Monday, February 13, 2012
I don't know what I can possibly add to the many remembrances of Whitney Houston, a performer whose influence and music spans generations. There are countless comment sections in every media outlet where personal milestones and memories of her music are being shared. For me it was listening to "You Give Good Love" on a high school bus trip to Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey with the school band. I also fell in love with spouse Bebbles to the "My Love Is Your Love" CD -- the bass thumping from the title track ("It'll take an eternity to break us...") from our car and van all over L.A. County. She was grown, formidable by any definition and most people wished her the best.
This first-person account of the scene at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday by CBS news producer Chris St. Peter is pretty telling of the keep-it-moving nature of the awards-season beast in L.A. I can't even count the number of events I've covered at the Beverly Hilton and no doubt most of the attendees there Saturday can't count how many times they've been there. In most cases when chaos has jumped off at the Beverly Hilton it's the hotel guests who get the show: the valet line gets longer, more celebrities have to wait and pace and it's a privileged fishbowl. Still, it's safe to say that nothing like Ms. Houston's death at the hotel has sparked the A-list amalgam of disbelief and business-as-usual described by the author of the account in some time.
The article is a telling and precise read: it harnesses the indescribable combination of chaos, entertainment news-gathering and the determined star-trek to the most exclusive party of Grammy week in town. I worked at a 7-Eleven in college and would never wear my assigned smock - that garish mosaic of a corporate logo - and my boss would always cuss me out and ask why I wouldn't do as told and wear it. I'd always say, "Because the night something happens to me, you're going to step right over my body and ring up a Slurpee and Chicago Sun-Times and keep going." He said that wasn't true but the night I did get held up he was nowhere to be found and I was in my own clothes, a person, not a drone. The Chicago PD came in and said I'd handled it great and was lucky to be alive and- while I was at it- could I ring them up some lottery tickets and drinks. I almost screamed 'fuck you and your drinks!' but I didn't even have a cash til (stolen empty) and I didn't really have my wherewithal in that moment. But it was very clear: the machine keeps moving. Dreadful sorry, Whitney Houston.
Monday, February 6, 2012
The Tampa Bay Times' Eric Deggans did a great job on this appreciation of Don Cornelius and "Soul Train." "Soul Train" aired longer than "Oprah" did and is known far and wide, but to be a kid in the early '70s watching "Soul Train" on a tv/stereo/radio console that took up a whole wall was like having a nightclub in your house/apartment.
I'd close the blinds so there'd be no noon-time glare on the TV so I could catch every new dance and shirt I wanted. Plus the stars... Marvin Gaye in a skullcap and stacks, The O'Jays in suits and brothers in jackets with no shirts. The fashion, the dances and the commercials ("Po-o-os-NER! Positively beautiful.") were both pop-culture keyholes to modern Black America and the television viewing masses at large. "Soul Train" was a syndicated show in a four-channel universe (not counting UHF) that kept many a family indoors watching until it ended and Saturday afternoon could really start. Don Cornelius was that universal living room friend -he absolutely looked like he could be your father's/fly uncle's partna or good buddy. He was smooth, he was revolutionary and he is missed.
P.S. - Also, check out Jack Varnell's post from The Good Men Project.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The one time I vividly remember considering suicide was a summer day in 1984, the kind of hot, drawn-out summer day particular to the suburban East Coast where the mall and shopping plaza are the primary social hub for teenagers not old enough to drive. You go buy Nikes, go the arcade, buy records from The Wiz and take your ass right back in the house before you melt.
My family had just moved back, months earlier, to the town I'd grown up in my whole life after a three-year stint in Florida where my extended family had moved.
|A Florida road I know well|
Summer '84, 10th grade is less than a month away and I gained weight. My best friend at the time came out to me one afternoon on his family's trip I'd been invited to - dramatically so and in a canoe on some river in Virginia (I didn't care so long as it made him happy). We hadn't made it to the shore before he flipped out at his own candor while ensuring his status of a non-grata tool that same day. Came home and my Mom's tthen-boyfriend had been over. He'd brought his two teenagers and their teenage cousin over to our house for the day. I walked into my bedroom to this trio reciting, line-for-line, entries from my journals that I kept in a drawer and my 9-year old brother had been no match for in keeping out of their hands. Racism and weight issues, how funny! Between flipping out on my brother and then almost ninja-stomping my uninvited nosy guests, I'd
And so, one day, with a new school year right around the corner and a now-forgotten public slight that was the final straw, I went to my room and thought if this was all there was to look forward to then why not just jump out the fucking window, literally, and end it, life, for real-for-real? I was 14 years old and had been called nigger so many times in the States and overseas that I literally had lost count. I was 'too black' for the South, 'too white' for the East, 'too black' for Europe and about to go back to school even heavier, if that was possible, with jeans bought from the same store where men twice my age bought their pants ....and those men were Washington Redskins. I was a loving person who, aside from my family, couldn't get it back. Life seemed a series of betrayals. Add to that the attempts of sexual abuse in Europe and in a local house five miles from the very window I was now standing at that I'd kept completely to myself since I was 9 years old; it was one big funnel cloud of: what is wrong with this picture and what is the point of it?
My next thought was that the window was only three stories off of the ground- not enough height to really die and then there was the pesky barbed wire fence that separated our complex from the high rise apartments next to us. With my luck I'd land on the fence, an impaled and bloody mess instead of a martyred dead teen on the grass. I over-thought the whole thing and tried to weigh less painful options until, out of nowhere, a voice just came in and it wasn't the eloquent, graceful one I'd have assumed would appear in this instance. This voice was concerned and halting but it was also profane and comedic in a way that was right up my alley..
This voice, disguised as a blend of Richard Pryor and perhaps some ancestral spiritual blend, basically said, "You're thinking of jumping out of a got-damned window for who?! It isn't completely clear to you that you're never going to be able to please everybody, right? Right. And you'd kill you for them? What kind of shit is that? So stop trying. Be yourself, or as much as yourself as you know how to be right now, and if that ain't good enough then fuck 'em! This is bullshit." And that was the end of that. I could no longer imagine martyring myself over things that, if I was true to myself, could be vanquished, dismissed or settled as each one presented itself. That became my drive: to conquer and to not ever feel the despairing lack of what I felt was self-worth that made me actually envision ending my own life.
I didn't magically see the future but I did know that worst-case scenario, if I had no one other than my loved ones, I still had myself and I liked myself enough that I could more than hang. It took three more years to be able to buy my pants off the rack in a standard size and four more years to truly reconcile and square away the abuse I'd harbored. Still, I did enjoy the rest of high school and started earning money as an actor at 15 because I loved it and it forced me to handle criticism (or not) and let me transfer my empathy/angst in a way that as I became more disciplined was magic expression even when it hurt. I challenged myself and was the humorous, assertive guy who took no flack whatsoever. Sometimes too assertive but love, as an adult, tempered that and I haven't flipped a bar table in at least 18 years (this month!).
Hurts happens and they accumulate. Suicide, being such a wholly individual act by definition, is a subject that almost is too unwieldly to get a handle on. If you've known someone who's taken their life it's a perplexing, sorrowful process; just thinking what was it that happened, was felt/ thought that was so bleak, so convincingly unceasing that there seemed no other way than to stop it all together? Perhaps your heart goes out to them or you're angry at not being given a chance to help, to tackle them if you had to, but the answer is gone and for survivors it is a lonely, cruel specter.
When I was 35 and held my spouse's funeral-the day of- I went to make some coffee before preparing to go to the funeral home in Glendale and had a full out anxiety attack. My mother was here and I remember saying that how was it possible that I wasn't going to die myself the minute I had to step out and greet guests or prep the cathedral? In later days and months I remember wishing, in pointless and horrified past tense, that instead of dying in my arms we'd, say, been in an instant car crash... because at least we'd have gone together, unified in an instant, with no estates to settle, an identity and sense of joy to reconstruct or distraught couples-friends who fled because death is worse than divorce when you've vacationed and shared holidays together.
Suicide wasn't a thought to me then because I'd witnessed God's merciful collection of spirit and by seeing it knew that there was a bigger picture beyond any present understanding and that I'd need to be strong. It wasn't a comedic voice this time that warned me, it was one of my brothers who said, "Take care of yourself. Because if you don't, then it's another another tragedy."
Loss, whatever its form, is hard enough and if you follow it with your own person, then it is horribly compounded. I don't know the answer to a stranger's despair but I do know that we are more resilient, strong and worthy than we know and in a world of billions of human beings, there is someone-even if a stranger saw you - as well as God, who will care, can care, does care- who will hold you to earth if you let them. When the voice doesn't come, even your own, please do not despair. For those in pain, my words are not meant to be your words but you didn't go through life to take yourself out of the game. I know that as sure as trouble don't last always. It can't.
P.S. Rest in peace, Don Cornelius. Never upstaged and always fly, you can never know how truly revolutionary and incredible "Soul Train" was for decades. An hour a week that changed the world. Godspeed.