Thursday, December 21, 2006

Alice Walker interview in the Guardian

From the interview by writer Sara Wajid:

I tell her people are still fascinated by her love affair with the singer Tracy Chapman in the mid-1990s. Moments earlier she had said firmly but politely that she didn't want to answer any questions about her family life. (Her daughter Rebecca, from her marriage to Levanthal, published a frank memoir in 2000 in which she criticised the self-absorption of both parents after their divorce.) So I was surprised to see her face light up at the mention of Chapman. "Yeah I loved it too. Absolutely."

For the rest of the interview, click here

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dreamgirls: From the stage to the silverscreen

      One night, a chartered bus picked us up and drove to Century City, where a special surprise awaited us. As we pulled up in front of the Shubert Theatre, exclamations of “No way . . . No way!” rocketed through the bus. The marquee read: Dreamgirls. And it starred the original Broadway cast. As my eyes bugged and my mouth fell open, Jose asked me, “What’s Dreamgirls?” But even he got swept up in the excitement, quickly realizing that this was a very big deal. All the young Negroes on the bus, including some of the most old-moneyed, nose-in-the-air/stick-up-the-ass ninjas ever born, were jumping up and down in their seats.
      It was the summer of 1983. I was between my junior and senior years in high school (Cass Tech, in Detroit; alumnae include the O.G. dreamgirl herself, Diana Ross) and was chosen to be part of a program to expose supposedly gifted minority students (read: black and Latino) to the world of business through college courses. The hope was that at least some of us would consider a business major once we went on to college. I was assigned to UCLA, and given a dorm at Rieber Hall and a roommate from Texas named Jose; he was so gifted he was already taking premed courses. By day, droning professors did their best to prove how unsexy and uninteresting the business major would be. When we didn’t have classes, we did the tourist thing: sightseeing in Chinatown, cavorting on Venice Beach, going to museums, eating in amazing restaurants. Corporate sponsors footed the entire bill.

For the full article, click here

Outing the Gay Rapper...

      A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a Myspace account (since deleted) that had been set up to expose "Caushun, the Gay Rapper" as a fraud. The person behind that Myspace account never gave their name but, in full CAP-LOCK fury, spilled very credible dirt on how the person known as Caushun is a fraud, a puppet with strings being pulled by someone else... and can't even really rap. I had to chuckle. It confirmed my suspicions.
      In the year 2000 I interviewed "Caushun" by phone (me in LA, him in NY) and found him funny, quick and smart, even if a lot of his shit didn't quite add up and was contradictory. As time went by, I started to suspect that the Caushun I had on tape (and who'd sent me a demo CD that I still have somewhere in my apartment) was not the dude I much later saw on TV spots and in magazine articles. Voice was different. Energy was different. He didn't seem as quick and assured. And I had to laugh out loud whenever he called himself a homo thug. There are true homo thugs walking the planet, dudes for whom Omar (from "the Wire") is a mirror image. The Caushun being sold to the public was not a homo thug. (Then again, to be truthful, neither was the guy I spoke with.)
      The italicized intro below, just ahead of the interview I conducted, explains a little more about how and why the interview never ran. That intro and interview were going to be in my book, Blood Beats Vol. 1, but the nightmare of sorting shit out, of figuring out who is who / who did what, proved to be too cumbersome, especially since I was in LA and the parties involved were all in New York. And since I already had another piece on gay rappers in the book, my publisher and I took a pass on this can of worms. I also didn't want this likley case of fraud to be the shit that splatters and is used to in any way discredit the many gay and lesbian rappers who are genuine with theirs. Their struggle is hard enough and their fight for credibility tough enough that having the most high-profile "gay rapper" turn out to be a fake seemed an unfair burden with which to saddle them.
      I've recently been contacted by someone very credible who filled me in on the real life behind-the-scenes cast of characters in this drama. But my not being able to see these folks myself, in the flesh, to put faces, names and voices together, makes me still hold out doubt as to what is really truth in this mess. Below is the article as it was going to appear in my book, including the italicized intro, if we'd had the time, resources and patience to confirm what has now been made public.

The “Caushun” I interviewed for this piece and the “Caushun” who eventually garnered MTV coverage and profiles in magazines such as Vibe are two different guys. The one I interviewed, and who sent me a rough CD demo of his work, is the one who first made a name for Caushun on New York radio and started the buzz on “Caushun, the Gay Rapper.” But at some point early in the game a behind-the-scenes switcheroo was pulled, with seemingly only the marketing plan and moniker staying in place. I was originally put in touch with the Caushun I interviewed through an industry source. About a year or so after I’d done the interview and the LA Weekly had taken a pass on running a piece on "the gay rapper," my source casually informed me that the guy I had on tape and the person then-currently known as Caushun were not one and the same. When I tried to call the publicist with whom I’d coordinated the interview, his cell number was now someone else’s and the home phone number I had for him was now answered by a woman who, in thickly accented English yelled, “__________ don’t live here! I wish you muthafuckas would stop calling.”
      Similarly, both the office and home numbers of Caushun’s manager, with whom I’d spoken via phone a few times, were disconnected. Even though this Florence Ballard / Cindy Birdsong switching renders the “official” gay rapper fraudulent and irrelevant on a lot of levels, and although a lot of what he says within the interview doesn't quite track, the “Caushun” I spoke with had enough worthwhile insights that I decided to include him here.

      The quest to out the gay [male] rapper, by progressive and reactionary voices alike, has often resulted in a blind eye being turned to the presence of undeniably queer bodies already residing on the hip-hop landscape. Butch women, whose sexualities have been snickered about, whispered about and impugned but rarely honestly addressed, have long been accepted (albeit, often begrudgingly) on the hip-hop scene. Their hard, swaggering personas paradoxically reiterate the notion that hip-hop is a game of dick & balls, no girls allowed. They’ve validated the culture’s macho prerogative at the same time that hyper-femme video hos have been used to frame and feed that same “It’s a man’s world” politic. Which is why, for all their accomplishments, even artists as accomplished as Salt & Pepa, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill are still shortchanged or dismissed by a lot of so-called “real heads.”
      But for a long time the gay b-boy existed largely in myth, rumor and vicious innuendo because no flesh & blood representative stepped forward to claim that reality. And when that figure did emerge, he did so initially (and somehow fittingly) from pop-culture margins: The novels and essays of E. Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy, the hip-hop porn oeuvre of Brooklyn-based XXX director, Enrique (Off Da Hook, Aprende) Cruz.
      In recent years, though, the gay b-boy and his issues have been asserted in a variety of spots. Nightclubs have catered to that specific clientele (here in LA, there’s been Boy Trade and the crowded basement floor of Jewel’s Catch One dance club); rappers like P.M. Dawn’s Prince Be and Bay Area-based Michael Franti (both of whom are tellingly relegated to the fringe of hip-hop culture) have been vocally pro-gay in their work. And rap music videos – while typically exploiting lesbianism for hetero-boy titillation – have quietly started slipping non-bashing gay-boy imagery in the mix. The video for Eve’s “Who’s That Girl” single featured not the typical Chorus Line-gone-thug back-up dancers, but unabashed sissies shimmying on the sidelines, adding humor to the clip through their “whatevah” attitudes of indifference to the choreography and providing sly subtext to the song’s title. Not to mention that Outkast’s most recent video (“So Fresh, So Clean”) features a bling! bling! queen cheesing in the crowd.
      More important are the slivers of recognition being afforded actual gay rappers and posses such as Oakland’s D/DC and San Francisco’s Rainbow Flava. And Katey Red, a New Orleans-based transvestite who wants tits but not a full-on sex change, has been officially proclaimed “The Gay Rapper” by both the New York Times and XXL magazine.
      And then there’s Caushun. The 23-year-old rapper has been given the unqualified support of Star and Bucwild, the most popular deejays on New York’s Hot 97 (the country’s biggest hip-hop station) where he’s free-styled and won over even a few harsh non-believers. Caushun bills himself as The Gay Rapper and is working overtime to make the title pay off. Smart, funny and armed with his generation’s belief that market-savvy is destiny, he’s currently working on an EP that he hopes to shop to Madonna’s Maverick label, among others. On the surface, it’s all good. Dig deeper and the reality is somewhat trickier.
      Caushun is a bundle of contradictions. He wants to assert gay pride through his music but adheres fiercely to the adage, “Please don’t scare the straights.” At one point in the following interview, he dismisses the thug mentality that has infected hip-hop but he’s also trying to use it to build his own persona. His press kit refers to him as a homo-thug and in one of his lyrics, he describes himself as “[the] illest homo-thug out the N-Y-C.” It’s that last item that is most problematic. As fucked up an entity as it is in so many ways, the “thug” is a powerful, potent creature in modern rap culture. To scale back some of the myths that surround it and reveal a gay boy would be earth-shattering (at least for the more “special” riders of the cultural short bus) on many levels. It would be depressing and redundant on so many others. So it’s ironic that Caushun is so very not a thug, despite how he’s selling himself. His manner of speech, his references and his style of humor are much more in line with the traditional/stereotypical swishy gay boy than with that creature known as the homo-thug. On one hand, that’s a big disappointment. (Though it does point up the whole drag aspect of “thuggishness” to begin with.) It’d be bust-a-nut-worthy to have a gay Onyx, DMX or Method Man. (Quiet in the peanut gallery.) It’d be even better to have a faggot Mos Def.
      But Caushun actually wants to be the hip-hop equivalent of RuPaul or the Village People. (See his statements below.) There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not even close to being the homo-thug he proclaims himself to be. A rapping sissy would be earth-shattering in his own right and, if he’s actually any good, definitely worthy of support. But that particular manifestation of faggotry would also conform to expectation and stereotype, maintaining existing comfort zones – and ignorance – for the hetero crowd that may or may not embrace a gay rapper who has crossover dreams. It’s a little surprising that as sharp and insightful as Caushun is on so many levels, he’s oblivious to his own non-thug energy and to the mixed messages that he sends out.

EH: The media has really become obsessed with gay rappers and queer hip-hop fans in the last few years. Has anybody gotten it right?

Caushun: I’ve seen a few of the articles that have been written on gay rappers and gay hip-hop fans, and the media’s take on all this, so far, has definitely been one-sided. It hasn’t been a fair representation. They haven’t talked to a wide enough range of us.

One problem is that the media has gone out of its way to make the case that white boys are entitled to hip-hop culture but are completely baffled that black and Latino kids who are also gay or lesbian would be into the music…

We grew up with it first-hand because our brothers rhyme, our uncles and cousins rhyme. Our sisters’ boyfriends rhyme…

Your sisters rhyme.

Exactly. So we grew up in the environment, we get it first hand. The way that the white community sees it is totally second-hand. We get it first-hand, raw. We have the same influences, we’re in the same hood, walk through the same projects, see the same things. We’re influenced by the same exact things as the straight boys.

What’s been the response to your music?

I’m overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten so far. The heterosexual hip-hop community, the guys on the street that listen to hip-hop, are quick to say, ‘I don’t necessarily care for the content but you have flow and your beats are hot; I have to give you props like that.’ It’s definitely time. Everybody understands that when you go to a hip-hop video shoot, you’re gonna see a homosexual – whether it be the director, the grip, whoever’s doing the make-up or hair, you know what I mean? It could be the extras, the artists themselves.
      I do hair now, and I work on a lot of hip-hop videos. And every shoot I’ve been on, there’s always been at least two or three other homosexuals there that were into hip-hop. We worked on the Ghostface Killah shoot, you know what I mean? My friend Eric Archibald – who is very openly gay – I mean, he put Nas in a pink Paul Smith suit and Oliver Peoples shades for the “Street Dreams” video, you know what I’m saying? A homosexual presence is felt at every hip-hop video shoot and throughout the whole culture. When you go to concerts, you can’t help but look out in the crowd and see, yeah, there’s five females – fag-hags – and there’s a homosexual right in the middle jumping up for the same rapper. You can’t deny it.

I saw the Making-of for the Ghostface Killah video and it was very obvious that a gay hand was pulling all those images together. I’m curious though – what was the response of the rappers on the set to the presence of very obviously gay folk?

That’s the thing – they are so supportive because they trust us. It’s a two-sided thing, actually. When it comes to something like hair, make-up, styling – they totally give us respect. It’s like, this gay guy knows what he’s talking about and I’m gonna listen. It’s already embedded in the minds of the hip-hop culture that homosexuals are trend-setters so they totally give us carte blanche when it comes to that. The proof is in the pudding – four or five years ago, you could have never gotten a guy in a full-length mink to call themselves a playa or a thug…

So, ghetto fabulousness is just gay at the root and queens had a hand in shaping that aesthetic?

Oh absolutely. [Laughter] I have a friend who did a video with Outkast and he had a big fight with them because he wanted to wear a three-quarter, fur Gucci coat…

He wanted them to wear it?

No, he wanted to wear it because he was in the video with them – he was singing [lip-synching] the hook or something – and they were like, “Naw, are you crazy?” That was back in the day when [Big Boi and Andre] were still doing very conservative hip-hop styles, kangol-to-the-side and such. He wound up wearing it anyway but they didn’t talk after that. Flash forward five years later, and Outkast has gone waaay out there. Hip-hop has evolved and homosexuals totally have carte blanche now.

But does that carry over beyond gay boys doing hair and make-up?

I think now is that time. I mean, I compare it to the Eminem thing. We’ve had white rappers before, but not a credible one. Now that we’ve gotten over the hump of the credible white rapper, I think people are more willing to accept the fact that a credible homosexual rapper may actually exist – especially considering the underground buzz. Everybody knows that there’s three, four, or five homo-thug rappers brewing. And at least two or three are already famous but we don’t know their sexuality status. It’s an underground thing, but I think now people are willing and ready to push that envelope.
      You know, we had the Village People at one time and then RuPaul. Now it’s time for a new representation of the gay community in modern music. And that’s through the gay rapper – whoever that may be. And it will be a novelty to some extent unless the rapper has lyrical credibility, as with Eminem. I also think that they’re only gonna allow one through the system – much like Eminem where we have the one credible white rapper. [His success] doesn’t mean they’re gonna let the flood-gates open for white rappers. I think the same thing will be true with gay rappers. They’ll let one through that they deem credible and the rest of them will just be wannabe/knock-off versions of that, at least in the public’s eye.

Let’s back up and get some basic biographical info on you. What’s your real name?


Just Jason?

Yeah. [laughs]

How old are you?


Where were you born?

In New York. Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

Where’d you go to school?

I went to Fashion High School and I actually went to a Muslim elementary and junior-high.

How long have you been rapping?

I’ve been listening to hip-hop since I was a child, but as far as myself rhyming, it’s been about four years.

Why are you labeling yourself the gay rapper as opposed to just being a rapper?

The idea behind the rap game is supposed to be this “keeping it real” mentality. I intend to test the community to see if they’re true to what they’re saying, because if they are, then there has to be room for a person like myself to rhyme. I should be able to – according to what they’re saying – be myself, keep it real. My ability to rhyme should be the basis of how I am judged. I fully intend to remind the hip-hop community of what they claim. And I intend to remind them how much discrimination sucks when you’re on the other side of it.
      The hip-hop community has been discriminated against in many ways and sometimes it’s easy to forget. The way they criticize and scrutinize the whole gay community, it’s another form of the discrimination. It’s like how black rappers claim that white rappers get preferential treatment – that they get better press, better promotion, better marketing. And to a large extent that’s true. Well, it’s the same principle with me – why should I be pigeonholed and forced to perform at small gay clubs or underground gay events if I’m truly credible? I think the problem that’s gonna happen is that 99% of the gay rappers that are coming out now are not actually lyrically credible or gifted. That kind of dilutes the entire thing. After it’s all said and done, after you’re the gay rapper and everything, you can do one of two things: You can either be taken seriously or you can be shoved off and pushed to the side as a novelty that happened at one point in time.

I think that what’s going to happen with the gay rapper, especially a black one, is rooted in the thing that has been true for black folk historically. White folk can be mediocre and still fall up in life but if you’re black you have to break your back just to register on the radar. I think that’s going to be especially true for gay rappers.

Exactly. I’m actually really surprised because I thought I was gonna get a lot more opposition than I’ve gotten. The worse response I’ve gotten from any heterosexual male has been, “I’m not really with what you’re rhyming about – that gay shit – but you got flow; you stick with yours.” And ultimately that is what’s going to keep me in this game. You know, I’ve heard two of the other supposed gay rappers and the content is just not there. That’s why I’m glad I have Hot 97 and Star and Buckwild backing it, because I wanna make sure that the wrong one doesn’t come out and make it bad for everyone. Because the wrong style, it’s anything – it’s so subtle – if the gay rapper has the wrong look, an unappealing look to the heterosexual community, it could just totally ruin the marketing of the whole thing. There has to be a fine line between everything – the look, the music. It has to be radio-friendly yet hip-hop credible. The lyrics have to be credible from the door. You have to be saying something at the end of the day. The records that I heard that the other gay rappers are putting out are just based on shock value. You have to have more than shock value.

In your opinion and life experience, are the hip-hop and black communities more homophobic than mainstream or white America?

Well, I think hip-hop, being a predominantly black and Latino culture – ethnic groups are a lot harder on sexuality than white people. That’s just my opinion. A white man has a real big parameter of where he can go and have it be okay. I think black culture is harder on that. I think ultimately blacks and Latinos don’t really have a problem with sexuality, but what it represents is another dagger that can be thrown at the culture by outsiders.

Well, it just goes back to that fear of what will white folk think and will we look weak or emasculated in their eyes according to their definitions of manhood – which which we’ve co-opted and fed steroids.

Exactly. Every neighborhood has the local homosexual, the one that is openly gay. Then you have the ones that are quiet and the others that are just rumored to be gay. It happens in every neighborhood. It’s everywhere. I think the hip-hop community at this point is like, if we’re gonna let a white boy through then we might as well hear what the homos have to say.

Earlier you said that the wrong “gay rapper” blowing up would do more damage than good. Have you battled any other gay rappers?

I wouldn’t battle another homosexual rapper. I would, but that’s not gonna do anything for me. My credibility lies in my being able to hang with the heterosexual hip-hop community. My battling another gay rapper is entertainment to the public, but it doesn’t really do anything for either of our careers – we’re just two gay rappers having a cat-fight. Ultimately, my goal is to bring credibility to the gay community through hip-hop. I’ve always been around music and I’m very much a perfectionist; I don’t like to half-step on anything. Like I said, I do hair and I’ve done everybody from Jennifer Lopez to Lil’ Kim. I’m around people that are perfectionists and demand perfection, and I very much approach my music in that way.

Do you think that the fact that you are a hairdresser is simply confirming a gay stereotype?

Oh, it’s a total cliché. A total cliché. And initially, yes I thought that. But now I think that’s what makes it better. If I gain respect – if any gay rapper gains respect in the hip-hop community – it will be a moment in hip-hop history that will never be forgotten. In twenty years, that artist will have VH-1 calling them to recount this era. My being a hairdresser is ultimately beside the point. You just really have to be tight and know the game, know your craft. At the end of the day, it’s only gonna be one, and I already know this. Being a hairstylist is all the better because if I gain credibility as a gay rapper, then that breaks down that particular stereotype even more. It is a stereotype, yes, but at the end of the day if I can break down that stereotype, all the better.

How did you hook up with Hot 97?

Well, I have a friend who’s a songwriter and he knows Star and Buckwild. I was rhyming some stuff to him and he told me that they should hear it. So, I called up one day and I rhymed for them and they were like, ‘This is bananas; we wanna get you on the record’ – they have an album coming out and they wanted me to do a track on the album. My track is called, ‘Oooh, Who That Be?’ It’s very cliché, but the other side of that is, while having clever lyrical content and a hot beat, you can’t be too serious or you turn people off. I have to definitively let them know that I’m a homosexual, but I can’t challenge the heterosexual hip-hop community’s sexuality. If I came out and totally looked like a thug, that would totally turn them off; it would scare them. In my first single I tried to combine a credible lyric with a hot beat and an element of comedy. When you hear it, you don’t get mad, you’re just more like, ‘I can’t believe he just said that.’ As opposed to a reaction of, ‘Oh no this homo is not trying to be more real than me.’ We’re not trying to test the listener’s manhood.

How do you feel about the whole down-low phenomenon? I ask that because I feel like you might actually connect more with a certain segment of the straight hip-hop world than you might with gay heads who don’t want any association with anything actually deemed gay.

I feel what you’re saying and I felt that way initially, but the homosexual community is very grateful, and they know what a difficult feat it is to gain respect from that thug on the corner who’s reciting Nas lines. If any homosexual, whether they are feminine or masculine, defies that system and makes it easier for them to walk down that street everyday, the gay community will be grateful. I don’t see them as being ungrateful.

I didn’t mean that they’d be ungrateful. I think that for a large section of the gay hip-hop audience there’s still a deep element of fear or self-hate or something else at work. I think the down-low homo-thug thing is, for a lot of people, another kind of closet. Not for all, because there genuinely are gay folk who are thugs and ruffnecks or what have you. But the down-low thing seems to be a kind of drag as protective armor.

Yeah, there are different levels of it. You have the homosexual who is trying to perpetrate the heterosexual lifestyle. Then you have the bisexual guy that genuinely does like females but is attracted to males as well. And then you have – and this is my favorite – the guy who totally has a girl or a baby’s mama in his life and considers himself totally heterosexual when he’s also involving himself in sexual activities with a man. He’s thinking, this is just an experience or I’m not gay, he’s gay. Men that consider themselves heterosexual sometimes have weird ways of coming to that conclusion, you know what I mean? It’s really, really weird.
      The misconception is that men in hip-hop are not in touch with the feminine side of themselves, and that’s what makes them so abrasive and harsh or what have you. That is absolutely not true. The problem is that we as minorities have a competitiveness and judgmental nature with our own people, with ourselves. So, the [hardcore] front is not for the next man, it’s for the next men. We have a theory in New York – in Brooklyn, especially. If you wanna talk to a heterosexual guy and you’re gay, if you wanna get at him, you never do it when he’s in a group; you do it when he’s by himself. No self-respecting quote-unquote heterosexual man is going to respond to a courting action if he’s with another guy.

That theory is far from new – or limited to Brooklyn.

[laughs] Well, you take that same theory on a bigger scale, and you realize why the hip-hop community is like it is. It’s because all these other men are perpetrating the same man’s man image as you are, they’re surrounding you, and it’s not acceptable to be the one to say, “Oh, that homo’s cool.” But as time passes that will change, you know what I mean? I mean, Will & Grace is a hit show – and don’t think that black and latino audiences are not watching these things. You got Angie Martinez on Hot 97 shouting out Sex & the City – me and all my friends watch Sex & the City.

Well, that show and Oz are the gayest things going right now. Sex & the City is so much gayer than Will & Grace will ever be.

Yes! Oh my God! Every shot in that show is like a trip to Barney’s. You throw on $18,000 worth of clothes just to go to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes! And then with Queer as Folk on Showtime – if you stop and pay attention, almost every show on television now has a gay character or some joke with a gay overtone; it is written in the script of every show, even down to the new cartoons that we’re watching. There is gay humor everywhere. Society is ready now. That’s the bottom line.

But that’s also why you have such backlash and rising hate crimes. Not that people should cower or not be themselves, but we also have to be smart enough to gauge real progress from superficial, and to be braced when those who feel threatened rise up and attack...

Yes, but anything that’s different is always gonna be met with opposition. You’re not gonna please everybody with anything. But I think at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, the right campaign with the right rapper can set him up as the next RuPaul or Village People. And if the person is smart, they can politic it into something greater than just a handful of gay lyrics limited to one period in time.

What are you working on right now?

All this stuff that I’m working on right now is completely independent of any label. I’m just working on getting some radio spots across the country. We’re doing a photo shoot now, putting together a 6-track EP that we’re gonna send out to different record pools and gay clubs across the country. To have a song out and not have a deal, I have to work really fast. Ultimately what I want to do is build up enough buzz – and by the way, I bought the rights to and we’re working on getting that site up – but ultimately my goal is to get it to Madonna, to her label, Maverick. That’s who I’m gonna be courting to do my deal with and I wanna make sure I have enough stuff to really win her over. She understands the gay community, she knows the whole gay scene. She knows the pop market – she’s a marketing genius. And ultimately, I think she’ll be able to walk that fine line between the gay community and the straight community. I just wanna get to her, but build up enough buzz first so that I don’t even have to explain the concept to her, she’ll already know what it is.

What’s the status on the EP?

We just sent some stuff over to Brinsley Evans to do some remixes.

Really? Brinsley is brilliant, so underrated.

Yeah, he’s doing the House remixes. Then we have the original version, an a cappella, and an alternate hip-hop mix. The title is “Ooh, Who Dat Be?” Also, I wanted to let you know that our website is going to have all sorts of information on the gay hip-hop community and list all the different gay rappers in the community. It’s not gonna be so much Caushun-based as it is on the larger community. I want to give it more of a broad perspective rather than just limiting it to being about Caushun.

I wanted to ask you, very quickly about a quote that ran a couple of years ago in the Village Voice when they did a piece on Homo-Thugs and someone was quoted as saying, “It’s okay to be gay in the hood but you just can’t be a faggot.” What do you think of that comment.

That comment applies everywhere. It’s not okay to be a faggot anywhere, really. I mean, there are places where it’s tolerated, but it’s not necessarily embraced. Like I was saying before, if you’re a hair-stylist, a make-up artist or a clothing stylist, then you have carte blanche to be just as feminine as you wanna be but society at large isn’t feeling that. I have a theory. I always say that nobody loves a faggot. People will accept a homosexual but nobody loves a faggot. A heterosexual man wants a heterosexual woman and vice versa. A gay man wants a homosexual man or a straight man. That’s what they desire. Nobody desires a faggot. That’s just how it is. A faggot, by society’s definition, is someone who is defined simply by their sexuality.

And they’re effeminate or feminine, which is a degraded state of existence in a misogynistic and homophobic culture. I think that’s more the issue. No one has a problem with a straight guy being defined by his sexuality. It’s not even thought of in that way. It’s not given thought at all, which is part of the problem.

That’s true. It’s a Catch-22 because back in the day it was like, if you’re gay I don’t even wanna know about it. Today it’s like, if you’re gay, don’t be too gay… but I wanna know. I wanna know what I’m working with. It’s like a double-edged sword. You have to walk a fine line as a homosexual because you can easily be tossed into that faggot community. I equate the word faggot with the word nigger in that they’re both used within their communities but if someone outside the family uses it, then it’s like, Clutch your pearls, I can’t believe you just said that. If someone calls your sister a bitch, it’s different than if you call her a bitch. I think that’s the perception that a lot of homosexuals have.
Heterosexuals have a weird assessment system set up for themselves. Everything has a Catch-22 to it. Certain things are acceptable to them, certain ways of being or what have you, but other things are completely unacceptable. I think it’s more complex than any one person could put a finger on. It’s one of those social taboos that has not been addressed, but it’s…


Right. It’s understood and it’s everywhere but it’s not head-on addressed. Homosexual prejudice, homophobia, is so often a social subtly. It’s already so embedded in the subconscious of society. It comes down to whether or not someone chooses to be socially conscious or aware and not feed into that. It’s understood that if a homosexual walks past, two heterosexuals can look at each other like, ‘Ugh.’ And that’s a kinship or bond that they will have. That’s just a bizarre fact of society. The irony is that homosexuals are all in the mix.
      You know how black folk and white folk have different ideas about – let’s say you’re in the work-place and there are people who are of a different culture or race than you. They smile in your face everyday because they have to but you just know that when you’re not there or if you were not in an environment that demanded that reaction, things would be very different. I think that’s the feeling with homosexuals as well. People are aware that homosexuals have rights, we’re loud and we’re not going down without a fight. So people are not so quick to be confrontational or to address the issue – but that’s ‘cause it’s illegal, not because they are evolved. I think that slowly but surely it’s going to change but the prejudice won’t cease to exist while I’m alive to tell it. I just heard someone say recently that homosexuals were created to confuse and divide society; that’s how deep their hatred was. That’s just so amazing to me that they would think two guys would get together just to defy the social system. That’s unbelievable.

How do you prepare yourself psychologically when you do radio shows and know you’re stepping into this den of people who might hate you and call in with pure evil comments?

You know, as a black gay man in Brooklyn, New York I have endured almost everything. It is what it is. There’s nothing they can say to me that I haven’t heard before. When you get beyond the words, what I’m trying to do is get to the root of the problem and confront that and let people know that regardless of what they think or feel, it doesn’t change the fact that homosexuals are everywhere and we excel in everything.

And they’ve already excelled in hip-hop, quiet as it’s kept. The idea of a gay rapper might be new, but the reality isn’t.

Exactly. That’s what I say to people. I’m not the first gay rapper. I’m one of the first that admits he’s gay. People don’t want to think about it like that. And depending on how you phrase it, you can either educate people or rile them up. Common sense is not necessarily very popular in hip-hop but it is present. It’s our responsibility to explain to them what we’re all about and to unfold it, to not just be outrageous for the sake of being outrageous. I mean, this is a business and you have to come with something that gives you credibility with the people. It doesn’t make any sense to introduce yourself into hip-hop with something that’s not relevant. The music has to be hot, the lyrics have to be relevant, and someone who is outside the gay community has to be able to identify with it. Otherwise, you might as well put your rhymes to a House groove and make a record for the kids in the clubs.
      There are very fine elements you have to work. It’s not something you can fake. You have to understand the ghetto mentality, you have to have lived it. You cannot have lived a sheltered life and be a gay person and say, “I’m gonna be the gay rapper,” because that’s gonna be a bourgie perspective. It’s much like when you get – I better be careful, here – when you get an artist that has the entire package, the look, sound, everything, and no matter how much you try to force a hit single out of them, the public sees through it and sees they’re not genuine. And that’s the problem with hip-hop now. That’s why Prodigy from Mobb Deep was robbed twice last year and his lyric is “This is a gangsta rap group.” Look at the name, Mobb Deep. Throughout their rhymes they’re always talking about, “Don’t make me have to bust my gat,” “Don’t make me have to go to jail over this,” and the term that’s developed for all of this is studio-thug. And really, if you’re a successful rapper, you are a studio-thug because thugs don’t make four million dollars a year before taxes. Thugs don’t pay fuckin’ taxes! I mean, really. Let’s be realistic about it.
      Hip-hop is always talking about keeping it real, about reflecting what’s going on in the hood, and that’s their little clause out of that thug shit they talk about on the record – I’m just giving you a reflection of what’s going on in the hood, or I’m giving you a reflection of what I used to do before I got in music. That’s bullshit.
I am a Jay-Z fan, a Roc-a-Fella fan till the end, but if I hear about his Roly [Rolodex] one more time… [Laughter] Part of the reason rap is ready for a gay rapper is that rap is stagnant; it’s just been still for the last few years because everybody wants to rap about what they have. It’s like, you’re broke on the first record and on the second record you’re throwing your success in everybody’s face. Now that it’s a formula, it’s become boring and it’s created a void in hip-hop. And this is a chance for the gay community to be heard – at a point when hip-hop needs something new. We need to put some life back into it. People may not even really be open to the idea of a gay rapper but they’re desperate for a new topic of conversation, a new set of rhymes. These rappers now all aim for the same end but just use different sentences to get there. It’s pitiful.

Interview conducted December 22, 2000

Mary, Mary, Mary...

      It has long and seriously bummed me out that brown-skinned ladies like Shakira, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez use the vitality of their being to uphold Eurocentric standards of beauty. To even bring that convo up outside select circles nowadays elicits eye-rolling and bitingly witty comebacks like, “You just hatin’…”
      Seeing these women and their assorted clones go ever blonder (and ever more fair-skinned – thank you, photo-shop!) as they pursue and achieve mainstream success depresses the hell out of me. Yeah, okay: freedom of expression, blah, blah, blah… But what are they really being rewarded and paid for? I guess it wouldn’t bother me so much if we weren’t all living daily with the effects of white supremacy, with the crippled self-esteem and the reflexive longing so many o' color folk have for white approval and validation. And so much of them granting that approval depends upon us uplifting them and their definitions of viability, beauty and success. That racist shit’s been ground into a feathery fine powder that pollinates the air we breathe. We don’t realize the poisonous effects even as we’re all sneezing and wheezing our sick asses off.
      To have international artists of color just perpetuate a standard of beauty and desirability – visibility – that is rooted in the erasure and dismissal of blackness or browness, or to have these artists participate in the creation of faux mulattoness (and the continued fetishization of that identity slot) is about so much more than mere fashion. For anyone who thinks otherwise, I offer this tragic example of self-hate and racialized dysfunction. I’m not even gonna drag this tirade out because, fuck it, I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said a million times before by people much more eloquent and much better educated than I. But the fucked up commercial here just really set me off.
      Has it really only been just over twenty years since Whoopie Goldberg’s breakthrough one-woman show featured the character of the little black girl who wore an adult’s long-sleeve white shirt on her head and fantasized that it was “long, luxurious [read: white girl] hair," and told of the painful attempt she made to bleach her own hair? ("It wouldn't bounce or behave.") I remember a few people grousing back then that the topic of hair and Negro self-hatred was played, that Whoopie was beating a dead horse. In truth, that little pony ain’t never gonna die. Not in America. Not in the world. We race backwards and call it progress.
      I’ve written before how Mary J. Blige has built an entire career talking about how sad she is, how fucked up she is, how fucked over she’s been. She’s droned on and on about feeling ugly and worthless both as a child and as a young woman, and how her lack of self-esteem led her into self-destructive behavior and abusive relationships. But then she turns around and pumps the same image poison that is (at least in part) at the root of her own issues, to a whole new generation of young black girls. For all her endless navel-gazing, she doesn't connect the dots between her once-crushed spirit and that which she now exalts and sells. But hey, she’s getting’ paid, right?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Well Played...

WASHINGTON (Reuters)- When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be "off his rocker." The second congratulated him and added: "Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of "the threat in our midst" would alleviate the public's fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL (, which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting.

"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."

The show aired on November 26, the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday, and Klein said in an interview afterwards he had been surprised by the response.

"The switchboard went from empty to totally jammed within minutes," said Klein. "There were plenty of callers angry with me, but there were plenty who agreed."

For rest of article, click here

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Excerpt from my LA Weekly interview with Kim Hill:

"That line in 'The Real Hip-Hop'" — a blistering battle track aimed at the Peas on her fantastic 2002 sophomore solo album, Suga Hill — "where I go, 'Who's the white girl singing in your video?' is not aimed at Fergie." Fergie, of course, is Hill's white replacement in the Peas. "That song was written long before she was even in the picture. It was inspired by the Peas using Esthero on their second album and them letting the record company sorta edge me out. And it's not even a personal thing against Esthero. It's just that the Peas had lost the vision we started with and that really pained me. People think I have beef with Fergie, and really, there's none. I don't care if you do pop shit or gangsta, if you're a woman in this industry, it's still hard. It's still a battle for respect. I would never just come for her in that way. Now, let some bitch really come for me, and it's on," she laughs.

For the rest of the interview, click Kim Hill

Nigger, Nigga, Nigguh… It makes my teeth white.

This nigger’s crazy: John Ridley

Peep this nigga:
Frank Leon Roberts

My nigguh: Trey Ellis

Wordy American Man of African Descent Who Prolly Got Some Indian in Him and Likely Got Some Cracka in There Too: Derek Jennings

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My So-Called Vida Loca or “Blink & You Missed It in Theaters”

      I’m a huge Christian Bale fan, through good movies (Velvet Goldmine; Batman Begins), bad movies (Shaft… though the great Jeffrey Wright is who made that piece of shit watchable), the enjoyably stupid (Reign of Fire) and the highly over-rated (American Psycho), but I had absolutely no desire to see Harsh Times. I’m fairly certain the poster tagline, “From the creator of Training Day,” is Tagalog for your-broke-ass-ain’t-got-nothing-better-to-do-with-eleven-dollars? But a friend who’s going through hard times wanted to see it, so it was my treat.
      Written and directed by David Ayer (whose screenwriting credits, in addition to Training Day, include S.W.A.T. and the Fast and the Furious), and executive produced by Bale, the film follows a couple of debauched, violent and depressing days in the life of Jim Davis (Bale), an Iraqi war vet. The film opens inside one of Jim’s wartime flashbacks (which feels tacked on like a post-test-screening afterthought), then without warning drops the viewer down in contemporary L.A., a place the film depicts as a hyper-violent Latino-scribed zone. Random cholos run down the street firing at one another; throats are slit in neighborhood bars for no apparent reason, with the assailant mumbling Spanish. Jim hangs with his Mexican homeboy, Mike (Freddy Rodriguez, of Six Feet Under) who’s job hunting while being supported by his lawyer girlfriend (played by Eva Longoria) who hates Jim for being a psycho loser. The two pals roam the city, boozing, smoking out, pulling assorted scams and getting mired in heavy-handed, plot-contrived violence. But Jim is also waiting to hear back from the LAPD on whether or not he qualifies to be a cop. (The great and grim joke of the film is that of course his crazy ass does. Only a stint with the NYPD would be as good a fit.) When that option falls through, however, he gets a surprise phone call letting him know he’s fallen up in life in ways that only racist, criminally psychotic white boys can.
      Where to begin with what’s wrong with this film?
      Christian Bale’s accent, which is the most unconvincing and Acting 101 thing he’s ever done, is a start. And it opens the door for examining the film’s numerous other flaws. I normally like films that actually don’t spell everything out, that leave ambiguity and room for audience meditation. But this white guy, Jim, whom the film immerses in Latino culture (he only fucks Latinas, speaks flawless Spanish, lives in an apartment building otherwise populated only with Latinos and has as his best friend a Mexican American), is too much a cypher. Where does he come from? How did he come to be this proxy-Mexican who gets all these barrio passes, and for whom his brown best friend is willing to beat down other brown folk? We’re supposed to understand that Jim has long been a crazed fuck up, so when did he learn the fluent Korean he speaks before terrorizing a Korean shop owner? When did he learn the flawless Arabic he speaks with a federal official? We get no clues. Instead of the viewer thinking that Jim is a complex, layered character, the script and direction come off as lazy, riddled with holes.
      I mean, color-blind friendship is one thing, but in a film set against a backdrop of brown skin and Latino culture, in which a deranged white boy with a firing gun repeatedly fucks or fucks over brown folk, what inadvertently emerges are the wild, wild west fears and fantasies of a pseudo-down white boy (writer-director David Ayer) being passed off as edgy insights.
      The film wants to paint this apocalyptic vision of L.A., where violent and or irresponsible Latinos make up the bulk of the city’s residents. It's a place whose brown women – from fine ass cholas to aged Latina whores to naïve Mexican nationals – have fallen to the power of white dick (and the one female who hasn’t succumbed to the allure of the pink skin flute, Longoria’s lawyer character, is called a “sellout” by the white-boy). But what it does most successfully (and seemingly accidentally) is paint a convincing picture of the resilience of white skin privilege and the ways it crops up and goes unchallenged even within so-called colorblind relationships, even with white folk who live, breathe, fuck and claim allegiance with racial “others.” At times the film almost seems aware of this dynamic; most times, however, it’s gallingly oblivious. Ayer was after some sort of great platonic, tragic, cross-colors hetero-male love story in the midst of urban apocalyptic madness. Instead, he crafted some straight up crackhead 21st Century Lone Ranger and Tonto bullshit. Don’t even get me started on the film’s nigga representation.

      I had much love for A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints when I caught it at a second-run theater a few weeks ago. Told largely in captivating flashback, it’s the tale of a brilliant, tortured writer (played in grown-up form by Robert Downey Jr., and as a teenager by the insufferable Shia LaBeouf) and the great dark question at the core of his being. By the time that question is actually articulated at film’s end, it doesn’t ring true because it’s already been answered in such a way that makes the writer seem a clueless, self-absorbed asshole. You just want to smack him. But the flashback scenes that make up the bulk of the film are glorious – elliptical sketches of coming of age in multicultural ‘80s New York, with foul-mouthed, precocious teenaged girls; a hotheaded lunk who volleys the abuse he suffers at the hands of his father onto anyone who gets in his way or fucks with his friends; and a motley crew of hormone-driven fuck-ups. While the film is flawed, it’s also funny, moving and smart. And it has two of the most fuckable people currently in movies – a largely shirtless Channing Tatum and a flawless Rosario Dawson – gracing the screen with their innate fuckability.

      I couldn’t get through Happy Feet. Teeth started grinding when the film introduced the hybridized Latino penguins (a fusion of West coast eses and locas/Nuyorican mamis and papis… a sum total of talk-show-template Latinos). I was actually less offended than just bored. I’m not on some hyper-PC kick. I understand that much great comedy hinges on stereotype. But that which is offered up in Happy Feet is just lazy, tired. Boozing, partying, over-sexed, thickly-accented, Cheech & Chong-style Latino penguins? What year is this? Where’s the insert of the profanely rapping, really old white woman to complete the hilarity? Director George Miller has the progressive vision to decry the ways in which man is destroying the planet, but relies on the most creaky of racial and cultural stereotypes for cheap laughs. I’m willing to concede that the film may have done something truly interesting and radical with ethnic/racialized characters beyond the point at which I bailed, and I appreciate the larger points it is making about nature and conservation. But can’t that same progressiveness be applied to racial and cultural representation – especially in a film largely aimed at kids? Fine, keep the thick (if lame-ass) accents for easy identification of "something other than whiteness," but then at least do something more with the characterizations themselves.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Why I Love Negroes #1, 763, 231

I have no idea if this is "real" or not but I really, really hope it is. And not in any sort of ironic or intellectually detached way. Full of grammatical errors, this obit is filled with the kind of real but unintentional humor that defines so much Negro life. It's raw, true, loving, and filled with passive-aggressive hits. I love it.

PS -- You may need to click on the image to enlarge it so you can read it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Post Jack

I just read the following post on a Myspacer's blog (Miss Numa), and it so reminded me of someone that I jacked it to bring it over here. Here's her entire post (just the way she wrote it), with the pertinent part being the book she's talking about:

it's not fucking funny.

i have not left my house in three days.

i believe it was a combination of a chronic contact high and the flu bug that brought me down.

times like this are good for sleep introversion and won ton soup which is about all i could tolerate.

in between head aches i read a great book published in 1969 by theodore isaac rubin. "the angry book" deciphers the many codes of behavior that are actually masked anger.

the chapters are two pages long for easy mental digestion.

an excerpt: joking and boring

"many books have been written about humor and much time and space have been devoted to the relationship between humor and hostility. a sense of humor is most certainly a very valuable asset. to be able to laugh at one's self and at one's troubles, without contempt, can even be life saving. but i'm talking here about another kind of joking. i'm talking about a very severe poison that is comprised almost entirely by perverted anger. i'm talking about compulsive joking, a chronic form of joking that never stops. it frustrates, it bores, and it keeps people at a distance. indeed the compulsive joker cannot get serious even when someone else's life depends on it.

many of the compulsive jokers jokes are anything but funny. some are thinly veiled statements conveying extreme hostility. for the most part they are blatantly personal bigoted, vicious, vulgar, often disgusting, and always destructive. they are designed to sneak in and dissipate enormous rage under the guise of entertainment and good fellowship. they are always the antithesis of either warm healthy humor or warm healthy anger. more often than not they are a crashing bore, and the boredom itself is a very effective form of vindictive hostility. indeed the joker who is running out of jokes may turn to the poison brother-boring. i feel that chronic bores-people who insist on telling you personal details of their lives or things that you already know and they know you know-are actually engaging in a form of torture."

remind you of anyone? this is a great book... you can find it on amazon though i got my copy at a used book shop in venice. i identified alot of hidden anger in myself and understand better now the ways in which it has been directed towards me.
here's to mental health!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cut & Paste

Before I had a book to sell, I shrugged off Myspace as little more than a refuge for horny teens and the grown-ass men who Mark Foley them. And it definitely is that. Being on the site for a minute has broadened my perspective considerably, however. I long ago Betty Forded myself past the addiction phase that kicks in almost immediately upon setting up an account, but I continue to marvel at the myriad agendas and communities that criss-cross the place. It’s far too dynamic and multi-tiered to be summarily dismissed. I have to admit, it’s a sugar-pill ego boost to check in and see new friend requests, even if a lot of folks are clearly just trying to up their “friend” count. Still, I love looking at my friends list and seeing militant black nationalists next to gay porn stars next to hornily hetero gangsta rappers next to wholesome, fledgling pop singers next to struggling filmmakers next to some ordinary Joe businessman who’s just along for the communal ride. Shameless self-promotion and product hawking (Blood Beats Vol. 1: Demos Remixes & Extended Versions… available now) exist alongside folks just trying to make a connection with people they once knew, or beyond those they already know. I’ve corresponded with folks in London, Milan, Toronto, Berlin and all across the U.S. of A. A few even claim to have bought my book as a result of my Myspace page. This particular blog entry was inspired by a Myspacer who sent me a message asking what I’m currently listening to. And because I am lazy but really needed to update this blog, I decided I’d reprint my answer here:

1) A burned CD of unmastered new music from Kim Hill, formerly “the (black) girl” in the Black Eyed Peas, as research for a piece I’m doing on her for the LA Weekly. I like her and her music a lot and am really digging her songs “Barbie” and the jazz-inflected, autobiographical “Disney.” Sample lyrics from the latter:

“Look at my hands they’re shaking and my heart is pacing / Executives at the table, now I feel unstable / My manager is on my right, but I am not sure on whose side / Wanna be cool and show respect, but today might be my test / They say I talk too much / They say I put up a fuss / Why do you love hip-hop? / Kim Hill, you should do pop… / I should have known they wouldn’t understand / They thought I was like my former band / At any cost sell your soul / Just go for the gold, truth be told / They say my nose too big, they say I got little tits / Pocahontas on a horse ride / Best thing since the electric slide / Careful, don’t be too black…”

2) I pulled up Angie Stone’s first two CDs and have been listening to select tracks from them all week. They’re both solid r&b efforts that, combined and then pruned, would make an amazing single disc: “Bone 2 Pick With U,” “Everyday,” “No More Rain (In This Cloud),” “Easier Said Than Done,” “Snowflakes,” “Wish I Didn’t Miss You So Much,” “Makings of You (Interlude).” When I saw Angie perform a short while ago at the Hollywood Bowl, opening for James Brown (weak, disappointing shows from both of them) I marveled anew at the fact that she’s the rare female musical artist whose unvarnished sexual quirks and unsanctioned fetishes are put so squarely, if unconsciously, on the table. And no, Madonna’s mirthless exploitation of her sexuality doesn’t count. Men walk around with their shit hanging out all the time; women, even those with ‘ho images, don’t really let their subterranean come to light. Stone is different. Her rumor-mill mythology circles back to her being D’Angelo’s baby-mama, to her reportedly being shunted aside by the singer (who apparently actually likes thick women) at the behest of handlers who thought her too old and too well fed to be appropriate arm candy, even as her influence (to put it mildly) is all over Brown Sugar. But what really makes Stone fascinating is that she’s a female hawk with love for the young thugs, and she makes no bones about it. There’s D’Angelo; her ill-fated professional (according to him) and more personal (according to her) relationship with the fine but thoroughly useless Calvin Richardson; that young dude she was engaged to for a minute, post-Calvin. She likes the young ‘uns with six-packs and hoodlum outlines. You cannot be mad at her. For her show at the Bowl, she had three male back-up singers, two of whom fit her “type” to a T(hug) but none of whom seemed like they’d have even the faintest interest in a woman. Yeah, giggles.
Angie Stone

3) Jeff Buckley’s “Grace.” I always liked this album a great deal but didn’t genuflect before it like a lot of my fellow music critics. Then last year I saw a Norwegian film in which Buckley’s sublime, career-making (and anthem-stealing) version of “Hallelujah” was used to underscore the emotional anguish of a young, brown Muslim immigrant living unhappily in Norway. (I think it was Norway: White people and ice…That’s all I got on recall.) The boy’s story ends tragically, and “Hallelujah” was so masterfully deployed on the soundtrack to accompany emotionally wrenching scenes that I teared up hoyrd when viewing the film.

4) Some old Prince... Dirty Mind / Soft & Wet / Controversy. For all the accolades and gushing acclaim he’s received, I still don’t think he’s gotten props as deep as he deserves for that era of his career. The image, the fusion of rock, New Wave, soul... the image. Black-boy gender fuck and flirting with sexual ambiguity. That shit could not happen now – at least not with any Negro male wanting to be a pop star. (Thank you, hip-hop!) And for all his calculated eccentricities and oddness, Prince wanted to be a pop star. He had arena aspirations and wasn’t avanting his shit just to rent space on the margins. For all the clones he spawned (“Oh, Sheila”) that narrow space he crow-barred open – a space for black men to be hugely and unapologetically sexual but not idiotic or menacing Mandingos, to be powerful but defiantly and revolutionarily fey (we see you, Little Richard), to be both dandy and hardcore, fluid yet unwaveringly hetero (Okay... bye, Little Richard), brilliant aesthete and peerless craftsman – has been crazy-glued shut, though his influence is paradoxically everywhere. Seriously, nobody is fucking with that era Prince. Nobody.

5) I used to really love Sophie B. Hawkins’ single, “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Stumbled across it in my collection the other day and smiled. Put it on. The smile quickly faded on a, “What the hell was I thinking?” tip.

My Myspace page is right cheah

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Evil Lucy Radio

Look to your right and click the link for Evil Lucy Radio. Give a listen to all the different sets they have up. (You can check out the playlists before you actually listen to the shows.) And leave them some comments...


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Video of the Week

Kinda speaks for itself...

Yeah, lyrically / thematically / conceptually it's flawed as fuck; there are some fire-ringed loopholes in logic (his own use of the word "nigga" when lashing out at the ways in which black folk have embraced terms and modes of degradation; the low-flame misogyny that girds his critique of women-who-ho-themselves in hip-hop and beyond; his casual use of the term "gay" as the ultimate slur when talking about trifling, um... "niggas." And his intentionally hyberbolic use -- and depiction -- of the word "lynching" is gonna cause many folks to scream foul and miss the point altogether.)

And yet... You can't deny the validity of his larger points. This is what it sounds like when exasperated Negroes cry. Sometimes emotion overwhelms smarter cultural and political discourse, but there is truth there. Namely, that the pimps, thugs and hustlas swarming through rap are the true modern day Uncle Toms, doing massa's bidding.
And props to him for giving props to Oprah. I'm not even a fan of hers, but the ways that so-called hard rappers have whined and stamped their thuggy little feet because she won't have them on her show... In a word: bitch-made.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dance, Disco Heat

A kid in the building behind mine, with a fence and something of a backyard between us, is practicing his turntablism at 9-something PM, and he's working on a classic disco set. He just did the most god-awful mix out of Tavares' "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" into Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye," and it was a clusterfuck of massive proportions. It's like he didn't even TRY to match that shit up... and yet, it doesn't matter. Whirring strings, insistent beats, gorgeously arranged backing vocals, passionate lead vocals, and the push toward beauty in the quest for dancefloor transcendence. Made me smile. I'mma turn off my computer, open my window higher and lie in the dark on my sofa just to hear his whole set.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Deems Taylor Award

The ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award program recognizes books, articles, liner notes, broadcasts and websites on the subject of music selected for their excellence. The Awards were established in 1967 to honor the memory of composer/critic/commentator Deems Taylor who died in 1966 after a distinguished career that included six years as President of ASCAP.

I just won the 2006 award for liner notes for the Chet Baker CD, Career 1952-1988.

A huge thank you to Shawn Amos, over at Shout! Factory, who hooked me up with the assignment.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dianna Hardy: August 7, 1942 – September 6, 2002

      When I started this blog, I vowed to myself that it’d be honest and uncensored. Flaws and all. But not a diary. Wouldn’t have all my personal hanging out. So I ask patience as I betray my own crayola-scrawled edict.
      The past several weeks have been very difficult, as the same stretch of time has been for the last few years. Like clockwork, I start sinking into a deep funk in the weeks leading up to my mother’s birthday (August 7th) and don’t seem able to pull myself out of it until a few weeks after the day of her death (September 6th). At this point, I’m not sure how much of that is due to me actually psyching myself into a depression and how much of it is still active grief. Regardless, the effect is the same.
      My mother died of breast cancer after a fourteen year battle. My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer two years later, following her own years-long illness. Also on my mother’s side of the family: an aunt is currently fighting breast cancer, another aunt is in remission (knock wood) and as I write this, an uncle is scheduled to undergo surgery for the return of his cancer. A sixteen-year-old relative is having a biopsy done in two weeks. Sometimes it feels like I’m in a Freddy Krueger movie, with cancer being the slashing fiend killing off my family.
      It’s when trying to describe the depth and width of grief that you understand the utter impotence of language. How to capture that feeling of walking down the street, ensconced in your thoughts, when a snatch of music or a whiff of perfume shakes loose a memory that triggers grief and your knees buckle and you have to catch yourself from falling? How to explain how a song or a film that your now-dead loved one never even heard or saw makes you think of them so strongly that tears spring to your eyes? And how do you convey the sadness that wafts over you, rolling in from out of nowhere, blanketing you, draining you, years after the fact? Or trying to explain how, with all the time that has passed, there are still days when it feels like that very first moment you got the news… Hits you like a slow bullet.
      I was a mama’s boy. No doubt. My grandmother used to tell me how, even as a baby, I would quietly stare into my mother’s eyes, how my mother would hold me for hours and we’d just look at each other. Apparently, everyone – especially her own family – was shocked at what a good mother she was. As a young boy, one of my favorite stories was the one about my very first medical check-up. My 24-year-old mother handed me, still wrapped in my blanket, to the doctor and he whipped the blanket off. Apparently his office was very cold and I immediately went a shade of blue. My mother became hysterical and had to be escorted out of the exam room by the nurse. Years and years later, she’d still get tears of anger when describing the incident: “Just snatched that blanket off my baby!” she’d say with indignation.
      When she was younger, her (six) siblings dubbed her the evil one. As a teenager, she was called “Snake” by the neighborhood boys because she was so cold to them. My mother was exceptionally beautiful. (I know: All men and boys think that about their moms. Most of them are deluded, though. I’m serious. Men used to literally walk into walls from staring at her. My own father used to gaze at her with such adoration... as though he couldn’t quite believe his luck.) A long time ago, as a young man armed with a little Psych 101, I realized that the truth about my mother was that she was actually very insecure, that the coldness so many thought they saw in her was a protective covering. She had a haughty and aloof demeanor when she felt unsure, and a clipped manner of speaking (which I inherited / absorbed) that could come off as dismissiveness. She, like my sister and I, stuttered when especially flustered. But once you got to know her… well, she still had her diva moments but she was giving and generous to a fault.
      My aunts used to joke that when they found out she was pregnant, they thought, “Oh, that poor baby.” But she surprised them. To this day they still speak in wonder at what a devoted mother she was. My sister and I were hugged all the time, read to, listened to. Always encouraged. And very strongly disciplined. (All it took was that side-eye glance, accompanied by tightened lips… but belts and switches were not alien to our asses.) But I just remember – even when being angry with her, or knowing that she was angry with me – knowing that I was loved. Knowing that I was wanted. Nothing ever broke that connection. That is the most amazing gift to give a child, and the only one that really matters.
      My mother’s best friend was Ann, mentioned in a previous posting in which I noted that they were like sisters. They were always together or on the phone. Enviably close. Since my mother died, I’ve only spoken to Ann once or twice. She says it’s too painful, that I remind her too much of my mother. I wish I could talk to her but there’s a part of me (and I know this will sound weird) but there’s a part of me that really appreciates the depth of Ann’s emotion. Her need for that distance. It (perversely?) comforts me to know that someone else loved my mother that deeply.

These are some memories I have of my mom:

      Late one night, our play uncle, Uncle George, a flaming, FLAMING queen was visiting from Detroit. My sister and I were supposed to be asleep, and she was. But the laughter from down the hall, the clink of ice in glasses and the snippets of ribald conversation had me wide awake, eavesdropping. Ann, George and my mother were in the kitchen and George was holding court. It was only years later that I realized exactly what the convo was about and how Ann and my mother (straight up fag hags, no doubt) were trying to clarify some things. I clearly remember Ann saying, “Okay, so you’re bent over the chair, and then what?” And I guess George demonstrated something because my mother howled with laughter and couldn’t catch her breath. I remember her laughter.

      My mother loved music. It was always played in our house and she was amused to see me – as a young boy – reading liner notes and the backs of album covers, trying to figure out when Motown stopped stamping “Detroit, MI” on the back cover fine print and started putting “Los Angeles, CA.” I spent hours memorizing producers and songwriters, cross-referencing their credits across albums. Sometimes, she’d play an album and just sit and quietly stare. Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson (“Guess who I saw today, my dear…”) Once, when I was a teenager, my Uncle Richard (blood uncle, not play) came across me sitting in my grandmother’s living room, listening to music, sitting and staring absently. “You’re just like your mother,” he laughed. “When we were growing up, she did the same thing.” That made me smile.

      When I was about 9 or 10, we had a neighbor named Esther who was a few years younger. Esther was one of those kids who’d make even teachers pick on her. Something about her was so clammy and needy and deeply off-putting. Sort of how I imagine Corinne Bailey Rae was as a child. (And I love Ms. Rae, but let’s be real…) All the neighborhood kids picked on Esther. It was just what you did. My sister and I joined in. It was fun. Until the day our mother heard us and called us inside. She was beyond furious. She gave a lecture about how cowardly it was to pick on those who were weaker than you, about how pathetic it was to join the crowd in doing foulness. And she made us invite Esther over to play, issuing threats we knew would be made good if she ever heard us torturing that child again. I think Esther’s annoying ass must have even worked my mother’s nerves, though, because after that one visit we never had to invite her back. But we did have to be nice to her.

      My mother combing and braiding my sister’s hair every morning over breakfast. We’re talking ribbons and barrettes, the whole nine. My sister looked like a doll headed to school every morning. We couldn’t leave the house without being crisp and clean. Everyday.

      The food. Oh, man... We’re from the South (Birmingham, AL) and my mother was old-school. Everything was homemade; yes, from scratch. Fresh greens, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, cornbread (real, not that sweet cakey shit), fried okra, peas and beans seasoned with fatback. Her specialty was desserts, though – chocolate pound cake, lemon ice-box pie, banana pudding (real mama-made custard, not pudding from a box), homemade ice cream. She just had a gift for it. Could and would adjust new recipes she got from newspapers or magazines… like an MIT student whizzing through a math problem. All in her head. Never had to write shit down. Once, she found a recipe for a Milky Way pound cake and as she read it she murmured, “Well, that won’t work. It doesn’t make sense.” She mentally made the adjustments (instead of sugar or cocoa, you melted the candy bars and poured them into the batter) and that was the best fucking cake ever. Before she died, she gave me her recipe book and recipe rolodex, which was full of clipped recipes that she’d crossed through and refined...

      My mother crying as I told her about my friend Robert. I met Robert many, many years ago, as he was coming out of the Wendy’s on Sunset & La Brea. He had a cup of water in his hands and sat down on the curb to give it to a fat black puppy. He was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap. We exchanged smiles. Before I knew it, I was accompanying him as he walked the puppy through Hollywood. He wasn’t really my type but he was very cute (not handsome, cute) and we vibed. We became fast friends (nothing more, though the charge was always there) and for the next year were in constant contact. We only beefed once. When he accused me of supporting murder for being pro-choice. He was raised a strict Catholic and had swallowed the teachings whole. Uncritically. He was also convinced he was going to hell for being gay. About 18 months into our friendship, he called me and said softly, “Well, I got it.” And then he vanished. I didn’t see or hear from him for about two months. I next bumped into him on Hollywood Blvd. He’d lost a ton of weight, his hair was thin and falling out and he’d aged a good fifteen years. He was twenty-five. We hugged and I tried to pretend I wasn’t shocked by his appearance. He was excited because he was going to be an extra in HBO’s And the Band Played On. I made him promise to call me. He never did. I found out later from an old boyfriend of his that he’d died. Knowing that he died feeling certain that he was going to hell still makes me fold over in pain. It makes me furious. I’m certain that his conviction that he was damned sped up his death. My mother shook her head and cried when I told her about him. She just kept saying, “That poor baby.”

      Two years before she died, she came out to LA to visit. She wanted to meet my friends so we arranged a huge dinner party. We spent days shopping and prepping. I thought it’d be too much for her but she loved it. We served greens, pinto beans, macaroni & cheese, fried chicken, corn bread, pound cake and sweet tea that was so sweet my friend Lisa had to dilute it three times. Tasted like home to me. Who was there: Paul and Kate, Jeff, Goz, Shari (who brought Cheryl “I am quote-unquote an African princess” Dunye), Eve, Lisa, Brian, some crashers whose names I forget (but there was more than enough food)… and Ms. Vaginal Davis, who did an impression of Halle Berry that made my mother laugh until she cried. She loved meeting all my friends. Until she died, she’d ask about each one every time we spoke – “Honey, did that child ever finish making her movie?” “How is so-and-so doing?” – but she really loved Ms. Davis and marveled at her appetite. At one point, as my mother was dishing more food onto Ms. Davis’ plate, Vag deadpanned, “Honey, I’m a big girl. I eat.”
      I still kick myself for not taking pictures.

Miss Vaginal Davis

      The most shocking thing about death is its banality. How it changes everything and nothing. After my mother’s funeral, I came back to LA and sat in front of the TV for decades. My first day back, I spotted the box of See’s candy that she’d asked me to bring her. (I was going home for a family reunion / had no idea how sick she was / she went into a coma a few days after I arrived and never woke up again.) She’d asked me to bring her the candy and I’d bought it but forgotten to pack it. It was on the kitchen table when I returned. The fact that she’d have been too ill to eat it was of no comfort; I’d forgotten the last thing she’d asked me for.
      Everything changes. The way you hear, the way you see. The way you interact with other people. I question almost everything I’ve written over the last four years because my bearings have been out of whack. My senses are… off. As a result of my mother’s death, some friendships have deepened into sturdy familial bonds. Others did a slow fade-out. Lots of people kind of shied away at that time and I understand that. It was painful to have some friends not “show up,” as they say. But I know that people are afraid, they don’t know what to say, the proximity to death is terrifying… I get all that. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that those people who did come through were elevated in my mind. They pushed through their own uncertainty and discomfort, and they showed up. There was much compassion showed to me by many, but I especially have to single out Lisa, David, Brett, Lesley… and my ace boon coons: Goz and Bill.
      And a special nod to Pocho Joe, who I didn’t even officially meet until after my mother died. But this year, on the morning of her birthday, I woke up and found the kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful emailed note of love and support on what he knew would be a difficult day.

Much love…


Nikki Giovanni

her grandmother called her from the playground
"yes, ma’am"
"i want chu to learn how to make rolls" said the old
woman proudly
but the little girl didn’t want
to learn how because she knew
even if she couldn’t say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
on her spirit so
she said
"i don’t want to know how to make no rolls"
with her lips poked out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying "lord
these children"
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and I guess nobody ever does
– Nikki Giovanni

Monday, September 11, 2006


      I love these guys. I wrote about them when I first started blogging (see the Feb. 19, 2006 post titled You Tube: That Good Good), back when You Tube was just exploding. They were already huge stars of that cyber cultural clearinghouse. What makes me smile is just how many cultural and identity grenades they detonate just by being their goofy selves. They slyly explode assorted Asian stereotypes (those perpetuated by both American and various Asian medias) by diving right into them and then pushing beyond; check their bugged eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, the way they simultaneously embrace and send up the fused geek / male eunuch / passive female / pop culture junkie, all sans angst or didacticism. Watch enough of their clips and you see that they flip gender like seasoned performance artists, essaying feminine roles in a way that vaguely recalls the Kids in the Hall’s roster of female characters, where humor isn’t mined from misogyny or mean-spiritedness but from genuine affection, a sharp eye for gendered details. As unabashed fans of pop music, they don’t quiver at the feminine sway of the stuff. They embrace it, it’s silliness and its uplift. They’re not snobs.
      These guys (both the duo in center frame and, I would imagine, the wholly indifferent kid who’s always in the back, deeply engrossed in computer games) love popular music, both Asian and American, across genre – and not in any sort of ironic or post anything sort of way. They give themselves over to it without shame or intellectual distance, though there’s a lot of smart, tongue-in-cheek humor in their camera savvy, ready-for-my-close-up home videos. The Jessica Simpson single they’re interpreting here has been shredded by most music critics. (An aside: Some weeks ago, I caught a ride with a “homo-thug” LA gay rapper who nearly broke a finger turning up his radio’s volume when the single came on. “I love this,” he grinned. “This the kinda shit Janet need to still be doin.’” He happily bopped along to the music and I couldn’t resist clowning him: “You do shatter the stereotypes, don’t you?”) Although it’s not one of the songs produced by Jam & Lewis on Simpson’s new album, it has the sound and feel of a low grade knock-off of vintage (pop) Janet, maybe combined with some of the more sterile, generic pop of the ‘80s. And as with the new Janet and Beyonce singles, the public reaction has been to issue a collective yawn and to toss it on the garbage heap. And deservedly so. But these guys gleefully recycle the refuse. Look closely and you’ll see that they catch and perform every giggle, every background sigh or layered vocal tic. And when they exaggeratedly mouth along to the lifted “ahhhhhh ahhhhhh ahhhhh ahhh” from Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” they situate themselves in a nearly five-decades deep legacy of insane drag queens at the mic.

My Interview With Filmmaker’s Alliance Magazine

In his introduction to Blood Beats: Vol. 1, Ernest Hardy writes:
    People have a way of contouring consciousness along their very specific identity outlines and not pushing much beyond the borders. They might realize – if they do the work, if they truly fight the power and don’t simply relax their gag reflex – that much of what the cultural-corporate-political apparatus propagates about them is untrue. Yet many seem completely at ease accepting the distortions and misrepresentations of (other) others as being absolute truth. We’d like to believe that the cross-pollination of cultures that hip-hop represents and sparks, and that globalization and unbridled capitalism use as their selling points, will forge new mind-sets, new perspectives. But without doing the hard work of pushing past prejudice, of refraining from the battle of my imaginary friend in the sky can kick the ass of your imaginary friend in the sky, of doing more than uncritically embracing fucked-up cultural habits and justifying them as tradition, all the cultural consumption is just this – fleeting fashion, disposable music, fucking across color lines and confusing cum with consciousness…

Late last year, I ran into the soft-spoken and astute critic, Ernest Hardy, who told me that he was finishing up a book, a collection of his essays and reviews. Then a few weeks ago I saw in Ernest’s bio on the Outfest website (he served on the U.S. Dramatic Features Competition jury) that his book, Blood Beats: Vol. 1, had been published. I immediately placed an order on Amazon and then contacted Ernest to inquire about interviewing him in time for our publication deadline. Luckily, he was available to meet with me a few days later at a popular Silverlake Mexican restaurant. What follows are some of the highlights of our conversation. – Diane Gaidry

Ernest: Criticism for me, has always been rooted in a kind of narcissistic impulse, which I didn’t realize until a few years ago. What I mean by that is that it’s really me looking at films and reading books and listening to music and trying to answer questions that I have about myself or about the world, about different people and the way we treat each other and the way we treat ourselves. Those are the questions that interest me at a really personal level.

In my own writing, I really try to have a different center. I don’t write towards whiteness or heterosexuality or a certain education level. I just write. And I try to bring all of my own influences and politics to bear, influences and politics that are really shaped by being engaged, or trying to be engaged, with the real world around me. What’s important to me as a writer and as a member of society at large is that there is a diversity of voices and perspectives brought into the conversation. But that rarely happens in mainstream media, or even so-called alternative media.

It’s an amazingly interesting time that we’re living in and I think that people who write about culture really have the potential to push some dialogue and conversations in a direction that is about substance. But in truth, it’s all about selling. You can’t run anything that might offend an advertiser. You can’t run anything that might offend a reader who might start a boycott. So, we have a lot of hipster or hip-hop or academic posturing and claims to being cutting edge or inclusive or diverse or whatever, but it really all dovetails nicely into the status quo.

Diane: It’s frustrating that authenticity has no value.

Ernest: Right. And I’m not claiming to be this great authentic voice or whatever, though I am trying to scrape away the conditioning in myself that we all receive in this culture toward delusion and illusion.

You know, people who mean well in my life and who I know love me still embrace certain definitions of success and validation that are really at odds with my own terms. I can’t really explain to a lot of people why I’m not trying to write for the New York Times. I’m not even interested in that. And I don’t mind being a margin dweller because I’m so well fed there. Throughout history, it’s been on the fringe that the real shit originates. That’s where the change comes from, even if it’s incredibly diluted by the time it hits the center. There’s at least been some push. So I don’t mind being there. Health insurance would be lovely though.

I’ve never wanted the spotlight. I don’t trust it. I think it melts your brain. This has been an interesting time promoting this book because I don’t want to be on panels or go to conferences or go on television, but we live in a culture where if you do any type of creative work, even if it’s just writing about other people’s creativity – which is all I claim to do at this point – it’s so collapsed into celebrity that people don’t understand that you could exist and want to be creative and not want to be on the cover of a magazine. So few of my friends really understand what agony it is for me to have a microphone shoved in my face. My friend and former editor Manohla Dargis [film critic for the New York Times] is one of the few people that I’ve spoken to about this who really understands where I’m coming from, which is interesting to me because she’s one of the few people in criticism who I think is a real writer. And it makes sense to me that a writer would get what I mean when other folks don’t.

I was on a panel a few weeks ago and afterwards someone came up to me, and they were very complimentary about my writing, and they said “Why aren’t you writing for this publication or that one?” And I said the answer to that question is in my writing. My writing is why I’m not writing at these places that pay very well. The apparatus of those media outlets is set up in such a way that the kind of writing that I do is not supported.

Everyone has this idea of what a successful career should look like. But I’ve written for Rolling Stone. I’ve written for Vibe. I’ve written for the New York Times. And I hated it. I absolutely hated it because you’re fed through this machine so that your voice sounds like everyone else’s. And I just think it’s tragic that that is happening at this time in the world when we so clearly need different perspectives, different voices.

In Volume II of my book, I’m in the process of working on this essay on Lil’ Kim. I think she’s one of the most important figures in hip hop, not because of the music, but because she’s such a damaged woman. Her persona is one of empowerment and economic power based in exploiting of her own sexuality. And that’s such a delusional and dangerous place to work from. And I think she really embodies the ways in which this culture teaches us to perpetuate our own oppression but call it personal victory. And you see, quite literally, in her body, the cost of that. And you see how it’s not true. That’s the kind of thing that I think should be written about in mainstream publications, but it’s not going to be.

A side project that I’ve started working on that’s taking more and more of my energy is this thing called Evil Lucy that I started with a friend of mine. And the goal of it is to be a place where people we know can come and just express themselves. It’s specifically so black writers, artists, whatever, can create without having to worry about making money. It’s not an industry calling card. It’s a means of expression, of doing our part to return some dynamism to Negro representation. We’re just now in the process of building a foundation of who Evil Lucy is and what this collective will look like – what the goals are.

I was always very proud of the fact that as a film critic, I was never a frustrated filmmaker. Because that was never something I wanted to do, to make films. I always wanted to be a writer. But I realized a while ago that I’m probably going to have to have some hand in the making of the movies that I want to see. So I’m not fighting that anymore. But I’m also not interested in trying to jump into the Hollywood system. A lot of critics do try to barter whatever currency they’ve built up into Hollywood contracts and positions and that seems so uninteresting to me. I’m much more interested in connecting with some kid who has a camera and is enthusiastic and just wants to go out and shoot some shit and put it together. So I am, on my down time, working a lot on this side project that I am very enthusiastic about as another outlet for my own expression. We’re building a website. We’re writing short stories that we hope to eventually make into short films. We’re trying to build our body before we go on-line and put this all up.

I think I have learned that the trick in life and in writing is to find ways to recognize the truth in situations without becoming bitter, which I don't think I am, but I am kinda tired. I know that it's time for me to pull back and replenish the well. I need to listen to music just for the joy of it. To read not as part of research, but just for the pleasure of it. I need to watch movies not as a critic, but just to be fed. I'm currently obsessed with the movie, Clean, directed by the great Olivier Assayas and starring Maggie Cheung. It's so well written. Her character is not likable in an easy or conventional sense, but you come to love and respect her because she fucks up and she says and does things that make you cringe, but she's so recognizably human in her struggle. There's one scene where she's with her young son, who she has to build a relationship with, and he's very angry with her about not being there for him. He blames her for his father's death. He's a precocious kid, but precocious in a way that real life kids are, not that Hollywood bullshit. He's smart but not a smart ass. And he says something to her that's really hurtful about being a useless junkie or something. And she says this very simple thing, “Sometimes you're in so much pain that you have to do something to escape it.” And the way she says it is so stark and simple, so powerful, and the little boy gets it. That scene just really moves me. I remember watching it for the first time on DVD and having to pause it. It was like taking in a rich dessert. I had to take a break. I couldn't even let the momentum of the film build because I was just so blown away by this tough but delicate, smart and compassionate portrayal of this woman and her struggles. Watching something like that reminds me why I do what I do. That's the sort of thing that I could just write about and write about. If we're going to try to make movies or do something creative, that kind of human component is what we have to focus on and try to capture and celebrate. It's so magical and so lacking in our art right now.

Diane: It seems to me that in your writing, you have an empathy for the creative process because you’re an artist yourself. And at the same time, you see the potential and hold people to a higher standard.

Ernest: Well, thank you for that. I mean, I don’t know how to respond to that incredibly generous an assessment. (Laughter) I think too often, really simplistic notions of right and wrong are applied and I try to avoid that in my writing as well as in my interactions with people. And I have to admit that I will judge a no-budget indie film differently than I judge a $100 million dollar movie. And I can be hard on indie stuff when it’s clear to me that it’s just a calling card and that there’s no perspective. I don’t mind laying my cards on the table about my biases. Everyone has these biases. I’m just honest about mine. And I’m not interested in being a part of maintaining the status quo.

I’ve always been interested in the outsider perspective. Even as a child, I was drawn to the underdog. I think a lot of that has to do with my mother. My mother died a few years ago but in trying to describe her, this is the story that I tell.
    Her best friend was Ann. They were like sisters. Ann was a high school teacher, and one day we were all in the car driving someplace – my mother and Ann up front, my sister, Ann’s niece and I in the back. This was in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was born and lived until I was 14. And we were driving through this part of town where there was a strip where prostitutes worked. And my mother pointed out the window and said, “Isn’t that Jimmy?” Jimmy was a student of Ann’s and he was working the strip in drag. So they pulled the car over and they motioned him over and Ann asked him, “Why haven’t you been in school? I haven’t seen you for months.” Jimmy said “I was tired of getting beat up and tired of having to fight every day, so I said fuck it, and here I am.” My mother and Ann talked to him for about 20 minutes, encouraging him to take care of himself and to try to go back to school, and they gave him some money. When I think about it now, it’s clear to me that my mother and Ann had talked about Jimmy before and maybe even both talked to him, because my mother was the one who recognized him on the street. And that just made such a huge impression on me, especially being from the south where the bible sort of hangs over everything. There was always that hard moral line and the undesirables were always on the other side of that line. The wrong side. My mother never acknowledged that line. There was no fear, no judgment. There was compassion. That's the way my mother was all the time. I feel that I honor her when I see across that false moral line in my writing, when I extend some compassion to someone who’s stranded on the other side of that line.