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Monday, Nov 9, 2009
Mad love for Mariah Carey's artistry, exhibited through her "Fly Like a Bird" performance on American Idol.

Damn! Mariah is just all that. When watching Mariah perform “Fly Like a Bird” before this audience of idols, notice how much stronger her voice becomes once the choir comes out and pumps her up; she raises that hand up high, high, and higher, as if to say Amen! I love how Mariah doesn’t compete with her back-up singers, and can hold her own with that massive choir. Only Phil Spector has created a more comprehensive ‘wall of sound’, and yet this diva does it with her own musicality.


One should also note that Mariah not only hits those whistle tones, but also manages a lyric or two in that soaring tone. Divas like her need not state it, they just do it. The richness, of course, of Mariah’s voice is the range—her coloring of each note as she descends from high to low, a fluttering Mimi mimics with her fingers and open palm.


Watching Mariah perform is like a dyslexic’s wet dream: We see and hear in 3D, and Mariah is giving us mega-mega stimulation to all our senses. We can see the world she describes, while at the same time picture the lyrics written on the page, as she writes them and works with her pianist—Mariah notoriously cannot read the 2D representation of her music. At the same time, many dyslexics respond to the audio stimulation, how they, too, are rendered in 2D, but also sees the band, their fingers strumming or snapping, horns blowing, sticks striking, toes tapping, and symbols calling. One can even smell the sweetness of the flowers near the butterflies in all the imagery Mariah surrounds herself with, and feel the crispness of the air as the dove Mariah uses for her background in this performance soars, flying to the sky, praying only, that we know peace.


Will we recover
Will the world ever be
A place of peace and harmony
With no war and with
And no brutality
If we loved each other
We would find victory
But in this harsh reality
Sometimes I’m so despondent
That I feel the need to
Fly like a bird, take to the sky


Mariah imagines this world, and the music comes out. To many it sounds like sheer fantasy, since the presence of war, for the 2D seeing world, implies that war should be. The persistence of war convinces many that war is normal. Yet, the dyslexic who has honed in on their skill in seeing in 3D uses each and every sense to comprise this comprehensive vision of what is being presented, and therefore we can more easily see how things can also just be different. In popular culture, we can see 3D perception in The Matrix during that famous scene in the trilogy’s first installation where the actors are frozen in space, and the perspective shifts around—we find out later that several cameras and digital tricks produced these seamless images, but this is basically how many dyslexics perceive the world around them. We also witnessed this same skill in A Beautiful Mind, where John Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe, can look at social situations and ‘see’ patterns. In the movie these patterns were cinematically drawn over the screen, but this is how people see in 3D.  The same was shown in X-Men: The Last Stand. The character Jean Grey’s alter ego Phoenix threatens Magneto with a gun that she takes apart, disassembling it into several pieces; the audience sees this in 3D, but this is how we normally see.


We also see 3D perception in the popular TV show Heroes, in which the character Sylar can take things apart and put them back together. He knows how things work. And that’s just it, dyslexics are often portrayed as mad. Only the astute dyslexic would have caught the reference to dyslexia in how Sylar’s nemesis, Peter Petrelli, was able to access that same ability through identifying with other people, but it is his father, Arthur Petrelli, who clarified that the skill was really based on empathy—knowing how people work by genuinely seeing another person’s perspective. Unlike all these fictional characters, we do not have to destroy others—like Sylar—in order to embrace their power. That’s 3D vision, for it is not just a way of seeing, but also a way of looking at things. In the real world, a famous dyslexic once penned:


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace


Religion or not, it’s bossy how these talented people keep pressing for peace. It’s all that to just witness Mariah’s pleas, and uplifting to bear witness to her testimonial, and praise for living. In that way, it’s blues at its best. She doesn’t shy away from despondency, nor does she ail in calling out the war and inhumanity that others let slip by in our daily lives. She witnesses and testifies, and on that account she embraces her own strength and realigns that with her convictions. It’s just something real for a change, and it’s nice to share it in 3D.


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Wednesday, Sep 2, 2009
Pontificating on the words behind the meaning behind such words as: "Now that it’s raining more than ever / Know that we’ll still have each other / You can stand under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay".

What happened to unconditional love? Or is it just regulated to Grandma, and her wonderful hands.  “Grandma’s Hands” was penned by Bill Withers in a ‘70s soul beat. And just like Prince singing “Adore”, or a million other balladeers crooning in their best falsetto, it’s catchy and captivating when men wear this sort of vulnerability. Yet, societies have even contended to cut off boys’ balls in order to maintain that pre-pubescent, innocent, unthreatening sound—the emasculated male is somehow so alluring.


Nonetheless, it’s all fantasy: We prefer our men so-called ‘real’. So we give all our stars a damn hard time for the ways in which they effeminate themselves just to maintain our titillation: the make-up, the feather-light hair, the hairless face, the fitted clothes, the glitter, the glam, and, of course, those high voices. We might call them “faggot” in public, then swoon and swing alongside their beats in private. Even as fans, we love conditionally.


Until the end of time
I’ll be there for you.
You are my heart and mind
I truly adore you.
If God one day struck me blind,
Your beauty I’d still see.
Love’s too weak to define
Just what you mean to me. 



“You gotta stand by your brother”, Erykah Badu croons in a soft, lofty voice in the live version of “Other Side of the Game”. “Work ain’t honest, but it pays the bills”, her talented back-up singers say. “Through whatever, whatever, whatever”, she says, and again members of the crowd slap their palms together while others shout and cheer.


An expectant Jennifer Hudson bouts out

An expectant Jennifer Hudson belts out “Will You Be
There” before a mourning crowd at Michael Jackson’s
Memorial in July 2009


“Carry me, like you were my brother / Love me like a mother”, Michael Jackson opens his song “Will You Be There”. And since his childhood, fans around the globe have watched this artist dance and sing on stage with his brothers, envisioning the unconditional love of family while singing about how unconditional his love was in songs like “I’ll Be There”.


“Just call my name…”. That’s the most that we could ask of anyone. Sadly, today’s divas and divos would rather just watch us pack, treating each other as if we’re simply replaceable. And despite all that we have, love cannot be bought at Ikea, nor is love found in the aisles of Walmart. In spite of their lifetime warranties, retailers LL Bean and Lands’ End don’t sell unconditional love.


I wanna be
More than your mother,
More than your brother;
I wanna be like no other
If you need me,
I’ll never leave.
I know that you know….
Be with me darlin’ till the end of time



Just like his own androgyny, Prince is notorious for exploring the fine division between the erotic and the platonic, the parental and the lustful. Furthermore, given his backdrop of gender-bending and unadulterated sexuality, Prince’s force is intense and unconditional. Again, it’s this unconditional love that makes His Royal Badness so fascinating to fans spanning a range of musical genres. “I wanna be your lover / I wanna turn you on, turn you out”, he chants over an earlier, funkier beat that he thankfully extends well beyond the dope lyrics and pop radio strip.


Then, of course, there’s Purple Rain. On screen, fans witness that the madness and fervor with which the artist approached love—the willingness to abandon all reason in tunes like “Darlin’ Nikki”—clearly stemming from the dysfunction at home.


His lack of fraternal love—fraternal disapproval and the maternal abandonment in tolerating the abuse—all lead the character portrayed in the film to supplant the erotic over and above all that he lacked. He was a man who would do anything for love, and it’s this illusion and allusion of success that draws women and men, the premise and promise of unconditional love. Yet, in spite of the fantasy, we’d all rather settle for so much less, like sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.


“Drugs / Rock-n-Roll / Bad-ass Vegas hoes / Shiny disco balls”. Ecstasy. Illusion and fantasy. The fantasy of unconditional love is all that it’s about, and any amount of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll can lead us there. Yet, like any cheap high, it’s unsustainable.


If I was your one and only friend,
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you,
Even if that somebody was me?
Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be


It is a trip. It’s a vacation from life to believe in unconditional love, yet abandon that promise as soon as anything real occurs. “Baby, baby, baby: What’s it gonna be”, Prince begs Apollonia (or wasn’t it Vanity?) on bended knee as she sits and sips with the next man. Just as soon as we promise love, we withdraw these pleas and lament over loss, which we seem to do as easily as we do the falling in love. It’s unrealistic and juvenile to believe in infallibility, for that is what makes us human. So, “let’s just pretend we’re married—tonight”.


And Michael McDonald bridged:


I know you’re not mine
Anymore
Anyway
Anytime.
Tell me how come I
Keep forgetin’



People lie, cheat, and steal. And all this stems from the abandonment we’ve felt at home, often in spaces were there is lovelessness, even with an abundance of care. Indeed, few heal from those scars, yet pretty much all are involved. Like “Thriller”, where each and everyone crawled out of tombs and graves, mortified and decrepit—we are all perishable. Yet, even in Michael’s fantasies, we don’t all remain that way. “Heal the World”, the Jackson family has inevitably advocated in their music, from the Jacksons and “Can You Feel It” to Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” among several other tunes, to most of what Michael Jackson had to say in his music.


Hold me
Like the River Jordan
And I will then say to thee:
You are my friend. 



You are my friend? “I’ve been looking around / And you were here all the time”. So the message seems to be, “through whatever, whatever, whatever”, if we genuinely know how to cherish those around us, we’ve probably known unconditional love all the time. “You are my friend / I never knew it till then, my friend / You hold my hand / You might not say a word / But I see your tears when I show my pain”, Patti drones in that other-side-of-the-‘80s soul beat. Now, there’s the unconditional love that recognizes friendship through each other’s humanity and occasional fallibility.


But they told me:
‘A Man should be faithful,
And walk when not able,
And fight to the end’
But I’m only human



Love, it seems, is only as conditional as our wiliness to heal. Recognizing that, as REM says, “Everybody Hurts”, then will we be there when our lovers, friends, parents, neighbors show out? Will we be there, as Michael suggests, in our darkest hours? Or are we just fair-weather friends? The weatherman can’t predict those conditions with any real accuracy. And Rhianna said: “You can stand under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay / Under my umbrella, ella-ella-ay-ay-ay. (BTW, that’s just the catchy part of the chorus, the song’s actual verses are significantly more instructive).


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Tuesday, Apr 7, 2009
Seeing these moves come home confirms that they’ve always been the source of B.’s latest trends. This pop diva has managed an effective way of reproducing stardom, like Madonna, mining our dance floors, hiring us sissies to teach them how to assert their masculinity and femininity at the same time.

In case you haven’t heard, Vogueing is back. Madonna brought it to the mainstream, sealing the 80’s sloppy fate with classic club anthems ushering in a whole new breed of contemporary social dance. Yet, this again was an appropriation of Black sub-culture, in this case queer. Indeed, Vogueing is as old as Betty Davis and as American as apple pie, shown even with a quick perusal of the docu-films ‘Looking for Langston’, or even the voyeuristic ‘Paris is Burning’. More interesting, perhaps, or at least speaking from a more liberated voice, would be the 2006 film ‘How Do I Look’. At any rate, Jody Watley made it hot on the charts back in 1987, three years before Madonna, with one of Prince’s bassist Andre Simone’s most fly guitar rifts and synthesized melismatic beats, Still a Thrill. The normally high-pitched diva adopted an androgynous baritone voice for the lyrics, teasing viewers even more. The video was off the chain, and yes, an early dose of this black-n-tan boy ‘House’ dancing. How appropriate that Watley chose a Parisian style ballroom set for the video, and one of the genre’s early champions, Tyron “The Bone” Proctor, as her co-star.


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Monday, Feb 16, 2009
We live in a world were the love ethic is under attack from all sides, not lest of which is its commercialization and commodification, or even distillation down to the romanticized romantic view, providing plenty of excuses for acting unloved, satiated with material possession.

I want to make this quick because know that I give B. and HOV a whole lotta grief. I want it to be clear that I am equally able to give the duo a whole lotta lovin, too. In the last hip-hop concert I attended, Jay-Z landed at Louisville Gardens where the predicable lot of players, pimps, prissies and punks all showed up in their Sunday best to come bounce and hop to the beats. Moreover, the last drag show I performed was to Beyoncé’s ‘Suga Mamma’. While I find B.’s lyrics wholly problematic- the eventual topic of this Valentine Day’s rant- I can not resist the unbridled energy she brings to her entertainment, which gets me real bodied each and every time. Sit back and watch as I drop to my knees, arch my back and shake it like an alley cat!


“Don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable”


One of the greatest criticism Gen-X folk have of video-game kids these days is their shortened attention span. An evening spent with a house full of college seniors during a recent visit to my alma mater reminded me of my age. Two of the four roomies competed on their large flat screen with the latest competing video game formats. Indeed, I am so lame that I cannot even remember the names of the two boxes with which I gave it a good ole college try, boxing and batting in front of a screen with some random wireless apparati. E-mail had just come into widespread play my senior year at the same school, yet here I stood dumbed by the access to technology that these kids enjoyed today. Yet on the same evening, an elder alum- a true gen-Xer, abruptly removed himself from the fun and games, muttering something about how these guys couldn’t pay attention long enough to have even a decent conversation.


‘You must not know ‘bout me/I could have another you in a minute/Matter of fact he’ll be here in a minute, baby’


Happy Valentine’s Day, B. Hopefully HOVA has managed to stuff your mouth with another diamond, like in the video ‘Upgrade You’. Upgrade? Indeed, B. said: Audemars Piguet watch/Dimples in ya necktie/Hermes briefcase/Cartier top clips/Silk lined blazers/Diamond creamed facials/VVS cuff links/six star pent suites.” There is an apparent ignorance in offering free advertisement to designer brands that do little more for her than feed spiritual emptiness, because one will never be satiated with these possessions. My criticism mirrors LL Cool J’s: “That seems to be enough to satisfy your needs, but there’s a deeper level; if you would follow, I’ll lead.” Beyoncé, Kelly Michelle, Fantasia, Rhianna and all those R&B, hip-hop chicks can’t get to any deeper level from the soldiers they beg for from hood boys in “wife beaters and jeans.” Has it ever occurred to these women why we use the term ‘wife beater’, or has the video-game generation stamped its ok on domestic abuse?


Behind L.L.’s smooth rap, in soft voices the R&B group Boyz to Men croon ‘This is more than a crush’. Together these brothers talk about fantasies, revealing a vulnerability unknown in this day and age of DMX thugs, Rick Ross Hustlers, and 50 Cent P.I.M.P.’s. These brothers don what radical feminist writer/professor bell hooks calls the ‘hard pose’. And it’s not that I believe that these brothers are incapable of feeling and expressing care. Yet, there is a clear conspiracy around regressive gender roles, where at best roles are reverse, and power is never challenged. In the Beyoncé Experience concert, she appears on stage in a sultry pose, smoking a cigarette and whispers: “Damn, that was so good, I wanna buy him a short set” What’s this? Oh, I love you baby, so let me buy you something. Is B. the new James Brown? Macking niggas and pimpin’ hoes!


A visiting artist in residence at my college once said that when she was a little girl, she saw a nasty word spray-painted on the wall of some uncared for public space in her neighborhood. She understood that the word was nasty when all of the grown folks made clear to her that she was never to say the word aloud because it was dirty, as were the people associated with it. As she grew, and learned more about ‘those’ folks and even more nasty words, she noticed an intrinsic link between that initial dirty word, and money. She saw that the compromises people would make for this dirty word were only paralleled by what folks would do for money. Even worse was what they would do for both, which was often tied to either giving or depriving someone of one or the other. However, the word was so dirty, like Voldemort that one only need insinuate its presence and someone would attempt to harness and control it. By the time she grew up, she only knew this nasty word to describe what she had between her legs, and the feeling she’d get when letting someone have some.


Pink chaddis from The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women

Pink chaddis from The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women


Saturday was St Valentine’s Day. In the recent past, conservative, ‘hard line’ Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists like the Sri Ram Sena here in India have advocated banning this holiday because ‘Love’ in their understanding, is sacrosanct with their understanding of religion, which apparently significantly less disparate than most believers profess. Leader Pramod Mutalik even said that Indian women have should not even go to bars. In Mangalore in January 2009, Sri Ram Sena fundamentalists chased down and beat women visiting a local pub simply for being there. Two years ago in Kahmir, a group of veiled women mobbed local shops, confiscated and burned alleged Valentine’s Day cards and trinkets. The adhoc vigilante group was lead by Asiya Andrabi who proudly boasted: “These Western gimmicks are corrupting our kids and taking them away from their roots.” Today blokes like Pramod Mutalik are receiving gifts of pink underwear to from activists ready to match their avid cynicism.


We live in a world were the love ethic is under attack from all sides, not lest of which is its commercialization and commodification, or even distillation down to the romanticized romantic view. Indeed, the significance of today is so convoluted that one can see how it would be easier to just buy something and be done with it.


My man and I are entering our seventh year, and there’s no itch. There is plenty of passion, understanding, and giving—all the sites of care seem to be covered. Care is all about expectations. Negotiating our expectations has been the name of the game, and therefore dialogue has allowed us to make it this far. For B. and much of the video game generation, lyrics like “I can have another you by tomorrow”, replace actual attempts at the necessary concerted patience and dialogue needed to sustain any relationship. Without the basic understanding that our relationship is irreplaceable, I can only suppose that we would have settled for purple labels, Hermès and Cartier fashion statements in lace of affection. I would be quite disenfranchised in this relationship. Yet, as Beyoncé points out elsewhere, ‘a little sweat never hurt nobody,” Indeed, “I ain’t worried doing me,” because the love that our patience is allowed to cultivate is worth more than all the cocoa and precious metals that Switzerland stole and coerces from the Gold Coast still today.


I am content that I stuck around even through the disagreements and sometimes all out fights. It’s fortunate, I suppose, that I am dissatisfied with the instant gratification like “that rock on ya finger is like a tumor/You can’t fit ya hand in ya new purse.” Tobacco offers a similar instant gratification and causes equally dangerous forms of cancer—tumors as large as fists! I saw one tumor so large that it would not even fit in a Birkin bag.


On this and past Valentine’s Days, I am sending sweet love to my first and truest Sweetheart, Ms. Alice. Since I can remember, she has brought me a box of chocolates, hugs and kisses. And my Granny never expected anything in return. Sometimes she would sit and watch as I ate the whole box all by myself, not even taking one for herself. In elementary school, we traded tiny cards and small chalky heart-shaped candies with cupid messages. Years later, Bex, another sweetheart and dear friend from college, continues to send me these tiny cards with cute brown smiling faces. Inside she inscribes a note to remind me that time and distance have not wrecked our bond. My Sweethearts’ consistency and sustainability have me all in a tussle. I am loved and much is expected of those in this predicament. There are no excuses for acting unloved, satiated with material possession. Neither of these sweethearts “ever for a second get to thinkin’” that my ambitions begin or end with pussy and money. Happy Valentine’s B., I hope your man bought you something you like.


Tagged as: b-day, beyoncé
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Friday, Jan 23, 2009
"Work All Week" is the third Mekons single and it finishes the outstanding triumvirate by this underrated post punk group.
Work All Week

Work All Week


The third single put out by the Mekons is “Work All Week”, an anti-materialist anthem disguised as a love song.  Like “Where Were You”, it’s a song that reveals its true identity after repeated listens (you’ll have to get this song on your own as copyright does not allow me to post the original version, only the 2004 folk reggae version).  Though the song can, at first, seem to be a typical love and marriage tune, upon closer examination it bears that signature post punk cynicism and satire.  In most love songs the object of the speaker is to woo their potential partner, or to express their love/devotion/affection in some way, “Work All Week” shows that love and marriage seem to be impossible without killing yourself trying to make the money to buy the materials which signify happiness.  In a love song the object of the speaker’s affection is a person, in “Work All Week” the object of the speaker’s affection is the objects needed to barter for love.


The songs starts with a ‘70s-sounding “oriental” riff straight out of Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting”, then moves into a lilting chord progression that’s a bit out of time with the drums.  An excellent bass run fills in the simple chord progression and gives a good background to the misleading lyrics.  The refrain of “I work all week” is a constant reminder that most things that the speaker discusses are impossible without constant labour. 


The first lyric is straight forward enough: “I work all week to buy a ring / I work all week / Extra hours to get real gold / I’ll buy you anything / You know I’ll buy you anything / I work all week / Not put off by signs saying sold.”  Love is supplanted with a ring—there’s no mention of who he’s buying the ring for or what the ring symbolizes, the goal of working seems to be the acquisition of a ring made of real gold.  The song is boastful when the speaker says “You know I’ll buy you anything”, as if these possessions are enough, the cost of love is the value of his person.


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