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Author: Kevin Smokler

Feb212024

Kevin’s Travels Through Purple America: Louisville, KY

Lou
Friends, Louisville is friggin’ awesome.
Birthplace of Muhammed Ali, Diane Sawyer, Gus Van Sant and Jennifer Lawrence. Home of the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon, the t, and the Louisville slugger baseball bat. The town on the Ohio River that gave us the Happy Birthday song, disco balls, the Mint Julep and the Sealbach Hotel as featured in The Great Gatsby.
A place I have visited for business and pleasure for 14 years.
Yeah, it’s got Mitch McConnell and his desperate hold on meaningless power but he ain’t what Louisville is all about. LV has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to with open-minded, creative, diverse, forward thinking people and institutions like the Speed Art Museum and movie theater, Carmichael’s Bookstore, one of the great neighborhood bookshops in America, Please and Thank You coffee (creators of the nation’s finest chocolate chip cookie) the 21c Hotel chain, which has a free art museum in each hotel for guests and non guests alike, a killer public library system, a sublime public radio station in WUOL and Headliners, a live music venue everyone in the world should visit when we can.
Oh and its the home of Erin Keane, Melissa Ryan Chipman, Tara Anderson, Daniel Gilliam, Paul Blakeley, and so many other first rate people that make its greatness apparent.
I miss it.
Fellow blue staters, as I spoke of Tulsa previously, do not clutch your pearls when you hear “Kentucky” and think everywhere in the Bluegrass State lives in a dirt shack out of a Walker Evans photo. Louisville is one of America’s great cities. You are really missing out on something if you do not drop by.
Tell them I sent you, order a lot of beer cheese.
Dec272023

RIP Andre Braugher (1962-20230

 

Though the competition is stiff, though the choices are many, when it comes right down to it, is there a better television cop show than HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET? (1993-1999). And was there a more compelling character on it than Detective Frank Pembleton, played by the late, great Andre Braugher who died earlier this month?

The answer is no. If you only know Mr. Braugher’s work via Brooklyn 99, it was the character of Frank Pembleton that laid the seedbeds in which Captain Ray Holt could flourish. If you first became familiar with TV Showrunner David Simon’s work via THE WIRE (2002-2008) Mr. Simon’s first attempt at using television to explore how cities work and often fail and the all too human people in the all too difficult jobs assigned to those roles was HOMICIDE. HOMICIDE was really a show about a profession, who choses to take on the impossible work of speaking for the dead, how the work can corrode your soul and yet a soul made of stainless steel is an absolute prerequisite for the job.

In a show full of top drawer actors (I still cannot believe that Richard Belzer, Ned Beatty and Yaphet Kotto are gone too. Thankfully future Oscar winner Melissa Leo is still here) no one did better at embodying the conflict of a noble yet impossible calling than Andre Braugher. In his last season, he would win an Emmy for it. But that’s only a cake topper. Frank Pembleton will live forever as one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of television.

I was fortunate to live in Baltimore while HOMICIDE was being filmed there and to witness Andre Braugher at work.

Sail on, Mr. Braugher. Thank you for the memories, the great work, the still-emitting glory of your artistry and the reminder of how hard and necessary it is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Nov142023

A Few Words of Thanks for Mother Emmanuel (Charleston, South Carolina, Fall 2023)

Photo of Mother Emmanuel church

It was our privilege and honor to visit the Emanuel African Methodist Church (known as Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina on our first visit to the city this fall. Standing on the sidewalk just to the left of its front door, I found myself so overcome I asked my wife if I could give something like a drash (Hebrew for sermon or textual interpretation) right there.

She listened and this is what I said.

“We are standing now in front of one of the most important structures in America, a house of worship where, for over a century, we have entered the struggle over what it means to be an American, what promises were made at our founding and what promises were broken. That struggle all so often is really an attempt to insist on the repair of those broken promises.

At times, right here, that struggle has been in victory, like when this congregation and this church were at the center of freedom struggles during both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. And at times it has been in horrific defeat as it was that Wednesday Night in June right here, only 8 years ago.

On that evening, 9 members of the the staff and congregation of Mother Emanuel gave their lives for a principle so important to whom we are as a nation that it is in our very first Amendment, the freedom to worship and the freedom to gather. They invited a nervous stranger to join them in prayer on the idea that a house of worship here in America does not close its doors to anybody. And they paid for their patriotism with their lives.

As much as we have to take in the full horror of that evening and of the senseless loss of those 9 precious Americans, we can look up at this beautiful building and say that whatever misbegotten evil Dylan Roof thought he was carrying out, he failed. Pathetically so.

At best, Dylan Roof will spend the remainder of his meaningless waste of a life in a dark cold cell. And while he does, at 110 Calhoun St in the city Dylan Roof wished he had grown up, stands Mother Emanuel, tall, proud, gleaming white against a cloudless autumn sky. Still serving this community, still ministering to the sick and desperate, still a pillar of Charleston, this pillar of the confederacy, still led by this city’s black citizenry and still reminding the rest of us, from near and from far who have come to pay our respects of what it truly means to be an American.

We are honored and humbled to be here. And we thank them for having us.” 

Aug12023

RIP Paul Reubens aka Pee-wee Herman (August 27, 1952 – July 30, 2023)

Peewee Herman and the Black Talent he cultivated.


Goodnight, Pee-wee Herman, aka Paul Reubens, Gen X icon, comic genius, Fella of the Jewish persuasion and way ahead of his time on race and gender and different people issues. Before they held honorary degrees and acting awards all over creation, S. Epatha Merkenson and Laurence Fishburne were Pee-wee’s buddies in the Playhouse.


That’s right. Pee-wee hung with Lt Van Buren from Law and Order and Furious Styles before we found them ourselves.


Side Note: The Pee Wee Herman Radio Hour was entirely amazing classic black women of pop and soul & R&B and Jazz. The man had taste.

Sail on, Yid Brother in a bowtie. You had a strut with your giggle, a funk in your funny little walk.

You were way more than you seemed.

 

May292023

Buncha Jews in Utah…

2 AM from the balcony of my hotel room on the last night of the Reboot Summit after 3 days of crying, laughing, arguing and befriending 80 (not all at once but soon) fellow creative Jews. An amazing time.

Thank you to David Katznelson, Tiffany Shlain and Adam Mansbach for the introduction once upon a time, for the opportunity to make good and do good in the present, and, in 72 hours, even in the sweat-soaked, exhausted and free middle of the night, the aura of a limitless future.

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