Hey, everybody. Surprise, I’m back!
I’m now up to more than 550 Wattpad views, which totally makes me feel like
So, if you liked the book, please do me a favor and give me some stars on Wattpad. Or, by all means, please spread the word and share it. I’d really appreciate it.
Also, thanks to everyone who checked out my new R&B website.
I hope everybody’s been good since the last letter. I’ve spent much of the time recovering from Miami Music Week, during which I went to two pretty dope parties.
The first was thrown by Def Mix, the dj/production collective that, in its heyday, included David Morales, Satoshi Tomiie, and the late–and quite legendary–Frankie Knuckles. The three of them–individually and together–were responsible for some of my fave mixes of the ’90s, including:
The Def Mix party started really strong. One of the early djs played an unreleased mix of Mimi’s “Make It Happen,” which totally got the crowd hype. (My video from the club.)
I know Spen’s music from back in the day because I’m a D.C. native, and Spen hails from nearby Baltimore, where the club music is always grounded in soul. On this particular night, Spen played Stevie Wonder’s “As,” a lush house re-make of the The O’Jays’ classic ballad “Stairway to Heaven,” and–in what was a wonderful surprise–“Time Waits For No One” by one of my favorite vocalists, Jean Carn.
I grew up on Ms. Carn’s music. Throughout the ’70s, she made dem good ol’ Auntie records, songs that schooled me to grown folks’ ways of love. She sings in a somewhat stylized, reflective manner. This is no doubt influenced by her deep background in jazz, which is expressed most fully in her many collaborations with multi-intrumentalist ex-husband Doug Carn. (My fave Carn x Carn collabo.) To me, it always sounds like Carn is trying to teach the listener something, a lesson based in her own rich life experience.
You might know her from, well, my “About” page, or hits like “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head,” an anthem about making sure your boo doesn’t get gassed, and “Was That Was It Was,” a cautionary tale about one night stands that was featured in Precious.
“Time Waits For No One” is one of those songs that make me see a whole movie musical in my head. Imagine you’re at a barbecue in the backyard of Grandma’s house. The whole family knows Auntie Jean’s new man ain’t shit. He has another woman and kids. But she keeps saying that it ain’t even like that. He’s committed to her now, and she plans to prove it by having him come to the barbecue.
But hours pass by, and homeboy hasn’t shown his face. Everybody has eaten and is making plates to take home. You go looking for Auntie to say goodbye and find her sitting by herself on the plastic-covered couch in the living room. She’s staring out of the window into the dark. You ask, “what’s the matter, Auntie?” A four-on-the-four beat starts playing. She turns to you and begins to sing, “I been out here so very long…”
Anyway, all of this is to say that I had a great time at the Def Mix party, and I danced my ass off. As I get older and have less stamina, my dance moves can sometimes go like this
But that night, I was full of energy.
In fact, this was my Apple Heath reading just from being on the dancefloor.
The next party I went to was at Do Not Sit on the Furniture. It was a mixed lineup, but I was there to see Detroit Techno legend Kevin Saunderson, who, among other things, is the behind-the-boards magic maker responsible for the Inner City classics “Good Life” and “Big Fun.” He also did *must listen alert #2* one of my all-time favorite remixes, the “Club Dub” of Karyn White’s “The Way I Feel About You.”
He fully deconstructs the rather generic pop tune and rebuilds it into a pulsing, soulful club epic.
I didn’t amass quite as many steps that night, but it was still a good time.
CRAIG’S WEEKLY FAVES
1) CHRIS HAYES – A COLONY IN A NATION
I’ve been a Chris Hayes stan from way back. His weekend show Up with Chris Hayes was the newsy accompaniment to many hangovers, and his evening show All In with Chris Hayes kicks off my primetime lineup every weeknight.
His new book, A Colony in a Nation, takes on race in the U.S. in a way that exposes the hypocrisy that’s at the heart of our democracy. Chris, for instance, draws parallels between Eric Garner, the black Staten Island grandfather who was choked to death by the NYPD after being caught selling loosies, with founding father John Hancock, who made a fortune illegally selling Dutch tea, which was cheaper than the East India tea that was officially sanctioned by the dominating Brits. Both Garner and Hancock sold legal commodities in illegal ways. But Garner died on the street, while Hancock went on to show-out and do-the-most with his signature on the Declaration of Independence.
Through connections like this, Chris forces us to interrogate our knee-jerk notions about who gets designated as a “criminal” in our society and who gets to commit crimes (from the pettiest to the most heinous) without being branded with that stigmatized identity. Chris points out how white kids at elite universities get away with all sorts of illegal activities (public drunkenness, drug possession, sexual assault, et al.) that would most likely negatively and irreparably change the course of a young person of color’s life.
Chris’ book serves as a nice companion to Ava DuVernay’s eye-opening documentary 13th in that it provides more examples and analysis of how the white powers-that-be use the idea of crime as a way to control black and brown bodies. Or as Chris puts it: “American history is the story of white fear…”
2) THE BRILLIANT VISON OF GEORGE PITTS
George Pitts, who passed on March 4, was the Director of Photography for VIBE magazine from its first issue in 1993 to 2004. George’s job was to help choose the photographers and select the images that would represent hip-hop and R&B in the most iconic and truthful ways. It was not a job he undertook lightly. As he once wrote: “We take our responsibility seriously because we are recording the defining moments in a cultural adolescence, a never-to-be repeated chapter taken from the big book of humanity.”
Here’s a selection of some of George’s favorite VIBE covers. (I’m proud to say that I wrote two of the stories that went with them.)
And below are some images from the book he helped compile, VX: 10 Years of Vibe Photography. Now I’m not qualified to give out stock tips. But I can say that you should snatch up a copy of this now out-of-print book while it’s still reasonably priced, because one day it will be a valuable collector’s item documenting a glorious black past.
(Chaka Khan by Alastair Thain)
(Destiny’s Child by Vincent Skeltis)
(Madonna by Melodie McDaniel)
(RuPaul by Ellen von Unwerth; Vanessa Williams by Ruvan Afandor)
(Jodeci by Albert Watson)
(Toni Braxton by Tony Duran; Mary J. Blige by Christian Witkin)
(Justin Timberlake by Phil Knott)
(Beyoncé by Kayt Jones; India.Arie by Gerald Foster)
(Britney Spears by Brian Walsh)
(Mariah Carey by Wayne Maser)
(Aaliyah by Robert Maxwell)
4) RIHANNA – AMORPHOUS MASHUPS
Mashups used to be a big thing in the early aughts. DJs and producers would take two disparate tracks–like, say, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Kraftwerk’s “Numbers”–and merge them together. Sometimes the results were fun; often they sucked.
Orlando-based producer Amorphous is trying to bring the mashup back by reinterpreting cuts by Rihanna, and I really love what he’s done. Here are some of my favorites from his Rihanna mashup album.
“This Is What You Came For” x Nelly Furtado’s “Say It Right”
“Where Have You Been” x Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name”
“Desperado” x Banks’ “Waiting Game”
“Te Amo” x SWV’s “You’re The One”
(Sidenote: I don’t really even like “Te Amo,” but I love this mix)
One of the revelations of the of this mashup collection is how well Rihanna’s vocals pair with Aaliyah’s music and vice versa.
“Needed Me” x Aaliyah’s “One in a Million”
“Russian Roulette” x Aaliyah’s “Try Again”
Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” x “Work”
THE WEEK AHEAD
April 1: Gil Scott-Heron’s birthday
Check the prophetic lyrics:
Well, the first thing I want to say is: Mandate my ass!
Because it seems as though we’ve been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate or a landslide…
In this year that we have now declared the year from Shogun to Reagan, I remember what I said about Reagan, I meant it. Acted like an actor. Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal…Then he acted like a Republican. Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for President. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate. We’re all actors in this I suppose…
The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can – even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse – or the man who always came to save America at the last moment – someone always came to save America at the last moment – especially in “B” movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at like a “B” movie.
From Liberal to libelous, from “Bonzo” to Birch Idol, Born Again. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights: it’s all wrong. Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. God damn it, first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom.
Nostalgia, that’s what we want : the good ol’ days, when we gave’em hell. When the buck stopped somewhere and you could still buy something with it. To a time when movies were in black and white, and so was everything else…
April 2: Marvin Gaye’s birthday
April 4: Maya Angelou’s birthday
This is the poem Ms. Angelou delivered at President Clinton’s inauguration set to a sick house beat. (I got it on a mixtape; I don’t even know who did it.)
I think this tribute mix is particularly appropriate, because let’s never forget that the celebrated poet was also a trained dancer.
April 6: Strike A Pose on LOGO (9PM, EST)
Madonna’s tour documentary Truth or Dare expanded the parameters of queer representation in pop culture. But Strike a Pose shows that the gay foot soldiers in Madonna’s revolution often paid a heavy price.
April 7: Billie Holiday’s birthday
Four ways to celebrate:
i) Watch this legendary live performance with her road dog Lester Young
ii) Listen to my 10 favorite Billie Holiday songs on Spotify
iii) Read Zadie Smith’s exquisite short story, “Crazy They Call Me,” which is written from Billie’s perspective.
(Matter of fact, while you’re reading, listen to Queen Dinah Washington’s Billie-tribute performance of “Crazy He Calls Me.”)
iv) Read the excellent biography, With Billie: A New Look at the Unforgettable Lady Day. Toni Morrison wrote of the book: “Nowhere else is the context of her life so vividly captured.”
O.K. y’all, until next time…
Be cool, be kind, be creative, be yourself. Love, Craig
“If a bitch don’t let you through, you got to bust through on your own.” – Ts Madison
P.S. If you know someone who might like this report, please do me a favor by forwarding it to them and asking them to subscribe. Thanks!
I’m a writer whose work has been featured in The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Vibe, Spin, and other publications. I have a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.
Providence-based photographer Michael Allen, a gay man on the cusp of 40, thinks he’s found love with a 19-year-old, mohawk-sporting artist named Ziggy, only to discover that the two may already share a bond that neither can imagine. This plays out as Michael’s best friends-Sidney, a 50-ish art dealer and Bruce, a cop in his 30s-deal with their own sexual trysts and romantic travails with dramatically younger guys. The result is a novel that explores the fragile yet enduring ties of sex, love, and friendship.
“Unafraid to bare it all…readers will feel they’re in the hands of an expert.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“…a bare-assed, neon-lit tour de force…” –The Bay Area Reporter
“Raunchy splendor…somehow both bawdy and sweetly nostalgic at the same time.” – Dallas Voice
“Full of juicy anecdotes, fast-paced writing and interesting analysis, the book paints an intimate portrait of the beloved balladeer.” – E. Lynn Harris