Saturday, June 30, 2007

Q&A: Yancey Arias

Good-looking fellow, that Yancey, huh? Let me tell you, he’s good people too. I got to know him during the making of “Kingpin.” The game of poker kept us in each other’s orbit since then.

Yancey Arias is part of a generation of Hispanic actors born in the 1970s and now making its mark in Hollywood with a wide range of movie and TV roles. Actors such as Michael Peña, Jacob Vargas, Freddie Rodriguez, Adam Rodriguez, Kirk Acevedo, Vincent Laresca and Enrique Murciano.

Born in New York to a Colombian father and a Puerto Rican mother, Arias started off as a singer, auditioning for the Latino boy band Menudo at age 12. He was signed to another boy band, Fuego, but it never got off the ground.

Al Pacino’s performance in “Scarface” made such an impression on young Yancey, he decided to try acting. By 14, he was attending Stagedoor Manor, a theater camp in the Catskills whose alumni also include Robert Downey, Jr., Natalie Portman and Zach Braff.

In July, Arias will begin work on “Fire Bay,” a feature film about the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which he plays an exiled Cuban doctor. We had a conversation over lunch a couple of weeks ago...
DAVID MILLS: In the early to mid ’80s, it seems to me that music was an easier path in entertainment than acting. Edward James Olmos and Jimmy Smits were about all you could look at in terms of television. What did you see in TV or movies that made you think you could make a living as an actor?

YANCEY ARIAS: Esai Morales in “Bad Boys,” with Sean Penn. Those two, their conflict together in jail – I just said, “You know what? I can do that. Absolutely. I can do movies. That’s me. I could be the tough guy, I could be the good guy, whatever.”

Watching Esai at his young age... I was in that age range where I could play his younger brother. And there were a couple of Hispanics in that aside from Esai; “Well, I could’ve played that part.” But I wasn’t in L.A., I was in New York. I was just a kid.

After Esai was “La Bamba.” By that point, I was 15. I was the age of Ritchie Valens when he was taking off in his career. I was already singing, doing shows, I had a manager already. I was in the mix. When that movie came out, I went nuts. I was like, “He looks like me! I sing! What the hell? How come I didn’t get an audition?” And I saw that movie, like, 10 times.

When I saw that movie, I was like, “That’s it.” My overall goal one day is to be able to combine my music and my acting in one movie. And it better be a damn good movie, because I’m not just gonna do any movie to do it.

Then “Mambo Kings” came out. You had Antonio Banderas doing his thing. And I’m like aaargh! The lion roar came out. All of these, again, L.A. decisions. I knew that I had to build a strong foundation before I went to L.A. ...

But those are the films and people that quickly sparked in me the need and the fire to make sure that I’m on top of my game at all points.

MILLS: I get the feeling that things are better today than they’ve ever been for Latino actors. Am I wrong?

ARIAS: Things are better, and things are not better. Things are better because now, if you’re an actor, whatever color you are – Asian, Hispanic, black, white, blue, green – if you’ve done some really good work and proven yourself, you will be considered for a role.

Will you get the job? That’s where politics comes into play: How many Hispanics are already in the show? What is the number of people so there can be a color-friendly palette in front of the camera? Do you have three Caucasian actors, one black actor and one Hispanic actor? Do you have two Hispanic actors? Suddenly it’s a different show if you have a certain amount of Latinos in the show, or blacks in the show, you understand? So the politics plays its role.

But at least now, the power of the work that you’ve done before starts to stand on its own in a way that they want you to come in and test for projects.

MILLS: Even if the role is not specifically written as Hispanic?

ARIAS: Especially if the role is not specifically written. They don’t know what they want. You just go in and you do your thing and hopefully you’re the best actor for the job.

In the past, even if it was non-specific, there was no way a Hispanic [would get the part]. It was white or black, there was no in between. No room for Asians, no room for Hispanics. It was either/or.

MILLS: That’s what the ’90s were like.

ARIAS: Today, it’s broader. And I love that. Gives us a shot. At least a shot.

MILLS: Are the types of roles changing? Part of that has to just be a function of being in your thirties.

ARIAS: The types of roles definitely have changed. I’m playing more doctors, more important figures, FBI agents. I think that’s a true sign of the times. Before, we were always the drug dealers, in the ’80s, or the cleaning man or the doorman.

But you know what? Nowadays, even if you’re playing a doorman or a janitor, nowadays that storyline is thicker, and it shows other facets of who that person is, like I played in “Walkout.”

MILLS: Now here’s something that, unless you’re Latin, people don’t really know about. But I’m curious about the color lines in the Latin community. You are considered dark?

ARIAS: Right. To some people I’m considered dark, to some people I’m considered very light. I’m right in between. I’m coffee and milk.

What happens is, a lot of times, for me, I’m either too light or too dark for a certain role.

MILLS: How do they let you know that? Or how do you know that?

ARIAS: If the script is written about a very Anglo, upper-class Latino family, and the description of the character is “light eyes” and “very WASP-y” or what not, it’s very clear that it’s a light-skinned Hispanic. As I read it, I go, “Why bring me in for this, if that’s the way it’s written?” “Oh, they’re not sure.” “Really?”

They’re not sure because somebody in the team doesn’t know – because they’re not Hispanic themselves, they just love my work. They want to see me do my thing, and I appreciate that. But in terms of the Latino community, everybody pretty much knows that if you’re light-skinned Hispanic or you’re mulata Hispanic – like half black, half white – or if you’re Afro-Hispanic, there is a difference.

Today – [from] the mid-1990s to today in 2007 – amongst the Latino community, there is no class difference any more. You can be any color of the Latino gamut and you can be a powerful person. Back in the day – the ’50s to early ’80s – it wasn’t so.

A lot more light-skinned Hispanics were usually the ones who went to the better schools, who had a better shot at life, and had stronger positions and offices. And the darker Hispanics were usually the working class or lower class. Even inside their own countries, not just in America.

So class has a lot to do with it. And there was discrimination in different countries, in South American countries. Slowly but surely, over the years, that broke apart. I think that America as a country did a very interesting job, through history, in making a statement that all men are created equal. And that resonated to the rest of the world. ...

MILLS: I guess there’s also an element of being able to play the generic ethnic type. I don’t know whether you’ve ever played an American Indian, but Jimmy Smits has.

ARIAS: Oh my God, are you like on a radar with me? Last night, Adam Beach, he’s on a rerun of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” – and he’s a new series regular on that show or one of the “Law & Order” shows. My wife’s like, “You could have totally played that role.”

I’m like, “Yeah, honey, I know.” But here’s the thing. He just finished coming out with “Flags of Our Fathers.” He was in a movie with Nicholas Cage, “Windtalkers.” He’s got this great HBO movie that he did about the American Indian.

I was asked if I was any part American Indian in casting [for] one or two of the projects that I was up against Adam Beach.

And I said to my agent, “I’m an American. I was born here, from immigrant parents. I understand the plight of the American Indian. I’m an actor. And I love research. And I love immersing myself into a role so that I respect that culture. What difference does it make? We’re in a whole new time now. I don’t have to be American Indian to go in for that role. They know my work, let me show them.”

“Oh, they’re very sensitive, the producers of this project, to making sure that they’re American Indian.” “Then don’t send me in. And don’t ask me this again, if they’re that sensitive. I’m sure that they were that sensitive back in the ’80s and ’90s when somebody said, ‘Is that person Latino? Oh, they’re Italian? Oh, they’re Irish? Well, they can look Hispanic.’ ”

MILLS: (laughs) Right.

ARIAS: What is this double standard today? We’re actors. Give us a shot. All I ask is for a shot.

MILLS: You played an Asian on Broadway in “Miss Saigon,” right?

ARIAS: And people mistake me for Asian today.

MILLS: Did anybody complain?

ARIAS: At first. When I first came onto the show, people wanted me to be Asian, have a little bit of Asian, were upset that I was getting that role. You understand? The buzz was in the air. But I had the heart and I had the training far beyond their expectations.

And that first night when I came on, I kid you not, in the wings it was packed with all the rest of the cast members and all the crew, to see if I could pull this off.

And I nailed that performance like nobody’s business. And everybody who had anything to say about the fact that I wasn’t Asian suddenly embraced me, thanked me, loved me, and wanted nothing more but to see me on that stage representing that culture, representing that story.

And over a period of time, collectively, audiences mistook me for Asian all the time. I was a very proud and very happy actor to have been able to give that effect to everybody. Because then I knew for myself that whatever I set my mind to, and research and give myself all the possibilities of that role, I can make people believe in that story.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sammy Davis, Jr. on UBM-TV

All hail His Satanic Badness... one of the greatest entertainers of all time... Mr. Sammy Davis, Jr. There he is on my Video Bar.

Sammy hams it up with an English showman named Bruce Forsyth. Sammy rocks the balls off of “For Once In My Life.” And, of course, Sammy’s flossin’ the bling-bling like it ain’t no thing-thing. So don’t playa-hate, luxuriate!

UPDATE (07/03/07): The clip with Sammy doing “For Once In My Life” is here.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Remembering Alex Haley

I had forgotten (if I ever really knew) the important role of Reader’s Digest in the creation of “Roots,” Alex Haley’s epic book from 1976. The Digest’s co-founder, Lila Acheson Wallace, underwrote Haley’s research. And the magazine published the very first excerpts of “Roots” in 1974.

Two months ago, The Reader’s Digest Association published a paperback titled “Alex Haley: The Man Who Traced America’s Roots.” With the publisher’s permission, here is an excerpt. It deals with a key phase in Haley’s writing process:
ALEX HALEY: There’s something about a ship. Usually I go out on freight ships, cargo ships. (I wouldn’t get caught on a liner. How can you write with 800 people dancing?) But the freight ships carry a maximum of 12 people, and they tend to be very quiet people.

I work my principal hours from about 10:30 at night until daybreak. The world is yours at that point. Most all the passengers are asleep.

I had written from the birth of Kunta Kinte through his capture. And I had got into the habit of talking to the character. I knew Kunta. I knew everything about Kunta. I knew what he was going to do. What he had done. Everything. And so I would talk to him.

And I had become so attached to him that I knew now I had to put him in the slave ship and bring him across the ocean. That was the next part of the book. And I just really couldn’t quite bring myself to write that.

I was in San Francisco. I wrote about 40 pages and chunked it out. When you write well, it isn’t a question so much of what you want to say, it’s a question of feel. Does it feel like you want it to feel? The feel starts coming in somewhere around about the fourth rewrite.

I wrote, twice more, about 40 pages and threw it out. And I realized what my bother was: I couldn’t bring myself to feel I was up to writing about Kunta Kinte in that slave ship and me in a high-rise apartment. I had to get closer to Kunta.

I had run out of my money at The Digest, lying so many times about when I’d finish so I couldn’t ask for any more. I don’t know where I got the money from. I went to Africa. Put out the word I wanted to get a ship coming from Africa to Florida. I just wanted to simulate the crossing.

I went down to Liberia, and I got on a freight ship called appropriately enough the African Star. She was carrying a partial cargo of raw rubber in bales. And I got on as a passenger. I couldn’t tell the captain or the mate what I wanted to do because they couldn’t allow me to do it.

But I found one hold that was just about a third full of cargo and there was an entryway into it with a metal ladder down to the bottom of the hold. Down in there they had a long, wide, thick piece of rough sawed timber. They called it dunnage. It’s used between cargo to keep it from shifting in rough seas.

After dinner the first night, I made my way down to this hold. I had a little pocket light. I took off my clothing to my underwear and lay down on my back on this piece of dunnage. I imagined I’m Kunta Kinte. I lay there and I got cold and colder. Nothing seemed to come except how ridiculous it was that I was doing this. By morning I had a terrible cold. I went back up. And the next night I’m there doing the same thing.

Well, the third night when I left the dinner table, I couldn’t make myself go back down in that hold. I just felt so miserable. I don’t think I ever felt quite so bad. And instead of going down in the hold, I went to the stern of the ship. And I’m standing up there with my hands on the rail and looking down where the propellers are beating up this white froth. And in the froth are little luminous green phosphorescences. At sea you see that a lot.

And I’m standing there looking at it, and all of a sudden it looked like all my troubles just came on me. I owed everybody I knew. Everybody was on my case. Why don’t you finish this foolish thing? You ought not be doing it in the first place, writing about black genealogy. That’s crazy.

I was just utterly miserable. Didn’t feel like I had a friend in the world. And then a thought came to me that was startling. It wasn’t frightening. It was just startling. I thought to myself, Hey, there’s a cure for all this. You don’t have to go through all this mess. All I had to do was step through the rail and drop in the sea.

Once having thought it, I began to feel quite good about it. I guess I was half a second before dropping in the sea. Fine, that would take care of it. You won’t owe anybody anything. To hell with the publishers and the editors.

And I began to hear voices. They were not strident. They were just conversational. And I somehow knew every one of them. And they were saying things like, No, don’t do that. No, you’re doing the best you can. You just keep going.

And I knew exactly who they were. They were Grandma, Chicken George, Kunta Kinte. They were my cousin, Georgia, who lived in Kansas City and had passed away. They were all these people whom I had been writing about. They were talking to me. It was like in a dream.

I remember fighting myself loose from that rail, turning around, and I went scuttling like a crab up over the hatch. And finally I made my way back to my little stateroom and pitched down, head first, face first, belly first on the bunk, and I cried dry. I cried more I guess than I’ve cried since I was four years old. ...

[Edited from a talk at Reader’s Digest, October 10, 1991, four months before Alex Haley’s death. Excerpted from the book “Alex Haley: The Man Who Traced America’s Roots,” by Alex Haley. Copyright © 2007 The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.]

Playlist: Making fun of the gays

As a proud multiculturalist, I’m happy to acknowledge the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. But in my own unique way, of course... by streaming some cool (and not-so-cool) audio.

Making fun of homosexuals is an American comic tradition. I’ve uploaded five tracks to illustrate the point. I’ve arranged them in order, from least offensive to most malignant. Heck, some of it’s even funny! Just click the titles, listen to the tracks, and ponder how times change.

1. “Gay Alliance” – National Lampoon Radio Hour (c. 1974)

The most benign sketch also happens to be the funniest. And it’s of historical interest because three of the four players became legends of contemporary comedy – John Belushi, Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest. (The fourth guy, Steve Collins, I know nothing about.)

This bit was originally broadcast on the National Lampoon’s radio show (which aired between 1973 and 1975, leading up to the dawn of “Saturday Night Live”).

2. “The L.M.N.O.P. Ad Agency” – Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner (196?)

Two old-school comedy legends and master improvisers, Brooks and Reiner riff on the culture of advertising... and throw in an F-word or two.

3. “It’s a Faggot’s World” – Blowfly (1971)

Not as malicious as you might expect from the title, this is Blowfly presenting his usual combo platter of nasty sex talk and R&B parody. I never thought Blowfly was all too funny. But he did find himself a gimmick and worked it to death.

4. “World’s First Two Gay Guys” – Norm MacDonald (2006)

Now we start sliding over into bona fide contempt. But we’ve known for years that Norm has issues in this regard. (Remember the shit he used to say – publicly – about Chris Kattan’s comedy?)

This sketch (co-starring Will Ferrell in Harry Carey mode) kinda gives me the creeps. And I like MacDonald’s sense of humor generally.

5. “Faggots” – Andrew Dice Clay (1987)

You probably guessed it would end here, huh? How this witless fucking idiot ever became a star is the most baffling human mystery of the last quarter-century. Hear the words... feel the hatred. (The “Welcome to Brooklyn” joke will make you feel unclean.)

Plus, I bet you the “Diceman” would give Satan a blowjob right about now if it meant having a career again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Clarence Thomas, intellectual heavyweight?

I’ve never been into vilifying Clarence Thomas the way some colored folks have.

But when I saw the Supreme Court in action on TV, back during the Florida recount mess of 2000, I did take notice of Justice Thomas’s conspicuous silence. All the other justices were asking questions; Thomas didn’t say a mumbling word.

I couldn’t help but think: “Well, the dumbest kid in class doesn’t usually say shit!” I’ve wondered ever since whether Clarence Thomas was particularly bright.

Then I heard what Jan Crawford Greenburg had to say a month ago, in her lecture at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Author of the book “Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court,” Ms. Crawford Greenburg said Justice Thomas gets a bum rap as a legal thinker. He is not Antonin Scalia’s Little Sir Echo. He is his own man, and a persuasive arguer to boot.

I’m streaming 4½ minutes of Crawford Greenburg’s remarks here, on my Vox audio stash. (You can download the full hourlong presentation off of the EPPC website, here.)

I must make time to read “Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas,” by Kevin Merida and Michael Fletcher, to see what makes that man tick.

Calling all poker players...

Wanna play cards with some Hollywood celebrities and maybe a few poker professionals... not to mention Undercover Black Man? Mark this date – July 28 – on your calendar. It’s all for a worthy cause.

Yancey Arias is organizing a fundraising Texas Hold ’Em tournament in Malibu to benefit his charitable foundation, Lives to Save.

This is the second annual Lives to Save celebrity tourney. I won the first one, so you know I’m looking forward to this. (Gots to prove it wasn’t no fluke.) You will find all the relevant details on the Lives to Save website.

By the way, I’ll be posting an interview with Yancey on Friday. I talked to him recently about his working life as a Latino actor. Yance can be seen (briefly) in “Live Free or Die Hard,” which opens today.

UPDATE (06/27/07): Uh-oh... I should’ve made clear that this is a high-dollar event. The buy-in is $2,000.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Q&A: Ice Cube (pt. 2)

Here’s the rest of my 1989 interview with Ice Cube, in which he tells the story of a gig in Detroit that got waaay out of hand...
DAVID MILLS: Was there any element of anticipation that N.W.A. would get a lot of publicity by being extra hard and extra profane and extra violent?

ICE CUBE: Nope, ’cause to us it ain’t extra. If you go onto any kind of playground – elementary – you’ll hear the same words we talk about in our songs. If you turn on any kind of cable TV, you’ll hear the same words.

We didn’t invent no words. We ain’t teaching nobody nothing new when it comes to that. They can’t blame us if their kids use profanity. They can’t blame us for no crime rate in no city, because there’s always been violence and there’s always been crime, wherever there’s people together. ...

Next album, we’re just going to do the record. No press, no nothing.

MILLS: Really? You’re tired of all the media attention?

CUBE: Yeah, to be honest. Ain’t nobody caused no riot and said, “Yo, N.W.A. made me do it.” At our concerts, a little thing happened in Detroit, which was the police’s fault.

MILLS: Tell me about that. Because I talked to your tour promoter here in D.C., and she said N.W.A. had agreed not to perform “Fuck tha Police” onstage because it could incite people. So y’all didn’t perform “Fuck tha Police” until you get to Detroit. Somebody starts singing “Fuck tha Police,” and the promoters stop the show, turn up the house lights and pull y’all off stage.

CUBE: That ain’t the way it happened. For one thing, we ain’t sign no agreement to not do “Fuck tha Police.” My signature, my manager’s signature, or Eazy’s signature ain’t on nothing. They can’t show you that shit.

MILLS: Did you agree verbally not to perform that song?

CUBE: We agreed verbally not to perform the song. [Some venues] didn’t want us to sing “Gangsta, Gangsta” or “Straight Outta Compton” [either]. We was like, “Fuck that.” The kids come to see this shit, you know?

So we go into Detroit, right? It’s our last show of the tour. Twenty thousand people there. Eazy done went platinum, we done went platinum. The show list is De La Soul, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, L.L. Cool J, Eazy-E and N.W.A.

MILLS: Hell of a show.

CUBE: Hell of a show. [But the concert organizers said] “Yo Eazy, man, y’all got to go on second.” We ain’t been in Detroit since the records came out. The last time we were in Detroit, all we had was 12-inches out.

So we’re like, “Second? Why the fuck we got to go second? We been burnin’ ass on this whole tour.” So we’re like, “Yo, man, they’re trying to fuck us, man, putting us on second.”

We usually don’t beef about going on second, but we see everybody else beefin’ and getting their way. Why can’t we beef and get our way, right? Like, “Fuck it, we ain’t going out if we gotta go on second.” ’Cause when we go on, we want everybody to be in there. We don’t want no half shit. Not being big-headed, because this is the first time we ever pulled some shit like this. We usually say, “First or last, we gonna tap that ass.” That’s the motto we got.

So we was like, “Fuck it, man, we should do ‘Fuck tha Police.’ It’s our last show. Let’s just go out with a bang.” Kids was coming to us in the hotel all day – “Yo, man, y’all singin’ ‘Fuck tha Police’?” We say, “Naw.” “Oh man, y’all shouldn’ta come if y’all wasn’t gonna do that!”

Our manager said, “Just go on second, man.” We’re like, “Cool. Straight. Fuck it.” It was an 8:30 show. We was going on at 9 o’clock, so we figured, you know, by 9 o’clock everybody’s in there that is in there.

So we’re backstage. It’s like, “Yo, man, should we do ‘Fuck tha Police’?” Nobody said yeah and nobody said no. Then we heard our cue so they ran up onstage, Ren and Dre and Yella. They go out first. To me, if nobody said yeah and nobody said no, we ain’t gonna do the song. That’s what I’m thinking. “I guess we’re going to do the regular show as planned.”

So it’s my turn to come up there, and I do “Gangsta, Gangsta.” Kids go crazy. After I finish “Gangsta, Gangsta,” after the lights go out and the music cut off, you hear the kids chanting: “Fuck the police! Fuck the police! Fuck the police!”

Then I go into “A Bitch Iz a Bitch.” After I finish that, I stop. “Fuck the police! Fuck the police! Fuck the police!” That’s all you hear the kids chanting.

After that, we went into “Straight Outta Compton.” After we finished that, the same thing: “Fuck the police! Fuck the police!” I went into “I Ain’t the One.” While I was doing “I Ain’t the One,” Ren and Dre was at the turntable talking. So after I finish “I Ain’t the One,” I announce everybody, right?

Now I’m about to go into “Dopeman,” as far as I know. But Ren said, “Wait a minute.” He goes to the front of the stage. He says, “Everybody say, ‘Fuck the police!’ ” They say “Fuck the police!” to the loudest they can.

I looked at Dre; Dre said, “Come in on two.” So I went into the song – “Fuck the police, comin’ straight from the underground...” The place went stupid.

Then we see about 20 motherfuckers from the back trying to bum-rush the front.

MILLS: Just fans or who?

CUBE: Undercover police. They’re in the back of the arena, but they’re throwing chairs out the way to get to the front of the arena. Nobody knows they’re police, not even me.

Then I’m thinking, “Damn, we done started some shit in here.” I didn’t know what was going on. I’m still singing the song but I’m still looking at ’em, because they leave the lights on in Detroit.

So they’re trying to climb over the barricade. As soon as one tried to climb, I saw his badge. I’m like, “Damn, that’s the police!” But I’m still rappin’. And security is fighting the police because they don’t know they’re police. They just think they’re motherfuckers acting a fool.

While this is going on, we hear two pops. Pop! Pop! So I’m thinking, “Oh shit! The police shootin’ at us!” That’s my first thought. So me and Ren just run off the side of the stage, we run to the back, I change my shirt, and I’m looking for an exit.

By this time, backstage is going crazy. The police is fighting L.L.’s security, police is fighting the building security, just trying to get to us. Our road manger pushes us in a van. “Go to the hotel, pack your shit. The police goin’ crazy. We’re leaving. We’re going to Canada.” So I’m like, “Bet. Let’s go.”

So we get to the hotel and we start packing our shit. We’re ready to break. While we’re taking our shit down to the bus, the lobby is full of police. Full of ’em – “Y’all goin’ to jail.” That’s what the police said.

So... they took us into this little room. All they did was talk to us. They told us they wanted to arrest us onstage to front us off in front of everybody to show that you can’t say “Fuck the police” in Detroit.

MILLS: That’s what they said to you?

CUBE: Yeah. So that was it. They took down our numbers and addresses and said we’d be getting a letter, and if they wanted to prosecute we’d have to send some money back or some old weak bullshit.

So I’m like, “Man, y’all did all this shit...” They did all that just to talk to us and say they didn’t like the record. ...

If we wouldn’t have heard those pops – which sounded like gunshots, but they said some kids were popping firecrackers – if we wouldn’t have heard that shit, we wouldn’t have ran. Yo, when I hear shots, I’m gone. Because you can’t miss a target with a spotlight. (laughs)

MILLS: The police tried to rush the stage just to make a point in front of all the fans that you couldn’t say that in Detroit?

CUBE: Yeah. So they started the fuckin’ riot. They started the trouble. We only had one more verse to go and that song would have been over. Kids didn’t go kill police.

I’m like, “Y’all gonna make the motherfuckers fight because they didn’t get to see Eazy. That’s what y’all gonna do.” So that was the shit that happened, man.

MILLS: But doesn’t that just go to show you? You must have realized something if you had agreed verbally not to do that song in any of the other cities.

CUBE: Some people, they were saying, “If you do the song, y’all never be able to come back to this building again.” So you can’t burn your bridges. But it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. You know, you just do shit spur-of-the-moment. You’ve got to take it how it comes.

MILLS: Does that mean you will never play Detroit again?

CUBE: I don’t know. From what I know, if we can’t play Detroit, the kids’ll come to Saginaw to see us. The hip-hop audience is a loyal audience. I know that for a fact. ...

MILLS: Is there a lesson – What’s the lesson you learned from that whole incident?

CUBE: Have a faster getaway. That’s the only shit I learned. Have a faster getaway. I don’t respect the Detroit police no more than I respect the L.A. police or anybody. Police, they’re just people, just like I’m people.

I told the Detroit police, “Yo, y’all want to do a song called ‘Fuck N.W.A.’? We’ll produce it. We don’t give a fuck.” Nobody wanted to do it, so I’m like, “Well, y’all had your chance.”

Brazilian racial proverbs

Once upon a time in the ’70s, there was an eccentric philologist named Reinhold Aman, and he had a thing for dirty words. And also insults. And blasphemy and scatology and ethnic slurs.

So Dr. Aman founded Maledicta, “The International Journal of Verbal Aggression.” Which was always fun to read, and informative about the culture of language.

In Maledicta 8 (1984-1985), Dr. Aman published an article by Hannes Stubbe, a German-born psychologist and ethnologist who taught at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. The article was titled “Dialectics of Brazilian Negro Proverbs.”

“The racial problem in Brazil,” Dr. Stubbe wrote, “as far as it is at all noticeable, is a social problem. Since the Negro slaves were freed from slavery by the imperial decree of Princess Dona Isabel on 13 May 1888, their belated social start in Brazilian society was mainly noted by their marginality.

“Social tensions between whites and Negroes can clearly be seen in the dialectics of the ‘Negro proverbs,’ i.e., the proverbs of whites about the Negroes, and vice versa.”

Basically, Euro-Brazilians came up with a bunch of folk sayings that belittle Afro-Brazilians. And the blacks developed sayings of their own in response.

Dr. Stubbe provided many examples. Here are a few...

White proverb: Negro só tem de branco os dentes. (“The Negro has only the teeth of the white man.”)

Black proverb: Sangue de negro é vermelho como o de branco. (“The Negro’s blood is just as red as that of the white man.”)

White proverb: Em negocio de branco negro não se mete. (“The Negro should not interfere with the white man’s business.”)

Black proverb: Trabalha o negro para o branco comedor. (“The Negro works so that the white man can lead a glutton’s [parasite’s] life.”)

White proverb: Negro em festa de branco é o primeiro que apanha e o último que come. (“At a white man’s party, the Negro is the first to help himself to food and the last to stop eating.”)

Black proverb: Branco não faz festa sem negro. (“The white man never has a party without Negroes.”)

White proverb: Negro ensaboado, tempo perdido, sabão esperdiçado. (“Lathering [soaping] a Negro is a waste of time and a waste of soap.”)

Black proverb: Suor de negro dá dinheiro. (“The Negro’s sweat provides money.”)

White proverb: Negro quando não gosta de mel é ladrão de cortiço. (“If the Negro does not like honey, he steals the beehive.”)

Black proverb: Negro furtou é ladrão; branco furtou é barão. (“A Negro who steals is a thief; a white man who steals is a baron.”)

White proverb: Negro só é gente quando está no banheiro. Quando batem na port, ele diz: “Tem gente.” (“The Negro is only a person [human being] when he is in the toilet. When someone knocks at the door, he says: ‘There is a person inside.’ ”)

Black proverb: Papel higiênico também é branco. (“Toilet paper is also white.”)

Any Brazilians out there reading this? I’d love to hear what you can tell me about the state of race relations in Brazil.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cops know things...

Speaking of Bobby Cutts, Jr., America’s latest embarrassment to the Negro race, I am made mindful of the phenomenon of men who kill women they used to make love to. This happens all the time.

About four times a day – every day – in these United States, by one estimate.

I blew the dust off my copy of Vernon J. Geberth’s “Practical Homicide Investigation,” a textbook for murder police that I purchased while working on “NYPD Blue.” Here’s the grim truth, as delineated by Mr. Geberth:
VERNON J. GEBERTH: The most common type of sex-related homicide originates from interpersonal violence. “Sexual domestic disputes” involve husbands and wives, men and women, boyfriends and girlfriends, boyfriends and boyfriends, girlfriends and girlfriends, and even on occasion siblings. They may also involve third party relationships, such as “love triangles,” former husbands and/or wives, and jilted lovers. ...

The motive in this category of slayings is most often based upon elements of rage, hate, anger, jealousy or revenge.

The psychological dynamics involved in such violent interpersonal disputes and assaults oftentimes present scenarios which involve violent actions and statements such as, “If I can’t have you then nobody will have you.” This is most common in sexual domestic dispute cases.

The woman petitions the court for an “Order of Protection.” The court order directs the man to stay away from the petitioner and refrain from any further harassment. The man becomes enraged with this attempt by the woman to “break the relationship.” This oftentimes culminates in a violent homicidal episode in which sexual aggression is evident in the crime scene.

An estimated 1,432 females were killed by intimates in 1992 according to the FBI’s Crime in the U.S. Female victims represented 70% of the intimate murder victims. Most of the women who are murdered in the United States are killed by former husbands, lovers, and friends. [Emphasis added.] ...

I remember [a] case in which the nude body of an apparent rape victim was found in a city park. Initially, it was believed that the victim had been raped at an undisclosed location, shot to death, and then transported to the park where the body was “dumped.” However, upon identification of the victim, it was ascertained that she had been missing from the day before.

Investigation revealed that she had been abducted by her estranged husband. He had kept her captive in his auto where she was repeatedly raped and subsequently killed when she refused to reconcile with him.

Mingus and Dolphy on UBM-TV

I bet that Google Video Bar caught your eye, didn’t it? That’s the Charles Mingus Sextet, including the great Eric Dolphy on alto sax and (spectacularly) on bass clarinet. It’s from an hourlong film titled “Charles Mingus: Live in Norway, 1964” (which isn’t available on DVD).

Dolphy died in Germany on June 29, 1964, not long after this Mingus tour ended.

Coming in mid-July will be a double-CD from Blue Note Records, “Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964,” which also features Dolphy’s virtuoso flute-playing. I can’t wait.

UPDATE (07/01/07): Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet solo is here.

White culture on the skids

Thank Odin, this prize-winner came along to take my mind off that black dude who murdered his white pregnant baby mama in Ohio (allegedly).

Something odd from James Brown and Pavarotti

Yes, the Godfather of Soul performed onstage with Luciano Pavarotti (and string orchestra) on May 28, 2002. They sang “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

This took place in Pavarotti’s hometown of Modena, Italy, during one of his annual “Pavarotti & Friends” charity concerts.

Weird as this combination seems, it worked. Big time. J.B. was in great voice. And Pavarotti gave up the funk. (Well, not really... but he is a bad mutha.)

Lou Reed – another of Pavarotti’s unlikely singing partners in 2002 – told a British newspaper that the “Man’s World” performance was “amazing.” See for yourself, through the miracle of YouTube.

(This performance can be found as a bonus feature on the DVD of “James Brown: Soul Survivor,” a PBS “American Masters” special from 2003.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Remembering Reverend C.L. Franklin

He is remembered nowadays as Aretha Franklin’s father. But in the 1950s, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was one of the most famous preachers in America.

In the city of Detroit, C.L. Franklin’s Sunday night radio broadcasts live from New Bethel Baptist Church were a phenomenon. Other preachers rescheduled their Sunday evening services so as not to compete with Rev. Franklin’s.

Then he pioneered the practice of recording full-length sermons for sale as LPs. This brought him “a national celebrity within black America on the level of a Sam Cooke, a Mahalia Jackson, or a Little Richard,” according to Franklin’s biographer, Nick Salvatore.

I’m streaming a 7-minute segment of one of Rev. Franklin’s most popular sermons, “The Eagle Stirs Her Nest,” on my Vox audio stash. Click here to hear it. You can purchase the full half-hour sermon for download from eMusic.

In his 2005 book, “Singing in a Strange Land: C.L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America,” Salvatore describes Rev. Franklin’s growing stardom (and the backlash) after he got into business with record-label entrepreneur Joe Von Battle:
NICK SALVATORE: The recordings were an immediate sensation. Detroiters bought them in large numbers, and Von Battle distributed them on his JVB label to other record shops in the Midwest and the South. Von Battle’s operation was small, and he could neither press enough records nor handle the bookkeeping and advertising to take full advantage of the opportunity. But there was no question that Franklin was a major success.

When Von Battle put a new sermon on his [record store’s] sound system, flooding the Hastings Street sidewalk with the mellifluous power of that voice, crowds frequently gathered to listen. “More than once,” Marsha L. Mickens, Von Battle’s daughter, remembered her father saying, he “had to call the police to break up the crowds that would gather to hear” the recorded sermon.

All this attention made C.L. an even more attractive figure as he leaned across the pulpit or sauntered down Hastings Street during the course of a day’s business. This handsome, virile man, in effect single since 1948, had never been bashful about his sexuality, which he considered... “one of the great psychological needs” all humans experience. That some women, in and outside the church community, responded with a matching passion, C.L. considered one of life’s great delights. ...

Talk about C.L.’s involvements with women provided his critics, particularly those in the ministry, with additional cause to dismiss him. The critics were not necessarily innocents themselves, but the open, public manner in which C.L. squired his women about town upset them. From their perspective, C.L. was not exploring the boundary of the sacred and the secular – he had, rather, fallen over into the abyss.

This, in turn, reinforced criticism of his preaching style and doubts about his recording career. Even before his appearance on the JVB label, many had dismissed him as a mere entertainer, a panderer to popular emotions, a preacher who lacked an intellectual core to his sermon.

More so in 1953, following C.L.’s carefully produced radio program, his record sales, and New Bethel’s mushrooming membership rolls, these critics – with not a little jealousy – regarded C.L. as a celebrity hound, an embarrassment to the ministry they sought to serve.

Were these charges accurate, C.L.’s stretch toward national fame would quickly falter, for no sermon so empty of meaning could withstand repeated scrutiny by the insightful if often unschooled people whose perceptive folk commentary on preachers and their messages was a staple of the black oral tradition.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Something funky from Gil Scott-Heron

Pause a few minutes for a breathtakingly wonderful ’70s flashback...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Entertainment Weekly, showing that love!

Hey, guess whose blog made it onto Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 100 coolest everythings?

Yep, Undercover Black Man’s blog! Right there on page 67, smack in between Marg Helgenberger and Melora Hardin on the “EW 100” (a.k.a. the “Must List”).

It just hit newsstands today (with Hayden Panettiere and her pom-poms on the cover). I am one proud and happy blogger.

It’s a good thing I didn’t blog about that incident three weeks ago when I shitted in my pants in the car...

Joe Louis on UBM-TV

Imagine a time when the pride of the Negro race could be borne on the shoulders of one heavyweight boxer.

On June 22, 1938, Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round of a fight heard ’round the world... “one of the major sports events of the 20th century,” according to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

This was the rematch. Schmeling, a German, had knocked out Louis in 1936... the first time Joe Louis was ever beaten.

The rematch took place in Yankee Stadium, with millions of people across the globe listening live on radio. (It was broadcast in English, German, Portuguese and Spanish.)

Now, through the magic of Google’s Video Bar in the upper right corner of this page, I present four fragments of the 2004 PBS documentary about Louis vs. Schmeling – “The Fight.” You can purchase the complete film on DVD here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Q&A: Ernestine Anderson

I’m pleased to present here an interview with Ernestine Anderson, a singer whose career spans nearly 60 years. Jazz writer Andrew Gilbert talked to Ms. Anderson by phone in August of 2004.

Born in Houston, Anderson toured with the legendary bandleader Johnny Otis in the late 1940s. She recorded a few LPs for Mercury between 1958 and 1960. But her reputation as a solo artist soared with a string of albums in the ’70s and ’80s for the Concord label.

(Click here to hear “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” or here to listen to “Old Folks.” Both are from her 1980 album, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.”)

Ernestine Anderson is still going strong at age 78. Her most recent CD was the 2003 set “Love Makes the Changes.” And she’ll be performing tomorrow night through Sunday at Jazz at Pearl’s in San Francisco.

Writes Andy Gilbert: “Anderson sings blues with total authority and delivers standards with a salty edge reminiscent of Dinah Washington.”
ANDREW GILBERT: When you first started gaining attention with Johnny Otis, what kind of songs were you singing?

ERNESTINE ANDERSON: I really don’t remember the songs I sang, but they were big-band songs. Johnny Otis had several bands. After the first big band there was another one with Little Esther Phillips on a tour headed by the Ink Spots. It’s hard to remember, it was so long ago.

I actually started in Houston with a band headed by Russell Jacquet. During my earlier days I just seemed to connect to big bands. When I was coming up, singing with a big band was how you learned and honed your craft. You learned how to sing in front of an audience and you learned from the older artist on a show, picking up whatever you could.

GILBERT: Tell me about some of your early influences.

ANDERSON: There were so many, but the earliest one was Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan was one of my idols.

Before that, I used to listen to big bands a lot on the radio when I was growing up in Texas. My dad had some kind of radio where you could get broadcasts from far away and I used to hear bands like Erskine Hawkins and Jimmie Lunceford. Billy Eckstine was one of my favorites. There were just so many people and I listened to everybody, including instrumentalists.

In fact, I got so engrossed with Sarah when I first heard her that I tried to sing like her. Then I was told by this person, I should try to find my own identity, that was the only way I was going to have any success in this business. So I stopped listening to singers and just listened to instrumentalists for a couple of years. That’s how I got away from being influenced by other people.

GILBERT: You started gaining some serious national attention when you joined Lionel Hampton’s orchestra in 1952. How did you end up with Hamp?

ANDERSON: Hamp was in town and my husband heard that Betty Carter was leaving the orchestra and that he was looking for a singer. He pushed me to go and audition for the band and I got the job.

I traveled with that band for a year, and it was one of the hottest bands that Lionel ever had, with Art Farmer, Jimmy Cleveland and Gigi Gryce. Quincy Jones was there too and he was writing for the band, and Jimmy Scott was the other singer.

GILBERT: The band may have been hot, but like a lot of Hamp’s vocalists, you didn’t stay with the orchestra for long.

ANDERSON: The band was going to Europe and I decided to stay in New York and go out on my own. I’d done two songs on an album that Gryce put together. Someone heard this album and asked me to go over to Scandinavia with Rolf Ericson, a Swedish trumpet player, and it was wonderful, a great experience. I found out that the Swedish people love jazz. I found that out to be true all over Europe and Asia, every place except our own country.

GILBERT: Right, making it in Sweden doesn’t necessarily open doors back in the States. But you had some help from San Francisco Chronicle critic Ralph Gleason, one of the founders of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

ANDERSON: When I first came back to the U.S. from Sweden, I moved to San Francisco with my first album, which featured a Swedish orchestra – “Hot Cargo” with the Harry Arnold Band. I had an acetate of the date and I played it for some people here in Seattle.

So Maggie Hawthorne, a jazz critic, notified Ralph Gleason, and this man did so much for me. He was responsible for getting it off the ground when I came back from Sweden. He made the Monterey Jazz Festival happen and was responsible for getting an article in Time magazine, which was unheard of in those days for a jazz musician.

GILBERT: You were recording for Mercury through the early 1960s, and then the bottom fell out for jazz musicians. How did you handle the loss of work?

ANDERSON: When rock ’n’ roll became the music of America, I moved to London for two years. In order to keep working I had to leave the country. When I came back, that’s when I joined the Buddhist faith, that kept me going.

I stopped singing for a while. I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of starting all over again. I decided maybe it was time for me to give it up, and that’s what I did. I came home to Seattle.

GILBERT: So what got you back on the bandstand?

ANDERSON: A couple of years later I started getting the desire to sing again. A friend, the bassist Red Kelly, had a club in Tacoma and I used to go up there to sing every weekend for a year, just getting my throat together again.

Another friend had a jazz festival on Vancouver Island, and he asked me to do this gig, and everybody was there – Monk Montgomery, Ray Brown, so many musicians. At the end of it Ray asked me if I was ready to come back and start singing again. I told him I needed a record, I couldn’t just start cold.

He called me a week later and said. “I’ve booked you at the Concord Jazz Festival and they’re going to record you there.” That was my first album after getting back in the business. Ray Brown was responsible for that.

GILBERT: You had a pretty great run with Concord.

ANDERSON: I was with them for 15 years. Carl Jefferson really had his hand on the pulse of the music, the jazz situation, how to record different artists. And once a record was made, he knew how to get behind it and promote it. He was a giant that way. And he was known in the business for making quality records, soundwise and everything. Of course he had one of the greatest engineers, Phil Edwards.

GILBERT: No matter what the setting, your music always swings. But I feel like your audience really loves it when your voice gets a little rough and you start to testify.

ANDERSON: I love jazz, I love all kinds of music. But I really love the blues.

Does Canada have an immigration problem? (cont.)

Here’s more of that digital conversation last month on Canadian Cynic’s blog, responding to my query about Canada and non-white immigration. (My first post on the subject is here.)

It’s informative stuff. Keep in mind, the Canadian Cynic site is left-of-center. Also, I’ve reproduced these comments verbatim, with misspellings and idiosyncratic typography in tact (though I have done a little editing for length).
PRETTY SHAVED APE: ... having arived planetside in 1961, i remember the lily white early years of school. my friends were scottish, italian, german, portugese, french, french canadian and from various destinations around the world. visiting a friends house, it wasn’t unusual to be greeted by oma and parents with varying thickness of accent. my folks had their own mid-atlantic british accents and i qwas the first of our bunch born on this side of the pond.

as i grew up in the 70s a greater number of people from africa, the caribbean started turning up in school and neighbourhoods. there was an initial curiosity, but among the kids not much in the way of racism.

i too recall the outbreak of name calling and ignorance directed at indian and pakistani families. there was an incident at my high school, where a girl got pushed around and subjected to slurs. the entire school got halled into the cafeteria for an assembly and we were royally chewed out.

the villain in this incident was suspended, stripped of extra-curricular privileges and had a visit from the constabulary regarding the shoving. it wasn’t cool to call people pakis after that.

in the 80s we saw a fairly quick rise in the south east asian population around my neighbourhood. viet namese and cambodians. there was some fear of gang related activity, though they tended to prey on their own.

it didn’t seem to take very long before these families were established and opening businesses. the only criminal connection i’m aware of in that community is in the grow-op business. canadians like their pot. ...

the jamaican gangs have gotten quite a bit of press.... the thing is that once immigrant families start having kids and those kids enter the school system, they make all kinds of friends. ...

[Canadian Cynic] and i live in a big university town, the university of waterloo has world famous computing and engineering faculties. my folks both worked on campus and there has always been a large chinese population here. my sense is that there are so many cultures existing here, side by side, that no one culture stands to be demonized.

in the last few years moslems have been viewed with suspicion, largely fueled by the right wing and american media fear mongering. still, i ride the bus every day and there are often women with their abayas and traditional dress, with adorable kids in tow.

we are by no means perfect or without racism but i don’t think we’ve ever been quite so homogeneous that any one group can be singled out as the “other”. there is also a fairly canadian response to people casting slurs, something along the lines of don’t be such a dickhead. every now and then, i’ll hear some goober yawping about “those people” coming to take our jobs but it doesn’t seem to get much traction and serves as a social liability. mostly, canadians just want to get along.

perhaps the most serious issue we have is with the treatment of our native population. that is one area that we really need to improve upon. there is quite a bit of resentment among canadians that the indigenous population might want us to honour our promises as regards land claims. our history in that area is shameful. it is worth noting that when south africa went shopping for a solution to the “native” problem, they modelled apartheid after canada. ...

THWAP: A college teacher of mine from the Netherlands said that the perception there was that Canada didn’t have problems integrating immigrants because we didn’t let anybody in.

Around about 1900, our future Prime Minister, then Labour Minister, Mackenzie-King, went around to all the non-white parts of the British Empire and asked that they not send their non-white subjects to Canada (as would otherwise have been their right as subjects of the Empire). He also signed a “gentleman’s agreement” with Japan to limit immigration.

I suspect that American capitalism was less-regulated and therefore less restrained in using immigration as a source of cheap labour, and therefore Canadian workers had less cause to violently protest.

Still, we had significant anti-Chinese sentiments on our west coast, just like in California. There was a fair bit of animosity towards Eastern Europeans throughout Canada.

Future socialist parliamentarian J.S. Woodsworth wrote a book about immigrants and the likelihood of their assimilation: Strangers at Our Gates ...

(There’s a more recent survey of Canadian immigration policy by [Valerie] Knowles with the same title.)

Canada didn’t start to change its immigration policies until the 1960s really, but whenever we did, there’s been difficulties.

Racialized minorities comprise 11% of Canada’s population, with the vast majority of them settling in the Toronto area, and the rest congregating in Montreal or Vancouver.

Go to Canada’s right-wing websites to read the paranoid vitriol that’s quite similar to the (who is it?) Lou Dobbs kind of ranting that’s more typical in your mass media.

Why we’ve kept a relatively better lid on things, I don’t know. Maybe Canada didn’t have as many manufacturing jobs to lose, we didn’t have as much union-busting and welfare-state shredding, so that it wasn’t so easy to lose your job to an immigrant and then plummet to the bottom of the social-economic ladder. ...

BATTY: I’ll chime in from the East Coast. Our cities are not as big as the rest of the country, and I think this means less attractive to immigrants. ... I know anytime someone from here visits Toronto for the first time they always come back with “Now I know what it feels like to be a minority. There are hardly any white people there.”

In the last 2-3 years the Atlantic provinces have been trying to attract immigrants to this area, in order to acquire skilled workers, benefit the economy, etc. We experience a brain drain here, in that after graduating from university a lot of people move to the big cities in Ontario or Alberta in order to make more money (and pay off their student loans).

I know we’ve had a few new employees where I work that have recently became Canadian citizens. I think a lot of people are just excited to talk to people from different cultures. It’s something interesting to talk about.

When I was in high school (early 90s) students from different cultures were treated well, had friends etc, but these were mostly Asian. We had no black students when I attended high school. 4 years later, when my brother went through, there were gang related fights, the skinheads vs the ‘wiggers’ aka white people who are not racist and hung out with the 1 or 2 black people. I’m not sure if they weren’t just doing it out of boredom.

I have heard derogatory names coming from the older men in my family, but not so much from my generation. The big issue here is that of language. As previously mentioned here, there is some sort of rift between the French and the English in Canada. And this has continued into my generation. Name calling and prejudice occurs between the languages, but overall we’re making it work, and it has nothing to do with immigration.

NORTH OF 49: Time for somebody from the West Coast to add to all the good stuff above.

In my high school in the late ‘60s there were a few Chinese and Japanese kids, and only one or two other ethnic groups that I can recall. Partly this is because we lived in a fairly affluent suburb of Vancouver at a time when most of the middle class was white; in other parts of the city there were more visible minorities.

Toronto, when I moved there in 1971, was an eye-opener, very colourful where Vancouver was pretty pale, though there were already sizeable Chinese, Japanese and Indian (mostly Sikh) communities in BC then.

Immigration from Asia exploded in the ‘80s and kept on through the nineties, partly because of the coming handover of Hong Kong to China, but also because successive British Columbia governments were waking up to the fact that our province was in a great position to be a trade gateway between the Asian Tiger economies and the rest of North America. ...

Greater Vancouver now has large communities of Vietnamese (many of the first were Boat People, but more have arrived since), Philipinos, and Koreans, (I’m sure I’ve left some out), in addition to the still larger communities of Chinese, Japanese and Indians, plus large numbers of Iranians, South Africans, and various Eastern Europeans.

Not many blacks, ever, which seems a bit odd, since there’s never been much of an anti-black sentiment out here (UBM, try googling Joe Fortes)-- the main historical racist conflicts have been about aboriginals, Chinese (the head tax), and of course the Japanese internment in WWII. Still, for whatever reason, not many blacks.

There have been gang and crime issues, Vietnamese gangs in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Indo-Canadian gangs more recently, though not much else that’s ethnically related. One hears talk of the “Russian Mafia”, but little hard news. ...

One unique thing about Vancouver, which gives me great hope for the future, is the rate of mixed marriage. (I’m biased here; I’m United Empire Loyalist white and my wife is Philipino.)

Last year, in the 20 to 29 age group, one couple in eight was mixed (married, cohabiting, dating). My own university-age children, and all their friends, seem to be almost totally colour blind. I say “almost” because ethnicity is not ignored; everyone is aware of it, but it seems to be only another identifier among many. ...

Summarizing: Vancouver’s handled large-scale immigration pretty well, partly because of official attitudes and anti-racism programs, but also I think because of what someone above alluded to: it’s been so many different groups, over a fairly long period, that there has never been a huge sudden shock, and so we have adjusted -- not always smoothly -- but adjusted nevertheless.

(It might also help that Vancouver is really only 120 years old; there’s not much here that’s “established”, and everyone’s either a newcomer or related to one no further than three generations back.)

Oh, one more thing: the immigration rate is not slackening, in spite of a fairly tough points system and our newest head tax (check out the “landing and processing fees”, they’re extortionate), but except for a few grumbling dinosaurs nobody seems very much bothered by it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Something tasty from Amp Fiddler

Back in the late ’80s/early ’90s, Detroit’s Joseph “Amp” Fiddler played keyboards with the P-Funk All Stars at the start of their jam-band renaissance. Lately, he’s been doing his own hip thing, and developing a following in Europe.

Amp’s new CD came out two weeks ago. It’s called “Afro Strut – US Version.” It’s a reconfiguration of his 2006 U.K. release, “Afro Strut.”

Here’s the video for “Ridin’,” which is hot:

Mexican labor – an American tradition

Let’s talk about sugar beets. But before we do, I must say again that I’m not an “open borders” guy. I don’t believe that every Mexican, Guatemalan or Salvadoran on Earth is untitled to U.S. citizenship.

And if we choose to build a fence or a wall or a moat along our southern border – to impose some damn order on the flow of migrants, and to show that national boundaries mean something – that’s our right. (Sounds like a good idea to me.)

What fries my beans is when certain anti-immigration types badmouth “mestizos” on a racial (or “civilizational”) basis... as if Mexicans were unassimilable, and as if white people single-handedly built this country in the first place.

The fact is, at certain points in U.S. history – when there was hard work to be done and no white people to do it – America picked up the proverbial telephone and dialed “1-800-MEXICAN.”

Consider World War I. That’s when “the great influx of Mexican labor began” in California, wrote Carey McWilliams, a prominent leftist journalist, in 1939.

“The newspapers and farm journals in 1917 contain many references to large groups of Mexicans, in units of 1500 and 2500, being brought into Imperial Valley by truck from San Felipe and Guaymas ‘to relieve the labor situation,’ ” according to McWilliams.

“The farm journals refer to the year 1920 as a ‘Mexican harvest,’ indicating that at least fifty per cent of the migratory labor employed that year was Mexican.”

When the Great Depression hit in 1929 and Mexican labor was no longer in demand – and as these migrants clogged the welfare rolls – what did America do? It rounded up and deported Mexicans by the hundreds of thousands.

But guess what? Along came World War II. As millions of young Americans went overseas to fight, and as the U.S. labor pool shifted to wartime industries, agribusiness once again dialed 1-800-MEXICAN.

“In 1942... the United States signed the Bracero Treaty which reopened the floodgates for legal immigration of Mexican laborers,” according to the website for the 1999 PBS documentary “The Border.”

Between 1942 and 1964, several million Mexicans were brought into this country as “braceros,” doing farm and ranch work on a temporary contract basis.

We can go back even further. Like to 1897, when Congress slapped a 75 percent tax on foreign sugar. What this did was to trigger a boom in the U.S. beet sugar industry. (Today, more than half the sugar consumed in the United States comes from sugar beets, not sugar cane.)

Sugar beets grow best in the cool of the Great Plains and the upper Midwest, in places like Nebraska. In an article titled “Mexicans in Nebraska,” on the website of the Nebraska State Historical Society, Ralph F. Grajeda describes the rapid growth of this industry:

“[B]y 1906, sugar beet acreage in the U.S. had more than tripled from the 135,000 acres planted in 1900. By 1920 that acreage had increased to 872,000....”

Tending and harvesting all those beets was difficult work; it was “stoop labor.” So who you gonna call?

Yep. 1-800-MEXICAN.

“The increased need for beet laborers... [was] met by the regular and methodical recruiting of Mexican agricultural workers,” according to Grajeda. “In 1915 the Great Western Sugar Company recruited and transported 500 workers into its Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska sugar beet territory. By 1920 this figure had increased to more than 13,000.”

In the town of Scottsbluff, Neb., to this day, you’ll find the Mexican-American barrio on land formerly owned by Great Western Sugar and sold off to individual families.

So, here we are. Congress is trying to figure out a new immigration policy, while far-rightists paint the Mexican laboring class as an uneducable, socially parasitic, crime-prone, squalorous, drunk-driving, disease-bearing horde. (“Mestizos have an average IQ of at best 90. They are very low skilled, have very little interest in education, and their presence in large numbers will steadily drag down our economy and society to the level of a third-world, Mestizo-type society...” – Lawrence Auster, April 12, 2006)

Can’t we all, at the very least, gratefully acknowledge the hard work already done by Mexican migrants such as los betabeleros (the beet-field workers), and those laborers we summoned during and after World War I, and los braceros during and after World War II – all to the economic benefit of the United States?

(My thanks to Amando Alvarez for granting me permission to use the photograph above.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Artifact: ‘My grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson.’

Growing up in D.C., I never heard of “Juneteenth.” But I will jump on any pretext to stream some cool audio, so... prepare to hear the words of Fountain Hughes, a former slave. (Actually, I’m not streaming this one; the Library of Congress is.)

Fountain Hughes was interviewed on June 11, 1949, by Hermond Norwood, an engineer with the Library of Congress. Hughes said he was 101 years old.

Strangely, one of the first things Mr. Hughes says, by way of introducing himself to posterity, is: “My grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson.” As if, after 100 years of living, that’s what he’s most proud of – that his grandfather had been the slave of a great and famous white man.

In a fucked-up way, I guess that is something to be proud of. We can assume that Thomas Jefferson would only own the best.

In a more obvious way, it’s a psychological tragedy. And yet that’s the value to us of hearing Fountain Hughes (or “Uncle Fountain,” as Norwood calls him in the condescending politeness of a bygone era) speak in his own voice about slavery times.

“Colored people that’s free ought to be awful thankful,” Mr. Hughes says about 19 minutes into the recording. “And some of them is sorry they are free now. Some of them now would rather be slaves.”

“Which would you rather be, Uncle Fountain?” asks Norwood, adding a laugh.

“Me? Which I’d rather be?... If I thought, had any idea, that I’d ever be a slave again,” Fountain Hughes says, “I’d take a gun and just end it all right away. Because you’re nothing but a dog.”

Mr. Hughes emerges instantly on this recording as a vivid, appealing character. He had the gift of gab, and then some. (He spends the first six minutes going on and on about the evils of buying on credit before the interviewer can get a word in edgewise.)

When it comes to his boyhood memories of slavery in Virginia, the small details resonate. “I told a woman the other day, I said, ‘I never had no shoes till I was 13 years old.’ She say, ‘What, you bruise your feet all up? Stump your toes?’ I said, ‘Yes, many times I’ve stumped my toes, and blood run out ’em. That didn’t make ’em buy me no shoes.’ ”

Click here to listen to an mp3 file of this living, breathing artifact of American history, courtesy of the “American Memory” project of the Library of Congress. (It’s about 29 minutes long.)

Dave Chappelle on UBM-TV

Just like there’s “always room for Jell-O,” there is always time in your day for some Dave Chappelle standup.

Check out the Google Video Bar for clips from Chappelle’s two classic cable specials – “Killin’ Them Softly” and “For What It’s Worth.”

Monday, June 18, 2007

Richard “Kush” Griffith (1948-2007)

Hate to pass along more sad news from the world of music, but trumpet player Richard “Kush” Griffith has died.

Griffith had been a member of one of the legendary horn sections in black pop music. The Horny Horns were a key element of Parliament and Bootsy’s Rubber Band during P-Funk’s 1970s heyday. Before that, Kush played in James Brown’s band and in Maceo Parker’s breakaway group, All the King’s Men.

Earlier this month in Louisville, Ky. (Griffith’s hometown), Maceo was among the musicians who performed at a fundraising benefit for Kush, who had been in poor health for some time.

Fred Wesley, in his 2002 memoir “Hit Me, Fred,” recalled how Griffith joined the James Brown band:

“[His] father was a bartender at the famous Louvillian nightclub in Louisville (an important stop on the chitlin circuit) and who had somehow gotten word that we needed a trumpet player. So he brought Kush... to the Freedom Hall to audition for the band.

“Kush didn’t have much experience playing jazz and funk, but he was an excellent trumpet player in every other respect. He had just come out of college and had real strong chops. Kush had no problems adjusting to the show and to the fellows, and we kind of looked at him as a little brother.... We have been lifelong friends.”

In between James Brown and P-Funk, Kush Griffith led a band called Bottom & Co., which cut an album for Motown in 1976. Click here to hear “Do a Funky Thing Together” off that LP. Kush delivers a tasty trumpet solo about 2 minutes in.

On the 2002 CD “The J.B.’s Reunion: Bring The Funk On Down,” Griffith contributed a pair of songs as co-writer and lead vocalist. Click here to hear “Do the Doo.”

I give thanks to Bob Davis of for sharing this unfortunate news.

Some positive vibe for Landis Expandis

If you’ve never heard of a funky little band out of Baltimore called All Mighty Senators, I’m happy to make the introduction, though sad at the circumstance.

Lead singer Landis McCord – a.k.a. Landis Expandis – was hospitalized for kidney failure in April. (He’s the black guy in the picture.)

I saw All Mighty Senators in the early ’90s at D.C.’s 930 Club. They were opening for George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars. Landis Expandis didn’t just sing his ass off; he did so while playing the drums... standing up! He’s got it going on like that.

Career high point so far: Chrissie Hynde hand-picked them to be the opening act on the Pretenders’ 2003 tour.

For an idea of what these fellows are about, click here to hear ’em rip through the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Landis rocks a mean falsetto. (This track was recorded live at Baltimore’s 8x10 Club in January 2006; you can check out more of that gig at Internet Archives.)

There are All Mighty Senators CDs for sale here. The band’s 2005 compilation, “Checkered Past, New Tomorrow,” is available on iTunes. (It includes a different live version of “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”)

If you want to send out some healing energy to Landis Expandis, that’d be cool. If you’d like to chip in some money to help with his medical expenses, even better. You can do so via PayPal on the donation page at

Finally, I give big thanks to photographer Sam Holden for permission to use the photo above.

Q&A: Ice Cube (pt. 1)

No doubt about it, one of the most influential albums of the last 20 years was N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton.”

American pop culture is still bedeviled by the commodification of the word “nigga,” and the glamorization of an insanely violent street-gang lifestyle, pioneered by this one rap group.

Meanwhile, N.W.A.’s standout lyricist and rapper – Ice Cube – has moved on to a prosperous Hollywood career as an actor, producer and screenwriter. Who would’ve guessed?

I interviewed Ice Cube by phone in August of 1989, and I was kind of impressed with the young man. I’m happy to present that conversation here, for whatever historical value it may have.
DAVID MILLS: I talked to the head of the national Fraternal Order of Police. They passed a resolution at their convention condemning and boycotting any band that advocates assaults on the police. It originally was aimed at N.W.A. because of “Fuck tha Police.”

The head of that group – he’s a white guy – said: What if he went around saying “Fuck niggers” or stuff about black people that you say about cops? He said that would be crazy, and nobody would stand for it. Is that the way you look at it?

ICE CUBE: Well, black people aren’t public figures like police. Black people aren’t here to serve and protect. So when you get some police out there – We’re not talking about all police, you know. So you’ve got to get that right. We’re not talking about all police.

But there are some police that just don’t give a fuck. They figure they got a gun and a badge and they can treat you any kind of way.

MILLS: But do you make that distinction in the song? Cops think the song advocates assaulting any police officer.

CUBE: Okay, you got to look at the kids now. Just because a kid hears a song, that don’t mean he’s going to take action. A song is a song. Just like if I made a song called, uh, “Fuck Your Mother.” You think the kids are gonna go out and beat up their mother? For a rap song?

MILLS: Uhhh...

CUBE: Kids and police don’t always get along, you know. ’Cause police feel that, since you’re a kid, you don’t know your rights, and they feel like they can treat you, if you’re in a certain neighborhood, any kind of way.

MILLS: What about when it comes to shootin’ ’em?

CUBE: Shootin’ ’em?

MILLS: When Eazy-E says, “Without a gun and a badge, what do you got? A sucker in a uniform waitin’ to get shot by me or another nigger. And with a gat it don’t matter if he’s smaller or bigger.” How does that not make it sound cool to shoot a cop, or to think about shooting cops?

CUBE: Everybody has thought about doing something crazy in their life. Everybody’s been standing in a bank one day and said, “Damn, if I robbed this bank, boy, I’d have a hell of a lot of money.” That got to go through people’s mind. It’s just like getting steam off your chest type of thing.

MILLS: I see. Things that go through your mind, basically.

CUBE: Yeah. It’s like if your girl is messing up. You say, “Man, I’mo kill that bitch.” You’re just saying it. You wouldn’t go out and do it. We’re just talking about how we feel sometimes when we be getting treated a certain way.

Like when we get slammed on the ground – this still happens – get slammed on the ground by a police half your size, and the only thing he got is a gun and a badge. That’s the only thing that’s keeping you from whipping this motherfucker’s ass....

MILLS: But why is he throwing you on the pavement?

CUBE: For the simple fact you won’t let him talk to you any kind of way. ’Cause see, when police talk to me crazy, I talk to ’em crazy right back. I’m like, “Yo, man, all you got is this badge and this gun. And yo, I know what rights I got. Why don’t you just talk to me right and I’ll talk to you right?”

“Oh, you’re a smart-ass, huh?” Then they get you and they try to muscle you. Fuck that.

If something happened in this neighborhood right here that I’m living in, the last person people would call is the police, if they think they’re going to get something done. If somebody got shot around here, the only way they’d call the police is to get a report, because the police ain’t gonna do shit.

MILLS: How come?

CUBE: They don’t give a fuck! They don’t care if niggers kill niggers. They could care less.

MILLS: Well, by listening to your lyrics like “Gangsta, Gangsta,” some people probably think you’re the one who doesn’t give a fuck if niggers kill niggers.

CUBE: No, that’s not the case. I just call it how I see it. If these motherfuckers want to kill up each other, yo, as long as they don’t fuck with me. That’s how I think. Because the shit that’s happening out here is stupid shit. But if you sit up there and say, “Don’t do this” –

See, kids tend to shy away from somebody who’s chastising ’em or telling ’em what to do. They feel like they’re old enough or they’re individuals. You know, their momma tell ’em what to do, teachers tell ’em what to do, people in the community tell ’em what to do, police tell ’em what to do. So when they go to party, they don’t want somebody saying what they already done heard a million times.

So that’s why we don’t take a stand as “Stop the Violence” or “Start the Violence.” We just call ’em like we see ’em. Like in “Gangsta, Gangsta.” Since nobody showed this gang problem from the right point of view, we did the song from the gang member’s point of view.

MILLS: But do you blame people for being upset – adults, parents, community leaders, ministers – for freaking out when they hear that?

CUBE: No, because those type of people, they like to sweep shit under the rug and pretend that shit’s not happening. If nobody talks about it, what is it gonna do, go away?

Like the people of the city of Compton ask us, “Why you guys never say nothing good about Compton?”

MILLS: And what do you say?

CUBE: I say, “Uh, you tell me something good about Compton.” Then they say, “Well, there’s nice residences and nice areas in here.”

Any area is subject to get hit at any time. I call it Vietnam. Any time you stand outside talking to your buddies at night, you’re taking a chance of some fool rolling through and shooting at you.

MILLS: So if that’s the case, and you as a writer – as a creative person and a thinking person – you don’t feel a responsibility to not just tell the story, but to put it in a sort of context so that people know what to do to solve the problem or to deal with the problem?

CUBE: I’m not no crusader here. They always think that if you’re a rapper and you’re a writer, you’ve got the answers. We call ourselves underground street reporters. We just tell it how we see it, nothing more, nothing less.

Here’s why we tell it like it is, with no shorts. ’Cause if the kids see it on the street, it ain’t nobody there to jump in front of them and say, “Wait. That wasn’t the right way to happen.” If a kid is standing outside, some fools roll by and shoot somebody he know, that’s all he see. It ain’t nobody there to justify it or to water that down. That’s what you see.

And if I teach you something you don’t know, I feel that’s positive. ...

MILLS: I still don’t quite know where you’re coming from. Are you guys gangsters? Are you celebrating gangsterism?

CUBE: Naw, that ain’t the case. We just tell the raw facts. They talk about N.W.A. glorifying gangsters when Hollywood’s been doing that for years. But they don’t come down on nothing like that because that’s millions of dollars. When you got a movie like “Scarface,” or a movie talking about Al Capone, and how they glorify them people –

MILLS: But they always get killed in the end. Good always triumphs.

CUBE: You know that don’t always happen. If everybody did records and all we talked about was the joys of life, and on TV all they showed was rainbows and pastel colors and some shit, kid go out and get his head blown off and don’t know why.

It’s a hard life out there, I’m sorry to say. I ain’t the one that made it hard, but I’m the one that lived it. I’m the one that saw or heard about half the shit I’m talking about.

MILLS: So give me an example of some lyrics you wrote that didn’t just tell what was happening but provided some understanding of why it happened. Instead of just saying, “Hey, Ren, let’s start some shit,” and then a fight breaks out because somebody bumps into somebody.

CUBE: See, sometimes I take the raps I do into the first person and just say “me,” because people can relate to it if I say “me” instead of if I say “John Doe”; then, people be like, “How do you know?”

So it’s just how some brothers think out there. They don’t give a fuck. They don’t give a fuck. You gotta watch yourself. That’s why, in the beginning of “Gangsta, Gangsta,” you hear somebody saying, “I wonder what these gangsters are up to now?” Being nosy got his ass shot. “I wonder who they’re fuckin’ with now?” They stop: “You, motherfucker.” (machine-gun noise)

MILLS: And how is the listener supposed to react?

CUBE: The listeners? They’re supposed to listen and like the shit for the simple fact that they see that type of shit all the time.

You know what you got to do? Come down and live in L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens in Watts for one month. If you did that, you would understand all my records. If you lived in Cabrini-Green in Chicago, you would understand all my records. If you lived in Harlem or Brooklyn or the Bronx, you would understand all my records.

MILLS: But when you sell a million records, you’re not just selling to people in Cabrini-Green or Nickerson Gardens. I just had somebody tell me today – she goes to college in Pomona, and white kids will have “Gangsta, Gangsta” pumping out of their dormitory windows.

CUBE: Here’s what kicks in on that. If you watch TV and they say “Iran is fighting Iraq” or “There’s a bombing in Lebanon,” you don’t live there, but you want to know what’s going on.

[Our white fans] might not live it, but they want to know what’s going on, because they’re always told, “Hey, don’t go on this side of town.” “Why?” “They’ll kill you over there.”

So it’s like a fuckin’ docudrama or something. Audio docudrama, that’s what it is.