Monday, February 29, 2016

No One Owes You Anything. #Artist

Enter Lucy Van Pelt.  
It's the last day. The last day. This is it. Help me! Help me!

It's a brief scene from "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown". I always knew Lucy was an extremist. 

I had to step on a scale at the airport in Vieques so they could have my weight on file before we boarded the 6 passenger plane back to the mainland. Needless to say, the camera adds 38 pounds. I can take things to the extreme too, Lucy. Muscle relaxers help though. 

These past 28 days have taught me a lot about responsibility. Responsibility for myself. Accountability. Here's something anyone who bothers to create something needs to know:

No one owes you anything. 

This is hard for any person, creative or not, to accept. The money I have spent on therapy talking about my feelings of self-worth as an artist and a person in a community I sometimes feel doesn't want me, could finance a down payment on a lovely condo. Self-deprecating monologues about other people's careers and how I just know they directly effect mine. "Why do they think Molly Pope is doing something brilliant?" "Amber Martin is a joke. Don't they know what she did to me?" Virtually stalking the staff of Joe's Pub, a group of 20 somethings and nothing-somethings who are making creative decisions for the same twenty people over and over again, while they've stopped returning my phone calls and emails almost a year ago. Going into a tailspin of "They don't want me anymore. I must suck."  New York City being as small as it is, I can fall into other tailspins over members of other communities too. For example, I see people that look like me. Fellow black, gay artists walking around town. Some of whom I used to be connected to. They look at me now as though I've changed. 

"You've changed. You're daring. You're different in the woods" ~ the baker's wife



You have one little falling out with a community you never had much more than a similar skin tone in common with, and you can spend years feeling blacklisted (pardon the pun). There has always been a long history of black folks not supporting black folks. Ever since the first house nigger told the first field nigger "You can't come in here" that thing has existed. It's not about who has the most toys. That's what, I assume, white folks fight about. It's about never having had a toy in the first place, and then being told you have to share it. 



In whatever the situation I find myself. I have to remember:

No one owes me anything. 

And, more importantly, my story is different than his. Which is different than hers. Which is only important to me. Which should only be important to you. Your stuff is your stuff. And hers is hers. My toys belong to me. Your toys belong to you. Now tell me about them. 

Some of the seemingly racist things that have been said to me over the years (since the fourth grade):

"Do you get sunburns?" (2009)

"You know how black attracts the sun, right? Are you hotter than us?" (1992)

"So, wait. The inside of your palms and the bottoms of your feet aren't brown. Are you sure it isn't dirt?" (1985)

"Your teeth are seriously so white. Uggh. I'm so jealous." (2010, 2013, 2014, just the other day)

"I'm so sorry for your people." (1986)*
     *We had just learned about slavery. Rachel Levy came up to me afterward and said this. Verbatim. In response, I said "But didn't they put y'all in ovens?"  I got sent to the principal's office. 



The fact is, we can all get caught up in these things. I have. We all get caught up in the wires that make our own individual machine run. It's how you maneuver around them. Like a fox? Or like a Tasmanian devil?

I told you the other day how I got caught up in my phone going for a swim on our last day on the island. It could've sidelined everything. I didn't write for a day like I promised myself I would. I beat myself up for it. I am the only one responsible for what I am doing here. No one else is to blame. That's a hard pill to swallow. On its own. On my own. 



Having to sit down and orchestrate, create, write these entries each day for the last month has freed up the space that I was saving to dwell on unimportant people and their insignificant behavior patterns. I let go of "Well, she's never had to have a job in her life.  Why does it all have to work out for her?" and "He's not even reading any of what I'm writing here.  He obviously doesn't care about me as an artist or a friend." I let all of that go.  As soon as I did that, everything else became clear. As soon as I got out of my own way other things started to show up. 

Next week Michael and I get to perform "Jackson on Jackson: Niggahs With Attitudes" at The Duplex. A few weeks later, I'm singing in Sondheimas at 54 Below for Stephen Sondheim's birthday celebration. Then The Black-Ups have been invited back to DROM on April 2nd. Followed by a return to 54 Below to join Michael and the cast of "A Strange Loop" on April 26th.  And then fast to work on The Black-Ups heading to Club Oberon in Boston. None of this will be possible if I'm standing in the middle of the pathway toward my own self, stomping my feet, and complaining about someone else's story, which I'm not even reading. 

What helps? Writing. Building. Creating. Communicating. This project. Which, I'm very happy to announce, I will continue even though the month has ended. Not every day though, as I have stuff to prepare for. But a few times a week. "Sundays Are For Music" will continue each weekend. And a string of other stories I've been working on. It is fulfilling to me. To only me. I want the same for everyone.  I want to read and hear the stories of other people too.  It is allowing me to share. To share with myself. So I can remind myself of just how important I am to myself. My third or fourth show at Joe's Pub years ago was named after my favorite Zora Neale Hurston quote. It's also the title of her autobiography. 

"I Love Myself When I'm Laughing...And Then Again When I'm Looking Mean and Impressive". 

I like myself. A lot. And that's a battle enough.  From crosswalk to crosswalk, I have to remind myself of that.  I don't have time to worry if you like me or not. Life is far too short.  I only have a responsibility to be a good and genuine and respectful and truthful human being. In my travels, I  hope I meet you and you are so impressed with how much I love myself that you wanna come up and meet me at my level. And I will always do the same for you.

Thank you.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sundays are for music. #NancyWilson

Shes' undoubtedly one of my all time favorite voices.  The stories she's telling are crystal clear.  It's as though she's just talking to an old friend, an emotionally unavailable lover, or just to 12 year in me in my basement.

In 1964 her most successful Billboard 100 hit was released. - (You Don't Know) How Glad I Am.

She won an Emmy for her own series, The Nancy Wilson Show, in 1968.  And she's also go 3 Grammy Awards under her belt.



She dropped out of Ohio's Central State University to pursue he dreams of singing.  On September 10, 2011 she performed the last time on stage.  She said "I'm not going to be doing it anymore, and what better place to end it than where I started – in Ohio."

Her debut single in 1960 was another favorite of mine, "Guess Who I Saw Today".  I found a video of me singing it (Thank you, Don) at some place called Joe's Pub back in 2012.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Items in the overhead bin. #cellphone

Firstly, to those following along at home. Clearly I'm late. My roughly 8:AM post was not delivered yesterday.  Let me see if I can explain. 



This is the Caribbean ocean. Pata Prieta Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico to be exact. My cell phone was submerged in this just yesterday. The last evening of our vacation. As the most beatific sun began to set. 

I suppose I could even back up further. Knowing my deep love of jewelry, you'll feel my pain. A ring that I purchased exactly one year ago on our last trip to Puerto Rico, was lost on this same beach on the 2nd day of our trip. Now, if you're counting along, I'm currently sitting on a United Airlines flight from San Juan to Newark, New Jersey without a cell phone and without a beloved piece of jewelry that once marked a very special trip to me. 

The ring was not expensive. The phone ....well.  During the 11 o'clock number in the last few hours of our perfect trip, I singlehandedly ruined my phone. A phone filled with recordings of rehearsals, notes to all of my selves, letters currently in draft form not yet sent to Susan Sarandon, Bill Cosby, and Solange Knowles. Notes for skits I want to perform with Ladonna. The entire script I had copied into my phone to learn for "Niggahs With Attitudes". Rare rehearsal recordings of me and Elliot working through songs that maybe never saw the light of day. Every picture I had taken over the last few years. More importantly, the pictures I had taken from each day of our trip this week. If you'd like a score, I only have 3 pictures left that happen to be on my iPad. And not much had been backed up due to a problem with iTunes and space in something white people call "the cloud". 

Needless to say, the loss of the phone while on this peaceful 1/2 mile stretch of beach ...in the middle of a virtually untouched wildlife preserve ...a beach with 8 other people on it (and 3 stray, adorable dogs...the dogs on this island, by the way...heaven). At sunset. 80 degrees. Watching the man I love enjoy floating in this crystal clear, warm water.  I was furious. I checked out. I was completely enraged. So angry with myself for being so dumb. How could I let me phone get wet. I had been so careful all week. I let the loss of the phone take me completely out of the moment that I was so happy to (literally) be swimming in just minutes before. Does hat happen often? What does it take to set you off? What does it take to get you back? Is a sunset with a reflection of the sun on almost turquoise 78 degree calm water enough to pull you back to happy?  What about on the last night of your vacation on a 12 mile island where horses run free and walk the streets with cranes resting on their backs like they are the best of friends?  Like Danny Devito getting a piggy back ride from Shaquille O'Niel. 

We went to dinner last night. And then back in to town for dessert at El Blok Hotel, which clearly we enjoyed as we ate there 3 other times in our trip. At this point we were very recognizable to the bartenders and wait staff. We ordered dessert. I had the Limon which was a sort of lemon meringue with a bit of granola and sliced almonds. After that I immediately ordered a cocktail, the Sweet and Spicy, which was a gingery take on a mojito. Still enraged over, I'm guessing, not being able to check my Facebook or post a photo with sassy hashtags on Instagram, I told the bartender what had happened. 

"I'm so angry.  I'm such an idiot. I practically walked into the ocean with my phone in the back pocket of my bathing suit! Who does that?"

Without missing a beat, and in a voice as calm as the breeze at sunset in Vieques, she said "I don't even have a phone."

With that, we moved on. I was (and am...albeit slightly) angry with myself. I let it curb my entire being for just a moment. And the beautiful earth stood still (or so I thought) so I could stay mad. Mad about this thing that I'm so very dependent on for reasons still not completely clear to me. This lovely woman, who seemed to be an American, who now was just living on the island of Vieques mixing drinks at one of the most gorgeous hotels on the island.  This woman, who couldn't be happier. What was her story?  How did she get to happy? And stay there?

I'm writing to you now from the middle seat of a United Airlines flight back to New Jersey. We took a very tiny puddle jumper to San Juan this morning from the island. We had a 4 hour layover. I learned that 4 hours is enough time to get in a taxi, go to Old San Juan, have breakfast at a place you both fell in love with last year (Cafecultura ...I love their coffee.), stop at the jewelry shop you bought your ring at last year, and buy 3 new rings made of the same Yuca that your favorite was made from. 

When we got on the plane (after deciding what my in-flight jewelry would be), a woman behind us somehow had a mix up at boarding.  She was in Group 4 or 5. The Rosa Parks section of the boarding-order. This meant, on our very full flight that some overhead bags were being gate-checked. In the mix up of this, she somehow let her purse get gate-checked. She stormed to her seat after the cabin doors closed, with a tantrum and temperament of full, epic Becky proportions. "UN...BE...LIEVABLE!" She screamed. This has probably ruined her 3.5 hour flight.  I'm quite sure she "literally just can't even". This has potentially removed the memories of how great a trip to Puerto Rico could be. The beaches. The drinks. The mofongo. This must have ruined her day. 

Wait. Let me turn around and check. 
When I started writing this, she had a towel over her head (that must not have been in her purse), and she looked like a children's ghost costume on Halloween. Now she's on her phone looking at videos and laughing. 

I guess she found her way back to happy. 

Or maybe things just shift a little after take off. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shoulders as Earrings, no more. #vieques


This is Playuela.
Our waitress, Yanira ....



...from El Blok hotel told us it was one of her favorite beaches. You know when you connect with someone and their energy very quickly and you just start to open up. We followed the advice of this young, gorgeous girl who brought us the most amazing bacalao I've ever tasted. It was a salad made with arugula. On top was shredded cod fish, extra virgin olive oil, capers, red onion, red pepper, avocado, and sea salt. It was heavenly. Either the salad or her smile or her large gorgeous eyes made us follow her advice.  

Today we drove past a hollowed out church where people fly in to have their destination weddings on the northwest tip of the island. 



The chapel is called Chapel Ecumenical. The only walls are this front and the back wall where the altar would be. On the other side of this front door is painted the following mural...



Telling us once again that music is our saviour. 

These last few days of this writing project are helping me straighten out so much in my mind. I am terrified about this show Michael and I are writing.  It makes me enter into parts of my own writing I never thought I would have the balls to discuss. I have so much to learn.  I haven't felt so wholeheartedly invested in a creation in some time. I'm excited to learn 14 pages of Sondheim for a few weeks later. Ecstatic for The Black-Ups reunion (Potentially entitled "Hot-Sauce"). The direction of what will happen with this writing project will all be ...well ...written about over the next few days. I bet you can already tell, music will be a large part of it. But this project has connected me with so many people I haven't heard from in so long. We may not social media-talk all that often, but this has caused us to do that and more on some level.  And I appreciate and respect it. My therapist asked me why I wasn't sharing this project with absolutely everyone. I said it scared me. It still does. And that is on the docket to address as well. Don't worry. 

So is opening my written, creative, singing, loud, critical, unapologetic, artistic mouth the minute my soul has something to say. 

For now though, I'm thinking about Yanira, and Playuela. And floating in water so blue it almost aches my eyes. If it makes my shoulders go down, I'm in. This is heaven. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

3 Bridges Over 3 Really Troubled Waters #AnitaBaker #AnnieLennox #RobertaFlack

Yesterday I fell into a Roberta Flack hole.  Today, I need your help.  I'm working hard on the last three pieces for this month long project, and I need to get them done today or tomorrow while I'm on vacation.

But in the interim.  This hole happened.  And I don't know who's version I love the most.

Roberta Flack is a genius.  There is a longing in the tone that I can't sit through without my heart snapping just a little bit.  It is such a clear, aching, albeit vibrant tone.  Listen...


And any time you let Annie Lennox sit down at the piano, you know something is about to happen.  She does something that I've always loved.  She pulls words and pitches of her choosing back into herself.  You can hear it on some of the higher parts of this.  I'm still captivated though.  Maybe it's the feminist in me.

And then the boat ran aground on Ms.  Anita Denise Baker.  I miss this time in her voice.  1988, I believe.  I didn't know she could do things like this.  Who am I kidding.  I knew.  My mother and I would listen to her constantly.  I remember jamming out to her in the car on our way to our Friday night ceramics class.  And don't worry.  We were home in time for Falcon Crest.


So, your mission... should you choose to accept it.  I'm working on these last 3 entries, but I desperately need to know which one of these think is the best.  And why.  Sort of "Kill, Marry, F*ck" for the three songs.  Who should just stop?  Who could you listen to forever?  And who is just a momentary thrill?

(also ...he was kind of cute back then, right?)

Monday, February 22, 2016

I'm not petrified of silence .... #AniDifranco #RobertaFlack #Dan

I'm leaving for vacation in the morning.  Although, by the time you read this, I will have already been there for a full 24 hours.  I'll be in my turquoise tankini sipping something out of a coconut.  Talk about the space continuum.

I know I try to set aside Sundays for music, by this isn't just about the music.  It's about the spaces.  The silences.  Those times when you can feel like you're about to burst because you just have to say something.  It's difficult to sit in that.

These are a few places I feel joy.

The space between the "T" at the end of "First" and the "T" at the beginning of "Time" in Roberta Flack's The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face).

It happens around the 30 second mark here:


The first ......time I heard this, I was in the middle of a "relationship" (please note my quotation marks.  His wife would like it that way) with an emotionally unavailable child during my early college years.  The space between the T's was nothing compared to the distance between us.  Damn I was gay.

She was always consistent with it too.  Even live....


Next up....
Silence, right?  The space between things, people, all of it.

My favorite comma in all the English language was used by Mr. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  It's after the 3 Act play of the word "Ignored".

Can't miss it:
(For some reason, I'm unable to post the actual video.... hmmm)  But here's a link to MY FAVORITE COMMA)

Then I think about what it's like when you don't feel forced to fill a room with the sound of your own foghorn... I mean "voice".  Someone you can just sit with is such a joy.  I can't predict the future, but I'm probably doing that right now.

Listen to this song I used to love (Today is still close to Sunday, so I'm gonna talk about music) in college.  It's back when I was a huge lesbian and loved Ani Difranco.  This is one of the songs that set it off for me.

I want somebody who sees the pointlessness
And still keeps their purpose in mind
I want somebody who has a tortured soul
Some of the time

I want somebody who will either put out for me
Or put me out of my misery
Or maybe just put it all the words
And make me go, you know
I never heard it put that way
Make me go, what did you just say?

I want somebody who can hold my interest
Hold it an' never let it fall
Someone who can flatten you
With a kiss that hits like a fist
Or a sentence that stops me
Like a brick wall

If you hear me talking
Listen to what I'm not saying
If you hear me playing guitar
Listen to what I'm not playing

Don't ask me to put words
To all the silences I wrote
And don't ask me to put words
To all the spaces between notes

In fact if you have to ask
Forget it, you'll regret it
I'm tired of being the interesting one
I'm tired of having fun for two

Just lay yourself on the line
And I might lay myself down by you
But don't sit behind your eyes
And wait for me to surprise you

I want somebody who can
Make me scream until it's funny
Give me a run for my money
I want someone who can twist me up in knots

Tell me, for the woman who has everything
What have you got?
I want someone who's not afraid of me
Or anyone else
In other words, I want someone
Who's not afraid of themself

Do you, do you, do you think I'm, I'm asking too much?
Do you think I am asking too much?
What do you think, I'm asking too much?
Oh, yet do you think I'm asking too much?
What do you think, I'm asking too much?

That, that, do you think I'm asking too much?
What do you think, I'm asking too much?
Oh, do you think I'm asking too much?
What do you think, I'm asking too much?
Do you think, I'm asking too much?

Picture it.  1995.  Summer.  The havoc.  I was every lesbian.  Parts of it will always be true.  I just didn't know what it would become.  This picture is from a few months before that cd first came out.  And probably around the same time that I did.  I'll forgive the cigarette if you forgive my hair.  You can't see it, but my jewelry was already legendary.  Ok.  I've gotta get back to this coconut.  But warned though...Tomorrow may be more music.





Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sundays are for music. #NatalieCole

Natalie Live was released on June 13, 1978.  It's a double-length live album.  Recorded at two different locations:  The Universal Amphitheater in LA and The Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

This version of this song is required listening.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Music. Active & Passive. #LindaRonstadt

I'm writing this after receiving word from Elliot that there is a new gay bar in Hell's Kitchen entitled "Bottoms Up".  So, I'm writing this, basically, through tears.

If you don't know Linda Ronstadt, any time is a good time to get on board.  Hers is a voice that shaped an entire age of music.



Sidebar:  Those backup singers.

In recent years, this powerhouse voice has been silenced by a 2012 Parkinson's diagnosis.  I watched an interview with her recently where she talked so eloquently about her lifelong love of music and, more importantly, of musicians.  To paraphrase parts of her 2014 CBS San Francisco interview, she talked about music being an art form, that in order to practice, one has to be equal parts active and passive.  If you're going to study how to play music, you're going to have to learn how to listen to it.  Is there any other way to go through life?  

This has started me thinking on how many times in life I feel either of these two opposite actions.  When do I feel most passive?  When I am being talked down to by uppity, rich women at my job?  When faced with some sort of adversity?  And when am I at my most active?  Actually doing "the thing"?  Putting a plan in place and seeing it through?  Do I work well with others?  What are others impressions of me when we're working together?  Do I take on a leadership role well?  Listening to others (passive), while making sure we stay on task and get our work done (action)?  We must all balance this every day.

I think about women in the kitchen at the Jackson Family Barbecue on the 4th of July "helping" my mother.  They are her friends.  Friends for years.  But they await instruction from her before adding any ingredient.  "Well, you know how your mother likes her potato salad.  I'm waiting for her to tell me how much celery salt to add."

I think of those people unable to make a decision.  I am oftentimes one of them, as my recent meltdown over trying to pack for my vacation next week has shown.  What of the people for whom great anxiety arises with just the simple choice of what to have for dinner or what movie to watch or hotel to stay in?  What happens to them?  These things can be crippling.  When we venture too far into either of these realms, passive or active, we can become a difficult force to reckon with.

The reporter in this CBS interview asked Linda how she felt about the Parkinson's diagnosis sidelining her ability to sing.  Such a weird question.  But a total "reporter question", if you know what I mean.  Without missing a beat, she said "Well, you've been able to walk your entire life, right?  Imagine you woke up one day and someone had taken away your ability to walk.  How would you feel?"  Sure, you may enjoy sitting, but how long can that go on without the other half of you?


I mean....Look at that hair.

I think about watching my temper in situations that come up.  I think about how I feel walking through a crowded New York City street at rush hour, or on the subway.  I can feel my fists balling up and tension mounting.  How do I take action when the passivity I'm taking part in due to what is around me, is actively shaking me up so very much?  There are days when I can beat myself up for being too passive, and others I can feel like I've overstepped a boundary with too much forcefulness and thoughts of "I shouldn't have said that".  

What's funny?  I always turn to music.  Good music.  Hell, bad music too.  It calms me.  Soothes the savage beast, like the ancients said it was supposed to.  I can get lost in the rhythms, the lyrics.  I can spend hours wondering what Jolene actually looked like when Dolly Parton wrote about her.  Sidebar:  I've always been fascinated with Dolly saying "Please don't take my man".  She said PLEASE!  She's polite, even when she rightfully could cut a bitch. Talk about active AND passive.

For me  ...An iPod, a good music library, and I'm on my way.  I'm creating a music video in my head wherever I go.  I wonder what other people use to relax themselves.  Massage therapy being about transference of energy, I put my hands on bodies every day that are not at rest and they scare me.  Not knowing what to use to relax yourself could be viewed as a serious problem.  I like to think of it this way.  Maybe that person hasn't yet discovered what it is for them.  They will.  It's a natural progression.  It's coming.  I understand.  Like the song says "The Best is Yet to Come".

Friday, February 19, 2016

Put your big black hands all over me. #massagetherapy

To support, supplement, and (sometimes) torment this penchant for calling myself an artist, 5 years ago I went back to school and got a license to practice massage therapy.  A trade, Mama.  I picked up a trade.

Currently, I work at a very high-end spa in Hoboken, New Jersey.  You only need to know this because it has left me quite fluent in White Woman.  A very elusive and, oftentimes, hard to decipher language.  The following set of random phrases are things that are said to me on an almost daily basis.

Hello, my name is James.  I'll be your massage therapist.

  •  Oh, I'm sorry.  You startled me.  I thought your were the security guard.
  • Wait.  You?  I can't believe they'd even have men doing massages here.  I couldn't possibly compromise my modesty.
  •  I had no idea you'd be so ...tall.
  • Well, look at you.  I know this is going to be good.
  • It's just ...your hands are so ...big.
  • Oh, it's you.  My daughter told me about you.
 These are some of my favorite dialogues:

Old Becky
So, where are you from...originally?

Black James
Boston.

Old Becky
Oh.  I don't hear an accent.

Negro J
I spent years trying to get rid of it while I was studying opera in college.

Old Becky
Excuse me?  Opera?  College?

Or this...

Old Becky
What about your parents?  Are they still in Boston?

Jim Crow
Yes.  They're retired now.

Old Becky
Oh, and what did they do?

Toby
Mom did cancer research at Children's Hospital for 30 years.  Scientist.  Dad owned a block of stores in downtown Boston.  Businessman.

Old Becks
That's something you don't hear every day.  Good for them.

I am good at several things.  Again, fluency in White Woman.  An amazing inability not to return to jail.  And massage therapy.  I have about 4 minutes from the time I introduce myself to someone to get them comfortable enough to take off all of their clothes and let me rub my hands on them.  And I'm pretty damned good at it.  Massage therapy is defined as "the systematic manipulation of soft tissue".  I had a teacher in school add the idea of "intention" to that definition.  The systematic manipulation of soft tissue ...with intention.  Do something, and do it with purpose.  My personal intention is for someone to be comfortable.  
For someone to feel better than when they came in.  
For someone's pain to be lessened.  
For someone to fall asleep on my table.
For someone not to see me as just a black man.
Or gay.  
Or different.
Or wrong.
Or not what they approved of.
For someone to see me as qualified.
And lastly, to always do my job.

 
 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Keep your dress up & your pants down. You'll be alright. #NikkiGiovanni

"How I Got Over"

When I was a kid, my parents had the most amazing record collection.  Part of my only-child joy came from spending time downstairs in the music room at the piano next to the 8 track player and stereo system rifling through this collection.  It's still set up like that.  Although, now it features a dusty treadmill my dad bought at some point in the '90s.

One of the first set of albums I fell in love with was shortly after my parents had "the talk" with me.  This was not "the talk" most of you  are thinking of.  This was a talk about this place they were going to called "church".  Years later, as an adult, I would work through, with my therapist, my feelings about not growing up exclusively in the black church.  I didn't completely grow up there, like most of my black gay counterparts, who I befriended when I got to New York City in my 20s.  The fact that my parents gave me the choice to go to this place as long as I educated myself about where it was, what it was, and it's place in our history, partially made me who I am today.  I had a different relationship to gospel music than most of the black gay men I know.



I first encountered Nikki Giovanni's poems on the album "Like a Ripple on a Pond" before I read any of the poems featured on it.  In the 1970s, Nikki teamed up with the New York Community Choir and read her poems about black love, falling in and out of it, being in New York City, raising her son on her own, and her love of Aretha Franklin in the middle of historic black church gospel anthems like "How I Got Over".  This particular song features Nikki reading her poem "Conversation" which is about just that.  A conversation she had with an older black woman she was interviewing. 

For me, it was about the juxtaposition of this great, sacred music and it's text standing side by side with this poem about what a good man could do for you, and how to get through life.  An older woman telling her story of how she got over. 

If you can find these albums (there are 3 or 4), just purchase them.  They are well worth the price and such a find.  They taught me about gospel music.  They taught me about poetry.  They taught me about loving someone and respecting everyone's history.  I still listen to them and let them shape my day.  Also, listen to the organ player.  And somewhere, there is one warbling soprano who has worn me out since I was 5 years old.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For White Girls Who Became Life Coaches When 16 Bars Wasn't Enuff

I should give you some idea how my brain works.  Maybe if you can decipher it, you could check back and let me know if you've figured it out.

Oftentimes, things show up in random one or two-line sentences, which I will later expand on.  I never know what they are for.  And then I go back to look at my notes and have either a good laugh or a good cringe.

Here are some examples:

Offensive Christmas Carol Ideas:

"Angel, Girl, We Heard You Was High"
"We Three Ho's of Orient Is"
"Silent Night, Except For The Sirens"
"Why Come, All Ye Faithful?"

Drag Queen Names:
Japanime Bullock 
- She does all Tina Turner music in full kabuki drag.  Wooden block shoes and all.

Meredith Baxter-Gurney
- Drag dressed as various TV moms from the 80s (but mostly the mom from "Family Ties").  There's a weird horror-movie vibe too. Maybe she a bit of a lesbian.

Things Celebrities Need to Know (aka:  Tweet them)

Keenan Ivory Wayans
-He really should have is own line of Quinoa. Keenan's Wah.

Tori Amos & Andy Dick
- An entire re-branding of "Amos & Andy" cookies and desserts.  Maybe with a drunken faery theme.
- With the complete understanding that Andy Dick is not a responsible person and these could also be done solely by Tori as Tori Famous Amos, but then she'd have to be in blackface.
Gabourey Sidibe 

- I would love for her to have a line of Old Bay seasoning.  This is mostly, in part, about how much I enjoy saying Gabourey Sidibe's Old Bay Seasonings.

***Understand that this entire thing really could go on for days from "Raquel Welch's Grape Juice" to "Jodi Foster Parenting", but you have to understand, my brain is busy.


New Play Idea:
"For White Girls Who Became Life Coaches When 16 Bars Wasn't Enuff"

On Acceptance:
Accepting the differences in each other.  
You offered me this tea.
I accepted that there's no bourbon in it. 

 
  


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Church Basements in Midtown Manhattan.



We're all artists here, right?  Is that what's happening?  And by "Artist", I mean you wake up and get to choose or create your attitude and outlook for the day.  Some of us turn it into a painting, a vase, or a an overture.  Others use it to cultivate a safe pathway to work so they don't have to get harassed by the same construction workers as yesterday.

This month, I feel so much churning inside of me.  This project is doing nothing short of holding me completely accountable.  And only to myself.  That's the best part.  Wait.  I'm responsible for myself?  I've spoken with a lot of artists, like me, who have spent many years waiting to actually work on their craft.  Take the noteFollow direction (hopefully from a good director).  And there is definitely something to be said for putting your entire self into your own work as well...as difficult as it may seem to take on such an endeavor.  It also has the power to create a bit of animosity in a community of fellow artists and creative types.

Firstly, artists are weird people.  There's a belief that says "Don't do several things really well".  It doesn't apply to me.  It never sat well with me.  I've always had a desire to do several things at once.  To learn as much as I can about things ahead of time.  However, competition, or measuring yourself against the path of someone else can be something we all fall victim to. 

Interesting fact:  I don't get invited to sing many places.  My therapist and I have worked on my feelings about that for years.  Recently, someone asked me to be a part of a group of singers featured at a place in midtown Manhattan called ...um "51 Below" or something like that.  It seemed like a very fancy church basement, with very high-priced wine.  Very "top-drawer" as Phoebe would say on Friends.

I went.
I sang.

I, as the kids say, "Let them have it".  Really, what else was I going to do?  Afterward, some of the young theater children in attendance came up to me...  I say "children" because I'm placing 30 year olds in a brand new category.  They came up to me and said,

"OMG! So, like, who are you?"

(Always a very fun question)

"Like, why don't I know you?"

(Father, God.  Don't let me have to school this child in a church basement.)

"So, are you, like, in anything?  What show are you in?"

****

Ahhhh..... That's what was important.  See, that's what wins.  I told them, and I could hear my voice escalating...  "I'm in my own show.  It's a show that I write.  Myself.  That I've performed, produced, and presented ...all over the country ...quite well ...for the last 5 years!"

Without missing a beat, one of them said "Oh.  My.  God.  I fucking love The Last 5 Years.  Jason Robert Brown is like my Jesus!"  I didn't have anything to say.  Nothing that wouldn't land me back in jail.  I still don't have anything to say. 

A simple rule of thumb, though.
Stay out of church basements in midtown.

Monday, February 15, 2016

No Worries, Mate. #Becky



To:  34 year old vegan, Rebbekah, who always says "No worries"

From:  Everyone else.

There's always a tone to what you are saying [STOP]

Like you're saving the world with each sing-songy rant you go on [STOP]

It is like the digestive system you claim to be saving by not ingesting that "icky, awful meat" [STOP]

For all of your "save the world", I theorize that you may not actually care [STOP]

You are not Australian  [STOP]

They actually sound sincere [STOP]

For the love of God [STOP]



(An exercise)
If you're playing at home:
Replace the phrase "No worries" with the following:

"That's OK.  I'm not really effected by you anyway.  You are not important to my battle.  Oh, are you still talking?"


And let's see what happens:

[Scene 1:  Interior either Starbucks, a farmer's market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's (on a Sunday), or Brunch.  B1 and B2, dressed in maxi-dresses, Ugg boots, and large brimmed hats barely covering their fresh blow-outs, with hair cascading over their large, bug-eyed sunglasses.] 

B1:  Hi. 

B2:  Hi.

B1:  So, I've got some bad news.  I like totally can't come to your dad's funeral this Sunday.  I've got like a huge report I have to write for my boss.

B2:  No worries. 

B1:  God, you're like SO understanding.  Thanks.  And that dress looks great on you.

***We've all either witnessed or been a part of something along these lines.  Right?  Well, let's try it again, and see what happens with this new change.



[Scene 1A:  Interior ...hasn't changed.  Maybe add an Urban Outfitters or a Club Monaco.  It's still Sunday though.  Maxi-dresses are now worn year-round, so that's still ok.  I'm not sure if I mentioned the vocal-fry... So, use lots of that too if you can.  Everything else stays the same.]

B1:  Hi.

B2:  Hi. 

B1:  So, I've got some bad news.  I like totally can't come to your dad's funeral this Sunday.  I've got like a huge report I have to write for my boss.

B2:  That's OK.  I'm not really effected by you anyway.  You are not important to my battle.

B1:  God, you're like SO understanding.  Thanks.  And that dress looks great on you.

B2:  Oh, are you still talking?

***See.  Nothing's really changed.  Sure, I switched the order of some things.  But what we first have to realize is that typically "B" is never listening to anyone else other than "B".  B1 is clearly selfish.  I mean, how dare she, right?  B2 has barely gotten through her grief.  No B would ever be phased by this slight change.  If you're still out there using this "No worries", slap this phrase in it's place and go on about your day, ladies.  There are maxi's to be worn, and decaf, skim lattes to be had.  Good luck!

[FULL STOP] 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sundays are for music. #BettyeLavette

In the beginning we talked about a lot of music.  We still do.  He's one of my favorite people to do that with.  I remember learning we both were floored by this rendition of Chaka's song. If you don't know Bettye Lavette, start.

 

For two and one half years
he has listened to me
he has been with me
he has cooked with me
(or let me cook)
he has laughed with me
and traveled with me
(although he cannot read a map)
and we have sat in this space together
i don't remember much of past relationships
and maybe that is a fault of mine
he remembers so much more than I do
which is funny, because i pride myself on my long memory
at present we live together
and continue to listen
and laugh and cook and travel
and to grow
the future is what we deal in now
and there is no greater feeling
i learn every day that i have more capacity than i did yesterday
and maybe that's all i know of the past.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

#NWA



Trapped in a dystopian universe of Patti Pies and reruns of "Empire", two black gay artists and critical thinkers risk public scorn in their search for an idol of their own.  Preferably one who doesn't need #Abs, cocaine, or thigh-high red boots to feel like he's worth a damn. Shots are fired in the epic battle between fabulous and intelligent on this episode of Niggaz ...With Attitudes

Bios:

Michael R. Jackson holds a BFA in playwriting from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ Dramatic Writing Program and an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from the Tisch School’s Musical Theatre Writing Program. As a songwriter, he has seen his work performed at Merkin Hall, The Barrington Stage Company, The Laurie Beechman Theater, The Triad, Ars Nova, Joe’s Pub, The Metropolitan Room, The Bruno Walter Library at Lincoln Center, and ACT in Seattle. He wrote book and lyrics on the musical Only Children with composer Rachel Peters courtesy of the Tisch School of the Arts Undergraduate Drama Department at NYU. He is currently at work on a new musical called A Strange Loop, for which he is writing book, music, and lyrics as well as writing book and lyrics for a musical adaptation of the 2006 indie film Teeth, with composer Anna K. Jacobs.  www.TheLivingMichaelJackson.com

&

James Jackson, Jr. is a NYC based performance artist (which is a fancy word people use when Cabaret is too safe), soul aficionado, force of nature and ...all around Renaissance man. There were some national tours (Whistle Down The Wind), some years spent near The Rockettes (Radio City Christmas Spectacular), a couple ditties at Carnegie Hall, the usual regional theater mishaps (featuring a rather unpleasant stop in Branson, Missouri), and a highly emotional, devastatingly funny act that has been seen at Joe’s Pub, 54 Below, DROM, Duane Park, The A.R.T.’s Club Oberon, and Los Angeles’ Lyric Theatre. He’s also one half of soul & comedy duo The Black-Ups with fellow soulstress, LaDonna Burns. www.JJacksonJr.com


$15 Ticket in Advance & a 2 Drink Minimum in the Cabaret Theatre*
$20 Ticket at the Door (plus service fee) & a 2 Drink Minimum in the Cabaret Theatre*


*Drinks Must be purchased In the Cabaret Theatre to count towards the Minimum.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Shuffle Along to Your Purple Colored Mormon like a Lion's Cabin in the Sky, Mr. Williams.

I'm praying for black artists.  Especially in the theater..  Here in New York City.  Wouldn't it be magical to strive to play more than ...slaves, 1920s, 30s, 40s jazz singers, AIDS-riddled Africans, or downtrodden share-cropping families...who sing?  Or even the sassy [short] dread-locked friend of the white female lead?

Go research it for yourself.  What are the stories being told about black people in the theater?  Firstly, most theater being produced [re: Allowed on Broadway in the first place] by white people, is it clear to anyone else that this is a rather sad display of what they think of us?  Are white producers of New York theater, white heads of film studios in Los Angeles, and white artistic folks in charge only happiest about the idea of people of color when they can depict them as someone who has "come up from under" or someone saved by the mere presence of a fully fleshed out white protagonist?  I think of "The Help", or that "Sandra Bullock Rescues Black Boy" film.  Or a "Hairspray", "Memphis" [those are the same show], or a "[Fill In The Blank]" as a Broadway success of a show about people of color.

What does this do to the young artist of color striving to be a part of this and to develop a career in the arts?  I think about this often.  For some clout or merit, every few years, we get to strive to be a part of a Kenny Leon-helmed version of a Tennessee Williams piece.  Is that enough?  I have always thought artists being treated like this for so long, with not much to strive for in the way of artistic betterment, makes us more apt not to better our craft through further education as well as, and more importantly, not like each other.  It creates a rather palpable form of dissension in the ranks.  Sadly, I worry more about how it will be perceived if I don't automatically run to the box office for tickets to see one of these new attempts at theatrical artistic diversity currently being thrown at me and my counterparts under the banner heading of "See...Look, we're including you..."



I do not have answers to most of these questions.  And they are questions I ask myself quite often.  I hear from my counterparts that we all have these similar queries.  Ah, that means there is room for a dialogue.  A way to come up with ideas, plans, and strategies to create more viable opportunities for every story to be told, and for every artist to create, without furthering the idea of "separate work".  By that I mean the age-old argument of creating your own opportunities.  It cannot be done alone.  Nothing can.  And separate is separate.  It is not equal.  It is alone.  It is different.  It is other.  One of the only things that I do know is this ...  If your goal is to tell everyone's story, then everyone must be in the room.  From the creative team, to the producers, to the theater owners, to the marketing team, to the performers on the stage.  A true community collaborates.  And collaboration only helps to build a community.  Working together and learning from each other is the only way. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

...the envy of the world #ToniMorrison



"I mean, I don't know what the fuss is about. I mean, everything in the world loves you. White men love you. They spend so much time worrying about your penis they forget their own...And white women?  They chase you all to every corner of the earth, feel for you under every bed. Colored women worry themselves into bad health just trying to hang on to your cuffs. Even little children -- white and black, boys and girls -- spend all their childhood eating their hearts out 'cause they think you don't love them. And if that ain't enough, you love yourselves. Nothing in the world loves a black man more than another black man. It looks to me like you the envy of the world."

--From Sula, a novel by Toni Morrison

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Downtown, where the shows happen #race

I was sitting in my car outside of a show I was supposed to go see downtown.  Part of 2016 has been about trying to support and see as much art as I can. Performance art is such an invented, Williamsburgian word. I picture hip 20-somethings and formerly hip early 30-somethings with horn-rimmed glasses, sipping Oolong tea, talking about Justin Sayre, or whatever it is they do over in those offices at Joe's Pub. 

Cabaret is for white people. To do. Black folks like to listen to it. We originated most of the idea of storytelling anyway. Read my older post about... 
Mabel Mercer

She is considered the mother of American cabaret. Storytelling. I won't stop. But occasionally I will have feelings about some of the folks who do it. 

I wrote this about my time in the car.  



Portrait of The Artist as a 40 Year Old Coon Who Sings

I imagine what it must be like downtown. 
I hear that's where the ultimate scene is. 
Dirty beards, busty white girls
Sometimes the ghost of Judy...
I hope she puts her lonely two cents in. 

The problem with being holier than thou
are the holes in the truth thou tells
To be clear:  You aren't saving the world
Through appropriated riffs, podium rants,
Or garage band drum beat swells. 

Personally, I wonder if I threatened
to save the masses
Would the masses even bother to show up?
If I did it with my blouse off
And managed to #abs
Would the gays revamp their attendance
by discovering one last fuck?

If I sang like I grew up in a church,
donned a wig, and wore some heels,
Would the black folks think I had something to say?
Something with unhinged, wide-negro appeal?

I don't think about that now
As I park my car downtown at the scene.
You see, Performance Art is a made up term
Because Cabaret seemed too clean. 

"No Blacks Allowed" is the sign outside my window
I've heard tale it's written in invisible ink. 
Let's go inside, see the show,choose a martini
And the waitress asks "Will you have the same for your second drink?"


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Accessorize with #JaneChild




Jane Child taught me how to wear too much jewelry and be ok with it. This song, this video, and even the N train were all on my mind on my way to get my first piercing. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hey, I'm unimportant.

Someone somewhere must think I'm doing this project for some kind of gratification from some source higher up than me. My 6 year old neighbor, Des, just learned the meaning of the phrase "Stop putting words in my mouth". He's been saying it for the last few weeks. That's how that idea makes me feel. It's taken me a very long time to come to terms with the constant battle between wondering what other people are thinking and holding myself accountable for my own feelings about myself. 

I spend a lot of time talking to my friend, and music director, Elliot. He is a magical human being, and a true artist. I envy him. I adore him. He has an amazing appreciation for the color puce. I could watch him create for days. And I could listen to him play just about anything on the piano. I can guarantee there is no one who's musical tastes I value more. When he tells you to "Check out _____'s new album", or "Listen to what she does at the 3: minute mark"...you do as your told, and you're bound to enjoy the ride. To get to sing with him, near him, or anywhere in the vicinity of him is my very humble honor. The way he plays the piano does something to me that makes me want to be a better musician. 




We talk about many things. We talk about artists. And artistry. And the overwhelming idea or construct of self-importance as creative people. You have to love yourself. You better. You hope that someone else does.  Can an artist do both? Can you love yourself and love someone else?  Does what you create come truthfully from you? Can you and your creation effect your fellow man without you calling it "saving the world"? 

Artists are different. A painter paints a picture. A sculptor may make a vase. Music can be momentary. The same song can be performed a different way depending on the performer's mood. No one is wrong here. No one is any less an artist. It takes noticing these differences to appreciate the human experience I think. But a lie just won't work. A lie won't read. A good human, who is an artist, who is truthful ...that's who to look for. The same love that this person has for themselves, they have for their art, and they have for their fellow human. Those are the ones to be around. 

There should always be truth in your work. If there is, then you won't have to work at telling the truth. Don't try to save the world. You can't. 



Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday is for music. #TracyChapman





Sunday is for peace.  And music.
And most days are for Tracy Chapman.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

What? Cheering? For my favorite child? Of course!!!

This is a heartwarming story from The Boston Herald about my little friend, Mary Kippenhan.  She is the daughter of two very special friends of mine, George and Michelle, who inspire me constantly, and have for years. 


Hockey Players Show Special Olympian Mary Kippenhan True Team Spirit


Friday, February 5, 2016

If You Are Unhappy #OnceUponATime

Not spending so much time on social media has made me start to reorganize my office/music room/life-space.  I just found this typewritten on a piece of paper used as a bookmark for a book I haven't touched in almost 17 years.  It came at the exact right time....  Also, I still don't trust cats.




If You Are Unhappy

Once upon a time, there was a non-conforming sparrow who decided not to fly south for the winter.

However, soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started to fly south.  In a short time ice began to form on his wings and he fell to Earth in a barnyard, almost frozen.  An old cow passed by and crapped on the little sparrow.  The sparrow thought it was the end, but the manure warmed him and defrosted his wings.  Warm and happy, able to breathe, he started to sing.  Just then, a large cat came by and hearing the chirping, he investigated the sounds.  The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping bird and promptly ate him.

The moral of the story is:

1.)  Everyone who shits on you is not necessarily your enemy.

2.)  Everyone who gets you out of the shit is not necessarily your friend.

3.)  If you're warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut!

 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Same River Twice #AliceWalker

There are many ways to tell the same story.  That can be a hard lesson to learn if you're in the business of trying to tell stories.  Another chef, artist, teacher is going to go at a meal, painting, or lesson in a completely different way from the next.  How do you manage that?

I'm black.  I love Alice Walker.  I love The Color Purple.  I first read it when I was far too young, but my English professor Aunt had an autographed copy for me to sift through.  I remember my mother telling her over the phone "I'm not finishing this book.  I don't like the way he's treating her."  She did finish.  And I promptly picked it up, read, and reread, and reread every page.

Ms. Walker's 1996 book, The Same River Twice, is a must read for anyone who is a fan of The Color Purple.  It details, through journal entries, clippings, photos and essays her journey from being approached by Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones to write the screenplay for the film adaptation of her best-selling novel, through her rejection of that screenplay by studio heads who told her she didn't really have a clear understanding of the book's characters, her mother's illness (and eventual death), her own battle with Lyme disease, the loss of her lover, and the pain she felt upon first seeing the film.  How the artist makes peace with the turmoil in her own life while watching another artist manipulate her work is captured in a way that only Alice Walker can describe.  Hearing the not so whispered decries from critics who refer to you as "arrogant" or "self-centered" for holding on to the integrity of your own work can take a toll on a person already managing such great loss.  One of the greatest parts of the book is the inclusion of the bulk of the screenplay she wrote for the film, which would later be rejected.  It is a beautifully written screenplay, the likes of which I've never read, and would love to have seen made into film.

Much like The Color Purple itself, I have read and reread The Same River Twice multiple times.  It's not your average "Making of..." story.  If you're a fan of Alice Walker, you have got to check out this book.

You can get it on Amazon.... right here