Slumming With Denzel

“I have a very special set of skills…oops, wrong movie.”

 

My way of looking at Denzel Washington as he cruises to the cusp of 60 years young is he now makes two types of films.   The ones like Flight, American Gangster and Inside Man I want to see and all the other stuff like Safe House, Unstoppable and 2 Guns I’ll get around to seeing.

The Equalizer is strictly a get around to seeing.   I know I’ll see it eventually, but if it’s an afternoon matinée or in a month at a second-run theater, that’s cool   This is the latest entry of Denzel in kick-ass mode flicks and it’s a certainty his ass isn’t the one gong to get kicked.   I’ve seen Denzel play a variation of this role many times in  the past and it would seem to be a role he’s happy to return to repeatedly.

The wife and I didn’t get around to seeing The Equalizer the Movie starring Denzel Washington, but it still pulled down a healthy $35 million at the box office. The Equalizer the TV Show was okay, but hardly special featuring a British actor playing a retired agent on an unspecified organization who stepped in to equal out the odds for ordinary folks who couldn’t count on the authorities to help because they’re never any help in these sort of stories.

This is the sort of cliched junk Nicolas Cage and Sam Jackson do regularly.   Both of them of them could play McCall in their sleep, but audiences have come to expect those two to waste their time on instantly disposable rubbish.   Cage and Jackson have never been choosy about what they’ll do as long as they check clears.  Is Denzel really so hard up?

Even when he’s doing nothing Denzel does nothing better than anybody else.

Why does a two-time Oscar winner do material any aging actor in reasonable shape could do?   As far as cold, implacable killing machines there’s real difference between Alonzo Harris, John Creasy, Tobin Frost and Robert McCall.   It seems for every  Good Denzel in Flight, American Gangster or Inside Man we must endure a lot of Just Okay Denzel picking’ up a paycheck in flicks where no heavy lifting is required like Unstoppable,The Book of Eli, Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Safe House, 2 Guns and now The Equalizer.    Of those movies the only one I never want to be bothered with ever again is Pelham 123 where all did was lie around and eat a lot.

Denzel is our last movie star and while his productivity is slowing down he hasn’t lost any luster as a leading man. Among his contemporaries DeNiro and Pacino have been mailing it in for years. Nicholson is old, fat and semi-retired. Cruise keeps making the same movie with different titles. Connery, Eastwood and Hackman are old, retired or both. Washington has mastered the rare talent of remaining watchable even if the movies are predictable.

Denzel is gifted with the ability to stay afloat even when weighed down by trivial obvious material. I will see The Equalizer even though I know before I sit down, Denzel will win, nothing too terrible will happen him and whatever challenges him won’t beat him. Who needs The Force when you have The Cool?

The Equalizer
The Equalizer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But is it enough?   Slate writer Aisha Harris doesn’t think so,  “Denzel was that very rare contemporary Hollywood star, the kind who simultaneously graced Sexiest Man Alive lists (with lyrical shoutouts from admiring ladies) and Oscar ballots, even winning a couple in the process. Rarer still, he did it all while being black, carrying the baton handed to him by Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, running with it gracefully. And now, in The Equalizer, he’s playing a half-baked variation of the “retired gunfighter” trope in a junky action movie. Denzel deserves better.”

I agree Denzel deserves better. So do the audiences buying the tickets, but we’re both stuck with a talented actor having to take what he can get.

At a fee of $20 million, Denzel doesn’t come cheap and doesn’t overexposure himself. There’s nothing upcoming on his IMDB page and I won’t believe he’s starring in a remake of The Magnificent Seven directed by Antoine Fuqua until I see they’ve started shooting. What nobody knows are what are the scripts coming Denzel’s way? Is he being offered serious roles that give him a chance to show off his serious skills as an actor? Or does he have to take scripts where there’s no heavy lifting involved, just turn on the charm and cash the checks?

I fully expect The Equalizer to be crap, but since this is Denzel and not Nicholas Cage it will be magnificent crap.

“Girl, go home and put on some clothes. This ain’t a remake of ‘Black Snake Moan.’ “

Charlo Greene’s Stunt: This Is Why They Call It “Dope.”

“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘baked Alaskan.’ Get it?”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Charlo Greene , the Alaskan-based, pot-puffing ex-reporter who set her career on fire by disclosing she was the owner of a pro-marijuana “cannabis club” while dropping a F bomb on live television as she quit before she could be fired.

There are two things I wonder about Ms. Greene’s self-exile from the ranks of professional journalism:

1. I wonder if Ms. Greene should send a workshop proposal for the next National Association of Black Journalists convention on How To Leave A Job With Absolutely No Tact, No Grace and No Class and Not Only Burn Your Bridges But Blow Them the Hell Up.

2. By figuratively, if not literally showing her behind, in pulling such a brain-dead stunt does Ms. Greene think she helped her cause or trivialized it by making herself look ridiculous?

The word on the Web is Greene went out like a boss. She showed you can leave on your terms, stay true to your principles and be a total bad ass while doing it.

Bullshit.

There’s nothing “principled” about having a vested interest in a story you’re reporting on. Greene owned a cannabis club she covered stories about and for those armed with more opinion than knowledge, this is a classic conflict of interest and a clear violation of journalistic ethics.

For the full-time cynic that’s an oxymoron, but some of us in the profession it’s still taken seriously.

There are other “principled” issues in Alaska for Greene (or whatever her real name is) to quit her job over.

The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse reports almost 75% of Alaskans have experienced or know someone who has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault.

• There were over 6,000 reported cases of domestic violence in Alaska in 2005.

• 524 forcible rapes were reported in Alaska in 2005, representing almost 13% of all violent crimes.

• The Alaska rape rate is 2.5 times the national average.

• Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average.

• Alaska has the highest rate per capita of men murdering women.

Guess the principle of protecting Alaskan women isn’t one that interests Green. You can’t cash in or get famous off of it.

It’s not my place to tell anyone what cause they need to champion and medical marijuana is a worthy one, but narcissistic, vulgar stunts like this aren’t going to win the day for the ballot proponents.

“I’m passionate about doing my job, and at the time my job was being a journalist,” Greene explained.

I like passion in people. I like people who care about things and are motivated to change what they believe is wrong. I dislike people who think vulgar stunts, shock tactics and making a public spectacle of yourself will do anything beyond showing how immature you are.

Some Black journalists are openly worried (and pretty damn mad) how Greene’s dramatic exit might be used as yet another excuse not to hire them.  They should not be concerned about Greene’s impact. There is none. She was nobody yesterday, somebody today and back to being nobody by the weekend.

Long after Greene’s name tumbles off the search engines her exit strategy may be recalled as a turning point that determined victory or defeat for the ballot initiative. For her sake I hope she wins because she’ll make a lot of money running a marijuana dispensary.

If she loses she’ll never work again for any respectable news organization in Alaska, Hawaii or anywhere else in the lower 48. However she will have lots of free time to spark up so there’s that to look forward to.

Congratulations, Charlo.  You are the second stupidest human being to come out of Alaska right behind Sarah Palin.

Wonder if Greene’s dress is made of hemp?

The Rules of the Writing Game

RULE #1:  Write Alone.  

Writing is like masturbation.  It’s best done in private.  It’s awkward when done before an audience.   If a spouse, significant other, roomie, or BFF ever says, “I want to watch you write.  I’ll just sit over here and be quiet,”  gently and lovingly kick their ass out.  People are noisy and noise is distracting and distracted writing is bad writing.

My writing area is in my son’s room on the home PC.   There is a window on my left shoulder and a door on my right.  The significance of the strategic placement of these objects will be made clear shortly.

I write with music.  Jazz when I’m trying to get my thoughts straight and rock when my mind is a jumbled puzzle of chaos and disorder.  And not just any kind of rock.  The the loud, brutal, head banging kind of rock.   I serve up some KornNine Inch Nails, Ministry or Rob Zombie when I need to blow the bad shit out of my brain.  This is the kind of music you wouldn’t play for your grandparents unless you didn’t like them and wanted to drive them stark, raving mad.

I don’t have a dog but if I did, I’d keep it out of the room when I’m working.   Dogs may be man’s best friend, but not when he’s lost in a thought.   Some dogs are patient and comprehend their master is busy at the moment and does not want to play catch or get licked on the face.   Other dogs don’t give a shit.  Those dogs are every bit as much of an attention whore as a Kardashian near a camera.   They gotta go.

Cats are the same way.  When they want to petted, stroked or fed, they want what they want and don’t care what you want.   If you simply must have a pet in the room limit it to a goldfish.  A goldfish doesn’t need to be walked and isn’t going to jump in your lap breathing its hot stank breath in your face. Added bonus:  If a goldfish starts bugging you, pour it down the toilet and get another one just like it tomorrow.  After you’ve finished the Great American Novel.

A window can be a distraction if you allow it to be one.  I get inspiration from the sights, sounds (and occasionally the smells) of the world outside.  If I lived in New York City I’d be overcome by sensory overload.   I won’t say it makes the work go any easier, but it can be a welcome break from the occasional grind of getting the words to line up just so.

The door doesn’t offer as much inspiration, but it does afford a certain degree of privacy.   Privacy is important when you’re writing, but I keep the door open wide enough so when others in the house pass by they realize my groans, moans and sighs are based upon frustration with how the work is coming and not satisfaction because I’m touching myself inappropriately (I did say writing was like masturbation, remember?).

Plus, if you write in your pajamas, ratty old house coat, tighty whities or butt nekkid, do you really want the rest of the world to see you looking like a red-hot mess while you’re furiously tapping away at the keyboard?

RULE#2: Writing does not require a suggestion box.

There is a terrible misconception non-writers have about writers. Or to be specific, non-writers have a terrible misconception about me as a writer. I don’t write for them. I write for me. I have no idea what I should write to please an audience, so I try to please myself and hope an audience finds it pleasing too. This is the only way I know to make it work. I’m not sure any other way does.

” Jeff, why don’t you write about (fill in the blank)?”

Oh, maybe because I don’t want to, that’s why? I’m a opinionated and informed man, but there are many things I’m not informed of and have no opinion on. Some subjects take time, research, fact-checking, verification, analysis, data-mining and just more plain hard work than a 500 word blog post can do justice to.

There are hundreds of stories I would like to tell but can’t because of a lack of time to tell it the way it needs to be told. If you can’t go all the way, why go at all? Nothing is as obvious as sloppy writing because the author cut corners, took shortcuts and generally half-assed it.

You want to know why I can’t stand Rush Limbaugh? Not just Angry White Man persona, boorish behavior and caveman politics, though that’s plenty reason enough. How can I trust someone who never says, “I don’t know.” Limbaugh always has an opinion about everything. Whether it makes any sense is not the point. Rush will always have a point whether he knows jack or shit about the subject.

Limbaugh is what my dear departed Daddy called, “smart-ass White boys. They pontificate, they pronounce and they pose when in truth not a one of them knows nuthin’ about nuthin’. How many times are writers told to write what they know? Well, what if you don’t know anything?

I’m a writer and a journalist, not a talking head, not a professional pundit and prognosticator. Whatever little credibility I have comes from knowing when to call my shot and what the game is before I do. You can’t predict the pitcher with scorch a 90 mph slider across home plate the sport is basketball, not baseball. It makes you look ridiculous and I hate to look ridiculous.

Which is another way of saying I not only write what I know, I write what I’ve learned and if I have learned nothing and know nothing, I write nothing. Case in point: Hey, Jeff! Did you see the cover of Vogue magazine with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West? What did you think about that?!

Insert vacant stare here. You can add a little drool coming from the side of the mouth to the effect.

I didn’t think anything about it. What do I care about people I’m not interested in on the cover of a rag I don’t read? Put Kimmy Cakes on the cover of Field & Stream or National Geographic if you want. I still cannot begin to tell you how many damns I do not give.

Easy reading comes from hard writing. For me, writing about the lives of the rich and for no reason famous is like being waterboarded with gasoline; It might not kill me, but I’d sure wish i were dead and put out of my misery.

People who make suggestions of what you should write do it to be helpful. I get that. They also do it because what they want you to write is probably something they want to read but lack the skill to write it themselves. That’s understandable, but seriously–go take a class or something and learn how to DIY.

There’s this quote from Bill Hicks I liked so much it’s on the header of my blog, “I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.” I’m not opposed to people making suggestions and bringing something to my attention, but I have my stuff to do and coming up with ideas of what to do next has never been a problem for me.

Rule#3: I am not a tortured artist.

The biggest load of bullshit since the fertilizer truck turned over on the freeway is this nonsense you must write everyday. Uh…and what if you don’t want to write today because you don’t have anything you want to write about? This thing about writers suffering for their craft is a total load. If writing drove me to drink, depression and despair, I wouldn’t do it. I’d learn how to crochet or take a long walk around the park on a sunny spring afternoon and synchronize my eyes checking out the pretty girls jogging. Who needs a splendid miseries in their life? Not me. I want to be taken seriously and respected, but it’s not so vital to my existence if I remain obscure, unsung and unnoticed that I’m going to jump from a great height and turn myself into street pizza. It ain’t no ways that important. Maybe in death I’ll earn the kudos I hoped would be forthcoming in life. More likely that’s not going to be the case.

Stressing out when the words on the paper or screen don’t line up as precisely as they do in my head is frustrating, but hardly a reason to torture myself. I’m a serious writer, but writing isn’t all that serious.

Writing has a therapeutic effect on me. I haven’t gone out and bought a gun because I can write out my anger. I haven’t killed any of the richly deserving bastards who so desperately need to stop breathing air because I can call them bastards in my writing. I haven’t broken the law with my deviant fantasies and violent tendencies by setting them loose on an unsuspecting world because all that dark, creepy stuff has an outlet with the power of the written word. All of us have our inner demons. Writers have found a way to pimp theirs out and make a buck off of them and it is a darn good thing we have. There would be a lot more socially maladjusted serial killers and sexual predators if they couldn’t get their ya-yas out pressed between wood pulp and selling for $25.95 on Amazon.

I am not a martyr for my art. I do not suffer silently in a life of quiet desperation. I am not a tortured artist craving your acknowledgment and pleading for acceptance. Far from it. I’m a good writer and dammit I know I am. That long dark night of the soul stuff? Been there and done that and got the T-shirt to show for it.

My confidence in my ability came the old-fashioned way: I earned it. I know what it feels like to be ignored, to be belittled and to be told in no uncertain terms you suck eggs. If you can’t cope with rejection, don’t be a writer. You won’t last because when the whole world seems as though its conspiring against your talent you got to believe in yourself. That’s the only thing that will pull you through and enable you to come out on the other side with your soul intact.

I do not suffer for my art. Far from it. I write what I like because I like writing. As Gloria Steinem once said, “Writing is the only thing when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”

I know what she means.

Hiromi Comes “Alive”

Not the savior of jazz and doesn't want to be.
Not the savior of jazz and doesn’t want to be.
 

If jazz has become a niche market in the music industry (and it has), a contributing factor for its slide into cultural irrelevance is a failure to promote and support new artists. No matter what sub-genre of jazz you personally love, across the board there is no sustained effort to develop a roster of first-tier talent in jazz. Every so often along comes a Esperanza Spalding who joins the long list of earlier “saviors” of jazz such as Wynton Marsalis or Robert Glasper and is saddled with the unasked-for responsibility of reviving interest in the incredibly shrinking jazz field.

Writing in The Root, Frank McCoy painted a gloomy picture for the idiom, “It’s even harder in jazz today as CD/album sales have plummeted. In 1999 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said that jazz sales were 3 percent of all recording sales. By 2008 they were 1.1 percent. In 2000 Soundscan reported that 18,416 jazz albums were sold; nine years later, fewer than 12,000 jazz-genre albums were purchased.”

For jazz not only to thrive, but survive, it must begin to create its own superstars who can deliver a much-needed shot of adrenalin to the flagging art form, but have skills in social media and marketing, creating a global brand, and finding new forms beyond record sales, radio play and live gigs in fewer clubs and concert halls to reach the new breed of jazz fans.

Hiromi Uehara is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the vanguard of bold creative minds revitalizing jazz. At 35, the pianist from Shizuoka, Japan, has over the span of nine albums as a bandleader and solo artist demonstrated how well she absorbed the tutoring of Ahmad Jamal and bassist Richard Evans when she matriculated at the Berklee College of Music. Hiromi has led two separate bands, Hiromi’s Sonicbloom and The Trio Project and stints with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, as well as a duet with Chick Corea have solidified her credentials as one of the best and brightest young musicians in contemporary jazz.

Hiromi_Alive_jaw

Matching her inclination for improvisation, drummer Simon Phillips and bassist Anthony Jackson hold down the rhythm responsibilities, freeing up Hiromi to do things with a piano most human beings can’t begin to imagine doing. Alive might be the finishing stroke in a trilogy of adventurous albums for the band. Nothing definite has been said by Hiromi that the group has run its course, but there is a sense of finality in the third Trio Project. Always a restless soul, it’s an open question how long Hiromi will continue this collaboration.

With Voice (Telarc, 2011) and its sequel, Move! (Telarc, 2012), Hiromi found in Phillips a drummer who could match her high velocity piano playing blow-for-blow. Jackson is the silent partner in the band who rarely takes solos and simply does his job with equal parts efficiency and creativity. He’s given opportunities to step out on Alive, but Jackson’s temperament leans to deferring to his colleagues when it’s time to let it all hang out. Overlength is at times an issue with four tracks going nine minutes in length, two clocking in at eight minutes. “Seeker” and “Firefly” both push past over seven minutes and at 6:49, the closing “Life Goes On” draws the shortest straw. Play strong, play long is the philosophy of The Trio Project, which is not a criticism, but to fully appreciate Alive , completed in only three days with Michael Bishop handling co-producing duties along with Hiromi.

Alive makes no bones about being a deep dive that necessitates several listens to fully grasp the complexity of Hiromi’s compositions., but it deserves it.  This is not simple music nor a record one pops into the CD player during a pizza run.

Sandwiched between the four albums with her Sonicbloom band and the trio of Trio Projects is Place To Be (Concord, 2010) Hiromi’s solo piano exercise where she proved even accompanied only by a piano she is a force to be reckoned with . When David Fiuczynski came aboard for 2007’s Time Control (Telarc) Hiromi could finally realize her jazz and rock synthesis with a guitarist as expressive (and equally prone to occasionally lapsing into excursions of stylistic excess) as herself. Phillips fills that role now far more harmonically than Fiuczynski whom occasionally had to struggle to be heard over Hiromi’s piano pyrotechnics.

Hiromi ‘s trust in her bandmates (and herself) free herself to simply play instead of continually dazzle with an onslaught of prodigious speed and technique. “Dreamer” is an example of that restraint with Phillips and Hiromi duking it out on their respective instruments until the 8:04 mark where they both pull back and gracefully close the frenzy with an understated climax. “Seeker” gives Jackson’s contrabass a soulful groove for his partners to work around and have some fun.

Ahmad Jamal nailed it when he observed, “Hiromi has discovered her own genre, and continues to pursue it with great sensitivity, energy, and dazzling virtuosity.” As time passes and her experience grows, Hiromi has not only become a better player, but a better listener. Compare the tasteful understatement of 2014 version of Hiromi onthe elegant “Firefly” with the frenetic, bug-on-a-hot-stove of 2004’s “Kung-Fu World Champion” and the difference is like that of night and day.

Dare we call Alive the dreaded “F” word? Fusion? Yes, and deservedly so even if this is not your daddy’s  jazz fusion. Even without the electric guitar of a John McLaughlin, or the arsenal of synthesizers employed by Herbie Hancock, The Trio Project is a legitimate inheritor of the legacy left by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius when Weather Report called it a day.

That’s heavy company, but Hiromi’s Trio Project is one of the most consistently exciting and accomplished bands making music in any genre of music. Period. End of sentence. That it is also flying under the radar of most consumers is a sad commentary on jazz today, yet still provides hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Track Listing: Alive; Wanderer; Dreamer; Seeker; Player; Warrior; Firefly; Spirit; Life Goes On.

Personnel: Hiromi Uehara: keyboards; Anthony Jackson: contrabass guitar; Simon Phillips: drums.

Record Label: Telarc Records

Hiromi_3_photo_by_Muga_Miyahara
“No, I don’t know any Peter Frampton songs, silly. “

The Evidence of Things Now Seen.

There is no reason for this. No justification. No excuse. No forgiving.

Regarding the NFL’s suspending (or more precisely extending) Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice two-game suspension to an “indefinite” one I have two questions.

Is anyone so gullible to really believe the NFL never saw the video of Rice punching out his fiancée before TMZ released the video to the world?

If so, could I interest you in some oceanfront property in the desert?

This is a billion dollar business that suspends a player for the entire season for smoking marijuana while giving another TWO GAMES for knocking out and dragging an unconscious woman off of an elevator and dumping her on the floor like a sack of potatoes.

This is a league that misled, deceived and lied to the players of the damage concussions were doing to them and then tried to nickel-and-dime them in a lawsuit with a settlement so chintzy even a federal judge threw a penalty flag on it.

The NFL doesn’t give a damn about women. Why would they? There are active players in the league whom have killed people, who have been convicted of drunk driving, gang bangers, drug addicts and other law breakers and given them chance after chance to play in the league. If Aaron Hernandez wasn’t behind bars under suspicion of murdering at least two people, he’d probably still be catching passes from Tom Brady on Sunday afternoons.  Conduct a poll of the average fan and they’re probably less concerned about domestic abuse than what Rice’s suspension means to their fantasy football team.

Welp, I guess I got more time to work on being the new Mike Tyson…”

To be a fan of NFL football means you gotta take a lot of bad with the good and I should know. I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan.

What’s the lesson here? Beat a woman’s ass and you get a couple of weeks off. Fail a drug test and you’re done for the year. Some lesson.

Roger Goodell‘s much ballyhooed new policy cracking down on woman beating ballers only came to pass after the NFL caught hell from the public and press for the sloppy wet kiss Rice received. The league doesn’t care what the players do to their wives, girlfriends and significant others as long as it doesn’t blowback on their precious, carefully calculated image.

Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens are enablers of violence against women. Which is kind of funny when you consider how in Goodell’s NFL the big killshot hard hit has nearly been flagged, penalized, regulated and legislated out of existence.

The NFL hasn’t gotten around to Atlantic City elevators.  I knew this shoe was going to drop. If anyone can go to You Tube and watch video of Jay-Z and his sister-in-law duking it out on a lift, who’s gonna believe the most powerful and wealthiest professional sports league in America can’t get their hands on what happened to Janay Parker before Ray Rice dumped her on the floor of an Atlantic City hotel?

Commissioner Clueless.

Goodell, the Ravens and Rice all lied, all deceived,  until it all blew up in their faces.    Had this video not emerged, Rice would be two weeks away from practicing and playing against the Browns.    Now he’s got a lot of free time to kill and Janay  should be worried about what he’ll do with all that idle time on his hands.

When the shitstorm of criticism blew up in his face,  Goodell weakly admitted he “didn’t get it right” with Rice’s wrist slap.  Goodell is nothing but consistent:  He’s still not getting it right.

The NFL doesn’t advocate domestic abuse.   But it doesn’t take it seriously either.

 

Joan Rivers Is Gone. You Don’t Have to Pretend She Was A Nice Person.

Can we talk? Nah, we don’t have to.

 

I liked Joan Rivers but I did not like Joan Rivers.

The difference is between who Rivers was and what she became. One was a funny, comedic pioneer of almost iconic proportions. The other was a mean-spirited, foul-mouthed hag who spewed bigotry and venom and there’s nothing funny about that.

Is it too soon to be candid about Rivers? De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and all that? I don’t think so. Rivers rarely bit her tongue and I don’t either. Death doesn’t suddenly make somebody a saint. Over the last decade or so something inside Joan Rivers curdled and her humor turned into a sharp weapon that skewered her targets without restraint or mercy.

Rivers because she’s had personal ordeals in the past. EVERYBODY has had personal ordeals in the past, present and in the future. That’s not a reason to be as pitiless and cruel as Rivers was time and again.

The best comedians are often caustic, acidic and downright nasty in their humor.   Rivers seemed to take gleeful pride in saying horrible things at exactly the worst time.    She made it work for her, but where was the gag?   Or maybe it was there was no gag and that was the best gag of them all.

Where did Rivers go wrong?   Molly Ivins,  the late political observer and satirist explained a possible reason, “There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.”

Rivers never played by that rule.  She reveled in being vulgar and the only rules she played by were her own.   Anyone was fair game and no matter how vulgar it was she would steadfastly refuse to apologize and  why would she? It’s not as though she was sorry for anything she said.

When the rest of us were aghast at the plight of the women held hostage by Ariel Castro for a decade, Rivers said, “They got to live rent free for more than a decade”. When Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus said they were hurt by Rivers joking about their ordeal, she sneered, “One of them has a book deal. Neither are in a psych ward. They’re ok. I bet you within three years one of them will be on Dancing with the Stars.”

Rivers didn’t mind offending and went out of her way to offend as much as she could.

Or what about this one about Whitney Houston: ‘I hate Houston. It’s crawling with bugs. Oh, wait, that’s Whitney Houston; I’m sorry, my bad. (Can I just mention that Whitney looked fabulous at the Grammys? She was in mahogany from head to toe.)’

That’s humor? That’s a joke? That’s supposed to be funny?

Throwing shade at pop stars, airhead actresses and pompous politicians kept Rivers relevant even when she seemed to be the only one in on the gag.  She’d probably be pretty amused at all the accolades being showered on her, but then it’s a natural human reaction to maximize the good of the departed and minimize the bad.

That’s not how Rivers lived her life.   That’s not how I note her death.

Rivers was a comedy legend and that much no one can ever take from her. I can’t imagine she would let anyone try either.  She was a trailblazer.  She opened doors.  She kicked open doors for women in comedy.  It’s there’s ever a Comedy Hall of Fame she’ll have a big-ass statue and good for her.

But she wasn’t a nice person and if it makes me a bad person to say it that’s better than being a hypocritical one.

Joan would have understood.

Dead Black bodies are a growth business (and business is good).

michael brown_autopsy_

And we’re back.

I needed some time off and I took off. No mystery to it. I’ve written about dead Black bodies that only came to my attention when they ceased being live Black bodies. I could have lived a happy life blissfully ignorant of Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, Justin Davis, Renisha McBride, Hadiya Pendleton, Antonio Smith or Michael Brown’s existence. Now they are part of mine. Despite never knowing them or meeting a part of them lives on in me and their restless spirits travel with me even as I wait for the next name to be added to theirs.

I could write every day for every last day of my life on dead Black bodies bleeding out in the street and never run out of material and I’m tired of it. It makes me angry and then it makes me depressed and then it makes me want to lie in bed all day long with the curtains drawn until its night again. How many words have I written over the past 22 years about dead Black kids where only the names and locations change but the details stay all too similar? I don’t know the exact number, but I know it’s been far too many.

Michael Brown and Antonio Smith were the last dead Black bodies that pushed me to and then over the edge. Ishmael Reed once declared “writin’ is fightin’ “, but these were the murders that made me drop my gloves. It’s not that I’m never gonna stop writing or fighting. How can I when I know I’m not going to throw a brick through anybody’s window or burn down anyone’s store or spit in the eye of any cop no matter how much I might want to.

You don’t have to smell the putrid funk of dead bodies to be sickened by it. I’m tired of writing worthless words which do nothing but make one man feel a bit better about the things he can’t stop or change.   Words are the only bullets in a writer’s gun, but depending on what the subject we’re drawn to and compelled to talk about we can fire for a while before we start shooting blanks. Dead Black boys provides a lot of ammo and Lord, do I wish I could put this gun down and never pick it up again.

Got no justice.  Can't rest in peace.
Got no justice. Can’t rest in peace.

Yet I know I will.   I always do.  In six weeks or six days or six hours there will be another Mike Brown and another and another after that.  Dead Black bodies is a growth industry.  I’m never going to run out.   No matter what else draws me away the certainty of cold hard steel tearing through warm soft flesh will draw me back to this subject time and again.

It will make me angry and it will make me mad and it will make me so depressed I’ll want to lie all day in a dark room with the curtains drawn and I’ll be thankful for only one thing: that’s it’s not my son or daughter.

I’ll pray it’s never my son lying face down in the street or my daughter staring up at the stars with dead eyes wide open that see nothing. I’ll pray for that even as curse living in a sick, sick, SICK world where any parent anywhere should ever have to pray “Lord, don’t let it be mine, let it be someone else”

Maybe tomorrow nobody will die.  Maybe nowhere in the world no trembling hostage will have some sadistic bastard cut his head off.   Maybe a Black teenager won’t get blown away with his hands raised hoping to save his life from a White cop determined to take it.   Maybe no woman will be raped or beaten or strangled.   Maybe there won’t be any war anywhere because maybe both sides decide to take a day off.

Maybe.   And maybe I’ll just wake up and wait for the next batch of bad news to come looking for me.

 

Black Lives Matter. But Not Every Black Life Matters As Much.

Just another day. Just another dead kid
Elsewhere in America, another kid gets shot in Chicago.

The story of Antonio Smith is a short one. After all, he was only nine years old. He wasn’t a celebrity. He accomplished no great deeds. He made no enduring mark on the world.

Then again, most nine-year old kids don’t. They’re real busy just being kids.

Until someone takes their life. Then they’re a statistic.

Antonio lived a short life. He died a quick and violent death.

CHICAGO (WLS)Antonio Smith, 9, was fatally shot in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, his family told Eyewitness News Wednesday night.

The victim’s relatives made a plea to the shooter, who remains at large on Wednesday night.

“He was just a child, just a baby, still had a whole life ahead of him. And like, why? Just a child,” said Kenya Eggleston, victim’s cousin.

Smith was shot multiple times in the chest around 4 p.m. Wednesday in the 1200-block of East 71st Street.

“At first I didn’t know if they were really shots or not. I just heard pop, pop, pop, pop, pow. So I just kept doing what I was doing,” said Dave West, neighbor.

“It hurts my heart, really, to see the young kids just, just killing each other. And school is getting ready to start,” said Robert Blake, neighbor.

School’s out for Antonio Smith. Forever.

There are no protests. Al and Jesse aren’t in the streets. Reporters aren’t tripping all over each other to stick yet another hot mic under another agitated person’s mouth hoping they’ll say something raw and juicy.

When he was running for his life whose name did Antonio call? His mother? God? Did he scream for help or plead for mercy? Too many kids like Antonio have survived birth only to be killed by a hard life where there’s no mercy, no forgiveness, and no pity. Too many of us are just like Mr. West. We hear “pop, pop, pop, pop, pow” and since it’s not us we go back to what we were doing.

We March. But Not For Antonio.

After all, what’s the big deal? Antonio was a nobody. He wasn’t popped by a White cop (unlikely). He got done in by somebody who probably looked a lot like him (more likely).

I know you’re sick of hearing about it. I’m sick of writing about it. Jesus. Another Black kid got shot? How many does that make this week? And it’s only Thursday. Scratch that vacation to Chicago, honey. When does ski season start in Vail? You know those people hate the snow and cold. That’s why you never see them win anything at the Winter Olympics.

It’s just another dead Black kid. Life ended. Promise snuffed out. The mean streets claim another one. You know the routine. Roll out the yellow tape. Mark where the body fell. Shuffle the paper. Record the name. Bury ‘em, forget ‘em and keep it moving. Tomorrow is another day and tomorrow is Friday which in Chicago means the start of the weekend and a fresh supply of dead and wounded mostly Black bodies ready to be stacked, packed, body-bagged and toe-tagged.

Oh well. No big loss. It’s not as if any of them were going to grow up to come up with the cure for cancer or run a Fortune 500 company. Fuck it. Antonio Smith might have grown up from being another kid with a crooked, cocky smile into yet another big scary Super Predator like Mike Brown going around stealing stogies, shoving store clerks and being a Menace II Society before he gets put down like the mongrel he was.

We’ve become desensitized to dead kids. A cop killing a brother isn’t rare, but brothers killing brothers over nothing is common.  We as a people we’ve become remarkably adept at coming up with ways to divert our attention from the slaughter in our streets.

America doesn’t notice anymore. It can barely tear itself away from its petty partisan politics, worthless entertainments and minor amusement to pay attention to just another dead kid face down in the street or staring sightlessly up at the sky.

Plenty more where Antonio came from. Plenty gone and plenty still to go.

The slaying of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson comes at a perfect time for the news media. Congress is on vacation. The President is on vacation. We’re all sick of hearing about Israel, Ebola, Isis, the Ukraine and Boko Haram. There’s nothing good on TV. Even the NFL isn’t playing any meaningful games yet. It’s a harmonic converge. There’s nothing else going on.

Wonder why it is we as Black people care so much when a killer cop guns us down and care so little when a killer who looks like us does the same thing. Does Black life only matter when its taken by a White man?

I’d prefer it wasn’t so, but I think I’d be lying to myself.