Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mavis Staples: Freedom Songs

      A few weeks ago, while tinkering with her MacBook en route to speak at the Porter Colloquium — an arts conference for black visual artists — at Howard University in D.C., art historian Phyllis Jackson weighed in on the then-raging Don Imus controversy. “The fact that those girls [the Rutgers basketball team] were shocked and surprised by Imus saying what he did lets me know that there has somehow been a real failure on our part to really teach this generation, to communicate to them the realities of this country. They should be angry, yes. But shocked? Floored? We knew we were at war. They don’t know. I sometimes wonder, what country do they [post-civil-rights era black kids] think they’re living in?”

      “They had a hunting season on the rabbit|?If you shoot him, you went to jail/Season was always open on me/Nobody needed no bail . . .” sings Mavis Staples on the second verse of “Down in Mississippi,” the opening song on her fantastic new Ry Cooder–produced CD, We’ll Never Turn Back. The collection is a genre overhaul of Negro traditionals (“We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Eyes on the Prize”) and gospel standards (“99 and ½”), as well as a showcase for powerful original songs (“My Own Eyes”). With backing vocals provided by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cooder and Staples revitalize some old freedom songs, many of which have been the soundtrack to Negro resistance in this country since before the civil rights movement of the ’60s, and most famously during, and create some new ones while they’re at it. But with biting references to Hurricane Katrina, the enduring practice of police brutality, ongoing poverty and more racialized ills, they also make clear how painfully relevant this protest music still is. Nappy headed hoes stand up!

For the rest, click here.

Blood Beats Vol. 1

Quote of the Day

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Language Geek

It should come as no surprise that I love language -- the sounds of words and phrases, the harmony struck between those sounds and meaning. In much the same way that people go through phases were they eat a single dish or cuisine until they get sick of it (days, weeks at a time) and then move on, words and phrases pop into my head and linger, sometimes appearing in a few different articles I'm working on until I'm full and push away. The phrase I've been chewing on lately is false equivalence. I think it's because you see it so much in practice these days, especially whenever an oppressed group or person speaks or acts against their oppresors/oppression in forceful ways, and are told that they are as bad as the power they are fighting against. You see it all the time. While procrastinating and surfing the web when I should have been finishing up the manuscript to Blood Beats Vol. 2, I stumbled over a cool blog entry that made me smile... it put exactly into words what I've been wrestling with and trying to spool into a blog entry for this site. Check it out here.

Blood Beats Vol. 1

Quote of the Day

"Your life is a beautifully composed song. It's a masterpiece. Fear is when some sort of scratch causes the record to skip repeatedly and you cannot hear the original song in its effervescent entirety ... here is when I note my friend, you never needed the record or the record player ... let your soul do the singing, your senses do the listening and your intuition do the playing." - JV Delalunas

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This? Again?

      My editor sent me an email in March of 2007 asking if I’d heard the rumors about the Harlem based hip-hop collective Dipset (rappers Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Freekey Zekey, Juelz Santana, J.R. Writer, Hell Rell, 40 Cal, Jha Jha and Duke Da God) being on the down low, wondering if I’d like to write an article about it. My first response was laughter. But of course there are rumors about Dipset being on the DL. They’re high profile rappers o’ color, primarily Negro males. (Jha Jha is the only female.) Who dey fuckin’ speculation / accusation comes with the territory. Almost every black man who’s held a mic in his hand over the last several years (note the phallic symbolism & homoeroticism in that) has been subject to the rumor mill’s non-stop scarlet-letter quest for the beat-riding cocksucker. It’s par for the course. Just as it was, so many years ago, for folks to swear they saw Rod Stewart / Prince / Rick James collapse onstage in the middle of a concert, after which the star was rushed to the hospital where a pint of cum was pumped from his stomach. (Dude, I swear to God this totally happened. My cousin’s best friend’s weed dealer’s girlfriend was on duty as the night nurse. She saw the whole thing.) Emasculation by pinning the tag of faggot on the male pop star(s) of the moment is one way our infantile, still homophobic culture attempts to humble its manufactured gods. We don’t even have to bring gerbils into the conversation.
      But hasn’t this “down low” shit run its course by now? Oprah, talk radio, sensationalistic and fear mongering magazine headlines, shady Negro hustlers, pulpits and political fundraisers have all weighed in on the matter, pimping it for dollars and ratings, stoking confusion and distorting very complicated realities. It’s hard to pinpoint when the phrase “down low” exploded into popular consciousness and vocabulary but as we hit the mid-way point of 2007, the term itself is well over fifteen years old. It can be heard on the Pharcyde’s classic 1992 debut CD, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (Delicious Vinyl), on the song, “On the DL.” Interestingly, the track is about instances of non-homo male shame / humiliation / ego / pride, but also – and this is crucial – vulnerability, that have to be kept under the vest. And in 1994, TLC had one of their biggest hits with “Creep,” from the CrazySexyCool CD, a song about a woman whose man is cheating on her so she seeks what she’s being denied by fucking around on him: “I might mess around / It’s only ‘cause I need some affection, oh / so I creep, yeah / Just keep it on the down low / Said nobody is supposed 2 know / So I creep, yeah / ‘Cause he doesn't know what I do / And no attention goes to show, oh / So I creep…
      Downlow. The term’s meaning, always related to some undercover shit, was much more dynamic before becoming associated solely with nefarious Negro male (homo) sexuality. Black music, as it so often does, served as a conduit between ‘hood innovation and the mainstream, bringing fresh-out-the-oven slang to the masses. Or, put another way, cultural artifacts created by the American Negro underclass are forever being used as IVs carrying new ideas, language and energy into the mainstream American body. But shit gets flattened out, oversimplified. Musicality (in all its definitions) and meaning shrink.
      It didn’t help matters that in 2004, best-selling charlatan J.L. King pursued a popular and profitable course for Negroes claiming to offer insider knowledge on the ways and whys of colored folk: confirm hoary, reactionary notions of Negro pathology. In his autobiographical book, “On the Downlow,” in which he charted his course from husband who fucks men behind wife’s back to self-accepting manfucker (with God’s help and boundless love, of course), King uses a lot of pulpy anecdote, a dearth of intelligent social analysis or psychological insight, and recycled homophobic notions to sell his tale of personal redemption. (Which he shares with the world only because he really, really, really wants to help others.) He also exploits and fans widespread fears that brothers on the DL are the culprits behind rising numbers of HIV infection in the African American community, particularly among heterosexual black women.
      His approach was perfectly captured in an April 16, 2004 appearance on “Oprah” in which he employed vaudevillian melodrama (theatrically narrowed eyes, put-on foreboding voice and schoolmarm pursing of his soup-coolers) to tell the largely white female audience, “I want to make a point that this is not just a whi – a black thing. There are a lot of white men who are bisexual. They can’t use the down low label, but they’re bisexual and they’re creeping in from the suburbs or into our neighborhood, because they have a desire to have sex with black men and then going back to their suburbs, to their homes to their wives… I think if this continues, that we’re going to see white women also being infected at the same rate as black women.”
      In one fell swoop, King positions the ‘hood and black male sexuality as a pool of contagion threatening to flood white America’s tower of assumed heterosexual safety. He presents queer / gay black men as having the mythological eroto-magnetic pull long associated with the primitive, corrupting the pristine white male by luring him into the jungle (the ‘hood) and tainting him with lust-borne disease. Where to begin with this nonsense?

If you want to read the rest... you gotta buy the May issue of Flaunt. Or buy my book when it drops this fall.

Blood Beats 1

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blood Beats Vol. 1 wins PEN award

Blood Beats Vol. 1 just won the PEN/Beyond Margins Award.

Click HERE and then scroll to the bottom.

Buy Blood Beats HERE or HERE. (The latter is a link to my publisher's site. Support indies!!!)

Friday, May 18, 2007


      I hate public speaking. It's the one part of being a "writer" that, for me, turns my calling into a chore. I have shrines to the shut-in scribes, those who did the work and were able to send it out into the world with a kiss, a hug, and an "I love you... bye," as they shut the door. But books must be sold, readings must be booked. As a Lammy (Lambda Literary Foundation) finalist, I was part of a group reading tonight at Skylight Books (1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027; 323-660-1175) that included fellow Lammy hopefuls Bettina Aptheker, author of Intimate Politics (Seal Press); Victor Bumbalo, author of Questa (Broadway Publishing); Jennifer Doyle, author of Sex Objects (University of Minnesota Press); Mike Szymanski and Nocole Kristal, authors of The Bisexual's Guide to the Universe (Alyson Publications); and Stuart Timmons, co-author of Gay L.A. (Basic Books). And I have to say, it didn't suck.
      Aptheker was utterly captivating reading her memoir about being a red diaper baby, a dyke whose progressive politics ran afoul of the homophobia of the communist party in which she was raised. I developed an insta-crush on the smart, funny, self-proclaimed fag-hag, Jennifer Doyle, whose reading of her book's preface referenced "Moby Dick," porn's fetish of the big black dick, and preppie couture. But looking into the audience before I read, I panicked. The place was packed (which was good) but 90% of the crowd was easily in the senior citizen demographic, and very, very white. (They were largely there to see Aptheker.) I was reading from my essay, "Punks Jump Up to Get Theirs," about gay rappers and gay fans of rap music... I thought to myself, these people will have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. But they responded incredibly well. I even sold a few books. Still, the best part was shaking that last hand and walking out the door. Came home and a friend had sent me the following story with the email subject line reading, "E... this is so you." I had to laugh. It's true. Excerpt below, followed by the link to the full article.


      Miina Matsuoka lives by herself in New York City. She owns two cats and routinely screens her calls. But before you jump to conclusions, note that she is comfortable hobnobbing in any of five languages for her job as business manager at an international lighting-design firm. She just strongly prefers not to socialize, opting instead for long baths, DVDs, and immersion in her art projects. She does have good, close friends, and goes dancing about once a month, but afterward feels a strong need to "hide and recoup." In our society, where extroverts make up three-quarters of the population, loners (except Henry David Thoreau) are pegged as creepy or pathetic. But soloists like Matsuoka can function just fine in the world—they simply prefer traveling through their own interior universe.
      Loners often hear from well-meaning peers that they need to be more social, but the implication that they're merely black-and-white opposites of their bubbly peers misses the point. Introverts aren't just less sociable than extroverts; they also engage with the world in fundamentally different ways. While outgoing people savor the nuances of social interaction, loners tend to focus more on their own ideas—and on stimuli that don't register in the minds of others. Social engagement drains them, while quiet time gives them an energy boost.


PS -- You can still buy / order all the Lammy finalst's books from Skylight.

Betty Davis is back...

Click here

It's All About the Fros...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tinky Winky Says Bye-Bye to Jerry Falwell

The former TV star recalls the trauma of being called gay by the conservative preacher.

By King Kaufman (

May. 16, 2007 | Eight years ago the Rev. Jerry Falwell warned parents that BBC children's television star Tinky Winky was a hidden symbol of homosexuality. Falwell died Tuesday at 73, and the world wanted to talk to Tinky Winky.

"They're calling again, again, again," he said by phone from his home in Islington, in London. A spokesman said the former "Teletubbies" costar got more than 100 calls from reporters in the hour following news of Falwell's death.

"Oh dear, it's easy to say the wrong thing here," he said. "Tinky Winky sad whenever someone dies, but ..." He left it hanging there.

In a 1999 article in his National Liberty Journal headlined "Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet," Falwell pointed out that Winky could be taken as representing gays.

"He is purple -- the gay pride color, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay pride symbol," Falwell wrote. "The character, whose voice is that of a boy, has been found carrying a red purse in many episodes and has become a favorite character among gay groups worldwide."

In the resulting media firestorm, gay-rights activists called for Winky to come out while Christian groups demanded the BBC fire him so that he couldn't, in Falwell's words, "role-model the gay lifestyle."

"It was traumatizing, really," says Winky, who now owns a holistic healing center and makes occasional appearances on British TV. "I'm a very private Teletubby. I just wanted to get away, go over the hills and far away. But when you're 7 feet tall and purple with an antenna on your head and a TV screen in your belly, where are you going to go?"

Winky says he tried to contact Falwell after the article came out, but the evangelist wouldn't take his calls.

"I wanted to know why he didn't talk to me first," Winky says. "It's not like I'm hard to reach. Have the pinwheel call me. But really I just wanted to clap him on the head with Tinky Winky bag."

The star never has clarified his sexual orientation, insisting on his privacy and denying rumors over the years that he had affairs with two of his costars on the 1997-2001 show, the male Dipsy and the female Po.

"We love each other very much," he says. "Big hug. But it's not like that. It was a kids show, know what I mean? And this Falwell guy and his followers wanted to turn us into something else. We weren't modeling a gay lifestyle and we weren't trying to corrupt anyone's kids. We were just kids ourselves, really. Give us a little Tubby toast or custard and a film of some kids washing clothes or something, that's all we needed. We didn't give a shit about modeling a lifestyle."

Tinky Winky sounds angry. The wounds are still raw.

"I'm just practicing my craft, working for the kids, and all at once the tabloids are everywhere on me," he says. "I couldn't even go out. Was it a gay club? Was I talking to a woman? It was bollocks."

Winky chuckles. "I must say, though," he says, "without getting into too many details, we had a girl in the group who ran around this kids show yelling, 'Cooter! Cooter!' And I'm the gay one? Do me a favor."

Through a spokeswoman, Po declined to comment for this article.

Winky says the Teletubbies stay in touch, and he remains friends with both Dipsy, who owns a nightclub in West London where Winky is often seen, and Po. Winky says he and Laa-Laa never really got along during the show's run, but, "We're fine now. We've come to appreciate each other."

Asked about Falwell's death, Winky turns serious and chooses his words carefully.

"I'm not going to pretend I'm sadder than I am," he says. "There were late nights during the dark times when I wished to hear news like this. I'd be lying if I denied that. I don't feel that way anymore. I like to think I've grown over the years, gotten past all that pain.

"But at the end of the day, I'm not terribly sad, and I think a lot of people feel the same way. Jerry Falwell was a divisive person, a hateful person, and what I've tried to be all about, in the Teletubbies days and since then, has been love. I've got to keep it that way. I don't want anybody feeling good about it when it's my time for Tubby bye-bye."


Monday, May 14, 2007

Shocker: White Males Still Dominate Hollywood Writing Ranks

The "2007 Hollywood Writers Report -- Whose Stories Are We Telling?" was written by Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and professor of sociology at UCLA. Hunt was the author involved in a similar WGAW-commissioned report published in 2005, and he participated in a study of TV employment released by SAG in 2000.

"More than 30% of the American population is nonwhite, yet writers of color continue to account for less than 10% of employed television writers," Hunt noted in an executive summary of the report. "These numbers will likely get worse before they get better because of the recent merger of UPN and the WB into the new CW network, which resulted in the cancellation of several minority-themed situation comedies that employed a disproportionate share of minority television writers.

"The situation is grimmer in film," he added, "where the minority share of employment has been stuck at 6% for years."

The report also documented an earnings disparity for minority TV writers that widened by more than $6,000 between 2004 and '05. The overall median earnings for minority TV writers in '05 was $78,107, compared with $97,956 for white writers.


Video of the Day

Friday, May 11, 2007

Lines of the Day

Line # 1

"As Peter Pears found out, obituaries are places where queers are buried in unmarked graves and where their lovers are Disappeared."

-- from the essay, "A Minute's Noise for John Cage," in John Gills' collection of essays Queer Noises.

Line # 2

(By the way, I really hate it when straight guys think they're being so cool / progressive / enlightened / deep... and then say stupid shit like this.)

"I’m not into dick. I wish I were. It would be so much easier." -- Adam Levine, lead singer of Moron 5. For the rest of his pandering interview with the Advocate, click here.

Video of the Day: La Baker

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Medusa: The Real

Here's a piece I just did for the LA Weekly on local rapper Medusa. There've been some glitches on the Weekly site so you might see some odd and random letters or punctuation marks just dropped in the middle of a word or sentence. Apologies for that. Especially since Medusa gave some really great responses to the questions about the state of hip-hop today, the gentrification of LA's great Negro arts neighborhood, Leimert Park, and her stint in jail. I have a much longer version of the interview that I'm going to try to squeeze into my book.

Here's the link to the interview with Medusa.

I also did a profile on Peter Woods, a young mover & shaker in the LA arts and club scene. Here's an excerpt from the Woods interview:

LA Weekly: It seems that the black arts community in L.A. is being revitalized. A lot of people are doing interesting, vibrant work. How does the view look from where you sit — is that perception accurate or not? And why this resurgence now?

Woods: Since Birth of a Nation, African-Americans have been dealt an identity by those who control the media, whether we identified with that identity or not. The idea of black inferiority has been ingrained into our own self-image to such a degree that it’s caused a sort of psychosomatic self-hate syndrome, producing African-Americans that would rather subscribe to the racist views of the oppressor than redefine our own identity in our society and embrace the rich and full history that is ours. While some will argue quote-unquote ‘artistic freedom’ for artists that pander to these negative images, I say that media representation is very powerful in shaping public perception of us and indeed our own perception of ourselves. And that could be used to turn the tides.

We don’t have the luxury of pursuing artistic freedom when the so-called art is used against us as negative advertising. A good example is the Truth campaign against smoking. For decades, multimillion-dollar organizations were unable to put a dent in rising new-smoker stats. The Truth — using controversial TV commercials, avant-garde public performance art and viral marketing techniques — was able to reduce new smokers between [ages] 16 and 21 by more than 14 percent within two years. The Cancer Society, American Lung Association and others have been around for years and years, and have never been able to do that. And when you really look at that, smoking is more than a tangible product; it’s a lifestyle. The only way you can change a lifestyle is through changing your perspective. I believe we can use this approach to change the perspective of African-Americans, to empower ourselves through this creativity.

Right now, I think African-Americans are getting a clear view of how bad a condition we’re in. With that knowledge coming into view, you have an upsurge of individuals who want to try and address these issues. Once all of these individuals are synchronized into a unified, collective struggle, I believe the amount and impact of this work will increase tenfold.

For the rest of the interview with Woods, click here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

New shit coming soon...

A billion apologies for the long time between updates. I was an English Lit major: when the host site changes shit up on me,I am completely and thoroughly lost. Just figured out the changes and will post new stuff soon.