Sunday, January 18, 2009

It's A Long Walk To DC, But I'm On My Way

An elderly man wakes up one Monday morning and remembers something he planned to do a long time before. He puts on a winter jacket and a grey cloth cap. Like he used to do, he stops at the hallway mirror, looks at his reflection, and sets the cap at a jaunty angle. That's more like it, he thinks, and chuckles, raising one eyebrow as he recognises the face staring back at him. The one who, with the confidence of a younger man, set out to do this same thing 40 years ago.

His children and grandchildren came by yesterday to see off their grandpa. They are not here right now on this cold icy morning as he opens the front door and steps off the porch - but the old man knows that they will be waiting for him somewhere in the center of Petersburg, ready to join him for the first stretch of his journey, and they won't be the only ones. As the journey contines, more and more will join him for a time, and others will converge on his destination by different routes leading from across the nation. This time.

The first time, 40 years ago, the journey ended before it began. They were waiting for a good friend, but he couldn't make it. Someone made sure of that. The old man thinks about him for a moment. It is his birthday soon, he'd like that, he muses.

The old man takes one last look up at the house, and thinks upon the number on the door. 244 is sure a lot less than 65000, and it's a long walk to DC. But you do it one step at a time, Carl Winfield reminds himself, like we did all those times before. He steps out onto the frosty sidewalk and the crisp crystals crunch beneath his feet, announcing the first step. At times it feels like he is going to fall, but neighbors are coming out now to see him alright. I'm going to see the President, no matter what it takes, he laughs!

The Staple Singers - Long Walk To DC (Stax 1968)

To everybody setting out for Atlanta this Martin Luther King Day or for Washington for Inauguration Day, I hope that it proves to be an unforgettable moment in your life and the life of your Nation! Happy Birthday Dr King, and Godspeed President Obama!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eartha Kitt 1927-2008: I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar!

In January 1968, Eartha Kitt was invited to a luncheon at the White House. The subject was "What Citizens Can Do To Help Ensure Safe Streets." Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson, was hosting the event.

When asked by the First Lady, Eartha Kitt responded: '"You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the streets. They will take pot and they will get high. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."


There was a general commotion amongst the fifty ladies present, and comments of shock that Ms Kitt could bring up the subject of the war in such a way. Several ladies spoke to assert their pride that sons and husbands were doing their duty and serving in the armed forces. The group applauded each time, and Eartha stood, arms folded.
Mrs Johnson answered her guest. "Because there is a war on - and I pray that there will be a just and honest peace - that still doesn't give us a free ticket not to try to work for better things such as against crime in the streets, better education, and better health for our people. Crime in the streets is one thing we can solve. I am sorry I can't speak as well or as passionately on conditions of slums as you, because I have not lived there."

Eartha Kitt, realising that she was in a minority of one in her opinions, but deciding that she had to persist, told Mrs Johnson: "I have to say what's in my heart. I have lived in the gutters."

The First Lady was reportedly either visibly shaken or on the verge of tears, according to different witnesses. She finally turned to Eartha Kitt and brought the conversation to a close: "I am sorry. I cannot understand the things you do. I have not lived with the background you have."

The Johnsons were keenly aware of what needed to be done to change America. They were not like Mr Dalton in 'Native Son', the liberal benefactor who can never understand that his donations to the South Side Boys Club will never change how his own companies refuse access to housing in other areas of Chicago and then overcharge on the rent due to 'high demand'. The Johnsons had tried to do many important things to promote greater equality for black Americans, and the meeting itself was supposed to discuss issues such as housing and employment, at the core of those inequalities. But they were unable to accept in their minds that a war had an impact upon their domestic agenda, despite the 30 billion dollars spent on it in that year that even saw the Defence Department request spending cuts on non-frontline military equipment to compensate. The Great Society was in peril. Which was the greater issue for them? One young woman had asked them.
Eartha Mae Kitt, January 17th 1927 - December 25th 2008
Events related by Mark Kurlansky in his book "1968", based on reports in TIME magazine, January 26th 1968 and other press coverage. Photos from the White House Museum.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pantomime At The Apollo: Sleeping Beauty!, or We Had A Dream!

A Merry Christmas to one and all, and a belated return for Brown Eyed & Handsome Blog! essentially, due to pressures of work and a squeeze on funds for new sounds, it simply became impossible to keep to any kind of a schedule. However, I hope to start afresh with more time set aside for what I want to do - listen to and love the music!

We return, as we did last Christmas (see Barefootin', or How Cinderella Got Her Shoes Back), to the Apollo Theater, where they have decided to create a festive pantomime. For those over the pond who do not know, pantomime is a form of fun theater, where a well-known fairy tale is retold, mixed in with a lot of slapstick and broad satire.

It seemed a good idea at the time! On with the show!

Sleeping Beauty!

The CAST

Ole King Coleman, emcee for the Apollo Theater
Liberty, a Princess and Beauty
Abraham, a kindly old man in a log cabin
Jim Crow, our villain and a master of words
‘Poor Richard` Pryor, who will open the door!
Prince Martin, a hero who has a dream
Prince Malcolm, his brother in arms
A Bush, a piece of scenery that gets in the way
A Fox, who is cunning and a master of
talk
Bill and Hillary, an arguing couple
The Ice Queen, a witch from Alaska
Prince Obama, a hero and everyman
A Fashionable Pig, it wears lipstick
Judge Pigmeat Markham, here come da judge!

The overture music ends, and our host, King Coleman, walks on stage.

KING COLEMAN: Welcome all to the Apollo,
I, Ole King Coleman, say hello.
The Fairy Godfather has granted your wishes,
So Please, Please, Please, ladies, prepare your kisses!
We're gonna make light out of the last election -
Everybody gets fun poked in their direction.
The jokes are bad, I mean they just ain't funny.
But its too late y'all coz I gots your money!
Everybody can shout out, everybody gets to sing
Everybody gets to do their thing!
So what's the jive you've come to see?
Well, we're gonna tell you about a Sleeping Beauty!
And if you think asleep she's great,
you should see her when she's awake!

Liberty, a fair lady, has wandered onto the stage.

KING COLEMAN: Well ain't that form just fine;
if the Prince don't take her, man, she's mine!
This is the story of a fair lady, Liberty
Arriving in a land of the free.
She finds that a spell hangs over us
A vile and inauspicious curse!
One half are chained, while half are free,
but the other half this will not see.
Others still do not want to know,
Thanks to the magic of Jim Crow.

Jim Crow appears! Costume by Disney out of Dumbo.

JIM CROW: I am the villain of this piece,
Although think hard upon what hides beneath.
For all I does is tell you things,
And they listen as I softly sings.
Perhaps I am a kind of wizard,
That gnaws upon this nation’s gizzard.
Jim Crow pecks and caws
As I busily rewrite the laws
And turn what fools do and says
Into ancient inviolable folk ways.

Jim Crow hears Liberty approaching, and hides himself away behind the Bush. Liberty appears, searching for something.

KING COLEMAN: One day Liberty finds a field in spring
Where birds of justice have begun to sing
She taps the door of a log cabin,
And hastily is welcomed in.

Liberty goes inside the cabin, and Jim Crow appears. An old man in a beard and stove-pipe hat comes out of the cabin.

KING COLEMAN: The old man come out into the world,
He spies Jim Crow, and shoos the bird!
ABRAHAM: Go to another door than mine.
You can’t fool all the people all the time!

Jim Crow pecks at Abraham and begins chasing Abraham away. Liberty enters confused…

LIBERTY: Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham? Can you tell me where he’s gone?

The audience holler out warnings, "He's behind you!" and Jim Crow appears. He puts Liberty to sleep and begins to gloat on stage. Boos and hisses! King Coleman, on the stage right, comes back on horrified.

KING COLEMAN: Liberty is put to sleep and dreams,
That all is not as it here seems,
That a better world exists somewhere
But time will pass in getting there.
Another friend Liberty does require
And so with that I do retire,
And introduce Poor Richard - Pryor!

Richard opens the cabin door and enters the scene, while Jim Crow continues to gloat over sleeping Liberty.

POOR RICHARD: Good God! Boy, a lot of brothers here today, and some white folks too … come in a bunch didn't y’all? - 'Stick with me, don't worry about a thing.’ Hey, who's this, Big Bird's ugly mother? Hey, where do you think you are?

Jim Crow looks startled.

POOR RICHARD: I may be Poor Richard in this thing, but you are hard of hearing!

JIM CROW: I'm terribly sorry, but I believe that you are standing in my place.

POOR RICHARD: Well you ain't standing there right now, motherf*****!

JIM CROW: Ok, now, that's nice, it's like that is it, ok, you want a piece of this, peckerhead!
He shakes his feathers, menacingly.

POOR RICHARD: I ain't the one standing there dressed like Woody Woodpecker! Come on, shake a tailfeather!

Jim Crow is about to challenge Richard, when he spies two handsome princes appearing. Jim Crow runs for it, and Richard chases him away for now...

KING COLEMAN: Two brothers, Prince Martin and Prince Malcolm, come,
And discover Liberty undone. They try to wake her from the curse,
But despite their efforts things get worse.

PRINCE MALCOLM: What happens to a dream deferred
Does it ripen like a raisin in the sun?
Or sag like a heavy load?
Or does it explode?

PRINCE MARTIN: Wait, I think she is giving me a dream.
I wonder about what it could mean…

Visions - Stevie Wonder
PRINCE MALCOLM: Then quickly now, here is the hour,
Let’s stop Jim Crow and fight the power!

Fight the Power - Isley Brothers

Jim Crow sneaks up upon the Princes.

JIM CROW: Like the raven at Poe’s door,
I will caw, Nevermore!

Prince Martin and Prince Malcolm fight with Jim Crow. But he tricks them both, and they fall to his spells and bullets. The audience are horrified!

KING COLEMAN: Liberty stirs and looks
For the princes whom bullets took.

LIBERTY: Has anybody seen my old friends Martin Luther and Malcolm? You know they freed a lot of people, but it seems the good die young.

Jim Crow puts Liberty to sleep once more. He laughs and comes to the center stage.

JIM CROW: Old Abraham used to say this line:
“You can fool all of the people some of the time”
This has the ring of truth to me
But Jim Crow sees things differently.
I have set it as my aim to make a very different claim.
I put together this daring rhyme,
“You CAN fool all the people all of the time.”

JIM CROW: I’ll begin to tell people things
That make them fear what changes bring,
That makes them shun their neighbours hall,
And turns them against the victims’ call.
I put to sleep your Liberty,
So that the powerful should be free,
To take your money to give back to you,
To bend round lies and make them true!

A Bush is placed upon the stage. It does nothing for eight years. Ho ho ho.

KING COLEMAN: All this is done in a state of hush -
Our Jim Crow has hidden in a Bush!
Here he hides and he can watch,
His words come out of a cunning Fox!
In this way none shall know,
The dangers of the way they go!

Crow and Fox reenact scenes of chaos and mayhem, TV soaps and action movies, in puppet form, from behind the Bush. Richard returns, sees what has happened to Liberty, and watches what Crow and Fox are doing. Then he tears his gaze away in anger.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott Heron

POOR RICHARD: One week of truth on TV could just straighten out everything. One hundred and twenty-seven million people watch television every night; that's why they use it to sell stuff. They've misused it a long time so now it's just a business, that's all. They're not going to write shows about how to revolutionize America. The top rated shows are for retarded people.

Act 2: We now tune in to Court TV

OFFICER OF THE COURT: Hear ye, hear ye, this court is now in session - Judge Pigmeat Markham presidin’!

Pigmeat Markham - Here come da judge!

POOR RICHARD: They give brothers time like it's lunch down there. You go down there looking for justice, and that's what you find - just us.

DEFENDANT: Knock Knock!
JUDGE: Who’s there?
DEFENDANT: Your neighbor!
JUDGE: Not any more, I’m repossessin’ your house!”

KING COLEMAN: Jim Crow thinks it would be awful funny,
If he were to steal our money!
Next of all he cancels our loans,
And then he takes away our homes!

JUDGE: Who we got here today?
OFFICER: There’s a man here, he’s a nudist.
JUDGE: How long you been in your house, son?
DEFENDANT: Three years, your honour.
JUDGE: Three years. And how much of your mortgage have you paid?
DEFENDANT: Nine years, your honour.
JUDGE: Nine years? Officer, release this man.
OFFICER: But sir, he’s a nudist!
JUDGE: No he’s not.
OFFICER: Yes, sir, he’s a nudist! He‘s isn‘t wearing any pants!
JUDGE: No he ain’t. Paying those loans, he can’t afford to buy any pants!

JUDGE: Well now comes election time - you’ll vote your way, and I’ll vote mine.
This is the time the money gets spent - will they notice it’s the government?

Everybody in the cast puts in the vote. Some votes are snatched away by Jim Crow, some are pecked full of extra holes by Jim Crow. Some people can’t get to the voting booth.

JIM CROW: All these people in such a rush,
But one vote in here is worth two in the Bush!

He throws a whole bunch of ballot papers into the Bush, which rustles appreciatively.

JUDGE: Some of the people are getting shifty;
But the votes for Liberty are 50:50! 4 MORE YEARS!

The audience groan! The cast are reduced to poverty




ACT 3: The Prince Appears

KING COLEMAN: Now the setting of Act Three,
The window where lies Liberty -
Under the care of fair Hillary…
But lo, does now our hero return?
From our troubles have we learned?

Bill appears, with partygoers in tow.

BILL: Here I is, Hillary, drunk again! Open the door Hillary!

Hillary appears at the window, and shakes her head. She throws a shoe at him to chase him away. Come on, it’s tradition to throw a shoe at a president … I think? Bill slinks off!

KING COLEMAN: But wait, at last our hero comes,
Is he one of Martin or Malcolm’s sons?
Here to complete our saga,
Comes the young prince Barack Obama!

PRINCE OBAMA: Here I is, Hillary, drunk again!

He climbs up a precarious ladder to lean to a window…

PRINCE OBAMA: Open the door Hillary!

Hillary leans out the window but she shakes her head. Obama waves a letter offering her the Secretary of State post, and she climbs out the window after it. Richard climbs up the ladder and to the window.


PRINCE OBAMA: Open the door Richard!


Jack McVea - Open The Door Richard!

Richard Pryor tries to let the Prince in, but someone is shooting at him in the backside. It is the Ice Queen!

POOR RICHARD: What you doing there, Ice Queen? You act like one of them police that ain't never arrested nobody before!

KING COLEMAN: But now to interrupt our scene,
Rides in the indestructible Snow Queen
She can thrill you with icy shivers,
And reflect you in her many mirrors.
Smiling smiling, she begins to stare,
And catches Obama in her glare!
The mirror darkly obscures our sight
And reflects him in many different lights!


The prince is frozen by the Ice Queen's spells. Each time she shoots him with her rifle, he is transformed into another costume.


ICE QUEEN: Here is the sinister Hussein,
Subverting us for Arab gain!
Or is he in reality a Brit,
Who should have nothing to do with it!
He talks to the poor? Now what is this?
He must be some kind of Communist!
And to top off all the drama,
He stands clothed as dread Osama!

Meanwhile, Richard has casually gone into to the house, opened the door, walked outside, stood at the Ice Queen’s shoulder, looked with puzzlement at the scene, and then approaches the Prince.

POOR RICHARD: Hey man! Say brother! What you doing peeping in them people's window? What's your name boy? Obama? What kind of name is that for a brother? What you mean, your grandma is white? Like my dad, your grandpa must have sure loved the pussy! Where you from fool? Hawaii! Brothers don’t need to go to Hawaii to surf - we got the all over tan going on, leave that to the white dudes to get sunburnt and shit! What? Where’s that, now - Indonesia? Now you don’t know if you wanna be seen with the Reverend Wright or with the Nation of Islam! I know where it is - you ain't the smartest mother in the world, you know!

The Ice Queen is about to pounce on the hapless Prince, when Richard stops the action for an announcement. The Prince is able to make an escape.

POOR RICHARD: For an ice queen, she is kinda hot! Now, ladies and gentlemen, at this trying time, there now will be a short sermon from the one and only Reverend Jeremiah ... James! The Reverend James L Wright! White! James L White! Don't reckon some folks can tell the difference, anyhow!

Richard distracts the Ice Queen and offers to 'guide' her to the Prince...















Act 3a - The Snowy Wilderness of Alaska

The Ice Queen and Richard are searching for the Prince, or anything, to shoot, in the snowy wilds of Alaska.


RICHARD: Illinois, right up ahead, Governor! (To the audience) I know I told her we found Chicago first, but this is too damn cold for any brother!

They spy something. Could it be her prey?

ICE QUEEN: There he is! Quick Richard, hand me the rifle...
RICHARD: The what? (He smirks)
ICE QUEEN: Now quit playing around. Give me the rifle!
RICHARD: I don't have it. I thought you had it. And if you don't, you're screwed.
ICE QUEEN: And why is that? He's just a Junior Senator, and I'm a Governor!

RICHARD: Yeah, but there's a whole lot of Republicans behind you who look like they wanna kill you!

A mob of enraged Republicans, ravenous and hungry, chase the Ice Queen away, as Richard dusts himself down, and goes to find the Prince once more.


Act 4: The Ending

As the Prince gets to his feet, a crowd of people gather around to help him up. The Prince thanks them and talks to them all.

PRINCE OBAMA: I may be a mystery
I have an enchanting history
Where am I from, none can tell
Which for most voters is just as well!
Try to classify me if you can,
But I will stand for everyman!

KING COLEMAN: What the Ice Queen does not expect,
Is her spell to have the opposite effect!
It does not toe the party line,
It transforms her into a swine!

The Ice Queen's spells reflect upon her, and she becomes a well-groomed pig.

PRINCE OBAMA: Through her distortions the people see,
What Liberty means to you and me.
As they look upon the maiden more,
An end they want to hate and war
To poverty and repossession,
And most of all to the recession!

Can You Read Between The Lines - Charles Whitehead (Raw Spitt)

The Republicans try to grab a pile of cash, but the Prince steps forward and takes it from her hands.

PRINCE OBAMA: Drop that money before it’s too late!
Help us all, let the dollar circulate!

The Prince throws our money around! Hey, it’s a satire, everybody gets a go!

Billy Paul - Let the Dollar Circulate

Liberty begins to awaken.

LIBERTY: The Ice Queen’s fractures divide us forever,
What we must do is come together!
Then We The People will finally be -
And we will remember:
This is our country!

We The People - Staple Singers

PRINCE OBAMA: Sleeping beauty is awoken
Now at last is the spell broken?
Can we finally give a damn?
You know the answer: “Yes We Can!”

Everybody gets to sing!

Yes We Can


ACT 5: The Epilogue

RICHARD: I think it's time we heard from our new President!

Cheers! The Prince steps forward, but then Richard pushes the Prince out of the way, ties his tie and puts on his suit jacket.






JUDGE: All is well and done,
Now is the time to have some fun
The is just one thing that does not jig -
Who put lipstick on that pig?

The pig in makeup oinks. It sings to the Prince, a lament of love.

Tina Britt - Hawg for You (Minit 32082 - Hawg For You / My Lover's Prayer – 1969)
Richard is standing solemnly, worrying about the pig.

JIM CROW: Hello there, Richard
RICHARD: Hi there, Crow
JIM CROW: Congratulations on winning that election thing, there
RICHARD: Oh, thanks, thanks a lot. Hey, my pig, it’s got lipstick on it!
JIM CROW: Oh yeah, sorry about that, won’t happen again. I'll pick somebody else for 2012.
RICHARD: I appreciate it.
JIM CROW: Just so you know - I will be trying to bite your ass off again tomorrow morning, ok?
RICHARD: Well, now then we might have to use Plan B

KING COLEMAN: And so we end this festive tale, and the moral of it be:

"What once is told to you in jest, maybe the future you can see!" Pay attention now!

Jokes adapted from Richard Pryor, Pigmeat Markham, Langston Hughes, Open The Door Richard, and Malcolm X. All statements attributed to King Coleman et al are I think all pure invention (didn't spend enough time on research this year, last year I did better!) Happy Holidays!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I 'll Change If You Vote Me In As The Pres...

Out of all of the images of yesterday's events in Memphis that were broadcast in Britain, the most surprising for me, but also ironically the most heart-warming, was the sight of Republican nominee John McCain standing at the balcony where Dr King was killed and being shown around the museum. The fulsome praise which he heaped upon Dr King and the admiration for his legacy which he expressed was exemplary, and I imagine they took quite a bit of political courage from a man who, throughout most of his life, had not in his own words "even considered" the significance of the Civil Rights Movement, and had frequently in his career campaigned and voted against the institution of a National Martin Luther King Day, and also the establishment of that holiday in his state of Arizona.

How did Senator McCain come to this point of view? Well, I imagine that his early upbringing was typical of many white suburban Americans in the 40s, still in a time when segregation was considered by much of white America as an acceptable fact of life. In his own words in an interview, the Senator described further:

"I had not been involved in the issue. I had come from being in the military to running for Congress in a state that did not have a large African American population."

So for Senator McCain, other issues such as Cold War foreign policy and economics occupied his mind at that time. The emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s did not inspire or interest him. By the 1960s, he would have been heavily involved in the military - which he describes as having been an equal-opportunities environment. Compared to the rest of America at that time, he would have been right (though it was far from a paradise), and I can understand why at the time he might then have thought that civil rights protest was unnecessary and divisive. It is an uninspiring story, and reveals a deep lack of empathy and ability for analysing social issues, a disturbing tendency to go along with the flow and follow the herd of opinion, to blame the victim of injustice for not being strong enough to sort out their own problems, but it fits with where many similar young white men might have been at that time.

After this, the Senator was a POW in Vietnam, and he has described how his torturers used events like protests and race riots to try to sap the morale of the prisoners, portraying a nation in turmoil. I can understand how this might emotionally turn the Senator against expressions of admiration for the Civil Rights Movement, as the effects of torture do not make it easy to judge and evaluate events gleaned from patchy scraps of news easy. It is a shame that he had not thought more deeply about the numerous images of the fight against racial injustice which he had been exposed to on televisions and simply walking around any American town before his capture.

However, from his entry into politics, Senator McCain had the means, advice and political duty to learn the truth. His record stands up to now as a sorry testament to his ability for self-reflection. It took him literally decades to abandon his trencha
nt position opposing Martin Luther King Day, and in the meantime, because he had political position, he was able to add his vote to preventing Arizona joining the rest of the Union in celebrating Dr King's life.

It seems that in the meantime, John McCain has grappled with how his experiences of imprisonment and the experience of racism in America both highlight injustice and indignity. I hope that his conversion is a heartfelt and a genuine one. To be sure that Senator McCain remembers, I have chosen a song from an old nemesis, Stevie Wonder, one of the originators of the idea of Martin Luther King Day, which will serve as a reminder.

Stevie Wonder - Big Brother (from Motown LP 'Talking Book STMA8007) 1972

For this post I read an interesting debate at the Chicago Tribune website.

Funny How Time Slips Away ... But I Could Never Leave You!

Well, it's been a while... Life has intruded on our moments together. I didn't want it to be such a long time away from you, but a couple of weeks turned into months as work and other things took up more and more of my time. It's gotten me down more than the other problems I've been sorting out. More than once, I tried to come back to you, but each time I was pulled away. Don't be mad, don't be sad. Your brown eyed handsome man is back, here to entertain your ears, and I won't ever leave you. Let me make it up to you with some smooth talking from Joe Tex, singing a classic country track written by Willie Nelson.

Joe Tex - Funny How Time Slips Away (from Atlantic LP 'Soul Country') 1968

... Well, I am going on holiday today, but I will leave you with a bumper crop of posts to reward your patience! And until you hear The Manhattans singing Kiss And Say Goodbye on this blog, my official break-up song, believe I will return to you!

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Dream Marches On...

A phenomena is taking place in Memphis today. Thousands of Americans of all kinds are congregating at the Mason Temple Pentacostal Church and near the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the Lorraine Motel, to celebrate the memory of a man who changed the face of America and the world, before his life was taken from him by an assassin's bullet.

In his last speech before his death, Martin Luther King Jr almost prophetically said, "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

This is a day then for contemplation of the way Dr King's legacy has been continued, by others working in their own ways for equality and freedom and justice, up to the present day. Have we reached the mountaintop?

Dr Martin Luther King Jr - I Have Been To The Mountain Top (April 3rd 1968)

The recording of this speech is hosted by DrMartinLutherKingjr.com. Photograph taken by Mike Segar.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Out Of Time, Out Of Sight: Chris Farlowe Live At The Half Brick!

Ah, this will stand as one of those great events in my life, and I only hope that the little audio clip will give you some of the flavour of a night in the presence of a British soul legend, Chris Farlowe!

Accompanied by Blue Eyed Handsome Dad once again, we embarked on a musical journey into British soul history. Dad recalled the last time that he was lucky enough to hear Chris Farlowe sing, which he believes may well have been at The Flamingo Club in Soho in the height of 1966, when Chris was most definitely Number 1 amongst blue-eyed soul artists. He was riding high with his hit Out Of Time on Immediate Records, and Jagger and Richards, not to mention Mike D'Abo could not help but proffer him amazing material to record. This followed an outstanding year 1965 on record, releasing his EPs of soul classics which showcased his roaring and soaring, soul-shaking sound.

Well, we set off from the shores of town, west towards the nearby town of Worthing, arriving at a small seafront inn called The Half Brick, renowned for a regular line-up of local blues artists and rock tributes. This was something slightly more important, however. All the more bizarre, then, to discover that the headline act had been shunted into a cramped corner of the bar to make way for a wedding reception in the function room! The bar was absolutely jam packed, and at first we wondered if we would be able to make our way around the corner to view the stage.

No matter, we were here because for some they had been there. Blue Eyed Handsome Dad bumped into at least two old friends who remembered the days of modishness and could not resist the pull of Chris Farlowe. We endured the slightly over long set by the support act and watched the man himself, who had been relaxing comfortably at the front, stand up and take his place.

The band cranked up, and began to play "Ladies and gentlemen, Stormy Monday Blues!" cries Chris, then stops! ... "Wait a minute! They've forgotten how to bloody play it!" ribbed Chris, abruptly breaking away from the mike to turn and stare at the band. With a smirk he folds his arms and observes the guitarist and bass, as they realise their mistake and try to crawl the chord progression back to the correct key. Well, they make it, and off they go into Chris' first British hit record.

A slower and more reflective song next, Handbags And Gladrags, his hit from 1969. It was written especially for Chris by Mike D'Abo of Manfred Mann. It touches many in the audience tonight, who reminisce about those years ago. But not to let the maudlin set in, Chris livens thing up again with a defiant gesture against the passing years, Never To Old To Rock, Never Too Young To Roll.

Fired up by that, how could they but follow Chris as he berates the out of touch and old at heart with the astonishing Out Of Time? Well, at least the crowd are keeping up, singing along for all its worth. For some it seems the pace is getting to them: "I said baby, baby, baby .. you're out of tune!", adlibs Chris at one point, giving the band a worried glance.

Chris lets us pick anything we like for the encore, then immediately proceeds to sing exactly what he had prepared anyway, Johnny B Goode. Then he finishes with a storming rendition of Route 66 effortlessly better than Jagger could churn out.

I'm only sorry I couldn't share that one with you, but here is a taste of Friday's rendition of Out Of Time to give you a flavour of the night. "We hope you've had a good night, and you feeling alright; we thank you for coming along, hope you enjoyed the song, alright."

Chris Farlowe - Out Of Time (Live at the Half Brick, Worthing, Friday 1st 2008)

Thanks for a great night organised at the Half Brick by Bob. You can contact the Half Brick for other events at www.thehalfbrick.co.uk

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Could Never Be President!

Race in US politics has always determined the heights of possible ambition. Is this about to change at the highest level? Jesse Jackson succeeded to the Democratic Party nomination. Will Senator Barack Obama first take the nomination and then the Presidency? That brings up very exciting possibilities. Mr Obama has strong family ties to Kenya, and supports local schools in his grandmother's town. I feel that such a man, if elected President, would therefore have a radically different perspective on the USA's relationship with the Third World. Then again, I feel less comfortable with his blanket praise for Ronald Reagan's ability to 'change' the entire nation. Ronnie, and even more so Nancy, have many great achievements in their favour, particularly in the sphere of the conclusion of the Cold War. However, domestically, the USA could not have been further from the goals of the Great Society during his Presidency. Maybe this comment by Obama explains what happened next...

On the other side, is the warning word of the cynic. Ironically, it was the Come-Back Kid himself, Bill Clinton, sometimes nicknamed 'the first black President' who, by referring to the rise of less experienced Obama as a 'kid' in 'the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen' left himself open to the charge of having a paternalist attitude. Don't set your hopes too high, he seems to suggest. I think it was the Reagan jibe that made him snap. To his credit, Bill did then make an attempt at amends, telephoning Rev Al Sharpton's radio show to tell him that "He [Obama] had put together a great campaign... he might win." Ah, Bill, you charmer. I can never stay made at you. You'd still make a great First Man. And when I look at certain policy proposals supported by Hillary, such as a health care or insurance scheme for all Americans regardless of wealth, I am of the view that Hillary too could make a President who made a difference.

However, Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff had by this time already proceeded much further in their politicking, in a manner that must leave her husband despairing. She discussed the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the run up to the anniversary of his birth, and decided to give an ad hoc lecture on the importance of President Johnson in implementing civil-rights reform. Be it true that Martin Luther King could not alone in 1963 sway the politicians to support change. And it is one of those ironies of history that it was actually the career southern politician Lyndon Johnson, and not the dashing John Kennedy, who would actually turn out to care about civil rights and have the political skills to push them through Congress. Yet, to deny one of these facts over the other is to deny the obvious interplay between them. Historical factors do not work in isolation. Johnson knew very well his chance to pass the Civil Rights Act on 1964 depended on the up-swell of despair and human idealism that followed the death of a President and the mobilisation of that idealism by activists inspired by the speeches of hope given by Martin Luther King. Every one of those ordinary, extraordinary people who stood up and did something made a difference, as Johnson could refer to the popular movement and apply pressure to the stalwarts and cynics in the Congress.

Now, maybe Hillary Clinton, when she reflects a little out away from Washington, will come to see this, and the contribution of so many. What to say about the Clinton staff member, though, who briefed journalists that one reason not to choose Barack Obama as presidential candidate is that someone might want to assassinate him? Can the currency of civic duty be so debased that some would accept meekly the authority of an assassin to determine who should or should not stand in democratic election? And once again, skin colour stands as the shibboleth that America is too afraid to confront? No, too many times that has been allowed. No more, not this time.

I'm going to play Johnnie Taylor's I Could Never Be President, recorded in 1969. Johnnie is having one of those dilemmas we all have - should he be President and end discrimination and poverty, or spend time loving his woman. Or, in Bill's case, women. Now, I've gone through a half dozen changes of mind on what exactly this song is trying to infer in the light of recent events. It has the word President in it. Listen, then make a difference in your community, by using your voice and your vote. I Could Never Be President? Why the hell not?

Johnnie Taylor - I Could Never Be President (Stax 0046) June 1969

I'm sure this has been all over the press in the USA, but here is a link to a news report if you haven't heard the furor:
Daily Telegraph report

Monday, December 31, 2007

Barefootin'! Or, How Cinderella Got Her Shoes Back

UPDATE: All the songs should be up now, including the most excellent Miss Black America. Enjoy!

"Happy holidays and a Happy New Year! We hope you have enjoyed our program of westerns this afternoon. Now its time for our main feature of the evening.
With apologies to the original rapper and Apollo MC, King Coleman, the Apollo Theater presents Barefootin'! "

"KING COLEMAN": "Thank you! Thank you! It's a joy to be here! If you don't dig it, don't knock it! Somebody else might wanna rock it! ‘Tis the season to be jolly, when Poison Ivy meets Buddy Holly. So find a seat that suits you fine, and enjoy a strangely soulful pantomime. Our story tonight is a real bestseller, about Cinderella and her fella. Though if she leaves that ball without a soul, man, look no further than this ole’ King Coleman! Now if things get crazy, holler out and tell her, let’s hear the tale of Cinderella!...

We begin our story here, in a dark and tragic room. Who’s this, about to dust my broom? Now, keep it clean, fellas – this is our future princess, Cinderella! You mind your mouth, she has some moves in her! With that broom she's her own Executioner!


She is clothed in rags, smudged in dirt and grime, she cleans the stage floor in double time, with a tear in her eye, and a weary sigh."
CINDERS: "I've been working on this stage for an age, earning less than a maid. All my life I've been shucked and shirked. A Fair Day's Pay For A Fair Day's Work!"

KING COLEMAN: "Now, you know me, I'm a real gent - but that don' t go likewise for the management! This hard life for Cinders, it takes me back - to Tennessee, to a cropper’s shack. Nutbush is the name they give it, and with it Cinders had reached her limit!”

Ike & Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits (1973)

“Yeah, that’s right people! There's songs about this, and songs about that -- There's songs about people, big and fat!

In Kansas they have rainbows to take you far away; in Tennessee you have to deal with it, and live from day to day. This ain’t no fairytale, with ruby slippers, dogs and twisters! Aw hell, here they are, those put-you-down sisters!"

SISTERS: “Where you be at, baby sister? Scrubbing at floors? You gonna get blisters! Prince Charming just gave us a call, he says tonight we’re gonna have a ball. So you gonna help us, make us nice and fair, first of all, straighten out our hair! We don’t want to give him a fright, so make us out to be just like Snow White!”

KING COLEMAN: "So off they go, full of jubilation, while Cinders attends to her station."
CINDERS: "You know, I could do without that strife. Tomorrow is a new dawn, a new day, and a new life."

Nina Simone - Feeling Good
KING COLEMAN: “You know, Cinders ain’t got nothing to fear, ‘cause this is the time when I appear! There’s plenty a trick, Cinders, that I know – you shall go to the Apollo!”

CINDERS: "But my sisters, they all straight and fair; and I haven’t got a stitch to wear!"

KING COLEMAN: "I know what you’re really after, and I’ll give it like I was a Fairy Godfather! Come here, momma, quick, and I’ll bring you my magic stick!"

CINDERS: "Ole King Coleman, now you behave! I don’t need your magic stave! My Prince awaits me at the ball – I just need a dress and shoes, is all!"

KING COLEMAN: "Like an alley cat chasing a rat across a railroad track ... stay tuned, I will be right back!... now, here I am back again, before you knew I was gone – wear these high heeled sneakers and put that red dress on!"

Ike & Tina Turner – Hotpants/High Heeled Sneakers

"So you gonna have a ball, but remember this one thing right – the magic will end at ‘round midnight!”

"Put your left foot on the floor -- get out the front door. Rush, rush, rush -- get on that bus! If you wasn't on your heels -- you could be driving a brand-new automobile!"

The Kings Of Rhythm – Rocket ‘88

"So here we are at the Apollo, ready to enjoy the show! I’ll MC this thing, of course, and rock this pantomime by force! Cinderella is dressed to look alarming – and catches the eye of her Prince Charming! But by others she is also spied, by fine Jim Dandini at the Prince’s side!"

JIM DANDINI: “Be wild and free, but save the last dance for me!”

The Drifters – Save The Last Dance For Me

KING COLEMAN: "There she stands, in fine shoes and dress, yeah, and everyone gives cries of ‘Bless her!’”

Curtis Mayfield – Miss Black America
KING COLEMAN: "She has eclipsed, I should mention, her snow-white sisters, by hair extension!

Now, Everybody get on your feet. You make me nervous when you're in your seat. Take off your shoes and stamp your feet, and do the dance that can’t be beat!"

Robert Parker – Barefootin’

"The Prince has crossed the stage, after checking she is of legal age! Jim Dandy, looking quite dismayed, decides to end his Prince's masquerade. As Cinders begins to look closely, he is not what he appeared to be!"

PRINCE APOLLO: "Why look at you, I must confess, you are the image of a fine princess! Fine and dainty from head to your toes, you remind me of a fragrant rose. You are surely Harlem’s finest flower - I shall pluck you in the midnight hour!"

Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour

CINDERS: "Can you keep up ‘till the midnight hour? I’ll take a rain check – you take a shower! Who’d have thought this Prince would be a creep – all your talk puts me to sleep! You got to be at least twice my age - I ought to sweep you right off 'a this stage!""

PRINCE APOLLO: "Come on, honey, don't be sore - what you think I pay you for?"

CINDERS: "Do you know why I really came here? To get what's owed to me fair and square. I came here tonight to sing and dance, but now that I have got the chance, although my clothes are rearranged, I see that nothing's really changed! You've got the money - we all doled it out - so treat me fair or I'll walk out!"

CINDERS: "All your patter makes my toes curl – the Prince Apollo is just the Duke of Earl. Amidst all this finery and bustle, all you got to show me is a Harlem shuffle! You really think that I would choose you? - I want to know is, who's behind you?"

KING COLEMAN: "Now while you all enjoy the pantomime, our Cinderella forgot about the time! Cinderella, you take flight! The clock strikes twelve, its ‘round midnight!"

Miles Davis & John Coltrane – ‘Round Midnight

"Look at that! I ain't gotta say nothing! Cinders is off and rushing! Put your flappers on the floor -- head out that front door!

In all her rushing out the door, she forgot her shoe upon the floor. Sparkling, shimmering, shining bright, Jim Dandy picks up the slipper light. For while he watched the prince preen and pout, he realised Cinders is something to shout about!"

The Rivileers – Who Is The Girl? (1954)

"Now the Prince Apollo has awoken, and these are the words that he has spoken:"

PRINCE APOLLO: "I woke up this morning/I was all alone/Because I discovered my woman had packed up and gone."

KING COLEMAN: "Feeling no pain, he scratches his head - and pushes the two sisters out of bed! For a moment, he thinks to linger – then spies a ring upon each finger! He hollers out to hail a carriage, to make escape from a sudden marriage!

Jim Dandy know what he has to do, he really should report the shoe. But rather than play second mate, he hides the shoe and changes fate! Leaving the Prince in the lurch, Jim Dandy goes to start the search! Leaving the Prince in the arms of others, Jim Dandy searches for his new lover! True love ain’t just for the boss; he deserves the double-cross! The Prince realises he has been cussed – who will find Cinderella first?"

Sam & Dave – Hold On, I’m Comin’!

"The sisters have made their own way home, and find Cinderella all alone. They see Cinder's dress, now all in tatters, and decide to scorn instead of flatter:

SISTERS: "They said the ball is over
And love is here to stay
You kitchen-working women
Sure did have your way
But it’s all over baby
Now you girls have got to pay"

KING COLEMAN: "Nothing has changed, no dream came true?
Hey wait – here’s Jim Dandy to the rescue!

Getting them both out the way, Jim steps right in to save the day!"
JIM DANDY: "Sisters, listen - if you show off a rock, you have the Prince in a marriage lock! If he wants two for the price of one, make him pay for what he's done. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust -- Hit 'em in the head with a cornbread crust!"

KING COLEMAN: Go Jim Dandy! You know what to do!
Go Cinders! Try on that shoe!"

LaVern Baker – Jim Dandy

JIM DANDY: “Cinderella, I’ll be your fortune teller – forget the Prince, I’m your fella! Muscle ain’t your hustle, your mind is your thing. Get up off of that floor, you can do anything. From this life you're freed, and for me, you're all that I need!"

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – You're All I Need To Get By

KING COLEMAN: "Everyone ends up together, Jim Dandy with his Cinderella. Everyone makes it, at a pinch – the sisters team up against the Prince. Now it isn't quite so funny, his money's spent on alimony. The moral of this story, as you already knew, to get what you want, to thine own self be true!"


HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!



Bad puns and rhymes my own fault, of course - don't blame the real King Coleman! With some better ideas and rhymes from interviews with King Coleman, Shipyard Woman by Jim Wynn, and Weeping And Crying by King Coleman & The Griffin Brothers Orchestra. Apologies also for some missing songs at present - i've gone on holiday without them! They'll be up on Jan 2nd when I get back home! Also, read this interesting feature about the upcoming Disney cartoon "The Princess And The Frog" by Alan Jenkins at Tompaine.com, a film which will star their first black heroine. How will she be portrayed?