Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

Praise Songs for a Master Musician

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2014 by playthell
MODELE ARMSTRONG
Louis Armstrong: His horn and voice changed the world of music

A Fitting Tribute to a Great Artist on the Centenary of his Birthday

On the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Louis Armstrong a celebration in his honor was held at Columbia University, one of America’s most distinguished institutions of higher learning. Titled The Artistry of Pops: Louis Armstrong on his 100th Birthday,” three of the nation’s most outstanding intellectuals and artists – Robert O’Meely, Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis – conducted an ancestor veneration ritual in memory of Louis Armstrong, a great American original.

Robert O’Meely is a Professor of English at Columbia, Director of the Institute for Jazz Studies and a serious Jazz scholar who wrote an important book on Billy Holliday; Stanley Crouch is the nation’s premiere Jazz critic and biographer of Charlie Parker; and Wynton Marsalis is Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center – the most important Jazz performance and education venue in the world – and leader of the internationally renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, an aggregation of great musicians who can play every genre of jazz without accent.

It is a certainty that almost anyone who takes the time to view this video will be greatly enlightened by the experience.  My certainty lies in the fact that I was enlightened by it and I have been writing about Jazz for over 20 years and have published essays about the music in some of the most prestigious journals in the English language.  The video begins with an opening address by Dr. O’Meely, rich in eloquence and erudition, it paints a complex portrait of Louis Armstrong that demolished the stereotypical view of him as a simple minded entertainer and borderline clown.

What emerges from Professor O’Meely’s succinct but learned lecture is a compelling portrait of a great artist who changed western music and won devotees among musicians and music lovers all over the world.  We learn that the ability to play and instrument and also sing well enough to have a lasting influence on both arts is a very rare feat; the province of genius.  Yet, he tells us, this is precisely what Louis Armstrong did.

       Pop’s Armstrong Singing
                         Louis Armstrong singing
Recording with the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald

Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitgerald

                    One of Pop’s many artistic “children”

In his professorial fashion Dr. O’Meely cited a scholarly text to provide evidence of the influence of Louis Armstrong on the major singers who dominated American jazz and pop music for most of the twentieth century and set the standards many singers still emulate. The Book, “Pops Children,” lets us hear it from the horses’ mouths through the author’s interviews.  Among those who pay homage to Pops as an artistic inspiration and guide are Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Day, et al.

O’Meely’s lecture was the ideal introduction to Louis Armstrong, because he enumerates the many facets of Armstrong’s interests and talents and defines the elements that characterize his style and innovations in western music. Although he teases us with glimpses of Armstrong’s multi-faceted personality and varied interests, he reminds us they are laboring under the tyranny of the clock and thus must confine their discourse to the matter of music.

Despite the fact that he is a Professor of English Dr. O’Meely is a fine music critic.  Like Crouch and Marsalis he is a protégée of the novelist, essayist, musician Ralph Ellison, and Albert Murray, the recently departed Harlem sage and blues philosopher whose masterpiece, “Stomping the Blues,” is a canonical text on Afro-American music…especially Jazz. Thus O’Meely’s analysis is well informed by a broad knowledge of the history and nature of artistic creation and innovation, and his discussion of Louis Armstrong is conducted within the comparative context of all great art.

As a literary man beguiled by the blues in its many splendored guises, Dr. O’Meeley conjures up the memory of Professor Sterling Brown, a Harvard educated pioneer blues poet and longtime Professor of English at Howard University in Washington, who had jazz musicians play for his class live and who is called out by name as the hippest intellectual in the nation’s capitol in Ledbelly’s famous song “Washington is a Bourgeois Town.”  

It was Professor O’Meely who was called upon to make the keynote speech at the dedication of the monumental statute “Invisible Man,” created by Elizabeth Catlett, outside of Ellison’s residence on Riverside Drive, not far from Columbia’s campus. Unlike Sterling Brown, O’ Meely does not need jazz musicians to play for his class because just a few blocks down Broadway from campus is Jazz at Lincoln Center, where the greatest Jazz musicians in the world perform nearly every night.  O’Meely is immersed in the Jazz milieu being centrally located in the Jazz capitol of the world he has seen it all, which makes him an ideal critic fully equipped to evaluate the place of Louis Armstrong in American music.

I got a taste of the depth of his erudition when we debated an essay on music and literature written by Albert Murray in a seminar at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Debating the Learned Professor O’Meely at the Sorbonne
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        A Joint Meeting of the US and European Associations of American Studies  

At the conclusion of his learned commentary on the character and contributions of Pops Armstrong, Professor O’Meely turned the floor over to Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis after reading their impressive bonafides to the audience, calling them “two of the smartest people talking about Jazz.” Crouch was introduced first to tumultuous applause, but when Wynton walked on stage, trumpet in hand, the crowd went wild.

In an extended discussion Crouch compared the heroism of people who invent major movements in art or intellectual ideas to those in classical Greek mythology, and Wynton dazzled with his in-depth knowledge of the art of trumpet playing and the history of its development in the USA. As always, his lecture became a “show and tell” when he would demonstrate his point on the trumpet.

This video is a wonderful portrait of Pops which require no further comment, since we have the film. However it is impossible to overstate the importance of the work that O’Meely, Crouch and Marsalis are doing by institutionalizing Jazz in elite, well funded, American cultural and academic institutions such as Lincoln Center and Columbia University.

It is both fitting and proper that this effort should be led by Afro-American artists and intellectuals.  Jazz is, after all, Black America’s gift to the nation and America’s gift to world culture.  Look, listen and learn about one of the greatest artists and most interesting American men of the 20th century, the trumpet virtuoso that invented both the extended Jazz solo and a distinctly American approach to singing… the Jazz song.

Pops At Carnegie Hall with Kate Middleton 1947
Louis_Armstrong_and_Velma_Middleton,_Carnegie_Hall,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._Feb._1947_
                      A Sartorial Trend Setter Always sharp as a Tack
The Axe with Which Louis Conquored the World!
Louis Arnstrongs trumpet presented to him by King George V of England in 1933
This Trumpet was a gift from King George V in 1933
Double click on link to see the video Tribute
http://youtu.be/G0X24dJHYq4 

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 4, 2014

It’s Yo Birthday Susannah!

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , on March 30, 2014 by playthell

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Holla! Hue Yang and daughter Quinlee

 Susannah Makes Sixty and the Eulypians Rejoiced

 She was like the Chief Sorceress in the gathering of poets, painters, thespians, musicians, singers and other makers of that splendid alchemy called art.  As she strolled among the adoring crowd of mostly former students, colleagues and friends,  Susannah Israel – sculptor, writer/critic, and teacher extraordinaire – graciously presided over the crowd with the grace of a queen mother from some ancient time.  It was Susannah’s sixtieth birthday and the convocation of free and generous spirits had gathered to joyously celebrate this gifted artist and teacher that never stops giving.

It was a celebration worthy of the occasion, as Susannah’s friends brought forth a variety of gifts, some in the form of succulent foods prepared with loving care by their own hands. Others, skilled in the culinary arts, offered their service on the grill or in the oven, and some groomed and decorated themselves in daring fashion, adding panache to the party by making exotic spectacles of themselves.  And of course, one of the joys of any gathering of Eulypians – i.e. makers and lovers of the arts – is the stimulating conversation.  Suffice it to say that was in rare abundance.

However of all the evening’s amusements the musicians stole the show.  Of course I am one of those musically sensitive souls for whom the bang of the drum, trill of the trumpet and clash of the cymbals causes my pulse to quicken.  I confess this because I believe all writers who venture value judgments about the relative merits of cultural experiences ought to declare their biases, and I have been madly in love with music all of my life. The proof of it is that I have written about more different genres of music than any music critic in New York City….which is the mecca of music critics.

Yet despite whatever bias I might bring to the subject, I believe I am right in the accolades I pay to the musicians. The groove ranged from the tight Neo-Soul sounds of Harry and the Hitmen, who were jamming in the exotic décor of bassist-bandleader Jesse Toews Studio/Crib.  The band plays original material wherever possible, because they write a lot of music, and if the sampling I heard is a fair representation of what they do – first rate music performed by accomplished musicians.  I think they have a better than even chance making themselves felt in the music industry.

The musical offering was diverse, ranging from smooth Neo-Soul to hard rock guitar boy band sounds and deep Blues.   Veteran musician Dee “Big Dog” Hensley anchored the evening’s musical offering in rock and blues performances. first with a Jimi Hendrix style trio of Lead guitar, bass and drums reminicent of Band of Gypsies, and then a rendering of deep blues. His set was topped off by a blues performance featuring his wife Donalda Gilligan, a former singer with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, who gave a soulful blues shout out.

Listening to the musical peformances I got the same feeling I expeienced in a nightclub on a visit to London. (See “On Being Black in London” on this blog)  I was taken to what I was told was the hippest nightclub in town, which had three floors and on each floor the music was of Afro-American origins. The band on the first floor, all British musicians, was a septet laying Miles Davis’ “ll Blues ” with the same instrumentation.  On the second floor was an elegant restuarant that played only Afro-American big band classics and when I walked in I heard Sarah Vaughn with the Count Basie Orchestra.  and on the top floor was a disco where “Ladies Night” by Kool and the Gang was rockin the house.

The London experience and the Vulcan party honoring Professor Sussanah Israel offered irrefutable evidence of the extent to which Afro-American music has changed the cultural sensibilities of the western world in the twentieth century and left its imprint on world culture (See: “Jazz Around the World” on this blog and Western Culture Revised, in the Freedomways Reader.)  All in all it was a joyous fete that brought friends together and good vibes were everywhere in the air.  It was a happy birthday indeed!

                                                                  Josh and Lexi…….
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……..Were the moving spirits that made it Happen!

 Friends Brought Food, Wine and Wisdom Weed

DSC06763 And Joyous Smiles all Around!
 And Real Prime Northern California Bud!

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 True Wisdom Weed…A gift from the Earth Goddess!
It was a Carnivore’s Paradise!
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Real Mexican Beef!
 And there was Music

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 Vintage Hard Boy Band Rock
 And Real Blues too

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Dem low down dirty Juke Joint Blues
Wailed by Soulful Shouters……
 DSC06832
…….Who stomped the Blues
 Harry and the Hitmen….

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 Rocked tha House
 They Have an Original Sound

 DSC06694

 Not Just Old Wine in New Skins
 And they Keep it Funky!

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It’s all about The Rhythm
They Sing Too!

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 And Rock the Tambourine
 They Are a Self-Contained Band

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They Play, and Sing, and Write their Own Songs
 Erudite Conversation was Common Fare
 DSC06727 edit
Professors Tiffany Schmierer  Michelle Gregor and Jason Dunn
 Some Board Members of the Oakland Ceramic Art Museum

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                                                    Dr. Dar Fong Joined the Fete
  It was a warm Diverse Gathering
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 Where old friends greeted each other enthusiastically
 Lexi Greeting Elaine Toland…….

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 ……….the Illustrious East Bay Painter
 Princess Lia Went High Fashion
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And got it just right: elegance through simplicity

 

And Other Free Spirits……

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……..Were indifferent to fashion

 

Charity, A Grateful former Student and Fine Artist…

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 ……….Gave her Professor  a Big Bear Hug
While Lexi Laughed with A Wild Child

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 If they are lucky 30 years hence…..they may look like the Birthday Girl
 ************************

 Susannah at Sixty!!!

Second Choice 

And look what she’s workin With!

 

 A Sizzling Senior Citizen!

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Fire and Ice in a Contemplative Mood
 Double Click to see Harry and the Hit Men

http://youtu.be/rzd79LPvK5Y

***********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Oakland, Cali
March 30, 2014

Is Hip Hop Art?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2014 by playthell
Barack, Byonce and Jay Z
Chilly B, Honey B and Jay Z…..Holla!

Response to A Friend’s Comment on Hip Hop

The first thing I saw when I switched on my Facebook page this morning, which has now become a daily ritual, was a post from my friend Eric Wattree, a learned scribe from the left coast who is also an accomplished jazz musician. The post was a video clip of Quincy Jones presenting Emily Bear, a young white female of rare musical gifts – Quincy pointed out that she has composed several pieces for symphony orchestras – but since this was the Montreux Jazz Festival she was performing jazz piano on this occasion.

The clip was accompanied by the comment “Are we going to become the first culture in the history of mankind who are incapable of playing what we created?”  I thought it a curious comment, since I did not find her particularly impressive as a Jazz pianist.  She reminded me more of Philippa Duke Schuyler, the daughter of Afro-American writer and the blond Texas heiress and artist Josephine Cogdell, who had been selected as a coveted Sennett Bathing Beauty. Phillippa was not only performing the masterworks for piano in European classical music as a child, but showed such promise as a composer by nine years old she was seriously compared to Mozart at her age by American professors of music.

And had it not been for the racism and snobbery that characterized the attitude of the European Classical music community toward Jazz – An Afro-American complex instrumental Music that is now regarded as classic American art – I have no doubt that Phillippa would have mastered Jazz piano too.  After all, she lived on Sugar Hill in Harlem, which was home to many great black jazz musicians, including Duke Ellingon and Andy Kirk, whose wife was a great pianist that gave Charlie Parker his first gig when they lived in Kansas City.  Mrs. Kirk was a fabulous piano teacher who taught generations of Harlem kids to play.

Phillippa Duke Schuyler

 Phillapa Scuyler III  - editd copy

 A Musical Prodigy Performing her Compositions
 Phillippa Schuyler around Emily Bear’s Age
Phillapa SchuylerA world class virtuoso pianist and composer!

When he went on to  observe that “scatching a record is not art,” it became obvious that Eric is alarmed by the wholesale intoxication with Hip Hop beats by young folks – you hear them everywhere, even in the cadences of black marching bands –  and he is responding to the sad possibility that there will come a time when young black musicians will be unable to perform the complex art of Jazz, a genre of instrumental music which in order to perfom properly requires virtuosity from everybody in the band.

The possibility that this grand achievement of Afro-American culture could be lost to future generations of black musicians is cause for alarm….but how real is this fear? After giving his comments a moment’s reflection I thought: My man needs to chill out; things are not nearly so dire regarding the supply of outstanding young black Jazz musicians. I wondered if his pessimism comes from the fact that he lives in LA, because here in the Big Apple there is no paucity of great young black Jazz musicians.

It’s not the absence of black musicians that’s the problem in New York, it’s finding a black audience! By virtue of the heroic efforts of Wynton Marsalis and the magnificent Jazz at Lincoln Center program, there is now a curriculum to guide music teachers in formally teaching the essential techniques of jazz performance available upon request: And its free!

Before Jazz at Lincoln Center got off the ground the great singer/bandleader Betty Carter hosted conferences that brought gifted young jazz virtuosi from all over the country to study and perform at her Jazz workshop at the Majestic Theater in Brooklyn, under the sponsorship of the Brookly Academy of Music.   I covered one of these conferences for the Sunday Times of London, and it was published under the title “School For Cats,”  which can now be read on this blog

One of the revelations in this essay is that all of the most gifted young jazz musicians also loved HipHop.  Pianist Cyrus Chestnut liked playing on rap tracks and Adonis Rose, who was the drummer with the brilliant Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, told me he had just finished playing behind some rappers and he loved it as mush as playing with Roberts! Hence I concluded that young Afro-americans musicians love both Jazz and Hip Hop equally….its a generational thing.

Adonis Rose

Adonis Rose II

A Young Master keeping the tradition alive!

Eric is right that scratching records is not making music in the traditional sense of playing an instrument, but scratching records is only a part of what hip hop MC’s do -there is the art of sampling records and creating unique beats, often creating entirely new songs.  And some of them can rap!  Many outstanding old school jazz masters not only recognize, but admire, the achievements of Hip Hop artists. A couple ot years ago I heard Grady Tate – the most widely recorded drummer in history – being interviewed at the Jazz Museum in Harlem, which is creating a priceless audio-video museum of jazz history.

When asked about hip hop in a room full of jazz heads, mostly middle aged and older, Tate had this to say: “I think the most innovative thing happening in recorded music today is hip hop.” A collective gasp of shock and disbelief went up in the room, but he continued: “I believe that certain people are genetically programmed to play music.”

He explained how he became a musician because he went to a high school with a great music program which even supplied the instruments – like the school I went to – then he pointed out how many inner-city kids were robbed of that opportunity because the philistine businessman and accountants that control school boards that fund education cut out formal musical instruction, school marching bands and orchestras. In response to this bleak musical predicament they created a new way of making music: HIP HOP

                                Grady Tate: Master Percussionist and Jazz Virtuoso
Grady Tate
He became a musician because of his high school music program

As a drummer he loves their beats, and as a Shakespearian actor with a degree in English literature he loves many of their clever rhymes and free verse poetry set to those beats. Tate went on to further explain that these young black and Hispanic kids in New York – the real home of Hip Hop – have not only created an art form which is now practiced around the world, but when he is touring he makes a point of checking them out, and he has discovered that the themes in their rhymes address local realities and concerns.

For instance, when I interviewed the Editor of Cuba’s first Hip hop magazine and radio programmer, he told me: “Hip hop is the true voice of young Afro-Cubans!” Then he proceeded to show me how young Afro-Cubans were setting the poems of Nicholas Guillen, the great Afro-Cuban Poet Laureate of Cuba, to rumba beats and reciting them over the beats. In other words, it is the specific lyrical content that determines the character of a particular rap.

Like Ragtime music, which is now universally recognized as a great art form, but in Scott Joplin’s time was regarded as “Whore house music.” And that, as Scott Joplin complained at the time, was due to “the bawdy lyrics” that so often accompanied the music. That’s why Joplin wrote Treemonisha, a full scale grand opera set to ragtime music, in order to demonstrate the nobility of the form. Hip hop is a very versatile form and has the power to affect human sensibility in myriad ways….it depends upon the artist!

Scott Joplin
Ragtime_Piano_SCOTT_JOPLIN__sheet Music
 Composed a Ragtime Opera to prove nobility of the music

And contrary to conventional wisdom about all rap lyrics celebrating murder, mayhem and debauchery, Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons never tires of pointing out: the “positive poets” have found the greater success. For instance Queen Latifah, Will Smith, LL Cool Jay, Puffy, et al. I started writing about hip hop from its inception here in New York.

I was friends with Joe Robinson, the owner of Sugar Hill Records, who recorded the first Hip Hop group, The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” before anybody had made a rap record. When I first met Joe, the epitome of an old school gentleman gangster, he was in the Rhythm and Blues business but was an avid Jazz fan. However he was in business to make money; so he let the market dictate his business decisions – which is to say he was always looking for the big hit….and that was not going to happen recording jazz acts. Alas, the jazz acts that made money i.e. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, the Jazz Crusaders, et al were already signed to major labels.

Joe was indifferent to what these young people were inventing  – it was just a “product” to him – but  I, like Grady Tate, Max Roach and Quincy Jones, dug what these kids were doing from the git go. And I wrote about the virtues and vices of this new popular art form in: The Village Voice, New York Daily News, Sunday Times of London, Guardian Observor of London, Source Magazine: “The Bible of Hip Hop,” Spin Magazine, etc.  Grady Tate made one more important point about Hip hop artists in comparison to some of the greatest figures in modern Jazz: The jazzmen were so high on dope they didn’t know where their money went! While hip hop artists smoke Wisdom Weed and control millions!!!!All True!!!

Russell Simmons

Russell and Obama

With President Obama; you’ve come a long way baby!

Russell Simmon’s house on Long Island is the biggest mansion on the East coast – including those of the 19th century Robber Barons like Cornelius Vanderbilt Mansion on the famed Fifth Ave “Millionaire’s Row.” and among his guests are Bill and Hillary Clinton. According to a CBS 60 minutes report Jay Z heads a billion dollar business conglomerate; which means has made more money than Mitt Romney, and Mitt started life in a Michigan Mansion while Jay Z started in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. See: Is Jay Z a Better Businessman than Mitt?”at:  https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/?s=jay+z.

Will Smith turned down a scholarship to MIT to pursue a hip hop career, and he has gone from rap music star, to television star, to movie super star. He and his wife Jada were replaced as the number one power couple in Show business by Jay Z and Beyonce. Ice Cube is a for real movie mogul who has the wherewithal to greenlight his own movie productions, and Sean P Ditty Combs has gone from a local producer of rap concerts in New York City to a businessman with a fortune estimated to exceed 500 million dollars!

                                                        P Ditty

Sean Puffy coombs (2)

 Playing it to the MaX

He owns apartment buildings on the posh upper side of Manhattan, is an award winning designer of formal men’s evening wear, and played the complex starring role in A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, to critical acclaim from both professional critics and the seasoned actors in the cast. Jay Z and Beyonce, next to their Friends Barack and Michelle, are America’s most popular power Couple and also talented performers. And they replaced Will Smith and Jada Pinkett in that role.  In hip hop the rappers come from all stations in life and what they share in common is their love of bustin a rhyme over dope beats while they tell a story about the gritty realities of life.

                                                            Will and Jada
                 Will Smith and Jada IIII                     
Hollywood Power Couple
Jay Z and Beyonce

Byonce and Jay III

America.s most popular power couple

Hip Hop is the first truly Afro-American popular musical form that manages to speak straight-up to all of the issues that concern them personally and Afro-Americans in general. The blues, for all of its profound insights into the human condition, developed in the deep-south where a black man could lose his life for telling the truth as he knew it, especially if he did so with the irreverence and total disregard for white sentiment as these rappers.

Hence the blues is replete with complex metaphors and allusions, while the rappers “keep it real.” The range of beats, vocal “flows,” technical innovation in the recording studio, and the lyrical content range from the trite and vulgar to the profound – the entire range of human personality and experience. One need only listen to the raps of Oakland’s “Too Short” and compare them to the lyrics – and superb studio work – of Ohene of Philadelphia.

Too Short is a specialist from the ghetto who tells tawdry tales his fans call “straight gutter,” while  transcendent poetry that profoundly addresses the complexities of global black experience in the 21st century are the stock in trade of Ohene – and both do what they do with high style and panache. I am including clips of both these artists so the reader can hear for themselves what I mean.

Too Short!

Too Short

Livin his Short Guy Dreams?

In Too Short and Ohene with see a sharp contrast in Hip Hop styles i.e. the purposes to which this performance vehicle is put: the images and values it projects.  And we can see how much musical talent and general intelligence shapes the character and complexity of their product.  As in all things talent, character and intelligence will distinguish one performer from another and in the case of Too Short and Ohene the difference could hardly be more dramatic.

The two performances I have attached below will demonstrate the polar opposites of their concerns and musical skills, yet both are legitimate representations of the Hip Hop genre. In two Short’s “I’m a Player” we get yet another tour through the twisted life of a wannabe ghetto pimp.  His descriptions of a desirable relationship with women are bizarre; a third rate Mack’s rap – I’ve heard much better from real Macks I’ve known – that sounds more like war than love.

Too Short brazenly puts all of his pathologies on display: There is no shame in his game.  It does not take a psychiatrist to recognize these lyrics as the creation of a man with a strong Napoleonic Complex – aka Short guy inadequacy syndrome – and a deep fear of being dominated by women.  After all, he looks like a chocolate version of Mr. Peanut and was grew up poor to boot.

We can be sure that he was not the ideal lady’s man, but he became one by persistence and astute observation of female character and desire.  Among the things that he no doubt discovered is that seduction is a game, and persistence, self-confidence, a quick wit – i.e. knowing what to say outta yo mouth at the right time – are more powerful weapons than good looks in this game.  When you add the elements of fame, money and the ability to back up your boasts in bed to the mix, you have the makings of a formidable ladies man.

It seems to me that despite his successes this fear of being “chumped” by women remains, and it is the source of his super macho pimp daddy demeanor; his stone cold Playa attitude.  Yet every time I see one of these rappers coming on all hard I wonder if it’s real or they have swiped somebody else’s story.

Is this guy  for Real?

Too short II

……..Or just another Perpetrator?

Inevitably, when I am wondering if somebody’s street cred is real, that chilling video by Eazy E, “Real Motherfuckin G’s!” always comes to mind.   In this video they call out Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and the whole “Death Row Records” crowd – a label that everybody in the record business thought of as cold blooded killers, especially the 300 pound giant who ran the company, Suge Knight. But Eazy E and his crew called them “Studio Gangstas,” i.e. great pretenders, “actors,” perpetrators with no respect on the streets, and dared them to “step to some real motherfuckin G’s!”

The sincerity of the challenge is clear in the video; it is the sonic equivalent of a drive by shooting….a point that they visually portray at the end of the video.  Gangsta Rap is California’s contribution to Hip Hop, and when murder and mayhem is your theme…”keepin it real” is an invitation to disaster.

Eazy E

eazy E II

A Real Cool Killer? Or Avatar of US Gun Culture

That’s the tradition which spawned Too Short…except his raps wisely concentrate on fuckin more than fightin….the war between the sheets rather than the war in the streets.  Yet the lessons to the youth are just as destructive….if not more so.  It is from fucked up relationships such as those portrayed in Too Short’s raps that produce the psychologically damaged kids who grow into the monsters that wreak havoc on our communities and put all young black males in American under suspicion.

A lot of people who promote this music because of its enormous popularity among teens and young adults of all races and classes, try to deny that this is the consequence of these compelling narratives set to hypnotic beats and seductively spouted by ghetto speakcians, skilled motor mouths who prize the spoken word over the written word.

Ohene: Artistic King of Hip Hop!

Ohene I

 His words are sonic balm that heal the spirit

While being no less committed to the spoken word recited over funky beats dance oriented beats, Ohene – whose name is the traditional title of Ashanti warrior Kings – has completely different concerns and is an accomplished musician who loves jazz.  One need only listen to this track below “Big Things, Y’all Can’t Stop this Music!” to hear this.

The record comes on swinging hard and Ohene’s voice replaces the traditional horn improvising over the rhythm section rapping in the phrase that suggest instruments “I’m the undisputed rap coach!” he declares, throwing out the traditional challenge to sucka MC’s who might be feeling froggish and contemplating stepping to him lyrically by flowing over weak beats.

He quickly warns “My chat is in sync with the syncopation of Max Roach / Imagine Bird with his sax folks / Theolonius Monk with his third hand…..” Ohene continues to extol the prowess of black Jazz greats until he reaches a point where he announces “Playing piano like my dad.”  At this point the performance goes from brilliant to sublime as he begins to play the piano.

To accompany yourself on piano while singing is difficult even if the song is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but to play rhythmically complex Be-bop riffs on the piano while singing lyrics you have written to it is off the charts of measurable difficulty.  It is a spiritual communion expressed as musical artistry.

The aesthetic achievement of this performance ranks with the very best that has been achieved with voice, lyrics and instrumental composition.  Lyrically Ohene’s raps reveal him to be a man of vision and gravitas who, like Richard Wagner, seeks to elevate a nation of people with his songs.  While the track attached below celebrates the heroism of Afro-American jazz musicians, Ohene has written poignant narratives about all phases of life in contemporary American society.

As a serious researcher into Hip Hop’s roots, Ohene, who teaches a course on the art of Hip Hop at Temple University,  employs all the beats in the evolution of the genre and he uses them like an alchemist constructing foundations of rhythmic sounds upon which to build edifices of thought in words like “love is the ultimate truth in any culture.” In raps like “Nobody is Fighting…I just Don’t Understand,” which is a call for Pan-African resistance to the forces that would destroy us, and is also appended to this text below.

Hence to sum up the difference in the Hip hop styles of Ohene and Too Short, who represent polar opposites in rap music, suffice it to say that the former presents an enlightened vision of human possibility designed to inspire “the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln once put it, thus providing the kind of hope and inspiration that can elevate a nation, while Too Short appeals to the worst in us….and preaches a gospel of decadence and debauchery that can only lead to tragedy.  As in Hip Hop – So in Life!

Hip Hop Ladies: All Hail the Queen!!

Queen Latifa II

Her Sharp Tongue and Regal Presence Empowred Girls of all Ages!

Like Jazz, Hip Hop is a predominantly black male art, but there are some outstanding female stars.  And none shines brighter than Queen Latifah.  While some female rappers seek to answer the males with raps that are just as down and dirty – like Roxanne Shante, Foxy Brown and L’il Kim – the Queen mostly kept her rhymes clean.

With a keen intellect and razor sharp wit she sassily took on the misguided macho misogynistic posturing that characterized so much of male rap.  A physically imposing woman with a fearless demeanor, she “represented” for women with Raps like “Ladies First.”  She was a culture hero to many girls of all backgrounds, my daughter included, and she went on to become one of Hip Hop’s biggest stars bar none.

The Queen as Glamour Girl

Queen Latifa

Tall, Tan, Thick and Fine

While Foxy Brown and L’il Kim are big stars in the Hip Hop world they have never been able to break through to a more general audience because of the raunchy image they chose.  Hence while there is no question that L’il Kim’s “Don’t Want Dick Tonight” is a wonderfully composed and performed rap, it is too risqué for general audiences.

Latifah’s style on the other hand will play everywhere; that’s why she went on to become a bonafide star in television and movies. She made big women fashionable when she was selected as a spokesmodel for Cover Girl cosmetics.  As I write she is hosting her own syndicated daytime television talk show.  Queen Latifah, a Rapper from New Jersey, has marketed her brand world-wide.  Eve, a rapper from Phily, rose from being a hair dresser to stardom and was the first female rapper to have her on television sitcom.  But she has not shown the staying power of the Queen.

Some Final Observations

Hip Hop is the closest that Afro-Americans have come to producing a song poetry that approaches the profundity that is common fare in the art of Calypso. see https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/?s=long+live+calypso. As to whether or not Hip Hop is art, I would say that its record of success in speaking to the hearts and minds of people around the globe, by virtue of the product Hip Hop producers and performers create in the studio, there can be no question that it is great commercial popular art at its best.

I however do believe that there is a distinction between fine art and commercial art, and that its merit on the scale of artistic achievement and cultural importance can be graded. But it is an objective that is exceedingly hard to achieve, for to succeed at this one must be broadly learned in the art forms under discussion, and objective enough in one’s approach to privilege an unpleasant truth over confirming one’s prejudices.

Many smart and sincere people have failed this test – like the musicians in the high German church who were convinced that Bach was ruining sacred music. Given the volatile emotions surrounding hip hop we will certainly not resolve the question as to what constitutes fine art here – so profound a question is clearly beyond the scope and ambition of this essay….Hence we will simply let our statement stand as is….

To hear Ohene double click on link below


Too Short
I’m A Player
 
Eazy E

http://youtu.be/vQNLEhVAXSg

Real Motherfuckin G’s
Queen Latifa: Ladies First

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLB5bUNAesc

See Emily Bears Performance

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JpACC1_jP8

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Playthell G. Benjamin
New York and San Francisco
March 2014

A Note of Condolence to Ademola

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , on February 20, 2014 by playthell
DSC03742 An innovative Artist and Cultural Hero

A Remembrance on the Passing of his Beloved Mother. 

As the old adage goes: “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” And the woman behind this great man, artist, culture hero and faithful friend was Mrs. Golda Valencia Matthias-Thomas, who lately danced and joined the ancestors.  Born at the dawning of the 20th century, 1921, on the small island of St. Johns in the former Danish Virgin Islands, which had only recently come under formal American control on March 13, 1917, she would spend the majority of her life – which spanned nearly a century – in the great metropolis of New York City.

Coming of age on the smallest and most underdeveloped of the cluster of Virgin Islands,  life was difficult and young Golda was tasked with transporting her father’s catch of fresh fish to the market in Cruz Bay from their home in Coral Bay by donkey – a trip that took from sun-up to nightfall.  Because she had to work as a child she was unable to gain much formal education, but this experience taught her the virtue of honest work and the value of education which inspired a life-long love of reading. Like most enthusiastic autodidacts she developed broad eclectic intellectual interests that included art, music, theater, math, geography, world politics, etc.

A regal ebony beauty with a model’s physique she became a skilled seamstress and made her own wardrobe, which stood out both in her native Virgin Islands and when she relocated to New York City in 1945, after marrying Harold Alexander Thomas Jr., the son of a respected community leader and the first native born pharmacist in the Virgin Islands.

They settled first in Brooklyn, where they found a vibrant West Indian community, but as an American naval veteran from World War II Harold was eligible for residence in the newly constructed Amsterdam Houses, which are adjacent to where the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts now stands, and was a historic Afro-American neighborhood with a dynamic artistic community called “Black Bohemia” in the pre-Harlem period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was a multi-ethic public housing development that was envisioned by its planners as an enlightened alternative to ill kept segregated tenements.  Another distinguished artist who grew up there and, like Ademola, would go on to make an indelible mark on American culture through artistic innovation was the great Jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Theolonius Monk.

Due to the fact that Ademola’s father was a merchant seaman, the daily routine of raising their family of three boys – Bedwick aka “Ademola,” Verl and Harold – fell to his mother.  It was she who tutored them in their homework while imparting her reverence for learning and love of the arts, and imposed a strict discipline that steered her sons away from the many vices and pitfalls that were common fare on the streets of New York City.  Even more remarkably she accomplished this daunting task while successfully negotiating the myriad obstacles she confronted as an immigrant, a black person, and a woman with an amazing grace.

The greatest testimony to her success in transcending these barriers that would have defeated a weaker person is her three sons, all of who are law abiding productive persons that have made positive contributions to American society.  Since I met Mrs. Golda Thomas only once, and she was then a stalwart octogenarian, I know her mainly through her sons, especially Ademola, who has been like the brother I never had…my brother from another mother.

Of all the remarkable men I have met in life none ranks higher in my estimation as a man of honor, integrity and sterling character.   And since I am one who believes that we have no right to claim the achievements of our ancestors, because we contributed nothing to their success, but the character and achievements of our children is is just cause for pride or shame because they are our handiwork, the ultimate testament to the life of Mrs. Golda Thomas is the caliber of her sons.  Her life spanned nearly a century and from all accounts her good deeds were immeasurable.  Now she shall take her place among the honored ancestors for eternity.  May she rest in Peace.

 Ms Golda’s Other Sons

Ademola's Brothers Verl and Harold

Veryl and Harold 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New york
February 20, 2014

Johnny Mack’s on the Attack!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , on January 28, 2014 by playthell

John McCain

 McCain in Beast Mode

 Is this Senator Suffering from Penis Envy?

When I first heard John McCain’s attack on star NFL cornerback Richard Sherman, trashing the entire Seattle Seahawks football team, my immediate response was “What tha fug is he doing jumping on that bandwagon?”  Why is he joining an attack on this young football player whose offense pales into insignificance when compared to the racist assault that has been launched against him by white football fans after a trash talking tirade against Michael Crabtree, a receiver on the San Francisco 49ers, whose lack of sportsmanship in defeat sparked the confrontation.

 What is even more grievous than  a sitting US Senator, who is old enough to be their grandfather, calling them names on national media, is the fact that Johnny Mack never even bothered to get his facts straight. It was enough that he saw a young black buck - which is the way old crackers talk when they are among themselves – asserting himself in an aggressive way. Considering the senator’s silence about the rampant violence in hockey, a virtually all white sport, it must be the sex and race thing that’s got him in hissy fit.  Like my grandfather would say: “dat boy’s out there cutting tha fool in public.”

These guys, rightwing Republicans, just can’t help them self, they really don’t like Afro-American men:  That’s why all the black men in the Grand Obstructionist Party are poot-butts and pussies!  Considering the outright disdain that the Republicans hold for any black person who dares to speak about the rampant racism and economic inequity that is institutionalized in the US, only a self-effacing coon could find a home in the GOP.  That’s why they all come across as grotesqueries. – like that crewcut-wearing lunatic Alan West, or that obsequious lickspittle Tim Scott.

I have not heard a peep out of any black Republican, although the Senator’s statement was clearly racist.  McCain left little doubt about his feelings when he held the blond golden boy Peyton Manning up as a model of virtue, denouncing Richard Sherman and all of his team mates as thugs.  Hence the senator has cast the two football teams in stark Manichean terms with the white guy symbolizing virtue and the black players as villains. He could not have been more obvious had he spelled it out by writing it in the sky.

The entire kerfuffle over Sherman’s trash talking after making the play that sent his team to the Super Bowl is absurd.  In a country where the World Wrestling Association and cage fighting are big business, the outrage over a little trash talking at the end of a football game makes no sense if the race and gender of Richard Sherman is removed from the equation.

One need only read the virulent racist rants – calling him a nigger and a monkey characterizes the bulk of the comments…and some have called for his death, even said they hope he runs into George Zimmerman!  The entire episode reveals the torrent of rancid racism that lies just beneath the placid surface of an American society which the racist right says is “post-racial.”

The experience of Richard Sherman is especially troubling because he is everything American society prizes.  He is a law abiding young man who worked himself up from an impoverished inner city neighborhood in Los Angeles, wisely avoiding all of the pitfalls that destroyed so many of his peers.  He graduated second in his class in high school and then went on to earn a degree from Stanford while starring on the football field. He is the personification of the American dream.

Sherman switched positions as a college senior and in a few short years has become the best in the NFL at one of the most demanding positions in football.  Sherman is tall, dark, handsome, elegant, eloquent, and a millionaire mega-star.  Its easy enough to explain the source of the smoldering hatred directed against him by working class white sports fans: The big boob blond white girls they have wet dreams about are having wet dreams about black Richard with the lion’s mane!

Yet the question remains: In the midst of this madness, with these atrocious assaults on a 25 year old young man who by all objectives is a splendid fellow that I would be proud to call my son, why is John McCain, a rich over-privileged old white fart, joining in the media lynching? I believe it’s because he is a very unhappy man; a sad old cracker who has a serious problem with assertive athletic young black men who attended elite universities….and are the best at what they do. Maybe they remind him to much of that young smartass silver tongued black guy who whipped his ass in the presidential race.

While he he may look enormously successful to most people – rich blond wife, seat in the US Senate, celebrated war hero, more mansions than he can remember – I believe the Mack Man feels like a bit of a failure.  When he looks in the mirror he sees something different from those looking over his shoulder.  It’s the half empty, half full enigma.

The truth is that John McCain has failed at the things that are most important to him.  What he wanted most was to rise higher in the world than his father and grandfather, to move out of their shadow and cast his own.  Hence he followed them into the profession of arms, but didn’t even have the gumption to enter a different branch of the service.  Since he became a flyer, it would have made better sense to join the Air Force than the Navy.  Alas, if Johnny Mack had gone into the Air Force rather than the Navy he would have had to get in on his own merit!

The son and grandson of Admirals, each of whom had a wartime command and served with distinction, John McCain aspired to the same status when he joined the Navy air corps.  Evidently a mediocre pilot – he graduated from Annapolis at the bottom of his class – McCain wrecked a jet plane during an exercise, and then he got shot down over Vietnam. He was held in captivity for the balance of the Vietnam war and squealed like a pig!

A less well connected Swabbie might have been Court Martialed for giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.”  Hence his chance at military glory as a combat officer went down the drain.  And he acts as if he has been looking to start a war in order to experience the thrill of victory ever since.

Shot Down
Mccain in 1967-vietnam_
Captured by the Vietnamese 

Unable to match the success of his pop and grand pop in the military, Johnny Boy decided to go into politics, because the only way he could rise above their pay grade in the military establishment is to become Commander-In-Chief!   But when he ran for president, cast as the silver haired war hero and paterfamilias of the nation, he picked a motor mouth barbarian from the Alaskan wilds as his running mate.  He made a shameless Faustian bargain in the hope of victory that would have put an irrational dumb bell, Sarah Palin, a heartbeat away from the most powerful office in the world.  Even so, he got his assed kicked bigtime by a mouthy, brilliant, Harvard trained black guy!

That was the stake through the heart that is still driving him batty.  I heard on the Washington grapevine that the Great Mack Daddy took the defeat so badly he used to wonder out loud if his balls were as big as Barack’s.  And it is only natural that, when he compares Cindy to Michelle – one a rich, white, pampered, spoiled, dope fiend; the other a daughter of the black working class with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Harvard Law Degree, just like her honey in the Oval Office – despite Cindy’s millions Johnny Mack must feel cheated in a wife.

Finally, there is McCain’s curious silence on the ongoing sexual assaults on women serving in the US military; there you have some real criminal thugs.  But John has been silent as a butterfly pissing in the breeze regarding the behavior of his fellow white brass!  Once again he reveals himself to be a shameless hypocrite!  Thus it is reasonable to conclude that there is no question of principle or proprietary involved here. I suspect that Richard Sherman is just a nameless, faceless, black guy upon whom McCain projected all of his hostilities and angst toward President Obama……he may even be suffering from penis envy!

Richard Sherman
 Richard Sherman
The Best in the Business!!!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

January 28, 2014

Conjuring Goddesses and Nymphs

Posted in Ceramic Sculptors, Cultural Matters with tags , , , , on January 5, 2014 by playthell
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Exhibition at the John Natsoulas Gallery circa 2013

The Neo-Classic Womanist Art of Michelle Gregor

Not that long ago I thought of clay – in the rare instance when I thought about it at all – as toys to be manipulated and twisted into fantastic shapes by curious children, or as a medium for modeling the work of sculptors for works to be cast in bronze.  This view was fashioned from watching two great New York based artists – Vinnie Bagwell and Gabrielle Koren - who create heroic sculptures in bronze.

However in the San Francisco Bay Area I discovered a community of sculptors for whom clay is the material of choice: ceramic artists.  These sculptors have developed a series of techniques that enable them to produce art objects whose beauty and intricate design place them among the first rank of fine artists.  Professor Michele Gregor is one of the leading lights in this vibrant and growing artistic community.  Mention of her name among colleagues, critics and gifted up-and-comers elicits a torrent of panegyrics.

Her colleague Susannah Israel, herself an outstanding ceramic sculptor and college teacher, wrote of Ms. Gregor’s work in an essay titled Transcendent: Michelle Gregor, David Kuraoka, and Don Reitz – published in Ceramics Art and Perception, Issue 88, 2012.       “Michelle Gregor is a neoclassic ceramic sculptor with a contemporary flavor,  inspired by the urban diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area and informed by previous travel to Bali and Southeast Asia…(she) distills the best of figurative art traditions world-wide, mixed with contemporary influences, to give us the personal expression of an artist whose first allegiance to beauty.”

The recently mounted exhibit at the Natsoulas Gallery, located in the bucolic University town of Davis, set in the heart of Northern California’s agricultural region, was a praisesong to beauty.   Whether we look at the exquisitely executed forms and finishes of the sculpture, or the pathos, pain, wisdom and gravitas on the faces of Ms. Gregor’s women….. everywhere we witness revelations of beauty manifested in myriad ways.  Her sculptures are full figured voluptuous women that radiate an aura of strength and sensuality, no bulimic babes or anorexic Annies here; Professor Gregor is clearly no slave to au courant notions of feminine beauty.

There is also a generous dose of truth in the emotions with which Professor Gregor has invested her sculptures, for it accurately reflects the predicament of women in the world at the dawning of the 21st century.   Whether we take our cue from the dastardly machinations of the Republican Party’s attacks on the rights of American women – at present one of the freest and most empowered groups of women in the world – or women in the Islamic world, who are the most oppressed, we see the rights of women under attack everywhere.

I advance these views as speculation only.  Alas,  it is a risky business attempting to read the minds of artists, since their sensitivity and imagination often operate on a different frequency from the rest of us.  Yet if the artist offers the  work for public exhibition without instructing us on how we should view it, then we must assume that they intend us to make of their offering what we will.  That is what I have done with Ms. Gregors’ splendid show.

Fascinated by my discovery of what great ceramic artists can do with clay, which is a fancy name for special sand, I have sought to learn how these latter day alchemists turn clay into timeless art treasures. Looking at the delicate colors in the sculptures of Professor Gregor in the photographs below, they remind me of impressionist paintings about classical myths.  The question every thoughtful observer must ponder is: “How is it possible to heat an object to over 2,000 degrees and it not turn out charred?”

The answer to this lies in the fact that great ceramic artists must know something of science, because in ceramics art and science merge.  Professor Israel, who can go seamlessly from discussing techniques for glazing and firing sculptures in a wide variety of kilns, to the chemical uniqueness that distinguishes clay from mere sand, is a classic example of this merger.

In discussing the techniques Ms. Gregor employed in producing the beautiful sculptures in this exhibit,  Israel tells us “Gregor emerged early on as a particularly fine colorist, and her subtle brush work shows the unmistakable evidence of originality and dedicated practice.  Her figures wear colors as subtle and sophisticated as an oil painting, but here, these effects depend upon intensive thermochemical changes occurring within molten glass inside the kiln.  Calculated to a nicety, she layers raw glaze, so delicately positioned that it melts and flows, to create the convincing illusion of a silk garment over skin.”  There are several sculptures in this exhibit that demonstrate this technique.

A splendid Example of Professor Gregor’s Technique
DSC04590
Turning Clay into fine Art

Fortunately, it is not necessary to possess even a small fraction of what Professor Israel knows about ceramics in order to be edified and spiritually elevated from experiencing Ms. Gregor’s art.  Many of these works possess great spiritual power, and the messages they communicate are as universal as the poignant portraits of human character painted by Shakespeare.

The power of Ms. Gregor’s art as womanist propaganda was succinctly explained by Chairman Mao Tse Tung, leader of the largest mass transformative movement in history.  In his famous Lectures at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, held in his mountain hideaway during the heat of a revolutionary war, Chairman Mao observed: “All art is propaganda but not all propaganda is art….in order for art to succeed as propaganda it must first succeed as art.”  Hence Professor Gregor’s power as a propagandist for universal humanist values lies in her spectacular success at producing great art.

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Pictures From the Exhibition

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I Loooves Michelle!

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Cried John Natsoulas, Gallery Director

A Deep Communion

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Between Art and Artist

Professor Israel Droppin Science!

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Offering an impromptu disquisition on the elements of great Art

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Professor Gregor
Michel the Artist
Hangin with her Peeps

Note: I first met Michelle Gregor – Professor of Art and head of the Ceramics Program at San Jose City College – in September while she was working on this exhibition and I found her to be very well informed on the major issues that converge to shape the human condition in our time.  She was not only knowledgeable but committed to adding her voice to those calling for the elevation of humankind.  Hence it comes as no surprise to me that her work mirrors this concern; not as mere agitprop but as fine art achieved on the highest level.  Thus she is a paragon of what the French call the “Engaged Artist.”

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For a demonstration of how ceramic artist work their magic…
http://youtu.be/8XfczswBjJc
…double click to see master potter David Mcdonald
 See Professors Gregor and Israel conduct a workshop
http://youtu.be/cSzZFTaRpRw 
Double click on link above
Text and Photos by:
Playthell G. Benjamin
San Francisco, California
January 2014

On Mandela, the Movie Version

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, Movie Reviews with tags , , , on December 27, 2013 by playthell

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela

 Recreating a Major Historical Figure Is Not Easy to Do

Mandela, a biopic on the life of the great South African leader that lately danced and joined the ancestors, a man whose struggle for justice and wise political leadership inspired people around the world, opened in theaters on Christmas Day all across America.  I saw the film yesterday and was impressed with how the filmmaker conceived his task and carried it out.  But I know there will be naysayers, and I will be surprised if some do not condemn the film. I fear it is in the nature of things. Attempting to put the life of a recently departed and much beloved personality on screen as a feature film is a risky business that sometimes rises to the heroic, depending upon the aims and abilities of the filmmaker.

When the subject of the biopic is a political figure with passionate supporters and detractors, whatever the filmmaker does will provoke criticism, some of which can be quite harsh.  Spike Lee was called “a traitor to his race” and a “counter-revolutionary running dog for the capitalists” in response to his movie on the life of Malcolm X, despite the fact that Spike was obviously an admirer of the man.  And for the record I thought it a splendid movie that should have won several Academy Awards.

Despite the risk of being maligned by passionate partisans, enraged because something they thought was critical to the story was neglected by the film maker, director Justin Chadwick and screenwriter William Nicholson forged ahead and produced this important film.   In an eventful life that encompasses nearly a century and interacted with so many important personalities, ideas, and political events the first problem for the film makers was how to tell the story, where should the emphasis lie.

Since this is an authorized bio-pic – meaning it is the story Nelson Mandela’s family and the African National Congress has approved – and is based on Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” the basic outline of the story was a given.  The task of the filmmaker was to provide us with a series of vignettes from an epic life that will allow us to peer into the soul and psyche of the man and tell us who he was and what motivated his extraordinary sacrifices in the struggle to elevate his people and free them from the Nazi like rule of the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, a regime that the world tolerated for nearly half a century after the destruction of Nazism.

The film makers rightly decided that this story should be told from the perspective of Mandela the man rather than Mandela the political icon.  Hence we see what the struggle cost him on the personal level, with the destruction of his family and denial of any role in the upbringing of his children, because his children were not allowed to see him until they were sixteen and the South African government intercepted and destroyed his letters to them. They also refused to allow him to attend the funeral of his first born son who was killed in a car crash, or that of his beloved mother.

The news he received about the ordeals Winnie was going through during his internment on Robben Island intensified his agony.  No one watching this film whose morality is not deformed by racism could fail to be moved by the myriad pains inflicted on the Mandelas by the South African government; this is why a world-wide movement rose up against it.  However their story is not all gloom and doom, there are moments of beauty and romance too; Idris Elba and Naomi Harris as Winnie and Nelson Mandela do a splendid job of portraying both.

 Naomi Harris as Winnie Mandela
Idris Elba and Naomie Harris Nelson and Winnie as Young Lovers

In fact, one could view the movie as a tragic love story, for Winnie and Nelson met as he was a rising young leader in the ANC, and like many South African women she found him irresistible.  Screenwriter Bill Nicholson tells us: “Drafting the screenplay for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, I discovered it was his human side that made him a hero to so many – and that his marriage to Winnie was at the heart of the story.”   Yet the movie makes no attempt to hide the fact that Nelson was quite the lady’s man in his youth.  And how could it have been otherwise?  There is an abundant historical record that demonstrates the sexual attractiveness of men who are brilliant public speakers and identified with a great cause; they are aphrodisiac for many women.  It is a universal phenomenon that crosses the boundaries of race, class and nationality.

This fact was pointed out to Henry Ward Beecher – the famous anti-slavery American preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe – by the brilliant 19th century feminist firebrand Victoria Woodhull, when she threatened to expose his many affairs with the wives of powerful men in his congregation at Plymouth Church.  Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, et al were all chick magnets.  And like David, Samson and Solomon, three of the greatest men in the Bible, they all crumbled in the face of temptation.  Hence Mandela was a true man of his calling.

But the great importance of this movie to my mind is the portrait it paints of the resolve of the militants in the African National Congress, brave patriots who would not give an inch on their bedrock principles, beginning with their decision not to offer a defense against the charge of “sabotage” of government facilities with the aim of overthrowing the South African government.  And they refused to appeal a sentence of life imprisonment on Robben Island, a place designed to crack the spirit and destroy one’s soul.

On Robbin Island

Mandela, and ANC comrades from movie

Convicted ANC Leaders Salute the Courtroom Crowd

From the moment we see the horrid conditions under which they would live, and hear the words of the jailer who tells them that he wishes they had been hanged and promises to make their lives so miserable they will wish they had been sentenced to hang, we began to realize what the ANC leadership endured for 27 years!  It also places our government’s complicity in this crime in bold relief.  It is a part of recent American history all US citizens should know about and this film is a good place to start.

Of the many virtues of this film its cinematography, script and superb acting stand out.  The movie utilizes the spectacular landscape of South Africa to maximum advantage in telling his story.  The contrast between the magnificence of the landscape and the decadence of the society is ever present and often magnified, especially when we see the difference between the barren and impoverished areas consigned to black Africans and the plush areas reserved for whites or “Europeans,” especially after the passage of the Group Areas Act which assigned 80% of south Africa’s land to whites, only reducing the African population to landless paupers who had to work the farms and mines owned by whites to survive.

The movie does not shrink from graphically portraying the violence against Africans committed by the apartheid government, such as the “Sharpsville Massacre,” and it also shows how the ANC became proficient in building bombs as a result of training in other African countries.   The dialogue is powerful and the cast of superb actors, led by Idris Alba as Nelson and Naomi Harris as Winnie, bring the characters to life in their full human dimensions.

Nelson and Winnie Meet

Idris-Elba-and-Naomie-Harris-as-Nelson-Mandela

Elba and Harris are Magical

Alba and Harris are actors of rare accomplishment.  The daughter of a Jamaican Mother and a Trinidadian father Ms. Harris was born and raised in London. Her mother was an actress and screenwriter hence Naomi literally grew up in the theater.  Her acting credits are many and varied and she brings the full weight of her training and gifts to bear in her portrayal of Winnie Mandela. Her portrayal of Winnie’s evolution from a sweet and gentle wife, mother and social worker into a hardened revolutionary who could order the assassination of people she believed to be snitches is a tour de force.

Idris Alba is an actor of amazing versatility.  I first saw him in American Gangster, and he was so convincing as a Harlem thug playing beside Denzel Washington that I nearly fell out of my chair when I later saw him interviewed on television and heard him speaking with a distinct British working class accent.  I would have bet my last quid that the boy was Afro-American.  Then I saw him again in the moving Tyler Perry flick “Daddy’s Little Girls” where he played a struggling single father in the hood whose wife had abandoned the family and run off with another man, and he had to deal with a haughty and beautiful female lawyer he chauffeured about that was a royal pain in the ass played by Gabrielle Union, and he was just as convincing in that role.  And now he is playing Mandela splendidly.

Another thorny matter the movie handles superbly is the estrangement of Winnie and Nelson Mandela after he returns from 27 years in prison.  Although she walked with him on his victory march upon release from prison, and they shared a house together for a while, she was involved with another man and was living with Nelson because that’s what the world expected since her claim to fame was as the long suffering wife of Nelson Mandela.  Mister Elba, is splendid in portraying Mandela’s calm dignity when all of his comrades were whispering about his wife’s open affair with another man.

I think that, when all the problems of making this film are considered, this is a splendid film that should be seen by anyone who is interested in the struggle for freedom, dignity and justice by oppressed peoples.  Judging by the reception the film got at its premiere in London, its place as an important film will be assured in the history of cinema.

Last Thursday,” writes Bill Nichols, “I was sitting in the Odeon Leicester Square, London, a row behind the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as the film I’d written Mandela : Long Walk to Freedom, was heading towards its end. There was some sort of quiet commotion going on, people leaving their seats, scuttling up the aisles. Prince William was handed a phone. Then Kate was crying. As the credits rolled the royal couple were led away. The audience was on its feet, giving a standing ovation. The film’s South African producer, Anant Singh, appeared on stage, with Idris Elba, our Mandela. The applause redoubled. The producer signed for silence and told us about the death of Mandela.”

********************

Playthell G. Benjamin

San Francisco, California

December 27, 2013

Dr. Lateef’s Spirit Dances with Ancestors

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews on December 25, 2013 by playthell

yuseflateef6_300

 The Master with his Horn

The Legendary Musician and Composer Steps off at 93

          At the close of his autobiography, Yusef A. Lateef, the renowned musician, composer, and Grammy Award-winning recording artist wrote, “My life has been a series of ‘warm receptions,’ and, after a while, it becomes difficult to separate them, to determine which was most rewarding and heartwarming.”  Lateef’s thousands of admirers will ponder now about which of his concerts and recordings were most rewarding for them in his highly productive life.  Lateef, 93, died Monday morning at his home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Lateef, a versatile artist of global influence, made his transition peacefully, according to his wife, Ayesha Lateef.

“My dear husband was himself an extension of warmth and love towards others,” his wife said. “He saw every human being with the utmost value and respect. He approached all of us as he did his music, with enthusiasm, imagination and longevity.”

While Lateef chose to define his music as autophysiopsychic, that is, “music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self,” his critics and fans heard him as the embodiment of jazz and the blues, and that expressive quality, however termed, placed him among the finest performers and composers of his generation.

A Hard Swinging Tenor Man!
Yusef II
Blues and the Abstract Truth

Born William Emmanuel Huddleston on Oct. 9, 1920 in Chattanooga, Tenn., he moved with his family to Detroit in 1925, settling in the heart of the city’s storied Paradise Valley.   It was about this time that his father—for an unknown reason—changed their surname to Evans.

Paradise Valley was basically the entertainment enclave of “Black Bottom,” where the city’s black population was centered, and where William Evans (he changed his name to Yusef Lateef in 1948 and became a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and for the rest of his life he remained a devout Ahmadi Muslim fulfilling requirements including the lesser and greater pilgrimage to Mecca) was immersed in a vibrant culture where a profusion of music was part of the daily routine.

He introduced Exotic New Instruments….
 Yusef Lateef-flute-bmboo
To the Art of Jazz
And made them sing the Blues
YUSEF LATEEF - Basson And Swang them too!

At Miller High School, he fell under the tutelage of John Cabrera and joined such illustrious future jazz immortals as Milt Jackson.  But it was a local saxophonist, Lorenzo Lawson, who most impressed and influenced him to set aside the oboe and drums and focus on the tenor saxophone.

Soon, he was so proficient that he had the first chair in Matthew Rucker’s Band, and given the band’s prominence, Lateef’s reputation reached across the city and all the way to Chicago where he was now a member of Lucky Millinder’s big band.  In 1948, along with his adoption of Islam, he joined the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, which included an array of world class musicians such as James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Kenny Clarke, and the amazing Cuban conga drummer Chano Pozo.

Diz, Chano Pozo and James Moody
Dizzy and Chano pozo
Playing Rebopped Cubops!

By 1951, Lateef was back in Detroit with his first wife Sadie, a daughter Iqbal and a son Rasheed.  In no time at all he was back in the swing of things performing with a number of groups and at several of the top clubs in town.  Among the stellar leaders who requested his presence was guitarist Kenny Burrell.  When bassist Alvin Jackson, Milt’s brother, assembled a quartet, Lateef was featured on tenor saxophone and flute, which he had begun studying at the Larry Teal School of Music.  The group, including pianist Barry Harris and trombonist Kiane Zawadi (Bernard McKinney) was the house band at the Blue Bird Inn, a legendary jazz spot on Detroit’s Westside.

The Joint was Really Jumpin!
blue bird inn It’s what’s inside that Counts

Lateef was fronting his own ensemble by 1954 and began a five-year stint at Klein’s Show Bar.   Now with a steady gig he had to relinquish his job at Chrysler.  With Hugh Lawson (and sometimes Terry Pollard) on piano; Curtis Fuller on trombone; Ernie Farrow on bass; and Louis Hayes on drums; for two years the band worked six nights a week and became one of the most popular groups in the city.  So popular, in fact, that jazz writers began to spread the word.  They were extended a contract by Ozzie Cadena, a producer at Savoy Records, and their first album was “Jazz Mood.”  A succession of albums would follow, alternately between Savoy and the Prestige labels, and it was during this phase that Lateef was able to introduce an assortment of unusual instruments normally heard in various ethnic cultures.

“Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life”
Cannonball Adderly
Great Virtuosos like Cannonball Adderly anointed audiences in Detroit’s clubs

From a veritable academy of musicians who were in and out of his ensemble during the nights at Klein’s, Lateef sharpened his musical knowledge which was bolstered even further by the classes he took at Wayne State University.  But by 1959, he was ready for a new scene.  “I had done about all I could in the realm of music in Detroit,” he wrote.  “There was a scarcity of clubs during this period and to make ends meet I took a part-time job unloading banana trucks. Whether you were a writer, painter, or a musician, it wasn’t a good time to be in the city.”

The Big Apple was the only option for him and by the early sixties Lateef was a regular at jam sessions, recordings, and concert dates with such notables as John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, and numerous homeboys such as Lonnie Hillyer, Donald Byrd, and Sonny Red.  But Lateef’s stature grew exponentially during his tenure with Cannonball Adderley’s band, and it provided him with additional experience to form his own ensemble by 1965.

Yusef and Cannonball
cannonball-with-yusef-lateef Masters of the Horns: Original voices on Alto and Tenor Saxes

Holding a band together while attending the Manhattan School of Music was challenging, but Lateef was equal to the task, earning his master’s degree and continuing to record at a phenomenal pace.  Under contract at Atlantic Records where producer Joel Dorn gave Lateef the latitude he needed to express the full extent of his artistry.  His “Gentle Giant,” recorded in 1971 was among his most memorable dates and featured bassist Bob Cunningham, drummer Tootie Heath, and pianist Kenny Barron.

Nothing was more eventful for him in the early seventies than his meeting and marriage to Tahira at Chicago State University.  Winning her hand and defending his dissertation were momentous occasions and the birth of his son, Yusef in 1975, completed a trifecta of jubilation.

From 1975 to 1980, Dr. Lateef studied in Africa, mainly in Nigeria where he undertook the mastery of the Fulani flute.  In addition to his research and teaching obligations, he was commissioned by the government to compose a symphony and to write a book based on his research.  Seeking new musical spheres after Africa, he embarked on a series of concert dates with Eternal Wind, an advanced group of younger musicians that included Charles Moore, Frederico Ramos, Ralph “Buzzy” Jones, and Adam Rudolph.   “Yusef was so open and accessible,” Rudolph recalled during a recent interview.  “There was always this love, peace and freedom about him.  And you could feel all of this through his music, which defined him in the same as Picasso’s art or Miles Davis’s music defined them.  We’re evolutionists, he would tell us and we have to keep on stepping.”

Invisible Wind
Eternal Wind
The Vehicle through which Yusef produced autophysiopsychic Sounds

 And stepping Dr. Lateef did, thanks to Eternal Wind and the tireless Rudolph.  Even so, there was time for teaching and composing, to say nothing of his other artistic ventures into writing and painting, and running his record and publishing company, FANA Music.

His beloved wife Tahira passed in 2009, Dr. Lateef later remarried  Ayesha, and his final days were as fruitful and productive as ever, and he leaves a remarkable legacy of cultural achievements.

“I daily and nightly thank Allah for continuing to bless me and to allow me to bring love, peace and joy to the world,” he wrote.  And that love, peace and joy resonates with all the conviction his formidable talent could command, and all we have to do is to listen to his music.

Dr. Lateef  is survived by wife Ayesha, his son also named Yusef Lateef, his grand-daughter Iqbal, and great grandchildren.  Funeral arrangements are in the planning stages.

The Master Sonic Alchemist left a healing sound….
Yusef images (2)

………A Gift that keeps on Giving

*****************

To watch Ahmad Jamal and Yusef Lateef
 Double Click on this link

http://youtu.be/X8DGIqgRF7Q

To Hear Yusef Perform “Stella by Starlight”
Double Click On Link Below

 http://youtu.be/X__EJMqQn5Q

By Herb Boyd

Special to Commentaries on the Times

A Post Racial America…Really?

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators on December 12, 2013 by playthell

Barack Obama and First Lady

 The Huxtables are in the White House ….and All is Well

  Separating Myth from Reality

 In 2013 we have Barack Obama, a two-term African American President, hundreds of other black men and women elected to state and local offices, and a country that officially celebrates Black History Month. Even more, no white official would dare publicly use a racist slur. As a result, our intellectuals, our historians, and our media are all on board with a consistent message: “We live in a post-racial America.”

 Well, maybe. Bill Keller, who served for eight years as executive editor of The New York Times, and is the author of a children’s book on Nelson Mandela, recently wrote the Sunday Times Book Review of Books front page essay on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book The Bully Pulpit, which examines Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Keller extolled them as “politicians of stature and conscience.”  Really?  As Presidents neither made any serious effort to improve race relations or protect minorities from violence. Neither challenged the forces promulgating segregation, discrimination and lynching.

 The America of Roosevelt and Taft
 lynching Bee
 A Southern Carnival

Though their Republican Party controlled the House and Senate from 1900 to 1910, neither Roosevelt nor Taft paid more than lip service to Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom.” Neither enforced the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments that promised former slaves liberty, justice, and equality. Neither challenged “the new slavery”—the debt-peonage, sharecropping, and convict lease systems that ground down millions in the South.  Roosevelt spoke as a proud champion of “the Anglo Saxon race,” and urged his people to embrace “the clear instinct for race selfishness.” He advocated imperialism with the claim, “It is wholly impossible to avoid conflicts with the weaker races.”

Roosevelt and Taft vigorously courted southern “lily-white” members of both parties. During an era of weekly southern lynching carnivals, Roosevelt told a black audience the “rapists and criminals” among them “did more harm to their race than any white man can possibly do them.”

In 1909 President Taft told African American college graduates in North Carolina: “Your race is meant to be a race of farmers, first, last and for all times.” Taft had the distinction of being the first Republican presidential candidate to campaign in the South. He announced he would never enforce “social equality” and told black audiences that the white southern man was their “best friend.”   People of color could find little comfort, justice or even safety during the age of Roosevelt and Taft.

But this is a different time, and we as a nation wish to move toward “a more perfect union,” to follow the Constitution, and embrace its promises. Why then do some intelligent people still manage to distort our past to send a wrong message? Perhaps they do so because lying about the past makes it easier to dissemble about the present. As Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post in November:

 

“Today’s G.O.P. is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the Tea Party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

The Tea Ain’t Party Racist Dicky C?
 Tea Party Racism III

Really Dicky?

 Tea Party Racism

 If the Tea Party ain’t Racist……

 Tea Party Racism II

 Eggs aint poultry, Grits ain’t groceries…and Mona Lisa was a Man!

 Sadly, just as Cohen believes we are post-racial, modern influencers such as Keller would have us believe that Taft and Roosevelt were also not racist—they were simply Presidents who advocated for policies that would ensure that “traditional” values would continue to rule. Never mind that many of those values had racial animosity at their core. We can’t move toward the fulfillment of the Constitution—for the common good—if we either continue to see the past through a racial revisionist lens, or continue to misconstrue the racism in our present.

It might be more accurate to state some white American die-hards can’t help but choose to live in a post-Mandela world. While they may celebrate his courage and achievements in the abstract, they cannot fully digest this brave South African who sacrificed his freedom and life for a world where people of all races, ethnicities, and kinds will try to live in peace and harmony.

 ***************

William Katz
New York City
December 12, 2-13

Reflections on the Meth Menace

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags on November 19, 2013 by playthell
Addicted to Meth
A Portrait of the Ravages of Meth

 A Cautionary Tale about Dancing with the Monster

I happened to stumble upon a video report on the state of Meth- Amphetamine addiction in Fresno California – which can be accessed by doubling clicking on the link at the bottom of this essay – and it was shocking…to say the least.   I am amazed that Meth is still a problem in the US.  This is a very dangerous drug!  I know whereof I speak; I tried it once almost fifty years ago.  I was living in Philly at the time and we called Meth “Monster.”  The way I came to try it was happenstance.  And although it was my first and last time, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life!

I had been awake over 24 hours reading William L. Shirer’s engrossing masterpiece “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” a massive tome based on official German documents captured and translated by western intelligence agencies after World War II.  It is a book of several hundred pages (I forget the exact number) and I couldn’t put it down.  So I had taken to drinking black coffee to stay awake, when a friend of mine – Jomo Jones – came by my crib about six in the evening.  I began telling him about the book and noted how I was fighting off sleep to continue reading.

“So you wanna stay awake?’ he asked. Well I got something here that will keep you awake as long as you want to stay up.”   He broke out a little plastic bag with some white crystal powder and said just snort some of this up your nose like you would a Vicks inhaler whenever you feel yourself getting sleepy.”  Well, this was the beginning of a nightmare which landed me in the hospital three days later convinced I was having a massive heart attack. 

I was so convinced of it that I ran out of my crib eight o clock at night in my drawers clutching my chest and screaming that I was dying from a heart attack!  I ran up to a group of my neighbors passing by, clutched my chest, and announced that I was having a heart attack, then I dramatically fell to the ground as if I was dying!  They of course quickly called the emergency wagon and I was soon off to the hospital in an ambulance with lights flashing and siren blaring!!

I was rushed  into the emergency room of Hanneman Hospital on Broad Street laid out on a stretcher, and a team of doctors hurried to save my life.   But the more they examined me they quieter they got.  They hooked me up to a machine and measured my heart rate….looked at each other again, and began to mumble back and forth.

They just stared at me silently, until the appointed spokesman asked “Sir, what makes you think you are having a heart attack?  There is nothing wrong with your heart.”   When they told me I was alright, I sat right up as if nothing had happened and tried to play it off with some improvised BS.  But the doctors’ weren’t buying my story and insisted upon knowing why I Thought I was having a heart attack.

In my still paranoid mind I thought they were trying to entrap me, that they had figured out I had ingested an illegal drug and had either called the police already or were planning to do so.  Suddenly, visions of the gendarmes coming to put me in chains danced about in my head – especially since I was a radical activist and was half paranoid anyway – I started to jump up and flee, but I thought the better of it since I was dressed only in a hospital gown.  Hence I decided to use my verbal skills to plead my case.  I began to tell them that I was a honorable young man during serious work and they were about to ruin my life and career by turning me over to the cops!

They looked at me like the madman that I was and the spokesman calmly replied “We have already figured out that you have been experimenting with some kind of controlled substance,” but explained that in order to help me they needed to know what it was.  The doctor when on to calmly explain “We are neither preachers nor policemen; we are physicians.  We are not interested in the moral or legal aspects of your behavior, only the pharmacology.”  When T told them I had ingested something called “Methodrine” they became alarmed.

They explained to me that this was a very dangerous drug, and when I tried to tell them how much I took by referring to the approximate size of the pile Jomo had poured, they told me that since it was made by crooks they had no way of really measuring how much I had ingested because not knowing it’s exact chemical composition “we don’t know what a dose is.” 

These things had never occurred to me when I snorted the Monster.  Now I was sitting in the emergence feeling like the world’s biggest fool.  The doctors conferred with each other, and after a series of grunts and nods of the head they told me they were going to put me on sedatives for the next couple of days and ordered me to my bed.

Then came the most surprising moment of the evening.  Although I had Blue Cross/Blue Shield – cause I had a job with benefits, an increasingly scarce opportunity for young people entering the work force today – I didn’t know my policy number and other important information, since I was healthy as a horse and had never had occasion to use it.  So as I began to discuss he could arrange payment for my visit – since I had arrived in my skivvies with neither money nor identification papers on my person – the doctors offered to barter their services.

The spokesman said to me “There is a demand that has emerged from the Civil Rights Movement that is all over the news and has a lot of people confused.  And you look like if anybody can explain what it means you can.”  I guess he surmised that from my sizable Afro and beard, which was usually well groomed bit was looking real wild and crazy at the time.  And with a deep breath, as all eyes fixated on me, he put the question forthrightly: “What does Black Power mean?” 

With a sigh of relief, I sat straight up on my bed and held forth in a compelling lecture.  They thanked me profusely, gave me a robe, and arranged for me to be driven home.  That was the end of me and Meth.  However I had other friends whose decision to dance with the Meth Monster ended tragically. One example will suffice. 

I once had a dear friend who was highly educated, a lawyer and a musician and great at both, a husband and father of the first order.  One night on a gig he was turned on to meth by a fellow musician who told him it would keep him awake and alert better than cocaine, the dangers of which my friend knew and thus stayed away from.  He thought Monster was a safer choice, plus it was cheaper.  Well, he got hooked.  To make a short tragic story shorter, I’ll cut to the chase.  One Christmas morning his wife called me in a fit of hysteria, she said my friend had “lost his mind.”  First he was running around the house saying there were zombies and Vampires hiding in the closets and they were trying to pull him in.

He terrified the children and then he ran screaming from the house, jumped in the car and sped off, crashed into a steel pillar holding up the elevated train, totaled the car and killed himself…on Christmas morning.  That was enough to scare me away from hard drugs and especially the hallucinogens forever. Hence I went through the sizzling sixties and never took an acid trip, never ate any mushrooms, never smoked Peyote or messed with Mescalito.   Except for wisdom weed, rum and wine I was sober as a judge while all around me people were experimenting with them all!

Yet I thought there were enough tragic stories about the disastrous effects of abusing the Meth Monster to have have driven it off the market.  Not so, I discovered in this gripping video report.  Instead I learned that, as with cocaine, Meth addicts are now smoking it the way coke heads turned to “Free Basing” and then to Crack.

If you have any friends or loved ones who are abusing this dangerous drug, you should intervene immediately, if not sooner, and let them know that it is as addictive as crack and far more destructive to the body!  Plus it can make them do some very crazy destructive things – to themselves and all those around them.  For this reason the Monster must never be legalized…and abusers should be forced into treatment by order of the courts….and the suppliers should feel the full force of the laws: the more draconian the better!

Messing with the Monster can Fuck you Up
Addicted to Meath II
I bet she wishes she had never met The Monster!!
 Double click yo view video report
http://youtu.be/QppeXpxFyvo

******************* 

 Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Harlem, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

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