Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Negro Public Radio

I was part of the black bloggers’ roundtable this morning on Farai Chideya’s NPR program, “News & Notes.” Follow this link to if you want to stream that audio.

My fellow bloggers today were Angela Winters (Politopics) and Richard Graves (DJ Black Adam).

We beated our gums about Oprah’s South African school scandal, Denzel’s new gangster flick, and the untold racial dimensions of trick-or-treating.

Wednesday 45 Flashback: ‘My Boy Lollipop’

When this single by Millie Small became a transatlantic smash (in 1964), I was too young to notice or care. Now I come to the song with a historian’s detached appreciation.

What made this version of “My Boy Lollipop” historic? Well, the teenage singer was from Jamaica. This record was the first international hit by a Jamaican artist.

(The song was originally recorded in 1956 by Barbie Gaye, a white American.)

“My Boy Lollipop” also laid the groundwork for the coming reggae revolution. The music was arranged by guitarist Ernest Ranglin, a now-revered pioneer of both ska and reggae.

The session was produced by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. “My Boy Lollipop” was Blackwell’s first major hit. Within a decade, Blackwell would release breakthrough albums by Bob Marley and the Wailers, thereby re-ordering the universe.

It all started with this.

“I used to go to New York and buy R&B records and then sell them on to the sound systems in Jamaica,” Blackwell recalled. “But I kept tapes of everything I imported, and one of the tracks was ‘My Boy Lollipop.’

“I was playing the tape one night, and when I heard the song again, I knew it was perfect for Millie.”

Will Hollywood writers go on strike?

I do not know. But the current three-year contract between the Writers Guild of America (my union) and the Hollywood studios will expire tonight at midnight. The entire industry is anxious.

I don’t intend to blog much about labor matters. But for those of you interested, I point you to a brand new blog: United Hollywood.

It was launched on Monday by four WGA “contract captains” to publicize the guild’s side of the story... and to provide the membership with updates on the grinding negotiations for a new deal.

I shall be reading it every day.

(Hat-tip: Craig Mazin at The Artful Writer.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

All right, the bullshit noose hysteria has finally gotten out of hand...

... and so has the whole YouTube-grassroots-activism thing.

This homemade protest video was posted on YouTube one month ago. (Hat-tip: Jasmyne Cannick.)

To which I can only respond: Come on, people...

Maria Bamford... silly goose!!

My favorite standup comedian of the moment is Maria Bamford. She is smart, silly, subversive, sometimes sick. She is the rarest of show-business mammals: an original voice.

She’s down with Patton Oswalt and his “Comedians of Comedy” crew. (You know I digs Oswalt.) Bamford is on the road with them right now... Pittsburgh tonight, Chicago on Thursday, and then to Ann Arbor, Buffalo, Cleveland...

Maria Bamford has put out two comedy albums: “The Burning Bridges Tour” (2003) and “How to WIN!” (2007). I’m streaming a little bit of both on my Vox blog.

Click here to hear her poke fun at her body.

Then click here and hear her goof on Nigella Lawson and Alicia Keys. (How’s that for unusual targets?)

Another free Susana Baca download

I pointed you to the great Peruvian singer Susana Baca back in August. Here’s something else tasty: a FREE 23-minute podcast during which Ms. Baca sings a few songs (in Spanish) and answers a few questions (through an interpreter).

It was recorded in May 2006 at the studios of KEXP, the public radio station at the University of Washington.

To find it, go to the “Podcasts” section of the iTunes store. Search for the “KEXP Live Performances Podcast.” You will see a list of 101 episodes; Susana Baca’s is No. 87 (as of right now). It’s yours for the taking.

I’m streaming a song from this performance on my Vox site. Click here to hear it.

Ms. Baca (her MySpace page is here) will be touring Europe in November, performing in France, Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy and elsewhere.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Nigerian agrees: Whites are more intelligent!

In Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, there’s a newspaper called the Daily Trust and a weekly columnist named Idang Alibi.

Last Thursday, Alibi wrote an opinion piece with the headline “I Agree with Dr. Watson.” This refers to James D. Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist who embarrassed himself recently on the subject of race and intelligence.

Here’s some of what Idang Alibi wrote:

“I do not know what constitutes intelligence. ... But I do know that in terms of organising society for the benefit of the people living in it, we blacks have not shown any intelligence in that direction at all. I am so ashamed of this and sometimes feel that I ought to have belonged to another race.”

“Nigeria my dear country is a prime example of the inferiority of the black race when compared to other races. ... Is it intelligence that we cannot provide simple pipe-borne water for the people? Our public school system has virtually collapsed. Is that a sign of intelligence? Our roads are impassable. ... [W]e have no steady supply of electricity. ...”

“Anywhere in the world today where you have a concentration of black people among other races, the poorest, the least educated, the least achieving, and the most violent group among those races will be the blacks.”

“Look at the African continent. South Africa is the most developed country because of the presence of whites there. This may be an uncomfortable truth for many of us but it exists nevertheless.”

“Instead of regarding bitter truths expressed by the likes of Watson as a wake-up call for us to engage in sober reflection, we take to the expression of woolly sentiment. For me, this type of reaction is a further evidence of our unintelligence.”

“God himself must be frustrated with his black children. They must be an embarrassment to him.”

Toward the end of the column, Mr. Alibi makes a sort of turn:

“As I write this, I do so with great pains in my heart because I know that God has given intelligence in equal measure to all his children irrespective of the colour of their skin. The problem with us black people is that we have refused to use our intelligence to organise ourselves socially and politically.”

Since last Thursday, Mr. Alibi’s column has ricocheted across the internets. I first saw it on the white-nationalist site American Renaissance, where commenters are writing things like “it takes a brave man to utter truth”... “Here, indeed, is an honest man”... “Wow, some sobering words from this brave soul.”

At, which reprinted Alibi’s essay, you’ll find differing viewpoints. Such as: “You, Idang Alibi, are another example of self hate! ... You need to study your history and get up off of your knees.”

A Nigerian blogger named “Dayo” has posted a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Alibi.

Now, I happen to believe that the measurability of cognitive skills and the heritability of cognitive skills are valid subjects for research and public discussion. But Idang Alibi’s column isn’t even about that. It’s about his own bone-chilling racial shame. Which made me curious to read more of his writing.

Who is Idang Alibi? Well, he presents himself as a devout Christian. (Nigeria is 50 percent Muslim, 40 percent Christian.) And he is notorious for writing inflammatory columns.

In 2002, Alibi wrote one titled “Ethiopia: An Embarrassment to Africa,”
which provoked online responses from all corners of the Ethiopian diaspora.

Discussing recurrent famines, Alibi asserted that “Ethiopian leaders and people are not thinking hard enough about how to solve their problems. And this is typical of us Africans, especially those of us in the homeland.”

“I know that all religions teach about charity or the need to be our brothers’ keeper,” he continued. “I am also aware that kindness does not only consist in giving money and food. In some circumstances..., the best gift may be ideas. And this is what I am offering to Ethiopians: wear your thinking cap, think hard and you will find a solution to your perennial hunger.

“Your plight has become a source of great shame and reproach to the rest of us.”

(Why Idang Alibi thinks the agricultural policies of Ethiopia reflect on him in Nigeria... that’s a mystery.)

In recent months, Alibi wrote a series of columns titled “Why Should I Love AIDS Victims?” On August 22, he put forth this modest proposal:

“If you ask my opinion about what needs to be done about the AIDS pandemic, my simple solution is let us begin a mandatory testing of everyone in our country. Any man, woman or child who is found to be [HIV-]positive should be isolated in camps until when a cure is found...”

(Many readers protested. The ombudswoman of the Daily Trust wrote that Alibi’s columns violated the Nigerian government’s declared policy of “ending stigma and discrimination” against people with AIDS.)

Add it all up, and it might be that Idang Alibi is simply a controversialist. He loves outraging people with his bluntness.

Or he could be one of the saddest human beings alive.

Obama and the witch

Now that I’m out in the open as a “Coast to Coast” fan, let me tell you about some bullshit I heard Friday night.

Art Bell, the pioneer of this late-night-bizarro radio format, was guest-hosting for George Noory. He had on Evelyn Paglini, an occult practitioner and “psychic” whom Art Bell credited with predicting last week’s wildfires in Southern California.

“She has done it again!” Art Bell said. “How many soothsayers over the years, remote viewers, psychics have I had on the program? Have any of them ever come even close to what this woman has done? No. Not even close.”

Then Bell replayed a few clips from Paglini’s appearance on the March 31 broadcast.

Now here’s the thing: You don’t need a damn crystal ball to foresee major wildfires in Southern California. Every few years, some canyon goes up in flames.

(In a 2006 appearance on “Coast to Coast,” Paglini predicted major fires in California and Arizona and parts of the Midwest. She also predicted economic collapse, widespread civil unrest in the U.S., and a new killer virus. Plus two major earthquakes – one in California, one in the Midwest.)

The specific thing about Paglini’s most recent fire prediction was her suggestion that it would be an act of terrorism – a “planned operation,” she called it, targeting multiple states. And if that turns out to be true, I will personally shout from the rooftops that this lady is magickal.

Evelyn Paglini’s hustle is obvious: Predict a bunch of dark, grim shit... and then, if one bad thing happens (as inevitably it will), she takes a bow for her amazing psychic gifts.

All in good fun? Well, you should’ve heard what Evelyn Paglini said Friday night about Barack Obama.

Art Bell asked her if she had any big predictions for the near future. “I’m from the state of Illinois originally,” Paglini began in response, “and I wanna say this because I want anybody in the state of Illinois, and anybody who thinks about this man, to put a shield of protection around him, and that is Barack Obama.”

“Really?” said Art Bell, somber.

“I feel that there are people out there that wish this man harm,” Paglini continued. “And very serious harm.”

“I certainly hope that one doesn’t come true,” said Bell.

“I don’t want it to come true, and that’s why I’m putting it out now,” said Paglini.

Way to go out on a limb, Evelyn. Why not predict that somebody’ll try to assassinate Hillary? Or Huckabee? Those would be bold predictions. In Obama’s case, bloggers were throwing around the A-word as soon as he got into the race.

All Evelyn Paglini did was feed into the fucked-up energy that circulates around Obama as a black man running for president. And if, God forbid, someone does take a shot at him... you know this witch will be back on the radio, taking her bows. “She has done it again!”

The hell with that.

Now here’s a weird thing. Today, for the first time ever, I’m having trouble uploading audio files to my Vox blog. I am unable to stream Paglini’s voice so you can hear her negative vibes for yourself.

Maybe she done put the hex on my ass already.

UPDATE (10/30/07): I’m back in the stream of things with my Vox audio stash. Click here to hear Evelyn Paglini’s psychic warning concerning Barack Obama.

Vintage Japanese TV commercial #2

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A free Mavis Staples download

I can’t think of a better voice to go along with a Sunday morning than the voice of Mavis Staples.

Follow this link to get a FREE MP3 of “On My Way” off her latest CD, “We’ll Never Turn Back” (produced by Ry Cooder).

Click here to spin “On My Way” on my Vox blog.

The album is purchasable for download from iTunes and In support of the album, Mavis Staples is on tour for the next several weeks, in the Midwest and along the Eastern seaboard. (Dangit, I missed her in Malibu a couple of weeks ago.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Playlist: Good wishes to Busi Mhlongo

Tomorrow night in Johannesburg, the wonderful South African singer Busi Mhlongo will perform at a benefit concert... a benefit, in part, for herself. Ms. Mhlongo has breast cancer, and some of the money raised will go towards her medical expenses.

She’ll also be celebrating her 60th birthday.

SABC, the national broadcaster, will televise tomorrow’s concert live. For SABC, this coincides with a public awareness campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

For those of you who don’t know Busi Mhlongo, let me introduce you to her music. (If you want more, you can purchase and download tracks from iTunes, eMusic or Calabash Music.)

Click the song titles below to stream the music on my Vox audio stash.

1. “Uganga Nge Ngane”

Mhlongo is rooted in traditional Zulu music, especially the guitar-based maskanda style. But her breakthrough album, “Urbanzulu” (1998), has a thoroughly modern vibe. Produced by Britain’s Will Mowat (Soul II Soul), “Urbanzulu” was an international hit. I love this CD so much, I used to give it out as gifts.

2. “Ting-Tingi”

This is from her first solo album, “Babhemu” (1994), recorded with her old touring band, Twasa.

3. “Icala”

Hugh Masekela got a “directed by” credit for Mhlongo’s 2003 CD, “Freedom,” and he co-wrote this song. “Icala” is sung partly in English.

4. “We Baba Omncane”

Another track from “Urbanzulu.” I’m saying, this album is the bomb.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Vintage Japanese TV commercial #1

Happy birthday, Bootsy.

William “Bootsy” Collins is 56 years old today. Which is very worth celebrating.

Bootsy is a unique figure in black pop. Influential as a bass player, as a vocalist, as a songwriter, as a sideman, as a front man... good Lord, the ’70s wouldn’t have sounded the same without him.

Start with James Brown. Because in March of 1970, an 18-year-old Bootsy Collins and his Cincinnati bar band, the Pacemakers, were pulled into service as James Brown’s road band (soon to be christened “the J.B.’s”).

Then they went into the recording studio with Soul Brother No. 1.

In one year with James Brown, Bootsy and his boys played on these classic recordings: “Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved,” “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing,” “Soul Power.”

Bootsy was also dropping acid. Which meant that he wasn’t destined for a long tour of duty with Brown.

In 1972, George Clinton recruited Bootsy and his band into Funkadelic. Now that was a match made in heaven. Bootsy contributed such classic grooves as “Cosmic Slop” and “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” (which I just heard on a new MasterCard commercial last night).

In 1976, Clinton spun off Bootsy Collins into a satellite act: Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Mo’ money, mo’ money...

I’m streaming a couple of MP3s as a salute to Bootsy’s golden youth.

Click here to hear “The Message from the Soul Sisters,” recorded by Vicki Anderson in 1970. This, of course, was a James Brown production. (Bobby Byrd laid down that mean piano hook.) This track is available on the double-CD “James Brown’s Original Funky Divas.”

Click here for “Hollywood Squares,” from Bootsy’s 1978 LP “Player of the Year.”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Satan wants to sex you up.

Ever wonder what happened to the guys in Color Me Badd?

Not me.

By the time Color Me Badd was making hit records, I was way past done with contemporary “R&B.” And I didn’t watch a lot of MTV. So even today, I couldn’t hum “I Wanna Sex You Up” for you on a bet.

You young’uns in your thirties probably feel differently about ’em. Probably have a nice memory or two associated with Color Me Badd.

Hey... did you hear that one of them dudes went through an EXORCISM a few years back because he was DEMONICALLY POSSESSED and shit??

No joke. It was the black one... Kevin Thornton.

I even heard a sound bite from the actual exorcism on the radio, on George Noory’s “Coast to Coast” program. (Love that late-night weirdness!)

George’s guest Monday night was Bob Larson (pictured left), a traveling Christian evangelist (and aspiring Just For Men spokesmodel) who claims to have performed thousands of exorcisms. Thousands! Including an exorcism on Mr. Thornton (or “KT,” as Color Me Badd fans used to know him).

Pastor Larson was nice enough to provide audio clips from a few of his exorcisms. So I’m streaming a 2-minute slice of “Coast to Coast” with the Kevin Thornton exorcism included. Click here. And then tell a friend. Because this is flippin’ bizarre!!

Name this recording artist, win a prize.

A quick reminder: The documentary “Mr. Untouchable,” about former Harlem drug kingpin Nicky Barnes, opens tomorrow in and around New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

This puts me in a nostaligic 1970s headspace. So... time for another contest. (Haven’t had one in a while.)

Click here and listen to the mystery track... an obscure one from the early ’70s.

The first person to put the recording artist’s name in the comments section will win a prize.

That prize is the official promotional “mix tape” for “Mr. Untouchable.” It includes vintage music by James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Bootsy Collins, Willie Hutch and others. Hip-hop producer Hi-Tek did the mix, overseen by Damon Dash. This CD will not be available commercially.

Have fun. (Only one guess per person.)

UPDATE (10/27/07): I’ll have to give away that “Mr. Untouchable” mix tape some other way. This track is “Scoop” from the 1973 LP “The Man From the East” by Red Buddha Theatre. I would’ve also accepted Stomu Yamashta, whose brainchild this was.

Yamashta went on to contribute music to the David Bowie film “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and he collaborated with Steve Winwood, Al DiMeola and others on the 1976 concept album “Go.”

Richard Pryor, before and after

One of the most famous metamophoses in standup comedy was Richard Pryor’s transition from Cosby-style material to a more profane, incendiary style of truth-telling.

The dividing line can be located in history. Some people refer to it as Pryor’s "breakdown" onstage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.

John A. and Dennis A. Williams, in their biography “If I Stop I'll Die," put the date as September 15, 1967. Pryor said something like "What am I doing here?" and walked off the stage.

Before that, Richard Pryor had appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

But after that, Pryor moved to Berkeley, started hanging with a clique of black literary hipsters including Ishmael Reed and Claude Brown, and did a lot of cocaine. As the Williamses report: “He was so strung out that people didn't want him around their kids - and told him so."

The 2005 double-CD “Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974)” captures Richard Pryor, before and after.

Click here to hear a 4-minute piece from February 1966, recorded at San Francisco’s hungry i, famous for showcasing such comedians as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen and the Smothers Brothers.

Then click here for a piece from 1971, recorded at San Francisco’s Basin Street West.

In both monologues, Pryor recalls his childhood in Peoria, Ill.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Two free Alice Smith downloads

New Artist Alert: Alice Smith is a 29-year-old Brooklyn-based rock-’n’-soul singer with substantial pipes... and some major-label hype.

Her debut album, “For Lovers, Dreamers & Me,” came out last year on the indie label BBE. Rolling Stone magazine designated Alice Smith an “Artist to Watch.”

Lo and behold, that album has been picked up and re-released by Sony BMG. It’ll be in stores next Tuesday. It’s downloadable from iTunes right now.

Two tracks – “Dream” and “New Religion” – are available as FREE MP3s at Just follow this link.

You can also click here and stream “Dream” on my Vox blog. (Smith really cooks in the final minute.)

Wednesday 45 Flashback: ‘Remember Me’

Another lovely spinning artifact from thunderbird1958 (formerly spoonfedcornbread).

This Diana Ross hit was written and produced – grandiosely – by Ashford & Simpson.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A burning cross on my TV screen

I am not a “let’s-bury-the-N-word” type guy. I’m not even bent outta shape behind all this noose nonsense. (That ain’t “terrorism,” it’s a too-easy way to get media attention and rile up the Negro leadership class... and distract it from the important stuff.)

Basically, I’m hard to offend with symbols.

Still, I could’ve done without seeing a burning cross on my TV screen whilst trying to get my “Simpsons” on. But that’s what happened this evening.

The screencap above is from the commercial for “Beowulf,” an upcoming blockbuster.

Now, I don’t give a shit what Hollywood puts in its big-money sword-and-sorcery wankathons. That has nothing to do with me. But couldn’t they have left the burning cross out of the commercials?

Because, you know... it’s a burning cross!

“Nappy-headed hoes,” nooses, now this. Whitey must be getting ready for something. Something big. Watch your backs, people.

And hey, how would you like to be sitting in a movie theater in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on a Friday night when that image comes up on the screen? Yeeehaw! Burn, baby, burn!!

MBP of the Week: USA Today

I doff my cap most gratefully to Stephen J. Dubner, whose Freakonomics blog (written with Steven D. Levitt) is now part of the New York Times dot com.

Dubner reports that he spotted a Misidentified Black Person last week. Apparently, USA Today ran a photograph identified as New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

It was Amani Toomer.

Good looking out, Mr. Dubner. (And thanks for the linkage!)

A free Sinead O’Connor download

Okay, am I the last person to know that Sinead O’Connor put out a roots-reggae CD two years ago? Produced by Sly & Robbie, the whole nine yards. Covering songs by Burning Spear, Peter Tosh and Lee “Scratch” Perry.

So... how does “Throw Down Your Arms” sound?

I’m not ready to pay to find out. But there’s a FREE MP3 available at Follow this link if you’re curious to hear Sinead’s version of the Abyssinians’ “Y Mas Gan.”

I’m also streaming it here on my Vox blog.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Playlist: Old TV theme songs

My bud DeAngelo Starnes gave me this idea... by reminding me that old TV theme songs used to freakin’ rock!

There’s a reason why, too. They were often made by credentialed jazz musicians such as Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones and Gil Melle. Alas, those days are over.

If you are past the age of 45, I bet these particular old TV theme songs will evoke nice memories:

1. “The Name of the Game” – Dave Grusin

2. “Medical Center” – Lalo Schifrin

3. “Daktari” – Shelley Manne

4. “Space: 1999” – Barry Gray

A free Candy Dulfer download

Dutch saxophonist/sexpot Candy Dulfer earned her funky-white-girl credentials from Prince, performing on his “Graffiti Bridge” soundtrack, appearing in his “Partyman” video, backing him on “Saturday Night Live,” etc. She’s been rolling ever since.

Dulfer’s new CD, “Candy Store,” came out a month ago. It’s No. 2 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart.

You can download a FREE MP3 off that album – “Summertime” (not Gershwin’s) – by following this link to

You can also hear “Summertime” on my Vox audio stash by clicking here.

Something smokin’ from Vernon Reid, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Calvin Weston

Sometimes I feel culturally deprived living in L.A.

For instance, one of the best bass players in the world is Jamaaladeen Tacuma from Philadelphia. Thirteen years I’ve been in California, and in that time Jamaaladeen has never been brought here.

Yet he’s about to tour Europe alongside Vernon Reid and G. Calvin Weston. They call themselves Free Form Funky Freqs, and next month they’ll burn a path from Munich to Cologne to Amsterdam to Vienna to Budapest to Warsaw to Berlin...

Vernon Reid I’m sure you’re aware of. Weston is a drummer whose connection to Jamaaladeen dates back to Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band. Since then Weston has played with the likes of James “Blood” Ulmer, James Carter, Marc Ribot and Dave Fiuczynski.

So we’re talking about one hell of a jazz-funk power trio.

Reid, Tacuma and Weston played a Philadelphia club date in March which is documented in a couple of clips on YouTube. Check this out:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lucky Dube (1964-2007)

South African reggae icon Lucky Dube was murdered Thursday night during a botched carjacking in Johannesburg. He is being mourned throughout Africa... and in Jamaica as well.

“We cannot afford to lose inspirational role models to crime,” Uganda’s New Vision newspaper editorialized. “Fare thee well Dube. You gave it all and the world paid you in shame.”

Legendary reggae artist Sly Dunbar told the Jamaica Observer: “The reggae that he played was excellent, very close to what we play down here.”

Dunbar also pointed out a grim irony: Dube’s musical hero, Peter Tosh, was shot and killed during an attempted robbery 20 years ago.

Lucky Dube had established himself as a Zulu pop musician before transitioning into reggae in 1984. His first reggae record, “Rasta Never Die,” was banned from radio by South Africa’s apartheid government.

Dube went on to release more than 20 albums, most recently “Respect” in 2006. (Downloadable from iTunes.)

In memory of Lucky Philip Dube, click here and listen to “House of Exile,” from his 1992 album of the same name.

This date in Beatles history: 1965

In an all-black neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I grew up on Beatles music.

My big brother was a self-taught guitarist, and he studied the albums of the Beatles talmudically. So, from “Love Me Do” to “Get Back,” I know and love that catalogue.

I am not fanatical about Beatles history or trivia. But I acquired a cool book last year: “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn – a definitive accounting of every hour spent in EMI’s Abbey Road studios (pictured above) during the creation of every Beatles song.

Every outtake, every vocal overdub, every mixing session... this book walks you through all of it chronologically.

The effect of such an accumulation of detail is to create a sense of John, Paul, George and Ringo as four guys who showed up for work, just like you and I show up for work... except these fuckers showed up to work and recorded “Ticket to Ride.” It’s amazing to ponder.

On October 21, 1965, the Beatles recorded the master take of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” a surpassingly beautiful pop song. (And somewhat historic; it was the first time a sitar was used on a rock-’n’-roll record.)

This was a good week for the Beatles. The day before, they recorded “We Can Work It Out.” The following day, they would cut “Nowhere Man,” and producer George Martin would add the finishing touch to “In My Life” by playing a baroque piano solo.

Getting back to “Norwegian Wood”... the Beatles had actually recorded a first take nine days earlier, when the song’s working title was simply “This Bird Has Flown.”

According to Mark Lewisohn, the group spent four and a half hours on the October 12 version, including rehearsals and overdubs, but “[t]he Beatles felt that it wasn’t right” so decided to re-make it later.

Lewisohn writes that the discarded first take is “quite different but equally as dazzling as the version which ended up on the LP.”

I don’t agree with that, but you can judge for yourself. “Norwegian Wood,” Take 1, was issued on the “Anthology 2” double-CD in 1996.

Click here to hear it streaming.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Two free Pinetop Perkins downloads

The Internet might be killing the record industry... but it ain’t killing music.

Let me ask: Is music a bigger part of your life now than before you were online? It sure is for me. Whole new worlds have opened up.

Just recently I stumbled on Pinetop Perkins, a 94-year-old blues musician who’s been performing since 1926.

He often jammed on the legendary “King Biscuit Time” radio show in the 1940s. He was in the Muddy Waters band during the ’70s.

And Mr. Perkins is still playing. Matter fact, he played last night at the Blues Masters at the Crossroads festival in Salina, Kansas.

You wanna download a FREE MP3 by Pinetop Perkins?

Give it a listen first; click here and spin “Pinetop’s New Boogie Woogie” on my Vox site. This track – a romping duet with Marcia Ball – is from Pinetop’s 2004 CD, “Ladies Man.”

Follow this link to Blue Mountain Artists and scroll down; you’ll see “Pinetop’s New Boogie Woogie” as one of two “MP3 Sample Tracks.” The other is “Since I Lost My Baby,” sung by Susan Tedeschi, also from the “Ladies Man” album.

Both are yours for the taking.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dick Gregory, before and after

With all the stuff I threw at y’all yesterday, I hope you didn’t miss the Lenny Bruce uploads. I continue my little standup-comedy history tour with Dick Gregory, a pioneering “crossover” star among hip nightclub comics.

Hugh Hefner first exposed Mr. Gregory to white audiences by booking him at Chicago’s Playboy Club in 1961. (Gregory’s first LP, “In Living Black and White,” was recorded there.)

Dick Gregory spoke openly about America’s racial problems... but with a laid-back, ironical approach that went down well with Caucasian sophisticates.

With his fast success, Gregory devoted himself to civil-rights activism. And within three years of becoming famous, he started to lose bookings because of his politics.

After a five-year pause in his recording career, Gregory started making albums again in 1969. Albums that were much harsher, much bleaker, than his early ones. But by now Gregory’s outspokenness – against the Vietnam war, against the U.S. government, against the “white racist system” – made him a counterculture hero.

Let’s give a listen to Dick Gregory, before and after:

Click here to hear a few minutes of his 1962 LP, “Dick Gregory Talks Turkey,” recorded before a black audience.

Now, click here and see the difference a few years can make. This is a 9-minute chunk from the double-album “Dick Gregory’s Frankenstein,” released in 1970.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson apologizes. (And not for the first time.)

I told you this story would ripple out...

Now the British media are reporting that molecular biologist James D. Watson has apologized for suggesting that Africans are, by nature, less intelligent than whites.

“I am mortified about what has happened,” reads a statement by Watson. “More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. ...

“To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”

Well, that fixes everything.

Except for far-rightists such as Lawrence Auster, who interpret this apology to mean either that James Watson is an “intellectual coward” or that the apology is insincere.

And except for those most offended by Watson’s remarks in the first place, like blogger Prometheus 6, who wrote tonight: “I can smell the bullshit through the Internet connection.”

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time – not even the first time this year – that the esteemed Mr. Watson has had to apologize for some published remarks.

Back in January, in making a point about political correctness to Esquire magazine, he said hypothetically: “Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified. Just like some anti-Irish feeling is justified. If you can’t be criticized, that’s very dangerous. You lose the concept of a free society.”

Watson also expressed the flip side of his notions about African intelligence, referencing Jews again. “I’ve wondered why people aren’t more intelligent,” he told Esquire. “Why isn’t everyone as intelligent as Ashkenazi Jews?”

The Anti-Defamation League called these remarks “disturbing.”

On January 19, Watson issued this apology:

“I deeply apologize for the statements attributed to me in the January 2007 issue of Esquire magazine. The bigoted remarks do not reflect, in any way, my beliefs or my life history. They do not reflect the values taught to me by my father. ...

“I know these words were hurtful and I apologize for the hurt they have caused.... I know a great deal about molecular biology but obviously not enough yet about the sensitivities of the human heart.”

Uhhh... no shit, Sherlock?

Hat’s off to The Field Negro

The L.A. Times today published a front-page feature story on the rise of the black blogosphere, focusing on The Field Negro... alter ego of Philadelphia lawyer Wayne Bennett.

Great article, and Field deserves the play. So cheers to him.

The Field Negro writes with a bracing wit... though perhaps he spends too much time classifying other black folks as coons, sell-outs, lawn jockeys and house Negroes.

Well, he hasn’t put me in his digital shithouse yet... so until that day, I heartily recommend you check him out.

Happy birthday, Wynton Marsalis.

Mr. Marsalis is 46 years old today. In his honor, I’m streaming a track from his latest album, “From the Plantation to the Penitentiary.” It’s downloadable from iTunes and

Click here to listen to “Where Y’All At?,” his spoken-word cri de coeur about the state of all things.

Not saying Wynton could cut it as a Last Poet – not when he reaches for a word like “blunderbuss” to make a rhyme work – but at least he spreads the blame around.

Long may you blow your horn, brah.

(The photo above is by Jonathan Feinstein, and is used here under a Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 license.)

MBP of the Week: New York Times

The following correction appears in today’s New York Times:

“Because of an editing error, an obituary yesterday about the photographer Ernest C. Withers, who documented life in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s, from the civil rights movement to the Memphis blues scene, misidentified the person he photographed arm in arm with Elvis Presley at a Memphis club in 1956. It was B. B. King, not the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(Hat-tip: Gawker.)

To be fair to the Old Grey Lady, the Times didn’t run the photograph in question. I assume that if editors had seen the photo, this mistake would’ve been avoided. (I wouldn’t bet money on it, though.)

Here’s the photo:

Lenny Bruce, before and after

One of the great pop-culture shifts over the last half-century was the evolution of standup comedy from vaudeville-style joke telling to piercing social commentary with the power to shock and enlighten.

There is comedy before Lenny Bruce and comedy after Lenny Bruce. There’s comedy before Pryor and after Pryor.

But even comics such as Bruce, Pryor, Dick Gregory and George Carlin went through their own evolutions. Let’s examine that over coming days. Starting with Lenny Bruce.

A 2004 CD called “Warning: Lenny Bruce Is Out Again” (downloadable from eMusic and iTunes) contains some thrilling historical artifacts. I’m streaming a couple on my Vox audio stash.

Click here to hear the earliest recording of Lenny Bruce’s comedy. It’s his 1949 appearance on the popular radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” He’s doing movie-star impressions and shit.

Now, for the after: Click here for a portion of one of Bruce’s shockingest bits, labeled “Are There Any Niggers Here Tonite?”

Has-beens at 40?

Maybe they’re rich. Maybe they’re happy. But how would we ever know? Because these folks done fell off the famous-go-round.

They were hot in the ’90s, but now they’ve passed the big 4-0 and I’m like, “Wow, haven’t heard that name in a while.”

(I don’t usually poke fun at celebs. But I blame Thembi; her wickedly hilarious blog post yesterday unleashed my snark monster.)

So... what ever happened to these people?

Tabitha Soren.

Shabba Ranks.

Teddy Riley.

Lisa Bonet.

Lady Miss Kier.

Jim Breuer.

Kim Coles.

Joe Torry.

Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Kevin Powell.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday 45 Flashback: ‘Give Me Just a Little More Time’

The concept behind the Chairmen of the Board was this: A vocal group with four lead singers. Yeah, okay. But the Chairmen’s defining voice came out of the mouth of General Johnson, one of the quirkiest soul singers evar. He also wrote a lot of the group’s material.

Here is Mr. Johnson working out on the Chairmen’s first hit single:

The New Yorker profiles David Simon

In the October 22 issue of The New Yorker, on newsstands now, there’s a long, interesting profile of my old bud David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire.” I’m quoted in it a couple of times.

You can follow this link to the online version of Margaret Talbot’s article. But it is so very lengthy, you might prefer cuddling up with a dead-tree version.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Bell Curve, part deux

That’s James D. Watson – Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix – on the cover of tomorrow’s Independent newspaper in London.

You guys ready for another media carnival ride through the world’s most dangerous topic: race and intelligence?

Matt Drudge links to the Independent’s news story tonight.

According to the article, Watson told the Sunday Times of London that “Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts.”

That October 14 Sunday Times article is online here.

The fact that Watson’s out there plugging a new book leads me to believe this thing might grow into a “Bell Curve”-sized controversy.

Fun with Manipulated Audio: Ann Coulter

Yes, friends, it’s time for more gentle, homespun humor utilizing my Mac’s audio editing software... and the CD version of Ann Coulter’s new book.

As y’all may know, Miss Coulter is catching hell for some comments she made on a cable talk show last week concerning Jews. She seems to be savoring the attention.

Listening to this audiobook was my first extended exposure to Ann Coulter’s supposed ideas and so-called sense of humor. She thinks she is a world-class practitioner of irony, this chick.

Well... if she really does appreciate a good joke, then Coulter should enjoy this: Click here and listen to Ann Coulter in her own (remixed) words.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Slim pickings for the Rock Hall...

Got my ballot in the mail today for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yeah, I’ve been a voter ever since the P-Funk oral history came out in 1998.)

What a weak bunch of nominees this year: Afrika Bambaataa, the Beastie Boys, Chic, Leonard Cohen, the Dave Clark Five, Madonna, John Mellencamp, Donna Summer, the Ventures.

I mean, this very minute... do you feel like hearing music by any of those people?

Madonna has had the biggest career of all of them, so yeah, no problem. She’ll take her place next to the Beatles, Elvis, Little Richard and James Brown. But Cher’s not in... either as a solo artist or with Sonny. If Madonna belongs in, doesn’t Cher?

And what’s up with John Cougar? What kind of Hall of Fame would it be with Mellencamp in and Tom Waits out?

And Bambaataa... but no Kraftwerk?

I guess Donna Summer belongs in. But that’s nothing to get excited about.

Here are some eligible acts that deserved a place on the ballot ahead of the damn Beastie Boys: Albert King, the Meters, Dr. John, Chicago, Los Lobos, Carly Simon... and I’m sure hardcore rockers would make a case for Rush, Judas Priest, Metallica, etc.

Something hot from Lebo Mathosa

When I visited Johannesburg in 2000, I got turned on to South African music in a big way.

A young brother drove me and David Simon out to Sun City for a gambling excursion. And what came out of his car stereo sounded like London club music. That’s when I learned South Africans love house music.

The groove of the streets is called “kwaito,” and it doesn’t sound like American hip-hop, it pumps like house.

But there’s a lot of variety in South African dance music. There is hip-hop and R&B and disco and African reggae and teched-up versions of traditional styles like mbaqanga.

I’m into all of it.

One group I liked was Boom Shaka, which had a slick disco/R&B sound. One of the group’s lead singers, Lebo Mathosa, went solo and became a pop diva... “South Africa’s Madonna.”

She died a year ago in a car accident. She was 29.

Let me share a little Lebo with you. The video below is “Awudede/2 Dangerous.” It’s hot.

Audio-wise, I’m streaming a track from Lebo’s debut solo album, “Dream” (2000). Click here to hear “Lord.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bill Cosby on ‘Meet the Press’

If you didn’t catch Bill Cosby on “Meet the Press” this morning, you should try to catch the rerun on MSNBC late tonight (2 a.m. Eastern time, 11 p.m. Pacific).

Or you can click here and stream it online. Or follow this link and download it as a video or audio file.

Cosby is promoting his new book, “Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors” (co-written by Dr. Alvin Poussaint).

Aaron McGruder can mock him; Michael Eric Dyson can try to rebut him. And surely some black bloggers will attack him for “airing dirty laundry” or not blaming whitey or whatever-the-hell...

But Bill Cosby deserves credit for focusing a public discussion on values and personal responsibility. Can you imagine if the black leadership class as a whole – politicians, academicians, the clergy, the media – did likewise?

I’m streaming a 4½-minute excerpt of today’s “Meet the Press” on my Vox audio stash. Click here to hear it.

Remembering Jaco Pastorius

On September 21, 1987, Jaco Pastorius – the hugely influential electric bassist – died at the age of 35.

He rose to prominence with the band Weather Report and became an A-list session musician... until mental illness and substance abuse combined to destroy his life.

I’m very tardy with this. But on the 20th anniversary of his death, NPR’s Michele Norris aired a splendid piece about Jaco on “All Things Considered.” It includes frank recollections from modern-jazz heavyweights Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Marcus Miller... as well as the voice of Jaco Pastorius himself.

I’m streaming an excerpt of that NPR piece here. (You can listen to the complete 8-minute segment by following this link to NPR’s website.)

I’m also streaming Joni Mitchell’s 1979 vocalese version of the Charles Mingus classic “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” It showcases Mr. Pastorius (along with his Weather Report colleague Wayne Shorter on soprano sax).

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is available on the Jaco Pastorius double-CD anthology “Punk Jazz.” The track is also downloadable from iTunes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Something country from Rissi Palmer

Below is the video for “Country Girl” by a new artist named Rissi Palmer. She is the first black woman in 20 years to have a single on Billboard’s country-music chart. (Hat-tip: Terrence Says..., by way of Booker Rising.)

Peachy cool by me. “Country Girl” has a funky little snap to it, Palmer is easy on the peepers, and as a piece of marketing this video couldn’t put white people more at ease.

Go ’head and make that money, girl. And sing what’s in your heart.

Her album comes out on October 23.

Friday, October 12, 2007

First the Jena Six... now this!!

Do you ever ponder the imperfectability of human nature?

Right at this second, you and I have at our fingertips the greatest information technology of all time... instant access to a near-infinite volume of words and images.

Yet what does this lead to? A proliferation of enlightenment and wisdom?

No. It leads to big bullshit wastes of time and energy. People jumping to conclusions that fit their own ideologies. And layers on layers of staticky noise, crowding out the calm voice of reason.

Take the percolating drama surrounding the “Palmdale Four.”

Pleajhai Mervin is a high-school student in Palmdale, Calif. On September 18, she dropped a piece of cake in the school cafeteria, and ended up in a physical confrontation with a big burly security officer over the matter of cleaning it up. Mervin says the security officer broke her wrist.

Pleajhai Mervin is black. The big burly security officer is white.

(Al Sharpton, please pick up the white courtesy phone. Al Sharpton, white courtesy phone...)

Part of the confrontation was recorded on a cell-phone video camera. Eventually, Mervin and her mother and two other students were arrested and charged with battery.

Before you could say “clusterfuck,” this incident ricocheted from L.A.’s mainstream media to fringe political websites to the black blogosphere.

“School Guards Break Child’s Arm And Arrest Her For Dropping Cake,” read a September 28 headline on The subhed: “Pandemic of police and security violence continues unabated.”

( is one of several websites run by Alex Jones, a libertarian and conspiracy theorist.)

“Security guard breaks wrist of student for dropping cake,” read an October 5 headline on the website of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The subhed: “Yet another case of racist excessive force.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton indeed showed up in Southern California a week ago in support of Pleajhai Mervin.

“You have a young lady with a broke arm here, with a video of the man assaulting her, and she's charged with battery,” Sharpton told the media. “That may be even more egregious than Jena.”

On Monday, blogger Michael Fisher posted images of the Palmdale confrontation with these words: “Failure to pick up pound cake crumbs => assault => broken wrist...”

Well, there’s only one problem.

The doctor who treated Pleajhai Mervin told L.A.’s Channel 7 Eyewitness News yesterday that the girl’s wrist had NOT been broken, and that she wasn’t injured at all. (Read the story here.)


Another big bullshit waste of time and energy, I guess. And it ain’t over yet. These things create their own weather.

I’ll probably have more to say about this mess in the future. Meanwhile, I have a related audio bite to share.

Click here to hear Mervin’s mother, LaTrisha Majors, on Alex Jones’s radio show on October 1.

If you don’t know about Alex Jones and where he’s coming from... oh boy, get ready for something wild. Real wild.

Playlist: Lesbionic laff-a-thon

Ten years ago, Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian. Has any TV star done anything gutsier since? (Not that it should’ve been a career-risking move.)

Anyway, it might be coincidental, but since 1997 a lot of lesbian comics have put out albums. Some funnier than others, of course.

Here are a few samples from this golden age of lesbionic standup. Click the track titles to hear ’em streaming on my Vox audio stash.

1. “The Homo Depot” – Suzanne Westenhoefer

My choice for the best of the lesbian standups is Westenhoefer (pictured left). I remember one of her jokes from the early ’90s on the subject of super-absorbent tampons. (Punch line: “I’m thirsty.”)

I like her polished delivery, I like her stage personality, I like her observations of life. This bit is from her 1999 CD “I’m Not Cindy Brady.”

2. “WNBA” – Georgia Ragsdale

A lesbian who enjoys watching women’s pro basketball? Unbelievable.

Ragsdale doesn’t impress me as a comic, but this routine does provide a peek into the secret world of hot lesbian sex. (And no, I did not type the words “hot lesbian sex” just to attract Google hits.) From her 1997 CD “Always Forward, Never Straight.”

3. “Lesbian Sex Workshops” – Karen Williams

Williams (pictured center) has a rather harsh voice and a hard-sell comedic approach. But she tells some truth in this bit about being over 40. Actually, she had me at “butt plugs.” (And no, I did not type “butt plugs” just to attract Google hits.) From the 1998 CD “Human Beings: What a Concept.”

4. “Coming Out and Kung Pao” – Robin Greenspan

Coming-out-to-family stories tend to be bittersweet... if not plain bitter. There is hurt in Greenspan’s coming-out-to-mom story, but her gentle sense of humor morphs the pain into a pretty decent punch line. From the 2000 CD “Totally Naked.”

5. “Yak Yak in the Sack” – Marga Gomez

She started performing in gay clubs in the mid-’80s, while Ellen Degeneres was still in the closet. But Gomez (pictured right) didn’t release a comedy CD (“Hung Like a Fly”) till 1997... the year Ellen made lesbian comedians trendy.

Marga also acts and writes plays. And this “Yak Yak” routine illustrates her style, which feels a little more like theatrical monologue than pure standup. I kinda like her tough-talking New York Latin thing.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A conversation with Cornel West, 1993 (pt. 2)

[What follows is drawn from an article I wrote for the Washington Post in 1993.]

Cornel West was raised in a segregated, working-class neighborhood of Sacramento, Calif., the son of a schoolteacher and a civil servant. “All-black world,” he recalls. “Black music, black love, black care, black joy. It was a wonderful world, actually. Indescribable world.”

His grandfather had been a Baptist minister for 40 years in Oklahoma, so the black church was “fundamental” to his growing up. “I loved to go to church, man.” West’s brown eyes brighten as his syntax relaxes.

“One, you had the best music in the world. Sly Stone used to play the organ for us,” he says, “so we had some serious music, man. He didn’t stay a long time, he went to San Francisco right away. But he used to be there.”

And there was Sunday school, where “we’d have serious discussions.... Why is there so much suffering in the world? How come black people catchin’ so much hell?”

It just so happened that the Sacramento branch of the Black Panther Party was headquartered next to his church. So Cornel and his older brother, Clifton, on Saturdays after usher practice and also on Sundays, would engage the Panthers in debate on the street.

“They were the ones who started raising [the issue of] the distribution of wealth when I was 13,” West says. “I’ve been asking the same question ever since. See, I learned it from Huey, and Bobby.”

West admired the Panthers greatly. “Any time you get young black people who are willing to die for a freedom struggle, you’ve got something serious.” But he never felt he could join them because “they had such a hostility toward religion,” he says.

“They used to have the ‘handkerchief-head nigger of the week,’ and it was always a preacher.

“I could resonate with that because I knew a lot of preachers were, in fact, not doing the right thing – not treating people right, taking money and so forth. But I knew there was a whole host of preachers who were loving the people, struggling with the people.

“So we used to fight over this,” he says. The Panthers “were gettin’ with what Marx said about religion. I said, ‘Marx can kiss my black behind! I know the Lord.’ You know?” West flashes a huge, gap-toothed smile.

“It was ironic. One thing I liked about the Panthers was, they appreciated black music. Which is something that I think the Nation of Islam is deeply in need of. You can’t have no movement among black people without a hymnal or some music, see. And the Panthers liked music.

“And I would tell ’em, ‘Look, you’re sitting up here listening to Aretha, and it ain’t no ’Retha without the church! She’s the Queen of Soul because she’s rooted in a tradition where folk learn how to moan and groan and sing at levels of artistic craftsmanship that’s damn near unprecedented in the modern world!’

“And they would say, ‘Well, that’s an interesting way of putting it, Brother West.’ I’d say, ‘Put the record back on, shoooot...’ ” He laughs, bringing a pencil-thin cigar to his lips.

The peculiar synthesis of church kid and revolutionary persisted within West – a “creative tension,” he likes to say – throughout his undergraduate years at Harvard, which he attended on a partial academic scholarship.

While studying philosophy, literature and Near Eastern languages (so as to examine the origins of Christianity), he helped run the Black Panthers’ local prison outreach and breakfast programs.

Today, West remains an activist as well as a thinker. “I spend most of my time with multiracial progressive groups,” he says, such as those affiliated with the Long Island, N.Y.-based Industrial Areas Foundation, founded in 1940 by Saul Alinsky.

Cornel West also lives two months out of each year in Africa. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, specifically. His wife, Elleni Gebre Amlak, whom he met while teaching at Yale, happens to come from a prominent Ethiopian family.

West says 2,500 people attended their wedding in Addis Ababa. For the Coptic ceremony, West was given an honorary Amharic name: Ficre Selassie, “Spirit of Love.”

“The link between people of African descent here and Ethiopians in my case, but Africans in general, is very important to me,” he says. “For me, it is very different than the imaginary notions of Africa that you often get among Afrocentric folks. Because many – not all, but many – have much more romantic, idealized conceptions of Africa.

“Whereas when I go back home – my second home in Addis Ababa – you’re dealing with just actual human beings. Who do have a rich culture, who do have a grand civilization, but also are involved in tremendous struggles. Against tyrants, against corrupt leadership, against soil erosion, against the [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank and a whole host of other forces that impinge upon the life chances of African brothers and sisters on the continent.”

What Prof. West has seen in Ethiopia seems to confirm his analysis of race in America. There, “you have a people never been colonized by Europeans,” he says. “Which means they’ve never had white-supremacist tricks played on their minds. Which means that they’ve never doubted their humanity.

“Which means they’re tremendously self-confident. They just assume that they’re not just human but they’re great, they’re capable of anything.

“For we Africans who have had white-supremacist tricks played on our minds, we got to deal with self-love and self-respect and self-affirmation,” West says softly. “Those are fundamental issues in our lives. Because it’s hard to love oneself in a white-supremacist society. It’s hard to trust one another. But they don’t have those kinds of battles.

“So when I go back home to Addis Ababa, I think, ‘Dang, this is the way black people could conceive of themselves if Europeans had left us alone.’ ”

Coming attraction: ‘Mr. Untouchable’

In a few weeks, all eyes will be on “American Gangster” and Denzel Washington’s portrayal of former Harlem drug dealer Frank Lucas.

But a documentary opening October 26 tells the tale of Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, the true heroin kingpin of 1970s Harlem.

It’s called “Mr. Untouchable,” and it features Nicky Barnes himself... talking from the shadows, because he’s now in the Witness Protection Program. And how that came to pass is best discovered by watching the movie.

“Mr. Untouchable” is a fascinating social history of the black underworld, told mainly by ex-players. For example, members of the Nicky Barnes organization recall Frank Lucas’s crew disdainfully as “the country boys” because of how they dressed and spoke. The Barnes crew prided itself on “sophistication.”

I’ll be writing more about “Mr. Untouchable” in the coming weeks. For now, you can watch the trailer:

Bernie Worrell on UBM-TV

A day without Bernie is like a day without orange juice. So check out my Video Bar for clips of Mr. Worrell live onstage. Courtesy of YouTube poster “Funkamedic.”

(You’ll have to double-click the ones where Bernie backs up George Clinton; they are non-embeddable.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A conversation with Cornel West, 1993 (pt. 1)

[I wrote about Prof. Cornel West for the Washington Post in 1993, upon his emergence as a public intellectual, a 40-year-old “prophetic” voice of the left. What follows is drawn from my original article.]

His bony fingers are holding a pencil-thin British cigar. A watch chain glints against his three-piece suit, the kind of suit that tightly wraps his lean body whenever you see him.

Chunky ornaments hold together his wide white shirt cuffs. His Afro belongs in a memory. His beard is Malcolm’s. It all seems part of a proudly cultivated personal style: Cornel West, the Sporty Intellectual.

But this isn’t really seeing him, here in this cramped office on the Princeton University campus. You have to see Prof. West on his feet, working a crowd.

Like inside Vertigo Books in downtown Washington. There he stood on a Sunday afternoon, the place packed with women, men, black, white, all mature and serious-looking, some sitting on folded legs. All looking to the man in the three-piece suit.

He told them someone had complained recently that he was distracting from the “black freedom struggle” by taking up gender issues.

Cornel West put on a puzzled face and pondered aloud: “Well, black women have been as black as black men” – there were scattered chuckles. A second later, he cocked his head and smiled, his voice sharper: “Of course, on a more basic level, he’s talkin’ about my mama!”

West said he’s also been criticized for condemning homophobia in the black community. He was dead serious here, his forehead scrunched, his words finely enunciated. “Can you imagine black culture without a James Baldwin? Unimaginable! At least to me. Without Audre Lorde? My Gawd!”

Then he offered a sly half-smile and a stage whisper: “Without a whole lot of brothers playing the organ in churches?”

They drank him in. West talked about redistributing America’s goodies, talked about how 90 percent of us are scratching and scrambling over 14 percent of the wealth. “Those are huge crumbs, but they’re crumbs!” He bemoaned the “weakness,” the “marginality” of the American left.

But then West started talking about the spirit... about love, about affectionate touching. “We need to write books about the decline of gentleness, kindness,” he said. “When I was growing up in the black community, I got touched all the time. I liked it!”

Invoking within the space of minutes the names of Marcus Garvey and Marvin Gaye, Fannie Lou Hamer and Mahalia Jackson, Toni Morrison and George Clinton, West is a whirling synthesis. Old-school radical and old-school preacher. Ivy League heavyweight and brother from around the way.

Behind his desk at Princeton, Prof. West listens attentively as I relate a picture of modern black collegiate life:

It was a celebration of Malcolm X’s birthday on the campus of Howard University. There was a lot of “revolutionary poetry” and pan-Africanist posturing in traditional garb. Lots of trendy greetings (“Hotep”), self-satisfied ritual, and guys chewing on licorice sticks. It was state-of-the-moment cultural Afrocentrism.

And when one of the hosts, a student leader from the University of the District of Columbia, told a rambling story about a Korean dry cleaner ripping off a black customer, he slid into a rant – “A Korean! A nasty, stinking, slant-eyed, parasitic Korean!” – and nobody objected.

It was a scene custom-made for Cornel West’s critique of Afrocentrism.

“What you saw there was a very narrow, truncated, myopic – and sounds also quite xenophobic – version of black nationalist tradition,” says West, hand on chin. “We’re living in a moment in which groups feel as if they have to close ranks. In which there’s an inward-looking disposition rather than an outward-looking one. So it’s very, very difficult to build bridges.

“And those of us like myself who are intent on building bridges,” he continues, “we have to acknowledge that there are reasons why people are becoming more and more narrow-minded. ...

“We’ve got levels of social misery, we’ve got death, disease and destruction ravaging black America. And most of the white elites... they haven’t really given a damn,” West says.

“As long as there is profound pessimism in the black community about the capacity of white persons to respond humanely, there’s going to be black nationalism around.”

At Princeton, this place of old stone, quiet grass and overwhelming whiteness, the Afrocentric movement has little appeal to students, according to West. In large part that’s because the Afro-American studies program, which he runs, presents “a much broader and cosmopolitan and international view of what it means to be African in the New World.”

He mentions one member of his faculty, the acclaimed novelist Toni Morrison, who – along with Alice Walker and such scholars as bell hooks and Patricia Williams – represents what West calls “a very strong black womanist movement, a crucial alternative for black intellectuals, both men and women.”

And then, “you do have a democratic-left alternative that’s also there,” as exemplified by Cornel West himself. “It’s just not as visible” among black activists nationally.

That’s because Afrocentric scholars, by sheer virtue of their Afrocentrism, are looked upon as warrior-heroes by many young black people. So while the mainstream media may hype him as “the hot black intellectual of the moment,” Prof. West knows he hasn’t won the hearts and minds of African-American students.

“The young folks certainly read me,” he says. “Partly because I’m in direct debate with a number of these [Afrocentric] figures. I’ve debated Leonard Jeffries many times, I’ve debated Molefi Asante many times. So I’m in on the conversation.

“[But] I represent a strand of the black freedom struggle that, these days, is very much cutting against the grain. You talk about an all-embracing moral vision, you talk about an analysis that highlights class and gender as well as race, and sexual orientation and ecology. To try to be synthetic and synoptic in that way is very much cutting against the grain.

“But that’s also true if you’re in the white community,” West says. “To talk about patriarchy and homophobia and to talk about white supremacy – cutting against the grain.

“In fact, most white Americans have probably forgotten about their own anti-racist tradition, going back to John Brown, Elijah Lovejoy. So that shows you how this notion of closing ranks, and not accenting the best of one’s tradition, is at work not just in the black community.”