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…

Legacies


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
dependent
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

DEM BOYZ PT. 2



      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.

Latest Blood Beats News

Blood Beats Vol. 1 is being taught at the University of Texas at Austin by Jafari Allen in his Black Public Culture: Diasporic Texts and Contexts class, course # ANT324L / AFR374D. (Anthropology and African-American Studies, cross-listed.)