Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Nice Change of Pace

The news is so often filled with tales of Negro youth gone wild that this is a refreshing change of pace. And these boys are from my birthplace and hometown of Birmingham, AL.


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Penn State. The University of Chicago. Cornell. The University of Georgia. Johns Hopkins.

Logan Dawson stopped. He thought for a second. After naming eight schools, he turned to one of his high school administrators.

"Do you have the whole list?'' he asked. "I can't pull it out of my brain right now.''

That may be because the 17-year-old's list of college acceptances is 26 schools long. His twin brother's tally is almost as high — Ryan Dawson opened 22 congratulatory letters this year inviting him to campuses across the country.

Along with those acceptances, the brothers received a combined $3.58 million in scholarship offers, in addition to $67,000 in outside scholarships.

Rest of story is here

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Odious Couple

I've made no secret of the fact that the "symbolism" of Obama sitting in the White House doesn't really impress me. My own politics are far too left (almost in caricature, admittedly) for me to swoon at "symbolism," no matter how powerful it may be. And while I do think there is enormous potential for change/rebirth/what-have-you with an Obama presidency, I think it primarily lies in his inspiring folks to roll up their sleeves and get involved, to turn hope into action they-own-damn-selves. That is not an inconsiderable thing. So despite my fervent belief that any candidate who even makes it this far in the race for president of the United States is already bought and owned, I do intend to cast my vote for him. I think the "symbol" might well translate into substance via what it means for and to real people, of all races, what it might move them to do for self and others.

I really had no feeling one way or another toward the Clintons when this race for the Democratic nomination began. I now think they're vile, odious people. Their race-card shenanigans peaked (but probably not) last week when Mrs. Clinton told USA Today, "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on." She then cited a United Press article, "that found how Senator Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There's a pattern emerging here."

That's old news, of course, and the Negro blogosphere had a field day ripping her a new asshole for the oil-soaked-keebler equation that white America = hardworking, real Americans. Her recent landslide win in the West Virginia primary played out just as her racist pandering intended, and this news video clip (shot just before the primary) makes it clear just who the Clinton fan base is, and how successfully she stroked them before they entered the voting booth:



Looking beyond the election, I think the days of Bill getting love in Harlem are over. No more fried chicken, peach cobbler and Negro good will floating through the sky. No more butter pecan air kisses. I imagine that from now on when Bill strolls Harlem streets, the air will be filled with those two classic ball competition dismissives. ("Ball" as in voguing, not Fred & Ginger.):

1) Boo, bitch, boo.

2) Ho, sit down.

Negro political commentary: Succinct, raw, unambiguous.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tardy Slips...

I haven't updated in a while and am trying to make up for it in a big way. Work, researching and applying for grants, hustling up writing gigs... it's all eaten up my time. This post is me playing catch-up and writing about a host of things I've been meaning to blog about for a while, and below it are a few other new posts. Kick me back some comments so I'll know if folks are still even checking this place out...



      I have to admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Gnarls Barkley. I have loved the idea of them and their music much more than I do/did their actual art. Much like the over-hyped Grey Album by the duo’s knob-twirling half, Danger Mouse, I’ve thought them to be a notion not fully brought to fruition – though they created some fantastic moments, and the new CD, the Odd Couple, is better than the first. They’ve benefited greatly from the fact of a growing number of music fans jonesing for new manifestations of both “pop” and “black” creativity, some post-thug relief, something at least semi adult. Though I think the hipster fan-base that embraced them initially has been unfairly used to label (and even stigmatize) the duo, their video for “Run” seemed to suggest that they were explicitly playing to that demographic, regurgitating old-school hip-hop cultural emblems (in this case, the classic cable access hip-hop show, “Graffiti Rock”) in slickly packaged lo-fi homage that's been cooked to feed the voracious vampire appetite of the self-consciously, laboriously hip/cool kids. (And you can’t really blame Gnarls for that. As artists, you walk that tightrope of expressing yourself unfettered, and stroking the egos of those folks who actually open their wallets to support you.) It didn’t help that the “Run” video featured the endlessly irritating Justin Timberlake as the show’s host. Here’s a clip from the original show, followed by the Gnarls tribute video.





      The new video for “Going On,” the best track on their new album, is something else altogether. More than a little reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s music short for “Got Till It’s Gone,” the Jamaica-set “Going On” positions sci-fi transcendence in everyday Black experience. The “everyday” itself is rendered slightly askew, an artfully rendered, poetically heightened landscape that’s dry, dusty and inexplicably beautiful. The camera strokes and kisses pointedly brown bodies, and not just those (ostensibly/obviously) kissed by white bloodstreams. I absolutely love this:


      Now that the great diva showdown of 2008 has narrowed the battle down to two (Madonna and Mariah) and sent the third (Janet) scampering into what would appear to be permanent exile from MTV and pop chart relevance, I wanna pour out a little liquor for the career of Janet Damita Jo Jackson. Her CD Discipline was far from great but it wasn’t horrible; it was largely just… blah. And it certainly wasn’t worse than Madonna’s or Mariah’s latest. But radio refuses to forgive Janet and MTV has been half-hearted at best in their support. “Feedback,” the first single, made the mistake of being tailor-made for club speakers, not the gnat gadgetry of iPods. Yes, lyrically it's silly and adolescent (as have been the lead singles from Madonna and Mariah) but its sonic texture gives up its full power on a dance-floor equipped with a good system. Second single “Rock With U” is a slice of pop-House perfection. And the video is one of Janet’s all-time best:



Everything about the video is retro: the late ‘90s/early '00s airy-House groove, the kinda ‘80s club-kid gear and make-up of the dancers. The dancing in the clip has a fluidity within its tightly constructed choreography that is quite lovely, bringing human dimension back to the militaristic style of dancing that long ago ceded warmth to cold precision. I love the gentle, guiding hand of the black queen on Jan’s back as she glides the fallen diva through this den of dance-floor redemption. That post-coital walk as Janet leaves the main room and staggers down the hall is sexy as fuck – part drag queen camp, part movie star vamp. There’s something brave to the point of being foolhardy about this as a choice of second single. American radio (especially the wasteland that is contemporary “urban” radio) wasn’t ever gonna play it, though Janet’s pre-scandal star power might have been able to push through the biases. But it seems kind of clear that Janet’s music career, barring some sort of final-hour reprieve, is done.

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I love the D to the M to the X. The recently-arrested-yet-again DMX. He’s a hypnotic catastrophe. Wrecked from Monday thru Sunday. If the clip linked below were performance art, it couldn’t be any better. Quotes FOR DAYS. And the British interviewer dropping U.S. hip-hop slang in that accent of his? Kah-moe-dee... He’s such a fan boy, all but feenin’ for X to throw him a fuck. Here are just a few quotes:

From DMX:

“You only alive because of me, you fucking bitch!… I let you live! By the grace of God.”

“Knuckles black as a muthafucka, man. Hear me? I will knock a nigga the fuck out. But I’m a peaceful man.”

From the interviewer:

“Who are you talking about, dawg?”

The not-work-safe clip is here.

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Be sure to check out the really great comic strip, Bayou Zuda, which deals with race, history and the American South. I am hooked.

Click here

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Correction: In my recently published Flaunt magazine essay on Kara Walker, the name “Willie Lynch” should actually be “Willie Horton.” When the piece appears in longer version in a future project, that correction will be made.

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Here's an audio-only clip to take you out of this post ("Tardy Slips") but keep reading the new posts below: (Thanks Bernie for sending this...)

I'm Gagging...

Here's the first review of Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints. Written by Alisha Gaines, it's in the current issue of American Book Review, May-June 2008 (vol. 29, n. 4)

      The first draft of this review began boldly enough: “There are very few writers I would call genuine ‘cultural critics’ …and then there’s Ernest Hardy.” Satisfied, I kept the line until chancing upon an interview conducted by Steven Fullwood entitled “Writing in Ernest” (2006) in which Hardy emphatically denounces my attempt at flattery: “I hate the term cultural critic.” And while this review is not shaped to meet Hardy’s taste, his refusal to embrace a term often used to describe him challenges the work and role of the cultural critic, but also, more importantly, how the seeming exceptionality of that relation to cultural production has been grossly fetishized. Hardy then goes on to describe himself as simple a “film and music critic,” a description that falls way too short of fully summarizing the breadth and freshness of his work as seen in publications as diverse as Vibe, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and most notably and regularly, LA Weekly.

      Then it hit me.
      Ernest Hardy is a black critic.
      Let me explain.

      Hardy operates from a modality of blackness where blackness is, by its very ontology, a trenchant critical stance. “I work from the position that blackness is the most expansive, dynamic and universal filter through which to gauge and interpret the world,” he says later in the same interview. “It just is. It’s certainly been the most vital and important cultural well in this country, the source of its heart and soul.” It is this very heart and soul that pulses throughout Blood Beats: Vol. 2 / The Bootleg Joints, the follow-up to the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award winner, Blood Beats: Vol. 1 / Demos, Remixes & Extended Versions. As Hardy’s epigraph to Vol. 1 cites James Baldwin’s hand-me-down advice to “go the way your blood beats,” the quickening in his veins moves him both through and beyond Los Angeles as he turns a critical and adoring eye on communities working, living, and creating, most often in spite of, and in the cracks left by, the seeming hegemony of mass modes of cultural production. Reminding those “struggling creative folk, that you don’t have to wait for the machine to validate you, that you can do it for yourself,” Hardy’s collection of essays, reviews, and interviews unabashedly considers everything from the “real hip hop” of Kim Hill, the recently unappreciated stylings of Dolly Parton, and Agnès Varda’s remarkable documentary The Gleaners and I (2000) to the commercial blandness of actor Freddie Prinze Jr. and America’s favorite wigger, Eminem.

      Practicing a feminist politics when most are content to only pretend to do so, Hardy opens Vol. 2 with a choir of women’s voices, or a “SampladelicaFemmeatopia” as he titles it. Citing Toni Morrison speaking to the Parisian press, “We [African Americans] made modernity in that country [the US],” Hardy then excerpts an achingly intimate conversation between Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich before shattering the quiet with the deliciously bawdy Roseanne Barr. This sonic assemblage (or perhaps it is only this reviewer that can hear Barr reminding us that “All of American culture is pimp culture”) sets the stage for Hardy’s special brand of deeply insightful funk even as it is sutured to discussions of the most mainstream aspects of popular culture. In a parenthetical riff on the notorious beef between rappers DMX and Ja Rule, for instance, Hardy sharply declares, “You can take black folks’ temperature to find out how the American body is doing.”

      Mining multiple sites of possibility and resistance, Hardy refuses to over-edit, offering us that raw footage most would leave behind on the cutting-room floor. He does so “living at the end of [an] imagination” that sees beyond the stereotypical constraints of both blackness and queerness with a humor that is as profound as it is brash. “If Sex and the City were cast with Negroes and Carrie Bradshaw had dreads and an ass, this might be the show’s nightlife scene,” he writes to describe Rassela’s, an after-hours spot in San Francisco. While Hardy follows blood, he does so while remaining critical of the hackneyed performances of authenticity that often dictate communal belonging. It is this renegotiaton of what “realness” looks, feels, and sounds like that provides coherence to the collection. In “Young Soul Rebels: Negro/Queer Experimental Filmmakers,” Hardy dares to push his readers beyond the seductions of the minstrel versions of blackness that have become comfortably lucrative for some and a violent undoing for others. He writes,

      "We’re all seduced into wanting to play along… Whether it’s spoon-fed uplift the race bullshit or plantation legacies (refurbished by mainstream rap music and videos) of thugs, pimps and gangstas, we are comfortable with and eagerly support images and storylines that merely regurgitate cliché and stereotype or that allow us to be “empowered” by simply putting black faces on cinematic archetype and creaky formula."

      Here, Hardy reminds us to subvert, distort, and play with the edges of blackness. Or as he writes, “Blackness is experimental.”

      Hardy ends his collection with two very sexy, previously unpublished “downloads”—an almost too lengthy genre-bending essay of personal reflection and multi-person interviews on the gay, mainly Latino, porn scene in New York, and a quilted “interview” with Lil’ Kim stitched together from a series of other sources (her publicist let Hardy know she wasn’t interested in a sit down). While the Lil’ Kim essay is inspired by the now infamous photograph of her sporting a bikini and burqa on the cover of One World, both pieces fly in the face of propriety, interrogating constructions of colored sexuality and gender that work to soothe and balm, as well as irritate.

      Hardy theorizes the political through the banal and the spectacular, the funky and the vanilla, while unapologetically forcing his readers to take some necessary conceptual risks: to challenge categories of identity, agitate the status quo, and push the boundaries of what is counted as “culture.”

      This is black criticism.

Alisha Gaines is pursuing her doctorate in the English Department at Duke University, as well as a certificate in African and African American studies. Her interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century African American narrative, queer epistemologies, visual popular culture, and Michael Jackson.

Buy Blood Beats here

BONUS:

The same issue of American Book Review features this brief but very cool profile of my publisher, Lisa Moore. It was written by Alexis Pauline Gumbs:


      Lisa Moore founded RedBone Press after successfully publishing the groundbreaking anthology does your mama know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories in 1997. Featuring work by black lesbian feminist publishing figures including Alexis De Veaux (creator of Diva Publishing Enterprises), Makeda Silvera (founder of Toronto’s Sister Vision Press), Cheryl Clarke (who re-published her self-published book Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women with Kitchen Table Press in 1982), and Shay Youngblood, who published the important weekly Sisters in Atlanta, Georgia, Moore’s publishing project has been in conversation with a black feminist trajectory from the outset. In fact, when Moore decided to start RedBone, she spoke with the former founders and managers of Kitchen Table Press about her decision to create a publishing space dedicated to black LGBTQ voices.

      RedBone Press has an award-winning selection of collections and monographs by contemporary authors, and has also re-released Brother to Brother (2007), a classic conversational text created by Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam that has been out of print for years. RedBone ambitiously fulfills a two-fold black feminist mission of both creating space for new critical voices to emerge and insisting on the relevance of earlier work by thinkers committed to the wholeness and freedom of black communities.

      RedBone’s 2008 release by PEN award-winner Ernest Hardy, Blood Beats: Vol. 2 / The Bootleg Joints, consciously pushes the edges of the publishable and exemplifies the formal bravery and avant-garde boldness that only an independent press can offer. Alisha Gaines, an African American and cultural studies scholar who has published work on black cultural performance as varied as Michael Jackson and minstrelsy, is an invested reader of Hardy’s experimental intervention into what it means (not) to be a black cultural critic.

This Year's Amy, Part 2



      Following my Sunday, May 4 post on Jamie Lidell, titled "This Year’s Amy," I received a few emails asking what I meant when I wrote, “… he’s nudged his blue-eyed soulisms into the realm of a kind of ‘drag,’ that profitable stylin’ of retro soul / old-school black shit.” Well, rather than go into a long drawn out thing, I think the melody on the box can explain. Here’s an excerpt from my essay Cross Dressers: Bjork and Ryan Shaw Go Genre Bending:

      Genre is drag. Embedded in musical genres are all sorts of projected, culturally inscribed rules and expectations about race, gender, sexuality… about authenticity. Musicians fucking with genre, working across their established or expected boundaries, is a form of cross-dressing, assuming the power and privilege encrypted in gear/grooves. That’s partly why a dope female rapper or rocker strums viscera, stokes frisson. For all our evolved consciousness, for all the femme energy/creativity that has fed rap and rock, there’s still lingering reflex to view them as masculine avenues of expression. So even an inarguable rock icon like Chrissie Hynde or as flawless an MC as Bahamadia triggers the thrill of subversion by being herself, re-tooling “masculine” prerogative and staking claim. That’s also why, despite the root of blackness in American punk (see: Bad Brains) Negro practitioners still get side-eye glances. And so on…
       Drag, conscious and unconscious, is used to unleash some inner self (the real or the desired). It’s used to funnel inner truths, to shape perspective. That’s how Bjork uses her unclassifiable genre hopping. Amy Winehouse seized that power on her debut CD Frank (where she absorbed and recreated iconic Negro jazz divas, as well as Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill to tell her tales) and then refocused her shtick on her wonderful sophomore album Back to Black, where she took Lauryn’s “Doo Wop” (concept and vocal steez) to album-length and pulled art from girl-group artifice. But she was also wading in turbulent waters of appropriation and mimicry, stepping into a complex history of Jewish performers “doing black” in order to reveal something of themselves. Though her vocal affectations (especially on Frank) can skirt the edge of appalling – if not infuriating – racial karaoke, Winehouse was liberated. (It helps considerably that her songwriting skills are so unimpeachably dope.) She still has no artistic center of her own in terms of her singing style, but she finds much white-girl freedom (and the accompanying riches and white media coronation) in donning the patented garb of black-girl vocal styles.

The rest of this essay can be found in my book, Blood Beats 2: The Bootleg Joints

Buy Blood Beats Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 at Amazon:
click here

You can also buy either Blood Beats book directly from my publisher Redbone Press. In doing so, you are supporting an indie, black-owned publishing house. The cut-out-the-middle-man purchasing options:


1) Mail your order and a money order or cashier’s check to:

Redbone Press
PO Box 15571
Washington, D.C 2003

2) Phone in your order at: 202.667.0392 (Fax is 301.559.5239)
3) Redbone email is: info@redbonepress.com

Happy Mother's Day



"I'll always love my mama..." I still remember the year/summer this record came out. I was visiting relatives in Detroit and my own parents were holding down the fort back home in Alabama. This song would come on the radio and I would sing the chorus at the top of my lungs, wading in both summertime bliss and the boundless love/adoration I felt for my mother -- who was the only thing I missed about home. As I've written before, I am and shall always be an unapologetic mama's boy. The song now brings a lump to my throat. For a few years after my mother's death, I couldn't listen to it at all. Now... it makes me smile. And ache a bit. This extended mix is sound only, no video to accompany it. I think the track stands alone just fine.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

We hood, we votin' and throwin' it uuuupppp...



I'm not a fan of those Will.I.Am ads for Obama, especially that corny ass second one (the one in which Zoe Kravitz does that jittery bobble-head thing to show that she's so deeply feelin' Obama's bid for the presidency.) This tad-too-long Sa-Ra ad plays like a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to the corny, cloying, self-important Will ads. Yes, it's also cheesy and corny but in a grinning, knowing, left-field hip-hop parody way. And I kinda like it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

This Year's Amy...

I've been a fan of Jamie Lidell's for just a minute. Took me a while to get on board, and he never really blew me away with his previous material but I liked him, knew his talent was undeniable. I'm digging what I've heard from his new CD, JIM. Still, he's nudged his blue-eyed soulisms into the realm of a kind of "drag," that profitable stylin' of retro soul / old-school black shit.(A lot of his more hardcore older fans are screaming sell-out.) If the stars align just right, he might finally crack the US pop market. Check him out: