Sometime in the mid 1990s, around Easter, I stumbled upon a VH-1 showing of the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. I caught it in the middle, but I sat mesmerized, watching what appeared to be a rag-tag bunch of 1970s hippies and yippies singing and dancing a passion play. In the desert (!?) Before I knew it, the film had ended. But, being VH-1, it naturally started up again. So I watched it a second time. A few hours later I couldn’t deny it. I was hooked. And most shocking of all, the character who affected me the most wasn’t the guy playing the requisite Lord and Savior. It was Judas.
Two Swords. This Sunday marked the return to HBO’s grimdark fantasy epic, A Game of Thrones. This season is based on the second-half of George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first episode takes us through Westeros and the lands beyond the Narrow Sea, displaying palace intrigue, spoiled kings, Wildling cannibals and (of course) dragons. As usual, spoilers and then some.
In 1900 a black laborer named Robert Charles set off a massive manhunt after an altercation with New Orleans police. Before all was done, Charles would shoot well over 20 whites sent to apprehend him, killing several. Altogether, 28 people (the exact number is truly unknown) would die in riots, including Charles, who made a last stand in a burning building. The violence that surrounded him continued to swirl and claim others even after his death. The last turbulent days of Charles life would make him a monster to many and a folk hero to others. For black musicians, he became one of the legendary “bad men”–those near mythic black anti-heroes of superhuman capabilities, whose acts of defiance were both celebratory, captivating and frightening.
painting: Cruel Old Stagger Lee, by Van Orno
Someone asked me once to describe J’Ouvert (Jou-vay), the early morning ritual that ushers in the first day of Carnival, sometimes still called Old Years Mas on the island republic of Trinidad & Tobago. I fumbled for words. J’Ouvert is wild. J’Ouvert is frenzy. J’Ouvert is pounding bass on a big truck, steel pan, rattling cowbells or just the “ting-a-ling ting-a-ling” of bottle of spoon. J’Ouvert is masquerade with or without actual masks. J’Ouvert is whining and “back back.” J’Ouvert is sexuality both liberated and restrained. J’Ouvert is the sacred and profane, the humorous and the macabre. J’Ouvert is the warning hint of a riot that organizes itself into chaos. J’Ouvert is ex-slaves with flaming torches and chains threatening to burn it all down. J’Ouvert is rum. Lots and lots of rum. J’Ouvert is devils–red devils, blue devils, devils dripping black tar and spitting fire. J’Ouvert is baby powder and paint. J’Ouvert is MUD. MUD. MUD. J’Ouvert in the end, is magic. Wonderful, fantastic, dangerous magic.
*photo courtesy of the film After Mas, taken by Joseph Mora
It’s that time of year again, Black History Month. Beginning every February in the United States, the country sets aside 28 (or 29 in a leap year) days to celebrate, discuss and engage black history. Innocuous enough. And yet what seems to happen every Feb. 1st, is the beginning of a 28-days long ritual of whining (how come they get their own month?), misconceptions and endless micro-aggressive racial faux-pas. And this isn’t just from the usual skyboxes of white privilege; there are black people (some of them noteworthy) who wade into…well…the stupid. So here are a few tips to better understand the month, both for those who have to endure the stupid and for those who might be enticed to engage in the stupid.
Peter Jackson has followed up with the second installment in his rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, titled The Desolation of Smaug. It’s a fitting name, because undoubtedly Smaug
runs flys away with the film (move over Bilbo). Overall, it’s a significant improvement on part one of the stand-alone book turned cinematic trilogy. But like its predecessor, the movie still suffers from its inherent flaw–Jackson’s obsession to turn this children’s tale into one long drawn out prequel to Lord of the Rings. Once more, E is for Embellish.
Spoilers to follow.