Wednesday, February 21, 2007

For St. Valentine's Day, Schmutzig Donnerstag, Rosenmontag, Mardi Gras/Fasching, and Ash Wednesday

I wanted to say so many things, but the past week has been crazy with all the holidays that most people celebrate with less flare and attention (I had my obligatory helpings of red beans and rice with andouille sausage on Sunday and Monday afternoon) . . . St. Valentine's Day, Carnival Days, birthdays (mine included) and today, the beginning of the 40 day fast before the Resurrection Feast Days. I also noticed more sunlight. The sun rose before I made it to the the Lincoln Tunnel this morning.

So, for the lack of blogging, I leave a song that doesn't really sum " it" up, but the lyrics have been in my head for days now.

Renewed Infatuation.

Despite all the obstacles, it is funny that every spring I am surprised by the longer days as if I doubted the fact the days would lengthen. I am surprised by the feeling of love that is in the air also, as if the drudgery of nights that last half the day are always loveless.

Hit it Ella!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Gumbo Yaya

I took a course on making a New Orleans meal on Thursday evening. It was taught by a colleague -- the colleague I had a fierce confrontation with a couple of months back. Chefs run their operations by intimidation, and I have yet to work with one that did not cause me to start yelling and screaming back . . . well, there was one that I did not scream back to in Anniston, Alabama . . . but that is another story. So, yesterday's menu consisted of Shrimp Creole, File Gumbo, Blacked Peas and Rice Salad and Pralines. It was not bad, I knew a lot more about the culture than they did, but not as much as my cousins or grandmother. But they are chefs, and I am an aspiring historian (really). But it was nice to see cooking techniques in play, I do love to cook.

So, let's start with 15 questions (can't think of 20), a sort of Gumbo Yaya of my own:

1. Why did the woman sitting next to me in the class say she had never seen a Black Eyed Pea before?

2. Why did the woman next to her wonder what Okra was? Is it a squash? What does it taste like?

3. Why do New Yorkers treat Southerners like they are from a different country, and people from the Gulf Coast like they are from Jupiter?

4. Is it just me, or does all this Anna Nicole Smith stuff feel strangely like the Princess Diana car wreck? The media blitz storm, the obsession over the welfare of the children, the laundry list of lovers (though Anna baby, you beat out Princess Di by a yard of fabric at the Elk's Ball), and our inability to leave Anna Nicole alone even in death all ring true to me.

5. Is the fact that we still judge Anna Nicole as a freak due to her marriage and personal life, as opposed to Princess Diana who we considered a saint due to her marriage and personal life, the only reason we are not remorseful about our media obsession over her? Scratch that, I guess bringing attention to land mines in war torn countries is much different than being a televangelist for a weight loss placebo.

6. Does Dick Chenney have nine live? And, no 9 mechanical hearts does not count!

7. How long will this war last?

8. What about them Dixie Chicks? Was the album that good, or was it more about the inclusion of fallen angels into the constellations above the Mason Dixon line? I did like there song Not Ready To Make Nice and it was on VH-1's top 20 for weeks on end.

9. Why did it take the Grammy Award to force the issue of American regional culture onto the table without dredging up the Red State/Blue State paradigm (I apologize for that word "paradigm", I try to stay a way from it) which thwarts discussions?

10. Why are some of my favorite YouTube videos all of a sudden unavailable?

11. Why did a good friend of mine from England tell me once again: "We see why Iraq is the way it is because of the way you Americans are handling New Orleans"?

12. Why do people not see that American credibility has been eroding since the rejection of the Kyoto Accord, the Arthur Anderson meltdown and the Enron scandal? Iraq was just the watermellon on top of the Sunday.

13. Why have I not seen Dream Girls yet?

14. Did I miss something, Bounce is on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Was it difficult to keep that a top secret? My multi-media industry sources gave no hints.

15. Why do all the cool people in NYC seem to be 30 and over? Maybe it is because they remember NYC before its current incarnation?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Glimpse at the Feast Exotic (Whitney Houston and Serge Gainsbourg)

Andrew Sullivan how did you brush up on this gem of exoticism?

This clip is epic for so many reasons.

The Death of the Music Journalist


Yesterday, I arrived in the city at mid-day through Portable Authority. I had a good amount of time to get from mid-town to the nether regions of the Upper Eastside (59th and Lexington), so I glanced around the Hudson Newsstand. Imagine my childlike delight when I saw the latest Spin Magazine and My Chemical Romance gracing its cover. I guess I stood there for about a quarter of a minute before I did my compulsive purchase for the morning. I don't know what it is about New York, but I am constantly picking up magazines, gum, newspapers and toiletries. It is something about the urban landscape I guess. Years ago a cat told me that the tarot card that corresponds to New York City is the Hermit card because people live in such isolation. I guess that is why I feel so comfortable in the city, and at the same time why it is a dangerous place, I have a tendency towards withdrawal, I stay with my thoughts more than most people suspect.

In that spirit my Spin purchase was part of my own private anthropological study. I have not picked up a Vibe, Spin or Rolling Stone in ages. I used to work in the music writers' world for a split second and wanted to desperately be a part of it; but now it just seems to be a dream deferred, a sour little minutia from my past. I thumb through a music magazine at the newsstands now and then, reading it like an old sixth grade love letter. I feel transported in that same sense, rapidly perusing the masthead for a name I can recall, feeling a tingle of former infatuation, then discarding the rag after the unfamiliar names ring an atonal tone in my heart, an emotional discord that is slightly out of pitch – “Ah, the disappointment. What legendary writing could have happened if Vibe/Spin/Rolling Stone had only done such and such”. . . i.e., “If only they had kept me and my friends who are all doing wonderful things anyway.” Now, even the majority of the founding saints and villains of that former Biggie/Tupac mega death hip-hop monthly libretto have been axed.

So for $3.99 I made a commitment and started to read what I could of Spin. The brevity of the the articles was caustic. I felt as if I had missed something really important in each one because they were not written as meticulously structured exposés describing the time and place of the interview nor the inner tinkerings of our rock gods. Unfortunately, the articles were written as short data entries to be digested with little saliva – their dietary nutrients molecularly compact. Granted the cynical tongue-in-check language adds flavor, but everything tasted the same.

Back in 1993 when I was an intern at Vibe I remember language pouring out of every office. On a typical day I saw Hilton Als working on the Chaka Khan piece, Diane Cardwell blasting Janice Joplin and everyone talking about the Fugee promotional package. I got a green long sleeve Fugee T-shirt that I wore like my lion’s skin. Vibe, as Spin was 10 or 20 years ago, was thicker at its inaugural. Even Vibe's 5th anniversary issue, in which one of my pieces appeared, was thicker. Granted, much of it was ads, but other bits of it included Scott Poulson Bryant, Michael Gonzalez, Greg Tate and Joan Morgan. But in those first five years, there were several scandals and turnovers, and even Alan Light found his way lighfootedly from Vibe to Spin, maybe he was even a joint ruler of them both at one time, if my memory serves me correctly.

I do remember my interview at Spin after graduating from my beloved HBCU. I was dressed in a suit that was too big, and everyone at the entrance way to the interview was totally grunged out. I was settling into the New York area from the South before Eryka Badu and Master P made it cool. My first impression was that the Mid-Atlantic petit bourgeoisie air, New England secondary school polish, Ivy League feminism and Boston white boy college sensibility clashed against my New Negro haberdashery. The interviewer was very nice. He told me they were not paying very much, but he would keep me in mind. In fact he was really sweet in some memorable way -- just a T-shirt and jeans. He might have been pushing thirty, but his honesty rang so true to me in some older brother type of way. He later died of a drug overdose while covering one of the wars in Eastern Europe. It is a shame and embarrassing that both his name and the exact conflict escape me.

And so, I landed at Vibe instead and worked there a semester. Then after that it was graduate school, Ghana, malaria, diabetes, Israel, Master's thesis and a switch to book publishing, in that order. All that time the idea of being a music journalist, or more specifically a pop critic, re-shaped and morphed until I ended somewhere totally different. You see the problem starts with the timeliness of periodicals and the fact that they could be at the point of closing an issue anywhere between 2 and 3 months ahead of what is actually on the newsstands. Books take more time. There is more lead way. You are an elephant, your heart does not race at the rate of a mosquito. So I asked God to turn me into an elephant.


The February 2007 issue of Spin is a special issue entitled "The State of Music". It is funny that the way the magazine's layout is done betrays the problems or rather the shift of my generation being in the vanguard, to us becoming elephants, if not mastodons, of the old music industry. Again, I found myself in the dark. This declaration of the death of the album is new to me, but then again I don't really buy new music. Even My Chemical Romance, which is the first new rock thing I have actively participated in since the turn of the millennium, has not made me run to the store. Also the economic reasons behind the death of the album seem to harbor more credence among the pop literati than what Nelson George talked about in Hip-Hop America a decade ago. In it George points out that the hip-hop generation shows no loyalty, the fans simply follow a succession of artist of which few accumulate a true following. It is just one single after another, one anthem after another, one player playing the game after another. And for those that make it to legendary status, so many in the hip-hop industry opt out like Lauryn Hill, or find their heads served back to them on a platter like the current shunning of Jay Z. And, as Spin points out so directly, with beat driven hits saturating the market, the loss of melody is palpable. With these factors, plus the power of the consumer to make a line item veto concerning the selection of tunes for purchase, no wonder things are changing.

We are in the age where you can just download the single and incorporate it into your i-Pod generated sound track for your own personalized march through the subzero streets of New York City or while gliding on your treadmill. Take Beyoncé'sCheck On It”, which was so hot I drove for miles from Nashville to Atlanta alternating between that joint and Labelle’s Moonshadow album. And maybe, with that image, we have the struggle between this new hotness that you consume like cafeteria jell-o and a 4 course Wonka stick of gum that delightfully turns you into a blueberry full of soul juice and conceptual nectar -- nectars unripe with heartache, ripe with social calls of rectification, or overripe with personal triumph -- Virgin, Mother, Crone (Madonna ?) -- Knave, Knight, Emblem (Prince). Our Marys, our Princes and our Nirvanas mystify us and stitch us up in a larger overarching view of our lives, not the immediate snare drum licks that accent our staccato on concrete. After looking through this issue of Spin I realized that I am getting old, I am an elephant, I do not own an i-Pod, I cringe at the thought of becoming so wrapped up in Maria Bethânia that I could be hit by a truck crossing at 60th and Lexington where the traffic bottlenecks and there is always one delivery truck gunning it on red to make a left turn. Always!


And so after reading that Perry Farrell has been in the business for 20 years, that Courtney Love is working on “something” and feeling famished after a meatless 400 word burp about the Swedish music scene, I sunk my teeth into the My Chemical Romance article. And there it was, the great divide in music history, these cats are nothing but the Smashing Pumpkins in drag, but from what I can tell, we need the Smashing Pumpkins in drag today . . . and I could not agree more. Timothy Gunatilaka's article basically focuses on how these guys are needed by many young people today, and it seems that the band has experienced this truth in their performances. The article’s layout is ingenious; the text is littered with little green blurbs from My Chemical Romance's Myspace page, and Most are tinged with the salvational salutations to the band for creating music that intervened during the time of their planned (or spontaneous) suicides. Of course as a teacher I got a funny feeling in my stomach, a feeling that I have had students in that place, and I have witnessed at least one intervention collapse, not resulting in death thank God, but institutionalization. One person sent a message bluntly stating ". . . You save lives . . ."

So, is this the state of the album? Are my little generation Y'ers and Z'ers missing what I devoured with great delight, what my fellow high school and college classmates picked without asking? What would life have meant for my freshman roommate who listened to Tom Petty's "Free Falling" every night; for my single white female best friend (to the raised eyebrows of both our parents) if REM's "This Is The End Of The World As We Know It" and everything after didn't exist; for me if Prince's double album Sign of the Times (that I listened to for 3 years straight in high school to the chagrin of girl named Deborah who called me strange for 4 years straight) was never produced. This is the landscape now. Napster and i-Tunes have nipped away the security of young Americans according to this hypothesis if you introduce a little anti-matter to it. They have no Dick Clark to breast feed them, only Paula Abdul's Novocaine tit to drip feed them celebreality. Who knew that the record store was the teenager’s Temple of Delphi, but now the barbarians are at the gate in the true Harold Bloom sense of the old reactionary adage. The American record store’s death throws have turned to convulsions. The tower has literally collapsed, and according to friends and reports, the music industry may evaporate as if zapped by a sonic death wave, a wrong chord reverberating from a Queen LP played backwards.

Miss Industry is a behemoth made of bricks and mortar. Who would have thought, that books would prove to be more nimble (for now at least) in the cyber age? In 2000 the publishing industry asked collectively, what was going to happen to the book, but that was so naive. Shakespeare is unmovable, written language has been around for millennia and moveable type for centuries. Records didn't even close out the century, CD's survived for only two decades. Nothing is permanent.

So maybe I am a nimble little elephant with twinkle toes (many would say that already for varying reasons). I have a Myspace page and on it I have a community of musicians, writers, friends and perverts that share my taste in music, literature, politics and perversions. I do not feel so alone, in fact I am indulging my senses with old G-Force footage and Gothic styles as we speak. Myspace has given me a world to express myself in ways I did not have years ago. A thought comes to my head and I will research it and add it to my page, giving a picture of myself, with close self-editing of course, for not all of me can fit on one page. And in this world where the visual and auditory are supple and correct by simply cutting and pasting information in HTML, how are young people learning to receive information? Hell, how are they dealing with relationships, because as much as I love my virtual communal nest, they are not really friends in the brick and mortar sense of the word.

But back to music rags . . .

Beyond the market forces that force these thick mini-catalogs of hip-hop and rock and roll to reduce their page sizes, are there issues concerning what is music journalism and what is not? I believe that there are, but I can not address them now, I have only bought one music magazine in the past 2 years. My anthropological research into the manhandling of the music and its musing rags will need further investigation.


When I was working at Reader's Digest in Germany during the winter of 2003, there was a music marketing manager from Spain who moved from Barcelona in the 1970's to southern Germany and fell in love with Freiburg. He stayed and had a family. I remember my seminars with the editorial and marketing teams were always really pleasant when he was around. He talked about playing music constantly and wanted me to teach him how to stop rolling his r's so pronouncedly, as well as working on other consonants that escaped his grasp with each English utterance.

"It is so sad Bill," the marketing manager confided in me one day, "the way music accompanied my life and your life is not the way for my children and will not be that way for yours."

I stood there and looked at him. I did not know it then for sure, but somewhere in my subconscious I had received the news that the album was ill. I wonder what that means for the music journalist in light of all that has happened concerning record company/media mergers, bottom-lines and the musical interest of young people unable to find the ballad that gets them through their first kiss, break-up, heartache, separations, growing aparts and finally the death of the relationship all together. For a lucky few the companionship will blossom, for others the isolation in their lives may have more sinister sources than puppy love. And what about us, the over 30 demographic so despised by notions of fashion (except for the gay demographic), are we left without albums also?

“Hey!, Mr. DJ I confess. I have been through some traumatic shit and I need a hero, but 10,000 Maniacs will do me just fine."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Few Of My Favorite Things

1. We have a bunch of brawlers at my job. Very interesting to know that I am not the only one. There must be about 4 or 5 of us liable to get down at anytime.

2. Tonight on television I saw the Billy Strayhorn documentary on Independent Lense. He was only 16 when he wrote Lush Life. It is interesting, all of his band mates called him Sweet Pea -- he was black, gay and Duke Ellington's major composer taking little credit during his lifetime for his work. Diane Reeves sounds so good in this documentary.

3. Brazil versus Portugal on Fox Soccer Channel. It is a friendly in England. I am glad I don't have to be at work until 11:00 am tomorrow. Downing coffee as we speak.

The re-broadcasting of the match is from 11:oo pm until 1:00 am. I could die tonight. Earlier I watched Fox Football Fone-In . . . marvelous evening!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The End of the Earth

Das Experiment called from the most southern Western city on earth last night right after I posted my blog entry for Saturday. He lives in a city called Invercargill. It is at the most southern tip of New Zealand. We had a ten minute conversation about life.

He said that Invercargill would be too boring for me, I would have to live in Auckland.
He said that most Americans that ex-patriate to New Zealand end up in Australia.
Most Europeans that ex-patriate stay.
He felt that things were 30 years behind.
He said there were some hot girls in his MBA program.
He said I could handle it.
It is like rural Germany.
But, it is more like Ireland.
Or England.
Or Scotland.
I said life was the same for me.
I looked up Invercargill on the net, and yes that shit is at the end of the world.
Might make a nice trip.
But that is just a mental note.
Das Experiment sounded a little down and isolated.

I also saw parts of Female Trouble by John Waters on IFC this past Friday night. Now I will have to see this Trash Trilogy.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

For Once

Well, I don't have really anything to say. My boss wants to get me moving in a couple of different directions. We will see. This temporary job may lead to where I wanted to be in the first place . . . behind a desk somewhere moving inventory in foreign places. I have heard stories of meteoric rises to the top at this place. My language skills do come in handy and that is a plus for me.

Otherwise, I spent the day with Ava yesterday. We had a good time. We talked about relationships, I watched her shop (I am not a shopper), had a nice Thai meal, another nice meal at a diner on 3rd and 60th (I love that diner, very good food and fresh Lemonade year round) and just walked through the city.

Still looking for work. A financial institution wants to see me at the Jersey Shore on the 8th. I know how these places work . . . almost like a pyramid scam plus commission. So, I am weary. Did four applications this past week to different places. I will have to get back to five a week at least!

German Musicologist comes at the end of the month. We will talk about a project that Alice and I have been tweaking for some time.

That is all.

Nothing to really say. Just contemplating a character and sketching it out. It is funny, after my application to Presbyterian University the voice I was writing in has evaporated. At least that is the result of the query I instigated concerning my spiritual and emotional well being. I wonder if my creative voice will be diminished more in my use of more academic styles of writing. I guess the intended issue is the intended audience.

I need to turn myself back to a stage coach after my brief stint as a pumpkin.

ciao, ciao