Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Kwanzaa + Recent Notes

Habari Gani: Happy Kwanzaa! (Ah, the days when I had to recite the seven principles!) It's also Zoroasht Diso for adherents of the Zoroastrian faith.

My first impulse after noting that Hanukkah has already concluded and that Christmas was yesterday is to note how quickly the holiday break is whizzing by, but instead I'll say that although I was doing university-related work right up to the hour I got on the plane and have been doing it since then, it's been wonderful to be able be home with C, relax and concentrate, even if briefly, on my own projects, and indulge in a little of what scholar and author Elizabeth Nuñez calls "dreamtime." Since we're on the quarter system, classes resume on January 3, 2007; I've finished up my new syllabi (I'm teaching 3 workshops, two undergraduate and one graduate, this upcoming quarter), have prepared my sourcebooks, and am nearly recharged. I may have to get a new eyeglass prescription, however, by the time the end of the quarter rolls around.

One of the more challenging things I've done since I've been home was to revise a story I'd written ten years ago, when I was in graduate school, and submitted to a literary journal, which accepted it but didn't publish it, because the journal itself didn't appear. But now it will, in early 2007. I hadn't even realized that the journal was forthcoming or that my story was still included in it, since I hadn't heard from any of the editors, who're different from the original group, but first a friend told me that he'd gotten wind the issue was finally going to appear, and then I got confirmation from the publisher that it was definitely on the way, and my story was still in it. I requested the see the edition the journal had, and it turned out that it was one of the earliest versions, from around 1996 or 1997, before I'd revised it as part of my final grad manuscript. That is, it was in rather crude shape, full of all sorts of errors, technical problems and anachronisms (it was very much contemporary to 1996, a moment before ubiquitous cell phones, people hooking up online, etc.) that I probably didn't see years ago, but spotted immediately upon reading it through now. One major problem with the piece was the overgrown foliage of language that I realize now I simply couldn't cut my way through back then. Another was the unclear motivations of the characters. Because the journal, now a book, is going to press within a few weeks, I hunkered and down and after about seven days produced a version that is passable. It's quite different from the last few stories I've written and published in theme (it deals with a closeted married man--when I first wrote it, I vividly recall one classmate telling me that "the closet" was passé), style (it's a fairly straightforward realist story), and tone. I think the story's still not what it could be, but I don't think it's a total embarassment any longer.

My blogging ebbed to nothing in part because of this pressing project and because it was as if I'd reached the zero phase of my mental capacities after addressing the last of a few administrative projects a several weeks ago. Despite the desire, I couldn't find the energy to post at all. I particularly wanted to write something about the end of The Wire's stunning, tragic fourth season, and also about Sleeper Cell, a less well-made but really interesting show I've been watching off and on. I'd also wanted to write about my ongoing love-hate relationship with TV in general, and my aim to keep it off more than on in 2007. And there's so much else.... I still haven't written a few reviews I'd hoped to complete, on Clean and other films, or to post a link to an article on an African-American woman's views of race and her experiences in the Dominican Republican that Anthony M. sent C. and me, or to talk about my long-ago love affair with the journal October, which never ceases, or to rant about the inconsistent St. Louis Rams, but in time, in time.

I was very sorry to hear that James Brown had passed yesterday morning. There are encomiums to his genius all over the Net (thank you, Audiologo) and I don't have anything special to add beyond the fact that I always saw him embodying, in his music and everyday performance, the blues and soul as living, inextinguishable material and spiritual aspects of Black life. Another was the unifying power of his music (umoja, you know). One important element of Brown's performative embodiment was and is its political power, and I noted in nearly all of the TV mentions of his life and achievements that there was little discussion, except by the activists he inspired and mentored, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, of the political component of his work. Catchy anthems like "Don't Be a Drop-Out" or "Say It Out Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" signified not only Brown's belief in Black uplift and the mood of the time, but also a centuries-long history of struggle for racial dignity, cultural pride and social and political self-determination. (He was, however, not averse to taking politically conservative stances such as endorsing Richard Nixon, but his complexity reflects the richness and complexity of the culture he so powerfully brought to life.) For so many reasons he will remain an important, iconic figure, for African America, for Blacks across the Diaspora, and for the US more broadly: his groundbreaking career and musical innovations; his personal artistic and financial success and the success he helped to create for Black/American popular music, and for popular musics across the world; the complex life narrative he created for himself and lived out; and his support throughout the years not only for younger artists, but also for activists and community leaders, but all Black people. May you rest in peace, and thank you, James Brown.

I also saw that Ahmet Ertegün, the co-founder and longtime visionary behind Atlantic Records, passed away two weeks ago. Ertegün's name first entered my consciousness when I would read the liner notes on some of my father's innumerable jazz LPs--I can't even who the artists were or the LPs--and wondered who this person whose unusual name (to me, back then) kept coming up was. The constant references to the name led me to suppose he possessed legendary status. This was long before Googling, and I didn't think to ask anyone or try a reference book, so it wasn't until I was a teenager and starting reading Andy Warhol's Interview magazine that I saw a picture of Ertegün and his wife Mika, and did some checking to learn that he was an impresario, to put it simply. At Atlantic, which his brother Nasuhi later joined, and others, this Turkish diplomat's son produced and issued records by many of the major popular musical artists of the 20th century, and also wrote a number of influential blues tunes. Among the great Black musical artists who worked with Ertegün were early R&B and blues artists like Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, The Drifters, Joe Turner; jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Hank Crawford; and, through Interscope Records, rappers like 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G. Other musical artists who put out music under Atlantic or its affiliated labels include Led Zeppelin, Sonny and Cher, Marky Mark, Nine Inch Nails, and Frank Zappa. Ertegün later played a central role in the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and outside of his musical interests, was also soccer enthusiast who helped to establish the New York Cosmos soccer team, which brought immortals Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer, and a host of other soccer stars to New York and national TV screens during the 1970s.

1 comment:

  1. Rejoice! Hear the news of the coming return of the Godfather!

    James Brown seeks disciples to spread the good news of the Godfather's return and of his redemption of Soul!

    Join the Church of James Brown, and be forever known as a Disciple of Soul.

    Repeat the words:

    I believe that James Brown died on Christmas day to redeem Soul.

    I believe that James Brown is still the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

    I believe that James Brown worked hard to spread the Gospel of Soul, and now, he's returned to the cosmic mothership to preach his gospel from on high, eternally united with the Father of Soul, Brother Ray, who plays keyboards righteously.

    I believe that James Brown will return to the Apollo three days after his death to proclaim the power and the glory of Soul. Verily, he shall also be on television, to spread his gospel to the world.

    Will you see the light of James Brown?
    Will you hear, bear witness to, and spread the message of James Brown, the Soul Brother Number One?
    Will you let James Brown in to your heart to purify and redeem Soul?