Broom Jumping and the Never-Ending Battle of Black Authenticity

I have not seen Jumping the Broom. I figure I’ll start with that so if, later, I find out I’m wrong, I can say, “hey, I said I hadn’t seen it.”  Still based on the commercials and, well, pretty much every single black movie that’s been made in the last twenty years, I’m betting we can all tell what’s going to happen.  There’s some snotty black folks, there’s some “regular” black folks-because we all know, “poor/working class” is code for “regular” when we’re talking about us-and when they get together for the wedding of their children, high jinks occur!  Hell, I’m pretty sure Loretta Devine has purchased a half a dozen houses just playing this same sassy, all knowing, down home role.   Again,it looks like one of those by the numbers comedies that black Hollywood has churned out endlessly since the rise of Tyler Perry.

Where I think I’m having a problem specifically with this movie is with the symbolic conflict.  According to the film article in May’s Essence, the tension between the “uptown Watsons” and the “downtown Taylors” reaches a crisis point because Devine’s character, wants the children to respect their family tradition of jumping the broom and the hoity-toity Watsons don’t want to do it because it’s some “slave stuff.”

Okay…I call shenanigans. 

I’ve been to about two dozen weddings in the last twenty years and the only black folks I’ve ever even seen commemorating the slave tradition of jumping the broom have been college educated ones because, frankly, the vast majority of us all learned about it in an African-American studies class…in college!  Along with the significance of the broom jumping, I believe that many post-Civil Rights era age African-Americans were only exposed to cultural, historical and artistic aspects of the black experience in college.  Again, this marks another example of how, as a people, many of us have decided to delegitimize education by saying it disconnects us from blackness.   Logically though, college is one of the best opportunities that many of us have to fully explore the nuances and depths of what all African-Americans have brought to this country.  Frankly, I think it would be more believable if Devine’s family was against  the broom jumping for being some ol’ slave stuff and-bonus!-against Jah-zus!  (“Ain’t nobody in the Bible jump over no brooms!!!!”) But, again, I haven’t seen it so maybe I’m wrong.

No, Really? Henry Louis Gates?

Y’know, racism/non-racism aside, my real question is, how stupid is that policeman and the Cambridge Police Dept? Seriously, is there a more famous face at Harvard than Henry Louis Gates? And, even if there is, he’s certainly the most famous black face. Plus, plus, PLUS, let’s just be serious here; how many black faculty members could Harvard have? If I was in charge of the Cambridge PD, I would have a sheet with the pictures of all the black faculty at Harvard…all twelve of them…and I would hand them out to the officers. In fact, I bet that’s what they do now because, boy, they stepped in it with Gates! Oh, Our Kind Of People are about to put their educated foot in the police’s ass.

(I also would like to know more about the lady who again lives on a street with Henry Louis Gates but doesn’t know who he is…)

MJJ RIP

It’s a shame that it has been a month since I posted and the last thing I wrote about was a Michael-less Jacksons album. And here we are.

I’m still a little in shock but the first few things that are on my mind-

-At least the freakshow is over. I know it’s going to be some foolishness with the toxicology report and, probably, some madness about who gets the kids but, at least, new ongoing Mike dumb sh#$ is done and, eventually, people will focus on the music.

-You know what’s really amazing to me? How people are genuinely surprised by how much they’re wrecked. Like, I’m looking at papers and TV and young, hip, ironic cats who, two days ago, wouldn’t be caught dead claiming Jackson are fell out in the streets trying to get themselves together.

-I’ll go ahead and call it; I don’t need to hear the songs, “Thriller,” “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” ever again. The media acts like that is the sum total of what that man’s done. One of the enduring memories for me from this period will be the CNN footage showing the impromptu gathering at the Apollo last night where a crowd of black people started singing “Rock With You”…because black people are Off The Wall people.

-Conversely, watching videos, you forget just how long Mike made good music. Again, folks act like he stopped making records afterThriller. “Man in the Mirror”, “Remember the Time,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Another Part of Me,” that friggin’ “Butterflies”; Mike’s catalog is long and deep.

The problem is that the “Torture” video was so hilarious that no one took the rest of it seriously…

Victory?  A surprisingly listenable album.  My Man Clif and I were talking about the Marlon Jackson opus, “Body” (“Girl, I want your body, you know I love your body; girl, I need your body, whywon’tyoucomehomewithmenow?!?!”) and the conversation led me to checking it out again.  Y’know, Victory has actually become something of a running joke in my circle because of the cheesiness we’ve always assigned it and, yes, compared to The Jacksons, Triumph, Destiny and, quietly, the criminally underrated Goin’ Places, it certainly is a disappointment (Jacksons apologist that I am, even I like to pretend 2300 Jackson Street didn’t exist.)  But I think its a mistake to completely dismiss the effort.

First of all, Victory represents a fascinating cultural snapshot of the Jackson family’s journey.  Released in 1984, the family’s fifth album on Epic represented the first time that Jermaine-who had remained at Motown when his four brothers, Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Michael-worked with the modern incarnation of the group.  Visually, there is something, well, victorious about seeing all six brothers, including Randy, on the cover.  And while it’s certainly no, “I’ll Be There”, there is something  aurally moving about hearing Michael and Jermaine sing together on “Torture.”  So, just for recreating that dynamic, I think the album is important.

Then there’s the fact that, three years before Bad and a year before “We Are The World,”  the 1984 release represents Michael Jackson’s first post-Thriller music.  Although Michael was always the biggest fish in the Jackson pond, this dynamic whereas he’s the most popular artist in the world who’s almost slumming with his brothers played out in a fascinating manner.  Besides “Torture,” Jackson sings lead on two other songs, “State of Shock” and “Be Not Always.”  The former is noteworthy only for the bizarre spectacle of Jackson and Mick Jagger mugging and growling through a faux rock opus that should have been called, “State of Shock: Can We Recreate ‘Beat It’ And Appeal To That Rock Audience?”  And, with its maudlin, over the top string arrangement and lyrics like, ” To have nothing, to dream something, then lose hoping. Is not life but lame?”, “Be Not Always” is embarrassing for all involved.  But, y’know, 1984 Michael Jackson; who’s going to tell him his songs suck?

And that’s the great irony of Victory.  The best songs on  the album are the ones Michael Jackson had nothing to do with.  My favorite, “One More Chance” a low key paean to that immortal theme of “I messed up but lemme fix it” displays a surprisingly vulnerable and expressive Randy on lead vocals and production and, while it’s not a great song, I’ve always found Randy’s “The Hurt” to work in a proto-electronica manner.  Not to be outdone by the littlest Jackson brother, “Wait” is witty and fun in that way that the eighties did best; all synthesizers and soda pop rhythm held together by Jackie’s authorial tenor. And, to go back to the reason I cracked the CD open in the first place, Marlon is killin’ it on “Body.”  You can’t tell that Negro a damn thing; he got swagger, he got sexuality, he wants that girl’s body and he wants her to come home with him now. 

Again, not a great album but even the forgettable joints like “We Can Change The World” are okay.  Like everyone else, I wish all six brothers would tour one last time and I’m a little frustrated with Michael not going along with it but, based on Victory, I don’t know if I would skip something that the other five did on their own.

‘Cause You Know I Can’t Live Without My…

What if LL was wrong? What if I can live without my radio? Cathy Hughes made the rounds over the last week protesting HR 848, which would increase how much radio stations have to pay the record companies to play music. She’s been pretty doom-and-gloom about the fact that, with business down anyway, a bunch of black stations will go away if they have to pay additional fees.

But seriously-how much would that affect your life? 

I mean, Hughes was talking about how it could affect how much music her Radio One stations would play but, uh, I cant’ remember the last time I heard something new and exciting on the radio.  Perhaps it would mean something in the smaller markets but, everywhere I go, it seems like the stations are playing the same ol’ playlists.  If DJ’s had more autonomy, that argument might fly but, the way it is…well, I think the nine different Beyonce, Usher and Ne-Yo songs they play will be okay.

As far as a venue for information…I question that too.  Between my laptop and my friggin’ phone, I’m more tapped into newpapers, info dumps, blogs, etc. than anytime in my life.  Seriously, for all the talk of the radio’s role in the GOTV for the last election, how much did it really affect things?  I’m not saying it hurt but I do question how crucial it was.  And, frankly, if you discount the role of the syndicated dudes like Michael Baisden, Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, etc.-folks that would probably survive-what was left?  Again, to my earlier point about DJ autonomy, how much pull does the local DJ have in 2009? 

I’m not saying I want radio to go.  Hell, I would love to find an R&B station that plays a variety of music, introduces me to stuff I don’t know about AND keeps me informed about what’s going on in the local community.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if that kind of station exists anymore.  And I’m damn sure not going to get worked up over what we have.

Ain’t We Lucky We Had Him?

Painter Ernie Barnes died yesterday.  Barnes is best known as the real life artist who provided the art for J.J. on Good Times.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the painter’s work, not just because of the Good Times connection, but also because he was one of the first artists I was exposed to who showed urban life as beautiful.  From the potrait of the Evans family that is shown in the credits, to the potraits of Black Jesus and Sweet Daddy, as well as scenes of basketball players and drunks on the street, Barnes’ work was a wonderful combination of the high and the low. 

My favorite Ernie Barnes story actually comes from something I read in Wax Poetic last year.  In the midst of a great Bill Wither’s interview, the singer comments on the fact that he allowed Kanye West to sample “Roses” after a conversation the two had at Ernie Barnes’ house.  And that’s Ernie Barnes; bringing together different aspects-and creators-of the Black Experience and showing that all of it is beautiful.

Reason #457 That Sho’Nuff is Better than “Bruce” Leroy

shonuff3 Sho’ Nuff would have never tried to rape Freddie and then, afterwards, grin and tell his boys that “she was a wildcat!”

“Bruce” Leroy-attempted rapist; Sho’Nuff-gentleman.

I rest my case.