Friday, February 27, 2009

His Heart Goes No Further

There aren't too many people who come from where I come from. It's simply not a large place. Nor does it produce a large number of people. Most importantly, it's not the kind of place the average person chooses to leave.

It is the kind of place where the gravitational pull of family, friends and the numbingly familiar prevents most people from wandering too far away. The ones who do wander tend to act as emissaries. They are the people who got out. The people who were a little bit bigger than the small towns that birthed them. The people who are celebrated as favourite native sons and most cherished daughters.

Norm Van Lier was one of those people. Norm Van Lier came from where I come from.

He died yesterday at the age of 61. Alone in the City of Big Shoulders, as the news reports tell it.

While the cause of his death has not yet been announced, the culprit is believed to be a heart that had faltered frequently during the later years of his life. An ironic fact given the ferocity with which Stormin' Norman was known to play. Back when he was a skinny kid dropping dimes on the playground in front of Midland High School in southwestern Pennsylvania. All the way to the Chicago Bulls, the NBA All-Star Game and a pugnacious career as a broadcaster. His heart was the one thing that all of us who know the place he came from had always counted on.

It takes a different kind of heart to escape the kinds of places Norm Van Lier and I come from. For these hearts, love is not enough to sustain them. Their valves are configured differently to direct more blood to the parts of the brain that control things like ambition and curiosity--making it impossible to be satisfied only by what is known and what is comfortable. I think. Maybe it's that their hearts have four chambers like a Bar-Tailed Godwit sailing above the Pacific Ocean and not like a simple flock of Finch ambling in search of a convenient new watering hole. That could be it, too.

What we know for sure is that Norm Van Lier's heart has stopped beating. It took him far from the place he and I come from and, in doing so, helped make the people who stayed behind in that small, steelbelt town feel just a little bit bigger than themselves.

Life there will go on. As it always has. As it always will.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

judon'tno? #001

My new favorite record, by far, is the 30th Anniversary Edition of Willie Colon y Rueben Blades' Siembra. The first cut on the album, "Plastico" is probably my favorite:

If you didn't know about this before, now you do.

You're welcome.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Super Inferiority Complex

You don't need to be a psych major (Hi, Red) or bother thumbing through any psychology textbooks to understand just how an inferiority complex and/or a superiority complex works.

If you were a psych major, you'd probably know a bit about how the two tend to compliment each other. Or, perhaps, you'd already be aware of the behaviour those complexes tend to inform--that urge to shove your competence in someone's face.

What you might not be thinking about is how a Keri Hilson song featuring Lil Wayne articulates the permanent Super Inferiority Complex that lives deep in the spinal court of hip hop culture.

I have read (and written) my share of essays about the psychology of hip hop. They tend to be grossly overwritten and hella tiresome. So, I'll get right to the point here.

Hip hop is youth culture. A significant part of the experience of being young involves proving oneself. Because hip hop is so undeniably linked to the process of growing from youth into whatever comes after youth, there will always be a natural place within the music for some emcee (or some singer) to declare who they are better than or who is not better then them.

Keri Hilson isn't the best example of the Super Inferiority Complex found in so much hip hop music. She's just the latest. 'Cause she's a real woman. And we're all supposed to recognize that.

Or, maybe, she's just fly as hell. And I needed an excuse to watch her video 17 times in a row.

Actually...yeah...I think that's what it was. The flyness. Anyway...carry on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The New Digital Divide

While talking with Mom Dukes the other day, she used a phrase I've heard her use many times before: "on the computer."

She was trying to describe a video she had watched. She reported that she had done so "on the computer." The choice of phrase struck me as both normal and mundane. At first.

After I thought about it for a little bit, though, it occurred to me that she had pinned herself on one side of the digital divide. The side that lives somewhere in the middle of the 20th Century. The side that relates awkwardly to the hardware that has invaded their lives. The side that would probably leave their laptops behind were their homes to catch on fire. If they own a laptop, that is.

On the other side of the digital divide are the people who use words like "Google" and "YouTube" and "Twitter" as verbs. The side that relates to the hardware as if it were a car. Or a telephone. Or a TV. The side that creates the software which is used to perpetually reconstruct the framework of their lives. The side that lives somewhere in the late 22nd Century.

I know that the phrase "Digital Divide" is traditionally used to express the access gap between the people who have the resources to get online and those who cannot. But, let's be honest, that application is dated.

The New Digital Divide has much more to do with relatability. It is, simply, the difference between "getting on the computer" and living seamlessly on the interwebs.

I may or may not be late to the party with that realization. But, I'm pretty sure, it's truthier than Paul Pierce and Stephen Colbert put together.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

F**k the Spurs

I am a patriot. As a patriot, I take it as my duty to stand against all of the wicked and evil things in this world that threaten the cherished ideals on which my country was founded. Among those wicked and evil things is the San Antonio Spurs.

They are a quiet devil some patriots are not yet aware of. Consequently, I am compelled to articulate just a few of the tragic ways in which the San Antonio Spurs do harm to this Grand Experiment of ours. Here are 20 such examples:

1) The San Antonio Spurs always leave the toilet seat up.
2) The San Antonio Spurs shot Bambi's mother.
3) Ann Coulter exists because the San Antonio Spurs forgot to pull out.
4) That last slice of your grandmama's homemade sweet potato pie? The Spurs ate it.
5) It was Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the San Antonio Spurs.
6) The San Antonio Spurs wait until after you wash your car before they make it rain.
7) The San Antonio Spurs designed Crocs.
8) The San Antonio Spurs started the East Coast-West Coast hip hop feud.
9) The ingredient in ice cream that causes brain freeze is the San Antonio Spurs.
10) "It's not you, it's the Spurs."
11) After Fidel Castro overthrew the San Antonio Spurs, he became...the San Antonio Spurs.
12) Male pattern baldness was dreamt up by the San Antonio Spurs.
13) The San Antonio Spurs stole Christmas. And refused to return it.
14) The San Antonio Spurs are seeking an overseas partner into whose bank account they will deposit $31 million.
16) It wasn't your neighbor's dog who pooped on your lawn. It was the San Antonio Spurs.
17) When your mother broke her back it happened because the Spurs stepped on a crack. On purpose.
18) Prohibition happened after the San Antonio Spurs signed the 18th Amendment.
19) The San Antonio Spurs never leave a tip. Never.
20) The San Antonio Spurs invented cancer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Closer to God

My co-worker just announced that her husband knocked her up. (She's due in August.) The big homie and his wife are expecting their first bundle of joy later this spring. (May, maybe.) Somewhere in Youngblood's loins, Niecephew #2 waits for his/her turn to swim. (2010?)

Er'body is preggers. Or probably preggers. Sometime soon.

I'm not. That's neither a tragedy nor a surprise. It's also not physically possible. I'm a dude. Not the kind of dude you find on The L Word. A regular dude. With dangly junk. Without a womb.

Womb. It's an odd-sounding word. Say it out loud. Once. Now again. There's a certain longing majesty in between the sound the "w" makes and the way the "b" disappears into the "m." Almost as if the word wants to betray the consequence yielded by the thing it describes.

What is a womb used for? For cooking babies, of course. Also, I'd say, as a transformational device delivering ordinary human beings into a state of existence that is as close to god-like as any human can aspire to. For many parents, whether they intended to or not, that is where they land.

They don't need to be convinced of this either. Most of them describe how that sweet, screaming, pooping life upended both their world and their worldview. "It changed everything," they'll say.

I believe them. Those new parents. All of them. I think each of them experiences varying degrees of change in their spiritual orientation. But I think they all pass through the same holy portal.

Some of them crave it. As if it were the supreme application of the superego. Others stumble towards it. As if they're perplexed by their own power. There are even those who avoid it altogether. As if they would prefer to embrace their own lesser devils. The devils are, after all, usually more fun. And less work, too.

(If you're childless, go type 150 pages of something. Anything. Genius. Complete garbarge. Whatever. Then print it out. And hold it in your hand. You'll have a scaled down version of the moment every new parent experiences after the umbilical is cut. But you will get an inkling of what goes through one's mind when you hold your own creation in your hands for the first time. And you'll whisper the words "I did that" over and over to no one in particular.)

It really sucks all the air out of the deepest trenches of your belly. Leaving you floating somewhere between Jupiter and Botswana. Thinking, just for a moment, that the world really is yours. And that you can order it beneficently for this precious little creature who has Uncle Lamont's eyebrows and Auntie Tremaine's nose.

But, um, you can't.

I think that's what causes some parents to lose their minds. Others simply surrender control of the asylum to the inmates who do not yet realize there is an institution to honor.

After that momentary authority of the highest order gives way to the happy accident of humanity, you fall quickly back to the terra that doesn't feel as firm as it used to. Knowing what it is to be God. Knowing that you, most certainly, are not. Knowing that the portal is really a revolving door that will spin you back out of that glorious building whether you've been inside as long as you wanted to or not.

Naturally, it's not a hopeless endeavor. Nor is it an unrewarding one. From what I'm told, it's a terrific blessing. (Or was that terrifying blessing? I can't remember.)

I'm not ready for it myself. I have some devils I'd still like to play with.

If you happen to bump into God somewhere along your float, though, tell Him I said what up. That's as close as I'm getting. For now...?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Gift for Shia

Assuming that Shia LaBeouf is still working in Hollywood after his 30th birthday, it stands to reason that someone in his camp--perhaps even he himself--will decide he needs to win an Oscar. Which is to say that he'll enter the Will Smith stage of his career.

When he gets there, I have an idea for him. One that NPR gave to me. It concerns the composer Felix Mendelssohn. Here's the pitch:

We open on Germany. Circa 1936. We're in the back office of a library in Berlin. A slender, bespectacled woman whose bunned librarian hair is slowly unraveling scrambles abruptly around the office. She gathers composition sheets that contain lines filled with notes and melodies we do not yet know. Sliding those sheets carefully into an unmarked envelop.

Outside of the library is the prelude to chaos. Soldiers file through the streets. Berlin is not yet a military zone, but it is being transformed into one. Fearful Germans of not-so-pure heritage and the apathetic elite flee the city. Dutifully and orderly.

The librarian slinks through the library's back door to mount a bicycle. She pedals sternly and anonymously. For a dozen or so blocks. Until she reaches a train station where she meets another woman. A slightly older version of herself. The older woman asks, "Is this all of Felix's work?"


"Thank you."

The older woman discreetly slides the unmarked envelop into her purse and disappears into the crowd. We squeeze zoom out on that crowd and fade to black.

From there, the story of how Felix Mendelssohn's music nearly became a casualty of history unfolds. We learn about Felix's creative nonchalance, the fantastic popularity of his work, his early death, the posthumous assasination of his character, the valiant efforts to preserve his work after it was outlawed by the Nazi party and the 21st century rediscovery of his genius.

The part of Felix, obviously, would be played by a thirtysomething Shia LaBeouf. If done right, it could be an amazing film. 'Cause it's already an amazing story. And, I'd bet, someone somewhere in Southern California has already blazed through the first 50 pages of a screenplay.

If I were sometimes known as Sam Witwicky, I'd only ask that they attach me to the project. Like, now.