New Faith Evans…Do you like it? I do…Share!
Monthly Archives: September 2010
I’m happy to report that the Midnight Hour is back at Brown. Midnight Hour was a campus publication I wrote for back in the late 80s—created by Michael Costigan, ’90—and now Brown junior Max Lubin, one my students back in 2009, has taken the magazine online.
He invited me to contribute an essay about my relationship to Midnight Hour and my time at Brown. I’m real happy with how the piece turned out. Go check it out here, and read Midnight Hour. It’s fun. Max and his crew has done a wonderful job bringing the dormant brand back to life–and into the future…
Here’s one of the series of character publicity posters for Tyler Perry’s upcoming film adaptation of Ntozake Shange‘s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf… You can see the rest of them by clicking here and going to the film and media site Shadow and Act. Funny, though: I’m guessing Janet’s playing the Lady in Red, but the poster says she’s playing a character named Jo. I don’t recall the characters in the play having actual names, do you? I’m personally still out on how I feel about any adaptation of one of my favorite plays. But I’d love to hear what you think.
I remember back in the day a hit song might inspire an answer record, putting the original in conversation with another track that either exposed a different side to the story’s narrative or just commented on the first. The most famous one I recall is Shirley Brown’s melodramatic “Woman to Woman,” which inspired Barbara Mason‘s answer, from the other woman in the triangle, “From His Woman to You.”
Well, Cee Lo’s increasingly popular “Fuck You” has turned into one my favorite records so far this year, as arch and clever (and catchy) as it is, dnagling in that odd space between old-school throwback and novelty song. Perhaps it’s the novelty of it that has inspired its share of answers and covers, including a version by 50 Cent.
Now comes the female answer. Called “Clearly Obsessed” and perfomed by a singer/actress named Whitney Avalon, the record imagines Cee Lo’s original narrator as a stalker who won’t adhere to the restraining order imposed upon him. It’s funny, a little creepy, but quite a successful moment of quick-fast, Internet-ready pop culture…But a question: Has anyone noticed how the original Cee Lo video for “Fuck You” (which you can see here if you haven’t seen it already) is directed squarely and solely at the woman in question, rather than, as in the song’s lyrics, the guy who’s taken her from Cee Lo? Is it my imagination, or is there a bit of a disconnect there? Was this shift made for purely aesthetic reasons? Or is there some deeper question needing to be asked about gender and representation? I’m gonna mull on this and return to the subject at a later date. Stay tuned y’all…
Til then, here’s the “Fuck You” answer record, in all its fantastically vulgar glory!:
Just some links to stuff I’ve found interesting over the past few days…Readers, you say?
- Not Asking, Not Telling: Riverside judge declares “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” unconstitutional…policy not only violates the 1st Amendment rights of lesbians and gay men but has a “direct and deleterious effect’’ on the military…Los Angeles Times reports the story here…
- Crazy, Sexy, Fat: According to today’s Daily Beast, fat men last longest at having sex. YES! I’ve known it all along. What we lack in quantity of partners, we more than make up for in quality of love! Read the story and get all kinds of other sex-based factoids here at The Daily Beast…
- Live & On-Stage: October 18th marks the date of the 25th anniversary staged reading of Larry Kramer‘s The Normal Heart, starring Joe Mantello (first time acting on stage since original Angels in America!), Patrick Wilson and Victor Garber, will benefit The Actors Fund and Friends in Deed. Playbill.com has the story here.
- Friend Me, Fail U?: Harrisburg University offers extra-credit for no Facebook, and basically “blacks out” social media: You can read all about it at the Chronicle of Higher Education here…
- Children of the Manor Born: So, Jay-Z’s signing Jada and Will’s daughter to a record deal. She’s 9. Jay-Z calls her the “next Michael Jackson” or some other such ridiculousness. Check it out here at Rapradar.com (including Ryan Seacrest interview with Willow; she hates math.)
If you haven’t heard her new song, here’s a video. It’s called “Whip My Hair” and it sounds like Rihanna. Not great “Umbrella” Rihanna. But that’s just me.
“Every little thing the reflex does leaves you answered with a question mark…” goes the closing line of Duran Duran’s first Number 1 single in the US. They could have been talking about many of their songs’ lyrics when they wrote that line. And yet in 1984, Duran Duran was the very height of state-of-the-art MTV pop, consumer goods for a consumer age, selling sex and style to a generation of teens who wanted their British crossovers as cute as their parents’ did twenty years before, only this time the mascara was darker, the blush was brighter, and the designer shirts were tighter. Other British bands got more critical kudos—after all, these guys couldn’t be real musicians, could they?; they were the boys who frolicked on yachts and ran through jungles in all their video glory. But as ruthless as the critics were to DD, the Durannies understood: these guys wrote some sturdy songs, ready-made for radio and, as necessary to the times, video, too. (One way to gauge the solid musicianship of DD is this: upon hiatus after this album, half the guys teamed up with Robert Palmer and Chic’s Tony Thompson to form Power Station as the other half got peeps like Sting to appear on their Arcadia album. None of those artists needed Duran Duran for sales or hipness credibility.)“The Reflex” came off the lush Seven and the Ragged Tiger album, following great singles like “Union of the Snake” and “New Moon on Monday.” But the version of the song that exploded was remixed by super-producer/disco-architect Nile Rodgers, a perfect choice for the band. He brought out the ruthlessly dance-y dynamics of DD’s keyboard/bass mix and created a sonic pleasure zone around the boys that matured them just enough without losing their pop-tartness, yet also gave them a muscular-enough sound that made the music absolutely undeniable. There’s a reason this became DD’s first US #1: guys got into the groove and supplemented all the girl-love the guys had depended on for years. Blending Bowie’s way with a cut-and-paste nonsense lyric (that always, nonetheless, made rhythmic sense) with Bryan Ferry’s fussily contoured style warrior pose, Duran Duran made music for the masses that made the masses feel like they were sipping Champagne rather than C&C Cola. Dancing to Duran Duran was like going to the popular kids’ party, where the right clothes and the right touch of “class” meant you were part of the in-crowd. “The reflex” may have been, according to the lyric, “an only child who’s waiting in the park, in charge of finding treasure in the dark,” and Simon Le Bon may have been singing about how he “sold the Renoir and the TV set”—none of which made any actual sense in the world I was living in. But damn if it didn’t sound incredible and get me shaking me my ass while I wore my Walkman all over the place. And the video was a teen-dream in 1984: that waterfall blew kids’ minds…!
Listen to it here:
I fall in love with writers, and their books. I’m just funny that way, re-reading passages or whole chapters, remembering why the initial pangs of love were there. I knew I was going to fall in love with Farah Jasmine Griffin’s book Who Set You Flowin’: The African-American Migration Narrative when I read the dedication: “For My Grandmother, Willie Lee Carson (1904-1981), who migrated from Eastman, Georgia, to Philadelphia in February 1923; and Her three Philadelphia-born Daughters, Eunice Cogdell (1924-1991), Eartha Mordecai, Wilhemina Griffin.” As a person most interested in African American names, history, and genealogy (and the mothers of mothers who provide all three), I experienced a world in those 33 words, a contained moment of love and honor and respect that felt whole and real. Then I read the epigraphs a few pages later and saw quotes from such richly disparate figures as Toni Morrison, Cornel West and music group Arrested Development—and I knew it was going to be one of those books. And it was. Crossing all kinds of textual terrain in her study of migration as a major theme in African-American culture—Toomer’s Cane, Morrison’s Jazz, the art of Jean Lacy, the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, among other significant texts get investigated—Griffin’s work is like a journey in itself, gracefully climbing the hills and wading the valleys of what she calls the “metanarrative” of the black migration experience with supple prose and clear-eyed cultural and literary analysis.
Currently a professor of English, Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, Farah Griffin has served as the director of Columbia’s Institute for Research in African American Studies. She’s what I think of as a truly interdisciplinary academic, casting her scholarly eye on not just literary subjects but also fields like jazz (she co-edited an issue of Callaloo entitled “Jazz Poetics”) and travel writing. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar and the African American Review.
I got to meet Professor Griffin here at Harvard (where she did her undergrad work) a coupla times, most recently at a conference honoring renowned historian and totem of African American studies Nathan Huggins, and she turned out to be as down-to-earth as I thought she might be after (twice!) reading her book. The warmth and regard she expressed for her subjects was exactly the same warmth she exhibited in person, and I’m sure that was why she seemed to be the one person in the room that everyone was drawn to at one point or another. I’m still looking forward to reading her book on Billie Holiday (If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday), but until then it was a pleasure reading her responses to the SPB Q. Hope you enjoy it, too—and definitely check out Farah Griffin’s work if you fall in love with great writing about American history and literature like I do…
Name: Farah Jasmine Griffin
School/Year: Harvard, 1985; Yale 1992
Dissertation Title: “Who Set You Flowin’?: Migration, Urbanization and African American Culture”
Favorite book: Too Many to Name
Favorite author: Impossible. Morrison; Wharton
Favorite movie: Impossible. Eve’s Bayou, maybe. Double Indemnity
Favorite music: Can’t Do This…Love music too much to have a favorite, but at the top would be Cassandra Wilson’s “New Moon Daughter” and Mary Lou Williams at Montreux
Academic text that most influences your work: Stephen Kern’s Culture of Time and Space and Cornel West’s Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America (Beyond Multiculturalism and Eurocentrism)
Academic High: Membership in the Jazz Study Group, Columbia University. Robin Kelley, Salim Washington, Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Diedra Harris Kelley, John Swzed, Fred Moten, and others were my intellectual family, my comrades, my joy. The set my brain dancing.
Life High: The day I met the little girls who would become my step-granddaughters: Diata and Mariam Cannon; my participation in Billie and Me at the Barbican, London.
You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?
- Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidananda
- The Norton Anthology of African American Literature
- Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Ondaatje
- Daughters of The Dust
- The Gnostic Gospels
Your favorite quote:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” ~ Attributed to Jesus, Gospel of Thomas
Bad television marathons.