Fallen Angel: Self-Destructing before the World  

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, Movie Reviews, Music Reviews with tags , on July 7, 2015 by playthell

amy-winehouse

Amy during better days
 The Short and Tragic Life of Amy Winehouse

The new documentary film on the British singer Amy Winehouse now playing at the Sunset Theater in the East Village is beautifully produced and directed by Asif Kapadia. Over the course of two hours and eight minutes we are provided a remarkable look into the life of this six time Grammy winner who rose up from the London working class and captured a world-wide audience writing and singing songs based on the vicissitudes of the high times and bizarre episodes that mark the rise and fall of her short but remarkable life.  Watching the movie I got the impression that we were witnessing the human equivalent of a shooting star that blazes across the night skies in a bright flash of light and then flames out before our eyes.

The film is thoughtfully constructed from video clips of her life; some of it is finely produced footage from her live performances in the UK and the USA, but most of the footage comes from family and friends.  Thus we see her in a wide variety of settings.  Some of the film has sound, and thus we can observe her speaking, but other footage is accompanied by voice overs of Amy speaking.  Hence we hear a lot of her story in her own words. And what we see is a young person of considerable creative talent who appears to understand little in life except making music, and cannot overcome the deep seated emotional problems caused by the lasting trauma of her father abandoning her and her mother at an early age.

This leaves her with a deep need to be loved by men, or at least win their approval, and her emotional neediness drives her into a destructive relationship with a guy who is also emotionally damaged because of a screwed up relationship with his parents.    He promises to be her rock and help Amy cope and instead he introduces her to crack cocaine and heroin.  Abuse of these drugs along with excessive alcohol consumption final did her in at the tender age of 27.  However in the meantime she managed to become an international superstar who could have become fabulously rich if she had been able to stay sober.

Although Amy’s particular experience is unique, the basic narrative is an old story: old wine in a new bottle.  In many ways her saga is so familiar she comes across at times as a cliché, depending upon who is watching it.  For those who know something of music business history and inside lore it is easy to place Amy’s self-destructiveness within a tradition of music history in the 20th century. Creative geniuses like Charlie Parker and Jimmy Hendrix self-destructed on drugs, and there is a long line of singers whose fame and fortune couldn’t rescue them from self-destruction: Billy Holiday, Judy Garland, Elvis Pressley, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Phyllis Hyman, Whitney Houston, et al.  However none of them acted their destruction on stages with a million people watching.

Under Asif Karpadia’s direction we are provided glimpses of Amy’s life before she became a star, when she was a passably pretty girl who was more sensuous that beautiful; her best feature being full pouty lips –DSL’s that forced one’s mind into the gutter –and her long black hair, which she often wore in “big hair” styles resembling the popular “beehive” styles of the 1960’s.  She reminded me of one of those smart mouth delinquent working class English girls in the British movie “To Sir with Love,” starring an unusually stiff and priggish Sidney Portier.

But after all is said and done the raison d’etre for this documentary film is Amy Winehouse’s talent and importance as a musical artist.  On this issue the movie becomes an extended panegyric that degenerates into special pleading.   While there is no doubt that Ms. Winehouse had talent, it is a gross exaggeration to call her “The Queen of Soul,” while the real queen, Ms. Aretha Franklin, was alive and well – not to mention her numerous Afro-American progeny such as Whitney Houston, Alicia Keyes, Beyoncé et al who are singing their asses off in the tradition.  And Tony Bennet’s claim that she was “one of the purest jazz singer I ever heard….if she had lived she would have been on the same level with Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday,” is shameless hyperbole.

Perhaps Tony Bennet’s assessment of Ms. Winehouse’s talent was influenced by the fact that she constantly cites him as her artistic “hero,” along with Sarah Vaugh, Billy Holliday, Thelonious Monk, and other Afro-American Jazz greats.  Testimony from black American artists in the film like the drummer/leader of “Da Roots,” an innovative hip hop band from Philly, revealed that she was a serious student of the Jazz tradition that was constantly recommending records for him to study.

However most of the music selected for the film – which one presumes was a representative sample of her work – was Rhythm & Blues and her band was rocking!  There were excerpts from some of her Jazz performances, the most extensive being a recording date she did with Tony Bennett, where she was scared to death and nearly walked out of the studio when she kept screwing up on take after take.  It was clear that Amy and Tony have a mutual admiration thing going; that accounts for the dreamy things they say about each other.  But reality is not so easy to conceal.

Amy Winehouse was just the latest white singer to study the black vocal style and brazenly imitate her idols.  Here too her story is an oft told tale.  It was true of Elvis Pressley, Mick Jagger, Joe cocker, Billy Joel. Janet Joplin, et al.  It was also true of white instrumentalists too.  And in each of these cases once the white performer became competent in the genre they were crowned “The King of Jazz” aka Paul Whiteman; the “king of Swing” aka Benny Goodman; the “King of Rock and Roll” aka Elvis Pressley; the “King of Hip Hop” aka M&M; the “Queen of Rap” aka Iggy Azalia.

According to this film Amy Winehouse was both “The Queen of Soul” and was on the way to rivaling the great Ella Fitzgerald and the incomparable Billy Holliday as a Jazz singer.  Yet each of these art forms are Afro-American inventions, and only black artists and audiences can decide who is boss because they set the standards of excellence.  The resulting product has captured the imagination and created devotees among musicians all over the world…since the turn of the twentieth century Afro-American musicians have been the most infventive and imitated artists on earth. It is obvious that white folks need to chill, get over themselves.

Aside for these gross exaggerations regarding the magnitude of Ms. Winehouse’ talent; this is a pretty good flick about a very troubled performer who literally decomposes before our eyes.  We watch her go from a healthy, perky, quite attractive girl, to a bulimic sack of bones who seem to be knocking on death’s door – one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel.

Lost in Space?
Amy_winehouse_in_pink_top_and
High off everything ….but life

Yet nobody cold reason with her; not her closet girlfriends who had been at her side since childhood, nor the Afro-American rapper/actor  Mos Def, who she evidently admired and pops up throughout the movie at various stages of her career like Banquo’s ghost, warning Amy to turn away from her self-destructive path. Finally, on a hot July day in 2011, she finally killed herself; the autopsy said she died of “alcohol poisoning.”

In the end the filmmaker managed to produce a poignant portrait of a self-destructive artist who turned her pain into song poetry and allowed the world to witness her self-immolation even as she tried to hide out in plain sight.

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Double Click on links to see Amy Perform

https://youtu.be/3XKYZRuJEnU

Live in London 2007

https://youtu.be/UNkuQQ3FJ8U

Amy’s last tragic Concert

https://youtu.be/x4j95dHfB04

CLICK TO SEE THE REAL QUEENS OF SOUL!

Aretha Franklin

https://youtu.be/fgRyh9f5cOE

Whitney Houston

https://youtu.be/E849UUqNe3g?list=RDE849UUqNe3g

Blundering Toward Doomsday!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on July 5, 2015 by playthell
Putin-Missile-Test 1210
President Putin Observes Russian Missile Tests
Russia Expands Nuclear Arsenal for first time since End of Cold War

There are a lot of smart and reasonable people who cannot conceive of a nuclear war between Russia and NATO as a real possibility. The reasoning of my learned friend Bill Meissner is typical of this group; he is convinced that no rational leader would initiate a nuclear war.  And thus, as in the past, the MAD doctrine – Mutual Assured Destruction – will continue to restrain political leaders from taking actions that will also result in the destruction of their own nation.  Hence, they reason, there is no real danger of nuclear war with Russia despite the increasing decibel level of the saber rattling. They are wrong.  What they fail to understand is that both things can be true: No leader will give a command to launch a first strike but a nuclear war breaks out anyway.

This is why the obsession with whether the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon is a fool’s errand that takes us down the road to nowhere in terms of dealing with the real issue concerning  nuclear weapons: the nuclear arsenals of the Russia, the US and NATO.  First of all, I am not convinced that the Iranian leaders are any more willing to commit national suicide than the leaders of any other country; although the fact that Iran is ruled by Islamic clerics that often behave like Mad Mullahs might suggest otherwise.  However even if some religious fanatic were to decide that it was the will of allah to initiate an act of national suicide, the weapons are under the control of military who are unlikely to launch an nuclear strike.  And even if they did, it would be a regional affair.

On the other hand, if the US and Russia fire their nuclear weapons it will spell the end of modern civilization for sure and probably the end of all life on this planet….depending on the extent of the exchange.  In my view, as one who has a solid knowledge of the destructive capability of the US nuclear arsenal by virtue of having served in our nuclear forces with a Top Secret security clearance, once a nuclear exchange commences between NATO – the USA and our nuclear armed allies Germany, France and England – all of the weapons on both sides will be fired.

Hence we are literally talking about snuffing out life forms that may well be unique in a universe composed of billions of galaxies.  It is more than a crime against humanity – which is already achieved by the mere possession of nuclear weapons – it would be a sin against all creation.

The authors of this narrative of nuclear terror that hangs over the people of the world are the leaders of the USA during the mid-twentieth century.  While no thoughtful observer can condemn the US government for initially building an atomic bomb, considering that they were in a war with Nazi Germany who was known to be working on an atomic weapon.   This is what attracted great scientist and humanitarians like Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and the swing dancing jazz loving George Kitakowski, et al to the Manhattan Project that created the bomb.  However it is what the US government decided to do with these weapons after ending World War II by the atomic bombing of Japan.

The leading scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project wanted knowledge of nuclear fission placed under the control of an international commission for safe guarding, otherwise, they predicted, if this technology remained the possession of the USA it would spark an international arms race.  Failure to heed this advice has led to the nuclear quagmire we are in today, when the threat of nuclear war is growing and nobody knows the way out.

I have repeatedly written treatises warning about the drift toward nuclear war, fueled by NATO expansion in Eastern Europe; which is a clear violation of the agreements that ended the Cold War as Stephen Cohen and other leading US Russian experts have repeatedly pointed out.  This danger now centers on the Ukraine Crisis, where the Russians have drawn a line much like the US did when Soviet Russia put missile silos in Cuba.  The world is lucky to have survived that crisis without a nuclear war between the US and Russia; we may not be so lucky this time; especially if any of the  candidates for President gain control of the White House and becomes Commander-In-Chief.                                                                                                                                       To those who think that I am being alarmist should consult the opinion of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the world’s leading authority on nuclear War.   They are constantly monitoring relations between nuclear armed nations and the set the hands on their atomic clock in order to dramatize how close the world is to nuclear holocaust.  At present the hands stand at 3 minutes to Midnight!  While most people go about their business without giving a thought to the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist tells us:

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties. “The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.”

The extent to which their fears are based on real developments in the relations between Russia and NATO can be seen in events of the last few days.   First there was the near collision between a Russian Fighter plane that came within ten feet of a US Air Force spy plane attached to NATO over the Black Sea. Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, called the Russian maneuver an “unsafe intercept…unprofessional and inapproiate.”  Then he tried to play down the incident as possibly the result of “a lack of training” by the pilot.

The Black Sea is closer to Russia than the Caribbean Sea is to the US, yet the Caribbean Sea has been called an “American Lake” and defined by the Monroe Doctrine of 1830 as an inviolate US Sphere of Influence.  The fact that the US seeks to deny Russia, another great power, her natural Sphere of Influence in the Black Sea through the eastward expansion of NATO onto Russia’s door steps (see my writings on the Ukraine”)  when the US is located thousands of miles away, is the crux of the present conflict in US Russian relations.

Hence the Russians view the Americans as armed intruders, while the Americans intoxicated by the dazzling myth of “American Exceptionalism” as the protector of Eastern Europe from the ravages of the Russian Bear.   This vision led the United States to recruit former Republics of the Soviet Union into the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance…a western military alliance formed to prevent communist Russia’s expansion into the West.

The Black Sea
 Black Sea
 Hugging the Russian Shoreline
A Dangerous Encounter! The Russian and American Air Force planes

Russian fighter jet

The Russian Fighter Jet
The American Spy Plane
Airforce Spy Plane
Harassed  by Russian Jets

The admission of the Baltic States that were formerly a part of the Soviet Union is the most dangerous development in US/Russian relations since the Soviet Alliance with Cuba.  This is because a military conflict with Russia and any of these little Baltic States will plunge the US into a military confrontation with Russia.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently declared that anybody who thinks Russia would launch an unprovoked attack on NATO is “irrational” but he has also declared “We will be forced to aim our armed forces … at those territories from where the threat comes.”  If that perceived threat is from the USA then the forces he is referring to are intercontinental ballistic missiles.

This is the raison d’etre for Putin’s moves to expand the Russian nuclear missile arsenal, an effort fueled by the unilateral US abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, which expressly forbade building missile defense systems which NATO has been working to deploy.  Putin was unambiguous about the fact that his decision to expand Russia’s nuclear missile arsenal is a response to NATO’s actions:  “It is NATO that is moving towards our border and we aren’t moving anywhere.”  This comment was buttressed by a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry:

The United States is inciting tensions and carefully nurturing their European allies’ anti-Russian phobias in order to use the current difficult situation for further expanding its military presence and influence in Europe. We hope that reason will prevail and it will be possible to save the situation in Europe from sliding toward a military standoff, which could entail dangerous consequences.”

Incredibly, both the US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to be surprised at the Russian reaction to their meddling in Eastern Europe. “We’re trying to move in the opposite direction,” said Kerry. “We have had enormous cooperation from the 1990s forward with respect to the structure of nuclear weapons in the former territories of the Soviet Union. And no one wants to see us step backwards.” 

Russian Intercontinental Missiles…..

Russian Missiles

Can  launched from Land

Russian Missles launched at Sea

…….or sea!

Jens Stoltenberg, speaking for the European allies in NATO responded with this comment:

“This nuclear saber-rattling of Russia is unjustified. “It’s destabilizing and it’s dangerous. This is something which we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces. We are responding by making sure that NATO also in the future is an alliance which provides deterrence and protection for all allies against any threat.”

When this heated rhetoric is considered in the context of the rancid political relations and widening armed conflict in the Ukraine, it does not require a mental giant to conclude that we are stumbling into a war with Russia, and one need not be a military strategist in order to foresee that any war between Russia and NATO has the potential to go nuclear despite the initial intentions of our leaders.    That’s why the peoples of the NATO countries must insist that our leaders cease all efforts to develop a military relationship of ANY KIND with the Ukraine against Russia and allow these Slavic cousins to settle their own problems…the fate of our planet may well depend upon it!

 

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Amazing Grace!

Posted in The Charleston Massacre with tags , , , on June 30, 2015 by playthell
Barack at Mother Emanuel II
President Obama Eulogizes Pastor Pinkney
 How Sweet the Sound….that could move a Wretch Like Me

There has never been a moment like this in the history of the American presidency, and we shall certainly never see one again.   The first Afro-American President of the USA eulogizing a great Afro-American preacher/ politician who was slain along with eight parishioners by an evil, hate crazed white terrorist whom they had welcomed into their prayer meeting.  The president’s eulogy captured the spirit of the occasion with a moving eloquence and exuded a spiritual gravitas that marks this as a unique event in the history of this racially troubled nation.  Due to the size of the crowd, the funeral was held an auditorium on the campus of Charleston College.  Ideally, the last rites should have been held in the sanctuary of Mother Emmanuel, a great place to make history; for Mother Emanuel African Methodist Church is a citadel of black history.

This venerable church, where the Reverend Pinkney served as pastor, was born during 1816, in the cauldron of African slavery in the American south, where European settlers who had swiftly committed genocide against the Native Americans and stolen their lands on a grand scale, then instituted a system of African slave labor to supplement the white indentured class. It was in this church that the most complex plans for a large scale slave revolt were hatched….but was foiled by a snitching Sambo who warned the white folks and the plotters were arrested and hanged in 1822.  Among them was a founder of the church: Denmark Vesey.  There was no contradiction in the mind of Vesey – a truly remarkable man – between serving God and smiting your enemy.  For one thing, the biblical texts by which they lived was the Old Testament…an eye for an eye; leading Pharaoh’s armies to their destruction in the Red Sea!

President Obama was aware of all this history; he is a thoughtful intellectual and has obviously spent many years studying Afro-American history and cultural traditions.  In fact he is much more knowledgeable about it than coal black Afro-Americans like Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas and Dr. Allen Keyes; I’d take Barack’s version of Black over all of these obsequious tar babies any day in the week and twice on Sunday!  Which is why I have been unsparing in contemptuously flagellating those blacker than thou buffoons who make in issue of his bi-racial birth and upbringing by his white grandparents. ( see: An Open Letter to Dr. Matthew Johnson) What the example of Barack Obama shows is that Afro-American identity is a sociological not a biological phenomenon; it is a product of “life behind the veil,” as Dr. DuBois put it in his immortal text The Souls of Black Folks.

Since Barack Obama chose to embrace an Afro-American identity rather than some ambiguous “Mulatto” identity – which is not clearly defined in this country the way in it is in Latin America, and all over the Caribbean –he choose the best of what we are and have been to embrace.  This training ground was his 20 year membership in a church pastored y the brilliant and committed Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Wright, a highly educated cleric who holds Masters and PhD degrees and is famous for his Afrocentric services.  Alas, although the mass media pundits forced Barack to deny him in order to become President –a casualty of politics alas – the good reverend has left his mark on Barack.

It is the results of that 20 year apprenticeship that we witnessed when Barack delivered his eulogy to Pastor Clementa Pinkney before a diverse crowd of mourners in a packed college auditorim that had been transformed into hallowed ground by these sacred rites.  It was an affair that put the grandeur of the Afro-American high church on display for all the world to see… it dazzled and inspired millions who witnessed it.  First we watched the Princes of the church, elegantly costumed in their rich black, purple and gold clerical robes, stride into the auditorium as the celestial voices of a choir sang all the stanzas of the transcendental hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was popularly known as “The Negro National Anthem” when I was growing up in Florida.

Written by the gifted brothers James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson, who hailed from Jacksonville, just 38 miles away, we sang this spiritually uplifting anthem at every public occasion in St. Augustine. As the eloquent ministers of the church stepped to the pulpit and read inspiring passages of bible texts; the scriptures from which their flock finds its compass through the harrowing vicissitudes of this earthly life, and provides the vision of a better life, an eternal life in some better place, when we will be done with the troubles of this world.

All eyes were fixed upon the podium when the Presiding Bishop of the Carolina region was introduced, a powerful local voice in the great national church that was founded only five years later than the US Constitution, with the establishment of Mother Bethel, and only a few blocks away in the city of Philadelphia.  He, like all assembled in that place spiritual refuge, had come to honor the slain Reverend Pinkney. A stalwart of the church and a remarkable man, Pastor Pinkney became a minister of the church as a teenager, and won a seat in the South Carolina ligislature at 23.

Pastor Clementa Pinkney
Reverend Pinckney in Pulpit of Mother Emanuel
He fell with his flock from a terrorists bullets

As I watched this regal figure standing in the Pulpit, invested with the authority of an international church that is as old as the US, and like the US Constitution represents an American innovation;  I was reminded of former President Jimmy Carter, who says that one of the reasons that he never bought the white racist arguments about Afro-American inferiority was because he had a Bishop of the AME Church as a neighbor in Plains Georgia, and he was so impressive to his child’s eyes he thought the bishop looked like a African king!  The Bishops on this occasion seemed no less impressive, but they hurried from the stage, as the presiding Bishop truncated his remarks and reminded the audience that even he, beloved figure that he is,  even he could not keep the President of the United States  waiting.

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By the time President Obama stepped to the pulpit to deliver his eulogy, many thousands of elegantly crafted words, steeped in the poetry of biblical texts and divine allusion, delivered with moving eloquence by “God’s Trombones,” had already preceded him  and filled the audience with joy, pathos and hope.  It was in ways a strange ritual, at times it seemed like a political rally with introductions of various stars in Carolina and national politics to applause and organ riffs; a celebration rather than the funeral of a pious preacher and devoted public servant that had been slain by a racist cracker madman.  There had been music and song.  But at the end of this lively round of introductions the Master of Ceremonies smartly turned to the grieving widow and said “The world has come to your door.”

Following the introductions of notables, some admires of Pastor Pinkney was invited to speak, and it sometimes seemed that there was no end to eloquence as impassioned panegyrics filled the air. The statement that received the loudest and longest standing Ovation came when one of the eulogizers, Afro-American State Senator Gerald Malloy, declared: “the confederate Flag will come down!”…and credited Representative Pinckney for its removal.  Then Senator Malloy enumerated the many fights waged by Pastor Pinkney; noted his victories, and vowed to continue the fight for those things Pinkney fought for but had not yet won. He wound up with a dazzling bit of poetic oratory that painted a portrait of the ideal community they hoped to build.  Indeed, there seemed no end to eloquence on this day.

It was a hard act to follow…as any political orator who has been placed in the unfortunate position of following a great Afro-American preacher on the podium well knows.  However if President Obama was at all intimidated by his predicament he never showed it.  From the moving embraces showered upon him as the princes of the church lined up to greet their president, whom they had helped to elect, to his introductory remarks,  the President seemed completely at home, as calm as a summer Sunday morning and solid as a rock.

The Bishops greet Barack
Barack Meets the Bishops at Rev. Pinkney's Funeral
Welcoming a Brother back home

From the opening statement Barack’s physical demeanor and sense of timing revealed a deep knowledge of the Afro-American sermonic style.  And the cadences of his speech made it seem like he could easily enter the pulpit upon the completion of his second term as president.  Viewed from what South Carolina was when I was a boy, it is impossible to describe to younger black folks just how far we, as a people, have come in this racist nation…battling every step.

It is fair, I think; to not only describe Barack’s speech as a sermon…but a pretty good one. His major theme was the power of faith and the nature of God’s grace, and his delivery was characterized by the rhythmic cadences that distinguish Afro-American preaching. Effective preaching requires an understanding of the potency of pregnant pauses…the uses of silence to better emphasize a point.  Great Jazz soloist understand this too.  Just listen to Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk.  He spoke to a theme much as preachers will preach to a text, extrapolating valuable life lessons from the metaphors, similes, allegories and timeless truths it provides.

As his speech built up momentum, he caused the audience to rise to its feet with applause of affirmation.  His remarks were informed by sociology, politics, economics and the law, presented with the passion of an evangelical preacher and the cold logic of a learned lawyer.  He was part Thurgood Marshall and part Martin Luther King, and the burden of the presidency revealed itself in the emotional fatigue mirrored in his eyes and the dramatic greying of his hair.  As the old Afro-American spiritual says:Nobody knows the troubles he’s seen.

After declaring the importance of faith the President painted a poignant portrait of the Reverend Clementa Pinkney, and pointed out that those who ask how could Pastor Pinkney could serve God and politics didn’t know much about the history and mission of the AME Church; their clergy saw no distinction in doing good works as a public servant and yet remain a faithful a servant of God.  He told them that Pinkney understood that occasional charity was not enough to create a just society…it must also be a matter of social policy.  There were many moving moments during the president’s speech; calling out the names of the slain church members was one of them; reviewing the role of the black church and its role in our liberation struggle was another.

By this point in President Obama’s eulogy the audience was in perfect sync with the rhythm and emphasis of his speech, and began to respond on cue in the wonderful call and response that black congregations engage in when the preacher is touching their souls and they are moved by the “spirit” of the word.  And when he spoke frankly about the history and current manifestations of white racism and class privilege, the audience responded with repeated and enthusiastic applause as he ticked of a laundry list of abuses.

President Obama’s marriage of God’s Grace to our good works was a brilliant blending of sacred and secular objectives that is reminiscent of Dr. King on a good day. When he spontaneously broke into a rendition of the moving hymn “Amazing Grace” President Obama transported the audience to higher ground – body, soul and spirit.  It was, by  my reckoning, an amazing grace; I believe we shall never see its like again.

(Double Click to see President Obama’s Eulogy)
https://youtu.be/ZDXMoO9ABFE

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Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 30, 21o5

On the progressive Black Church

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , on June 25, 2015 by playthell

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York's Harlem, November 14, 1965.   (AP Photo/David Pickoff)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York’s Harlem, November 14, 1965. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)
Two Afro-American Baptist preachers who changed America

The Rock on which we stood When all else failed…

This post is in response to  the statement below by Tamara Tornado,  a snide racist white bitch who does  NOT UNDERSTAND black church history yet presumes to criticize it.  I don’t like know-it-all crackers in the first place, because like this stupid broad they usually know nothing about us!  The fact is that the black church has a dual history: progressive and reactionary.

The progressive tradition is heroic and grows out of the beliefs of those black slaves who interpreted the stories in the Old Testament bible about the enslaved Hebrew people in the Land of Egypt to be a parable about their situation in the American House of Bondage, where the white leaders of America collectively were Pharoah, locally represented by the slave master class.  In other words Afro-American Christians converted Christianity into a weapon of liberation in a way that black slaves under Islam were unable to do.

Another Ignorant racist commenting on Black culture
Condemnation of black churchwomen by a snide white bitch
This silly pretentous Bitch is no friend of ours!

The fact is that the majority of southern whites never owned slaves and Tamara’s grandfather was probably not one of them. Since she is obviously classless white trash. Every half ass redneck likes to identify with the slaveholding class, when most of their ancestors were nothing more than pawns of the planter class who supported the interests of the rich over their own because they were told that just being white made them special even though they didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of: JUST LIKE ALL OF THE PO WHITE CRACKER ASSHOLES WHO VOTE REPUBLICAN TODAY!!!!

Before the Civil War slaves were the most valuable property in the US., that’s why in 1850 New Orleans was the richest port in the country. Black churchwomen were the backbone of the great Civil Rights movement that destroyed the racial caste system of the south…what has this dumb cracker bitch done to make this country a better place? My argument is not with the black church as such, but this particular church congregation at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. The fact that I am an atheist does not blind me to all of the GOOD WORKS the black church has done and is doing! It is far superior in its practice of Christianity to the WHITE CHURCH!!!

That’s why the great German theologian and preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who came here to complete his PhD thesis and teach at the distinguished Union Theological Seminary, became mesmerized by the Afro-american church service..  Although Bonhoeffer  was unimpressed with the academic standards at Union, a bastion of white theological study, he was befriended by a black seminarian named Frank Fisher, and was introduced to the Afro-American church.

The learned German theologian  was taken to a service at the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, and he was so moved by the experience that he regularly attended service at Abyssinia thereafter.  And, dispite the ignorant slander leveled against them by that pretentious white trash airhead Tamara Tornado, the beautiful, elegant black women in the congregation were, and are, a majestic sight to behold!

The Ladies of Abyssinia

Easter Parade 2012 - Harlem Sisters edit

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EASTER SUNDAY IN HARLEM

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Easter Parade 2012 086

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Easter Bonnet - Satin Doll

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Adam Powell and Hazel Scott

Reverend Powell and his beautiful gifted wife Hazel Scott

While he dismissed Union Seminary with the observation “there’s no theology in this place,” he concluded that the Black American church was the manifestation of what God intended a Christian to be!   Bonhoeffer, who would become one of the great theologians of the 20th century,  taught Sunday school at the church during the rest of his stay in the US.   He later taught Afro-American Spirituals to his congregation secretly in his church back home to give them hope as the Nazi’s took over Germany! This man would later lead the German church in OPPOSING HITLER, even participating in an assassination plot against the German dictator and was murdered by the Nazis!!!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer II

The German theologian who became mesmerized by black Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Church INVENTED LIBERATION THEOLOGY with the founding of Mother Bethel during 1792 in Philadelphia, just five years after the US Constitution was drafted a few blocks away.  It was the first American church founded as an act of resistance to the sin of white racism and oppression of black people! So don’t get what I am saying about my experience with God and white folks twisted: I lost my faith in God in a pretentious white Catholic Catedral.  I DO NOT REPUDIATE THE WORK OF THE PROGRESSIVE BLACK CHURCH!!!!

Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
Father of the South African Liberation Movement

In my view the congregation of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is BETRAYING IT’S FIGHTING LEGACY!  One of the founders of this church was Denmark Vesey, who organized what would have been the bloodiest slave uprising in American history – and there were over three hundred!  However the reason it failed is because of some sambos who believed that Old Testament shit about a “SLAVE SHOULD OBEY HIS MASTER!” But those following Vesey acted on the old testament text that calls for “an eye for an eye”

Dr. DuBois, the most learned American intellectual of the 20th century, called the AME church “one of the greatest institutions ever devised by man.” And he said their Bishops ran from “Saints like Benjamin McNeal Turner” to some that “represented just what the devil would look like at the turn of the twentieth century.” Yet he, like me, was an atheist!  But as a father of the 20th century Pan-Africanist Movement, DuBois was well aware of the role the AME church layed in the Black Liberation Movement here in the USA and in colonized Africa.  For instance, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner could rightly be called “The Father of the black Liberation Movement in South Africa. (see “Pan-Africanism: Myth or Reality?”

Dr. WEB DuBois

Dr. dubois in the Crisis Ofice

The Great Scholar at Work

It is little wonder that Dietrict Boenhoffer was capitivated by the Afro-Ameican church service, especially the baptist, who are reknowned for their preaching.   It is the most dynamic and capitivating oratorical style in the world.  The brilliant Florida novelist and forklorist Zora Neal Hurston, described the power of the Afro-American sermon best.

In a letter to her fellow Floridian, James Weldon Johnson, polymath and cosmoplite, who had published “God’s Trombones,” a great collection of epic poems based on the black southern folk preacher, Zora told him it seemed like only the two of them really understood that the negro sermon is epic poetry.  She told johnson that she cast the preacher in her own novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, “as the poet that he must be in order to survive in a Negro pulpit.”  Both Adam Clayton Powell and Dr. King were great orators who were masters of the Afro-Ameican sermonic art, and when they employed it to sway opinions in the political arena they were formidable.

Added to these achievements, the progressive black church has produced more great innovators in American music than Julliard, and more great transformative  leaders than the white American church can match. We need only look at two examples: Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr, the Pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the modern day Prophet who led the great Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

As Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Powell sponsored and got passed 60 bills that provide the entitlements for the working class that we now refer to as the “Social Safety Net.”  And the struggles led by Dr. King, who gave his life to the cause, of wiped out racist laws that make black Americans aliens in our own land.  Together these two black Baptist preachers transformed America into a better country for EVERYBODY!!  The rich white Christian clergy can make no such claim!  This is the real leagcy of the black church!

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Double click on link to see video of Rev. Powell

https://youtu.be/mE2m4SNDy0U

Click to see Video on Dr. King
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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 25. 2015

Just a Crazy Southern Cracker……

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags on June 22, 2015 by playthell
South Carolina Shooter
Crazed white racist mass murderer

…….Or the tip of an Iceberg?

“They are raping our women and taking over our country!”

The tearful statement of remorse by Governor Nicky Hailey mourning the tragic mass murder committed by crazed white racist terrorist, Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine Afro-Americans conducting a prayer meeting  in the sanctuary of their church, camouflages a deep racial divide in the state of South Carolina that the Republican political leadership is in denial about.

The governor sounded shocked that something like this could happen in her state, as she assures us that Charleston,  “The City of Churches” is a God fearing community where everybody “loves each other.”  However the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose raison d’etre is monitoring racist hate crimes, says there are 19 organized white racist hate groups based in South Carolina!

This is the  framework from which the racially motivated mass murder of Afro-American worshippers  should be analyzed; it should also be viewed in historical perspective and in the light of present racial realities.  And we must not be influenced by the tearful sentimental statements of politicians and pundits looking for a safe place to take a stand.

Let us begin our analysis here by considering the official statement issued by the SPLC:

“A white man who admires apartheid walks into a black church and kills nine people.  According to an eyewitness, he says that he has “to do it” because black people “rape our women” and are “taking over our country.”  It’s an obvious hate crime by someone who feels threatened by our country’s changing demographics and the increasing prominence of African Americans in public life.

Since 2000, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hate groups in our country — groups that vilify others on the basis of characteristics such as race or ethnicity.  Though the numbers have gone down somewhat in the last two years, they are still at historically high levels.  The increase has been driven by a backlash to the country’s increasing racial diversity, an increase symbolized, for many, by the presence of an African American in the White House.   

Since 9/11, our country has been fixated on the threat of Jihadi terrorism. But the horrific tragedy at the Emmanuel AME reminds us that the threat of homegrown domestic terrorism is very real. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.  Black churches, including those in South Carolina, have been the targets of hate crimes throughout our country’s history.  We know that they will remain resolute and their faith unshaken in the face of this tragedy.”

As usual, most of the white commentators in the press are spinning this as the act of a single deranged individual, not the manifestation of a deep seated anxiety among a class of powerless, alienated, white men suffering from racial anomie and black penis envy that seek solace in white supremacist mythology.  Notwithstanding the fact that this dude may be certifiably nuts, a designation  I am content to leave to the shrinks, he is clearly suffering from the mental maladies that I have cited above.   For instance he is powerless.

That’s got to be hard to take if you are a white male nurtured on the myth of white supremacy but your real life circumstances suggest you ai’t shit.  And it must be especially hard to see all of these black men who are succeeding bigtime everywhere; yet you are po as the snake without a pit to hiss in.  And you wake up hatin on Jay Z because you had a wet dream about Beyoncé….although like the old folks down south say: “Boy yo eyes may roll and yo teeth may grit…but some of that fine brown sugar you ain’t never go git!”

And he is profoundly ignorant of the world around him, a condition that’s epidemic in the US.  Consider this analysis of the role played by  a lack of factual information in Roof’s murderous behavior in an article titled published in Psychology Today titled: “Anti-Intelectualism is Killing America:

“Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are“lies straight from the pit of hell,”(link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panelbrought a snowball(link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president(link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.”

The Psychology Today article goes on to point out that anti-intellectualism has become something to brag about among large segments of the American populous.  When we read Dylann Roof’s rambling manifesto and enter his twisted world, a world of racists websites where Trayvon Martin’s murderer become the hero, we see all to cleary the grave danger Psychology Today is warning us about.

For how could a pathetically ignorant and confused white boy, nurtured on a narrative white of victimhood preached 24/7 by all right wing media, not be alienated from an America where in his eyes niggers are in the White House who don’t belong there, and the President of the USA is an incompetent Arab nigger Moslem con man traitor who secretly created and supports ISIS….and is a communist controlled by the Zionist Jews, who can’t even produce a valid birth certificate.  This is how contemporay American society looks to deluded white boys like Roof….the genuine American failures who are invisible until they explode into our conciousness in a hail of bullets.

As I write, an FBI Agent who has spent the last forty years investigating hate crimes and interrogating the perpetrators is painting a psychological profile of the racist murderer on MSNBC. He says that he has interrogated many perps like this guy, and they are not psychotic in the psychiatric sense of the word; their judgement is distorted by bigotry which is expressed by an intense hatred of particular racial and ethnic groups.

He describes how this is a class of phenomenon and the killers of the Sikh’s, or those who shoot up a synagogues, all belong to the this class.  He also explained how “white supremacist” websites constantly egg these fanatics on.  He vividly described the world that these right-wing nuts inhabit; it is a bizarro world in which they spend most of their time reading the racist drivel on white supremacist websites like the neo-Nazi Stormfront, and talking back and forth with other enraged white fascist until they explode in acts of violence….as this guy did.

The present racially motivated mass slaughter raises another disturbing question: Did the white cop that murdered a young black man in this same city by shooting him the back eight times share the same views?  From what we know of him they come from the same class of powerless white men.

For instance, before becoming a cop 33 year old Michael Slager worked as a waiter and spent a stint in the Coast guard, the kinds of jobs held by poor powerless white men. Then this mediocre cracker winds up on the streets of Charleston wearing a gun and a badge which he viewed as a license to kill black men and he ends up shooting Mr. Walter Scott in the back eight times over a trivial matter.

When the video of the murder recorded on the cell phone of an eye witness showed up on the internet, the City of Charleston took swift action by firing Slager from the police force and indicting him for murder. North Charleston police chief Eddie Driggers told reporters during a news conference: “I have watched the video and I was sickened by it…I have not watched it since.”  However the rest of the world was watching it 24/7 and Mr. Scott’s family is convinced that were it not for the video going viral on the internet “they would have just swept it under the rug like they always do.”

The right to carry guns under the sanction of the state, whether in the military or the civilian police force, gives the powerless class of white men a feeling of power and importance; they are the contemporary counterparts of the “patrollers” and “overseers” of slavery times.  Like their ancestors these poor southern white men are lap dogs for the rich and powerful class of whites – in antebellum times they supported the enslavement of black people and went to war to defend it, despite the fact that competing with slave labor meant they would never be able to bargain for a fair wage for themselves.

If that sounds crazy, and it is, it is no crazier than all the poor whites who vote Republican today, many of whom still fly Conferederate Battle flags….just like the flag flying over the Republican controlled state house!  Yet the Republicans are  the party of the plutocrats, people who despise working class whites and care so little for their welfare they ship their jobs overseas to non-white countries, deny them unions wherever they can to prevent collective bargaining – the only protection workers have in dealing with rapacious amoral multi-national corporations – and think nothing of hiring low wage illegal immigrant labor, which is almost wholly non-white, to replace them  here at home.

Mitt Romney made it abundantly clear what he thinks of the working class when he cited workers in China, who are locked in their factories and forced to work horrendous hours, as an ideal work environment during what he thought was a private conversation with fellow plutocrats.  We only learned about his true feelings  because he was secretly recorded by one of the waiters who put his phony ass on blast.

Here, live and direct on You Tube,  was a pompous rich prick that made his fortune shipping American jobs overseas; hid his money in foreign banks that are favored by Latin American drug lords; paid relatively fewer taxes on his hundreds of millions than his secretary paid on her paltry pay.

Yet poor whites everywhere voted overwhelmingly for Mitt over President Obama, who gave them health care – many for the first time in their lives – and provided support to local governments under his stimulus  plan, the Economic Recovery Act, which saved hundreds of thousands of public service jobs like cops and firemen and kept millions of working class families from sliding into poverty – See “The New New Deal,” by Michael Grunewald.  Barack Obama is the best friend poor whites have had since President Franklin Roosevelt; yet they hate him with a searing passion!

What is most striking to me about these Charleston murders perpetrated by white southern men against innocent, unarmed, Afro-Americans is that they came from legal and extra legal sources just like the old days when I was growing up in apartheid Florida.  Back then, in the middle of the twentieth century, racial discrimination was open and LEGAL!   White supremacy was the ruling ideology of southern politics and black lives didn’t matter.

It was like walking in a minefield whenever you had to interact with whites…especially white women.  For instance, it was a grave offense to ask a white woman for a pack of condoms if she was a clerk in the drugstore.  Hence when I hear that Dylan Roof wished things were “the way they used to be,” and then he tells the congregants in Mother Emanuel, African Methodist Episcopal Church “I have to do this because they are raping our women and taking over our country” it sounded all too familiar to me.

These two issues were the paramount obsessions of white southern males since the end of the Civil War; fear of economic and sexual competition with free black men has been the driving force in shaping both law and custom in the American South.  And Professor Martha Hodes convincingly demonstrates that  violent attacks against black male /white female  unions grew much worse after slavery was overthrown in her scholarly book “White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the 19th Century South.”

As a result of the victories won in the Civil Rights Movement, the old bargain between rich and poor whites that reserved whole classes of jobs “for white men only” has been nullified; hence they must compete in a labor market that includes Afro-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and white women.

Alas, they are discovering the harsh reality that if they have no education or special talents being white in America today means nothing in the competition for the spoils of success in an amoral increasingly Darwinian economic environment.  This is the incubator of the lost souls who fall under the spell of white supremacist ideology…they are so far removed from the centers of power in this society that they don’t even recognize that white men are still in power!

A sad sack girlie looking little un-athletic poot-butt white boy, Roof is obviously obsessed with and intimidated by black masculinity.  Living in football crazed South Carolina he probably watched the curvaceous blond cuties he lusted for drooling over the black football stars all through his school years.

And like the old school white racist of my time Roof deceives himself that any sexual interaction between black men and white women is rape…because no white woman would ever willing fuck a nigger.  That is obviously what Roof has managed to delude himself into believing; otherwise he would talk about the multitude of smart and pretty “race traitor” white women who are wild about black men….and here I speak from experience.

The problem with the way racist white men think about the attractions between white women and black men is that they choose to view us all as illiterate, inarticulate, unattractive, thugs. Although their is no paucity of white girls – including solidly middle class and wealthy young women – who are wild about the black gangsta/thug/rapper style.  One need only watch the videos of Too Live Crew, and Snoop Dog’s Up in Smoke Tour to see how wildy erotic many white women see them.

But that view of black men is a racist myth.  Most black men are not thugs, and many of us are very smart, well built, charming, eloquent, stylish, great dancers, athletic, and successful!  We have to fight white women off – smart, attractive, successful white women.  Trust me on this…for I know whereof I speak.  My circle of black male friends are so impressive that after attending a party with us most white supremacist would consider cutting their throats…especially if there were good looking white women in the house…like my old girlfriend Tanya – artist, fashion designer and teacher – who has danced and joined her ancestors after a bout with cancer.

Tanya is the kind of long legged Blond Neo-Nazi tyoes have Wet Dreams about
Karen-picas edit 
Seeing her with me drove racist white males mad from black penis envy

Ever since I was a young boy I always felt superior to southern white boys, because my parents – along with the preachers, teachers and professionals in my all black community – constantly reminded us that if white men really felt superior like they preached, they would not be so terrified of competing with us on equal terms.  And they would point to the great success of Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson to show what happened when we got a chance to compete on equal terms.  They also pointed out the obvious fact that people who truly feel that their competition is inferior wouldn’t spend so much time and effort stacking the deck against them.

Nowhere was this more obvious than when it came to competing for the affections of women.  Southern white men were notorious for chasing black women surreptitiously, seeking to become undercover lovers.  Every good looking black women in the apartheid south has tales to tell about being harassed by white men.  Knowing the severe economic discrimination that black men were forced to endure under the old white man job reserve system; they attempted to use their superior social status and economic position to seduce beautiful black women.  My family was filled with beautiful educated stylish black women and white men were always trying to hit on them.  I could always  tell when a cracker said something to one of them because they would be livid!  Their common response was “If my brother made advances to his sister they would kill him…yet he has the nerve to approach me?”  They saw it for what it was: an insult.   And the women of my family – most of whom were second generation college graduates – looked upon black women who engaged in secret liaisons with white men as the scum of the earth.

Despite their incessant chasing of black women, southern white men were prepared to commit murder to keep white women away from us…they of course said they were “defending the purity of southern white womanhood” from beastly black rapists.  I have argued elsewhere that the vulgar paternalism involved in the creation the idealized “White Lady” has had some unexpected consequences with the rise of feminism. See: “Liberation from White Ladyship?”   If anybody ought to be mad about race relations in American it’s me….not this little paleface punk Dylann Root, who has endured nothing and whose failures in life a purely the result of his own shortcomings.   But he has been made to feel a victim due to the incessant blather of verbal arsonists in the media like that porcine dope fiend Rush Limbaugh, the greaser Sean Hannity, et al.  How else could Roof come to the conclusion that black men are taking over the country?  Where does such a young person get these ideas?

If the situation were not such a tragedy it would be funny watching old racist Republican hypocrites like Lindsay Graham express pain and puzzlement over the racist slaughter.  Yet he has been one of the perpetrators of the old southern myth of the “Lost Cause.”   He has supported flying the confederate Battle flag on the South Carolina state capitol grounds; which is an insult to everybody who enjoys the benefits of citizenship in the United States today. As I write the swelling demand to take down this shamful flag has reached the point where it was just announced that Senator Graham and Governor Nicky Hailey are going to call for the removal of that foul rag and store it in a confederate war museum.

This is long overdue; forming the southern Confederacy and launching a war against the US government  was an act of treason!  Yet these Carolina rednecks like Senator Lindsay Graham defended the right of South Carolina to fly this symbol of treason over their state capitol until this moment.   Aside from this, all the major avenues are named for Confederate generals: This in the state that started the devastating Civil War.  This is like going to Berlin and seeing the Swastika flying over the Reichstag and its major boulevards named for Nazi Generals and SS officers like Himmler and Goering.   After all, Nazi Germany and the southern confederacy were based on the same “master race” ideology that Hitler borrowed from the USA!

An objective analysis of the social structure in Charleston will reveal that the white “old money” crowd that run the town made their family fortunes from black slave labor;  the poor whites are descendants of the poor crackers from which the overseers were recruited, and the mass of blacks are descendants of slaves and the survivors of apartheid – i.e. the legal racial caste system based on white supremacy.  It becomes apparent that any change in the racial hierarchy of Charleston is a relative thing.  The old money whites and their political shills in the Republican Party – the Grand Obstructionist Party that has blocked almost every good thing Barack has tried to do for the American people – feel that it is their divine right to rule South Carolina.

The black slave population was greater than the free white population as far back as the 18th century, whites have always felt uneasy about maintaining their grasp on power; which accounts for the severity of their slave codes and segregation laws after the end of chattel slavery.  And it is the main reason why they are resorting to all manner of chicanery in order deprive Afro-Americans of their right to vote today.

Root is heir to this racist heritage, and he has surely heard all of the racist lies about President propagated by Tea Party and mainstream Republicans alike.   For instance Sarah Palin – whose principal contribution to American politics is to make stupidity fashionable – leveled a  hysterical charge that Obamacare was setting up “death panels” to decide who among the elderly shall live or die; to the evangelical Christians who preach that he is “the anti-Christ,” which have become conventional wisdom among ignorant desperate racist southern whites.

These are the forces that shaped Root’s perception of reality; he is a direct product of their anti-black propaganda.  Hence it is safe to assume that he is not an aberration but the avatar of a nihilistic and increasingly violent tread among powerless, alienated, white men.  We shall surely see his like again.

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 2oth, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pope Condemns Environmental Pollution

Posted in On Pope Francis and Catholocism with tags , , on June 18, 2015 by playthell

Environmental pollution

Once a sigh of progress….now a symbol of doom

                  Pope’s Encyclical Upsets Jeb Bush                        

At the time of his investiture I marked Pope Francis for greatness and history is proving me right.  I  embraced him despite the fact that I had campaigned in writing for an African Pope, even naming a few highly qualified candidates; I argued that the Catholic Church should choose an African Pontiff as an act of penitence for the massive crimes committed against African people perpetrated by white Catholics under the direction of the Popes.*

When I first heard that the College of Cardinals had decided to choose a candidate from “the South,” meaning somewhere in the Third World, I was certain it was a priest that hailed form the indigenous Amerindian population.  When I discovered the new Pope was of Italian origin, a descendent of the European Catholics that robbed, raped and slaughtered the indigenes while infecting them with diseases, robbing them of their lands and resources, then reduced them to slavery, I was outraged.  I thought the Church had added a new insult to centuries old injuries in which it was an instigator.

However the more I learned about the new Pope my opinion of him began to change.**  After acknowledging my initial opposition to his selection I wrote “But as I learned more about this humble priest of the Jesuit Order, the scholars of the Church, my attitude softened.  His disdain for luxury and the trappings of personal power impressed me. And his denunciation of the Mal-distribution of wealth in the world brought an Amen from this corner.”

Now that Pope Francis has taken such a bold stand against the reckless greed driven activities of the rich and powerful who are responsible for the massive pollution of our environment, denouncing the excesses of the super-rich as the fundamental cause of the climate change that threatens the future of life on this planet and add to the misery of the poor and wretched of the earth, he has justified my faith in his promise of greatness.  He has justified his choice of St. Francis of Asissi, the patron saint of the poor, as his Papal Name.

The Pope speaks with frankness and clarity on the issue of human agency in the long term trend of climate changes that threatens to become catastrophic.  This is no picayune affair; encyclicals are instructional letters to Catholics that become the basis of the Church’s teaching on the question and is integrated into the sermons of the parish priests under the supervision of their Bishops.  Since the Pope is viewed as the infallible tribune of God on earth his Encyclicals become church dogma and thus cannot be questioned by priests or bishops.  Hence a billion Catholics must accept the teaching in this encyclical as the truth of the matter.

Speaking of the present Encyclical, Laudato Sii or “Be Praised,” Pope Francis writes: “In this encyclical I intend especially to engage in a dialogue with everyone about our common home.” He was, of course, referring to planet earth; our only home outside of the righteous that will be born again in heaven.  A priest of the Jesuit Order, the scholars of the church, the Pope’s encyclical is 192 pages, the length of a respectable book and is an intellectual treatise of a high order.

After having consulted with a wide variety of experts in various fields including climate scientists, to economists, theologians, et al the Pontiff concludes: “Numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming of the past decades is due to the concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others), emitted especially because of human activities.”

Francis’ decision to weigh in on such a complex problem in the earthly realm is one of the reasons why the Roman Curia has never appointed a Jesuit as Pope until now – as intellectuals will inevitably raise uncomfortable questions that challenge the status quo.  And I would wager that some of the bishops are now having second thoughts because Pope Francis’ encyclical places the church at the center of a global debate in which powerful political and economic interests are at stake.

Already it has become an issue in the presidential politics of the USA, with two of the leading Republican candidates – Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush – professing the Catholic faith.  Thus far Marco has remained mum on the Pontiff, but Jeb Bush boldly declared the Pope should butt out of the environmental debate.   “I don’t take orders from my bishop…I think religion should be about making us better people.”  It is hard to imagine a dumber response since in order to be “better people” we must first survive!  It will be quite entertaining to see what kind of fancy rhetorical foot work the latest Bushman employs in trying to explain his opposition to the Pope when speaking before Hispanic audiences who are devout Catholics and are wild about the first Latin American Pope.

Trapped!

Jeb Bush

Which Master shall he Serve: Politics or Morality?
Marco Rubio is also feeling the Heat

Marco Rubio

The Pope’s encyclical puts this mealy mouth charlatan on the hot seat

Bush’s silly duplicitous response to the Pope’s call to save our planet could neutralize any advantages he might have enjoyed with Hispanics by virtue of his Mexican wife.  Clearly he is a man trapped between the Devil of Republican politics and divine revelations of the Pope…the infallible Holy Father of his professed faith.  If you get a kick out of watching contortionists get your popcorn and grab a front row seat because we are about to witness a shameless moral contortionist twist himself into knots!

Aside from offending believing Catholics by his dismissal of the Pope, Bush also risks losing credibility with many college educated voters by publicly denying science.  He is trapped, because millions of Republicans are both anti-Catholic and anti-science, and in order to win them he cannot appear to be under the sway of the Pope or the Scientists, and since these people make up a large segment of the “Republican Base” whose support is indispensable in winning the Republican nomination for President….it’s gonna e fun to watch.

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*See: An African Pope as Act of Penitence, at  https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/an-african-pope-as-act-of-penitence/ )

** Can Pope Francis Redeem the Church? at https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/can-pope-francis-redeem-the-church/

 

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 18, 2015

 

Fanfares for a Culture Hero!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on June 14, 2015 by playthell

Select Senator Pic

Senator Bill Perkins, Rome Neal and Producer Woody King
 An Evening of Banana Puddin, Panegyrics and Jazz

It was yet another wonderful evening of performing art at the Nuyorican Theater. But on this occasion it was the indefatigable impresario Rome Neal that was the raison d’etre for the festivities, as the performers turned out to honor a man that has done so much to advance their careers by providing a space and opportunity to perform in New York City.   For the performing artists the Big Apple is a Darwinian milieu, red of tooth and claw, where only the strong and persistent even if talented and gifted will survive. Rome Neal personifies that intrepid spirit.

With little more than spit, grit and mother wit Rome has not only made a place for himself as an actor and director in the theater, but has become an important independent producer of Jazz performances.  In his role as Jazz impresario he has presented such unique shows as “Women in Jazz” and “LGBT Jazz Greats,” in which he has introduced these Jazz musicians to a wider audience than they might otherwise have had an opportunity to play for.

His “Banana Puddin” Jazz concerts have featured a wide variety of musicians such as “A Night of Legends Featuring Barry Harris, Randy Weston and  Danny Mixon.”  His “Young and the Jazzy” series has also uncovered obscure gems whose prodigious talents might have gone unrecognized.  Rome’s “Japanese Jazz Connections” concerts showcased many of the outstanding Japanese Jazz musicians who migrate to New York in search of the source of their art the way Muslims go to Mecca.  He is continuing the tradition begun by Dr. Billy Taylor, the late great Jazz pianist/composer/bandleader .

From his base at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, Rome has produced both innovative theater and cutting edge Jazz performances.  As the Director of Theater in this landmark East Village cultural emporium Rome has produced the plays of Laurence Holder – the Dean of playwrights that mine the treasure trove of Afro-American history and employ its riches as the basis for their dramas – and has single handedly kept the dramatic voice of the great Oakland California based novelist/dramatist/poet/essayist Ishmael Reed alive in New York.

An iconoclastic satirists who wields his pen like the sword of an avenging angel, Reed – whom English Professor and insightful critic Leslie Fiedler has called “a highbrow Ironist” and The Nation has declared the most important American satirist since Mark Twain –  has been practically banished by a Euro-American cultural establishment that ought to be celebrating him for enriching American literature and thought.  Rome has come repeatedly to Reed’s rescue by producing his plays in New York; if this were the sum total of his activities as a cultural impresario it would be a worthy legacy.  But he has done so much more, especially in the realm of music.

The liveliest and most spiritually moving of the arts, it is not unusual for people working in other art forms to become mesmerized by the power of music and wish to become involved with this intoxicating medium of expression, but few have managed to make this transition on the level of Neal….Ishmael Reed’s conquest of the piano being the exception that proves the rule.  Reed has become so proficient a pianist that Rome produced a concert featuring the great writer as a pianist.

Rome’s metamorphosis from actor/director to singer and Jazz impresario seems to really take off with his riveting performance of Thelonious Monk, in an insightful one man play written by Lawrence Holder. (See, Monk: the Play on this blog)   Rome’s performance as the enigmatic Jazz piano virtuoso Thelonious Monk is a marvel to behold, a tour de force.  Like all great acting performances we witness Rome morph into his character until we are unable to separate the actor from his role and we forget that he is acting. Which, after all, is the essence of the thespian’s art.

Rome Neal in his signature role
Rome Neal, actor performs in his award winning play "Monk"

Rome Neal, actor performs in his award winning play “Monk”

 A remarkable transformation

Witnessing Rome’s actions since he began playing Monk it sometimes appears that he too could not distinguish the difference between himself and the role.  For instance he began taking music lessons with the great Jazz pianist Barry Harris at the Jazz Cultural Center, a unique learning and performance venue in Tribeca where apprentice where tutored by master musicians in a collegial environment, and he learned to sing.  I confess that I was skeptical of Rome’s new venture, having grown up surrounded by great singers – my next door neighbor Blanch Hammond won a national talent competition singing an extremely difficult passage from Wagner – and had once served as bandleader for Jean Carn, one of the outstanding singers of the twentieth century, I have exacting standards for singers.

Hence I thought Rome’s chances of succeeding at becoming a singer were less than a snowball’s chances in a steel furnace.  Furthermore I did not hestitate to make my feelings known in unambiguous language; willing to risk brusisng his feelings in order to rescue my friend from embarking on a fool’s errand. I was vocal  critic. But he proved me wrong when he played the lead part in Laurence Holder’s play about a Jazz singer: “The Crooner.”

Despite the fact that he would probably not been cast in this role if he were not the producer/director of the play, Rome held his own in the production.  Again I was a first hand witness to his incredible tenacity and his willingness to risk failure in order to realize his artistic aims.  Many of the people who turned out to celebrate Rome’s 12th year as producer of the Banana Pudding Jazz Series at the Nuyorican have benefited by his tireless efforts in behalf of Jazz artists and thespians; efforts fueled by a heroic optimism that come what may great art will find a way.

It was a grand celebration, an outpouring of love and appreciation as one artist after another took the stage and offered musical libations to a respected elder of their community.  Most of the performers were instrumentalists because Jazz is a complex instrumental music that prizes virtuosity and spontaneus innovation, but the singers chimed in too and had their say.  It was an evening of cookers, straight ahead swing, Duke and Dizzy’s thing. They swung so hard the hoofers got up and got down; tapping out complicated rhythms of the sort that inspired the best drummers in the Jazz tradition until tap went the way of the dinosaurs – crushed by changing public taste and the imperatives of the marketplace.

Rome’s love of Jazz is extraordinary…one gets the impression that exposure to it enriches his life in a special way that few can share or even understand. However Rome also deeply believes that exposure to Jazz music can enrich the life of anyone; I believe it is what inspires his efforts as a Jazz impresario.  The extent of this belief was dramatically revealed during his recuperation from a bad fall off a ladder while working on a set at the Nuyorican.  When he began his rehabilitation from the serious injuries resulting from the fall at Governeur Health clinic, the therapist asked him what kind of music he liked; as music is increasingly recognized by medical practitioners for having therapeutic powers.

Rome told the physical therapist, a young white woman, that he loved Thelonious Monk. Although she had never heard of him, through the magic of the internet she found Monk’s music and put it on.   As they began the workout Rome started to tell her Monk’s story and she was amazed at his knowledge of this obscure musician whose existence she had never heard of a few moments ago.

When she asked him how he knew so much about Monk, Rome told her that he had played Monk in an award winning one man play.  Then he began to recite poignant passages from Holder’s play.  And when Round bout Midnight came on – a canonical composition in Jazz – Rome sang the lyrics to her.  He watched a change come over her as the soulful blues and abstract truth of Monk’s musical revelations began to mess with her mind….at the end of the session she left wanting to hear more of Monk’s music.

From his description of the experience, I was reminded of some lines from “The Ballad of Thelonious Monk,” written by Jimmy Rowles, made famous by Carmen McCrea, but most convinvingly recorded by a male country and western singer – my favorite version: “I used to think cowboy music/ was the only thing there was….and then I heard Thelonious Monk.”  The song goes on to explain the marvelous effect monks music had on his life, explaining that his horse wouldn’t go to sleep unless he played “Ruby My Dear.”

The word got around the hospital that they had a great actor and Jazz impresario as a patient.  Before he was done Rome produced a special women’s jazz concert and dedicated it to his female doctor and therapist.  They attended as honored guest and it was a great moment for them.  He later produced a Jazz concert for his team of orthopedic surgeons and they all came out.  Many were introduced to the art of jazzing for the first time, and they have come back for more. This, in essence, is Rome at his best.  He is ever the Jazz Impresario.

One of the grandest moments in an evening of magic moments was when Harlem state Senator Bill Perkins presented a Proclamation from the New York Senate commending Rome for his contribution to the arts, an honor he exuberantly shared with his grandchildren, Delano and Jolie.  Perkins had made the arduous journey from the Capitol, which is upstate in Albany, after the morning session in the Senate in order to make the tribute and present the Proclamation in person.  Rome, in turn, surprised Senator Perkins with a Shekere Award; which he bestows on outstanding lovers and supporters of the arts.  It was an enchanted evening….one befitting a devoted Eulyptian and fearless cultural warrior.  

Senator Perkins reading the Prolamation
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As grandaughter boldly looks to the heavens
Rome with Senator Bill Perkins
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 Presenting the Proclamation to Rome’s Grand Daughter Joile
Rome presenting the Shekere to Senator Perkins
DSCN0026 A Special Award for Eulypians
Showing the Senator how to shake that thang
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Tapping out a rhythm on a stringed gourd with Cowry shells
Woody King Jr.
DSCN0019Offering up praise songs to the man of the hour
The Jazz Impresario Anoints the Audience
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 Droppin Science big time
 Rome and Songstress Rosanna Vitro

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Musicians came from everywhere
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Yoichi Uzeki all the way from Japan
 And Fredrika Krier came from Germany

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Alto Saxophonist T.K. Blue

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Trumpeter and Congero: Michael C. Lewis and Steve Kroon

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Tenor man Arthur Green added a grand voice

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Pianist and Bassist: Andre Chez Lewis and Corcoran Holt

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Patience Higgins and the Boys

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 Hoofer Hank Smith took the Floor
Third Choice
Tapping out Complex Jazz Rhythms

 First Choice

Trading twelves with the Drummer

 

 The Singers!

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Eric FraizerSwinging the Blues
You Don’t Know What Love Is……

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 ……Until You Know the Meaning of the Blues
 
Like a beautiful Bird of Paradise
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Leziie Harrison thrilled audience and musicians alike
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 Rusannah Swung Blue Monk with a whole lotta soul!

Wailing!

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Steve Cromity wasAll Blues!
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 The Man of the Hour!

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Expresses his gratitude to the artists and audience

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Double Click on link to see video
https://youtu.be/L_UeWKMbL0I
 
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