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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.

 

Jan32022

Greg Tate (1957-2021)

I have been thinking about the death of writer/curator/force of nature Greg Tate this entire month and my sadness has not left me. I did not know the man like so many writers I admire did. Instead I head about his books and essays about hip-hop, art and black culture from this generation of writers who taught me. Maybe that makes Mr. Tate, legacy-wise. like a great-uncle to the work I do. Or try to do.

Really though, what he created was too big, too magical and other-wordly for to pin it on my own chest. Reading him, listening to him in print or on television or radio was like discovering other planets, being thrown into the galaxies and knowing, instead of plummeting you would fly. 

Knowing we have read the last of his work is feeling like the sun has dropped out of the sky. 

Look at some of the titles of his obituaries…

That first one concluded thusly (bravo to its author, Jon Caramanica)

“By that point, Tate’s sui generis brilliance was widely acknowledged in our circles, and still barely touched by others. Showcasing his critical pirouetting was meant to serve as a beacon, and also a simple acknowledgment of the way he affected every writer I cared about and learned from — we’re all Tate’s children. I still buy “Flyboy” every time I see it in a bookstore. I never want to be too far away from it, lest I forget how vast the cosmos is.”


By “Flyboy”, Mr. Caramanica is referring to Flyboy in the Buttermilk, Tate’s first collection of essays published in 1992. The writer Jeff Chang and artist Tim’m West steered me to it during my early years in the Bay Area. If reading about music and art and the people who make it is act of redemption for you, Flyboy is like a volume of the Hebrew Bible.

I still have a few notes I scribbled down when I first read it all those years ago…

Reading “Flyboy”you realize you are in the presence of a genius, a voice reaching down from the cosmos unlike any you have ever heard. And so you forgive it when its once-in-a-while too twisted or loud or muffled or sharp. Because when it is quiet and you  are too, you are better for having heard it, better for your listening and it makes you want to be better as well.

Greg Tate died a week before Bell Hooks and two weeks before Joan Didion, writers he admired, knew and in their lifetimes, get many more trophies and honorary degrees than he did.  I’ve been distributing used copies of Flyboy to many wise men and women I know, who missed the word on Mr. Tate, the first time around. It’s a small gesture for an artist who knew and shared and gave so much. 

My friend and fellow writer Annie Zaleski once sat on a panel with Mr Tate and told me, shortly after his death, that the man, a generation’s worth of admirers did not scream out his gifts, did not ask you to praise them and led with a generosity of spirit that split through his work like light through glass. We weren’t simply gifted his imagination. His imagination showed us what we could be, how much brighter and smarter and far out. Apparently, he mentored dozens of young journalists too. 

Goodbye Mr. Tate. I’m late to a dream you opened right on time. 

Some of my favorite Greg Tate pieces are, in no real order

Jun212020

In Praise of “Red” Cities and Purple America: Tulsa, OK

Tulsa Skyline

Dear blue state friends,

Allow me to tell you something about Tulsa, particularly if you have never visited.

Tulsa is friggin awesome.

Birthplace of SE Hinton, John Hope Frankin, Bill Hader and Current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The cultural capital of the state. Home to the Bob Dylan archive and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Cain’s Ballroom (i.e. Johnny Cash’s favorite venue outside of Nashville) and the BOK Tower (i.e. the building Minoru Yamasaki honed his skyscraper chops on right before sketching the World Trade Center). A blue dot in a sea of red.

Yeah, it’s got some silly shit like Oral Roberts University. And its progressive power is usually blotted out by blood red Oaklahoma City in electoral politics. But before we go giving all the credit to teenagers on Tik Tok for the sorry-ass turnout at this weekend’s Trump Rally, consider this: Tulsa was a boneheaded, tone-deaf place to hold that rally anyway.

Tulsa is NOT the Trumpy base. Tulsa is filled with open-minded, creative, diverse, forward thinking people like my dear friend Jeff Martin, owner of Magic City Books downtown, who has brought basically every interesting cultural figure you can think of to Tulsa, who sold and gave away a truckload of books by Black authors this weekend, who has been giving out gave out water and supplies to protestors since protesting began this month.

Jeff is a singular presence and a miracle worker. He is far from the only person doing amazing progressive cultural work and organizing in Tulsa.

Jeff brought me to Tulsa a few years ago while I was on book tour. It was one of the highlights of almost a year on the road, a town filled with friendly interesting people, great food, beautiful sites and plenty to do. I would recommend anyone visit as soon as it is safe to do so. And see Tulsa as a reminder that we blue state dwellers all too often think the red-leaning parts of America are an endless sea of small minded bigots.

We are wrong.

Tulsa is one of my favorite cities in America. It’s purple America. And purple America are our allies and friends in this fight too.

Mar142020

Listening to All of RUSH’s Albums to Honor Neil Peart: Hemispheres

Hemispheres -- RUSH

I am listening to all of Rush’s albums in order to honor the life and work of their drummer and lyricist Neil Peart who died on Jan 7th at age 67. Next up…

Album Name: Hemispheres

Released: October 1978

Folks, I’m afraid this one’s going to be quite brief as Rush’s sixth studio album “Hemispheres” does nothing for me. The last of their golden prog rock period is the proggiest of them all, featuring on one site a mini rock-opera and on the the other a twelve-minute instrumental. The musicianship here beats all but leaves me cold as a dead fish: Virtuosity will never move me like songcraft. So fine, if you love this record, keep on doing you, but I’m going to take a quick pass and scuttle right on the next one.

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