Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rest in peace, Morwen

It seems I only fire up the ol' blog these days when the news isn't so great. Perhaps when things get better…and my Twitter addiction lessens…

'Til then, I go back to the days when I first discovered I wasn't the only one in New Orleans doing this blogging thing. It was early 2007 and New Orleanians were marching on City Hall to demand that, after the murders of Hot 8 Brass Band snare drummer Dinerral Shavers and filmmaker Helen Hill, all of law enforcement put greater efforts into fighting the violent crime that had once again settled on this city like a waking nightmare. I couldn't attend the march, but I could experience it through the posts and pictures of the many people blogging about it. It wasn't until a few months later that I got to meet some of those same people through a Geek Dinner event, among them a certain Gentilly resident (and her significant other Betts) who had been through a lot and who had passionately blogged about it.

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Morwen at Rising Tide II, photo by Maitri
Morwen Madrigal - a bright lady who was inspired to take part of the fictional Anna Madrigal's name as her own when she became, on the outside, the woman she felt she'd always been inside - was interested in the health, happiness, and prosperity of all of New Orleans, which was what led her to become an early organizer of Rising Tide. She didn't want what had happened to her home (and what she was going through to recover from it) to happen to anyone else, and she threw in much of her lot with a fairly motley crew of us blogging folk to raise awareness of these things and put the social in social media in the process.

Morwen didn't come to many Rising Tide events after the 2007 conference, though I would still see her on occasion. She and Betts were busy getting their home and their lives together. It was looking like one of the better recovery stories in a place that needed them badly, until Betts took ill and passed away in late December 2010. A group of us went to the house to help Morwen out after Betts' death and saw how much Betts' passing had thrown Morwen for a loop. Doing basic things like cleaning up after her many cats seemed beyond her at the time. A kindly neighbor and NOLA Slate took over looking in on Morwen and alerting the family she had left to her condition. The last time I myself saw her was in early 2011, when I dropped her off at the VA hospital for an appointment. Her final blog post, though it doesn't seem to be appearing now, was in December 2012, expressing her wish that the house she and Betts once shared become a trans compound.

Today, Adrastos at First Draft posted on Twitter the news that Morwen is gone. There are no further details yet. Zichron l'vrachah, they say in Judaism when someone has died. May her memory be for a blessing.

Her memory is a blessing. But dammit, I wish she were still here.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Truly Suspect No More


Head here to view an enlarged version of the comic above. 

I first posted it in 2009 shortly after it came out. It's well worth reading, as it speaks of the health care dilemmas we all still suffer. It certainly had a great deal of relevance to the cartoonist, Greg Peters, who passed away this morning.

Greg cartooned for Louisiana weeklies for a long time. His Suspect Device comics were wickedly on point about life and politics in this state, especially in the aftermath of 8/29/2005, and it was a disappointment to see them vanish from Gambit's pages in 2010. It was also sad to see his blog of the same name vanish into the virtual ether - in the heady times that were the New Orleans blogging heydays of 2006-2009, Suspect Device the blog was far more than a showcase for Greg's work; it could at times be an angry voice of reason rivaling that of Ashley Morris'. It is only fitting that Greg's graphic work for the Rising Tide II conference on New Orleans' future also adorns the award given in Ashley's name to outstanding local bloggers.

Though I was merely an acquaintance of Greg's, I can say that a man of great intellect and rapier wit was silenced far too soon today. His memory will be a blessing...but I'd much prefer to have had him around a while longer.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It Turned Me 'Round

I'd read a few reviews about the flick, and since it's about one of my favorite bands, I saw Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me last night.

My attitude towards this documentary, having read a lot about the band and listened to their three 1970's releases - especially Third - was anticipatory in an arrogant manner born out of possessing just enough knowledge to be dangerous. What can this film tell me that's new about the band, I thought, and how will it re-present what I already know? It's an attitude that can make or break the success of band documentaries meant for the big screen, and a common consideration for anybody undertaking a history of any beloved musician(s). Big Star's story presents some unique challenges, too, as it is probably one of the most lauded bands on the planet this side of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Nothing Can Hurt Me drove a few things home that will be revelatory to all but hardcore fans, folks like Robert Gordon and Rob Jovanovic, and the people directly involved in Big Star's story, a lot of whom participated in the documentary. Until this film, with the exception of an Oxford American article about Big Star co-founder Chris Bell, the focus has largely been on Alex Chilton's role in the band and his life after it, which is only logical: due to his pre-Big Star Box Tops experience and his fairly public de- and re-construction of musical genres, personas, and roles on his own, he likely figured his part in it spoke for itself without further participation in this documentary. There is a more balanced approach that (hopefully) would have been there even with Chilton's cooperation: interviews with band members, art directors, PR people, Ardent Studios engineers and producers, surviving family members, critics, and members of Memphis' early '70's music and art scene abound. The distribution of Big Star's music fell through some huge cracks in the industry's operations as they were then, and the fallout from that makes for some sad, sad moments.

Perhaps it was simply hearing people like the late Andy Hummel, last Big Star man standing Jody Stephens, engineer and Ardent Studios founder John Fry, and Tav Falco speak, but Nothing Can Hurt Me also hit me between the eyes with how southern Big Star and many of the people who tried hard to get their sound beyond Memphis are.* There was something comforting and amazing about that to me that I'm still trying to figure out. For whatever reason, a bizarre mélange of entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and good dose of individuality made something incredible in Big Star's sound that shouts, screams, whimpers, and wails across the decades still - a good chunk of which could well be a last gasp of what had been a southern way of life that was ending fairly violently. It puts the tragedy that was Chris Bell's life and posthumously-celebrated musical genius into even greater relief, in a way.

Director Drew DeNicola addressed an observation after the film was shown, agreeing that the people who seem to appreciate Memphis the most, culturally speaking, are outsiders. Perhaps another four decades will pass and then the role early-mid '70's Memphis played in rock and soul will have its own clubs and museums. 'Til then, we've got Nothing Can Hurt Me...which ain't half bad.

Update, 8/1: Seems there are a number of music documentaries out right now that are studies of the triumph of the music industry's mighty boot extinguishing some small yet bright creative flames. DeNicola did mention Memphis being a "downer" town drug-wise (quaaludes out the wazoo), but 'ludes sometimes can't hold a candle to the combination of corporations and creative efforts.

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*I heard some of my late Knoxville, TN, granddaddy in John Fry - that courtliness combined with an engineer's precision. Though my granddaddy was an electrical engineer & Fry is largely concerned with sound, there are some common traits. Also, seems Chris Bell was at UT in Knoxville around the same time my mother attended the school. Knowing how Knoxville was in the early '70's, it's no wonder he dropped out and went back to Memphis.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Oscar Brown Jr. On Citizenship



"What you mean we, white man?"

There's no point in (black people) trying to ingratiate ourselves with these people because we're not...we didn't come here right. We're not in the situation in the right way. We came as a degraded race and were held that way. Even when we were told we were citizens it was not with the freedom that everybody else became citizens. Everybody else who wanted to be a citizen, came, and was naturalized and bought into it. We were just declared citizens by edict, which meant that the slaves had to cast their political lot with the masters!

...My grandfather was born in 1860 in Hines County, Mississippi; he was not considered a person. In 1865, they decided he was a person, and that person was a member of this political organization and all his descendants would then be likewise, if they remained here. Well...that's crap. We're kidnap victims. We were brought here; the country acts like it didn't affront us at all. They act like they owe us no apology and that they bear no blame - that we actually benefited from having been dragged here in chains and having the shit beat out of us. We have been bred to go along with it - we have been bred to be afraid.

-James Porter interview with Oscar Brown Jr., Roctober 1996.

Sadly, with verdicts like the one in the Trayvon Martin case tonight, this looks to be as true now as it was then.

We've still got a long way to go to change this. All of us.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Carrying On Through It All

At 16, I'd hit a strange crisis. Nearly always the too-sensitive misfit all through grade school, I'd managed to make it to high school and reinvent things for myself - new friends, an eye on an actual career in the arts, happiness through music - and then my parents dropped the m-bomb.

"We're moving," my mom said. And it wasn't an across-Houston move like it had been when I was in second grade. It was an epic move, a culture shock move, a move that couldn't have come at a worse time for me. From huge Texas metropolis to...a tiny central Pennsylvania town. Just before my junior year of high school.

The cons: being ripped out of a circle of friends I'd amassed, a school I actually liked, and a city I was getting to know. The pros were difficult to get a handle on at first, but one of them came via that new-to-us portal to the world: pay TV. Though I'd gotten doses of MTV and other channels via my friends' access to cable in Houston (and I was getting earfuls of my mom jumping up and down about "full frontal nudity of men AND women!" on late-night Cinemax among our new bonanza of channels), the true revelations were through MTV I'd watch late into the night the summer before my first day of high school in a new town. Monty Python episodes. Old Monkees episodes. Comedy hosted by Mario Joyner. 120 Minutes. MTV News. That was 1989.

The real music explosion didn't happen for me until I went to a pre-college art program in Providence, Rhode Island, the following summer. Making up for lost time and a lack of diploma-worthy credits made for a year without any art classes that left me antsy and anguished, so my family sprung for six weeks on the side of College Hill. Along with the 2D, 3D, and drawing classes came proximity to music clubs (which were off-limits to us, as we were underage - not that I didn't try to go), and easier access to recorded music. Even the college bookstore sold tapes. I was in heaven.

Trying to pinpoint exactly when I'd heard of The Stone Roses is tricky. Chances are I'd read a blurb about them in Rolling Stone (or maybe it was this one), saw The Stone Roses cassette for sale in the school store, and picked it up as part of my continuing musical self-education. They were being touted as the band of the rave scene coming out of England at the time, but their sound was bigger than that - especially this classic on the album:



The album was amazing, and I kept coming back to it, all through the Happy Mondays twisting melons, Stereo MC's elevating minds, and Jesus Jones being right there right then...but waiting for the Roses to play in America, or to release new material, proved to be a real-life exercise in waiting for Godot. I resigned myself to listening to the album on my Walkman whenever I could, playing the tape some (but not too much) on the stereo in the glass shop at college as I gathered and worked hot glass, and assuming their edgy glory had dissolved into drug-addled obscurity, their talents having burned so hot they were consumed in the flames.

It's taken one weekend for me to get back to high school and the Roses. One book at a different college bookstore has brought it all back and changed how I think about the band. That debut album The Stone Roses, a rock shot in the dark for a teenager like me, was actually a major bridge between The Smiths' melancholy and the explosion of Britpop as embodied by Oasis and Blur, yet it more than stands on its own. What I've learned so far from Simon Spence's The Stone Roses: War And Peace, however, is that it's incredible how much damage the wrong manager can do to a band...but there's a degree to which the band did it to themselves. The book gets so lost in the court cases the band was involved in concerning one of the worst recording contracts in history, one considers it a miracle any of the Roses lived to tell the tale and to reunite in 2011. Spence's book also assumes its primary readers will be British - for instance, one not in the know is left to fill in the holes about how momentous the Roses' Spike Island performance really was.

What the book has readers like me doing is going back to the music that started it all. Though Ian Brown, John Squire, Mani, and Reni are likely taking their reunion one gig at a time, they seem to be doing pretty well with it thus far, even exhibiting some feistiness to the press. Hopefully, we here on this side of the pond will finally welcome them sometime in the next year. 'Til then, I'll be giving the songs a bunch more listens online - I can't trust my cassette-eating tape deck with the old tape.

Update, 7/13: Seems they did actually come to America around the time they were imploding (check the dates in May '95). Unfortunately, their disintegration came through in the shows, which culminated in what was arguably one of the worst gigs of all time back in England. Ouch.

They also DID make it to the U.S. this year, apparently playing to a much smaller crowd than they'd get in the UK, Australia, or Japan. My apologies for not looking into this further; having to maneuver around family outings is a little tough right now. By the time some more American dates are added, there should be more people who know who they are.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Big Red Cotton


In the interests of reaching some wider audiences, I've posted about Deb Cotton at Humid City and NOLAFemmes. Check the links and give her and the victims of this past Sunday's shootings your support.

Friday, May 03, 2013

A smidgen of ChazFest



I do have another video that demonstrates the wonderful harmonies this trio made up of Helen Gillet, Debbie Davis, and Myshkin wove at this year's ChazFest in the Bywater, but that and all the photos I took during the couple of hours I managed to hang out at the Truck Farm will have to wait 'til later.

This is my second year going to this festival, and I love it....but some busy times & my Twitter addiction will have to keep y'all waiting for a little longer. 'Til then, I'll be pouring out some homemade blueberry-kumquat schnapps in the hopes that all this rain we've been having will let the ground dry out a bit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

If Only...

America has lived for decades with this myth that mixing races lowers property values. In fact, the opposite may be true. Some studies from the 1970's showed that mixed-race neighborhoods, if they could stabilize, held their property values better than homogeneous ones. If anyone can live in a particular neighborhood, then it has a larger customer base. On top of which, quality mixed-race housing is an incredibly scarce resource. When demand is greater than supply, prices go up....

Capitalism: it actually works sometimes. If only America would let it.

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To sift through the census data for (Kansas City, MO's) 49/63 and ask "Is the neighborhood integrated?" is to pose the wrong question. The only question you can ask is "Who in the neighborhood has integrated?"...It's entirely possible that 49/63 will gentrify, drive out older residents, and lose all its character. It could also backslide into urban decay, sending families with children out the door. The relationships in the neighborhood will decide. "True integration," as Martin Luther King said, "will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations."

If you turn on your television these days, you hear a lot of old white people talking about this "real America," some apple-pie, Bedford Falls, Walt Disneyfied idea of a simpler country, a "time of innocence" that we've lost. They're right. It's gone. We destroyed it so we wouldn't have to share it with black people. We gave up real neighborhoods so we could pay more to have "protection" inside the regional profit silos of HomeServices of America. We gutted (Kansas City's) Blue Hills, and now you have to go to Orlando to get it back. Only that's the big lie at the heart of the J.C. Nichols dream. Desirable associations aren't something you can buy. They're something you have to make.

There's only one way America's neighborhoods will begin to integrate: people have to want it more than vested public and corporate interests are opposed to it. And more people should want it. Mixed-race, mixed-income housing is a product we need on the market. 

-Tanner Colby, Some Of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration In America


Update, 11:06 AM: A blast from the past: "There's a beautiful British word for this: they call it 'gentrification.'"



Thursday, April 04, 2013

Denial & Revisionism

These days, education in Louisiana is not only plagued by the current ease with which the law enables any public school to slip some non-scientific creationism in with its science courses, there is now a possibility that history itself may be challenged by a nifty bit of revisionism embedded in HB-660, as Lamar says:

Not content to let House Republicans monopolize unconstitutional legislation, Louisiana State Representative Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) recently filed HB 660, which she’d like to be known as “The Parental Choice Historical Prayer and Pledge Act.”

A. The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or “state board”, shall establish a policy and develop procedures to allow public school students to participate in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag” at the commencement of each school day. Such policy and procedures shall include but not be limited to provisions for the following:
(1) Student participation in the recitation of the prayer and pledge shall be voluntary.
(2) Students shall be reminded that the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that the pilgrim fathers recited when they came to America in search for freedom.
(3) Students shall be informed that these exercises are not meant to influence an individual’s personal religious beliefs in any manner.
(4) The recitations shall be conducted so that students learn of America’s great freedoms, including the freedom of religion symbolized by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
B. The state board shall develop a program of instruction for public schools with regard to the pilgrim fathers.
"Revisionism" is the nicer term for what Representative Jackson is proposing. Much of what is in HB-660 is an outright denial of what those "pilgrim fathers" had in mind for this country, which didn't include separating church and state at all. In fact, the history of religious tolerance in this country is a far messier business than most people like Ms. Jackson and others around the country who have introduced similarly-worded bills in their states would have us believe. As this Smithsonian article says of those pilgrims:
The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views. Their “city upon a hill” was a theocracy that brooked no dissent, religious or political. 
The most famous dissidents within the Puritan community, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics (“Papists”) were anathema and were banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for persistently returning to the city to stand up for their beliefs.
In a state that, last time I looked, still has a significant number of Catholics in it, I don't think many of them look to the pilgrims as practitioners of freedom of religion.

Also, to get a much larger, more frightening view of what outright, downright insanely stupid denial is, I direct you to Exhibit A. There's a reason why I and my fellow Jews are taught never to forget about the Shoah - remembering the truth of such horrible times is a great tool for helping see the truths about proposed blatant violations of the U.S. Constitution as outlined in bills like HB-660.

The truth about this bill? It's based on lies.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

V-Day Pileup: On Silence and Violence

The following has been cross-posted at NOLAFemmes.

There are two links in this post I urge you to contribute to, one being the fund for the recovery of the Garden District robbery and rape victim, the other for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. Read on to see why.

More and more, I'm finding it cannot be avoided, no matter how hard women try. We are still surrounded by people who would put us in what they think is "our place," a position that tends to be highly restrictive on any and all physical and mental levels.

Tell me I'm crazy. Go on and talk down to me, I dare you.
...the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. 
Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence. 
I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)... 
...Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling–as though it were a light and amusing subject–how a neighbor’s wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand…. 
Even getting a restraining order–a fairly new legal tool–requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it. Restraining orders often don’t work anyway. Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist. About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the U.S. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.
Events and discussions will occasionally converge that lead me to a boiling point on this subject...

Why it's disgusting and ignorant of you to imply that a woman caught large Mardi Gras beads in a risque manner, for instance. Yeah, it's one of the oldest, sexist, dumbest Carnival tropes, but it does get tiring after a while. I caught huge, LSU-emblazoned beads just from being at the start of the Thoth parade route. Next Carnival season, I'm gonna ask the next guy I see with giant beads on what he flashed for them.

A list of the 10 cities where women earn the highest salaries is always nifty, but women are still earning less than men.

The horrific news about the murder of paraplegic Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius' girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was an advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

Controversy over the Eve Ensler-organized One Billion Rising Campaign, which I only just heard about today, but I also wonder about its premise...as do many other women around the world.:
I recently listened to a Congolese woman talk in a speak-easy setting of radical grassroots feminists. She was radiantly and beautifully powerful in her unfiltered anger towards the One Billion Rising movement, as she used the words "insulting" and "neo-colonial". She used the analogy of past crimes against humanity, asking us if we could imagine people turning up at the scenes of atrocities and taking pictures or filming for the purposes of "telling their story to the rest of the world". Take it one step further and try to imagine a white, middle class, educated, American women turning up on the scene to tell survivors to 'rise' above the violence they have seen and experienced by...wait for it...dancing. "Imagine someone doing that to holocaust survivors", she said.
I had occasion to speak with someone about the recent kidnapping, robbery, beating, and rape of a young woman in the Garden District, and large chunks of the conversation revolved around the same tropes that come up whenever something like this happens to any woman. It all came around to our living in a world where women are taught "not to be raped," and the suspicion that comes up is generally directed first against the woman who is the victim rather than the perpetrators. When a victim's first move is to tell her would-be comforters and shelterers "Don't touch me. I'm evidence," then we know who the burden of proof is on.

This hasn't ended with the capture of the criminals and their upcoming trial. Though a large amount of funds has been raised thus far for the victim's rehabilitation, she will need far more than that - keep contributing here. This friend of a friend of mine will be grateful.

I ask you to also consider that state budget cuts will likely destabilize what structures there are to assist women who have been victims of domestic violence as well - among them New Orleans' own Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. They accept donations of time or money here.

Know of any other needy organizations in the city or state that help female victims of abuse, rape, or violence? Please contribute names and links in the comments. It'll be the best Valentine's Day gift you give. Honest.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Our annual KOPAS Ball


Once again, we are opening our house to any and all folks coming to see the parades uptown early on Mardi Gras day - 'cause by that time, we ourselves are so paraded out, we stay in and enjoy our friends who need to pee on that fabled day and have a little nosh (hopefully not at the same time, but anything does go on that day).  We decided to have a little royal incentive on this year's invite - and we'll be throwing in some special king cake pancake recipes, one of them by famed cookbook author & culinary specialist Amy Cyrex-Sins.

We'd love to have you stop by! But contact me first for directions. Email is listed below.

You'll have a flipping good time!

Screen shot 2011-03-08 at 6.46.50 PM.png

You are invited to the 7th Annual Carnival Ball of

THE KREWE OF PANCAKES AND SYRUP
"The krewe with the edible doubloons"

When: Mardi Gras Day (Tuesday, February 12, 2013) from 8 AM until...well, we really don't know when it will end.

Where: Contact Leigh at liprap2@netscape.net for the address.

What: Pancakes, and LOTS of 'em!

Who: You

Why: For the fun of it.

Krewe Fees: We're supplying pancakes, syrup, coffee, milk, juice, and probably Leigh's homemade king cake, so bring whatever else you want to share.

Honorary Krewe Royalty: King...Abel Skeever
                                         Queen...Pala Tchinka

*Food disclaimers: pretend you keep kosher and please bring something other than pork, shellfish, catfish, or anything that mixes milk and meat in the same dish. AND NO KING CAKES.

*Religious disclaimer: We started this because we like pancakes, always make too many of them, don't want to give up our parking spots for Mardi gras, and like company. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian tradition of observing Shrove Tuesday, or "Pancake Day," by making and eating pancakes, which we didn't learn about until a few years ago.