments mixed with their moral constraints and beliefs. With a few exceptions most of the "good guys" also have some bad mixed in them, whether it be a woman preacher who's unsure if she still believes in God but KNOWS she has a holy terror of a temper or an Iraq war veteran who's a decent enough guy back home but turned a blind eye to some horrible things during the war. There's a specific shout out to Lord of the Flies. That whole Things fall Apart element suffuses the entire story. Some people are walking monsters. Others didn't recognize their neighbors' evil because the law hindered their ability to do harm or forced them to confine their malice to smaller or secret misdeeds. How would such people behave in an enclosed environment with no rules or responsibility? What would you do if money, logic or decency no longer matter but viciousness and brute strength are what count? I read this story in two parts: two softcover books that were each around 600-700 pages. Even by King standards this was quite a lift. It reminded me of his earlier sagas like The Stand or The Talisman (with Peter Straub). However I thought that there were way too many characters (King has gotten almost like George R.R. Martin in this regard). The story sagged in the middle somewhat. 

After thinking about it I still dislike the ending although the penultimate catastrophe was diabolical vintage King. I thought the book was well researched though a person with a physics/science background might find a few holes. There are some warnings, subtle and otherwise, about the dangers of bullying, of hurting people just because you can, of going along to get along, environmental degradation, and of the Bush-Cheney regime.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Whatchu Gonna Do When Ferguson, MO Comes To You?

Ferguson, MO has become ground zero for the modern day civil rights struggle here in America, after the death of 18 year old, unarmed Michael Brown. The small town has become a spectacle, reminiscent of what we are accustomed to seeing on network news, but always in a foreign country, most prominently the middle east. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and other assaults on Americans have become the norm almost overnight. Journalists, self proclaimed peace makers, and even 90 year old Jewish Holocaust survivors are not exempt from arrest, detainment and mistreatment.

As a result of the actions of this out of control police department, droves of activists have poured into the St. Louis area to show solidarity with the people of Ferguson, and to offer support in many ways.

What seems like an endless amount of stories on the town of Ferguson, coming from media, bloggers and social media activists, have detailed just about every aspect of what is happening and given us all much to think about concerning the state of race relations in America, the militarization of our local police departments, and what an individuals life — particularly a black persons life is actually worth.

But what makes Ferguson such an outlier?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lauryn Hill Dedicates New Song "Black Rage" To Ferguson

Lauryn Hill released a new song today on her Sound Cloud page called "Black Rage" which she says is dedicated to the people of Ferguson, MO.

According to Hill, via Twitter, the song was created in her living room and is a remix of sorts to the song "My Favorite Things," which she has performed in the past.

Take listen and share your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Michael Brown Shooting in Ferguson, Missouri - How Far Has America Come in Race Relations?

France Francois (pictured) last week at a vigil in Washington, D.C. holding a sign regarding the Michael Brown shooting
For the first time in world history, Amnesty International has deployed a human rights team onto American soil in the town of Ferguson, Missouri where just days ago an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot 6 times by a Ferguson police officer.  United States Attorney General Eric Holder will visit the scene tomorrow and over 40 FBI agents have already begun the their own investigation into the shooting. That's how bad things have gotten in the 10 days since the shooting.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson Video: Michael Brown Shooting

The sobering thing about life today is that so much of what we do for good or for bad is captured by video, whether it be private, business or governmental.

Cell phone video taken by Ferguson resident Piaget Crenshaw and shown by CNN on Monday provides more footage of the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. Crenshaw described the scene to CNN, in which she said that police officer Darren Wilson shot Brown multiple times after Brown had ceased running and turned around.
“I knew this was not right, I knew police should not even have been chasing this young boy and firing at the same time,” Crenshaw told CNN. “That fact that he got shot in the face, it was something that clicked in me, I thought, somebody else needs to see this. This isn’t right.”
Crenshaw said there was a struggle at the police car in which it seemed Wilson was trying to draw Brown in. Brown took off running, and Crenshaw said Wilson began firing; when Brown turned around, he was shot multiple times. Crenshaw said that her accounting of the incident concurred with what she knew of the autopsy report, which found that Brown had been shot from the front. “When [Brown] turned toward the cop was when he let off the most shots,” Crenshaw said.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Reviews: Get on Up, Clue

Get on Up
directed by Tate Taylor
Like Ray Charles but only more so James Brown was a larger than life musical figure who would likely be worshipped as a demigod if we lived back during pre-Christian times. There are very few people who had the influence that he did on popular music, not only in America but across the world. From Africa to Central America, the Caribbean to the Middle East, Europe to the Pacific there weren't very many people who didn't know who James Brown was. There weren't many popular or even more esoteric musicians who weren't influenced by him in ways great or small. People like Prince, Fela, Michael Jackson, vast numbers of soul and funk musicians, The Talking Heads, and many many more people or genres would not exist as they did then or do now without James Brown. James Brown had a pretty long run as someone making original music, maybe even as someone making high quality original music. I would argue that he was doing it to death for at least fifteen to twenty years, maybe even longer. That's unusual, in a music business that has always tended to reward the new, fresh and young. 

James Brown's impact went far beyond the musical of course. Along with such people as Miles Davis and Nat King Cole, Brown made it clear that a dark skinned black man could be not just a musical icon but a pop culture one, in a non-demeaning and even sexual manner. This was revolutionary stuff.

Friday, August 15, 2014

President Obama and Foreign Policy: Et tu, Hillary?

I could never ever ever be a politician. There are just too many times that you must smile and eat a big bowl of crap while pretending that it tastes good. And if you're good at pulling off that trick you can expect that many more such bowls will be delivered to you. h/t The Wire. You must occasionally pretend to be all things to all people, be on all sides of any issue at once and come up smelling like roses even as you're wading knee deep in the sewage of backroom deals and donor stroking. One of the most important skills you must have as a politician could be to never take anything personally. It's just business, after all. Everyone is self-interested. Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama are consummate politicians. And Mrs. Clinton is basically running an as yet so far formally undeclared campaign for the 2016 Presidential election. I think that with two years and change left in the Obama Administration it's a little early for her to be getting her name out there but she apparently operates on the principle of don't put off until tomorrow what you could be doing today. 

As a key member of the Obama Administration, former Senator, and Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, should she run, would be wise depending on the President's popularity around 2016, to keep her options open on whether her Administration would represent a break from the Obama Administration or a continuation of Obama policies. Recently, Mrs. Clinton sent a very deliberate message that at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, she would do things differently than President Obama.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tupac Private Phone Conversation Reveals His Plan To Help Black Children

Tupac was one of the greatest emcees of all time, not necessarily because he was the greatest lyricist -- in fact several deceased rappers could quite possibly be considered lyrically superior to Tupac.

What made Tupac such a great hip-hop artist though, was not just his content, but it was his role as a black leader.

I know that sounds like a contradiction, considering some of the late rappers content, but Tupac was a revolutionary. With the blood of the Black Panthers in his veins, he wanted to use hip-hop as a tool to empower his generation and his plans to do this could not be more evident than in this phone conversation.

What stood out most to me in this conversation, besides his plan to organize communities across the country, were his thoughts on the revolutionary movement, vs gang life, which he was surrounded by much of his life. He talked about how as the son of a Black Panther, the revolutionary movement was a first thought to him and the unification of black people through gang life was an after thought, yet he complained that his mindset as a revolutionary would have him thinking that all black people were his friends, contrary to gang life, where you only trusted those who were part of your set. His blind trust for his people was shattered after he was shot outside Quad Studios, leading him to believe that gang affiliations might be more beneficial to his plight.

Listen closely as he talks about who shot him, the release of his upcoming album "All Eyez On me" as well as how he planned to bring hip-hop's biggest talents together to help black children.

Enjoy this never before heard conversation, and gain insight into the late, great, veteran's profound thoughts.

Why it's Hard to Be Black in America

When I was in high school I used to work as a dishwasher at a nice restaurant. Most of the guys who worked in the "back of house" area with me were young high school or college students like myself, trying to make some extra cash to help pay for school.  We'd often shoot the breeze to help pass the time.  I'll never forget one day when one of my White co-workers, frustrated with his financial aid situation, told me that he wished that he could trade places with me in order to get minority-based scholarships.  "Let me get this straight," I asked, "you want to be Black because you think it will help you get more financial aid for college?"  He answered with a resounding "Yes!"  Even at the age of 17, I knew he was missing the larger picture of what it truly means to be Black in America.  But he was convinced that if he were Black then he would be on easy street.  Finally, I said something to the effect of "even if that were true, what good is extra financial aid money if you can't get a job after you graduate?"  But that line of questioning doesn't even begin to capture the reality of the Black experience.  Given the fact that every time I turn around another Black youth is gunned down for "being up to no good," apparently what I should have been asking my fellow dish washing colleague is why he would be willing to trade his life over a few extra dollars.

By now you've (hopefully) heard about the latest police shooting of an unarmed Black teenager (Michael Brown) in St. Louis county.  If you haven't, here's the gist:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Breaking News: Actor Robin Williams Dead at Age 63 (Suspected Suicide)

Breaking News: Actor Robin Williams Dead at Age 63

Actor and comedian Robin Williams has been found dead in his California home in a suspected suicide, according to a sheriff’s press release.

The 63-year-old actor was found unconscious around 12 p.m. inside his unincorporated residence in Tiburon, according to a report by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.

“Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late," his publicist said in a statement. "This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

An investigation into his cause of death is underway while the coroner suspects that it was a suicide caused by asphyxiation. A forensic examination is scheduled for Tuesday.

The late actor's wife also released a statement expressing how "utterly heartbroken" his death has left her.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Music Reviews: The Coasters, Valerie June

The Coasters
The Coasters were a 50s era black rock-n-roll/doo-wop singing group who had a wonderful mix of tenor, baritone and bass voices. Musicians who were associated with The Coasters included people like later saxophone R&B god, King Curtis and guitarist Adolph Jacobs. Although they were not strictly speaking band members, it is impossible to discuss or appreciate The Coasters without giving tremendous credit to their primary songwriters and producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Similar to Greek-American R&B/blues musician Johnny Otis, who assimilated into black culture and black music so thoroughly that he married a black woman, described himself as black and lived on the black side of the segregation line, Leiber and Stoller had a keen appreciation of the popular black music and culture of their time. Some people, even members of The Coasters themselves, were surprised that the duo had such a pulse on black humor and musical stylings. Perhaps this is because to a lesser extent Jewish Americans were also cultural outsiders and had their own rich tradition of using sardonic humor to mask social commentary. In any event The Coasters' voices and instrumentation were a perfect fit for Leiber's and Stoller's lyrics and music. Stoller often composed at the piano. He played piano on some recordings. The band name came from the fact that the members were all from the Los Angeles area but did not achieve success until they signed with New York based Atlantic records. Some of the early Coasters' music was actually recorded by the group The Robins, two of whose members became founding members of the Coasters. Leiber and Stoller wrote for the Robins as well. They also wrote Hound Dog and quite a few other pop, rock, and soul songs.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Renisha McBride Verdict: How Easy is Justice when Black Life is Valued

In just eight short, simple, and sweet hours a Detroit jury returned a guilty verdict against a man who shot a Black woman in cold blood. 55-year-old Theodore Wafer was found guilty of second degree murder in the November 2013 shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride; Michigan's version of the infamous Stand Your Ground law be damned.

In eight hours a jury in Michigan proved Black lives are worth more than forgettable news headlines and a myriad of protests that are dismissed with each new crisis in the Black community. In eight hours the Michigan jury proved that if you shoot and kill someone because you feel like it, and then claim you were scared, that you sir or madame deserve to go to prison. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

The jury didn't ask a bunch of questions that forced their deliberations to take days. They didn't get hung up on jury instructions that were purposefully written incoherently. They didn't ask to review evidence and props used at trial that the prosecution used to make their point. The jury (I'm assuming since I wasn't in the deliberation room) looked at the crime, looked at the law, and in the course of a work day delivered a verdict that didn't make Black America shake its head and say a collective "I told you so."

I'm proud of that jury and I'm proud of Michigan because I know this simple ish would never take place in Florida.

Black Progress? Not Very Much Since 1970 **RANT**

As a black person in America, when you attempt to analyze in your mind how much progress we have actually made in the fight for equality there are several factors to include — and since the first law of nature is self preservation, it makes sense to begin measuring this progress by how we as a people are able to create a sustainable life for ourselves, our families and other loved ones.

You may take for granted certain luxuries that 40+ years ago we may have been excluded from, but how likely are the majority of our people to be able to seriously pursue happiness? How many of us are safe and can live freely to pursue our life’s goals, In comparison to white people and other races in America?

In exploring progression it makes sense to begin by looking at employment rates, incarceration rates, also public safety and public health matters and education must also be considered. dealt with the incarceration and employment rates in a piece they published a couple of weeks ago on the topic, citing a working paper, by University of Chicago researchers Derek Neal and Armin Rick:

“The growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act,” the study reads.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Obama's Economy: How Does It Compare To Other Presidencies?

We hear a lot of rhetoric these days on the talk news shows about how good or how bad Obama's economic policies have been for America.  The Right would have us believe that Obama is the worst President ever and has destroyed America, while the Left would have us believe that Obama has been the best President ever and has done more for the middle class than any of his predecessors.  The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.  So let's look at the facts: