The days after the Boston Marathan bombing, I felt lifeless everywhere except my legs. I buried myself in work, but my thoughts were locked on wanting to know Who did it? How? and Why? Every day was lived out in fragments — things to do, check the news, calls to make, check the news, check in with E-Bert, check the news. I made time to exercise — it helps get oxygen to the brain. Shakes down emotional baggage. Never have I felt the weight, energy and aliveness of my ability to run, walk, stoop or sit. This was after having seen photos online of the carnage of bombing victims, limbs lost when only minutes earlier, these men and women were walking, running, or simply standing or sitting with legs crossed. I can only imagine their lives now if they survived at all.
Suspects have been identified. The questions remain.
Is it time to pull the plug on 24/7 cable news [CNN]? Too much time to fill and report wrong information.
How will the bombing affect the future of the Boston Marathon? The marathon will go on. It’s had its history of controversy (Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the marathon – 1967), but not of this magnitude. What will this chapter compell next year’s marathon runners to meet the challenge?
Chechnya? Should we review the 2003 Moscow theater hostage crisis?
What happens to the people who were falsely accused (New York Post, Reddit)? Their lives will not be the same or safe for some time, I’m sure. I guess for the Murdoch corporation which also owns Fox, comedy is stranger than truth (see below). Reddit has issued an apology and a help chat for the person their news service mis-identified as a suspect.
Will religious affiliation be part of our personal pro-files? Attacks and bogus home inspections of Muslim residents in Massachusetts were reported while suspects were still at large.
How do the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing affect the immigration debate?
Does technology make us feel safer? Are we as smart as we appear to be in the movies?
Will anyone see this movie ["The Company You Keep"] now?
I’ll say “yes.” A “NOT” for “The Family Guy,” and UK Film4 channel’s “Four Lions” (2010). Back to grandma’s saying – “There’s a lot of truth in a joke.”
If the numbers support that the majority of mass murders are carried out by one gender, will there ever be a serious study of the male genetic, psychological, social construct before the human species becomes extinct? Even some of the caring men I know brush this one off as “it is what it is” therefore, a man has to lead this discussion very seriously.
Lockdowns – a new norm? I don’t get out much anyway.
Where do we start to build community? So many ways to keep us apart.
Nate Silver became the most trusted voice in statistics in the 2008 elections via his blog Five-Thirty-Eight which applied baseball stat numbers crunching to polls to craft a big picure of where the primaries and presidential election was going. And he was right. So much so, the New York Times adopted Nate and his blog Five-Thirty-Eight blog under their roof. Did he sell out? I don’t think. Unless we want to say “cashed in.” Nate is all about the numbers. Of course, he’s about the deadline now, but Five-Thirty-Eight is only as valuable as Nate’s numbers. This week Nate was promoting his new book on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. He missed his Wednesday deadline for this. If there’s any TV worth watching, this interview is in that column. What Nate has to say is so important, it can sell his book without mentioning the title.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive – Nate Silver Extended Interview Pt. 1|
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive – Nate Silver Extended Interview Pt. 2|
My first introduction to James McBride was James McBride the musician who had a really cool day job as a writer for the Washington Post. I also knew James had a pretty good rep for being a top notch journalist and quitting, then getting journalism jobs that any graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism then and now can only dream of. Before Columbia, James attended Oberlin College in Ohio. Though he and I didn’t cross Tappan Square at the same time, Oberlin would be the place where our musical paths crossed through a professor of jazz named Wendell Logan who passed away shortly after the dedication of the new Bertram and Judith Kohl jazz building which houses the Oberlin Conservatory jazz department.
James always seemed to be writing something including songs for Anita Baker and Grover Washington, Jr. But it was his talent with words, not music notes that launched him into artistic stardom. While playing tenor sax alongside Jimmy Scott, James spent downtime to work on his memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother (Riverhead/Putnam). It’s the story of James’ mother Ruth McBride Jordan, a Rabbi’s daughter from a small southern Virginia town, who fled to Harlem, met and married a black man, (James’ father) and raised 12 children who all went to college. The Color of Water became a New York Times bestseller and an American classic. It is a standard text on school reading lists across the country. [Publishers have issued a 10th Anniversary release.]
James followed up the memoir with his first novel, Miracle at St. Anna (Riverhead 2003), a story set in WW II Italy. His uncle’s war stories sparked the interest. The process of writing the book took James on an extensive trip to Italy to bring the small Tuscan town and events during WW II to life on the page. Miracle at St. Anna was optioned for a feature film directed by Spike Lee and released in 2008. It was James’ first experience adapting a novel into a screenplay.
James added another novel to his repertoire: Song Yet Sung, (2009) set in pre-Civil War Maryland where a beautiful runaway slave takes a life-and-death opportunity to escape from the “real life” notorious slave catcher Patty Cannon and other profiteers and opportunists lurking in the swamps of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Song Yet Sung was selected for the annual statewide “One Maryland, One Book” campaign.
Recently, James and Spike Lee have collaborated on the feature film “Red Hook Summer” now in theaters nationwide. “Red Hook” is an independent project for Spike Lee and James who is co-writer and co-producer. Both James and Spike Lee are teaching at NYU: Spike heads the graduate film program at the Tisch School of the Arts; James is a distinguished writer-in-residence at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. For an introduction to James McBride, professor, start with a syllabus:
Be ready to write longhand. No computers. No cell phones in class. Pencil and yellow legal sized paper only. Please be on time. Bring a jacket and a metro card.
For the first class, there is absolute silence when you enter the room. No talking. Not even to say hello to your neighbor. You want to hear a hello? Here it is: Hello. Now, no talking for the first ten minutes of class. It sounds stupid, but it is our first exercise.
James’ son is beginning his freshman year at Oberlin with a bass in tow. I thought this would be a good time to reconnect with James for an “Eclectique Interview.”
What’s a “typical day” for James McBride when he’s working on something? What are your artist habits?
I wake up at 4:30 a.m. every day. Sometimes 5. And I write.
How did “Red Hook Summer” happen? Another way of saying who’s idea was it to make this film, your’s or Spike Lee’s? What took place in those initial conversations?
We were having breakfast at a diner and talking about movies we liked. Spike said, “Lemme ask you a question….” And Red Hook Summer was born.
Did you both know or decide from the top “Red Hook Summer” would be an independent production in terms of the financing?
Spike floated the idea and I agreed to have a go at it. Spike is always good for his word. That’s his reputation and it’s well earned and well deserved.
How long did “Red Hook Summer” take to shoot?
Three six week days. Were you on the scene during the filming? No. I visited the set a couple of times. But a director has work to do and doesn’t need a writer hanging around while he works because a director is writing on the set. It’s part of his or her job.
Were you involved in the soundtrack for the film? Spike Lee is making me a big fan of Bruce Hornsby.
No. Bruce Hornsby did a great job. He’s a gifted cat. And Judith Hill’s work is superb as well.
Are you exploring writing music for film? — You wrote some music for my 8 mm student film way back I the day (it did make it into a festival in NYC). No interest in writing for film.
There are some autobiographical elements in “Red Hook Summer” at least from what I remember from your memoir, “The Color of Water.” What did you drop into the script from your life story?
Plenty. It was filmed in the church my parents founded and the church where I was married, and the church that funeralized my mother, in a neighborhood that I still love today.
In your written work I’ve noticed religious or spiritual themes. In our times, religion is either associated with extremism, piety, or pegged as “preachy” (as critics often say). What leads you to “go there” to that spiritual or even metaphysical place in your work?
I grew up very religious, as the movie shows. God has been good to me. But I don’t use his word as a baseball bat to bop people around and make them spend money they don’t have.
“Red Hook Summer” appears to question the relevancy of traditional Black Christianity especially with poor, urban, Black youth today. What do you see as the disconnect between the “old time religion” and today’s youth?
That’s too long to get into. One problem is that good small churches don’t get enough support, and huge, lousy churches get tremendous support. Another is that good spiritual music is used as a noose to hook church congregations. A lot of drums, guitars, shouting and hollering, but no meat.
Do you attend church now?
I don’t go to church that much. I read God’s word every day in the morning before I start my day. I go in spurts. Every Sunday for awhile, then tail off for a few weeks. But God has been very good to me. He’s given me more than I deserve.
“Miracle…” featured African American soldiers during WWII, “Song” opens with a runaway African American slave and white and black slave catchers in Antebellum Maryland. What interested you about those eras in American history? Are there other eras or aspects of the African American experience — Prohibition, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, etc.–that interest you?
No specific interest in any of those areas. I like all of black history except now.
During the height of the Civil Rights era, writer James Baldwin was compelled to come back to America from France, where he walked the streets and talked to people about what was on their minds. As a writer, are you having these conversations on the streets like Baldwin?
That’s where my stories come from, so I am always walking and talking. That’s my bankbook.
You’ve written 2 novels and are about to turn out a third. What attracts you to the novel?
Are you planning to write another memoir? “Fatherhood” appears to be a popular topic.
No more memoirs for me.
I met you through our mutual friend Dawn E. Robinson when you were working as a writer for the Washington Post and gigging on the side with friends and your saxophone. You left DC shortly after our Oberlin jazz professor, Wendell Logan came to DC for grant panels. You two had some conversations, and word has it those conversations led you to quit yet another great newspaper job and head up to NYC? BTW – since I arranged those reunions with Wendell, I’ve taken a little blame for that.
And God bless you for it, Michon, because I forgot all about that till now. Wendell did come to DC that time and saw me sit in with Richard Groove Holmes, the organist. Richard blew me off the bandstand. Counted off a tune at super speed and I sounded terrible. Afterwards I said to Wendell “I haven’t been on the horn that hard,” and he said, “I can see that.” I felt ashamed. I hated to disappoint him. He’d taught me so much music and for him to see me like that, six years out of school, playing so poorly, it embarrassed me. So you’re right. I quit the Post and went back to NY, started practicing, fell into that jazz bunch in Fort Greene Brooklyn, and eventually started working with Anita Baker, Grover Washington, etc. I eventually came back to DC playing tenor with Little Jimmy Scott. Played Blues Alley several times. Those were fun years.
I remember a story where you go to an interview as part of the application to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for their musical theater program. What made you decide to take another road after that interview?
I went in there as a composition applicant for musical theater and the woman doing the audition was working out of an Oliver Nelson workbook that I’d worked through as a sophomore at Oberlin. There were two professors in the room, her and a guy. I auditioned for them both. I had to score two or three scenes and play them on piano and afterwards they said, “You passed. You were fantastic.” Then they asked me a bunch of questions, and one of them was, “If Al Jarreau asked you to go on the road with him, would you go on the road or stay here at NYU?” I said “I’d go on the road.” On that basis, they turned me down.
What’s new with the music? Performance? Compositions? Inspiration?
The music in me died as my marriage died. Now that I’m divorced, music is slowly folding back into my life. I wrote a musical that seems to be getting its legs. But I’m a father first. Before I’m a writer, or musician, or any kind of artist, I’m a father.
What are you listening to now?
Madou Djembe, Steely Dan, Ruben Blades, Ennio Morricone, M83.
What are you reading now?
Cormac McCarthy “The Road,” Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow.”
What movies are you looking forward to seeing or revisiting (oldies and classics)?
Can’t think of any.
Visit the eclectique916.com store for books, music, and films mentioned in this interview and other eclectique916.com posts.
Before there was a Civil Rights Movement, there was Ida B. Wells – 150th Birthday Anniversary July 16
Let me give you thanks for your faithful paper on the lynch abomination now generally practiced against colored people in the South. There has been no word equal to it in convincing power. I have spoken, but my word is feeble in comparison. You give us what you know and testify from actual knowledge. You have dealt with the facts with cool, painstaking fidelity, and left those naked and uncontradicted facts to speak for themselves.
Brave woman! you have done your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured. If the American conscience were only half alive, if the American church and clergy were only half Christianized, if American moral sensibility were not hardened by persistent infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream of horror, shame, and indignation would rise to Heaven wherever your pamphlet shall be read.
But alas! even crime has power to reproduce itself and create conditions favorable to its own existence. It sometimes seems we are deserted by earth and Heaven—yet we must still think, speak and work, and trust in the power of a merciful God for final deliverance.
Very truly and gratefully yours,
Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C.
Preface to “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and
Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States” pamphlet on lynching in America
by Ida B. Wells. Published 1895
In 1994, I completed a full-length play, “Iola’s Letter” dramatizing the catalyst for which Ida B. Wells, at the risk of her own life, became an anti-lynching crusader. In 1892, three black Memphis business partners (all friends of Ida’s), including the first black post office worker Thomas Moss, were victims of a triple lynching. Their only crime was opening an independent grocery store. Ida was away in Mississippi selling subscriptions to her newspaper. The cry of “rape” by a white woman was often justification for mob violence in the South. But that was not the case in Memphis. The Memphis lynching became Ida’s impetus for digging deeper into one of the most wretched blights of the Reconstruction/Jim Crow era. She would be relentless. “The Red Record” (preface printed above), was Ida B. Wells’ report of her investigations.
While writing “Iola’s Letter” (produced and directed by Vera J. Katz at Howard University, and published in Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by American Women edited by Kathy A. Perkins and Judith L. Stephens), I was introduced to members of Ida B. Wells Barnett’s family and have kept those ties ever since. As July 16th approaches, the family will be involved in 150th anniversary of her birth with activities in Holly Springs, MS (Ida’s birth place), Memphis, TN, and Chicago, IL (her permanent home). Below is a release I drafted for the family to promote the events in Holly Springs, and Memphis. Fundraising efforts are underway by Wells-Barnett’s great granddaughter Michelle Duster for an Ida B. Wells monument near the site of the former Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Bronzeville – Chicago. [The Ida B. Wells Housing Project homes were demolished in 2002 -- completely by 2011 -- to be replaced with mixed-income housing.]
Sadly in a time when information is in abundance and volumes can be stored on the smallest micro chip, Ida B. Wells’ story has somehow fallen into the information vortex of the digital age. Imagine how quickly the impact of this investigative journalist would’ve been had she used today’s technology or even the media strategies of the civil rights movement (television). Ida used the resources of her time — her pen, her press, her eloquence, and unbridled determination — to launch an anti-lynching crusade, advocate for women’s suffrage, and the rights of the disenfranchised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Where would the civil rights movement be without her and many others that came before?
PIONEERING AFRICAN AMERICAN JOURNALIST AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST
IDA B. WELLS CELEBRATES HER 150TH BIRTHDAY
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum in Holly Springs to Give a Birthday Celebration
with the Wells-Barnett Family July 13 – 15
(Holly Springs, MS) At age 29, a single black woman journalist launched an anti-lynching campaign from her newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee in 1892 after the murders of three friends and local grocery store owners Thomas Moss, Henry Stewart, and Calvin MacDowell. Her name was Ida B. Wells. She was known as the “Princess of the Press” and owner/partner of a newspaper titled “Free Speech,” a name she didn’t take for granted. Ida B. Wells would not only lose her own newspaper for her outspoken editorials on lynching, she would become an exile and one of the most influential journalists of her time. Frederick Douglass would become one of her mentors, and she later co-founded the NAACP with W.E.B. DuBois. Ida B. Wells also stood shoulder-to-shoulder with suffragists and women’s rights.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Ida B. Wells’s birth. A birthday celebration is planned at the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum in her birthplace of Holly Springs, Mississippi from July 13 – 15. On Friday, there will be an arts festival featuring gospel music including an open mic, and dance. Ida B. Wells’s granddaughter Alfreda Duster Ferrell and other members of the Wells-Barnett family plan to be in attendance for the birthday party and a family reunion. (Ida would marry another newspaper owner, Ferdinand Barnett of Chicago.) The museum serves as tribute, landmark, and art and cultural center focusing on the accomplishments of African Americans.
The Ida B. Wells-Barnett museum is housed in the Spires Bolling/Gatewood House (1853) in the East Holly Springs historic district. The original owner of the house, whose last name was Bolling, was a major builder in town and owned slaves. Ida’s father James Wells’ was both the property and son of Mr. Bolling by another slave named Peggy. Bolling had no children by his legal wife and gave James Wells an apprenticeship in his building business. James continued working for his father even after Emancipation and married another slave owned by Bolling named Elizabeth. Their first child, Ida Bell Wells, was born July 16, 1862. Ida’s family life would be changed forever by the yellow fever epidemic. At 16 she lost both her parents and her youngest brother. She took her parents’ place and cared for her remaining siblings with the help of relatives. Ida dressed more mature so she could get a teaching job to support her family. She would move to Memphis, just 40 miles away where her journalism career took flight through a series of publications owned and edited by Black journalists.
Having never known life as a slave, Ida B. Wells was part of a new generation and movement for civil rights decades before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1884, Ida B. Wells refused to give up her seat in the ladies section of a train and move to the crowded smoking car (reserved for Black passengers). The conductor tried to remove her by force. She bit him on the hand and later sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and won a $500 settlement, which had to be repaid when the railroad company appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Tours of Ida B. Wells’s Holly Springs to Memphis life are available from Heritage Tours in Memphis, Tennessee founded by sisters Elaine Turner and Joan Nelson. The Ida B. Wells tour was originally created for the Wells-Barnett family during their visits to Holly Springs, but is available to other visitors. The tour begins in Memphis and includes stops at the two sites of the offices for “The Free Speech,” The Peoples Grocery Store, the jail and the “killing field,” the scene of the catalyst for Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching crusade. Rust College (formerly Shaw University, Ida’s alma mater) and the museum conclude the tour in Mississippi. Other tours of Memphis’s African American heritage are available.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett 150th Birthday Celebration
July 13 – 15, 2012
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum, Holly Springs, MS
220 North Randolph Avenue
Holly Springs, MS 38635
Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturdays – Noon to 5 p.m
Closed – Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Easter
Admissions – Donations
Adults – $3
Children – $2 (under 12 must be accompanied by an adult)
Contact Heritage Tours for schedule and tickets