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Feb112022

Book Review: “Common Ground” (1985) by J. Anthony Lukas

Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American FamiliesCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Common Ground” is nearly 700 pages of original reporting about three families living through the integration of Boston’s public school in the mid 1970s (look up “Boston Busing Riots” if you don’t yet know what a shameful chapter of recent American history this is). Let’s get that on the table right away. It’s dense, epic, terribly important and has aged not a second in its importance: We are at each other’s throats as a nation over precisely who America belongs to and what it means. The kids throwing rocks at a bus full of black students newly attending their high school and shouting about how it is their freedom in danger are the Proud Boys of yesteryear.

What “Common Ground” is not is a great reading experience. It has moments when you stop and simply cannot believe the depth of work Mr. Lukas has done and the kindness and soul he brings to it. There are way too many more when you say two pages would have worked just as well and he gave us two chapters.

Though I am positive Mr. Lukas got the best editing publishing could buy for this project, there still feels like no interview was left out, no lede unfollowed no matters how little in the end it actually mattered. My firend whom I read it with compared it to accelerating one mile per hour at a time. You’re still driving/ But you’re missing many of the pleasures of driving.

If dense, chewy, epic, important and sad are your bag, none of those complaints will matter to you. Myself, I’m sad that while I am so fortunate to have read “Common Ground” I cannot recommend it with a full heart. Somewhere in all of the magnificent things it is doing, it sacrificed the common ground an author must also have not just with their subject and the demands of the story but their reader too.

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

Jan202020

Daily Links Special for Dr. Martin Luther King Day

 

MLK March on Washington Speech

— NPR: ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech, In Its Entirety https://t.co/kBC12Wlln0

— New Yorker: From 1965: Renata Adler reports on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. https://t.co/KevfNjsnou

— Paste Magazine: Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day With Musical Tributes From Patti Labelle, Joan Baez & many more. https://t.co/YBCTnHi8cH

“I fear I may have integrated my people into a burning house” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

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