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Nina Simone: Feeling Good

Remarks:

What a wonderful song. This came out in 1965 but, like “My Baby Just Cares For Me” (1958), it did not chart till the 1980s when it was used in a television ad. It went to #40 on the British pop charts in 1987 after appearing in a fabric softener ad.

Lyrics:

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh…
And I’m feelin’ good.

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ good

Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don’t you know,
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean.
Sleep in peace when day is done: that’s what I mean,
And this old world is a new world and a bold world for me…

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel..
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
[scat]
And I’m feelin’… good.

Source: A-Z Lyrics.

Kenya Barris

kenya-barris-2015

Barris, 2015.

Kenya Barris (1974- ), a US television writer and producer, is best known as the creator of the show “Black-ish” (2014- ), a thinly autobiographical sitcom about a Black family in Los Angeles. He is a childhood friend of Tyra Banks, with whom he created “America’s Next Top Model” (2003-2015). He also wrote the new “Barbershop” film.

In 2015 Barris signed a three-year contract with ABC to continue “Black-ish” and come up with yet other shows. ABC is home to another rising Black star, Shonda Rhimes, best known for giving us “Scandal” (2012- ).

black-ish

“Black-ish”, 2016.

“Black-ish”, like “The Cosby Show” (1984-1992), features an upper-middle-class Black family. But unlike “Cosby”, it is not “accidentally” Black. The show is race conscious, so things like police brutality and the N-word come up.

Barris says he wants to be both funny and “honest”, yet he has to colour within the lines set by ABC. For example, they asked him not to do a show based on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. They did not want any police jokes in the wake of Ferguson. By February 2016, though, it was becoming strange for the show not to talk about police brutality. But even then it became a “very special episode”. Norman Lear would be turning in his grave – if he were dead!

And, like “Cosby”, Barris wants to be inspirational to Black people. That also limits him. So, as thinly autobiographical as it is, the marriage on the show does not have the rough weather of his own marriage.

At the same time he also wants non-Blacks to watch and laugh – and think about how they view Black people.

His audience is in fact mostly non-Black. Only somewhat more Black people watch his show than watch “Modern Family”, the upper-middle-class White family sitcom that comes on right before it. “Empire”, which Barris does not think is a good show, has way more Black viewers.

From Inglewood to Hollywood: Barris grew up in Inglewood, a Black and Latino part of Los Angeles. His father lost a lung from working at General Motors. The court settlement from that tragedy allowed his family to move to a middle-class neighbourhood and send him to private school. It changed his life.

school-daze

Spike Lee’s “School Daze”, 1988.

The example of Spike Lee showed him that Black people could and should tell their own stories. The Jigaboo and Wannabe scene in “School Daze” (1988) blew his mind. So, after studying film at Clark Atlanta, a Black university, and marrying Rainbow, his high school sweetheart, he worked his way up from the bottom of Hollywood writerdom.

What we know as “Black-ish” is his 19th attempt, four of which got produced, and only one, “Black-ish”, made it on television (with the help of Larry Wilmore).

Being Blackish: Growing up he thought he knew what it meant to be Black, but his children’s Blackness is different than his own. They are more culturally White, while their non-Black friends are culturally Black to a degree unthinkable in the 1980s. Neither are Black in the way he understands it – instead they are both Blackish.

– Abagond, 2016.

Sources: Mainly the New Yorker (2016).

See also:

558

The TV mirror fallacy

infinity-mirrors

The TV mirror fallacy is my name for the idea that television holds up a mirror to society, that its representation is so faithful that you can use it to draw conclusions about the real world.

“TV is a mirror of society,” I have been told. I am amazed that grown people can say that with a straight face – or argue as if it were true, like proving a point about Black Americans based on something they saw on television!

I cannot speak for all countries, but in the US, at least, television is mostly make-believe. Even the so-called “reality” shows.

Even the news. Television news overreports Black crime, for example. It hugely overreports Muslim-on-White terrorism and hugely underreports every other kind. Je Suis Charlie – because Charlie is White. US television is made by and for well-to-do White people.

Fox News is, in effect, the propaganda wing of the Republican Party. It does not even do proper fact checking. MSNBC is also propaganda, lies told in service of power. Just ask Phil Donahue, who got kicked off for speaking against the Iraq War. MSNBC even employs known liars, like Brian Williams and Rick Tyler.

Representation: people of colour are both under-represented and mis-represented on television. The US is not as White (or as rich) as it appears on television. Neither are people of colour just a handful of stereotypes that God provided for the entertainment of White people.

The television screen is not made of plate glass. Look at the credits at the end of a show. Those are all the people it took to make that show. If it goes beyond a few names, then what you just watched was not plate-glass television. It was a made thing, made mostly by or for White people. Even the few Black or Asian or Native Americans you do see on US television, like Melissa Harris-Perry, were put there by White Americans. “Fresh Off the Boat” (2015- ) is a sitcom about an Asian American family made for White Americans. 

That is because shows are judged, in part, by ratings, by how many people watch it. “Ratings”, in a White-majority country, is just another way of saying “White viewers”. So, by its very nature US television will be soft on racism and White people.

US television also depends on advertising or, in the case of public television, corporate sponsors. Either way, by its very nature US television will be soft on capitalism and big companies.

US  television is morally blind – because speaking truth to power goes against its business model. But, by favouring racism and capitalism, it is not ideologically neutral either.

If US television is a mirror of anything, it is a mirror of upper and upper-middle-class White American opinion. Such people own and run the television channels. Such people are well protected from reality by money, power, position, drones, good policing and their control of television itself. Only on occasion does reality catch them off-guard, like with Ferguson or September 11.

– Abagond, 2016.

See also:

536

Terms for Black Americans

jet-1967-10-19

Jet magazine, October 19th 1967: notice the use of both “black” and “Negro”.

People in the US who look at least part African have been called different things by different people at different times. Here is an incomplete list:

Negars – what they were called when they first stepped off the boat in 1619, a year before the Mayflower:

“About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty Negars.”

That was written by John Rolfe, widowed husband of Pocahontas. “Negars” seems to come from what the Dutch called them, which in turn comes from what the Spanish and Portuguese called them: negro, meaning “black”. The Dutch were big-time slave traders.

nigger – some say this comes from Scottish, but it seems more likely that it is an anglicization of Negar. It is a racial slur, called the N-word in mixed company.

Negro – was the main term used in written English from 1712 to 1972. It was the polite White middle-class word. It spread to Black middle-class use in the late 1800s. It came into English from Spanish in the middle 1500s, along with other bits of the racialized Spanish view of the Americas, like new meanings for the words Indian and race. In the 1960s, Malcolm X and the Black Power movement gave “Negro” a new meaning: someone brainwashed by White people – a meaning it still has, at least in Black American circles.

African – what Black Americans mainly called themselves till the 1830s. You see that in names like the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, founded in 1787.

coloured – what many mixed-race house servants in the early 1800s called themselves. “Africans” were people who worked in the fields. It spread to general Black American use in the 1830s with the rise of the American Colonization Society, which wanted to send “Africans” back to Africa! In Jim Crow times (1877-1967), “colored” spread to polite White working-class use. Like Negro, it was swept aside in the 1960s by:

Black – in constant use since the 1620s, it did not become the main term till after the Black Power movement pushed it in the late 1960s. They and Malcolm X made it a word to wear with pride – “Black is beautiful” and all that. A bold move in a language where the colour black has stood for things bad or evil since at least the 1300s: black mark, black magic, blacklist, etc (something that comes from Christianity, not from racism).

African American – goes back to 1969 with the African-American Teachers Association. Pushed by Jesse Jackson and others in the late 1980s. Modelled on Irish American, etc. This term was almost unthinkable in the late 1800s when “Americans” meant US Whites and “Africans” meant “savages”.

fellow human being – who bleeds red and whose skin colour is undetectable by those who turn a blind eye to racism. Meant as a compliment by those who would otherwise see you as a Despised Other.

thug – the New Jim Crow way to say the N-word. It is to Black people what savage is to Native Americans and terrorist is to Muslims.

– Abagond, 2016.

Sources: mainly  “Africanism in American Culture” (2005), 2nd edition, edited by Joseph E. Holloway; Google Ngram viewer (2008) and Etymology Online (2016).

See also:

549

The Bangles: Manic Monday

Remarks:

The beautiful Susanna Hoffs singing a Prince song – it is hard to get better than that. This went to #2 on the pop charts in the US and Britain in 1986. The first 30 seconds have been ringing in my head the past day or so: “By a crystal blue Italian stream.” 

I was thinking of doing a post with my favourite Prince songs, but there too few on YouTube to make that worthwhile. And what few there are will no doubt be taken down within the week. Songs he writes for others, though, like this one, do not seem to suffer that fate.

See also:

Lyrics: 

Six o’clock already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin’ Valentino
By a crystal blue Italian stream
But I can’t be late
‘Cause then I guess I just won’t get paid
These are the days
When you wish your bed was already made

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it were Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday

Have to catch an early train
Got to be to work by nine
And if I had an aeroplane
I still couldn’t make it on time
‘Cause it takes me so long just to figure out what I’m gonna wear
Blame it on the train
But the boss is already there

It’s just another manic Monday
Wish it were Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday

All of the nights
Why did my lover have to pick last night
To get down?
(Last night, last night)
Doesn’t it matter
That I have to feed the both of us
Employment’s down
He tells me in his bedroom voice
“C’mon honey, let’s go make some noise”
Time it goes so fast
(When you’re having fun)

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it were Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
I don’t have to run day

It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
It’s just a manic Monday

Source: A-Z Lyrics.

Prince

prince

Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016), the Purple One, was an American musician. Hugely talented, he wrote over a thousand songs, came out with 39 studio albums in 38 years, and sold over 100 million records worldwide, half overseas. In the 1980s in the US his star was second only to Michael Jackson.

His top ten hits on the US R&B and pop charts:

  • 1979: I Wanna Be Your Lover (#1 R&B, #11 pop)
  • 1980: Uptown (5, 101)
  • 1981: Controversy (3, 70)
  • 1981: Let’s Work (9, 104)
  • 1982: 1999 (4, 12)
  • 1983: Little Red Corvette (15, 6)
  • 1983: Delirious (18, 8)
  • 1984: When Doves Cry (1, 1)
  • 1984: Let’s Go Crazy (1, 1)
  • 1984: Purple Rain (4, 2)
  • 1984: I Would Die 4 U (11, 8)
  • 1985: Raspberry Beret (3, 2)
  • 1985: Pop Life (8, 7)
  • 1985: A Love Bizarre (2, 11) – with Sheila E.
  • 1986: Kiss (1, 1)
  • 1987: Sing o’ the Times (1, 3)
  • 1987: U Got the Look (11, 2) – with Sheena Easton
  • 1987: I Could Never take the Place of Your Man (14, 10)
  • 1988: Alphabet St (3, 8)
  • 1989: Batdance (1, 1)
  • 1989: Partyman (5, 18)
  • 1989: Scandalous (5, -)
  • 1990: Thieves in the Temple (1, 6)
  • 1991: Gett Off (6, 21)
  • 1991: Cream (-, 1)
  • 1991: Insatiable (3, 77)
  • 1991: Diamonds and Pearls (1, 3)
  • 1992: 7 (61, 7)
  • 1994: The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (2, 3)
  • 1994: Letitgo (10, 31)
  • 1995: I Hate U (3, 12)

And that does not even count his top ten songs performed by others, like:

  • 1982: Vanity 6: Nasty Girl (7, -)
  • 1984: Sheila E: The Glamorous Life (9, 7)
  • 1984: Chaka Khan: I Feel for You (1, 3)
  • 1984: The Time: Jungle Love (6, 20)
  • 1985: Sheena Easton: Sugar Walls (3, 9)
  • 1985: Meli’sa Morgan: Do Me Baby (1, 46)
  • 1986: The Bangles: Manic Monday (-, 2)
  • 1989: Patti Labelle: Yo Mister (6, -)
  • 1990: The Time: Jerk Out (1, 9)
  • 1990: Sinead O’Connor: Nothing Compare 2 U (-, 1)
  • 1990: Tevin Campbell: Round and Round (3, 12)
  • 1991: Martika: Love … Thy Will Be Done (-, 10)

And that does not even count music produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and others who were part of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

Both Blacks and Whites liked his music. Some said he was selling out. Others say he had “transcended race”. Prince says that he grew up in a Black and White world and that comes out in his music. Both his parents were Black.

Influences: Little Richard, James Brown, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Almost anything he heard growing up – rock, jazz, funk, pop, soul, etc. He was a musical sponge. His father was himself a jazz pianist. Of newer artists, he liked Janelle Monae, Lianne La Havas and Esperanza Spalding.

Talent: He taught himself to play piano, bass guitar, drums and so on. He played nearly all the instruments on much of his early music. Warner Brothers, a big US record company, was so amazed they gave him not only a recording contract, but complete creative control – at the age of 18! Their faith was not misplaced.

prince-slave

The slave prince: By the 1990s, Prince and Warner were fighting over control of his huge and growing music catalogue. He wrote “SLAVE” on his face in protest and changed his stage name to an unpronounceable, androgynous ankhoid squiggle:

170px-Prince_logo.svg

The press called him “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, a name he had from 1993 to 2000.

Music distribution: in the 2000s, having left Warner, he experimented with different ways of getting his music out: through the Internet, through concert tickets, through free newspaper inserts, etc. None (yet) had the reach and reliability of a big record company.

Prince left us this past week for causes yet unknown – just two months after Vanity, also aged 57.

Prince-and-Vanity-dated-in-the-80s-360x470

– Abagond, 2016.

See also:

603

In memoriam: Prince

prince

Prince (1958-2016), an American musician best known for “Purple Rain” (1984), is dead at age 57. He was in the hospital last week for flu. Police were seen at his house today.

So sad. So shocking.

Requiescat in pace.

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