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Culture

My Black Male Feminist Heroes

Mark Anthony Neal

It is much more difficult for black men to own up to their backward-ass gender politics, particularly in public, but this is the stance that longtime writer and journalist Kevin Powell took in his brilliantly brave essay 'The Sexist in Me.'

A few years ago I was invited to appear on BET Tonight to discuss black masculinity. In the hour long pre-interview before I appeared on the show, I mentioned to one of the producers that I considered myself a "male feminist". During the program's broadcast, the producers flashed the phrase "male feminist" under my name whenever I appeared on screen. I was made aware of this the next day when friends and family asked, rather pointedly, "what the hell is a male feminist?" For some time now, I've considered myself a feminist, so the decision of the BET producers to acknowledge me as such was not a problem. In fact I welcomed the opportunity to be identified as a "feminist" as it celebrated those of us who are serious about embracing politics that are anti-sexist/misogynist and anti-homophobic, those of us who are serious about uprooting impulses within the black community that work to deny community and diversity.

As a young graduate student I was mentored by poet and Audre Lorde biographer Masani Alexis DeVeaux. She taught me the importance of being a black man who closed ranks with those black women who resisted and challenged the sexism, misogyny and patriarchal norms found among some black communities and institutions. There were many quiet moments then where I engaged the work of bell hooks, Michele Wallace and Patricia Hill-Collins and still more quiet moments now where I currently find feminist grounding with the intellects of Joy James (Shadow Boxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics), Kimberle Crenshaw and Sharon Patricia Holland (Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity) whose books and articles are crucial components of the knowledge that I introduce to my students as a scholar of African-American literature and culture. It was about a decade ago when I first came out of the proverbial closet and acknowledged to the world that I considered myself a feminist. Though it has often been much easier to represent feminist politics in my writing and teaching than in the field -- where shit is real -- I've never passed on the opportunity to confirm, as Manning Marable once described it, my "groundings with my sisters."

Many black men who consider themselves feminists, were initially impacted by black women feminists (keep in mind, not all black women consider themselves feminist -- a measurement of the level of patriarchy's influence in some black spaces). But what was just as crucial to my own development as a feminist, was the identification of other black men who embraced feminist politics. In his essay "'When and Where [We] Enter': In Search of a Feminist Forefather", Gary L. Lemons identifies Frederick Douglass and in particular W.E.B. DuBois as role models for generations of black male feminists that have emerged over the last century. The title of Lemon's essay is based on Anna Julia Cooper's classic claim (regularly bastardized by Tavis Smiley) that "only the black woman can say when and where I enter. The whole race enters with me." Lemons appropriates the phrase to argue the importance of figures like DuBois and Douglass as in the continued emergence of black male feminists. As Lemons admits, "Profeminist-identified Black men have begun to set the stage for a womanist men's counter movement against sexism. Reclaiming the feminist politics of Du Bois opens up the possibility for progressive dialogue between Black men and women about the necessity of a new vision of Black liberation-one infused with the spirit of womanist feminism" (Traps: African-American Men on Gender and Sexuality).

Like many young men in America, my initial sense of what feminists were, was couched in popular descriptions of them as "man haters" and "braless lesbian". A child of the post-Civil Right era, I was among of generation of young blacks who actively embraced the politics and rhetoric of a distinct 80s styled neo-black nationalism as consumed in the speeches of Louis Farrakhan and a host of other part-time theorist and full-time demagogues, who had convinced me to look skeptically and suspiciously at those black women who called themselves feminists. I remember being down with the chorus of black men (and far too many black women) who shouted down Alice Walker for her book The Color Purple on the basis that it unfairly depicted black men. Years later I would count Walker's In Search of Our Mothers Gardens as one of the books that made the politics of womanism and black feminism a tangible concept in my life.

I was already deep in the throes of my meditations with Collins's Black Feminist Thought (1990) and hooks' Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (1991), when I cracked open a copy of Greg Tate's Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992). I was familiar with Tate's brilliant riffs on black music and culture in the pages of the Village Voice (which as a teen-ager I always viewed as the "gay paper"), but it was Tate's obituary for Miles Davis that awakened me to the existence of a black male feminism. In the essay "Silence, Exile and Cunning: Miles Davis in Memoriam" Tate writes that Davis is the "black aesthetic. He doesn't just represent it, he defines it. Miles rendered black a synonym for the best of everything," but takes Davis to task for his almost gleeful descriptions of his acts of violence against women in his autobiography Miles (1989). Tate admits "[M]uch as I loved Miles, I despised him after reading about those incidents. Not that I worshipped the ground he spit on, but because I'd loathe any muhfukuh who violated women the way he did", adding that "Miles may have swung like a champion, but on that score he went out like a roach."

Tate's critique of Davis was likely inspired by Pearl Cleage, who the year before offered a retort to Davis's autobiography with the book Mad at Miles. Davis's status as resident black genius often discouraged the kind of scrutiny that Cleage and Tate were willing to offer. In that regard Tate' s essay offer a template to deal with a spate of demonic black male geniuses -- R. Kelly, Dr. Dre and Bill Withers come immediately to mind -- who have less than savory gender politics.

But Tate also used his Afro-Boho Niggeratti pulpit to share the stage with black women artists. In the essay "Cinematic Sisterhood", also collected in Flyboy in the Buttermilk, Tate gives love to the artistry of black women filmmakers Michelle Parkerson, Jackie Shearer, Daresha Kyi, Ellen Sumter, Dawn Suggs, Zeinabu Irene Davis, and Ayoka Chinzera (gotta check out Alma's Rainbow). According to Tate, "the intention of this article is to move perception of black women from margin to center stage.We need to take stock in those Black filmmakers, male, female, indifferent, who serve up visions of black life beyond homies slangin' and gangbangin'".

In the book's closing essay "Love and the Enemy" Tate takes stock of the black community at large. His closing shot was indeed a provocative one: "If Black Male leadership doesn't move in the direction of recognizing the pain and trauma beneath the rage, as the work of Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, bell hooks and other women writers have done.then what we're struggling for is merely the end of white supremacy-and not the salvaging of its victims". I have a vivid memory of one reviewer who viewed Tate's pro-feminist stance in this instance, and others throughout the book, as an overt attempt to cater to female audiences. In other words he called him a punk and thus has been the critique offered by many black men (and women) of black men who stand behind progressive gender politics.

In some regards, Tate's efforts were easy, as he simply offered a vision of the role that black men can play in supporting a black feminist world view. It is much more difficult for black men to own up to their backward-ass gender politics, particularly in public, but this is the stance that longtime writer and journalist Kevin Powell took in his brilliantly brave essay "The Sexist in Me." Originally published in the September 1992 issue of Essence, Powell's piece describes an act of violence that he carried out against a former girlfriend. In the essay Powell recalls, "I grabbed her by the seat of her shorts and pulled her back into the apartment. We struggled in the kitchen, the dining area and the bathroom. As we were moving toward the living room, I shoved her into the bathroom door. Her face bruised, she began to cry uncontrollably, and I tried to calm her down as we wrestled on the living room floor.shaking with fear and exhaustion, I watched my girlfriend run barefoot out of the apartment into the street."

Writing about the incident a year later Powell admits that he "managed to join the swelling ranks of abusive men with relative ease" adding that "it wasn't until I committed a violent act that it hit me how deeply I believed women to be inferior to men." In the essay Powell exhibits the kind of self-critical reflection that is absolutely necessary for the realization of a black male feminism.

At the time that "The Sexist in Me" was published Powell, was at the height of his mainstream popularity (if you call being consistently portrayed as the Angry Black Man on the first season of The Real World as evidence of mainstream appeal), thus his self-critique carried a power that it wouldn't have coming from someone with less celebrity. At the time, Powell was also recognized as one of the voices of the hip-hop generation, thus his commentary was in striking opposition to the status quo within the hip-hop nation, which couldn't even bring itself to hold Dr. Dre accountable when he threw video show host Dee Barnes down a flight of stairs. In his memoir Keepin' It Real: Post-MTV Reflections on Race, Sex, and Politics (1997), Powell recalls some of the letters he received in response to "The Sexist in Me", including one brother who asked "Man, why you gotta put your shit out there like that?" and another who wrote "I bet you getting' a lotta pussy now, right?"

Both comments speak to the way the Powell was put into the unenviable position of being viewed as either an opportunist or a punk. According to Powell, "I'm no hero, nor was I trying to make myself out to be martyr or a sacrificial lamb.I simply wanted to tell the truth because I felt it was the only way I could ever begin to move forward."

In the decade or more since Powell's unfortunate experience with his girlfriend, he has been a very vocal and visible proponent of the need for black men to revaluate their relationship with black feminism and their own masculinities (he was fired from his gig as staff writer at Vibe for questioning the gender inequities at the magazine). Whereas Powell could trace his transformation to a painful psychic event, literary theorist Michael Awkward traces his own quest for a transformative black masculinity in his relationship with his alcoholic mother. In Scenes of Instruction: A Memoir (1999), Awkward writes, "loving my mother required that I try to understand why she drank, why she frequently neglected her children's needs. Loving her meant recognizing logical connections between my father's brutality and her drinking." Awkward found common-ground with his mother via her constant reminder that he not be like his father. According to Awkward "[D]oing anything but pursuing black feminist insights would have meant being like my father. I could no more have rejected feminism than I could have chosen not to love my mother." But Awkward is conscious that he also, could be perceived as an opportunist, adding that "[T]o speak extensively about why I am a black male feminist is to expose myself to charges that I have visited upon my mother a discursive violence similar in intensity to the unimaginable physical pain she suffered at my father's hands." Awkward's reputations as the leading black male feminist intellectual owes a great deal to his groundbreaking essay "A Black Man's Place in Feminist Criticism", which was included in his book Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality (1995). The piece was largely a response to the kinds of resistance that Awkward faced from fellow feminist critics regarding his desire to "read" and write feminist. Awkward's first book Inspiring Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women's Novels (1989) provided such a read of black literature. Awkward is on the leading edge (both in age and scholarly acumen) of a generation of black male scholars, for whom the study of feminist theory was a regular activity, thus his scholarly interests in black feminist theory was not surprising. Virtually all of the major black male public intellectuals -- especially those on the Left -- have made it their business to give lip services to black feminist politics. But the reality is that their failure to do so would have direct impact on everything from their books sales and speaking engagements, to their ability to hold endowed chairs at major universities and colleges. Awkward, though, has worked against that grain and openly acknowledges the contradictions of claiming a black male feminism, while remaining wholly invested in the importance of it. In Negotiating Difference, Awkward writes, "the most difficult task for a black male feminist is striking a workable balance between male self-inquiry/interest and an adequately feminist critique of patriarchy. To this point, especially in response to the commercial and critical success of contemporary Afro-American Women's literature, scores of black men have proved unsuccessful in this regard." Ultimately Awkward sees the rewards of black feminism in its ability to help redefine "figurations of 'family matters' and black male sexuality."

As an emerging black intellectual in my own right, I found the distinct black male feminisms of Greg Tate, Kevin Powell, Michael Awkward and others like Michael Eric Dyson, crucial to my ability to see myself as a viable black male feminist, who like Alice Jardine implores her white colleagues in Men in Feminism, puts in the work. That work includes providing feminist insights in my role as a scholar and critic of popular culture, creating anti-sexist (and anti-homophobic) classroom spaces, challenging gender inequities in the work-place, and owning up to my own failings as I struggle to find a mode of progressive black masculinity that I can wear.

In March a loose collective of black men known as Black Men in Support of the Film NO! will gather at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for a rough cut screening of Aishah Shahidah Simmons's brilliant and brave documentary about sexual violence against black women by black men. Simmons has faced a myriad of struggles trying to get the film, which she began in 1994, completed. Some potential funders, have even accused her of adding to the on-going attacks on black men in American society.

The film screening is just another example of communities of black men dedicated to a black male feminist politics -- communities whose ranks will swell, if more men are willing to publicly embrace notion of a progressive black masculinities that share in the goals of black feminism and Womanism.

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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