Sunday, July 29, 2007

Republicans: Shady by definition (swipe)

Two weeks ago, one of the most important Republican lawyers in Sacramento quietly filed a ballot initiative that would end the practice of granting all fifty-five of California’s electoral votes to the statewide winner. Instead, it would award two of them to the statewide winner and the rest, one by one, to the winner in each congressional district. Nineteen of the fifty-three districts are represented by Republicans, but Bush carried twenty-two districts in 2004. The bottom line is that the initiative, if passed, would spot the Republican ticket something in the neighborhood of twenty electoral votes—votes that it wouldn’t get under the rules prevailing in every other sizable state in the Union.

For rest of article, click here

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Depressing But Good Read, Pt. 2

This will be the last post on this topic (for the day, at least) lest I start to read like someone with a foil cap on my head. But this piece underscores the other editiorial I linked to earlier. Only, it shows that it's not just crazy leftists who are concerned about the issue. The headline for the Raw Story piece reads: Old-line Republican warns 'something's in the works' to trigger a police state.

Click here to read the article.

Depressing (but good) read of the day

From the pen of Phil Rockstroh comes an essay that at one time could well have been laughed off as emissions from a paranoid conspiracy theorist. And yet the world we now live in, and the way he grounds his thoughts in history, make it hard to just shrug it off. It's not new news for most of us, but I think what he says here is worth repeating:

In this summer of angst and grim foreboding about what further assaults against common sense and common decency the Bush Administration might inflict upon the people of the world, how many times during the day do those of us -- still possessed of mind, heart and conscience -- take pause, hoping we've seen the worst of it, then, fearing we haven't yet, attempt to push down the dread rising within us, so that we might simply make it through the day and be able to rest at night? Accordingly, those who have been paying attention are aware that the outward mechanisms of martial law are in place. We shudder knowing that Bush has issued an executive decree that grants him dictatorial power in the event of some nebulously defined national emergency. In addition, the knowledge nettles us that a vast network of internment camps bristle across the length of the U.S., standing at wait for those who might raise objections to the fascistic fury unloosed by the American empire's version of the Reichstag fire.

Moreover, a closer look would reveal that the inner processes by which an individual begins the act of acceptance of authoritarian excess -- the mixture of chronic passivity, boredom, low grade anxiety and unfocused rage inherent in the citizens/consumers of the corporate state that primes an individual for fascism -- have been in place for quite some time within the psyches of the American populace, both elites and hoi polloi alike. Although, don't look for torch-lit processions thronging the nation's streets and boulevards; rather, look for a Nuremberg Rally of couch-bound brownshirts. Instead of ogling the serried ranks of jut-jawed, SS soldiers, a contemporary Leni Riefenstahl would be forced to film chubby clusters of double-chinned consumers, saluting the new order with their TV remotes. In the contemporary United States, the elation induced by the immersion of one's individual will to the mindless intoxication of the mob might only be possible if Bush seized dictatorial control of the state while simultaneously sending out to all citizens gift certificates to Ikea.

After the catastrophes spawned by the rise of European fascism in the 1930s, a number of brilliant, original thinkers (including Hannah Arendt, Roberto Freire, Wilhelm Reich, and R. D. Laing) set out to study the phenomenon in order to learn how future calamities might be prevented. Although the methodologies and conclusions of these thinkers varied, each noted that alienation and dehumanization festered at the core of the death urge of fascism.

For the rest, click here

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

KISS: Enrique, Donnie and the heart of man

Un beso. A few weeks ago, during his hot-ticket performance at London’s gay nightclub G.A.Y., hetero heartthrob and erstwhile Latin pop “It” boy Enrique Iglesias freaked his signature stage bit where he plucks a female fan from the crowd and serenades her with his hit, “Hero,” a cookie-cutter I-will-be-your-white-knight pledge of eternal love and heroism. That night, he pulled a young man from the audience, crooned the tune to him (“I can be your hero, baby/I can kiss away the pain/I will stand by you forever/You can take my breath away . . .”), hugged him from behind as he sang, and then ended the song with a tender peck on the guy’s forehead. Audience cell-phone cameras went into overdrive. Within hours, the entire performance was uploaded to YouTube several times over and seen around the globe. (In the comments section of one posting of the clip, a fan wrote in cap-lock hysteria, “OH GOD SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME THAT’S NOT THE REAL ENRIQUE!” — a bit of psychic distress that can only be responded to with ROFLMAO.)

For rest of article, click here.

PS -- The version of Donnie's new CD, The Daily News, that is available at Circuit City has three bonus tracks.

Video of the Day

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back in 5 Minutes

I'm headed to Austin, TX for a writer's retreat. My publisher Lisa Moore has organized a get-together for all her Redbone Press authors and a few folks who have shown us love and support. We're calling it the Redbone Revue. There's a big reading Friday night, July 20th (click here) and the rest of the time, we'll be cooking (there will be Red Velvet cake, cobbler, homemade biscuits and fried chicken, just for starters), and us sharing work, listening to music, and just chilling at the lake that's right outside the house where we're staying. I'll update the blog when I return. In the meantime, enjoy the stuff below.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

At the movies

      I wrote a while back that I would blog about my Michael Moore’s film Sicko, and then spaced on doing it until I received an email reminding me that I said I would. I don’t have a whole lot to add to the reviews that are already out there. It’s an engaging film, filled with justified moral outrage, some well-placed dry humor and some genuinely heartbreaking moments. It's a bit of necessary shit-stirring in the debate on universal healthcare, and it’s on the right side of the argument. I don’t even mind that in the much talked about sequence where Moore gives a boatload of Americans a ride to Cube for free healthcare, the score becomes so laughably self-important and bombastic that I honestly thought the moment was a send-up of Dudley Do-right style posturing. It wasn’t. Shit was being played straight. And the film would have been richer if instead of Moore chatting with clearly well-off French middle class folk and American expatriates living in France, he’d spoken to some of the poor – starting with the immigrants and their car-burning children and grandchildren who live in the suburbs – to get their take on the application of universal healthcare. I mean, they’re the true model of the world that’s coming. Still, the pros easily outweigh the cons with Sicko. See it.
      A problem for me is that I’m not a fan of Moore’s inability to rein in his wide-eyed, faux naiveté when going in for a “gotcha” moment. Even though he’s knowingly playing it up, it just annoys me. But that’s a minor irk. My bigger issue with Moore, and it doesn’t come through so much in Sicko but I think it’s a defining characteristic of the man, is his own class anxiety and snobbery. It’s a humming undercurrent in his work and I can never not hear it.
      You get a telling glimpse of it in his very first film, Roger & Me, where he visits the woman who, in order to support her family after the plants close in Flint, sells rabbit pelts, rabbit meat, etc. Moore’s sneering, condescending handling of the woman was infuriating. Especially from a man who claimed to be down with and fighting for the people. But he was playing to those sheltered, self-righteous liberals on either coast (and I hate his tubby ass for making me sound like Ann Coulter right now)… but it’s true: he was playing to those coast-dwelling liberals who hoist themselves above the unwashed masses – cheering for them in theory and over wine & cheese sessions, but snickering and mocking them when confronted with the truth of their lives. How could he not understand and extend sympathy to this woman’s plight and her solution? He made her seem like a monstrous idiot, in the way he juxtaposed her with the cute and cuddly rabbits she was about to kill. Fuck that. To feed her kids, she went straight Elmer Fudd: Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit. Completely understandable. But I think Moore has a lot of unexamined, complex shame at his blue-collar roots, and it’s resulted in his palpable need to ingratiate himself with the cool kids. You also saw this class anxiety and the performance it sparks in him appear over and over again in Bowling for Columbine… I'm down with his politics. I just think he needs to see a therapist to work through his shit. Click here to read the latest on Moore's well publicized beef with CNN and their biased reporting on his film.

      I loathe show tunes and was all prepared to hate the new version of Hairspray. Instead, I liked it quite a lot except for a couple of moments that set my teeth on edge. (Go here and scroll down for a plot synopsis.) But before I get to those, here’s my take on the rest of the film. John Travolta still can’t act after all these years and initially his self-effacing, whimpering Edna (whose speaking voice was described dead-on by one critic as a cross between Cher and Carol Channing) is incredibly annoying; all you see is the weakness in Travolta’s craft. It makes you long for the sly, smart performance by Divine, who – in the original film version – conveyed volumes about this working class white woman and her dreams deferred, with just the way she warned, “I’ve got clothes to iiiiiiiiiron, and my diet pill is wearing off!” But then, Travolta’s charm (his gift and his crutch) kicks in and the character completely wins you over. Christopher Walken shows up and does a variation on himself. It’s a very “eh” performance: doesn’t suck, doesn’t do much. Michelle Pfeiffer is too thin but still gorgeous, and kills it as a campy, racist villainess. Queen Latifah is that same warm, maternal, glowing character she’s been ever since trading in her African medallion for Farrah flips, but at least the shtick isn’t wrapped in hood rat drag. James Marsden is very, very good and the era suits he wears are beyond cool. (The folks who did the wardrobe for this film earned their wages several times over.) The youngsters in the cast are all especially appealing, with Nikki Blonsky (as Tracy, the lead character) giving big girls a plucky new heroine and Elijah Kelly being set to bring dark-skinned brothers back to center-stage as sex symbols. The songs are energetic toe-tappers whose lyrics are full of wit and humor. And the black girl-group that appears in the film, the Dynamites, prove once again that in terms of total package – sexiness, presence, sheer fierceness – ain’t nobody else seeing the black woman; that game’s on lock.

      Still, two things really bugged me. This is a film about race and the power of race music and black culture to bridge differences. (On that front, the original film – which actually uses real-life old race music and old Negro dances to prove that point – easily trumps the newbie.) But the filmmakers twice unwittingly and tellingly fall into predictable traps. In one scene, in which Tracy needs a dance routine to win a spot on the local talent show, she offhandedly mentions the original dance created by her high school schoolmate Seaweed (Kelly), but then insists she can’t use it since he made it up and should get the glory. “No, you take it!” he grins. And grins… She takes the dance and wins her slot. It’s a laughable glossing over of the way culture “moves and evolves” from the source to the mainstream: Here, baby, take it. I want you to have it. And have all the credit for it too.
      More grating is a scene that follows the black kids being booted from the local TV show by bigots. The young ninjas are sitting around dejected, listless, with no idea what to do next (and you know a ninja without a song is a sad ninja indeed), when fiery Tracy declares that they’re going to fight injustice with a protest march. [Scooby sound of bafflement, here.] It’s not bad enough that even in escapist musicals about racial inequality, white folks conceive and lead the march toward freedom [press play for dejected, listless sigh here] but this remake is actually a step backward from the forward thinking original film, in which the very black, very pissed off Motormouth Maybelle (Ruth Brown) organized the march.
      I think that difference is very illuminating about the contrasting perspectives and visceral politics of so many “minorities” working within the system versus the ways "minorities" working outside the machine see the world and either challenge or perpetuate the bullshit. Even though gay icon John Waters’ Hairspray was a “Hollywood” film and was very safe and toned down by standards he’d already set for himself, it also bore the marks of someone who reflexively torches the status quo and speaks perceptions that go beyond maintenance of familiar bullshit. He's a real outsider who is very secure in that standing; he knows the value of the views it affords him. The largely gay creative team behind the new Hairspray (director Adam Shankman; producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who also produced the film version of Chicago; writer Leslie Dixon, who adapted both the original screenplay and the script for the Broadway musical for this script) are faithful industry cogs, plain and true. They’ve churned out a gleaming, rousing good time – one that at pivotal points highlights the retro in their “Hollywood progressive” vision. I’d love to know why they made the change from Negro determination to having the ninjas need a white savior to show them the way.

Video of the Day

God Bless the Child

      I've been a big fan of Sarah Schulman's for a very long time. I love her frank assessments of the world as it really is, admire her no-nonsense attitude toward tackling issues of oppression and bigotry as experienced by many of us -- layered, complicated and often demoralizing -- and her ballsiness in calling out the culprits. Yet, her books (which can go deep and dark) never give off the whiff of defeat or fatalism, even when the endings are far from happy. My writer's-crush on her deepened a few years ago when I interviewed her (in a Q&A that will appear in Blood Beats Vol. 2) and asked her a question, to which she replied, "I don't know." Blew me the hell away. No one ever says I don't know anymore. No matter how far outside their field of expertise the query, no matter how transparent their ignorance as they bumble through an answer. Their fear and ego won't allow it. My respect for her quadrupled because I knew that what she did answer, I could trust. An old-school New York lefty Jewish lesbian intellectual, she's just dope...

Here's a recent interview I did with her for the LA Weekly to promote her latest book, The Child. (The image accompanying this blog entry is the book's cover.) Click here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Give it up for "Cha Cha"

A Gate-Crasher's Change of Heart:
The Guests Were Enjoying French Wine and Cheese on a Capitol Hill Patio. When a Gunman Burst In, the Would-Be Robbery Took an Unusual Turn.

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer

A grand feast of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp was winding down, and a group of friends was sitting on the back patio of a Capitol Hill home, sipping red wine. Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.

"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he demanded, according to D.C. police and witness accounts.

The five other guests, including the girls' parents, froze -- and then one spoke.

"We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, blurted out. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The intruder took a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, "Damn, that's good wine."

The girl's father, Michael Rabdau, 51, who described the harrowing evening in an interview, told the intruder, described as being in his 20s, to take the whole glass. Rowan offered him the bottle. The would-be robber, his hood now down, took another sip and had a bite of Camembert cheese that was on the table.

Then he tucked the gun into the pocket of his nylon sweatpants.

"I think I may have come to the wrong house," he said, looking around the patio of the home in the 1300 block of Constitution Avenue NE.

"I'm sorry," he told the group. "Can I get a hug?"

Rowan, who lives in Falls Church and works part time at her children's school, stood up and wrapped her arms around him. Then it was Rabdau's turn. Then his wife's. The other two guests complied.

"That's really good wine," the man said, taking another sip. He had a final request: "Can we have a group hug?"

The five adults surrounded him, arms out.

With that, the man walked out with a crystal wine glass in hand, filled with Chateau Malescot. No one was hurt, and nothing was stolen.

The homeowner, Xavier Cervera, 45, had gone out to walk his dog at the end of the party and missed the incident, which happened about midnight June 16. Police classified the case as strange but true and said they had not located a suspect.

"We believe it is a true robbery," said Cmdr. Diane Groomes, who is in charge of patrols in the Capitol Hill area. But it's one-of-a-kind, she said, adding, "I've never heard of a robber joining a party and then walking out to the sunset."

The hug, she said, was especially unusual. "They should have squeezed him and held onto him for us," she said.

Rabdau said he hasn't been able to figure out what happened.

"I was definitely expecting there would be some kind of casualty," Rabdau said this week. "He was very aggressive at first; then it turned into a love fest. I don't know what it was."

Rabdau, a federal government worker who lives in Anne Arundel County with his family and lived on Capitol Hill with his wife in the 1980s, said that the episode lasted about 10 minutes but seemed like an hour. He believes the guests were spared because they kept a positive attitude during the exchange.

There was this degree of disbelief and terror at the same time," Rabdau said. "Then it miraculously just changed. His whole emotional tone turned -- like, we're one big happy family now. I thought: Was it the wine? Was it the cheese?"

After the intruder left, the guests walked inside the house, locked the door and stared at each other. They didn't say a word. Rabdau dialed 911. Police arrived quickly and took a report. They also dusted for fingerprints -- so far, to no avail.

In the alley behind the home, investigators found the intruder's empty crystal wine glass on the ground, unbroken.

The Beating of Black Lawyers

BY Mumia Abu-Jamal

No matter who we are, or where we live, folks in Black America have grown up with the lesson of the importance of education as a tool of social mobility.

That's why lawyers are generally so highly regarded in many Black communities, as people who have undergone years of legal education.

But that respect doesn't go far beyond the community. Cops in Brooklyn, New York recently showed what they thought of lawyers by beating them up! Well-known human rights attorney Michael Tarif Warren, and his wife, Evelyn (also a lawyer), were driving down Brooklyn's Vanderbilt Avenue, when they spotted a Black youth being chased by cops across a McDonald's parking lot.

The youngster was tackled to the ground and handcuffed, when the Warrens saw a Sgt. Talvy begin kicking him in the head, the ribs, and stomping on his neck.

The 2 attorneys stopped their car, walked within 10 feet of the beating, identified themselves (as lawyers), and told the cops to stop beating the youth, and simply take him to the nearest precinct.

The Sergeant's response was to shout, "I don't give a f**k who you are, get the f**k back in your car!" The Warrens returned to the car, where Michael began to write down notes of what he saw, and the license plate numbers of the cop cars present.

Before he could finish his notes Sgt, Talvy walks up to the car, and began to repeatedly punch him through the window, shouting "Get out of the car!"

Warren was then dragged out of his car, his clothes ripped in the process. His wife, obviously upset at these events, demanded to know why he was attacked, and was promptly punched in the face by this same cop! Both Warrens were arrested and driven to the 77th precinct and charged with obstruction, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Within hours hundreds of Brooklynites converged on the precinct, demanding the release of the Warrens. People came from all walks of life, for Tarif has a long history, almost 30 years, of representing people who have been victims of police or prosecutorial misconduct in the city. Groups like the December 12th Movement, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the International Action Center, and many others quickly mobilized support for the Warrens.

In an interview in the New York Daily Challenge, Evelyn Warren spoke for many people when she said, "We are professionals, if they do this to us in broad daylight on a crowded street, what do they do in the dark when no one is around? That's what I'm concerned about."


Friday, July 13, 2007

Don't be throwing no shade...

      I really wanted to like RuPaul’s new film Starrbooty, playing at this year’s LA Outfest. It’s being sold as a return to Ru’s ribald, less MTV-friendly performance roots and the premise seemed just stupid enough to possibly be inspired: The niece of a world-famous supermodel (Ru) is kidnapped by the supermodel’s jealous, longtime professional nemesis and possibly sold to a sex-slave ring. Said supermodel (who is also a high-ranking international spy) then has to go undercover as a low-end streetwalker to infiltrate the business empire of her rival and retrieve her niece. She’s told by her spy-biz boss that when she goes undercover as a ho, she’s gotta keep it real – suck dick, take it up the ass from johns – whatever it takes to maintain her cover. Needless to say, she’ll do whatever it takes to “get my baby back!” So far, so stupid, so promising.
      But execution is everything, and the generically bitchy humor, witless quips and wisecracks, and horribly deadly direction (this shit should buzz fast and furious but it feebly sashays like an aged crackwhore in withdrawal) make it painful. The risqué elements don’t save the film. There’s lots of dick (some of it hard) mainly provided courtesy of real-life porn stars Michael Lucas, Owen Hawk and Gus Maddox; ironically, all of their actual XXX fare has higher production values and greater wit than Starrbooty. But the biggest disappointment is Ru, whose make-up, wigs and drag are all flawless but beneath it all s/he actually looks kinda gaunt and tired. Worse, s/he gives a low-bloodsugar performance; even the neck-rolling and “reads” seem perfunctory. Interestingly, her whole “ghetto ho” shtick comes off as the kind of performance of blackness that black folks who don’t actually hang with black folks do for their white friends. That’s not meant to be one of those bullshit challenges to anyone’s racial authenticity. Ru might hang with more ninjas in a weekend than I have in life. But check the smart, knowing hood-rat satire of this outfit right here and here, then compare it to what Ru and director Mike Ruiz serve up. What does work in the film is the original music, which is bawdy, profane, no-holds-barred sex-rap a la the great poetess of our time, Khia:

      Also check out this overview I did of Outfest and current queer cinema. Excerpt:

      Watching most contemporary queer movies, particularly the American ones, is to see art reflect the downside of the progress achieved in the culture wars, in gays and lesbians securing that much-coveted “seat at the table.” It’s the same banality of vision that so often follows even the slightest triumphs of assimilation: Homogenizing formula sets in and starts to rule as the formerly marginalized start to negotiate power and position with the status quo. The popular or collective imagination — made up of artists and audiences — becomes enslaved to that which is both safe and familiar, even (or especially) when it comes disguised as edgy or subversive fare. It grooves to that which doesn’t threaten whatever ground has been gained, but it also reduces struggle and victory to template. As a result, the same tales get told over and over again, relayed in the same predictable and uninspired ways.

      It’s infantilized art. Think of how small children want the same story read to them over and over; it makes them feel secure, comforted. They get the thrill of the tale, but the uncertainty of outcome has been removed. They know when and how the villain will appear, how the battle will play out, how the villain will be vanquished or the dilemma resolved, and what the ending will be.

For the rest of the article, click here

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Catching up...

      It’s been a minute since I did a proper blog update. Really sorry about that. It’s been pure madness, but in a good way. Two essays written just for Blood Beats Vol. 2 have been bitch-slapping me all across my apartment – one is on Lil’ Kim; the other is on gay hip-hop porn (believe it or not, those are two completely different essays) – but I’m happy with the results. There’s a ton of stuff to catch up on, and I’ll let my A-D-D do the shaping of the freestyle/stream-of-consciousness update that follows...

Do the Naomi Campbell walk, Naomi Campbell walk...

      Kicking off with a photo of Naomi Campbell, just because I love her. Ninety-years old and still fierce. A work-out regime of nothing more strenuous than hurling iPhones at the help twice a week. What I most love about this picture, though, is that it reminds me of the fine, big-legged black women of my southern youth. My father was a leg man (my mother had amazing legs) and it was a fetish passed on in the blood. Ms. Campbell is rocking those Friday/Saturday night grown folks legs, just made for sin. The fuck-me shoes are completely redundant.

You Can't Be Serious...

      So, just 24 hours before the NAACP proved how thoroughly useless they are with their meaningless photo-op / symbolic burial of the "N-word" in downtown Detroit, news dropped that the city's last major grocery chain was high-tailing it outta there. Think about that. A major U.S. city with no major supermarkets. The juxtaposition of news articles tells you everything you need to know about the disconnect between black leadership in this country and the increasingly grim realities facing so many black communities / cities / individuals. Black folks in Motown no longer even have a decent selection of places to buy healthy, fresh food and the NAACP is more concerned with the bullshit symbolic burial of a word that ain't ever gonna die? For serious???
      Having lived in Detroit as a teenager, I know what those "local" stores that are now left to serve the city are like. I lived on Burlingame, between Linwood and Dexter. At the Burlingame / Dexter corner was a store owned by an Arab family, and the dynamic between them and the community they served unfortunately dove-tailed into stereotype. Produce was rarely fresh and you could smell the meat department the minute you walked in the door. But also, the minute you walked in the door, your eyes fell on the elevated platform / office in the far corner, where the owner or one of his sons stood with a shotgun, looking over you while you shopped. This ain't an anti-Arab screed, by the way. 'Cause while I can't forgive the shitty food items, and while I never got used to having a gun trained on me while I was trying to buy a carton of milk, I also know that the frequent robberies and the high amount of shoplifting used to justify the artillery (the reasons also cited for the major grocery chains abandoning the city) were very real, and unfortunately fed right into the preconceptions of black folk as criminal. The fact that the vast majority of shoppers were law abiding, hard-working, honest folk was lost to the fear and frustration sparked by that fucked up few. I myself have no solutions to offer. But I do know that the ceremonial gesture of burying the word "nigger" ain't going to improve the very real crises afflicting Detroit or the rest of black America.


      I’m not a huge TV on the Radio fan but I am a big fan of this song and the clip for it, which I recently reviewed in an overview of the Los Angeles Film Festival’s music video side-bar. It’s just incredibly refreshing to see representations of black masculinity and black creativity that are not pressed from the corroded template of current, reductive hip-hop with its rote / one note physicality and shrunken notions of imagined possibility. This crinkled, artfully weathered homage to old wolfman horror films puts me in the fan-boy zone in a way no rap video has in ages.

DVD Review (from my current DVD column in FLAUNT)

LA HAINE (France, 1995) B&W, 97 minutes. DVD. Starring Vincent Cassell, Hubert Kounde, Said Taghmaoui.
      This year’s presidential election in France showed the country still reeling from the aftershocks of the massive civil unrest that ripped through the country two years ago. Triggered by a fatal, still murkily controversial encounter between three teenagers and the police, the subsequent chaos – symbolized by the hundreds of random cars set on fire by rioters over the course of many nights – lasted over three weeks, bringing international attention to France’s unemployment crisis among its youth (particularly those of African and North African descent), it’s not-so-latent racism, and the exacerbated difficulties inherent in forging a truly multi-cultural society. The vented rage and widespread destruction was just one more bit of proof that the complicated issues surrounding immigration are global issues. But Francophile cinephiles felt like they were experiencing a strange déjà vu.
      In 1995, when then 29-year-old writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz dropped his film La Haine (Hate) on the world, it was exactly akin to throwing a brick through a pristine museum window. For those who saw the prescient film, and took heed of its message, the image of France that had long been by much of the world and by much of France itself, was shattered. Kassovitz took the viewer to the suburbs of the country, the banlieue districts, where housing projects are home to second (and now third) generation children of assorted immigrants. They’re birthright Frenchmen who are excluded from the vaunted, if not mythological, largesse and progressiveness of their country. In a bonus introductory interview included with the fantastic Criterion issue of La Haine, Jodie Foster, whose production company helped the film secure a U.S. release, notes that, “It’s about France as it is now, which is something a lot of Americans didn’t know but a lot of French people didn’t either.” (Tellingly, in the way that even the most volatile of social or political issues can be absorbed into the corporate machinery and spit out as entertainment, this same dynamic and milieu were the backdrop for the ludicrous but hugely enjoyable 2004 film District B13, directed by Pierre Morel and co-written by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri.)
      Though the central friendship of Vinz (Vincent Cassell) a white Jew, Hubert (Hubert Kounde) a black man of African descent, and Northern European descended Said (Said Taghmaoui), is painfully schematic, Kassovitz puts flesh on concept through smart and often very funny writing that may come as a shock to those who only know of the film through its somewhat distorted reputation. The characters are fully drawn, and so is their perfectly captured dead-end life. Jump-starting this post-adolescent coming-of-age-film-cum-road-movie is the introduction of a gun in the mix, which becomes the multi-hued trio’s entryway to a world of high stakes violence and criminality.
      What the Criterion re-issue does first and foremost is remind you what a striking film La Haine is – from the gorgeous black and white film to the carefully composed scenes (which Foster very insightfully comments upon) to the artful use of politically charged music (the soundtrack is stellar), Kassovitz blows you away with his technique. The film is beautifully put together. Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese influences are obvious but also synthesized into the director’s own style, to serve his site-specific story; they’re far evolved beyond the mimicry that lesser directors loop-hole out of by claiming homage. But all of that is put in the service of a timely story that has only become more urgent with the passing of time. And will likely continue to do so. (Criterion)

Buy Blood Beats Vol. 1 at Amazon here


      One of the trickier psychological aspects of what I do for a living is the celebrity interview process. You meet someone you’ve probably never met before but who usually comes shrouded in at least some myth or preconception, and you have to forge an immediate intimacy that both parties know is fake, that will hopefully unveil some truths, and is really about nothing more than selling product. It’s a lot of bullshit. Sometimes the subjects are game and it becomes a game of mutual seduction. Sometimes the basic human chemistry just doesn’t click and the whole thing becomes a nightmare. Luckily, I’ve met some really cool people who have made the process fun and illuminating: These guys, this sister duo, this genius (her rep has her marked as moody and difficult but all four times I’ve interviewed her, she’s been a sweetheart), and the greatness that is her. And then there’s Kim Hill. I probably can’t ever interview her again because she’s become a friend, and the conflict of interest would be major. I know I would just end up writing a press release. After the second interview, she turned to me and said, “You know you have to hurry up and run this so we can come out of the closet and be the friends we are meant to be.”
      She’s funnier and more dope than I’ve yet captured, which frustrates me. (I have interviewed her twice; both pieces will be in Blood Beats Vol. 2. One is previously unpublished; the other is here.) Check out these clips to get some idea of just how bad she is.


      Negroes, remember when you took such smug comfort in the fact that despite the perception of criminality being a defining and rampant element of the Afro Am community, there was some shit that black folks, even the most criminal-minded, just did not do? That we just left to the melanin-free? Those days are long gone, of course. We’ve had snipers, hip-hop cannibals and now we have some shit that literally made me both gag and tear up when I read it: The story of the 35-year-old immigrant Haitian mom who was gang-raped by a group of ten teenagers and then forced to perform sex with her 12-year-old son. I mean, what do you even say about that? The story is here if anyone wants to read up on it but I’m posting this item mainly to provide info for anyone who’d like to help this woman and her son out. I know there are a billion really good and worthwhile causes vying for your hard earned cash but if anyone can donate to this family, please do. Funds can be sent to the following:

St. Ann's Catholic Church
310 N. Olive Avenue
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Checks can be made payable to the Dunbar Village Victim Assistance Fund - St. Ann's
You can also call the church at (561) 832-3757

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Don't Wanna Be a Part of a Scandal" -- Ultra Nate

Lots of handwringing and moralizing about LA's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fucking a hot reporter (whose access was clearly greater than anyone had imagined) and cheating on his apparently long-suffering wife. This column in the LA Times made me laugh with its closing lines: "It's sad, and incredibly stupid. Villaraigosa frittered away his first two years in office. This player is close to striking out. He better lay some solid wood on the ball."

Ain't laying solid wood what got him into trouble in the first place?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Luther Vandross Box-set

As mentioned in a previous post, I wrote the liner notes for the Luther Vandross box-set that drops in September. I just got the go ahead from Leo Sacks who (along with Brian Chin and Ray Bardani) produced the set, to post up the song list as it stands right now. The FINAL repertoire is pending final licensing clearances. Here it is:

Producers: Leo Sacks, Ray Bardani & Brian Chin
June 29, 2007


1. Ready For Love (Previously unreleased demo)
2. If You Can't Dance (Previously unreleased demo)
3. Meet Luther Vandross
(Promotional single introducing LV to radio programmers)
4. The Glow of Love (Performed by Change)
5. Never Too Much (Extended version)
6. Don't You Know That?
7. A House Is Not A Home
8. Bad Boy/Having A Party
9. Since I Lost My Baby
10. She Loves Me Back
11. Who's Gonna Make It Easier For Me (Duet with Delores Hall)
12. If This World Were Mine (Duet with Cheryl Lynn)
13. How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye (Duet with Dionne Warwick)
14. Superstar/Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do) (Album mix)

1. If Only For One Night
2. Creepin'
3. Wait For Love
4. 'Til My Baby Comes Home
5. It's Over Now
6. The Night I Fell In Love

The Montserrat Sessions
(Intimate live recordings, previously unreleased)
7. There's Only You
8. Anyone Who Had A Heart
9. So Amazing

10. Give Me The Reason
11. Stop To Love
12. There's Nothing Better Than Love (Duet with Gregory Hines)
13. So Amazing
14. For You To Love
15. Here And Now

1. Love The One You're With
2. The Best Things In Life Are Free (Duet with Janet Jackson)
3. Funky Music (Is A Part of Me) (Performed by the group Luther)
4. Georgy Porgy (Performed by Charme)
5. Power of Love/Love Power
6. Don't Want To Be A Fool
7. I Want The Night To Stay
8. Endless Love (Duet with Mariah Carey)
9. Any Love
10. Knocks Me Off My Feet
11. Your Secret Love
12. Never Let Me Go
13. Can Heaven Wait
14. The Closer I Get To You (Duet with Beyonce Knowles)

1. Isn't There Someone
2. Dance With My Father
3. Take You Out
4. I'd Rather
5. Buy Me A Rose
6. Shine
7. Got You Home
8. Jump To It (Performed by Aretha Franklin)
9. Hot Butterfly (Performed by Gregg Diamond Bionic Boogie)
10. Searching (Live at Wembley Arena)
11. Always And Forever (Live at The Royal Albert Hall)
12. Medley: Windows of The World/What The World Needs Now
(Live at Hammerstein Ballroom)
13. The Lady Is A Tramp (Duet with Frank Sinatra)
14. A House Is Not A Home (Live at Radio City Music Hall, previously