Friday, March 21, 2008

100

I'm not supposed to be here.

Probably not at this milestone post. And certainly not in this place. Either in life. Or in this corner of the internet.

But here I am. My 100th post.

(And here I am...well, I'll spare you the as yet untold gory details of my own misspent journey. Today.)

I will confess to launching this thing as an attempt to land a book deal. I figured that a cleverly compiled record of my own travels through re-adolesence would be enough of a hook to grab some publisher's attention and get me paid.

It hasn't quite worked out that way.

This thing has become a cool little hoop in the backyard where I can shoot around whenever I feel the urge. It's also surrounded by a large grandstand perpetually filled with millions of people.

(By "millions," I mean "four." Like what 2 X 2 equals.)

I am not one for ceremony. But I do believe we should pause a moment to celebrate what might be called my:

TENTH TENTHENNIAL EXTRAVAGANZA!!!



BTW...today is my 32nd. If you need to get at me, I'll be at the bar. Watching the Tournament. And the Lakers. Setting a new record on the pop-a-shot machine. You can send a pretty senorita after me if you like. (Preferrably one who looks makey-outy.) 'Cause I'll probably need a ride home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Humility in the Porn Industry

I'm late on this. But I only just watched it last night on Showtime when Dr. Insomnia paid me a visit. Not to mention that it's definitely worth sharing.

Of all the absurd moments you might expect from something called the 25th Annual AVN Adult Movie Awards, this one was definitely the most surreal and it offered the tightest statement about the business of intimacy in the 21st century:



Of all the lessons a person might take from watching porn, who'd have thunk that "respect is the key to good sex" would be among them?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Disappearing Soul

When a person--or a group of people--is defined by something which s/he (or they) are not, how do they maintain their sense of identity when that negative is removed?

More to the point, when a group of people are bound together (in part) by a shared sense of struggle, of hardship or of profound oppression, how is that group impacted by a potentially positive change to that circumstance?

And perhaps this is the real question: what happens to you when you start to get what you want?


There are several cliched answers to those quasi-rhetorical questions. Most of them involve the costs associated with compromise.

"Compromise" is an interesting word. It is a paradox that can be used in very different, but fundamentally connected ways:

"Blending qualities of two different things"
"Settle by mutual concessions"
"To cause the impairment of"
"To expose to an unauthorized person or enemy"


That's almost a four-step outline of how to sell one's soul.


The first step is fairly benign. If you're Black and you live in a post-slavery, still-segregated America, you'd probably want the freedom and equality that some white dude long ago wrote into the founding documents of the country you might call home.

The second step speaks to the process associated with obtaining that freedom. Basically, the people oppressing you are gonna have to agree to stop that shit and you, as the oppressed group, are gonna have to agree not to kick the shit out of all those people for everything they ever did wrong to you and your folks.

The third step furthers the second by implying that getting what you want (rather, getting some of what you want) will cause you to sacrifice some things that you already have. If you're a group of people who has previously been segregated (either in part or holistically) then your forced and logical communal ties could suffer once you and the group you are a part of are integrated into a larger society. In short, both your collective and individual identities are gonna need to be rethought and possibly re-expressed.

The fourth step indicates that something may have disintegrated in the quest to obtain the goal outlined in the first step. If you're Black and you live in a post-Civil Rights, legally-integrated America...well...I'm not sure exactly how you'd feel. There are millions of people far more qualified than I am to intimately articulate that experience. BUT...from an outsider's perspective...I have to think that you might feel as if you've sold a piece of your soul in order to enjoy the basic rights and freedoms that had been so egregiously denied to you, your parents, grandparents, etc.

At least, that was one of my takeaways from watching ESPN's documentary mini-series, Black Magic.


Frankly, that should be part of the jump-off from that film. Granted, Black Magic is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. Something I wish I would have made myself. Something I will be among the first to buy whenever it's made available for sale. Mostly so I can cherrypick from the craftsmanship of it for my own future reference.

I suspect, though, that Dan Klores and Earl Monroe (along with Ben Jobe, Jon Chaney, Earl Loyd and the rest) would be terribly disappointed in all of us if we didn't dive a little deeper than that after seeing the film.

If you haven't seen it yet, Black Magic is nearly four hours of stories about the forgotten generation of Black basketball players who played at HBCUs during the 50s, 60s and 70s and who integrated that sport while America itself was being integrated. As you can imagine, there's lots of ugly history there which is offset by magnificent stories of personal triumph. Along with some personal tragedies. Both minor and major.

In sum, it argues that the people who just wanted to play ball (at the highest levels) and the people who created the space for them to do so (when the highest levels weren't accessible) gradually sacrificed the integrity of that space in order to obtain the right to play ball at the highest levels possible.

Or so it would seem the argument goes.

Whether it was intended or not, we could scale that argument to apply it to the identity chronology of Black folks in America during the last 150 years. We could also scale it to explore the principles associated with the process of reaching compromise. We could even scale it to the assorted acts of being alive.


Really, that last one is what I s'pose I'm most interested in. On some what is soul? steez.

I have neither the time nor the energy to even count, let alone read about and meditate on all the various ideas and theories about what the human soul is and how it contributes to a person's existence. I do, however, default to Funkadelic whenever anything about the nature of life is in doubt for me.

(If I wore acronymic wrist bands, mine would read "WWGCD?" After all, there may be worse moral barometers (or better ones) than George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel, Fuzzy Haskins, Bootsy and co., but what's really funkin' with them? You can have your Moses or your Buddha and I'll be just fine with all the Woo in the world.)

Soul, as Funkadelic would tell us, has everything to do with how you relate yourself to the world around you as well as, conversely, how you digest that world to achieve your own ends.

At some point, every soul arrives at a crossroads faced with two choices: 1) stand on principle every time in perpetuity without flinching no matter the cost or 2) compromise once and once again every day for the rest of your journey because once you make one concession, you'll never reach a point where you concede no more forever.


If a soul (or a group of souls) chooses the path of compromise, it is not necessarily a well tread road to hell. Nor is it an easy path to paradise. It is a struggle. One that is different from its prideful (patently stubborn and generally courageous) counterpart. No less prone to success or failure. Just different.

But (here's the rub, kids) a soul who chooses compromise has to understand the potentially pyrrhic nature of that path. The choice to compromise could be the most mutually beneficial for everyone involved, but it's going to cost someone something. Sometimes, it costs some folks everything.

Going back to the takeaways from Black Magic, I can't say that I feel hopeless. Nor would I encourage anyone else to be. I do believe that enough time has passed since the close of the Civil Rights Era, that we can place certain issues of identity in their proper context thereby adopting a healthier approach to solving today's problems which are clearly rooted in the problems of the past yet are altogether different.

Which is why I'm particularly curious about the dialogue Barack Obama is about to launch concerning race.


If for no other reason than a leading presidential candidate is about to tackle the biggest, meanest elephant that has ever thundered through any room in this old American house.

Certainly because, now that we know the cost of compromise, we might actually be able to address this thing with some candor and without the belligerence that so naturally accompanies it.

All of us may have shaved a little piece (or two) off our souls to get some of what we wanted, but we haven't made them disappear completely.

Not yet anyway.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

Sixteen thoughts about the one holiday that is truly worth celebrating: The NCAA Tournament.

Merry Christmas
Dionte Christmas' name will be the source of many bad puns. But the best name in the Tournament actually belongs to Haminn Quaintence. I can't pronounce it, but I can tell you the kid's game is directly descended from Devin Davis.

The Only Sneaker That Matters
Brand Jordan. I've seen some cool newish designs in the conference tournaments. There may be more to come. Everything else feels like we've already seen it before. Didn't used to be that way. Shame how the game has changed.

What's in a Name?
Belmont. Butler. Cornell. Davidson. Drake. Siena. Winthrop. One-word schools are the new hotness in Cinderella picks. Two of 'em will stick around for the second weekend.

St. Mary's Meet Mt. St Mary's
Yes, there are two of them. The former has all the Aussie Ex-Pats. The latter has the smallest good player in the Tournament. The former should have a chip on its shoulder after getting knocked out in its conference semis. The latter won't be able to handle the press against a long, quick team.

Up Goes Down
Arizona and Kentucky. George Mason and Gonzaga. Blue bloods. Underdogs. Which one is really which? I honestly can't say any more.

Separation
Apart from the 6 best and the 6 worst teams in the field, there isn't much distance between the other 53 programs invited to the Tournament. Which means most upsets really aren't upsets. Which diminishes the natural drama of the dance rendering it slightly less riveting than the NBA's ongoing Western Conference Play-offs. Which, FTR, started two weeks BEFORE the All-Star Break.

Eff the Selection Committee
For 2 years in a row now, they called out my Pac-10 loyalty by matching 'SC up with one of my favorite Big 12 teams. As much as I'd like to see K-State make an '88 Kansas or '04 Syracuse run...they just don't have the guards to deal with the Trojans back court.

Four Big Finales?
Kevin Beasley would be better off in the NBA. Tyler Hansborough and Kevin Love would be better off in college. Blake Griffin would look great in a Laker uniform.

Shaq-In-Training
The Suns desperately need Roy Hibbert or Hasheem Thabeet to fall into their lap. Hibbert would help Nash now in the way Shaq is supposed to. Thabeet would allow Amare to have the career he wants to have.

The Beast(s)
At least one Big East team is going to make a deep run. It could be Georgetown. Or UConn. Or Louisville. Or even Notre Dame. Sadly, it probably won't be Pitt.

"Let's Go Pee!"
I mean, "Let's go, Peay!" There will be no better or more entertaining cheer heard this March. Not even "Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. KU."

Clean Sheets
Of all the 1's and 2's, Kansas is the least likely to shit the bed. UCLA is the most likely to wake up with brown sheets.

Power U's
The best conferences in college basketball this year were (in this order) the Big East, the Pac 10 and the Big 12 (2a and 2b respectively). There is a very small gap between the first and second(s) spots--which only exists because the Big East has so many more teams.

New Rules
The rule change concerning the way players line up for foul shots is going to come into play at some point in the story of one of this year's big upsets. Probably in the form of an offensive rebound off of a missed 1-and-1 in the closing seconds. Matter of fact, this situation might actually save Memphis from itself.

Brick City
We are all going to quickly tire of people talking about how poor of a free throw shooting team Memphis is. But we're going to have to hear about it for at least 2 weekends.

The Pick
Sike. I'm not giving anything away here. Just in case you're reading this and you're in a pool with me. But let's be honest, there are only 6 teams who can win 6 in a row beginning on Mar. 20: Carolina, Georgetown, Memphis, Kansas, Tennessee and UCLA. You can pick a dark horse if you like (Duke, Louisville, Michigan St, Texas, UConn or Wisconsin, for example) but you'll probably be wrong. Or maybe not. Go with your gut, kids.

Enjoy the madness!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Value of Idiocy

At one time, I worked with some one who--as anyone who ever met Pat* would tell you--was the nicest person. Pat was very hard working. Terrifically compassionate. Consistently pleasant. And extraordinarily friendly/ gregarious.


Pat was also an idiot.

Pat never hesitated to ask the dumbest questions. Pat always took 3 times as long as anyone else to understand new information. And Pat's face displayed a perpetual vacancy--as if there were an empty skull behind Pat's eyes.

None of which are necessarily bad things.

Pat's idiocy allowed Pat to be a generally happy and liberated person. Like that dingy, shredding t-shirt of an axiom: ignorance is bliss.

Had Pat been any kind of self-aware, Pat would likely have lived in a permanent crouch hidden in some corner afraid that the next minute would be more embarrassing than the one that just passed.

But Pat was never that.

Pat was comfortable. Pat was cool. Pat was the kind of person you didn't mind helping because you knew that Pat would do anything you asked.

While most folks would agree that Pat was a certain kind of fool, no one would ever say a bad word about Pat. Everyone loved Pat. Because, above all, Pat's heart was always in the right place.

I think of Pat every March when I find myself at that point in the Tournament experience when all of my meticulously generated logic about college basketball gets shredded by some kid from Prairie View Tech State College who banks home a three from half court to knock off an undefeated Kentucky team.

At that point, I feel like an idiot. And I am acutely connected to that feeling. For at least a day. It sucks. It drains a little bit of the fun out of the Tournament. And it makes me envy Pat.

If only I didn't have to know how much of a fool I am.

Then again, there's a whiskey for that, right?

[The asterisk (*) denotes that "Pat" may or may not be a real person. In fact, Pat is more likely a composite of several people I've observed or encountered over the years. If you think that you are Pat. Don't worry. I'm not talking about you. I swear. ;)]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Spectacle of Safety

The compulsion of fear begets the need to feel safe.

That is "feel" not actually "be." It is a key distinction. And it is that "need to feel" that thing--in this case, safe--which serves as the foundation of so many illusions.

But what exactly is "fear" about? Good question. Bill the Butcher has an answer:



It's a pretty powerful weapon. Maybe the strongest in any man's (or nation's) arsenal. Used wisely, it is a supremely effective agent of control. But to be used wisely, it must be used in concert with something else. In this case, something else is the "need to feel safe."

Let's take, for example, the "war on drugs."

Some people think all drugs are bad, mmmkay? And that's why, I s'pose, we have a war on drugs.

Plenty of people get rich because of drugs. Some of those people are drug dealers. Some are suppliers. Some are attorneys. Some of those attorneys become elected officials. It is a mutually benefical bifurcation. For the most part. Right up to the point where someone gets arrested and sent to prison for a kajillion years. At that point, there's only one side cakin' up.

And how ridiculous is that? In this straight-from-the-gut editorial, one man speaks on it very truthfully:

The truth is, big drug busts do almost nothing to stem the flow of drugs or change the complexion of the culture, save for making a handful of rather uninformed citizens and angry parents feel better for about 10 minutes, and causing the street price of your narcotic du jour to jump 20 percent for a week. Which, I suppose, is a big part of the reason it happens at all, to give the appearance of justice and enforcement and overall safety, to prevent everyone from freaking out and whining to the mayor.
The "appearance of justice and enforcement." Rather, the appearance of safety.

He's right. We don't need to watch The Wire to recognize the cyclicality of the capital-G Game. It goes on. It will go on. You can't stop it completely because you can't fully eliminate human desire. Not collectively anyway.

Which leaves you--and by "you," I mean a so-called "civilized society"--to choose between A) perpetuating an illusion and B) governing yourself pragmatically.

Obviously, no balkanized group of people is smart enough to agree on a practical solution. So, here we are. And there we go. Exciting ourselves about the evil scourge of all drugs--which is another way of saying that we're ashamed of our own humanity--and cheering on the occasional "victory" that the rich guys who allegedly do the least harm can take credit for.

And, in the end, some of us feel "safe."

While the rest of us are in "the bottle."



Say, brother, can you spare a dollar nine?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Open Letter #002

Dear Kevin Love,

You are the best position defender at any level of college basketball. You might be one of the top five position defenders alive. Actually, you are.

Why then, after your Bruins finally tied last night's game against Stanford with less than a minute to go in regulation, would you flop when a Cardinal wing player (Lawrence Hill, I think) drove into the lane threatening to score a go-ahead basket?

No referee at any level--not even the guy who erroneously blew the whistle mere seconds later on Hill--will give you a charge call in those circumstances. As Mark Jackson would say, "You're better than that." And, truly, you are.

Next time, please hold your ground. As you so often do to the greatest consternation of your college opponents. After all, flopping is unpatriotic. And you don't want to be a bad American do you?

Sincerely,

The MGMT

P.S. We cannot find any video of the play in question. If we had, we would certainly have linked to it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How to Make Popular Music

Popularity, by definition, is both nebulous and fleeting.

Music, in the MP3 Era, has become a disposable vehicle most commonly used to help build a brand.

Popular music, on its face, would appear to be a terrifically uninteresting endeavor for a person who fashions themself as a legitimate artist.

Alicia Keys is many things. Uninteresting is not one of them. Popular certainly is. As is musical. And, for our purposes, she's a great case study in how to go about creating music that truly connects with the average listener and, in turn, becomes resonant. Even iconic.

Take her latest record, for example. Rather, take two singles from her latest album.



The first time I heard "No One" on the radio, I wanted to know what movie it was connected to. Surely, it had to be the SDTK for the trailer of Will Smith's latest attempt to win an Oscar. Maybe it was the theme for the opening credits of the same film. It had to be something more than just a song, right? It's entirely too cinematic to be just a single from an album. Which is, essentially, my point. I instantly recognized the dramatic potential of the song. As if it were composed to be a music video and not just a song.



"Like You'll Never See Me Again" is very clearly a prom theme waiting to happen. Or perhaps the first song played for a blushing bride and her brand new husband. Probably both. So obvious is its purpose that you have to assume Ms. Keys and her producers intended to write a song that would be a good prom theme. Again, the product is more than just a song--it's intended to serve a specific, larger purpose.

The lesson both of these songs suggest is that Alicia Keys and her producers are not simply writing a song. Instead, they're composing an experience or a moment.

In the case of the former, the experience implies multiple platforms that can be used to distribute a story and, in practice, does not permit the listener to separate those platforms. The song is the video is the film score is the however else the Keys team chooses to license it. It exists as everything at once--no matter how you specifically engage with it.

In the case of the latter, the moment is not only universally recognizable (by Western standards, of course) it is universally aspirational. Making it that much more likely to stick in the minds and hearts of the average listener.

(Ironically, I've posted live performances of each of these songs. The official videos were not available to embed. As such, I'm left to offer less than ideal samples to make my point. Nonetheless, you really can't take any iteration of either of these songs as anything but an experience or a moment.)

This was supposed to be about how to make popular music, right? Let's cut to the primary point, then:

Music that becomes popular does so, most often, because it is accessible and relatable. That's a no-brainer. But...if you're trying to connect in the hyperbolic 21st century, you need to make music that's more than just a song. It has to capture a moment or create an experience. Something that's bigger than just some chords and some harmonies. Something that is larger than life because it amplifies life itself.

And it wouldn't hurt that the musician who delivers the story of the moment/experience be 3 kinds of fine. That's always good, too.

The Origin of "Yay!"

Nearly every woman I know--regardless of age, race, geography or cup-size--uses the word "Yay!" (Some dudes use it, too. But not with nearly the same frequency as the average woman.)

They use it supportively. They use it to express their own jubilation. They even use it as conversational filler.

But has this always been the case?

I don't recall "Yay!" being so commonly used 10 years ago. While I may be wrong, I do want to get to the bottom of the "Yay-nomenon." So, I asked google 'cause google knows everything.

Curiously, google didn't have an answer.

Which led me to ask a friend of mine in a a recent AIM convo. (My AIM name is "th cptl t." "F.O." = "friend of") She posed an interesting theory as to where "Yay!" comes from:

F.O. th cptl t (12:35:48 PM): mothers
F.O. th cptl t (12:36:00 PM): when a child does something good
F.O. th cptl t (12:36:09 PM): we say "yay!" to encourage them
F.O. th cptl t (12:36:48 PM): i think it's said to all babies
F.O. th cptl t (12:36:55 PM): but as the child gets older
F.O. th cptl t (12:37:03 PM): only girls continue to hear it
F.O. th cptl t (12:37:18 PM): and boys get "good job" or "allllllright!"
th cptl T (12:37:41 PM): so, it's a mother thing?
th cptl T (12:37:45 PM): interesting
F.O. th cptl t (12:38:42 PM): i think mothers started it
F.O. th cptl t (12:38:50 PM): and since every girl has a mother
F.O. th cptl t (12:38:55 PM): we keep it going
F.O. th cptl t (12:39:10 PM): i think most mothers stop saying "yay!" to their sons
F.O. th cptl t (12:39:16 PM): when they turn 2 or 3


So that's it. "Yay!" is the product of feminine nurturing. And it probably doesn't hurt that it's a word seemingly built for a text message.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

FUCK ED RENDELL!!!

There is a very slim chance that my grandparents will ever discover this blog. Despite those low odds, I tend to be EXTREMELY selective about how and when I use different curse words in my writing.

(FTR...my grandparents aren't the prudiest of people, but I do respect them for their sheer elderness and I try--emphasis on try--not to unleash my full asshole-ishness in public in deference to them. I might not care about the perception of me, but perhaps they do.)

If you've read this blog, then you know that I swear fairly casually, but not as gratuitously as my man Cap does. Which, of course, brings me to the title of this post:

FUCK ED RENDELL!!!

For real. Fuck him. 1,000 times. Asshole. Bastard. Motherfucker. Spawn of Satan. Bitch.

Seriously.

He created a career for himself by getting into bed with the FOP in Philly and he endorsed (and perhaps instigated) the bombing of the MOVE headquarters as well as the lynching of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

(FTR...I think Mumia probably is responsible, in part, for Daniel Faulkner's death. But I also believe that Officer Faulkner--and the unjust mandate authored by then District Attorney Ed Rendell and the Philadelphia police department circa 1980--are equally responsible for creating a climate where reasonable citizens were made to both fear and take an aggressively self-defensive stance against the Phildelphia PD. That may sound like the placement of blame on the victim. I assure you it is not that. As people like Prof. Marcus Rediker will tell you, there is no full and simple truth about Philly in the early '80s. It was a messy place. At the messiest of times.)

Which gets us back to the business of motherfucking Ed Rendell. The sitting Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania.

I should tell you that I truly do not care what type of apparent budgetary miracles he performed as the very first "America's Mayor." I was, after all, one of the innocent kids who got caught in the melee in LA during the 2000 DNC National Convention when "hizzoner" chaired what a few thousand of us who merely wanted to see a free Rage and Ozo show will testify qualified as "1968 Remixed."

So, why this post? And why today?

The Governor of Pennsylvania had the nerve to tell Bill Maher that Hilliary Clinton is more "qualified" to be the President of these United States than Barack Obama.

And he didn't simply compare and contrast their resumes. That sick son-of-a-bitch had the gall to declare that voters aren't "electing a rock star." As if Obama is nothing more than the crackling sizzle of a vacuous steak containing absolutely no nutrients.

Ed Rendell's entire career in politics has been devoted to serving the greater good insofar as the greater good advances the career of Ed Rendell. Make no mistake, that motherfucker is not--by any stretch--a public servant.

Doesn't matter whether he's the DA, the Mayor, the Governor or, gasp, Hillary Clinton's running mate.

He is a real motherfucker.

And none of you, I mean none of you, should seriously consider anything he says to be anything other than the gospel of his own patently self-serving professional agenda.

FUCK!

ED!

RENDELL!