Thursday, June 28, 2007

I've been thinking about Heinrich Heine...(1797-1856)

This is a time when I wish I read German, because I find myself wanting to read Heine in the language of his writings. But nevertheless he's a fascinating personage. Teeming with layers of contradiction throughout his life, a German Jew who converts to Christianity with the expectation of expanded career opportunities which don't appear; a friend of Marx, a rather unromantic figure, despite Heine's classification as a romantic poet; a poet who is considered to be cinematic in his use of imagery--prior to the advent of cinema and conventions of cinematic storytelling. A political exile as of 1831 whose works were banned in his own country, he continued to write of Germany although he lived the rest of his life in Paris. Heine was something of a political radical, which was explicit in his essays, who showed prescience in his anticipation of the political turmoil his homeland would experience in the century after his death. His most famous quote is:

Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen. This apparently translates as: "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too." (at right, Heinrich Heine Fountain in NYC)

This quote now appears in the Bebelplatz (formerly Opernplatz), a public square in Berlin where in 1933 Nazi groups burned some 20,000 books, including works by Heine and Marx. Interestingly, Heine's quote refers to the attempts to purge Iberia from any Muslim influence and history, through the burning of the Quran during the Spanish Inquisition.
(pictured left, Heine's tomb in France)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Gay Pride NYC 2007

OK, so here's my first NYC Gay Pride. Spectacle, spectacle, spectacle... The last time I saw that long an enumeration of Religious Groups was during a major ice storm in Atlanta. So many church schools were closed they ran out of scroll space at the bottom of the screen, and newscasters had to ask viewers to check the news station's website. I imagine the numbers this year (29 listed on the March website and longer than any other section) were due to both of the Parade Grand Marshals being religious leaders: Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Reverend Dr. Troy Perry.

Finally, at the end of the religious section two marchers dressed in long black robes and enormous golden bishops hats with mouths on them where a face would be. In one hand they each carried long staffs with golden dollar signs on top, with the other they manipulated their giant mouths in a mime of lip service.

The only section to rival the Religious Groups section was the one for People of color. This section also included Religious Groups like the Lavender Light Choir, and Rebohoth Temple Christ Conscious Church(22). The HIV/AIDS section was also large (20) But I was cheering them too hard to remember to take pictures. I realized today I didn't have any except for the one you see below.

Truly, there were a number of marchers in the Religious Group sections that looked uncomfortable to be there. Perhaps flagging attendance and less than full coffers led to some church boards ordering their parishioners to hit the parade to get some rumps, even if they're rumpshakers, in the seats. On the other hand, every time I saw a black church pass by and those like Riverside that actually came with a float I was moved. Another interesting moment, the folks from the various Jewish temples handing out fans for Jewish singles nights and cards for Temple info didn't pass me by because phenotypically I didn't seem like a potential Jew (yes, Virginia, Marian Anderson's grandfather was a Black Jew).

OK, spectacle, spectacle,

OK onto the show:


Bisexuals (were they all away for the weekend?):

People of Color:
African American Lesbians (again, where were folks...?)

Las Buenas Amigas (Latina Lesbians)

Las Reinas:

A somber moment as the parade stalled on Christopher Street:

Lesbian & gay police officers who were visibly moved by our cheers:

Some sexy EMS Technicians work it out:

Pretty, pretty...

The Jubilant crowd on Christopher St. at the corner of Gay St. (of course I had to take a picture...)

Betty my house!

Yes, Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different finally arrived today with massive liner notes by scholar & music critic Oliver Wang. I'm so excited I don't know where to begin!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Music, music, and more music

I tend to buy music in a clump, and have been listening to the used, out-of-print, and indie-distributed CDs that have been coming through my mail box. Every week a little gift for myself. And of course there has been a little iTunes downloading of the folks for whom that's their exclusive distribution format.

So a little of master guitarist Brandon Ross's Costume (2004, released on a Japanese label, check iTunes); who hasn't he played with might be the question to ask: Harriet Tubman, Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Oliver Lake etc., etc., etc., i.e. not enough space here to list) .

A whole lotta Joi up in the house. And if you don't know who she is then you need to ask somebody.

1st Generation Dungeon Family, the original Star Kitty, the funk-rock singer/songwriter, vocalist, and self-styled couturist, everyone has been influenced by, but whose work few outside the ATLien, dirty south, funk/rock freakfanclub have heard...

I'm listening to: Her debut, The Pendulum Vibe(1994, out-of-print check amazon for used copies); the lost, never officially released, innovation that is Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome (just the sampler for now)(1996/97) may be available on Joi's website; Star Kitty's Revenge out-of-print, check amazon for used copies & iTunes for downloads (2002); and featuring spoken-word interludes by "Uncle" George Clinton, her newest and best, Tennessee Slim is the Bomb (2005/06) (and she sho nuf is, baby!) re-re-released and available through cdbaby (love them!) and iTunes for downloads.

Joi's music evidences an internalized connection with a funk/rock/gospel/R&B/blues legacy, along with the sexual righteousness of her auntie forebears. She's workin' those elements and making a whole new fusion stew, simultaneously acknowledging the past and creating a new solar system. Signifyin' the AACM philosophy "Ancient to the Future" for the funk-rock crowd; hence the inclusion of "Unc" Clinton, as sage. So when Joi introduced her debut album with "Stand" a 37 second arrangement of Sweet Honey in the Rock's "I'm Gon' Stand" singing all of the voices with some spectral processing and electronic bleeps thrown in--and makes it work--and on her second release covers both the Nona Hendryx-penned Labelle tune "You Turn Me On"--and isn't afraid to sing it from where the sun don't shine--and Betty Mabry Davis's "If I'm Lucky (I Might Just Get Picked Up)"--without an ounce of obfuscating coyness or mindless video ho posturing--you know she's not playing. For some of the best writing on Joi and this auditory terrain, check out this Creative Loafing article by one of my favorite music critics, Kandia Crazy Horse.

(Joi pictured above right with producer Dallas Austin)

Then there's Lina's The Inner Beauty Movement (2005), and anybody who can use ragtime and what sounds like a tuba in a funky pop song with some solid lyrics has my vote. You gotta hear "Leaving You (for Me)"(it doesn't have the tuba or ragtime, but still the concept is strong, and the self-romance of the melody works).

Did I say something about ragtime and a tuba, oops! Lina does have a 1930s Big Band sound, but I was imagining the tuba (I guess I need to put it in something I'm working on!) The ragtime was for real--it's just that it was in the newest release by Donnie,The Daily News. I think this is also worth checking out. The brother puts," I'd trade my racism, sexism, and homophobia, (to spend a little time with you, babe)" in the chorus of a gospel-infused soul lyric ("911"), and is the son of two ministers. Dropping in time for the National Baptist Convention USA to finally mention HIV/AIDS (see Rod 2.0 for more on this). To hear Donnie check out the Giant Step release details and the Giant Step Jukebox. Plus, you can listen here to Donnie talking to NPR's Farai Chideya about his music, gospel roots, leaving home (he was "smelling himself" as the folks say), and sexuality.

I've also got some curiosity about 2nd Generation Dungeon Family musician Janelle Monae who is being produced by Atlanta's Wondaland Productions and Big Boi's Purple Ribbon label. Monae's vocals also appear on OutKast's Idlewild soundtrack. Apparently she's got a retro-futuristic thang going on, is a classically-trained vocalist with a New York theater background and off-Broadway credits, all at the age of 23. Her forthcoming debut, Metropolis, proposes to be avant-garde concept album based on the 1927 Fritz Lang film of the same name, in which she embodies a character named Cindy Mayweather navigating an android, cyberworker, over-worked, capitalist-run universe. You can read more about Monae and the album in the May '07 Music Issue of Creative Loafing. (note: Monae's website says the album drops June 1, 2007 which has come and gone, but you can follow the details at The Wondaland Art Society and Journey to Metropolis blogs--all about the trials and joys of that crazy business they call show.)

Today I came home to two(!) CDs by Georgia Anne Muldrow ("instrument of the ancestors"). I'm thrilled to be able to hear "REALLYTHO" without going to the worthnothings krew Myspace page, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. The thrillilicious track (so thrilling it's illicit, for real) "REALLYTHO" is on a side project, Pattie Blingh: Sagala. I'll have to write on that later... Time to get the listening on...

Of course I'm also listening to some classical, the late Toru Takemitsu's A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden (1977) and From Me Flows What You Call Time (1990). Takemitsu was a self-taught composer (like another favorite, Zbigniew Preisner) who wrote for solo instruments, orchestras, ensembles and a number of films. He's probably best known in the US for his soundtrack to Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985). A friend suggested the orchestral work, From Me Flows What You Call Time (isn't that title amazing?!) because I'd been hearing timpani (pictured right, and below) in my head.

Takemitsu doesn't use them as percussive instruments, but as resonators for sound bowls, and the staging of the work had chimes on ribbon strung across the ceiling of the concert hall that the percussionist would pull on to play. Earlier in his career Takemitsu had an interest in atonal work, but later felt that some western composition had gotten rather intellectual and lost the feel and sensuality of music. He developed a concern with the decay or aging of sound color/timbre. Really fascinating, because classical orchestration seems to foreground dynamics and dynamic range, and the sound envelope, but not as frequently the arc of how the color of a sound changes. Takemitsu found the latter focus was achieved through playing the notes quite slowly. There is considerable dynamic range in From Me Flows..., which allows for the decay of both timbre as well as sound, but a lot of silence as well which effectively opens aural spaces for listening. The piece was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the conductor Seiji Ozawa, Carnegie Hall, and Nexus (a Toronto percussion group). The "me" in the title refers to Carnegie Hall, not Takemitsu.

How I wish I could have seen this staged...

Summertime views...

Some images from outside my door. Summer is here...
Make way for ducklings....

You can't hear it but I was being hissed at right before this shot; parental protective instinct in effect...

Another few family shots....