Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day

It's all about Riff-Tina...

Last Week, in Review

Brought to you by the letter B

      There’s not much I can add to existing commentary on the jaw-dropping idiocy (and clear mental issues) of 20-year-old Ashley Todd, who seemingly took a Crayola crayon to her face, wrote a backwards but perfectly formed version of the second letter in the alphabet, and then claimed that a scary (but politically aware) Negro thug had carved a “B” for Barack into her cheek. It speaks volumes about the depths of Republican desperation and depravity that the transparent bullshit of Todd’s claims was ignored and racial flames were stoked in last-ditch efforts to “win” the election. Still, it’s fitting that as the presidential campaign finally winds to an end, it circles back to the beginning(s). Right from the start, when the Democratic hopefuls were battling it out for their party nomination, the complicatedly violent, myth-strewn history of black male / white female dynamics was in play. Hilary and Barack were in a waltz that predates their existences but whose music dictated the terms on which they interacted. Barack had to be especially attuned to the ways his spoken language, body language and demeanor would be interpreted as he did battle with Mrs. Clinton, lest he be (re)cast as something straight outta Birth of a Nation.
      Todd, fed by the apocalyptic racial fury that's been giddily stoked by the McCain campaign, tapped right into that agonized history of the savage, rampaging Negro and the delicate flower of white womanhood. Should Barack win the election, this is only a harbinger of things to come. This country’s running on parallel tracks as it heads into future, but with the two trains headed into wildly divergent imaginings of what that future is or could/might be. The multi ethnic/racial/cultural hordes supporting Barack might actually have greater numbers on their side but the country’s ingrained racism and white supremacy is far from wobbling on its last legs. Shit’s gonna be interesting the next four years.
Sight + Sound of the Day

Noah's Creaking Arc

      Almost ten years ago, I was in the sold-out audience at the Sundance film festival when Patrick-Ian Polk’s film Punks sashayed into the world. There’d been a huge amount of buzz around Punks right from the start of the festival. Posters for the film hung all over Park City. Reportedly, there was going to be a huge, splashy VIP-filled post-screening party sponsored by MTV (and co-sponsored, I think, by Vogue but memory is fuzzy on that.) It was that year’s must-see title and it seemed like everybody wanted a ticket. After standing in a never-ending line, I grabbed a seat with my brother Billbrown, who was attending the festival that year, and we settled in for what was touted as a revolutionary film about the lives of four colored homosexual best friends. We really wanted to like the film. But it was not good.
      When doing press for the film, Polk announced that he’d been inspired to make Punks after sitting through too many white-boy queer films such as Broken Hearts Club and seeing either no representation of black men, or seeing those lives marginalized. And that was a large part of the problem with Punks. (Weak acting, writing and direction were the rest.) The film felt reactive, pitched in truth toward someone else’s gaze and approval (guess who) while claiming to be unapologetically about the lives of colored homos. A hodge-podge of pop culture references, diva worship and drag musical performances (set to the music of Sister Sledge) swirled around the story of Marcus (Seth Gilliam, of "Oz" fame) a shy, bespectacled, successful fashion photographer and Darby (Rockmund Dunbar) the gorgeous, straight-but-homo-friendly guy who moves in next door and sets Marcus’ heart aflutter. When the film was finally released in theaters and I reviewed it, I wrote that Polk’s cameo in a party scene in which he is shown dancing with and then kissing a generically attractive blonde guy seemed the whole reason for the film's existence. That kiss, that embrace. That validation.
      I’ve always been kinda cool on “Noah’s Arc,” Polk’s hit cable TV series about the lives and loves of four colored homo friends living in Los Angeles / West Hollywood. I’ve watched it, chuckled a bit and even gotten caught up in the arc of storylines. But I kept it at arm’s length largely because of its being drawn from (and not substantially veering enough away from) the template of “Sex & the City.” Black faggotry modeled on vapid white womanhood is backwards-motion in the quest for forward motion on black gay / gay black representation. And this is speaking as someone who was a fan of “Sex & the City” for its first few seasons. But as I wrote recently about the “Sex & the City” TV show when reviewing the Sex & the City movie for my Flaunt DVD column:

The first two seasons of HBO’s cultural juggernaut "Sex & the City" centered on the character Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), presenting her as a witty, fashionable, smart but fallible, recognizably flawed woman cruising through her ‘30s, trying to make sense of being single in modern Manhattan. She was desirous of a romantic relationship but didn’t always possess the best judgment in men or her own actions. Her emotional support system consisted of three starkly different “types,” none of whom would likely hang out with the others in real life. But the show often crackled with quick, insightful writing and solid acting. Its best moments captured something about female camaraderie and internality that rang true. There was more than a little melancholy and fear in the emotional currents explored, along with some fear-based desperation, that added texture to the sitcom sheen of the whole package. But somewhere around season three, Carrie became insufferable – a narcissistic, cloying, emotionally devolving creature whose trying-too-hard fashion get-ups often bordered on the avant-ridiculous and were a rich metaphor for the direction in which the character was nudged over time. But this is also when the series became interesting and accidentally brave in ways cast and creators hadn’t intended. Carrie became a caricature of her former imperfect (but appealing) self in scarily accurate reflection of the ways that so many LA & NY women do – particularly those who are slaves to trends and media-dictated notions of what viable, attractive womanhood is. She became shrill, stupid and repetitive. Sex & the City: The Movie stays the character and the film in that groove.

     I reviewed the film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom for the LA Weekly last week (click here for the review) and unfortunately my key point was lost to my editor’s delete button. I wrote, “Noah’s Arc, both the cable television series and the Jumping the Broom movie that it’s spawned, belong in that category of pop art that’s important but not necessarily good.” I went to see the movie again over the weekend, to take it in with a crowd of folks who actually had to pay to see it, and I may have been the only person in the sold-out auditorium who was not completely besotted with it. But my original critique stands. On top of a lot of weak acting, a visual style that’s not up to the task of bringing the viewer into Polk’s fetishizing of “the good life,” and some unforgivably wack fashion choices (at least three times during the press screening I attended several weeks back, I uttered “Tha fuck is he wearing?” when Noah appeared onscreen), the big problem is that there’s just too much crammed into a script that is simultaneously thuddingly heavy-handed and underdeveloped in its rush to affirm a status quo of consumerism and class snobbery, and to mindlessly embrace gay marriage on the most hackneyed of terms, all amongst a whole buncha other plot-lines, sub-plots and tangential issues. [SPOILER: Early in the film, Wade makes a comment that illustrates his assumption that he and Noah will at some point be parents. Noah’s facial reaction makes it clear that wasn’t necessarily part of his plan. The subject is completely dropped, though, until the end of the film when Noah – with no further conversation on the subject having transpired – approaches Wade and grins that of course he wants children… just not right away. Polk has no interest in digging into the grit of what marriage & parenthood might really mean for queer folk. He and his characters simply lust for signifiers of the status quo and their soothing marks of validation. Why bother with the messiness of real thoughtfulness?]
     The fact of the film’s existence is… a triumph. Undoubtedly. That a camera was turned on black male bodies that are gay / queer / same-gender-loving, with the final product put up on silver screens across the country (albeit in very limited release) is no small thing. And part of the enthusiasm behind its reception is the hunger of folks to see something of themselves and their concerns authenticated through the pop culture machine. I get that. But I can’t help but put the film’s release in the context of this year being the one in which we saw the re-issue of the classic Negro homosexual literary anthologies In the Life and Brother to Brother after years of both being out of print. (Props to my publisher, Lisa Moore of RedBone Press, for bringing them back.) While tackling everything from AIDS to racism, from self-hatred to the joys & hardships of men building lives with other men, the books in sum were radical for claiming subjectivity for Negro homosexuals by making it clear that Afro homos aren’t just white fags in blackface, that they aren’t all jonesing to be women (white or otherwise), and that the approval of white queer establishments and gatekeepers (or the approval of self-appointed black cultural gatekeepers, for that matter) are not high on the list of shit desired by a sizeable number of this particular minority. The work of Patrick-Ian Polk, despite whatever flickers of subversive progress he shows (the scene of Noah braiding Wade’s hair in Jumping the Broom is lovely) or the still-fledgling artistry he’s growing into (the inspired showcasing of the great Phoebe Snow as a wedding singer in the film, and then letting her steal the show) feels like a couple of steps backwards.

PSThis clip is sexier than anything I’ve seen in any American film (queer or straight, Negro or Keebler) in ages. Not x-rated but may not be safe for work.

Station break:

Long Lasting Flava

I don’t yet have any photos from the first Blow Pop! club thrown by the New Ninjas collective (of which I am ¼) but it was pretty fucking amazing. The crowd was a lovely multi-generational, multi-racial mix that spawned the exact chill, friendly, house-party vibe we’d hoped for. Our two DJs, Kim Hill and Kim Blackwell, turned it out with funky/sexy/soulful sets that included the music of Tricky / Shirley Caesar / Prince / Side Effect / classic LaBelle / Aaliyah / Maze / Stevie Wonder / the Jacksons... my mind is blanking on it all. What pleased me most was seeing a turnout that simply looked like Los Angeles. Our Asian brothers and sisters were well repped; the Latino contingent showed up full force; the Negroes definitely held it down. My friend Lisa came up to me at one point and laughingly apologized ‘cause her crew was “dancing like white girls.” And they were. But it was nothing but love ‘cause those white girls were the first ones to take to the dance-floor and among the last to leave. What made the night a success for me personally: My friend Joshua had had a really rough day. He’s an Iranian Jew who’s converted to Islam, and whose full beard and traditional attire get verbal darts thrown at him almost daily, from all sides; that day had been especially rough for him. But at one point late in the evening, he turned to me with a smile, squeezed my shoulder and said, “This has been the best night…” One of the Kims was concerned at first that folks weren’t dancing too tough; she couldn’t tell if they were having a good time or not from her vantage point behind the turntables. But they were. Heads were nodding, crews were intermingling and steeping outside the circle of friends they'd come with to connect with new folks; shoulders were swaying and people were singing along to the songs. My mouth fell open when a young Asian cat lost his mind to the opening notes of Side Effect, and then proceeded to sing along to the song. It was just a very chill time. The short films we played at the start of the night were a big hit, and gave me some ideas for curating the film section of our next night, which is going to be on November 21st @ Club Fais Do Do. Come check us out.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sight + Sound of the Day

Following up on my post from yesterday (see below), this clip is from one of my favorite internet folks / hip-hop intellectuals (and so many folks have assigned themselves that label that I rarely take it, or anyone who calls themselves it, seriously) / and an all-around generally very cool dude:

BONUS: Classic Truth... More relevant today than when released

Friday, October 17, 2008

R.I.P. Levi Stubbs (June 6, 1936 - Oct. 17, 2008)

Levi Stubbs was one of my all-time favorite singers. Whenever folks say that Motown lacked soul or grit (a mongoloidian argument in the first place) I ask them if it's possible that they 1) are deaf 2) never heard anything by the Four Tops. The quartet's frontman Levi Stubbs had one of those voices: raw, gritty, passionate, large, magnificently and unyieldingly masculine, vulnerable. He was so under-rated.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

James Brown: Portal of Possibility

I first presented this paper at the James Brown symposium that was hosted by Princeton earlier this year. I later tweaked it a bit, and it's been published in the last issue of Flaunt magazine. I'm gonna build on it some more for another writing project I have coming down the road. I hope you enjoy the excerpt. (Folks who are in LA and who show up at the club I'm co-hosting tonight, October 17th, at Club Fais Do Do will get a free copy of the current issue of Flaunt as long as we have it in stock. Supplies are limited. For more info on the club, click here.)

      I was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1966; lived there until I was fourteen. James Brown recorded and released “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” in 1968. In the world into which I was born, James Brown already loomed large. Godlike. In some part because of him, his influence and what he unleashed, I grew up in world of dashikis and dress pants, black power fists and high-heeled pimps. I also grew up surrounded by female family members with afros, perms, hot combed locks and assorted styles of wigs. I don’t recall there ever being familial tension or debate over styles of hair or the depth of one’s blackness based on how hair was worn.
      For summer vacations, my sister and I traveled north to visit my mother’s side of the family in Detroit. Often when we visited we’d attend the summer school classes taught by my aunt. One year, when I was about 6 and my sister was 5, my aunt’s school put on an end-of-summer-session program. I’ll never forget being in her classroom, which was at least half full of white kids (Detroit’s crippling white exodus was in full effect but not yet complete), and having her turn on the record player to teach her class the song they’d be performing during the assembly: James Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
      My sister and I, young Negro Southerners already deep-fried in awareness of racial divides, looked at each other with wide eyes and open mouths. We already knew that the thrill we felt fizz in our bellies as we sang along to Brown’s anthem was directly related to us saying something daring, culturally verboten. Even a child knew the song was transgressive. Seeing those white kids yell the words in unison with their black schoolmates (many of whom would throw up the black power fist, jack-in-the-box style) simply fucked us up. It would be years before I connected the dots and saw how brilliant, layered and radical that school performance really was. (It would also be many more years before I learned that the racial make-up of the kids singing along on Brown’s actual recording was largely white and Asian.)
      Fast-forward to my teen years, and the seeds of hip-hop that were planted when I was in junior high school are now starting to sprout all over the country, throughout black American culture and the white mainstream. By the time I’m in college, hip-hop’s music – rap – has grown well beyond its party anthem origins to become an expression of black pride, black resistance, searing black consciousness. It seemed directly sprung from the root known as Mr. Brown. Even the work that didn’t sample him was clearly spawned by him – his music and musicians, his lyrics, his staggering bravado and swaggering black masculinity. Hetero masculinity.
      But I noted another connection between the work of James Brown and the rap of the mid ‘80s to early ‘90s. For the young me, Mr. Brown and his music had slowly become synonymous with a certain black maleness – and, by extension, a certain realm of blackness itself – that mocked and excluded me. Exiled me to the margins of my own people. Black folk exile other black folk all the time for a host of reasons; some of us go into self-exile for a host of reasons. At the root of both those actions is often the specter of the disapproving father. As a baby Negro faggot growing up in the American south, I began to recoil from the man and his music due to the sexist and homophobic politics, vibes and personas for which his music seemed to be or become a soundtrack. Icons are metaphors whose meaning is not static. What swings one man toward freedom hangs another man from a noose. I chose not to swing that way.
      With the rise of politicized, nationalistic rap music, I felt an uncomfortable déjà vu with the homophobia and misogyny of both so much of the music, and with the strain of black maleness that employed it as a soundtrack. My younger self had protected my psyche by eventually sidestepping James Brown’s music without consciously knowing why, without fully being able to articulate or even fully understand why I was distancing myself from something that I had once so deeply loved, that had moved me and spoken to me. But with a lot of the rap I heard in my late teens and early twenties, I was immediately able to name the source of my discomfort and disgust. I held the music and much of hip-hop culture at arm’s length, fully knowing why.
      Still, it took years for me to even really acknowledge the distance between James Brown and myself. I own thousands of CDs and almost no James Brown. Male artists who were his contemporaries in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s claim ample space on my shelves: Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, the Temptations and Four Tops, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye. These men, for me, were portals of possibility. In their elegance, their grit, their cool black maleness, I could not only see something of myself (or the self I hoped to one day be), but I could also still feel myself part of the larger black community when immersed in their work. Their music forged connection between me and mine. It was shared. The pride they stoked in me and the men around me didn’t so obviously dovetail into notions of blackness from which I was exempt. James Brown, by contrast, had become the voice of black patriarchy, the disapproving father.

Sight + Sound of the Day

I wish I could embed this truly fantastic clip in which a U.S. Marine goes the fuck off on McCain/Palin supporters for their assorted bigotries but that option was disabled on YouTube. Instead, you gotta click HERE for this bracing dash of reality check. There are no "offensive" images but the language is most definitely not work safe. Do check it out. The much blogged and emailed YouTube clips just below are what sparked the man's glorious tirade:

And then there's this gem that first lit up the blogosphere and was then reported by the LA Times (among others):

From the Times:

A Republican women's club in San Bernardino County sent out a recent newsletter with a photo of Barack Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelon and ribs, sparking widespread outrage and rebuke from GOP leaders and Democrats.

The illustration shows the Democratic presidential candidate's head atop a donkey's body on a bogus $10 bill referred to as "Obama Bucks." Inscribed on the money are the words "United States Food Stamps" surrounded by stereotypical African American food.

The October newsletter went out to about 200 members of the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated, based in Upland.

"I apologize to anyone who was offended because that was not my intent," said club President Diane Fedele. "It was poor judgment on my part. It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of Obama's statement that he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." The caption reads: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on ????? Food Stamps, what else!"

Fedele said the mailer merely parodied the statements Obama made during a debate last summer and wasn't racist.

Full story at link, here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New Ninjas present: BLOW POP!

click image to enlarge

The New Ninjas Present: BLOW POP!
Friday, October 17th 9pm to 2am.
At Fais Do-Do: 5257 W. Adams Blvd. Los Angeles, 90016
DJ Sets by Kim Squared (Kim Blackwell / Kim Hill)
Films by PSTOLA (Jason Van Veen) + some surprises
Ernest Hardy will be signing copies of Blood Beats Vol. 2
$5 cover
Come for the catfish, stay for the fun...

      This Friday night, some friends (Kim Hill, Jason Van Veen, Kim Blackwell) and I are hosting a house-party/basement-party style get together at Fais Do Do. The goal is simple: Fun. It ain't about trend-chasing, networking, star-gazing, or name-dropping. It's about a vibe, a groove, a "white / black / Puerto Rican / everybody's just a freakin'" kinda thing. We kept the admission low ($5) so you can splurge on food (Fais Do Do has a great menu) and drinks, have a good time without breaking your bank. Kim Hill will be selling and signing copies of her CD ($10); I will be selling and signing copies of Blood Beats Vol. 2 ($20). Jason Van Veen is hosting a presentation of some of the great short films he made with his crew PSTOLA, and tossing a few surprises in the cine mix. The 2 Kims will be spinning hip-hop, funk, soul, rare groove, disco... Just bring open ears, an open mind, and all your friends. Doors actually open at 8, with the first half hour or so of the night being a mid-tempo groove thang. The films kick off around 8:45, and the first Kim starts spinning around 9:30. Dress code: Just make sure your tasty bits are covered, and you're good to go.

Fais Do Do
Kim Hill
Kim Blackwell
Jason Van Veen
New Ninjas