Saturday, June 27, 2009

M.J.: Non-Fiction

An Invincible Victory.

June 26th, 2009 | Black Music, NONFICTION, Obituary


Today, on NONFICTION, I’ll be talking about the life and music of the late, great Michael Jackson, who died yesterday, with ethnomusicologist Dr. Kyra Gaunt and cultural writer Michael Gonzales, author of “Remembering The Times: Memories of Mike.”

You can hear their ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering The Times: Memories of Michael


As one of the first generation of kids who embraced those five flamboyant brothers known as The Jackson 5 in the pre-rap music ’70s, especially the perky innocence of the Afroed rug-rat that was Michael, it is difficult to comprehend that the “King of Pop” is now dead.

In those long-lost years before brother Jackson became known as a parody of his former self, his gorgeous voice and staggering image seeped into the fertile imaginations of America’s chocolate city children. ”We embraced the J5 like family, like imaginary best friends or make-believe boyfriends,” wrote soul historian David Ritz in his 1995 liner-notes for the four-CD Jackson box-set Soulsation! ”We loved their bounce and joyful rhythms.”

Many current artists from Jay-Z to Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake to Usher, viewed M.J. as the guiding light that inspired their own ambitions. Missy Elliott once gushed, “I would sit in class and look out of the window hoping I’d see a limousine pull up outside. I’d hope to see a glittery glove on the limo door and it would be Michael Jackson and he’d say, I’m here to get Missy.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for her to think of M.J. lying in a coma, taking his last breath.



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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Blogging @ Bunnie
When Bunnies editor Katarina de Montfort announced that the second issue was to be dedicated to voyeurism, I immediately thought of one of my favorite Hitchcock movies Rear Window. Simply put, the classic noir flick explores the many things one can witness when staring out of the window into our neighbors apartments. From the beauty of an attractive woman dancing to the creative struggles of a young musician to the darkness of murder, one almost never knows what to expect when staring across the way.

As a native New Yorker raised in an apartment building where our view was another building, I grew-up peeping into folk's windows. One true live story that comes to mind was a pair of sisters whose bedroom window was directly opposite my own. A hundred feet away, if that much, baby brother and I started sneaking peeks at the sisters quite by accident. Not yet in our teens, our hormones must have started peculating young. After a while, it became a regular routine for us to reckless eyeball as the young Dominican girls argued, quietly read or (please, please, please) got undressed after school...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sade Interview...

With the possible exception of all those D’Angelo devotees standing on the bank of the James River, the millions of Sade fans across the globe ahave got to be the most patient souls on the planet. Way back when her last album, Lovers Rock, hit stores in November of 2000, Elian Gonzalez had recently been shipped back to Cuba, George W. Bush had just stolen the election from Al Gore, and Almost Famous was flickering on the silver screen.

For the past week, there has been much chatter on the internets about a new Sade album dropping this year while the YouTube clip of her harrowing song “Mum,” recorded for the 2004 DVD Voices For Darfur, is always in heavy rotation. While hanging out with my homeboys Brook and Molaundo a few days ago, we started sharing anecdotes about shows we had seen (my only experience being the “Love Deluxe Tour” at Radio City Music Hall), our favorite videos and, inevitably, we got down to the real question: when was the real queen of royal badness going to bless us with some new music?

Unlike her other admirers, I know personally that there is no rushing Sade. Having turned fifty this past January, this golden lady has always taken her time. “I’m harder on myself than anyone else,” Sade once told me. It was the fall of 1992, a few months before Love Deluxe was set to drop—with classics like “Cherish The Day” and “No Ordinary Love”—and I had been hire to write her bio. “Sometimes it comes easily, other times it’s more difficult,” she explained. “One of the reasons I take a long time cutting tracks is fear, because one can’t change anything once the record has been released.”


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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Garry Phillips

One of the coolest things about the internet is meeting folks with common interests whom
become real friends though you've never met. In the case of my man fifty grand, prolific
writer Garry Phillips, we not only became buddies, but he also put me down with one of last
years dopest book projects The Darker Mask: Heroes From the Shadows, which he co-edited with "representing D.C." Christopher Chambers.

Having wanted to write comic books since the days of my first typewriter, Gary put me closer
to that dream by simply putting me in the book. The fact that other scribes in Darker Mask includes Walter Mosley, Ann Nocenti and my late brother from another mother Jerry Rodriguez was only an added plus.

For those who might not be familiar with Gary's work in comics, novels and online, let me
just say that the man is a prolific scribe who writes hardboiled characters as though he
were the son of Chester Himes. For a minute in the 1990s, HBO had optioned his cool
character Ivan Monk, a Black private dick in LA. The fact that these flicks were never made
speaks more about the wackness of Hollywood than the character.

Indeed, I'd like to add that Phillips not only writes with gutso, but he also has a genuine love Los Angeles that rival my own with New York City; somewhere in noir heaven Dashiell Hammett, Nathanel West and Horace McCoy are smiling.

With all that said, I wanted to mention that Gary Phillip's newest book, the World War II saga Freedom's Fight (Parker Books), takes the writer in a different direction. As an avid reader, I love when authors feel bold enough to leave their comfort zones and stretch their wings.Though I haven't read Freedom's Flight yet, any war book that has blurbs from legendary comic artist Joe Kubert (Sgt. Rock) and playwright Charles Fuller (A Soldier's Story) is on my must read list for the summer. 'Nuff said.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Gordon Parks

These myths we can't undo they lie in wait for you/We live them till they're true
Hey Manhattan!

song by Prefab Sprout:

Verbally tilting their hats toward the musical notes floating over the heads of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, one of my favorite Prefab Sprout songs is the joyful "Hey Manhattan!" Telling the story of a newcomer to the Big Apple, the track sounds like it was lifted from some 1950s musical where Frank Sinatra is smooching an innocent show girl while strolling beneath the Empire State Building.

Yet, while main man vocalist Paddy McAloon sings blissfully, dropping cultural signifiers about Kennedy and the Carlye, I began having a separate flick streaming through my head that may as well be called "Hey, Black Manhattan." In my musical, where everything is designed by the surrealist architects at Bell & Loyd and Apollo Heights does the score, the quintessential New Yorkers are dandies like Bobby Short, Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks.

Having lived a somewhat blessed life as a fly on the artistic wall that is New York City, I've been lucky enough to meet all three men. However, though we didn't have much conversation, none had more impact on me than meeting Gordon Parks the day of XXL's legendary The Greatest Day in Hip-Hop photo shoot on September 29, 1998.

Introduced to Parks by the "city kid" Nelson George, who was making a short film about the event that gathered together over a hundred rappers in Harlem that fine day, I was in complete awe. Dressed in a denim jacket, his hair was completely white. All of 86 years old at the time, he still looked younger than some of the old school rappers present.

Many have heard my rants in the past on how much the soundtrack to Shaft changed my life. But, its influence was actually deeper that just the music. On the back of the album was a picture of three men who turned out to be producer Joel Freeman, composer Isaac Hayes and director Gordon Parks. If I'm not mistaken, my mom pointed him out. "He's the director," she said proudly.

Though I remember her rant against Sweet Back... when she saw it at the Apollo ("It was filth!"), mom liked Shaft. Looking at the photo again I checked out the dapper brother with the thick moustache and obviously cool demeanor, I instantly adopted Gordon as a spiritual godfather. Over the years, as I read more about his early career as the first black Life photographer or his work as a composer or his friendships with Malcolm x and Gloria Vanderbilt, the more I admired his "hustle" as a GQ renaissance man.

At recent opening of of Gordon Park's photographs at The Gallery at Hermes (691 Madison Avenue), I was once again reminded of why I love his work. In one word, it's the "duality" of the images. Be it a picture of gang member Red Jackson standing in front of a broken window, French fashion models wearing lavish gowns or icon Muhammad Ali with beads of sweat rolling down his face. The duality of Parks' work comes into play because, whether he was shooting poor tenement dwellers or Ingrid Bergman, his pictures never looked like they were taken by an interloper.

In other words, whether Gordon Parks was hanging in the hood or chilling on the Rivera, the brother always belonged. Shaking his hand that day in Harlem, I truly felt as though I was in the presence of true artistic power.

The Gallery at Hermes, 691 Madison Avenue, New York
show ends June 30, 2009

Item: June 2, 2009 – Pleasantville, NY – More than 4,000 prints and 20,000 negatives of groundbreaking African-American photographer Gordon Parks’s work – along with a large collection of 19th and early 20th century images by Mathew Brady and other early American photographers – will move to a new home at Purchase College/State University of New York, where the collection will be preserved, catalogued, and made available for public view and study, according to officials of the Gordon Parks Foundation, a division of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.

About the Gordon Parks Foundation

The Gordon Parks Foundation was created to preserve and perpetuate the artist’s legacy, support the work of others, and honor those whose contributions have advanced what Parks called “the common search for a better life and better world.” For more information, visit

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