Friday, December 14, 2007

Three Dispatches from Cheri Honkala in New Orleans

To learn more about Cheri and the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, please click on the KWRU link to the right. --Danny

Housing is a Human Right!!
PPEHRC National Coordinator Cheri Honkala Reports from New Orleans on International Human Rights Day

Trying to Stop a Preventable Katrina: As the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begins, PPEHRC joins in massive protests to stop the federal government's plans to demolish close to 5000 public housing units in New Orleans this week.

Dec. 10th: Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
By Cheri Honkala, PPEHRC National Coordinator I spent most of the day meeting with local residents working in the service indusrty and thanspent the evening in a mobilization meeting called the Coaliton to Stop the Demolition, where people have come from around the country to help turn up the street heat for a week here in New Orleans. I havn't seen any national media. I have seen a great deal of New Orleans Police officers and an advertisement on local television by the FBI about helping them cut down on crime. Tomorrow, I will go by the Tent City in front of city Hall which was scheduled for demolition on Dec. 11th. But because we're in town, they're only gonna put up a fence, and than its scheduled for demolition Dec.21, when everyone is busy for the Holidays! I will also spend the day with the public housing residents who have been putting up one hell of a fight here.

Yes, it's the same old SHIT everywhere I go. There's no money for the real people doing the DAILY ORGANIZING work, especially if they come from the ranks of the poor. But yes, money will continue to be dished out for people to study this situation, which ulrimately is caused by our Government and not by Katrina. Its not just the homeless or the public housing residents who have been told that they don't matter. 1700 people who were put into FEMA trailers after Katrina are now, as I write this, being thrown out of their trailers. This fight isn't just about New Orleans. This is about ALL of us and the kind of country we want to live in and raise our children in.

I'm away from my son Guillermo once AGAIN for a week and I miss him like crazy, but this isn't the kind of country I want either of my children to raise their children in.

Unless we lift up the fight that's taking place here, these bastards will continue to get away with murder.
PPEHRC Report from New Orleans, by National Coordinator Cheri Honkala
Part 2

December 13, 2007:

Yesterday was a difficult day. We were all caught off guard when they began bulldozing CW Cooper Public Housing. I and about seven other people were the first to arrive.

The media began to focus on tenants fighting with one another because of all of the stress. Meanwhile I spotted another bulldozer about to enter the gates for demolition, so I walked down to meet the bulldozer and to redirect the focus. I was soon joined by several other residents and people from around the country. We stood in front of the bulldozer as it drove directly toward us. At one point I had to bang on the window of the bulldozer with the stick of my sign so he wouldn't snap electrical wires.

We stood all day in the rain, pouring rain at times, and declared VICTORY in the evening because for ONE day we were able to stop the demolition of public housing in New Orleans.
Today the struggle continues, with efforts across the city to stop the demolition. We need people to call HUD and demand that they stop the demolition now.

PPEHRC members drove through the night in the midwest storm and will arrive here to join me this morning. Other PPEHRC members will hold demonstrations in front of their local HUD offices.

This week we're showing the residents of New Orleans that their lives do matter to us and that this isn't the kind of country we want to live in either.

Evening of December 13, 2007
PPEHRC Report from New Orleans, by National Coordinator Cheri Honkala

Part 3

The bulldozers hit CW Cooper today while most of us hit City Halland than Marched to the HUD office. As we tried to enter the publicHousing and Urban Development (HUD) office we're physically stopped by severalFederal Marshals when all we wanted was a meeting with HUD regarding the demolition. About seven federal Marshals were literally on my back while JR andCY from PPEHRC and the Coalition to Protect Public Housing tried tododge arms being pushed on them by the federal marshalls. This was one of the most heated HUD demonstrations I've been to. No one EVER came down to meet with us. One of the lawyers then announceda lawsuit agains't HUD, because before you can demolish public housing, you haveto have a vote by City Council in order to do it.

This didn't matter though. Alphonso Jackson appeared on television tonight from Washington DC stating "we're going to go ahead with the demolitions in New Orleans because this is a war on poverty". Well, he got one thing right - this is a war. While HUD was appearing on television, the SWAT team was called out tothe CW Cooper Homes. Two people remain in the one of the buildings tonight.Soon they'll be arrested. Also, today the city began to put up an 8 feet tall fence around the huge homelessencampment outside of City Hall and the State Office Building. They poured cementand permanently posted the huge posts into the sidewalk.

Something I had never seen - it reminded me of the new wall on the border.

Maybe, nobody will be able to see the continuing crimes against humanity taking place right before the Holidays. Why else would they cage these human beings in like animals?

Gotta go now. I'm crying.....Time to get angry & organized for tomorrow's fight! Write and call the Secretary of HUD today! Most importantly build and multipy this movement.

Below is contact information at HUD for making your call:

Secretary Alphonso Jackson
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development451 7th Street S.W., Washington, DC 20410Telephone: (202) 708-1112 TTY: (202) 708-1455
(press #6 for employee directory)

HUD Inspector General Hotline for complaints:
1-800-347-3735TDD: (202) 708-2451
New Orleans Field Office:
Marvel Robertson
Field Office Director
Hale Boggs Federal Building
500 Poydras Street, 9th fl
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 589-7266
TTY: (504) 589-7277

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No Time to Make Nice

Dixie Chicks Urge Support for West Memphis 3

by Roger Friedman, Fox News

The Dixie Chicks have a new controversy on their hands. Lead singer Natalie Maines is urging people to contribute money to a defense fund for three Arkansas men that she (and many others) believe were wrongly convicted of killing three children in 1993.

Maines writes her plea on the Dixie Chicks Web site, which has already been answered by several celebrities including, I am told, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Eddie Vedder, Jack Black and Henry Rollins.

"I'm writing this letter today because I believe that three men have spent the past 13 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit," Maines' message begins.

"On May 5, 1993 in West Memphis, Ark., three 8-year-old boys, Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were murdered.

"Three teenage boys, Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin were convicted of the murders in 1994. Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley received life sentences without parole, and Damien Echols sits on death row.

"I encourage everyone to see the HBO documentaries, 'Paradise Lost' and 'Paradise Lost 2' for the whole history of the case."

Right now, Maines’ main goal is to raise money for the West Memphis 3. To that end, she’s directing fans to the Web site

Overturning convictions is more common these days, thanks to more sophisticated forensics. There are obviously now dozens of stories about murder convictions that have been overturned thanks to DNA testing.

Plays and projects like "The Exonerated," for example, have shown mistakes made by juries and prosecutors. On the above-mentioned Web site, the wife of one the convicted men wrote on Oct. 29: "DNA testing has been conducted on dozens of pieces of evidence. The DNA results show no link whatsoever to Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley or Jason Baldwin — and all of the experts agree that, under the prosecution theory of how the crime was committed, their DNA would be present at the crime scene if they were guilty.

"Instead, the DNA results match Terry Hobbs, the step-father of one of the victims. Our new filing also includes strong evidence from Pam Hobbs (the ex-wife of Terry Hobbs and the mother of one of the victims) implicating her former husband in the murders."

On the above-mentioned Web site, the wife of one the convicted men wrote on Oct. 29: "DNA testing has been conducted on dozens of pieces of evidence. The DNA results show no link whatsoever to Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley or Jason Baldwin — and all of the experts agree that, under the prosecution theory of how the crime was committed, their DNA would be present at the crime scene if they were guilty.

"Instead, the DNA results match Terry Hobbs, the step-father of one of the victims. Our new filing also includes strong evidence from Pam Hobbs (the ex-wife of Terry Hobbs and the mother of one of the victims) implicating her former husband in the murders."

Natalie Maines' letter--

Friday, November 09, 2007

We're All in the Same Gang

Please check out this cite on the writer's strike and consider what we can all do in support. This has everything to do with, in particular, the rights of creative people everywhere and, in general, everyone else who works for a living or wishes they could.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Radio came from the South

Rich Boy, "Let's Get This Paper"

Akon, "Ghetto"

Ali B FT Yes-R & Akon, "Ghetto Arab Remix"

Chamillionaire, "Hip Hop Police/Evening News"

Friday, October 12, 2007


New York Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita Survivors

2217–23 Frederick Douglas Boulevard Suite 2F
New York, New York 10026
212 969-0049/917 566-4272

For Immediate Release
Contact: (347) 583-5925

International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina & Rita “Report Back”

Press Release
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Time: 1:30-4:30pm
at The Thurgood Marshall Academy
200 West 135th St, Manhattan NY

Charges of Genocide, human rights violations and gross mismanagement of the government and its agencies are just some of the abuses victims of hurricanes Katrina & Rita that will examined by examined on October 13, 2007, by the New York Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita Survivors, and supporters as they host a report back and working session on The International Tribunal on hurricanes Katrina & Rita previously held in New Orleans on August 29 2007, the 2nd Anniversary of the storm.

On August 29 through September 2, the International Tribunal convened hosted by the Peoples Hurricane Relief fund which brought together a team of 16 esteemed jurists from nine countries, including Algeria, Brazil, France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela, and the United States, in New Orleans to hear testimony by expert witnesses and survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

After almost 30 hours of testimony ranging from government neglect in 15 areas, police brutality, environmental racism, misappropriation of relief to gentrification, the preliminary findings, announced by Jill Soffiyah Elijah, the Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School, stated "It is our view that the US Government has committed crimes against humanity particularly in relation to its failure to maintain functional levees that should have protected the City of New Orleans from flooding….it was the reckless disregard and, in some instances, negligence of the US government, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans that created the devastation we continue to see today.” The final verdict won’t be delivered until December 8, 2007—the second anniversary of the Katrina Survivors' Assembly.

The prosecution team boasted experienced attorneys from well respected legal associations such as NY ACLU, US Human Rights Network, National Conference of Black Lawyers, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights, the Washington DC Legal Defender, the Mississippi Disaster Relief Coalition, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Legal Empowerment Center and the Louisiana Justice Initiative

The NY Solidarity Coalition with Katrina & Rita Survivors is a conglomeration of many other social justice movements, religious institutions, labor unions and community organizations that came together after the shocking scenes portrayed by the media of our gulf coast brother and sisters left on roof tops for days without food and water, the lack of government response, the criminalization of a people plagued not by the storm but the rising waters produced by the questionable broken levees, the lack of a viable evacuation plan that would have addressed the needs of the poor, elderly and infirm, as well as women and children that led to the death of about 2000 innocent people, with 8000 still missing and hundreds of thousands displaced throughout 48 states including Canada, without the right of return.

This report back session’s aim is to continue to solidify the work and bring together activists from the various struggles to address the issues such as housing as a human right, gentrification, mental health, education and labor (giving credence to the theme “Same Struggles/Different Fronts), to further examine the problems and come up with concrete strategies and solutions to maximize our efforts, but more importantly to let the voice of the survivors be heard, to build stronger levees, and to fight for the right of return.

For more information please contact Brenda Walker 347 583-5925 or Sarah Mahmoud.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

New Orleans--The Culture War Writ Plain

In a way, this is what the whole blog is about....

Treme musicians to plead innocent

Two brothers driven to uphold tradition of nightly jazz parades
Thursday, October 04, 2007
By Katy Reckdahl

Two Treme musicians will plead innocent in municipal court today to disturbing the peace and parading without a permit, charges they say should never have been filed during their traditional send-off for a fellow musician.

Derrick Tabb, 32, and his brother Glen David Andrews, 27, were pulled away in handcuffs from a Monday night parade for their friend, tuba player Kerwin James, who died last week and will be buried Saturday.

New Orleans Police Department officers, who responded to a complaint about the parade with nearly 20 police cars, said they cited Tabb and Andrews because the two continued to play when the other 25 musicians had stopped. Spectators deny that, saying that maybe the two men stood out because of their height: snare drummer Tabb is 6-feet-4-inches tall and Andrews is an inch shorter but looks taller when he extends his trombone slide into the air.

In many ways, the Police Department could not have nabbed two musicians more reflective of the neighborhood. Part of a large extended musical family, the brothers were raised in Treme by their mother Vana Acker. And the men are determined to give today's children a Treme-style cultural education. "If you're around music, like we were in the 6th Ward, you're going to be a musician," Andrews said.

As a boy, Tabb sat daily on a neighbor's stoop, listening to drummer Harry Nance while he practiced. The two brothers walked to the French Quarter to stand outside clubs and listen to live jazz. They rode bikes along the Mississippi River to hear the riverboats' bands.

Andrews' teaching is often informal; he regularly brings a nephew or godchild with him to gigs with his band, The Lazy Six. Tabb has spent the past six months carefully forming a nonprofit music school called Roots of Music. He is applying for grants, but he hopes the school will serve up to 200 children during after-school and summer hours.

"Kids can't get into school band until ninth grade," Tabb said. By then, he said, drug dealers are whispering into children's ears, showing them how they can make money. He said he's going to start children marching earlier, at 9, and keep them learning until 14, when they can join school band.

During Monday's parade, the band included three of the men's grade-school cousins. "They were crying when the squad car drove off," said Tabb, who is disturbed about what message that sent to young people aspiring to become musicians.

Still, Tabb is a diplomat, and made a point of shaking hands with every police officer after an uneventful procession Tuesday night. "Maybe we were wrong on Monday for not getting a permit, in their eyes," he said. "But, in our eyes, the police were wrong for stopping a peaceful procession."

Andrews was less compromising, as he described how officers had silenced the band as it played "I'll Fly Away," a funeral spiritual. "How am I breaking the law by lifting my voice to God, in honor of my friend?" he asked.

Musicians were following a century-old tradition, Andrews said, of playing impromptu nightly parades that begin the day a musician dies and end when he is buried. All local musicians follow this tradition to some extent, but in the Treme, it's almost law: When a musician dies, everyone plays, every night.

"We call it bringing him down," Tabb said. "You paid your dues to the community, and we're going to bring you down, with a weeklong funeral."

Still, both men welcome squad cars at these processions, for protection. But they are adamant that the tradition should continue as it always has, unfettered by bureaucracy.

"When it comes to musicians, I don't feel a dollar should go to permits," Tabb said.

Culture, change collide in Treme

Some residents balk at musicians' traditional sendoff
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
By Katy Reckdahl
Staff writer

Monday, at about 8 p.m., nearly 20 police cars swarmed to a Treme corner, breaking up a memorial procession and taking away two well-known neighborhood musicians in handcuffs.

The brothers, snare drummer Derrick Tabb and trombonist Glen David Andrews, were in a group of two dozen musicians playing a spontaneous parade for tuba player Kerwin James, who died last week of complications from a stroke he had suffered after Hurricane Katrina.

The confrontation spurred cries in the neighborhood about the over-reaction and disproportionate enforcement by police, who had often turned a blind eye to the traditional memorial ceremonies. Still others say the incident is a sign of a greater attack on the cultural history of the old city neighborhood by well-heeled newcomers attracted to Treme by the very history they seem to threaten.

Police say Monday's response was in part generated from unspecified complaints.

Tabb and Andrews face misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and parading without a permit. But both returned Tuesday night to the intersection of St. Philip and North Robertson streets to lead another procession for their friend.

"I got to be here," Andrews said. "Because I have to stand up for what I believe in."

Peaceful parade

Tuesday's parade was without incident. It was peacefully escorted by the New Orleans Police Department, thanks to a newly issued permit, the result of lengthy meetings Tuesday between community groups and police officials.

Funeral director Louis Charbonnet, a longtime supporter of music in Treme who also is in charge of James' Saturday funeral service, confirmed the permit came from those meetings, which he participated in. He was vague about who paid for the permit. "We've got a permit and it's paid for," he said.

Some neighbors said buying a permit was a cop-out, arguing the traditional parades should be unencumbered by the bureaucratic formalities.

"It is" a cop out, Charbonnet agreed. "But sometimes you have to do what you have to do."

As Charbonnet stood waiting for the parade to start, he emphasized that the meetings already had an effect. "Look around," he said. "Today you've got police out here protecting people. Yesterday it was harassment," he said.

Jerome Smith, who runs the Treme Community Center a block from Monday's arrest scene, said the police response was heavy-handed and culturally insensitive. He compared it to the Police Department's heavily criticized treatment of the Mardi Gras Indians on St. Joseph's night in 2005, which was the topic of Big Chief Tootie Montana's City Council testimony the night he collapsed and died in the council chambers.

First District Capt. Louis Colin avoided such comparisons, defending his officers' response Monday night. "If a law is being violated, we have to uphold the law," he said. But after Tuesday's meetings, he said he is determined to work with neighbors to find "long-term solutions" to this issue.

'I need to be here'

Lifelong Treme resident Beverly Curry, 65, is one who believes that permits should not be required for the neighborhood memorial parades. Despite a failing leg, Curry made it to the procession's start Tuesday night. "I need to be here, to show my support for our heritage," she said.

For a century, she said, that heritage has included impromptu second-line parades for musicians who die, "from the day they pass until the day they're put in the ground," she said. Those memorial processions still occur with regularity, without permits, as is the tradition. But, increasingly, NOPD officers have been halting them, citing complaints from neighbors and incidents of violence at similar gatherings.

In some ways, the police complaints parallel those NOPD officials raised earlier this year, as they defended the high permit fees that the department was charging New Orleans' weekly second-line parades, hosted by social aid and pleasure clubs. Ultimately, the NOPD settled that suit, assessing much lower rates to allow the clubs to parade. Club members saw the court victory as an admission by police officials that they had been insensitive to New Orleans' culture.

But Curry and other longtime residents point fingers at Treme newcomers, who buy up the neighborhood's historic properties, then complain about a jazz culture that is just as longstanding and just as lauded as the neighborhood's architecture.

"They want to live in the Treme, but they want it for their ways of living," Curry said.

For newly arrived neighbors, Curry sometimes serves as a cultural interpreter. "I tell them, 'When someone dies in the Treme, you're going to hear a band,' " she said. But to those neighbors dismayed by the noise or the crowds that come along with those bands, Curry is stern. "I say, 'You found us doing this -- this is our way," she said.

Mourning a friend

On Monday night, about 25 of the city's top-rung brass-band musicians mourned Kerwin James the way they hope to be mourned themselves: They paraded around Treme, taking the same well-trod route that the spontaneous parades often take. They started at the corner of North Robertson and St. Philip streets, then criss-crossed through the quiet streets of old Treme, which stretches from Esplanade Avenue to Basin Street, from Rampart Street to Claiborne Avenue.

On horns and drums were James' lifelong friends, bandmates from the New Birth Brass Band and members of the Rebirth Brass Band, including James' brother, tuba player Phil Frazier. Dancing along with the band was a crowd of about 100 people, including about 30 children. At some street corners, the band stopped and played for a few minutes while fancy dancers strutted and dipped and elderly neighbors in bathrobes stepped out onto their stoops to wave and give their condolences to James' family.

Then, about 8 p.m., a squad car pulled up behind the parade, which was just yards from its ending point, back at the corner of North Robertson and St. Philip.

When a New Orleans Police Department car approaches, musicians say they never know what's ahead.

Sometimes a squad car arrives and quietly follows the parade. Other times, an officer will emerge and ask for the bandleader, then discuss the reason for the parade and the planned route. In those cases, the two parties may negotiate a different route or ending point, but the parade typically is allowed to continue.

But on Monday night, the squad car meant the parade was over. The band had just launched into the funeral hymn, "I'll Fly Away," and some musicians had tears running down their faces as they sang the lyrics: "One glad morning, when this life is over, I'll fly away. When I die, hallelujah by and by, I'll fly away." At that point, officers used the car's intercom to tell band members that if they continued playing, they would be arrested.

Most musicians kept playing, as they walked into the parking lot. "I wasn't trying to defy police," one trombone player said. "But I was just carried by emotion."

Officers repeated their message, with little effect, so they began running into the crowd and grabbing anyone with an instrument. Some officers grabbed at mouthpieces, others tried to seize drumsticks out of hands.

James' sister, Nicole James-Francois was shocked. "There were so many police cars," she said. The scene was so peaceful and beautiful while the band was playing the hymn, she said. "Then it beaome almost something demonic, with all these officers saying, 'Don't you play.' "

Soon, 20 squad cars were lining the blocks of North Robertson between St. Philip and Dumaine streets, filling the night with red and blue flashing lights.

'A part of life'

Warren Johnson, 65, who had walked out of his door and followed the parade, said that he knew that James had died, so he wasn't surprised to see the procession. "Second lines in the Treme are a part of life that's what the Treme area is known for," he said quietly to an officer.

Sgt. Ronald Dassel, among the first ranking officer at the scene, understood Johnson's point, but said it didn't matter. "We don't change laws for neighborhoods," he said.

Oddly, one result of Tuesday's marathon meetings may be exactly that: relaxed standards for these impromptu processions, specifically to accommodate Treme's musical tradition. "Good things came out of our meetings," Colin said. But the charges against Tabb and Andrews, he said, would move forward.

At the end of the parade, Tabb walked around and thanked all the officers personally.

Kerwin James' brother, Phil Frazier, also greeted officers along the parade route. But he wasn't sure about the need for a paid permit. "I feel odd," he said, slipping his tuba off his shoulders. "Because we've never had to do it before."

. . . . . . .

Katy Reckdahl can be reached at or (504) 826-3300.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Musicians Rally (Again) To Help One of Their Own

Hi ... this is John McEuen... from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

do you know of George Grantham?
drummer/singer for the early country rock band POCO... they splintered in to many groups including Eagles.. Loggins & Messina... Buffalo Springfield

I am helping his wonderful daughter Gracie raise money for her stroke victim father with her EBay auction.. is there anywhere You can send this information to, to get this word out, to help her raise money ? she is doing it 'on her own', and needs any help she can come by.. he is a wonderful guy, but can no longer pursue a music career due to his stroke.. he worked hard at his love of Poco music for 35 years, was (and is) always 'a nice guy'.. and has many people who admire him.. it is simple.. she needs to get the news out.. she needs help.. it can work..
and if you want to send any of your 'junk' others may find valuable, it will get taken care of.

here's the news I am asking you to send:


"From the hits
Crazy Love to Heart of the Night and much more, POCO's George Grantham, the great drummer of seminal country rock from the West Coast, set the rhythm for the group that influenced many. The band is still performing those hits today, but a stroke of 3 years ago took George off the road as the band plays on; keeping tabs on him for all his fans can be done at their website :

George's daughter, Gracie, has pitched in to help defray medical costs by asking George's many cohorts and admirers on the performing side of music to send her some of their valuable 'music business paraphernalia', which is going up for sale on EBAY to the highest bidder. As John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) says: "In this day of higher and higher value for things of sho biz history, this is a good chance to latch on to something cool, at a good price, for a great cause, and help someone who brought great music to so many. POCO opened for us.. their first L.A. gig, at the Troubadour.. and blew us away. A year later we went looking for a singing drummer like George, who was always thought of as the Ringo of country-rock."

Spread the word.. check out the stuff, all good. All proceeds go to defraying medical costs for George and his family. The name of the auction at ebay is:

It is running starting Oct. 2 thru Oct. 9

and is easily found on google and the net.
and other info at:
lower right corner

previous and ongoing donors include:

Timothy Schmit Kentucky Head hunters Scotty Moore
Steve Wariner DJ Fontona Don Henley
Richie Furay Chris Hillman
Graham Nash the Orleans Band
John McEuen (of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) Jim Messina
Kenny Loggins Charlie Daniels R.E.M.

If you have something to add to the available swag, contact Gracie at:

The donation link is at the top of the page:

and if you are sending things:

Gracie Grantham
910 8th ave apt 1515
Seattle WA 98104

other info at:


For more information on the Putting Heads Together eBay auction for the
Benefit of George Grantham visit the Back Bone List at :

direct donations not involved with the auction, to send cards, letters, and to get things signed by George, go to:

George Grantham Benefit fund
George Grantham
PO Box 128523
Nashville TN, 37209

thanks for reading this far!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All the Young Dudes

I went to a show Saturday night with my wife and daughter, my daughter's bands. I hadn't been to an all ages show in a very long time, and the energy level in the place was remarkable, as was the interaction between the bands and the audience. It was certainly a more visceral and exciting experience than I typically experience at any of the hip midtown Kansas City clubs.

At the same time, much of it was a mystery to me. It's a little overwhelming to me how many young bands there are right now who have devoted young audiences networked through MySpace, mix CDs and word of mouth. Aiden was the only one of these four bands I was even a little aware of, and yet each one was greeted by the crowd like a headliner--fans singing along and moshing through frequent climaxes of emotion.

The show opened with a set by a band called 1997, with 6 members, including one harmonica and one tambourine, who bounced and charged across the stage with a relentless mix of hippie freedom and postpunk exuberance. They were followed by a band called Still Remains that came on like some kind of mix of Genesis and Roxy Music but managed to ignite and fuel the most intense mosh pit of the evening. They were followed by an amiable trainwreck of Korn-like dirges from the band Drop Dead Gorgeous, that managed to surprise with unusually melodic and displaced sounding vocal refrains and keyboard work.

Though they were the biggest band with the bestselling album, the crowd seemed to have thinned a little by the time headliner Aiden hit the stage. Still, the audience that was left were clearly devoted fans and thronged the stage with enough energy to fuel an ecstatic rock show.
The band's instrumentalists played with a speed metal precision and energy that was very engaging, and the singer, wiL Francis, added a disarming 80s blitz band melodicism to the mix. All of the bands were very engaged with working the crowd, but Francis took it the farthest (probably too far) talking about the community formed by the band and the audience and how much they needed each other in both inspiring and, sometimes, overly romantic ways.

And that's the thing that's got me writing. There's definitely a romanticism to these young bands that is necessary and real, a need to assert their own story and their fans' stories centerstage despite living in a culture that continuously tells them everything's played out. True, they are drawing on an old playbook, sometimes fighting windmills that their elders have grown beyond or may not understand themselves.

But they are also charting brand new territory, and that's what interests me. For one thing, every one of these bands, as with most of the bands my daughter plays for me, seem actively to be exploring hybrids of emo, death metal and more mainstream styles of rock. It might even be argued that they take a tip from hip hop in the way they weave their songs out of collage like mixes of stylistic fragments.

What I have found myself wondering about, and what inspired me to even write about this is the question of how they see their story in this fragmented universe of narrow formats and half a century of rock and roll history. While my generation was more or less the second or third rock generation, we were the ones--with punk and hip hop in particular--to see ourselves as being part of a rebirth after the original storyline had begun to play itself out. Today, the story is much more complicated, and I'm not sure there is any way for the kids to see themselves as a part of the great story arch we could grasp.

And yet, they are the revolutionary generation. This world is changing on their watch in a way we could only dream about before. Because of this, it seems the responsibility of those of us who have a sense of our role in a great story arch of cultural revolution to try to meet this younger generation in the middle somewhere and begin to construct a story that incorporates both of our stories. I think the key is that thing that's always hardest to do but absolutely necessary for any conversation--we must listen. We must listen harder and more openly than ever before.

Dylan got it right long ago--

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin

Monday, September 03, 2007

Hey Ho Rock and Roll, Deliver Me From Nowhere
Yesterday, I was going to be spending 7 hours on the road, so I pre-ordered Springsteen’s Magic album from I-Tunes to get a copy of “Radio Nowhere” for my library. Two slightly different versions of the single downloaded, so I slapped them on the beginning and end of a Springsteen mix I made a while back for my friend Kristie Stremel. She hasn’t ever listened to him much, but no two artists talk to each other more in my head than those two, so I really want them to know each other. Of course, I picked a batch of songs I could imagine her doing or that seemed to me to respond in some way to things she has done. This was the resulting playlist--

Radio Nowhere
Open All Night
Prove It All Night
She’s the One
Restless Nights
Something in the Night
Loose Ends
Darkness on the Edge of Town
You’re Missing
Countin’ On a Miracle
All That Heaven Will Allow
Radio Nowhere (abbreviated version)

It told a story, and I wrote a "Single-Minded" for Hopefully, you'll see it there soon.
Meanwhile, here's something I wrote recently for KC Star Music Editor Tim Finn's "Back to Rockville" page. Just more empirical evidence of what so few want to acknowledge is important about today's music--

Sunday, August 19, 2007

From LB/RRC—

Magic Johnson, Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Hilary Clinton, and socialized medicine

This morning I started my day, as I often do, by listening to "One World," a beautiful CD single featuring my friend Ernie Perez of the Boxing Gandhis on vocals. It was produced by Michael Hakes, who also played all the instruments. Michael died of leukemia two years ago. Well, actually he died because as a touring musician (Gladys Knight among many others) he had no health insurance.

Then I went to the computer and checked my email. There were two messages of special interest. The first was an invitation to attend a fundraiser for Hilary Clinton at Magic Johnson's house in Los Angeles on September 14th. Among other luminaries, Quincy Jones and Berry Gordy will be there.

Well, I'm a huge basketball fan. I first saw Magic play when he was a junior in high school. Loved it when he schooled Larry Bird for the NCAA title and when he put the NBA on the map worldwide. It would be cool to meet him and I'm sure he has a spectacular house that would be fun to see. Quincy Jones is a musical titan whose impact goes back forever, as you can see in the Ray Charles biopic Ray. I saw Quincy recently on Chuck D's cable show and was very moved by his insistence on the fundamental unity of all forms of music and of all humanity. His handshake would mean a lot to me. Ditto for Berry Gordy of Motown fame.

But...the first problem is that the cheapest ticket to the fundraiser is $1,000. Now, maybe I could scrape that up from all the money I save by downloading music for free. But do I want to contribute to the campaign of a woman who advocates sending 80,000 more troops to Iraq and who began her climb as a member of the board of Wal-Mart? Above all, do I want to contribute to the Presidential candidate who has received the most money from the health insurance industry, thereby guaranteeing that, if elected, she will do nothing to resolve the health care crisis in America?

I think I will have to decline the invitation and continue to admire Magic Johnson, Quincy Jones, and Berry Gordy from afar.

The second interesting email I got this morning came from my old friend Leonard Grbinick of Youngstown, Ohio. Leonard is a steelworker and one of the leaders of the SPAN campaign, which is gaining momentum in its efforts to bring single payer (no insurance companies!) health care to Ohio. He sent me the following article by Jim Wallis, one of America's more prominent social and religious thinkers. It's about universal health care in action. Check it out below....


My Encounter with [Insert Scary Music] ... Socialized Medicine!

by Jim Wallis

My foot had been sore for a couple of weeks and it wasn’t getting better. I usually would ignore that, but we were about to leave on a two-week vacation with my wife Joy’s parents to celebrate both of our big anniversaries (their 50th and our 10th). Then I have to fly to Singapore for the World Vision triennial conference. So I wouldn’t be back home for many weeks and my Washington, D.C., health care provider (over the phone) strongly urged me to see a doctor in London before we left.

I realized then that I was about to have my first encounter with SOCIALIZED MEDICINE! Now it’s one thing to advocate health care reform in America and even to be politically sympathetic to the idea of a single-payer government-supported system like they have in most of the world’s developed and civilized countries (such as Canada, Germany, and Great Britain). But it was another thing to actually go to the emergency room (or ER, but in the U.K. they call it Accident and Emergency) of a hospital in the British National Health Service. After all, I had heard the horror stories—long waits in incompetent, dirty, and substandard medical facilities; bad doctors and faulty diagnoses; and, of course, incredible bureaucracies like everything in "socialist systems." Rush Limbaugh and every other conservative pundit have warned us all in America about the horrific practices of British socialized medicine.

So I prepared myself. I brought a big novel to read, along with my eyeglasses, a bottle of water (no telling what they would not have in socialized medicine), and emotionally steeled myself for the ordeal. Ann Stevens, the Anglican vicar with whom we stay in London (she’s my son Luke’s godmother and Joy’s old pal) took me to St. George’s hospital, dropped me off at "A and E," and wished me luck at 9 a.m. Hoping I would be home that night for dinner, I took a deep breath, walked across the street, and made my way into socialized medicine.

The waiting room was actually quite peaceful and not crowded, I noticed, as I walked up to reception. The woman at the reception desk smiled. I didn’t expect that. "Can I help you?" "Yes," I replied, "you see, I am an American—I guess you can tell—and I’m visiting family here—my wife is British—and we’re staying with our friend the vicar, and I have a sore foot, which I normally wouldn’t worry about but we’re going away for several weeks on vacation, and I called my health care provider in the U.S., and they told me to come in here and thought I should get an X-ray or something." (I wondered for a moment if it would help to tell them that I was a friend of the prime minister, but decided not.) "What do you need from me?" I asked hesitantly. "Just your name and address," she replied with another smile. "Oh ... Okay." She told me it would be about 10 minutes to see the nurse. "Yeah right," I thought to myself.

I settled into the waiting room chair, looked around at all the people who didn’t seem to be in any distress, and opened my book for a good long read. It was five minutes before the nurse called me in to a little office adjacent to the waiting area, which seemed to be an intake room. She was pleasant and professional as she asked me what was wrong, and how long I had felt the soreness. She gently examined my foot and then told me I would be called in to see a doctor in about 10 minutes. "Sure thing," I thought. So I went back out to the waiting room and settled in again to read my novel.

It was five minutes before a young woman appeared and called my name, "Mr. Wallis?" She was a young Asian doctor named Dr. Gillian Kyei. She was also very pleasant and professional, taking time to ask me lots of questions about how I might have hurt my foot, etc. She examined the injured foot carefully, told me that it didn’t necessarily look broken, but that we should get an X-ray to make sure. I waited in her examining room for a couple of minutes while she called down to the X-ray department to say that I was on the way. Then she came back and escorted me herself.

When I got to X-ray, I checked in by just saying my name and took a seat in the waiting area. Finally, I was going to get to read my book! But five minutes later, the technician came out to bring me in. She took her time with me, taking several different angles of my foot. When I was done, she sent me back to my young doctor, with another smile.

This time the wait was a full 10 minutes because, I later learned, Dr. Kyei was reading the results of my X-ray, which had already been sent to her computer. She showed me what looked to her like a fracture of my fourth metatarsal bone, but said she wanted to consult with the orthopedic specialist. I waited about 10 minutes more while she did that and so got a few more pages read.

Dr. Kyei then came back with the definitive diagnosis—my fourth metatarsal bone was indeed fractured. She went over their preferred treatments and my options with me. Normally, if this injury had just happened, they would put me in a cast to hold the broken bone in place and give me crutches. They were still happy to do that now. But since I had been already walking on it for over a week and the bone was still in the right place, I could also have the option to just using a therapeutic soft boot to keep the weight on my heel and off my fourth and fifth metatarsals. While the fracture was at the base of the fourth metatarsal, as she carefully explained and showed me on the X-ray, the pain was being felt lower down—across both my fourth and fifth metatarsal area. If I chose the boot, I could still swim with my kids and get around a little easier, but I would have to really try to keep my weight off the injured area. I chose the boot and she told me she would be back in a minute.

It was actually about two minutes before she got back, and I was getting nowhere with this novel. She handed me a very stylish black boot (so much better than other colors for fashion coordination), and gave me my final instructions—be very cautious about the foot, try to stay off it as much as possible but keep it mobile and flex it so the blood circulates, get another X-ray as soon as I get home and, of course, then consult with my home physician. Then she wrote me a nice long letter for my home doctor, describing their diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Gillian Kyei then wished me the best of luck, hoped I would have a great vacation despite my foot, smiled, and sent me back to the front desk.

"How can I call a cab?" I asked. "Oh, I’ll do that for you," she said. "Just take a seat over their and the cab will be here in about 10 minutes." As I sat there, I realized something. Nobody had ever asked me to pay. Everything was FREE, including my nice new boot. How about that? They think health care is a right for all citizens, and even foreign visitors like me. Amazing.

The cab came in five minutes. I thought I would tell him some horror stories about my experiences in the American health care system, but decided not to. I was back at Ann’s in just over an hour from when I left—with my letter, my boot, and my tale of smiling, pleasant, and efficient health care workers. And somehow I began to believe that back in America we weren’t being given the whole truth. And guess what? Ann tells me that David Beckham and Wayne Rooney, the biggest British soccer (football) stars, have had metatarsal bone fractures, just like mine. In about six weeks, I too will be back on the field, thanks to socialized medicine! And in the meantime, I will keep my foot up ... and maybe get that novel read.

Please check out the links below--watch Kristin's 2 videos, take a look through the resources RRC has compiled and read over the vision worked out by the Just Health Care Campaign. We can heal the soul of America by making sure we work to take care of one another. I don't want to just talk at people who read this blog; I want to talk with you about what we need and how we can build. DA

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Germans, Mexicans, Artists and the Struggle for America’s Soul

In Denison, Iowa: Searching For the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwestern Town, Dale Maharidge describes how, over the past 15 years, Mexican immigration to Iowa has led to the small town of Denison (population 7,000) changing until its population is now somewhere between 30 and 50 percent Latino. Denison is where a boxcar with eleven would-be Mexican immigrants suffocated inside was discovered in 2002.

Maharidge lived in Denison for a year. He depicts a town in which immigration has led to both integration and embrace on the one hand, and discrimination and occasional violence on the other.

Maharidge contrasts the experience of the Mexicans with those of the Germans in Denison during World War I. English-only laws were passed in Iowa to prevent German from being spoken and German-language newspapers were attacked. The citizens of Denison were forced to buy war bonds and to sign loyalty oaths. The threat of the “German menace” was on many, perhaps most, lips.

Much can be learned about today’s situation in America’s heartland by comparing it to World War I and anti-German hysteria. In 1918, the elite in Denison was British and the working class was largely German. Luis Bravo, one of the leaders of Denison’s Mexican community, describes the very different situation today:

“In Los Angeles, all the people doing lawns, yard work, they are Latino. Here you see the whites doing the garden work. You work with the white people. You make the same wages. You live in the same kind of houses. You have two different colors in the same position.”

“…at best, wages would forever be substandard,” Maharidge writes. “Plant employees live a hand-to-mouth existence. A sense of this can be found in the statistics from Denison’s elementary school: 65.2% of the 743 students got reduced-price or free lunches under the federal program for low income families. A majority of these kids were white.” [emphasis added]

In 1918, the Germans and the non-Germans were not equal. They could not unite. Today in Iowa a large section of Latinos and whites are now equal. They can unite.

In 1918, although the government certainly did its part to instigate hatred and violence against Germans, the attacks were carried out by a section of the mass of people. This is not the case today. In the community, it is the government (mainly various arms of Homeland Security) which attack the immigrants. The ordinary citizen is not part of this. Yet the ordinary citizen is being attacked in so many other ways by the same government. This is another objective basis for unity.

Dale Maharidge describes Tom Hogan, the sheriff of Crawford County (Denison is the county seat). Hogan says: “They weren’t coming here. But they ended up here. As I stared into that grain car that day, I thought, there are no borders…we are all the same.”

“It’s real easy to be a racist,” Hogan continued. “They’re racist out of fear. It’s a fear of jobs. They see Hispanics competing with them. They’re not unfounded fears. But they don’t look at the real threat. They don’t see corporate greed being the reason.”

Maharidge writes: “All this sounded very left wing to a New York and California ear. But I learned Tom is conservative in many ways. He wasn’t talking this way as a liberal. Tom is deeply religious, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, and he came to these conclusions based on his abiding Christian beliefs.”

The vast majority of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. Thus Tom Hogan, even though he may sound strange talking that way as a cop, is actually very typical. There are millions of Tom Hogans in America who don’t make their way into books, millions of Tom Hogans who, as individuals, are drowned out by the massive noise of the highly organized, enemy-financed right wing of the church.

While Hogan emphasized the very real racism that is present in Denison, Maharidge’s book actually paints a different picture, one in which the racism is countered by growing acceptance, sometimes even love. It can be as simple as seventeen employees of the Hy-Vee Supermarket signing up for Spanish lessons. Or the way the entire town polarized when Luis Bravo was denied a city construction contract for which he was the low bidder. This led to a bitter struggle in which, ultimately, Bravo got the contract.

While the Mexicans in Denison were often criticized for not wanting to learn the language, the reality was that many of them, after working overtime shifts in the horrors of a meatpacking plant, went to take English language classes at night. Their (unpaid) teacher, Georgia Hoffer, said: “I like this class so much. Thank you—one thousand thank yous. It is an honor to help you, to work teaching you English. I am so glad you are in the United States. It is an honor to help you, to work teaching you English. You are our future—the future of Denison, Iowa.”

In Los Angeles, it’s impossible not to see the ongoing wave of immigration but, on a personal level, you can still pretty much ignore it if you want to. Not so in the small towns of America, where the growth of the Mexican “diaspora” is, one way or another, directly a part of everyone’s life. It is generating a visible fork in the road, hurling us toward a crisis of morality. Are you with the immigrants or against them? Do you love them or hate them? Are you Christian or not? Are you human or not?

Today the government and the media continue to use the boogeyman of the “other,” the “foreigner,” to divide us, as happened when the Germans were the “other” in 1918. It is up to the millions of artists in America to realize what great potential for unity lies in the current moment and to use their words, sounds, and pictures to make it happen.

--Lee Ballinger

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bruce Springsteen's Magic, Due October 2

I generally come close to putting my hands over my ears before a Springsteen album is released because I want to experience the album as this complete statement, in a fresh way, when it's released. And I'm sure I will try not to read too much about it before I hear it this time too. But, it's funny, I wrote the longest thing I wrote about the Seeger Sessions right after I heard the first song. This time, I feel compelled to write a blog based on the title.

I think the way Bruce uses titles is gutsy--and it's almost always the thing that divides people right off the bat, naming elephants in the living room, promising something bold to live up to and suggesting that we approach everything from an angle very few others are likely to take. It's both why some people recognize he's raising the stakes and why some dismiss everything he does as some kind of cheese. Most creative folks play it too safe and say almost nothing in the process.

It's why titles flummox me in general. For instance, my novel, Night Bird, has a diminutive title, one of many I chose from that also seemed fairly small. There's some good reasons for that--it's a short book for starters. But it is, explicitly, a book about magic, a theme dealt with directly over and over again, and it never would have occured to me to simply stick that in the foreground. I mean, it's not about "magicians" and it's not typical fantasy, but it's about a little group of Okies--secretaries and strippers and corporate axmen, security guards and teachers, all dying for second chances, romance and redemption; little girls surviving that context with dreams and imagination; folks who use "magic" to exploit the other characters' dreams and folks who use "magic" to strengthen others around them and build something new.

I'm not seriously thinking about taking Bruce's title, but it might have worked. It certainly gets me thinking in a fresh way about the focus of what I have done and why I have these issues. I find myself thinking about how much of what I do I get from Bruce's music in particular. It's that underexplored thread that I keep coming back to and that connects his early boardwalk mystique to that sense of opened boundaries with The Rising and what came after, as well as that dream of "The Promised Land" or that plea to "Dream, Baby, Dream" that have closed recent tours.

I think it's something of what makes a lot of fans take sides on the early 90s releases of Human Touch and Lucky Town, too. HT traded a lot in the ineffable, the magical, turning to soul, pop and rock bravado to do that, while Lucky Town stuck closer to Bruce's more seemingly "serious" realism. Still, there's nothing simple about that--considering it's a Lucky Town song he used to perform with arms outstretched as a great black bird (I had some kind of epiphany writing this when I realized that was my night bird).

The picture being sent out with the press reminds me of Houdini, that seems more than right. Talk about a walking contradiction. A man who became something of a folk hero (actually Chaplin size huge, I think) keeping a paradox on the table--he celebrated human potential by doing the impossible and insisting it was a trick. He became a walking metaphor of human potential, particularly for liberation, during the Depression. My sense of that is that it worked so well for Houdini because he was genuinely reconciling what appealed to him and inspired him with what angered him and what he saw exploiting others. Bruce recognizes and calls attention to the foot in both of those worlds that defines the artist and the artist's relationship to his audience. How dare he put that on the table? How could Bruce Springsteen not?

It's where the real keys to the mystery of how we get there from here lie. It has something to do with recognizing the value of that power we can't define and harnassing that energy--or if not harnassing it, working with it--to get to what, right now, seems impossible. On various tours I've found myself turning to metaphors like seances and rain dances, conjuring and, most of all, lock picking (back to Harry), to describe what I see him doing on stage. It's all about working at the limits of what's known to reach a vision of what's possible.

It's the task before all creative people, right now more than ever.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

From our friend, Lee Ballinger--

Boxing, Eminent Domain and the Deliberate Destruction of Our Youth

Carlos Barragan and his son Carlos, Jr. run a gym for young kids in National City CA. National City is between San Diego and the Mexican border. The gym is a beautiful building which has been refurbished by the donated labor of the neighborhood. It has a row of computers and offers academic tutoring. All of this free.

The city of National City, headed by Mayor Ron Morrison, has used the power of eminent domain to condemn the gym and give it to developers who will replace it with a 24 story condo building. Under a 2005 Supreme Court ruling, cities may now use the power of eminent domain to seize and then give away any property they want to private interests.

What type of guy is Ron Morrison? The mayor before him, Nick Inzunza, had declared National City a sanctuary for immigrants. Immediately upon his election in 2006, Morrison reversed that decision. Immigrants don't buy condos.

On a personal note, the neighborhood I live in is dominated by a major thoroughfare that is filled with mostly small businesses. Businesses that provide services we need and many jobs. The city is about to seize a several block long portion of this thoroughfare so that a hideous five story block of condos can be built (talk about urban blight!). Under the present plan, this project will stop across the street from my house. However, if the developers want to extend it, say, one block north, the city could make a non-negotiable offer for my house. Take it or leave it, my house would be given to the developers.

In 1949, corporations paid 49% of all taxes. Now it's 7%. They created jobs. Now they eliminate them. Corporations no longer play a useful role in our society. Either we will make them public property that serves the public interest or the corporations will destroy life as we know it. We, as artists, must use our talents to get the American people to see the choice that faces them.


Friday, August 03, 2007

My First Love

Since crayons, I've been making up stories, and though I took long breaks from it when I started writing about music, I've never really quit. In fact, I've become much more dedicated to my fiction output (as essential to my sanity) over the past 4 years or so.

Anyway, I wrote this little book, Night Bird, a while back, and those who have read it have shown enough enthusiasm to make me work on trying to sell it. Meanwhile, I thought I'd post the first three chapters here to see if anyone who reads the blog finds it worthwhile. A word of warning, anyone who follows my blog shouldn't be surprised it's probably what most people would call a horror story. If you don't like that sort of thing, please don't bother with it.

(To me it feels more like magic realism and a helluva lot more just plain real than a lot of the slice of life stuff I used to write back when I was a creative writing student.... Still, that's all irrelevant to whether or not you should check it out.)

If I say more, it will be too much (probably already is), but if you find you want to read more, just drop me a line at, and we'll work something out. You can click on the link below, and I'll post one on the side of the page, too, at least for a while...


Night Bird--

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Just Health Care and the Dog Days of Summer

In a summer that's been marked by too much sickness and death, I finally got back out to a club and saw some live music a couple of weeks ago. I saw a terrific performance by my hero Kristie Stremel at what may be the best live music venue in Kansas City, Davey's Uptown Rambler's Club. She played a fine focused set that reminded me of what it's all about, never more so than in that line at the heart of one of her most recent songs, "It's Not a Phase"--"There are no benefits/God, I pray that we don't get sick!"

Aside from Kristie's performance, what made that night so special was reconnecting with others whose music and friendship have fed my soul (not to mention saved my life) over the years, most prominently songwriter/rocker Gary Cloud and guitarist Chris Meck. They filled me in on a benefit they, along with half a dozen of Kansas City's other very best acts, were playing later in the week. It was a benefit for drummer Glen Hockemeir, who plays for Meck's very fine band, the GasLights, and who recently had to have surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It was a wonderful night, with fantastic performances by everyone involved. I plan on writing more about most of these acts soon, rather than scribble a couple of sentences that wouldn't do them justice right now, but let's just say it wouldn't be a bad use of your time to run them down at MySpace or on Google.

But what I'm really wanting to talk about was why we were all there. At some point in the evening, a poet/writer friend of mine began talking about Sicko, which I hadn't seen yet. She couldn't believe I hadn't seen it and urged me to go, speaking emphatically about how she wanted to get involved in the fight for just health care in America. We had a great conversation, and I found myself thinking about how we keep learning that this is the fight that really brings us all together, how it affects all of us and how it gets at the heart of all of the other issues we face today in such fundamental ways.

I did go see Sicko the next day, and it is Michael Moore's best movie for these same reasons.

Please check out the links below--watch Kristin's video, take a look through the resources RRC has compiled and read over the vision worked out by the Just Health Care Campaign. We can heal the soul of America by making sure we work to take care of one another. I don't want to just talk at people who read this blog; I want to talk with you about what we need and how we can build. If nothing else comes out of this grim summer, maybe it can be that.....

And for Glen Hockemeir, send donations to--
Chris Meck
110 W.Armour blvd #2
KCMO 64111
or the paypal account at:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Golden Age of Hip Hop Video

Since the latest round of rap attacks started, I’ve been coupling my usual dose of rap radio with several hours a week watching rap videos, and the past month has convinced me that we’re in the midst of a golden age for hip hop video.

Now, I’ve never been much of a music video fan. I’ve always found very few videos in the history of the form have done anything but detract from the power of listening to the music without a visual. But that’s not true today in what I see in a typical hour or two of, say, MTV’s hip hop-oriented format MTV Jams.

For one thing, the videos are more beautiful than ever. Take Young Buck’s video for “Get Buck” for an example. Widescreen and shot in, presumably, the rapper’s hometown of Nashville, it starts with this arresting visual of a golden classic car, rims spinning, in front of a dingy old neighborhood grocery store, while a choir and dancers dressed in black bring a sense of weight to what we’re about to see. Brightly flashing tubas balance the shine from the car, pounding out a rhythm that’s nothing less than riveting.

That’s followed by a bright yellow swap shop with red trim and a red whip displayed in front of it. Marching band and dancers stomp and jump in joyous expectation in front of these settings while the music builds.

And then it cuts to night, and the front of a Western Union check cashing shop, lit bright yellow and red neon, shines with a glorious radiance over the proceedings. The music making is continuously intercut with the dignified and serious faces of participants staring the camera down or showing off their bling or their rides. The final moments of this ecstatic war dance are shot by the headlights of a nighttime street full of these rides, raising the level of excitement to a fever pitch before it ends.

What’s vivid here is a celebration of individual integrity and collective ingenuity and culture, and that’s typical of what makes so many of today’s popular music videos so special—whether it’s Lil Mama’s dazzling mix of dancing and special effects (which include dancing spoons and slamming lockers as a sort of visual percussion) in New York high school hallways, lunchrooms and classrooms or Huey’s much grittier but no less joyous, beautiful and expressive dancing in an East St. Louis high school.

Perhaps most obviously significant are the videos coming from artists like Mobile, Alabama’s Rich Boy and New Orleans’s Juvenile and Baby Boy da Prince. They not only show the devastation of Katrina but also celebrate the culture that developed in those areas affected and that bind artist and audience in the aftermath. Yes, the Southern rappers and fans are showing off their tats, grills, whips and bling, but they are also riding in the Mardi Gras parade, eating crawdads with whole neighborhoods in community picnics and getting fists pumping with what looks and feels like soul saving pep rallies in the streets, often, again, complemented by exuberant marching bands.

Much is made of a certain stereotype of the roles women play in today’s rap videos, but it’s surprising how rare such even debatable examples show up. What’s most common—when the women aren’t rapping or singing themselves--prevalent everywhere from rappers like Crime Mob, Remy Ma, Eve, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim and 702, to, of course, the hip hop flavored R&B of Mya, Rihanna, Fantasia, Kelly Roland, Ciara, and alternating videos of almost everything on Beyonce’s current video release—are images of proud strong women of all ages and body types exhibiting the latest dance moves and looking like they are more than enjoying the still relatively young tradition of celebrating black feminine beauty. It’s telling that even the conceptually disturbing video based on Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Pretty Ricky’s “Push It Baby (I Wanna See You),” ends with elegant choreography featuring both the boys and the scantily dressed women.

Without even factoring in the more explicit politics of Bone, Thugs N Harmony’s “I Tried,” DJ Khaled’s “We’re Taking Over,” Xibit’s “Grits,” Young Jeezy’s “My Hood,” or G-Dep’s “Everyday,” the overall story adds up to Class Unity 101 with women and men who are often stereotyped as the scourge of society presenting themselves as roundly characters--funny, serious and sexy as they wanna be.

Whether any of the current crop of rap bashers want to deal with it or not, what’s evident in today’s rap video shows writer Michael Eric Dyson’s prescience 12 years ago when he wrote “Gangsta Rap and American Culture,” arguing gangsta as a critique of the black bourgeoisie.

Even further, these videos, particularly by the predominant mix of Southern rappers, serve to expand the old hip hop concepts of the four elements—graffiti, break dancing, MCing and DJing to include new forms. That’s what the grills, tats and even the most erotic dancing is all about, on one level, but there’s also the emphasis on clothes and cars, which ties back to the low rider tradition, blue suede shoes and dreams of pink Cadillacs.

At the same time, DJs have long been producers as much as turntablists, but in this PC laden world where music is shared via YouTube maybe more than actual television, the visual arts also include the videos themselves. It’s not altogether rare today to even see video remixes, alternating images between various videos like a DJ spinning two discs together. Today’s rappers not only rhyme and toast but they also non-verbally shout, grunt, chant, dance and snap their fingers in call and response, and the cameras emphasize this rich mix and weave it together in energizing new ways.

Lately, I’ve been weary and annoyed fighting these same old fights, but a daily dose of these videos, and I’m more than ready and willing to get back to work.


See examples of some of these videos in my previous post's links.

Check out Living In Stereo, as a matter of principle but also for the little article I wrote about Rihanna's "Umbrella."

Also, if you don't receive Rock & Rap Confidential's free e-mail distribution, please write and request it. I've been committed to writing for the newsletter for 20 years now, and I've never felt it was more important than right now. (The article above is actually something that couldn't fit this issue.)

Finally, please check out the next three nights of Tavis Smiley on your local PBS outlet. He is showcasing half hour segments from Jonathan Demme's new documentary on the lives of Hurricane Katrina survivors. It's called Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower Ninth Ward, and I can't overstate how important it is (what it's all about really). Here's a New York Times article from a couple of days ago that gives a nice description--

May 28, 2007
Demme’s Tales of Ordinary Heroes in New Orleans

Victims and despair were what Jonathan Demme expected to find when he headed to New Orleans with his camera. Instead, he said, he discovered tough-minded heroes, who became the stars of his unadorned film “Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower Ninth Ward.” Beginning tonight Tavis Smiley will turn over the entire week of his PBS program, “The Tavis Smiley Show,” to broadcast parts of the film.

Mr. Smiley’s 30-minute show will feature five roughly 20-minute episodes carved out as discrete appetizers from Mr. Demme’s film. (On WNET In New York, Episodes 4 and 5 will be broadcast back to back on Thursday.) Mr. Demme said he planned to show the stitched-together episodes from Mr. Smiley’s show, with additional material, at the Silverdocs: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, a six-day international film festival in Silver Spring, Md., in June.

Mr. Demme, the Oscar-winning director and producer whose work includes “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” said he had enough material eventually to make a 10- to 15-hour documentary, with five seasonal chapters. “A memoir in the moment,” is what he calls each story he has documented.

In “Right to Return” viewers get to know preachers, artists, single mothers, young professionals. Mostly these people talk: about rebuilding, dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about what their neighborhood was like and what was lost, existentially and literally, when the waters ravaged the city. They describe waiting for insurance money, electricians, debris removal, mail service.

“I just thought everyone who can point a camera in the right direction should go down there and point a camera in the right direction,” Mr. Demme said in a recent interview about his trips to New Orleans. “This is the great American epic of our time.

“I had thought we would record the death throes of an obliterated culture. The culture was not obliterated. These are not tragic figures. These are the American heroes who’ve gone back into these damn neighborhoods.”

Mr. Demme is the film’s director and producer. His partners in the venture, Abdul Franklin and Daniel Wolff, are also producers. “Right to Return” has a home-movie, seat-of-the-pants feel. The assumption is that the viewer knows the big story and now can get a close-up view of smaller stories from the citizens of New Orleans.

“We had two cameras,” recalled Mr. Wolff, a writer and film producer. “We got in a rented car and just drove. There was no script. There were no written questions.”

The week of “Right to Return” on Mr. Smiley’s show begins with an episode filmed in winter 2006 and ends with one from winter 2007. Each episode concludes with an update from the people interviewed. Although the camera lingers on neighborhoods full of waterlogged debris and gutted and disarrayed houses, “Right to Return” focuses on the people and not the physical destruction.

One recurring figure is the Rev. Melvin Jones, known as Pastor Mel, first seen in the winter of 2006 playing cheerleader to a room full of sad-eyed men by reminding them of the people they plucked from the water. His own story is that he overcame drug abuse and homelessness to become pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church in the Ninth Ward, which has a program for male substance abusers. Pastor Mel lost his house and his church but is rebuilding both. He wants others to stay and fight too, he says.

“The answer is not the government taking the land and selling it to a developer for a sweetheart deal,” he says in the film, repeating rumors he has heard of government plans to transform mostly black New Orleans into what he calls a “boutique city” for tourists.

The spring 2006 segment features Herreast Harrison, the widow of Donald Harrison Sr., who was the Big Chief of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe known as the Guardians of the Flame. She is also the mother of the jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. and the grandmother of young trumpeter Christian Scott. Every year the Guardians of the Flame would dress up and sing in the streets of New Orleans.

Mrs. Harrison, an educator, talks about saving a few Mardi Gras costumes but losing so much when her home of 40 years was destroyed. In the film she fingers a feathered headdress from Mardi Gras.

“When they masqueraded in the neighborhood, they brought beauty and eloquence,” she says, explaining that the tribe’s music and manner transmitted a culture that mingled African and American Indian elements.

Her daughter, Cherice Harrison-Nelson, talks about being an artist who helps schoolchildren use art to cope with the dislocation of the storm, despite, she says, being told by FEMA that she should relocate to Houston. She has lived in a series of hotels, she says.

Carolyn S. Parker, filmed last summer, talks about trying to lure her neighbors back to the city. But her son, Rahsaan M. Parker, declares, “You wouldn’t be able to survive 18 hours the way we’re living down here.”

Mrs. Parker cheerfully notes the irregular mail service and says her only wish is to be back in her home by Christmas. She has been slowly rebuilding her house but is still in a trailer.

“Right to Return” ended up on television by happenstance. Mr. Demme said he was working on his documentary about Jimmy Carter when his path crossed Mr. Smiley’s. After hearing about Mr. Demme’s project and looking at the footage, Mr. Demme said, Mr. Smiley gave him the gift of airtime. Mr. Smiley said that it was the first time he had done such a thing and that his gesture was compelled by the power of Mr. Demme’s film and by the plight of New Orleans.

“The media descended on New Orleans for the Katrina story, but the real struggle is asserting the right to return,” said Mr. Smiley, who has made a name for himself in broadcasting but also as a player in black arts and politics. “This is a story that for five consecutive nights tells what people have gone through.”

Mr. Demme’s film would seem to invite comparison with Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” but Mr. Demme sees his project as picking up where Mr. Lee’s ended. Unlike Mr. Lee’s critically acclaimed four-hour film “Right to Return” stays away from experts, hurricane scenes and shots of bedraggled storm victims.

Pastor Mel, for one, said he was hopeful that the combination of Mr. Demme’s artistic imprimatur and Mr. Smiley’s journalistic and political bona fides would spur action on behalf of the city.

“We’re Americans here, not just New Orleans residents,” he said in a telephone interview.

“We’re just normal, everyday working people doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and things like the Internet are not back, the lights are not back, the telephones are not back, the sewers and the streets are deplorable. It’s all God helping us.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company