Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 10)

 

Lisa Hanna, B: August 20, 1975

Does anybody remember this?

Q: “Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?”

A: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uhmmm, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and uh, I believe that our, I, education like such as uh, South Africa, and uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uhhh, our education over here in the US should help the US, uh, should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.”

…yes, that happened… maaan, I so wanted to give Miss South Carolina a tender hug during that moment, with a ‘shhh shh shh shhh shhhhhh…’

 

Sometimes pageants don’t go so well… and sometimes, they produce women like the Honourable Lisa Rene Shanti Hanna. Lisa was crowned Miss World in 1993, representing the sunny isle of [where??] JAMAICA! That went well enough— appearances on behalf of the Island for global events, cameos in a couple of movies, even a broadcasting gig, and various mid-profile communications positions back home in JA. Very smart young lady too, with a political and socio-economic bent, even well before competing at 18. So, let’s fast forward to 2011. After winning a seat & becoming a member of Jamaican Parliament in 2007– one of the youngest women to hold a seat, Lisa parlayed that position to be appointed Minister of Youth and Culture on the Island when her party, the Peoples National Party [PNP] was elected to power December 29, 2011.

 

While the position might appear as fun & games, Lisa has quite the task at hand, as not only is she instrumental in shaping and changing Jamaica’s future [children do grow up at some point], but she is also the first point of contact representing our Island in the arts & culture arena — Miss Lou, palm trees & beaches can only go so far… Also, 2016 Jamaica is light years away from 1972 Jamaica when my family was still there — that bloom is off the rose. There have been decades of government corruption & mismanagement that Lisa has probably inherited along with her position, [oh I guarantee there’s been some nonsense!] and that political Jamaican Old Boy Network is like a titanium fortress!. She also has her critics in the arena—many just embarrassing themselves and their country in reaction to a ‘pretty girl in power’. Surely she has to prove herself every day, and over & over again she stands her ground. As long as she can break out of the rigid pageant mold and think outside of the box, Lisa is smart enough and creative enough to be successful.

 

“For me, it is not the position, nor the title that gave the credibility or status; it was the substance that I gave to the journey.”

 

Nina Simone, 2/21/1933 – 4/21/2003

Every time I hear the ‘Feeling Good’ hook progression I imagine someone like Jane Russell or Mae West doing some kind of super sultry burlesque performance to it… slowly slinking around a luxurious dressing room, leading with their hips and arms outstretched feeling the air sensuously as they move thru it, a chaise lounge in there somewhere, well-lit in a muted amber glow… gorgeousness… Unfortunately not written by my gorgeous darling of the day, Nina Simone – actually we have a couple of Brits to thank for this ditty – Anthony Newly & Leslie Bricusse, and while so many have sung it, nobody comes close to Nina [well… maybeMattBellamyfromMuse ::ducking & running::] in capturing it so succinctly & simply but oh so poignantly.

 

 

Nina, nee Eunice Kathleen Waymon, the sixth of eight children, was destined to stir things up a bit… if one is a little stirred up all already, the ‘stirring’, as it were, is inevitable. Here we have a life of musical talent & opportunity, passion, and at times heartbreak and darkness. Her civil rights activism started early too, as during a piano recital at 12, her parents, proud of their daughter, had sat front & center, but were asked to move to the back to make room for the white audience members… it’s rumored that little Eunice refused to play until her parents were moved back to the front row! Oh that pesky Segregation… hanging around like a crotchety old man in high-waisted pants that needs a good washing… The Waymons were a poor family, but they recognized Eunice’s talent [she would later take on the stage name of Nina Simone in order to secretly perform in jazz clubs, singing the “Devil’s” music, as her Methodist minister mother deemed her choice of genre]. There was always struggle with the thought of school and actually getting in. Wouldn’t it be a perfect world to have a situation in which school was completely taken care of and you just show up & do well, then get out and propagate your awesomeness into the world? Not have to worry about the funds, or getting shut down because of how you look? First was the Curtis Institute of Music in Philly, and despite an audition that blew the review staff away, she was denied. Nina was convinced that racism was behind the refusal. Luckily, NYCs Julliard School was around the corner, and while she did well there, sadly, money ran out.

 

So, time to perform! this way Nina could pay for private lessons and get out there & be heard. An Atlantic City bar was her first stepping off point. Her musical style incorporated gospel, pop, a bit of jazz, especially adding that distinct contralto of hers, with a tiny smidgen of classical Baroque woven in [a little of the ol’ Johann Sebastian] as well as Romantic era classical styles… that’s how you blend! Then would come her first album, ‘Little Girl Blue’… unfortunately the financial negotiations of this endeavor weren’t properly nailed down. Nina lost alot on this, but artistically she was still successful, and her talent & drive propelled her into the next decade. Controversy followed our dear Nina; I mentioned the ‘stirring up’ aspect earlier. Her angle of the Civil Rights movement was a bit spicier than MLK Jr. and his efforts for peace. She went the Malcolm X ‘by any means necessary’ route, and she stayed active. When you speak your mind & are forthright, as Nina was, feathers got ruffled. There were also rumors of a temper and irrational behavior. Much of this may have been due to her bi-polar condition, and she would begin taking meds from the mid-60s onward. All of these road bumps hindered nothing. The ‘High Priestess of Soul’, as Nina was nicknamed, continued to be successful in her musical career, even if her personal life got a little dicey. The number of artists she’s influenced reads like an exclusive phonebook! Despite her success here in the States, by the early 70s she decided that living abroad was more suited for her— from what she was witnessing, there were just certain things that weren’t going to change in the US. She would travel & live between Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Barbados & Liberia, performing along the away. Her performance style was captivating– just chatting to or with the audience like she was hosting a dinner party in between selections, sometimes silence… the audience would follow her; she’d hold them there on her every word like magic.

 

Nina fell in the love with Southern France and settled down there in 1993… 10 years later, with Spring upon us, she finally succumbed to the breast cancer that plagued her for some time, and died in her sleep in Carry-le-Rouet, Bouches-du-Rhône. Wouldn’t ask for a better place to kick off! Would have been so cool to run into her at Marché in Arles… Sleep well dear Nina.

 

“The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds your self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough.”

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Loosehandlebars’ Cool Chicks For Black History Month

 

Zora Neale Hurston   January 7 1891 – January 28 1960

 

“I love myself when I am laughing. . . and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.”…now that’s a long but irresistible title for a book. In 1975, 7 years before “The Color Purple” made her name, Alice Walker wrote “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” for Ms magazine. In 1979 she edited an anthology of Hurston’s work & blessed it with this eye-catching tongue-twister of a title. It’s a selection of autobiography, fiction & folklore from between 1920 & 1950, writing of great energy, individuality & integrity. Who the heck was Zora Neale Hurston ? Where had she been all my life ?

 

Zora is connected to the Harlem Renaissance, an African-American blossoming of culture, philosophy & politics in the years between the World Wars, between days of slavery & the change that gonna come. By the time she arrived on this vibrant scene in 1925, as the sole black student at Barnard College, she had seen & done some things for herself. Raised in Eatonville Florida, one of the first self-governing all black municipalities in the USA, her experience of self-determination, independent of white society, influenced her strongly held views which often found her at at odds with her contemporaries. Aged 26 Zora, in order to finish high school before enrolling in college, adjusted her age down by 10 years. With those cheekbones it seems that she got away with it.

 

Her autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road” (1942) took liberties with the truth too but is an individual, funny, poignant story, Apparently Zora was quite something back in the day. You don’t hear the word “sassy” much today, “when Zora was there, she was the party.”, her spirit & her intellect show in her writing. As an anthropologist she studied obeah in Jamaica, voodoo in Haiti, the stories of the South in the US. The best known of her 4 novels, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) makes use of a vernacular which can look awkward today, the story of Janie Crawford, a woman finding her own voice at a time when people didn’t want to hear it, abides as a story that we should know.

 

Zora spent her later years back in Florida, in bad health, working as a maid, dying in poverty. She remains significant & to be celebrated in her own write, as an influence & inspiration to those who followed, preparing the way for Toni Morrison, the blessed Maya & others. Alice Walker, posing as a niece (Zora would have approved), located the unmarked grave in Fort Pierce & placed a headstone inscribed “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South” Amen !

 

“Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

 

Mavis Staples   July 10, 1939

 

From all the great voices I could have chosen Billie Holiday, Nina Simone (Gigi Mac beat me to it !) or Aretha Franklin. The word “underrated” is banned at this blog, none of the people I choose to celebrate are overlooked round our house. Mavis Staples is there in the pantheon of with all those women singers who made living in the 20th century better than it could have been.

 

Of course we are not the only ones to hold Mavis in such high regard. Her last 3 records (there’s a new one I’ve yet to investigate) were produced by Ry Cooder & Jeff Tweedy. In the late 1980s she was signed to Paisley Park records by Prince. Her group, the Staple Singers are featured singing “The Weight” in the Band’s movie “The Last Waltz”. Then there was her friendship with Bob Dylan who, back in the day, asked her father if he could marry his young, beautiful daughter. You may not have heard Mavis sing in 1963 but she was as fresh & joyous as this photograph. What’s not to love ?

 

Patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples led his family on quite a journey in the 1960s. Mavis had been singing with her siblings since she was 11 years old & their gospel-folk sound found them work beyond the parochial church circuit. Pops had a good ear, just as the mystery of “Uncloudy Day” impressed Dylan the Staple Singers recorded “Blowing in the Wind” & then Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With”. His friendship with Martin Luther King led to songs of freedom & redemption. The first LP released on signing to Stax Records in 1968 was titled “Soul Folk in Action”. Stax had an eye on making a star out of Mavis, there were solo records, a double LP of duets but the family ties that bind were stronger than the lure of putting herself out there.

 

And she was right. By 1971 the Staples Singers were ready for their close-up. Wattstax, Soul Train, the toppermost of the poppermost. In a Golden Age of Soul Music Pops & his young, gifted & black daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne & Mavis, didn’t say it loud, they stated their case clearly, considerately & consciously.”Respect Yourself”, “I’ll Take You There”, “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” & many others, music for the head & heart. At the centre was lead singer Mavis, soulful, spiritual & gorgeous, taking us to church, keeping us on the right path. When Curtis Mayfield wanted to record the more secular “Let’s Do It Again” with the group Pops had some reservations. Praise be to your chosen deity that the record exists.Here’s another good one…”got to get up as soon as you get down”.

 

 

Mavis is 76 now, so lovely, still performing & a legend. Her work with Jeff Tweedy rewards a listen & she is by no means on the golden oldie circuit. Those images of her, with her sisters, are exalting & exhilarating. The message, “Respect Yourself” keeps on keeping on

 

“I’m singing these songs to inspire you, to keep you going, to lift you up and give you a reason to get up in the morning.”

 

 

Bessie “BB” Stringfield. 1911-1993

 

Born in Kingston Jamaica, moved to Boston but orphaned at 5 years old, Bessie Stringfield was given her first motorcycle, an Indian, by her adoptive mother when she was 16. Before she was out of her teens she had developed a taste for Harley Davidsons, was looking for adventure & hoped to find it on the road. She began the first of 8 trips across the USA, crossing 48 states. Can you imagine what it was like for a young woman travelling solo on a hog in 1930s America ? You can try but you won’t get near to the stories that Bessie could have told us.

 

Often there was no place for her to sleep out in the Wild West & the segregated South. With her jacket across the handlebars as a pillow she would spend the night with her bike. To make a few bucks she entered hill-climbing races, performed stunts & acrobatics at carnivals & fairs. In World War II she served as a civilian courier for the US Army for 4 years, crossing the country on her blue Harley. After the war she settled in Florida, becoming known as “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami”, founding the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club while working as a nurse, acknowledged as a “Hero of Harley Davidson” & riding to the end of her life. Bessie Stringfield’s  unlikely & audacious experiences would make a great fictional character. She was for real & she rocked.

“I was somethin’.

 

 

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 9)

 

Aisha Tyler, B: September 18, 1970

“Sweetly wicked”. I love that description of Aisha Tyler from Esquire magazine… I am scanning her accomplishments and appointments thus far in her 45 years of life, and my mouth has dropped. When did this happen?? Busy doesn’t even begin to describe the whirlwind rise of this woman’s career. I remember ramen noodle era stand-up comedy Aisha; razor-sharp witted Aisha; hungry Aisha, hosting lame game shows and Talk Soup and laughing at all of it in her adorably smarmy way; smart as a whip, Dartmouth-educated Aisha– and the camera has always been in love with her… I always wonder if you can lose yourself after the graduation of cramming secondhand IKEA stuff you get on Craigslist and lugging it home in your Jeep, to having your assistant procure the lovely little mid-century modern settee you won at a private auction in Milan last week. I don’t watch TV, but I’m sorta aware of this ‘The Talk’ thing Aisha’s a part of these days– a bunch of yammering chicks discussing ‘fascinating’ topics like Kylie Jenner’s new ombre’d hair or Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner’s divorce vacation practices [did I guess right?? quick! I’m about to pass out from holding my breath!] all of the other carefully engineered appearances with the ‘right’ people sharing the screen. In some of the more recent pictures I notice every now & then, an unmoving forehead, a tightening here & there… I suppose one must do what one must to stay on top of one’s game in a sea of 20- & 30- somethings clamoring for the same position – all of that is so not Aisha! She’d be the one making fun of all of that lovely mess.

 

Aisha’s no longer a struggling comedienne performing in some dank club where her cut of the haul that night may have included a rebuffed polyester shirted, gold-chained, doused in Drakkar Noir, grope. She’s even done proper act-y stuff on proper TV shows, that I’ve clearly missed. She’s paid her dues, but I just hope Aisha hasn’t forgotten her roots, and that freshness with which she’d approach & deliver her material. The right eyes have recognized that talent, and she’s run with it, and keeps running – in fact she’s sprouted wings! big graceful wings to match her 6’0” statuesque awesomeness! She’s even still doing stand-up. Surely the venues have changed, and her audience has expanded, but the Funny is still there. We won’t get Amy Schumer or Whitney Cummings [maybe a little Whitney-ish] material, but the edge, while a tad more smoothed out appropriately, is still there.

 

Back in the 90s Aisha was the kind of chick I’d get some lunch with, and we’d have each other laughing the whole time… the 2016 scenario? well, if I made it past the studio, a couple lawyers and a team of assistants, then*maybe* – waivers for sure would be involved… and no pictures please. Such is the price of becoming a household name. Still adore her, and these days I especially adore her voice work for Archer, a pretty ‘wicked’ hardly ever ‘sweet’, brilliant animation currently in production, the 7th season due to be out at the end of March. Every now & then I hear bits of the old Aisha in Lana Kane’s voice, and I sigh with relief. We haven’t lost her yet!

“Am I going to complain about being typecast as smart? I don’t think so.”

 

Now look, I don’t know WHO this woman is… I didn’t even bother looking her up when I discovered her pic last year. This was enough. Utter. Perfection.

Got nothing else to say but ‘Enjoy’ [I suppose this could be her quote too] …and I’ll go head to a corner to weep, contemplate the universe & question my attractiveness… toodles… ;D

 

 

Mae Jemison, B: October 17, 1956

 

Hurray for the Science Girls! Hurray for being the first black woman in space! It seems by the time we hit puberty, even if a little girl has a ‘leaning’, mysteriously it gets abandoned for something else a bit less challenging. Why is that? Mae Carol Jemison could have been one of those girls, but she was always wanting to learn, always inquisitive. There were big plans in the works for her, but there were obstacles. There are always obstacles… from the classic misguided advice of a shortsighted teacher– Kindergarten Mae: I want to be a scientist! Teacher: don’t you mean a nurse sweetie? and of course, nursing is a noble profession [please! my sister’s a nurse, a good one! plus she looks like Mae! now THERE’s your twist!] but Mae wanted what she wanted, and nothing was stopping her. Then later, at Stanford while pursuing engineering, if she wasn’t completely ignored, she would get the classic, ‘well that’s a dumb question’ reaction from her professors, then young Jimmy would ask the very same thing thing a few weeks later, with the response of ‘well that’s a very astute observation young man’. Yeah, sounds like a bad 80s movie… but it happens, toss in a little racial discrimination and it’s a party.

 

But do you see Mae in her orange astronaut uniform tho! Nothing stopped this woman. Cornell for her Doctor of Medicine degree, travels to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand, Peace Corp volunteering, and throughout all of this, there was also dance, her passion from an early age. Her mother once told her that while she could always dance and be a doctor, she really couldn’t really doctor if she was a dancer. Moms are the best… So dancing was Mae’s outlet throughout all of it—the rejection, the awkward moments, the adulation. Also, remember how Nichelle Nichols had inspired tons of women & little girls? Mae was one of those little girls! She was always fascinated by space travel, and after Sally Ride’s flight in 1983, Dr. [thank you very much] Jemison took the opportunity, this glorious opening, as a chance to apply to the Program at NASA. There was a bit of a hiccup after the Challenger crash in ’86 but this only fueled her desire to participate. The rest of her career was really uneventful, Mae simply accomplished what she wanted to and nothing would stop her. All the fuss & bother of first this and first that was nice enough, but being a very smart woman, she knew it didn’t stop there. After retiring in ’93 she carried on — professor at Cornell University & Dartmouth College, forming her own corporations, foundations, all of which she combines technology with practical medical science – always looking forward to the future & what it has in store for us.

 

“People always think of technology as something having silicon in it. But a pencil is technology. Any language is technology. Technology is a tool we use to accomplish a particular task and when one talks about appropriate technology in developing countries, appropriate may mean anything from fire to solar electricity.”

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 8)

 

Koya Webb- B, July 31, 1981

 

I came across Koya Webb recently during a recipe search from one of my favorite raw vegans, Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram. Koya is also a raw vegan! They’ve actually collaborated on a few yoga-themed projects as well, and that was very exciting to see! Those two are blowing up! I wouldn’t say I’m completely raw or even completely vegan. I would define my eating habits as ‘clean omnivore with raw vegan & fruitarian leanings’ 🙂 and right now, I’m not even doing that! [prep time kills me]. Normally, my first choice would be something green or fruity, but I’m not gonna be an a*hole about it — like go to restaurants and implore the poor wait staff & managers as to the intricate details of how a plant-based item on their menu is prepared, or turn up my nose at work lunch outings [yeay! job!], insulting hosts at a party… eating is a social thing! Besides, a big ol’ rockfish every now & then, grilled with my pomegranate ginger marinade is RIDIC.

 

Koya is still new to me, so I’m finding out that not only is she a raw chick but also a yoga guru + health coach + fitness model + motivational speaker… it goes on & on… She’s the definition of lithe; and she glows! That smile! Those legs! and it seems like she’s making the rounds: appearances on National network news channels, talk shows, various health magazines– Essence, Oxygen, Vegan Health and Fitness, Max Sport and Fitness, and Muscle and Performance to name a few. Hope she really does well… anybody with a mission to: “spread love consciousness mentally, spiritually, and physically worldwide one breath at a time” is worth at least a few moments. I’m not really a clamor-er… I’m not waiting with bated breath for the next ‘enlightened’ guru to ‘show me the way’. I tend to be skeptical about most everything & most everyone, but Koya is definitely inspirational. All of our journeys continue. I’m not there yet, but every day is an opportunity to improve & evolve… I might be approaching 50 in a couple years, but I’ve got a feeling I’ve only just begun…

 

“Being free is following your soul and letting it guide you to your next destination in life. I love experiencing life organically one breath at a time.”

 

Esperanza Spalding, B: October 18, 1984

My first introduction to Esperanza Emily Spalding was on Youtube… one of those natural hair chickies was doing a tutorial on her hairstyle for the Grammies — this pic I chose of her is from that night– never was that psysed about an updo with fluff or curls on top, but it was cute enough and Esperanza’s version was gorgeous, well SHE’s gorgeous… so of course I wanted to know why this woman was so special. I like jazz enough, but not to know everybody’s names… I like what I like when I hear it, if I like it, then I like it… yeahhhh….. have fun with that! [just know that when I ‘like’ it, it’s ON. Locked in. Why do you think I can’t shake flamenco? I have Vivaldi to thank for that!] I got acquainted with Esperanza’s magical standing bass & grooved on for a bit. So this was 2011. That year I discovered the most delightful thing I would ever discover about an artist. It seems Esperanza was caught up in a bit of fresh hell, because she and Justin Bieber were both up for the New Artist of the Year Award[?!] and to the violent chagrin of all the ‘Beliebers’, Maestra [yes I said it] Spalding WON! There was weeping and gnashing of teeth across the globe for young master Bieber… and I just found a new best friend!! If this was all this woman would ever do in her lifetime, it would be enough. Hyenas in heat [no, that’s not a band] could have taken the award instead of Justin Bieber, and we’d be having a celebratory lunch. I’d be in some sort of padded jumpsuit with headgear & goggles, but we’d power thru! …and I *HATE* awards shows! You couldn’t PAY me to watch those trainwrecks! oh you best believe I’ll check out the clothes, but the concept of them & all that posturing is bs, and why we’re up in arms now over all of it is beyond me – hm… all this recent nonsense might be a trick to distract us from something… just you wait ‘enry ‘iggins… haHaa!

::oops, sorry, tangent again, where was I::

 

 

From that moment on, I knew the stars had aligned and I had to dive into what Esperanza had to offer! Quick sweep from the beginning: Prodigy, absolute musical genius, probably from birth. She began officially, playing violin in the Chamber Music Orchestra of Oregon – at 5 years of age. FIVE! Self-taught, then formally trained — on violin, double bass, bass guitar, violin & cello, and also a vocalist—a sweet light, slightly smokey soprano with impeccable pitch control. She has been asked of all the instruments, what drew her to the bass, and her response was simply that it wasn’t a choice, that the bass has its own arc that resonated with her, that discovering the bass was like ”waking up one day and realizing that you were in love with your co-worker”. I imagine this tiny girl then later tiny woman dragging this gigantic instrument around up & down the Berklee College of Music stairs, calluses forming, evolving, assimilating… sleepless nights… endless writing, bleeding fingers, tears, musical nirvana… yeah, all that happened. That love affair was the best gift to all of us. See, Esperanza is a musician sure, but there is more going on in her mind than she lets on- it’s phenomenal and analytical, but she doesn’t get ahead of herself – she has married the idea of sound and science into a beautiful conscious thing with a formula, but she doesn’t draw attention to that– no no, the art must shine… She’s truly a genius—with this beautiful enigmatic fro that changes day to day [sometimes I weep for her ends!] and a gorgeous smile with her signature missing upper canine tooth [or maybe just extra space-y?]… she’s adorable! if she had pointy ears and wings, she’d remind me of a wood nymph. My only fear is of all these studios and labels courting her and trying to change her… I’ve already seen that they’ve fixed her tooth, and she’s landed in a make-up artist’s chair a few times more than not these days… I worry…

 

I’ll be seeing Esperanza at my beloved 9:30 Club in April, and I’m so excited I can’t even stand it! Her new stuff is super experimental—with a Laurie Anderson-ish /Bjork-ish tinge to some of her pieces. Scary! Good-Scary! 😉 There were scads of music quotes from Esperanza, but this one shows her compassion– don’t we all just need to feel valued?

“You can grow up with literally nothing and you don’t suffer if you know you’re loved and valued.”

 

Lupita Nyong’o, B: March 1, 1983

pssst, I’ve got a confession for all of you:…ready ?

 

::I’ve never seen ‘12 Years a Slave’:: shhhh… well, I’ve seen odd & random clips here & there– Mikey Fassbender sliding around a pigpen while chasing down Chiwetel Ejiofor, also a bizarre slave hoedown where Lupita gets an on-the-rocks tumbler hurled at her by a crazy stressed out lady… whatever’s going on, it can’t be good… I’m not chomping at the bit [is it champing?] meh, maybe later I’ll get the dvd, put the comments feature on– should be an interesting listen… blooper reel…?

 

So, like Frank Costanza, I’m goin’ in FRESH! What I do know is the moment Lupita Amondi Nyong’o stepped onto the scene, almost EVERYthing on this beautiful baby was PERFECTION—from her tiny fro to the tips of her heels, including this famous Calvin Klein pearl gown that for a moment was actually stolen from her dressing room, after another one of those lame award shows [not even sure which one – the Oscars maybe?] but eventually returned… There ARE some moments when an unfortunate stylist, possibly unhappy with his or her life, gets into the mix, but for the most part, this woman is always stunningly gorgeous. That’s about it really… I’m just happy to gaze & be jealous for a while… We’ve seen that she’s charming and gracious in interviews, Vanity Fair is on a mission to court her to be one of the ‘gang’, we can look up the Mexico-Kenya connection, her artistic & politically involved family, and her multilingual talents, her past, present & future acting roles, see those neat shots of her with the dots all over her face – I was so hoping that would have been her look for ‘Star Wars the Force Awakens’, but alas alak, that was just super-cool tech at work to transform her into Maz Kanata [she had wanted a role where her actual appearance wasn’t required], catch up on all the humanitarian causes to which she selflessly lends herself, be proud of her producing/directing debut for ‘In My Genes’… but my lord, would you just look at Lupita… ::sigh::

 

“I discovered that joy is not the negation of pain, but rather acknowledging the presence of pain and feeling happiness in spite of it.”

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Beatles (George Martin)

If anyone gets to be the Fifth Beatle & it’s not Stuart Sutcliffe, Pete Best or Neil Aspinall then I guess that it’s George Martin. From the first auditions in 1962, attempting to get the group to record other people’s songs, to “Abbey Road” in 1969 his name was on all the records except “Let It Be” as producer. Martin’s classical background & arranging skills undoubtedly provided the Beatles with an expansive musical palette to serve their ambitious, imaginative development. As the tour became more magical & mysterious he may have been just the guy who sat in the Abbey Road booth waiting for the group to work it out for themselves but that booth was his office & had been for some time before the Fab Four came down from Liverpool.

 

Born in 1926 George Martin served in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II before resuming his musical studies & then, in 1950, joining Electrical & Musical Industries, E.M.I., as assistant to the head of Parlophone Records. Five years later he inherited the label, an incongruous mix of  classical, original cast & novelty recordings. Martin, like many of his generation, was a fan of The Goon Show, a cutting edge comedy radio programme whose irreverent, anarchic humour, forged in barrack rooms across the Empire, reflecting a growing British lack of deference & respect for convention, was very funny stuff. Comedy records became the thing that George Martin did in the late 1950s.

 

Peter Sellers was very busy in 1959. The year was topped & tailed by the 9th & 10th series of The Goon Show. As a shape-shifting character actor he starred in 4 British feature films. “I’m All Right Jack”, a cuspate satire on industrial relations, was the most popular movie of the year. Sellers’ nuanced portrayal of shop steward Fred Kite  is a candidate for a Top 3 of his cinema performances, a field that was to become more crowded over the years. He also found the time to record the George Martin produced “Songs For Swingin’ Sellers”, an hour of inspired lunacy, more gentle than his Goonery. The LP has continuity, music hall influences & even a sitar on “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely”, so has “Sergeant Pepper’s…, too much…probably.

 

Sellers had his eye on bigger & better things & though “The Millionairess” is no “Dr Strangelove” or “The Pink Panther” the film matched him with Sophia Loren. Martin commissioned the writing of “Goodness Gracious Me” as a duet for the pair.The song wasn’t used in the film but Martin devised “Peter & Sophia”, a whole LP of songs & skits. “Bangers & Mash”, an Italo/Cockney culture clash, was written by the same team as “Goodness…”. Peter was, understandably, infatuated with his co-star & I’m sure he was enthusiastic about spending time with her in a recording studio.

 

 

“Songs For Swingin’ Sellers” & “Peter & Sophia” were both Top 10 hits in the UK then, in 1961, Martin produced a #1 hit record. The Temperance Seven had been founded in 1904 at the Pasadena Cocoa Rooms on the Balls Pond Rd (or not !). Their slick, arch take on 1920s jazz was appealing for a while & “You’re Driving Me Crazy” was a super smash. George Martin used the increased cash & influence to make more comedy records. There was a Goon album, George had become a very good friend of writer Spike Milligan. “The Bridge Over the River Wye” had a title change after threat of legal action by the producers of a current film. The diminutive Charlie Drake had UK hit covers of US hits before recording “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back”, a song about an Aborigine boy who lacked skills. It was funny when I was a kid but the more politically correct grown up I have become finds the offhand stereotyping less so. It didn’t seem to bother the Australians & it was a #1 hit Down Under.

 

Bernard Cribbins was part of the same comedy/cabaret revue circuit by which actor-comedians made their living after the demise of the music halls. In 1962 he & Martin made 3 chart singles. “The Hole in the Ground”, a cracking story of a workman & a bureaucrat, was chosen as a Desert Island Disc by Noel Coward, a master of wit & economy. “Right Said Fred” is about the struggles of 3 shifters with an unspecified awkward object. The guys dismantle the object, knock down a wall & drink plenty of tea before giving up & going home…been there. I had not seen this animated clip since children’s TV in ancient times. It is, of course, fantastic !

 

For many of these records Martin provided imaginative arrangements & sound effects. For other acts he had little more to do than point some microphones. “Beyond the Fringe”, a blend of talents from the Cambridge Footlights & the Oxford Revue, debuted in Edinburgh in 196o, By February 1963 UK comedy had gotten all satirical, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore were the toast of Broadway & JFK was in the audience. The transfer to vinyl of this phenomenal success was handled by George Martin.While the quartet was in New York the satire boom was brought to the masses (12 million of them) by way of the “That Was the Week That Was” TV programme. Once again when TW3 made an LP it was the go to guy that they went to.

 

 

Michael Flanders & Donald Swann were a different cup of Earl Grey altogether. Friends from schooldays they were the best dinner guests at Gosford Park ever, needing only a piano to sing their quirky, erudite songs for their suppers. Their revue “At the Drop of a Hat”, just the two of them, ran for 800 performances in that London before transferring, in 1959, to Broadway for another 200 plus. The pair were posh, educated & literary but the elements of silliness & social commentary made them very popular. Both had experienced run-ins with the Establishment, Swann was a conscientious objector in World War II, Flanders was refused permission to resume his studies at Oxford after a bout of polio left him reliant on a wheelchair ! Flanders & Swann may seem a little anachronistic, a genteel kind of cabaret.The bottom line of any comedy is to be funny & that they were. There was further success with “At the Drop of Another Hat”, both best-selling recordings of these shows were produced by…you know.

 

Ringo and Spike

Well, that’s a parade of the hierarchy of British comedy in the early 1960s  passing through Abbey Road. George Martin was looking to gain an entry into rock & roll for his label & when the Beatles showed up they knew who he was. John Lennon was a massive fan of Spike Milligan & The Goons, his book of nonsense “A Spaniard in the Works” being heavy on the Milliganisms. Did he know that this was a band that would change popular music ?Not a chance but by the end of 1963 Martin was too busy to make the funny records. The Mersey Beat was taking over, Brian Epstein’s boys, The Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer & the Dakotas, were monopolising the #1 spot on the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. All 3 acts made records “produced by George Martin”. This was the big time…only bigger.

 

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 7)

Rosa Parks, 2/4/1913 – 10/24/2005

 

Segregation. I don’t think I could handle segregation. I’m the kind of person who, on occasion, saunters into a situation like I belong there even if I don’t. As a kid I would get physically uneasy if I missed anything, sneaking into grown-up roof parties, hanging out with my brothers & their friends, even at the risk of losing ½ a pinky toe… I even hate naps! [well, I’ve learned to appreciate them… thanx] 

 

How can a society of sentient beings with opposable thumbs — who share a language [!!] propose and uphold such a thing as segregation?? How does anybody do anything, frankly? Humans have knowingly devoured cheese loaded with maggots [yes, that’s a thing! what’s up Sardinia?!], shuttled other humans off in trains in great numbers to murder them, committed suicide en masse so that a comet can take them to paradise — yup, add ‘religion’ to the picture & it takes on a whole new sticky element– porn… [ha! sorry, I just find the word funny! but yeah, porn is pretty creepy too]. Given the right timing, the right audience & the right presenter, ANYthing can happen to ANYone. Scary stuff. December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama– after a very long day at work, and actually sitting in her designated ‘colored only’ area on her bus ride home, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, probably cranky and looking forward to something good for dinner, was told to get up from her seat and move back. I suspect it was Montgomery’s version of rush hour and the bus was getting packed… so the driver did something shady [but I’m sure practiced all the time] he moved the ‘colored only’ sign one row back and told the blacks that were sitting in the now ‘whites only territory’ to move. Rosa wasn’t budging; in fact she politely scooted over towards the window to make space for whoever needed to sit [oh boy! I think we’re related]. Before you knew it, cops were called, mugshots were taken, boycotts started and history was made. This was it, people!

 

This act of defiance, at this time, was the catalyst to ALL of it. People had refused to move before, it wasn’t uncommon, but this time they didn’t know who they were dealing with. By this point Rosa, 42, was primed & seasoned in all kinds of Civil Rights-y stuff. As a child she was constantly bullied by the white kids in her neighborhood [and you bet she fought back!]; she saw the Klan marching past her house and her grandfather protecting it, shotgun in hand; she had married a man who was an active NAACP member, then joined the Montgomery chapter herself and became Secretary. Also, this wasn’t the first encounter with that bus driver! on one stormy evening in 1943 she entered the bus from the front door, and the city rules required that blacks enter from the rear, he told her to enter again from the rear, she calmly stepped off and waited for the next bus – in the rain! 12 years later, she was so tired & distracted she didn’t realize it was the same moron. She was ready. Sometimes timing is everything. The right timing, the right audience, the right presenter… [it can go both ways right?] there were some bumpy roads ahead—she *was* a woman with an opinion after all, better yet, a woman of COLOR— but she fought on, and a fleet of honors and ceremonies and dedications later, indeed, the rest is history. There were some messy bits at the end of her life, but these sorts of things happen when fools handle the business affairs of old ladies. RIP Rosa, First Lady of Civil Rights.

 

 

Over the summer I had the privilege of visiting one of my favorite gothic hot spots in DC 😉 the National Cathedral! and spied a small limestone ceiling carving of Rosa in one of the foyers [west I believe], hanging out with Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt and others – all skillfully done & well-lit . That’s some good company!

 

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

 

Lauren Anderson- B, February 19, 1965

 

 

Misty Copeland…. Good people, I was all set to present to you on this good day Ms. Misty Copeland. I really was! This woman has been photographed and blogged about to exhaustion. Inspirational! Adorable! Athletic! Graceful! Certainly, she has really accomplished a lot in almost 15 years at the American Ballet Theatre…. and just last summer, was named principal dancer there at the ABT– the first black female dancer to be honored with this opportunity. So proud! I was looking for a great pic of her and came across a quote she made about her role in Swan Lake:

“There’s just something about that ballet that people just — you envision this very pale Russian extremely tall woman as the swan. And typically people don’t see African-American women as ballerinas because they don’t think that we’re soft and feminine and sylph-like. They see us as very powerful and aggressive. And so I want to have the opportunity to prove them wrong.”

I’m not sure why I cringed at this… but I did, and continued my search for my perfect Misty pic nonetheless…

 

Then I came across Lauren Anderson… Who the f* is Lauren Anderson?! Welllll…. she’s around 50, [and today is her birthday! happy birthday Lauren!] lives in Houston with her jazz saxophonist husband Kyle Turner and son, [getting better] was a dancer in the Houston Ballet Company during 1983-2006 [even better] and was named principal dancer in 1990! Bingo! So why don’t we know who this woman is? SHE was groundbreaking, as she was the first black female principal dancer for that prestigious company—a trailblazer for others to come, including Misty. SHE got the same ‘you’re too powerful & athletic to do this’ speech, to which she flipped it on them and actually transformed her body composition to fit the requirements to be successful at her craft. SHE was extremely talented… Yes, yes, I know, I’m seeing lots of “was’s” and past tense stuff for lovely Lauren, and Misty is NOW. Plus, the ABT is a huge deal; highly visible & astronomically competitive– once you’re there, you’re set, and to be named principal dancer—and be black, well! Start writing your memoirs immediately! but the balance seems off. I won’t speculate…. it just seems off to me. America can be tricky… Lauren struck a chord in me, in a sort of unsung heroine way. Living in virtual anonymity, she deserves more recognition.

 

After retiring in 2006, Lauren began teaching ballet as well as conducting master classes in Houston, and she also lectures. Seems a bit full circle that she’s now teaching at the very academy founded by the same art director that told her to give up ballet because her body wasn’t built for it. Search engines are replete with Misty, you can’t get enough of her! jeté-ing & fouetté-ing & arabesque-ing all over the place, mid-air– it’s gorgeous! stylist off-camera ready with an outfit change & more powder and Evian… but you may have to dig for Lauren Anderson. You may even slip & wonder how you got elbow-deep on a playboy playmate’s page with the same name. Back- arrow & add ‘ballet’… perv…

 

“Because art is not a privilege, it’s a right… I think every kid should not just be exposed to it, but get to experience it. Put it on them. I just want to put it on them.”

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 6)

 

Nichelle Nichols, B: December 28, 1932

WHO. IS. THIS. SILVER. FOX. RIGHT. HERE??

This is Nichelle Nichols, and we are now entering into the upper regions of coolness. Hold onto something. I just want to know how just THREE years of a series can propel a cast into such legend as the cast of Star Trek, original series! What sort of wizardry is behind this Mr. Roddenberry?? Nichelle will always be Lt. Nyota Uhura to me. Zoë Saldana & JJ Abrams have tried their best, but it just won’t do… meh, somebody’s gotta do it tho, and so far, so decent…

Sometimes typecasting works to your favor. Did you know Nichelle Nichols began her career singing? She can proudly attest to performing with the likes of Duke Ellington & Lionel Hampton. There were also other acting roles she had, including an earlier, short-lived project by Gene Roddenberry called [how fitting] “The Lieutenant”, but all that she did would never equal the groundbreaking event that is Star Trek. Star Trek spawned an animated series, a slew of supplemental series depicting other facets of the franchise—one of which is due out in 2017, hopefully starring Angela Bassett [?! if that’s true, I hope everybody’s ready for those amazing cheekbones on-screen!] movies that are still being made this very day [Uhura even made it to Admiral!] in fact ‘Star Trek Beyond’ will play this summer. There’s a bit of resistance to JJ Abrams’ style by some of the Trekkie purists, but it’s out there, and I’m sure he’s banking on the fans not giving up on Roddenberry’s vision & cutting him some slack… hm… [besides, we know resistance is futile… bahaa…]

OK, back to Nichelle! At one point during the first year of filming Star Trek, and possibly with a broken heart, as Gene Roddenberry, a former lover, had chosen to be formally linked to Majel Hudec [also part of the cast & as well as the voice of the computer in Star Trek: The Next Generation] and would later marry her, Nichelle was tempted by Broadway. She was actually going to leave the show to pursue the stage, until Martin Luther King Jr. himself, a big fan of the show, appealed to her to stay on. See, this was the first time the public had ever seen a black woman in a series NOT being someone’s servant, working alongside a diverse crew—in space! This was exciting!! Women & little girls would be inspired for years to come. So she stayed. Oh boy did she stay! Even after the last episode wrapped, Nichelle, always passionate about space travel, went on to be a volunteer at NASA, recruiting women & minority personnel and even participating in some of the voyages as an honorary guest, launching all kinds of programs for pursuit of space travel, writing books. As long as her health permits, she tries to make it to as many appearances as she can, always holding up the ‘Live Long & Prosper’ hand greeting, always genuinely happy to represent her franchise and she what she believes in. Even though actors have to fight the typecasting gremlin with other roles they pursue, it seems Nichelle had no problem at all slipping into other roles in unrelated shows and movies. In the backs of our minds, we kinda know she’ll always be Uhura, but her acting chops lends itself to whatever she’s doing, and seamlessly –that’s an actress’s actress right there. Class.

 

 

Her health… this brings me to recent events for Nichelle. Just last year, she succumbed to a mild stroke while at home and as of this date is recuperating. I think this year, if I do Halloween that is, I want to be Uhura… I just need a good Captain Kirk…

“Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going. Space travel benefits us here on Earth. And we ain’t stopped yet. There’s more exploration to come.”

 

Harriet Tubman, B: 1822 – March 10, 1913

 

OK, I’m convinced Harriet Tubman had a twin or was a cyborg from the future, because how could this petite 5’0” tall woman throughout her 91 years of life, some of which she spent as a slave [and the only thing she knew, as she was 3nd generation] do so many death defying things, all for the freedom of others? We’re talking covert ops, secret escape messages thru singing, night time maneuvers, bounties on her head, spy stuff! later serving as a nurse during the civil war, and she was doing this with ongoing head trauma injuries suffered when she was younger at the hand of an angry overseer– constant dizzy spells and hyperinsomnia… maintaining a family, and in a full skirt with petticoats! From her memoirs: “Tubman told the tale of one man who insisted he was going to go back to the plantation when morale got low among a group of fugitive slaves. She pointed (a) gun at his head and said, “You go on or die.” Several days later, he was with the group as they entered the United Province of Canada.” gasp emoticon Yes Minty! [that was her nickname] Get em! that man probably has great-grand kids eating poutine & elongating their O’s as we speak!

Frankly, I’m overwhelmed & intimidated… you remember what we touched on during black history month at school! Underground railroads and all that jazz… and you know there was that one kid who didn’t get the concept and thought there were actual trains down there & stuff… but all that didn’t even broach what Harriet [nee Araminta Ross, btw — hence the ‘Minty’… cool nickname! –after she married her husband John Tubman, she took her mother’s first name, Harriet, out of respect] accomplished to bring people to freedom. Abolitionist, Humanitarian, during the Civil war a Nurse & Union spy [yeayy!] even Women’s Suffrage when she was older, alongside Susan B Anthony. That is a life. I’ll leave it here, because I’d be writing into infinity… plus, I’ll be late for work…

 

 

 

 Pam Grier, B: May 26, 1942

 

“Baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad That Ever Hit Town!”

I always wanted to be Pam Grier when I grew up [or maybe raid her closet] she was just so cool! Early on there were some painful moments in Pamela Suzette Grier’s little girl life, and with a military father, her family moved constantly—not good for stability, but a decent opportunity to observe human nature and learn from that— perhaps a helpful way to start an acting career?

 

Now, I wouldn’t know the purpose of a ‘Blaxploitation’ film to save my life. Maybe we came to the States too late in the game, and of course I was a wee one, my main priority  figuring out how I could get my hands on my own set of fluorescent Crayolas [which JUST came out at the time] instead of borrowing the popular kids’ sets who would begrudgingly lend them out to the new black girl from ‘exotic lands’… excuse my eye roll… and knowing my parents, I’m certain this genre of film was banned at our house [please… nobody was even trying to explain the stills on my brother’s Clockwork Orange album! and my questioning was incessant!] I just remember the movie titles had big rounded & colorful fonts and weird names, almost everybody was black, they called the white people weird things like honky and cracker, and the men wore brown-themed and odd colored polyester suits with really big collars and ties– and platforms, lots and lots of platforms; and afros as far as the eyes could see!

 

Most of the women were extra damsel in distress-ish, but Pam knew how to put the hurt down on the bad guys and still look fabulous doing it, and she was crafty! like a spy! my favorite! Perfect fro, super-light highlighter right under perfectly arched eyebrows and a luscious lip! and what about those clavicles! all of which were unruffled after a few well-choreographed roundhouse kicks & karate chops or a gun battle — Ha! Love it! But honestly, I had no clue then; I just always thought Pam was awesome. I guess at this point I have an overall idea on the reasoning of the over-the-top Blaxploitation genre— still not sure if they help or hinder us, but they’re a fun tongue-in-cheek indulgence, and I definitely appreciate homages on their behalf, be it via Quentin Tarantino or a more blatant comedic angle like Dave Chappelle, MadTV, etc., but I could take or leave them. Glad Pam has had the opportunity to branch out and work on other projects to round out her career, and it’s inspiring that her roles are normally ones of strength and independence.

 


“…and as I reinvent myself, and I’m constantly curious about everything, I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner in newfound art and entertainment, and exploration”

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 5)

 

Two Factory Workers, B: unknown – D: unknown

Today is Saturday, and I’m not going to church… not only am I still swaddled in a whole lotta flannel on this bright & freezing Sabbath morn, I’m humming AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’! ah we the blasphemous few… [teehee] Anyway! Where was I??

So we’ve all seen the famous poster of Rosie the Riveter, that defiant brunette with her red & white polka dotted handkerchief head tie & blue work shirt with the sleeve rolled up, flexing a sinewy yet feminine bicep. Costumes! editorial photo spreads in magazines! publicity shots! tattoos! t-shirts! parodies! even a song! this fictional woman is an icon! We Can Do It, indeed.

 

These two unnamed black women were doing their rivet-y best to support the troops during World War II, and as we all know, everybody pitched in with volunteering during the War effort in any way they could. Noble effort by the photographer to show various & diverse Americans working together… FDR did his best to unify us during this time. However, the truth is, no matter what they portrayed, or the shared emotional highs of the country’s successes during that time, America was still ridiculously & embarrassingly [and bafflingly!] segregated — separate entries for workers, separate lunch areas, extra scrutiny. Even going across the ‘pond’, many Caribbean men & women who had enlisted in the Royal Air Force and Navy were severely treated as if they were underfoot or were the enemy themselves — all working for the same success, the same freedom.

 

So yes, the Allies were indeed successful. We all have our freedom, and we aren’t a Nation sieglheiling each other in the streets, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves. There continues to be ugliness brewing in the dark recesses of this planet, and not so dark — the more they get unnoticed, the further out they venture… We’ve come a long way, and I understand, blatant slavery was just the other day—a skip down memory lane [if you kid yourself and pretend is still doesn’t exist] we’re a slow bunch, we humans… but if we can just step outside of ourselves for a second, put that higher reasoning that only we possess to work, and be just united– revel in our commonality… doesn’t matter if we have a brunette Rosie, a blonde Rosie, a latin Rosie, a black Rosie, an asian Rosie or a native Rosie– united, we can rise above the nonsense [trying not cuss today, it IS Sabbath after all] 😉 and be successful. We CAN do it.

 

Aaliyah Dana Haughton, 1/16/1979 – 8/25/2001

 

We knew this young lady by her first name only—just Aaliyah. That’s all we needed, really. For only 22 years we had the privilege of sharing this planet with this beautiful woman… hold on, let’s get real for a second. When people see me they’re not exactly sure what to expect of me. They assume much. I have conditioned myself to thwart their assumption, because above all, I relish in entertaining myself. They think I’ll speak a certain way. I don’t. They think I’ll act a certain way. Sorry. They think I’ll indulge in certain types of food or libations or other enhancements. Never had it, never will. They assume I don’t know certain things. Not only do I know them to exhaustion, but, feigning ignorance, I purposefully don’t discuss them because I know how circular & pointless the argument will be, counteracting our own interaction… Then because nothing appears to fit in their own limited understanding, they begin to assume I’m one of ‘those’. Wrong again. The thing is, nobody belongs in a box– including them… which brings me to R&B and Hip Hop… This genre of music has its highs & lows. It started off great… meaningful artists with a mission and purpose, working hard, paying their dues… then it slowly turned into everybody with a demo tape cutting deals, and because there are so many vying for the same fame, Talent has turned into Shock Value. Social media has made the evolution even more disturbing — it’s like it’s all caving in on itself. Interesting to watch the buffoonery, but scary…

 

For a brief moment, a 14 year old girl seemingly beyond her years, made a difference— and for eight years following until her death, Aaliyah grew as an artist, forever changing the industry. She always seemed so composed, so calm, so zen… such a feminine and gentle voice—with an actual soprano range. I won’t even get into all she’s done, because frankly it would be too long— you can wiki that. I just know that whenever I saw Aaliyah perform, or talk, or walk around… or just sitting down in an interview, she just seemed like she’s been here before. Yes I understand that entertainers put on a persona for their public to market their brand, etc. etc, but her consistent air of self-possession was always inspiring to me. That combination of self-possession & talent made her prime to ultimately bend r&b and hiphop to her will, redefining the genre positively… but did it last?

 

 

Aaliyah’s death at the age of 22 really was a shock. Disturbing that some of the footage from her last video ‘Rock the Boat’ [frankly, a boring little vapid throw away song that seemed studio-generated for sales] was filmed on the very beach in the Bahamas where the twin engine Cessna, loaded down with equipment & luggage, along with Aaliyah & crew, crashed. The photo I chose wasn’t the typical glammed up, airbrushed visions of perfection – she even looks a little annoyed. I love it though– natural, unpretentious… and those calm eyes, looking like she’s done this all before.

 

This isn’t really a quote, because they were all pretty standard fare… but a recurring nightmare Aaliyah would have up until her death:

“Someone’s following me and I don’t know why. I’m scared. Then suddenly I lift off. Far away. As if I’m swimming in the air. Nobody can reach me. Nobody can touch me.”

 

Michonne, [N/A]

[disclaimer: Michonne is a fictional character on the Walking Dead and is played by Danai Jekesai Gurira, currently alive– and in fact, born February 14, 1978, so happy birthday to Danai!)

As I write this, in my hemisphere, my time zone, it is Valentine’s Day, and while today might be filled with lovey dovey stuff for the rest of you mortals, I’ve got my evening sorted, and it will involve walker guts ponchos, a sunken eyed boy yelling out ‘mom’ amidst mayhem, and a few other choice events, but especially this woman right here! Ladies & Gentlemen, may I introduce to you Michonne– the stealthy, katana [that’s a cool & extra slicey Japanese sword] wielding, dreadlock wearing, mega cool zombie killing machine from a little show we call the Walking Dead. She is somber, quiet, loyal, smart, moves like a dancer, and while she doesn’t smile often, when she does, it’s as if day is breaking! truly a beautiful sight to behold, that smile… From the moment we meet her we realize this gorgeous, somewhat broken woman is all about surviving— a mysterious hooded figure, and flanked on either side of her are two armless and jawless ‘walkers’ [yup, the term ‘zombie’ isn’t known in this universe… one of whom was her boyfriend who met his demise and his best friend, same story] she keeps as ‘pets’… (?!) no, she hasn’t completely gone insane – these pets have purpose, they are to mask her living scent [a dinner bell to walkers] so she can move among the inevitable groups of walkers she would encounter on her journey with relative ease. I actually have a theory regarding that scent concept and fear, but that might unravel the whole franchise & ruin it for you, I’ve observed stuff though— oh you KNOW I’m sleuthy! ;D

 

Brief backstory: some of you may or not know this, but before the Walking Dead was a TV show– which is on its 6th season as we speak, tonight’s episode being the 2nd half of the season after a winter hiatus– it was a graphic novel first [ongoing] and in the comic world Michonne was a lawyer before the apocalypse. They haven’t really disclosed that on the show though, not sure why… she also loved art & frequented galleries and symposiums. In both universes she had a boyfriend and a son, both dead. She eventually joined up with the main group of survivors, and while at first she was a bit of a lone shewolf, she continues to be an integral member of the team. While we shouldn’t begrudge beautiful Danai any role her talented little heart desires (typecasting can’t be fun) Ms. Michonne better not go anywhere any time soon!

“Anger makes you stupid, stupid gets you killed.”

 

 

Gigi Mac’s Cool Chicks For Black History Month (Part 4)

 

Natalie Cole, 2/6/1950 – 12/31/2015

 

After recently losing Natalie Cole her death seemed to spark a deluge of other celebrity deaths for 2016. Rough start… To me it seemed that Natalie lived in her singing father’s shadow. Nat King Cole had begun his career in jazz in the 1940s and transitioned to pop when the popularity of jazz was waning. During this time it seemed everything was racially steeped, Nat Cole was labeled a turncoat, among other ‘choice’ references. He was actually attacked on stage in Alabama during a performance… wow. He still remained on top of his career, and died a legend. Natalie was the apple of her father’s eye. She was aware of all this, at a very young age, and I’m sure her heart broke for her daddy.

 

I won’t go into the astonishing amount of work Natalie did during her career. Astonishing—and in many arenas! You know it, you can look it all up… I’ve always had a tender spot for Natalie. She’s my celeb sorta twin, especially when I smile — we have a similar squint & that mega-cool tooth gap [which I’ll never close!] and I was also very close to my father. It almost seemed like she was on a mission to change the minds of those that fell out of graces with her father during his career, by carrying on his legacy. That’s a tough order. She chose solace in opiates, cocaine, alcohol, as early as her college years [that we know of]. It may have just been partying that took on a destructive path, but I see pain too. So much pain for one woman to shoulder, so much ‘medicating’… Did she already have a cushy start? Was her career already mapped out for her? What does that do to a person….? It broke my heart when I read about her Hep C condition. With the help of good PR, unquestionable talent & work ethic, a name, supportive friends & family, the best of medical care, she managed to swim ahead of the current, but last December, still with appearances scheduled, and work at hand—always working… it all came to an end. 65 years of a life. Congestive Heart Failure was the official word — yeah, a broken heart…

 

“I do believe that here [taps her head] is where everything happens. Rather than thinking, ‘Poor me,’ you turn it into something positive

 

 

Zoë Alleyne Washburne, B: 2/15/2484

[disclaimer: Zoë Washburne is a fictional character and is played by Gina Torres, currently alive in the 21st century, thank you]

 

For a brief, shining –or shall we say *shiny*– moment [see what I did there??] 🙂 a bit of audio/visual magic graced our airwaves… until evil descended upon the land and it was cancelled! Rupert Murdoch a pox on your house!!!! ::ahem:: I digress… this bit of magic was “Firefly”! From the brilliant mind of Joss Whedon, set in the future where at one point China had been a superpower for a few centuries, and Earth became overpopulated & replete with corruption, so with the advancement of space travel, we were able to set up new territories in other star systems. A ‘peacemaking’ faction emerged– the Alliance– but with that came oppressive regimentation, all with a sterile & austere vibe [think of the ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ theory] and a rebellion for freedom was born! we call them the Independents – or Browncoats. Zoë Washburne with her captain, Malcolm Reynolds, began their career together for this freedom with their fellow browncoats… until a battle in a place called ‘Serenity Valley’ when they were severely beaten– outgunned, outmanned, out-teched– and the Alliance took complete control. From then on a disenchanted Mal, Zoë, with her husband Hoban [we call him Wash] Mal’s pilot, along with the rest of the crew/passengers [nine in total] would be on the run in a rickety, but reasonably solid Firefly-class transport ship just trying to survive, sometimes caught up in devious schemes, sometimes rescuing those in need– usually via not so lawful methods [yeahhh… they were sorta crooks… but they were misunderstood sorta crooks!]

 

I LOVE a good sci-fi!! And I love the character of Zoë! not only is she a fierce ‘warrior woman’, as her loving husband Wash endeared to her once, her loyalty to and friendship with her captain is absolute & unwavering. Calm, cool, collected, nerves of steel, fear of NOTHING [well except Reavers, but everybody’s afraid of Reavers] an excellent shot… and the woman knows how to wear a fitted leather vest!

 

A quote was tricky to find because in most of Zoë’s scenes there was a dialogue going on so you’d need a set up… even for this one, because it results in a very funny scene with Mal, but it’s still good because it shows her head-space:

“First rule of battle, little one: don’t ever let them know where you are.”

 

Selika Lazevksi, B unknown – D: unknown

One day I perusing one of those natural hair sites, looking for a good homemade leave-in conditioner recipe, and one of the articles was a photo spread focusing on black women in the Victorian era– corsets & gloves for days! and lots of great steampunk inspirational ideas filed away… then I came across this stunningly composed yet intense woman. No details on her at all, but I was captivated by her gaze! A horsewoman I suspected… dug around… all I found was this:

 

“Her name was Selika Lazevski and she was an écuyère who performed haute école – which means she was an equestrian who rode high school dressage in French circuses in the 19th century. She was photographed by Felix Nadar in 1891.”

 

The intrigue builds! I don’t know if Selika was part Lazevski, married to a Lazevski, or was adopted by the Lazevskis, but this shot is a amazing… like anybody who got in her way to get to her horse would meet her riding crop with the quickness! I already have her story in my head, but I’m not saying a word now… [there might be a train involved & a winter ball full of controversy… and a blacksmith named Vlad] shhhhh…;) meh… knowing me tho, I’ll come up with 172 different outcomes, get overwhelmed, go get some lunch & forget allllll about it… poor Selika & Vlad… fragmented & stuck in my head forever!

 

Anyway, that’s it you guys, I still don’t know who this young lady was, but I love everything about her, especially those eyes filled with audacity!

I Ain’t No Rock and Roll Crook (Nils Lofgren)

When Nils Lofgren was 17 years old he left Washington D.C. for Los Angeles to make music with Neil Young. The sessions produced Neil’s 3rd solo LP “After the Goldrush” (1970), a melodic masterpiece in synch with the then current propensity for sensitive singer-songwriters, though Neil was always tougher than the rest. Nils’ piano underpins the rocking “Southern Man”. If that’s him on the haunting title track well…precocious is the word. The perpetually creative Young was busy, along with Crosby, Stills & Nash, as a member of America’s #1 group of the time. Lofgren hung out & played with the “Goldrush” band, Crazy Horse. Their eponymous debut LP is a dark, dense thing, country-tinged but of the city night, an essential record (more later). This line-up of Crazy Horse was never built to last. One reason was that Nils had his own songs to record with his own band, Grin, his boys from back in Maryland.

 

 

Grin made 4 LPs between 1971 & 1974. They were all produced by David Briggs, Neil Young’s producer, who liked to keep it simple & let it rock. “White Lies”, a single from the 2nd record “1+1”, a power-pop belter  was hoping for but missed out on radio airplay & major sales. Grin became the memorable & enjoyable support act but never the main attraction. The records, especially the first 2, are good enough to be somebody’s favourite American rock music of the time. Here in the UK they were a very well kept secret. In 1974 the band broke up & Nils, still only 23, began a solo career.

In 1975 Zigzag, a fanzine written by & for the discerning listener, were championing this Nils Lofgren record & their word was good enough for me. Damn they were right, “Nils Lofgren” is a manifesto from a rock & roll romantic. Briggs was still around, his uncomplicated approach employing just 2 other musicians. The classy rhythm section, Wornell Jones (bass) & Aynsley Dunbar (drums), brought a consistency to the blend of swagger, sincerity & a bunch of fresh, positive tunes. It’s a great record which got a lot of play round our yard & is one I still reach for when I want to hear some good straight ahead rock music.

 

 

Nils could play guitar just like ringing a bell. “Back It Up” & “Keith Don’t Go”, a song for his Rolling Stone hero, became show-stopping displays in his live act. Here’s the recorded version because it’s tough, it’s tight & it’s just 2.18, you’re busy people. In May 1976, on a UK tour promoting his next LP “Cry Tough” we caught front row seats for a show at the Birmingham Town Hall. His band, including brother Tommy, were as solid as, the mix of older Grin songs with his newer work made for a very strong set. When Nils reached back to the Crazy Horse days for a tribute to his bandmate, the late Danny Whitten, an intimate & heartfelt “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” was as effective as the impressive guitar pyrotechnics.

 

“Cry Tough” used up the songs from the David Briggs sessions & brought in Al Kooper (that’s the great…) to produce the rest of the LP. It’s another good collection, perhaps not all as good as its predecessor but Nils’ guitar virtuosity is more featured & the songs that really cut it, the title track, “It’s Not a Crime”, “Can’t Get Closer”, have a punch & a brightness that can be associated with his best work.

 

 

His label, A&M, were promoting Nils as the next big thing in American rock, a new guitar hero. “Cry Tough” had sold well enough & 1977’s “I Came To Dance” got a big push. That year’s UK tour was in bigger venues, the Birmingham gig moved down the road to the Odeon. The LP is a solid effort but there was no big radio-friendly track that could break Nils to a wider audience. At a time when music was getting back to basics “I Came to Dance” was a step away from Lofgren’s Grin/debut LP template. The arrangements were busier but the set of songs less consistent. Support on the tour was from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, young gunslingers with a fine debut record & something to prove, just where Lofgren had been 2 years earlier. Nils would have to go some to match Petty’s band & he put on a good show. Playing his guitar while somersaulting on a trampoline is impressive the first time but a little too flash. Tom Petty sold a lot of records in the UK on the back of that tour.

 

Later that year a double live LP, like the 2 preceding records, made the US Top 50. In 1979 “Nils”, produced by Bob Ezrin, including 3 songs co-written by Lou Reed, was less successful. In 1982 Nils hooked up with his old buddy Neil Young for “Trans”, Young’s surprising swing into the Computer Age. The LP received mixed reviews but Neil was still a big draw & Nils joined the band for the Transworld tour. It was as a sideman, a featured lead guitarist, that Nils became best known, playing major stadium gigs around the world. In 1984, just as Bruce Springsteen became ubiquitous with the release of “Born in the USA”, his guitarist Steve van Zandt stepped down & Lofgren became his replacement. Now, 30 years later, he’s still a member of the E Street Band.

 

There were more LPs from Nils Lofgren. “Night Fades Away”, “Flip”, “Wonderland”, I’ve got my share of them & they all have their moments. One week in 1985 my mate Carl was visiting & going to gigs was what what we did for fun. It was a quiet time in London & Nils Lofgren at the Hammersmith Odeon seemed to be the best option. We didn’t listen to his music as much as we used to, it was just a night out. From the opening “No Mercy”, a distinctive song about boxing, more dynamic live than on record, it was clear that we were in the right place. We knew & liked all these tunes, an encore of the McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy” had us dancing in the aisles. When the emotional tone of Nils’ lyrics & playing matches up with his straight ahead melodic take on rock & roll it’s a pretty good feeling. There are collections of his best solo work & with Grin which hit the spot. It is that 1975 debut solo LP when it really all came together but which never found the audience it deserved. Here’s another track from that “Fat Man Album”.