Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lawrence Jackson Reads Well

Ellison seems free of an enormous subconscious drive to incorporate and surpass the achievements of the local "father" figures Richard Wright and langston Hughes.  In fact, Ellison's intellectual point is precisely that he did not have to engage...because there were already writers of global significance to battle against for his writer's identity.

--Lawrence Jackson, "Ellison's Invented Life."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Cinematic Foundations of Native Son, Pt. 2

There are only traces of Trader Horn, the movie Bigger watches w/ Jack and Doc.  We're gonna keep the pictures in our eyes.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Crate Digging Looks Like on Paper

Go here after you look at the picture.  You'll wish that Dr. Wald spent a bit more time posting the scans from the Defender.

The Musical Foundations of Native Son, Pt. 6

"They listened to the pipe organ. It was humming so low that it could scarcely be heard. There were times when it seemed to stop altogether; then it would surge forth again, mellow, nostalgic, sweet."

Maybe the most telling of all musical references in the book.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Musical Foundation of Native Son, Pt. 5

     "He sat at the table.  The odor of frying bacon and boiling coffee drifted to him from behind the curtain.  His mother's voice floated to him in song.

Life is like a mountain railroad
With an engineer that's brave
We must make the run successful
From the cradle to the grave....

     "The song irked him and he was glad when she stopped and came in the room with a pot of coffee and a plate of crinkled bacon." 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Musical Foundation of Native Son, Pt. 4

      "Bigger walked to the front of the store and stood looking out the plate glass window.  The, suddenly, he felt sick.  He saw Gus coming along the street. And his muscles stiffened.  He was going to do something to Gus; just hat, he didn't know.  As Gus neared him he heard him whistling: 'The Merry Go Round Broke Down....'
     "'Hi, Bigger,' Gus said.
      "Bigger did not answer. Gus passed him and started toward the rear tables.  Bigger whirled and kicked him hard."

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Musical Foundations of Native Son, Pt. 3

Noiselessly, he went up the steps and inserted his key in the lock; the door swung in silently and he heard his mother singing behind the curtain.

Lord, I want to be a Christian,
In my heart, in my heart,
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart, in my heart....

He tiptoed into the room and lifted the top matress of his bed and pulled forth the gun and slipped it inside his shirt.  Just as he was about to open the door his mother paused in her singing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Musical Foundation of Native Son, Pt. 2

     "Say, Jan, do you know many negroes?  I want to meet some."
     "I don't know any very well.  But you'll meet them when you're in the party."
     "The have so much emotion!  What a people!  If we could ever get them going..."
     "We can't have a revolution without 'em," Jan said.  "They've got to be organized.  They've got spirit.  They'll give the party something it needs."
     "And their songs -- the spirituals!  Aren't they marvelous?"  Bigger saw her turn to him."Say, Bigger, can't you sing?"
     "I can't sing," he said.
     "Aw Bigger," she said, pouting.  She tilted her head, closed her eye and opened her mouth.

"Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home . . . . "

     Jan joined in and Bigger smiled derisively.  Hell, that ain't the tune, he thought.
     "C'mon, Bigger, and help us sing it," Jan said.
     "I can't sing," he said again.
     They were silent.  The car purred along.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

F/ the Archives

We posted a stash of wonderful sound recordings from the LoC of Zora Neale Hurston helping the anthropologizer man work on his street over @ the blue light. Recently we found a fuller stash @ the Florida archives, and though we'll liberate 'em in a later post for those of you who can't hardly wait, we urge you to hop a ride on the Internets Mass Transit Authority and stop here for 2ns, here for paper, here for pitchers.

A Note or Two While We're Reorganizing...

We know we've been gone for a while now, and for that we offer our apologies to the small audience who strays by, even leave the occasional stone in the pile. The leadership @ Jackson Negative, our corporate sponsor and motivating force, is on a retreat, promising to come back with a strategic plan. That's the way it is w/ corporate leaders.

It's not like we're not working, though. Give us credit. We have been rollin and tumblin @ fb. And we're moving to 1 a day practices @ the annex.

Stop by when you're riding internets mass transit system.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Body and Soul: Redux

As we continue the Book of Richard, we find these words:

"...but even after obeying, after killing, they still ruled him.  He was their property, heart and soul, body and blood; what they did claimed him sleeping and waking; it colored life and dictated the terms of death."

The easy thing to do with this passage, even all of Native Son, is to run the critique of the gangsta stance, from the first time we sang about a gun going rooty-toot-toot on a rekkid 'til Ice Cube defined a good day.  But that'd be easy, and therefore incomplete.

So instead we observe that the passage reminded us of our versionology of "Body and Soul."  We are taking careful, slow steps up to a few posts on the way music makes meaning in the Book of Richard, and we are uncertain that this passage belongs in those posts.  Nevertheless, the dialectic is obvious, just as it is when we read through tropes of visibility in Native Son and imagine tropes of invisibility that loom so large in the Book of Ralph.

Let us begin by observing that the passage cited offers important political nuance to the approaches to the lyrics we posted back in the day.  In light of this, we think we should come back to the material and consider the place of the citizen in the song.  We should also consider how Dunbar/DuBois, as ancestors concerned about the masks that dual civic status places on citizens, informs the versionology, however indirectly.

As we go, we will, of necessity, observe that the Book of Richard proposes, of necessity, a totality that is belied by the simple historical proof offered by the example of "Body and Soul." This is the same topic we have been addressing in our recent readings in the Book of Langston.  Freedom is demonstrated when we defy the expectation that we'll repeat ourselves, that we'll be consistent.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Blues Keep on Coming

We 'a post up a devilin' versionology, maybe this weekend, but we 'a say two things early.  1) 'tunes have developed the groove to carry this one, even if it is not as thoroughly minimal as their signature grooves.  2) This may mot be the most lyrically explosive example of what either Pusha or Tyler have done, but we can say that, even w/out the video, which promises to be interesting, they are aware that they are doubling down like crapshooters on a sure bet in here one.


Thursday, July 14, 2011


  • "Portrait of the Artist's Mother," Henry Ossawa Tanner (1897).


  • "The Annunciation," Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898).  we do not think the power of this painting can be understated.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Musical Foundation of Native Son

We will put up a longer post on the what's in your headphones when you read Native Son.  Suffice it to say that the book of Richard, or at least this chapter, is more skeptical than either the book of Langston or the book of Ralph.

Mark this highly nuanced passage:

"The singing filled his ears; it was complete, self-contained, and it mocked his fear and loneliness, his deep yearning for a sense of wholeness.  Its fulness contrasted so sharply with his hunger, its richness with his emptiness, that he recoiled from it while answering it.  Would it not have been better for him had he lived in the world the music sang of? It would have been easy to have lived in it, for it was his mother's world, humble, contrite, believing.  It had a center, a core, an axis, a heart which he needed but could never have unless he laid his head upon a pillow of humility and gave up his hope of living in the world.  And he would never do that."


The Cinematic Foundation of Native Son

After polishing his nightstick:

"He frowned in the darkened movie, hearing the roll of tom-toms and the creams of black men and women dancing free and wild, men and women who were adjusted to their soil and at home in their world, secure from fear and hysteria."

-- Richard Wright

Where We're Coming From

"Many eyes in the room were fastened upon Bigger now, cold grey and blue eyes, eyes whose tense hate was worse than a shout or a curse."

-- Richard Wright, Native Son

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What We're Hearing: Street/Opera

Woke up this morning, devilin' on the mind.  As we listened to the Geto Boys, we came back to the crossover tension of the streets.  It's one of those Xeno's paradoxes, dig?  The closer you get to the other side, not matter which way you're going -- to the unnaground or to your piece of the pie -- you still have an infinite distance to traverse.  It's like that, and that's the way it is.

So as we listened to the boys our mind deviled over to the book of Langston.  No one has mastered the details of crossing over better.  And we blew the dust off of Street Scene.  We'll have much more to say over @ the blue light in the near future.  But just hold the big crux for a minute: how far from the street is an opera?  how close to real is the street?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ornette's Crossroads

One day, I walked into a place that was full of gambling and prostitution, people arguing, and I saw a woman get stabbed—then I thought that I had to get out of there. I told my mother that I didn't want to play this music anymore because I thought that I was only adding to all that suffering. She replied, "What's got hold of you, you want somebody to pay you for your soul?" I hadn't thought of that, and when she told me that, it was like I had been re-baptized.

Another Place to Take a Slow Start

The more time we spend w/ the book of Langston, the more we turn the pages of other books as well.  And so the book of Paul.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

This is what we mean when we say, "near-tragic, near comic lyricism," bro.

What We're Hearing

"But I find that it's very difficult to do, because the jazz musician is probably the only person for whom the composer is not a very interesting individual,  in the sense that he prefers to destroy what the composer writes or says."  --Ornette Coleman (1997)

Thursday, June 30, 2011


We began spinning out a Marvin Gaye thread over @ the blue light.  Lil B's recent nod gives us pause to look back, perhaps even pick that thread up again.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What We're Hearing

Must confess we love the laid back delivery and gangstadrama that leans on the light touch.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011


We were amused by the appeal to comprehensiveness in this ¶ long list by Mark Sanders in his most excellent "African American Folk Roots and Black Poetry."

Material objects included quilts, jewelry, toys, musical instruments, etc.; while cultural practices and linguistic forms included work songs, seculars, field hollers, shouts, spirituals, blues, tall tales, aphorisms, dance songs, children's rhymes, toasts, sermons, gospel music, the blues, jazz, playing the dozens, lies, sounding and signifying, etc.  Arguably the most ubiquitous folk source, music, could include varying mixtures of the following elements: descending pentatonic scale, homophonics (as opposed to heterophonics), blue notes, syncopation (in standard time, accents on 2 and 4 rather than 1 and 3), antiphonal or call-and-response dynamics, and vernacular instrumentation.

Come on in the kitchen.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where We Come From

The boozhy version of the crossroads story, but still the same story:

"My mom is a singer, mostly in choirs an stuff like that when I was little and my dad plays the bass, he’s been playing since he was about 5. He had to stop after a while when I was a kid. They encouraged me to be a creative individual but they didn’t really cultivate my growing in a creative way, it was more grade oriented. But my grandmother also did poetry so I wanted wanted to [do something in that] vein. So I started writing little poems and stuff when I was like 8 and it’s been like that ever since. Lots of writing and just pretending… pretending to be a rapper, pretending to be a poet. I accepted that one day I’d probably have to buckle down and be a boring adult. I never really took to the idea of being a [full time] musician, this was just my hobby on the side. But while knowing that I tried to postpone my dreaded destiny as long as possible and in the process I just became an emcee, I became the monster that I am."  Go here for the whole interview.

Long and short:  We all come down to the crossroads.  Are we brave enough to fall down on our knees and become the goblin we are supposed to be?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Hardest Part

In our readings in the book of Langston, we're finding some basic patterns (blue light, red light): the brovah's a multimedia artist, not just a literary figure; his attachment to the modernist narrative is less of his own making and made more of the wishes of his more literary readers who want to habilitate him into a more literary form; his understanding of the visual and musical arts is very much his own, and not one that anticipates our present understandings; and then there's the whole trope of simplicity.

Up 'til now our work has mainly focused on the multimedia artist and his fascinating career-long effort to be a songwriter and a director of musical theatre/opera.  We're gonna keep working this (even while we begin to spread out a little).

But at the center of his work is the remarkable poem cycle, performance script, book as artifact, enactment of the dozens, commentary on music, &c., Ask Your Mama.  We've been running up to this work slowly because it would be so easy to get less out of it than we could (many already do that routinely).

For today, let's just note that he placed at its center the most important of musical references: W. C. Handy's "Hestitation Blues."  We've begun to pull together the versionology of this masterwork and will begin posting appropriately in the near future.  Here let's note scribble up three fast note:

1) There is something about Handy and American modernism that we want to pursue.  He's his own book.  He's a gigantic ancestor.

2) This is one of those songs that has been reworked so many times that it has become a fabric of its own.  We have so much more to learn of these songs.

3) Langston uses the song to compose up a conjuring way in Ask Your Mama that is both obvious and can be studied forever.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yesterday's Hype Sounds Like Today's Hype

Dr. O-Dub sent us to John Book's long piece on De La Soul's now 20 year old Is Dead.  We cannot take time here on how big the album is, but we did not as we read that the scene seems much like what's going on in the Bay Area/Odd Futures world.

We also recognize Book's prowess.  It's a great piece.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Footnote on Yesterday's Footnote

So as we're woking on a deeper breath about Langston's Randy Weston collabo, Uhuru Afrika, we find this note that only adds to the case we were making in yesterday's shorter observation:  "He also helped to prepare two television shows.  In one case for the CBS series "Look Up and LIve," he narrated a gospel concer with the 120 voice Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir ("In a gospel church, when they ride on th eglory train of song," nobody is ashamed, or afraid of being carried away").  On th elocal ABC program "Expedition New York," he talked about "A Poet's Harlem."

'S just what we were saying.  There's all of these artifacts that the book of Langston is full of more than writing.  We are not up to writing him off as grinding this.  We're always looking for the man's conjuring way, and suspect we'll find it here, too.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Re: Yesterday's Notice on Langston @ the Blue Light

We are inspired by our reading in the book of Langston* to move out in two directions:  1) we want to stay close to the primary sources, because what is said about Langston and what he accomplished are not always in each others' earshot and we think respect for ancestors means that you can hear them call you; 2) we know that his existence in print is not all that is written in the book, and that he left behind a body of music, radio performances, television performances, and ephemera that compose a way of knowing the world that exceeds our way of knowing Langston.  We want to know that excess.

Our attention span is long, and moves in widening gyres, but the center has held for 35 years, so we have faith that we will circle back on this subject from time to time.  But we must remark at this moment at how thin the record really is.  And this in spite of the Missouri Project, which at least gathers the operas and gospel plays, and treats the children's literature as a part of his literary oeuvre.  Or the summaries like the ones @ the poetry foundation, which boil down to a a writer's cv.

We find the Langston Hughes papers @ the Johnson library intriguing, but wish they'd get some graduate student by the scanner and share more.  The Schomburg Center shows off its stuff in the same parsimonious and teasing manner (we don't want to hate, ever, but the fact that Schomburg, one of the pre-eminent archives in the wide world, is still boasting about the choice for frames in its html layout is sad admission to the state of affairs).  The Library of Congress puts him on the list of noteworthy February 1 occurances.  Designed as lockers full of papers, these places cannot really be held accountable for being what they aren't, but we should remark that one thing missing is the sense of Hughes as an artist who cared about what the moving image or performed words and music.

Therefore, we will make it one of our missions to circle back on this aspect of Hughes's work from time to time. We suspect that since the internets are not miraculous enough to bring all of these materials to us, that we will have to show up.

::  pours a little liquor on the ground  ::


First, like Pops, he exceeds critical efforts to describe him in terms of genre or media.  Langston Hughes worked opportunity, not "the novel," or "poetry," or "autobiography."  It is in this light that we should make a conscious effort to explore all of the objects in the archive.  You can see this, as we have noted before, in R&'s most excellent record of the poet's life, where apparently trivial tasks, like making the musical Simply Heavenly, spill way more ink on his pages than making the book Montage of a Dream Deferred." 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another Stop in the Archives

We recommend a stop here when you're on the working on the chain of 70s jazz giants.  It's not all of 'em, and it's not perfectly up to date, but it's got some facts.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Manifesto of Sorts

Found while reading the book of Langston.  Hermes, master of the crossroads, works in the library and points you to other volumes.

Translated by Langston Hughes

It's the long road to Guinea
death takes you down.
Here are the boughs, the trees, the forest.
Listen to the sound of the wind in its long hair
      of eternal light

It's the long road to Guinea
where your fathers await you without impatience.
Along the way, they talk.
They wait.
This is the hour when the streams rattle
      like beads of bone.

It's the long road to Guinea.
No bright welcome will be made for you
in the dark land of dark men.

Under a smoky sky pierced by the cry of birds
under the eye of the river
     the eyelashes of the trees open on decaying light.
There, there awaits you beside the water a quiet village,
and the hut of your fathers, and the last ancestral stone
     where your head will rest at last.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Claude McKay Gets There When Bills Were Still Coins

Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes
And watched her perfect, half clothed body sway;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
 to me she seemed a proudly swaying palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black shiny curls
Luxuriant fell; and tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;
But looking at her falsely smiling face,
I knew her self was not in that strange place.

What We're Reading

Have you forgotten your nobility?
Your talent to praise the Ancestors, the Princes
And the Gods, neither flowers nor drops of dew?

1.) Stumbled upon while reading from the book of Langston, and a reminder of why whe should study these gospels so closely.

2.) Reminds us, in the converse, of brilliant lines by KRS-One.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

That Angelin' Tune

We must call out to Mr. Ariel S. Winter, librarian of the outtaprint, for pulling together in exquisite detail Langston's 50s children's projects, capturing the language, pictures and sound all together.  When we read Langston, we need to keep in mind the care he put into the midcentury multimedia , the same way we keep in mind Langston's recurring efforts w/ opera and musical theatre.  More than, say, Charles Olson, who's muse was the typewriter (see "Projective Verse"), or Ralph Ellison, who struggled with the demon word, page after burnt up page, Langston's was a multimedia artist.

He sought the beautiful book, w/ beautiful illustrations.  He loved illustrators.  Throughout his life he was trying to combinate his words into music, and not just because he could hit the number that would make it rain royalty money on him (tho" that always helped).  As we have remarked before, this is like Louis Armstrong and the movies, the collage and the broadway play.  It is a series of aesthetic choices as much as it is a series of economic choices, and we as readers should take it as such.

Need to Ask Glenn Ligon About This

We are not sure what to make of straight up rerhyming a great cut.  There is something going on here, but I don't think hip hop is dead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Case You Weren't Looking

We're working the same tip 80 years later.  Identity is a tricky category.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Do I Got a Promise Face?

The primary point of Todd Marten's excellent review of Kanye is that the show was good, that Kanye was great, and that it is OK to love Kanye again (in spite of balled up critical remorse for MBDTF).  You should read it, and if you have doubts about Kanye, especially because he isn't street enough or unnagound enough, feel free to get over 'em.  You got better things to hate than something that will be recognized for its durable greatness a couple of decades ago.  Sh*ts all about what hiphop, what the blues is all about.

In the mean time, Martens develops the metaphor of theatricality a) even though it is too obvious and b) fumbles it by imagining a moment of truth when "the West broke the wall between the artist and audience."  He should know better.  This is all part of the show.  We learned this way back in the Shakespeare times.  We also learned it way back in the Fanon times.  All honesty is a mask.

All of this adds into our work in the book of Langston.  As we read about his struggles to fins a place on the stage (and simultaneously outta the books and off the streets), it affords more to our deepening overstanding of his fundamental greatness...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Making Sense of Langston's Music

Maybe the biggest irony of the R& Hughes biography is how much ink is spilled describing his efforts at making musical theatrical performance on the one hand, and how little  is spent on his efforts making poetry.  We will only note today that this allure, this devilish temptation to walk away from poetry as such, is one of the most distinctive aspects of the Hughes career.  As we think of Hughes as a lifelong artist, we associate this with some powerful biographical tropes: crossover (and all of the big mojo that compound word carries on its back), money making (yes, yes), the mixing of sacred and profane, the lwas Mami Wata and Papa Legba, &c.

Saturday, April 16, 2011