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Archive for the ‘1996’ Category

colorofwater“The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” (1996) by James McBride was the number one book in America and spent two years on the New York Times’s bestseller list. It is now required reading at many high schools and universities.

It tells the story of his mother, who became an outcast from white society for marrying a black man in the 1940s, bringing up 12 children in Red Hook, a poor black part of New York, sending them all to get university degrees. And it is about James McBride himself, about his search for who he is as a mixed-race person.

Growing up, McBride did not make all that much of being mixed. He looked black, thought of himself as black. It was not like he could pass for white or something. He avoided the issue, but by the time he reached 30 he found he could not go on like that.

mcbride-netzWhen he was growing up his mother was the only white person in the neighbourhood, at church, at the bus stop. And yet her past was a mystery. She never talked about where she came from or how she got there. But McBride found he could not understand himself unless he understood the mystery of her past.

She would not even say she was white. She said she was “light-skinned”. It turned out to be truer than McBride knew. She had a white body, got the diseases that white people get, but because whites would not accept her while black people did (more or less), she became in effect black. McBride calls her a black woman inside a white woman’s body.

Bit by bit the truth came out. She was a rabbi’s daughter who grew up in the South. Being Jewish in the South and living on the black side of town where her family’s shop was, she had only one good white friend growing up. After high school she left home for New York. There she fell in love and got married.

But because her husband was black, her family cut her off. Completely. They would not even let her see her mother on her deathbed. When her husband died and she needed help, they slammed the door in her face. Only years later, after the book became a bestseller, did they speak to her again.

Cut off, she did not know what the future held, she did not know what she was doing half the time, but, becoming a Christian, she trusted utterly in God.

One time he saw his mother crying in church. He thought it was because she wanted to be black like everyone else. He asked her what colour God was. She said, “the colour of water”.

When she saw him off to Oberlin College she gave an absent-minded wave as the Greyhound bus pulled out. But when the bus turned the corner and he could see her again, she had broken down, leaning against the wall crying.

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jamesm26James McBride (1957- ) is an American writer and jazz musician. He is best known as the author of “The Color of Water” (1996), which became a number one bestseller in America and is required reading at many schools and universities. He also wrote “Miracle at St. Anna” (2004), which Spike Lee made into a film of the same name in 2008. McBride has written music for Anita Baker (“Enough Love”), Grover Washington, Jr and Barney (no, not “I Love You”).

In 1981 when he worked for the Boston Globe, he wrote a column about his mother for Mother’s Day. It got so many letters that he made it into a book, “The Color of Water”.

His mother was a rabbi’s daughter who ran away from home to Harlem in 1939. She married a black man and became an outcast among whites. Even her own family cut her off. She found herself a white woman bringing up her 12 black children in Red Hook, a poor black ghetto in New York. All 12 children got university degrees, two of them becoming doctors. McBride himself studied music at Oberlin and journalism at Columbia.

As a boy McBride noticed that his mother looked different and asked her if she was white. She said she was “light-skinned”. She always talked about whites as “they” and never as “we'”. Her past was a mystery. He asked her what colour God is. She said, “the colour of water”.

Race was not something she liked to talk about. The book “The Color of Water” tells the story of his mother’s life and, in parallel, his own life and how he comes to terms with colour:

I didn’t want to be white. My siblings had already instilled the notion of black pride in me. I would have preferred that Mommy were black. Now, as a grown man, I feel privileged to have come from two worlds.

He sees himself as black but came to understand that blacks and whites are pretty much the same on the inside. His Jewish background is part of who he is, but he is Christian.

His next book, “Miracle at St. Anna” is about four black American soldiers who fought in Italy in the Second World War as part of the mostly black 92nd Division. Like his first book, it also shows the ugliness of racism and yet at the same time  the underlying oneness of mankind.

His latest book is “Song Yet Sung” (2008). It is a true-to-life story about a slave woman who is being hunted down while she flees north towards freedom. It shows how slavery worked in practice, how it affected the moral lives of both blacks and whites.

His advice to writers:

  • You learn writing by writing.
  • Most books are written between five and seven in the morning.
  • Do not wait; start now.
  • When you fail, get back up, forgive yourself and try again. (Only about half of McBride’s books ever see print.)

Most of that goes for musicians too.

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There are few books that I start that I never intend to read all the way through – at least someday – but Burton L. Mack’s “Who Wrote the New Testament?” (1996) is one of them. After 120 pages (out of 310), it was plain to me that the book is so bad that it is not worth continuing.

This was back in 1996 when I had just read the Bible all the way through. I was wondering if the Bible was true or just made up. Mack wanted to prove just that about the New Testament, the Christian part of the Bible: that it was made up. Yes, Jesus did live, but he was hardly divine. He was just a very good and wise man.

It was just the book I was looking for. So when I started reading it, I  ate it up, page after page.

But then by page 100 I started to wonder if Mack was writing satire. By page 120 I saw that, no, it was not satire: it was just a bad book. So I stopped. Which is rare for me once I get that far into a book.

Mack points out that Matthew and Luke copied part of their gospels from Mark and from a lost gospel known as Q – something Bible scholars have known for a long time. But Mack goes beyond this. He assumes that the part of Q we can recover from Matthew and Luke is complete and that it was the main book of an early Jesus movement, as he calls it, a book that has everything they believed.

Without saying how he knows, Mack says that Q was written in three stages:

  1. The 30s: Jesus is a thinker like Diogenes who overturns the thinking of comfortable, well-to-do people and gains a following among the poor. A sort of hippie philosopher.
  2. The 40s: Jesus is a prophet who says the world will end and his followers will suffer terrible things but win in the end.
  3. The 50s: Jesus is a near-god, one that suffers.

In the 60s Mark wrote his gospel and then, some time between 70 and 100, Matthew and Luke copied from Mark and Q to write their gospels and made Jesus into a god, the Son of God.

Very interesting. But there are two things wrong with it.

First, if we did not have Mark, we would think Mark and Q were the same book. We also would not have the most important part of Mark where Jesus dies on the cross and rises from the dead. That is because Matthew and Luke used Mark only to flesh out their gospels. The same with Q. So it is unlikely we have all of Q.

Second, we have to assume that people will leave their families and old religion and suffer for a philosopher – not a prophet or a divine being, mind you – and then make up strange lies about him, ones they give their lives for.

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You pretend you’re high
You pretend you’re bored
You pretend you’re anything
Just to be adored
And what you need
Is what you get

Dont believe in fear
Dont believe in faith
Dont believe in anything
That you can’t break

You stupid girl
You stupid girl
All you had you wasted
All you had you wasted

What drives you on what drives you on
Can drive you mad can drive you mad
A million lies to sell yourself
Is all you ever had

Dont believe in love
Dont believe in hate
Dont believe in anything
That you cant waste

You stupid girl
You stupid girl
Cant believe you fake it
Cant believe you fake it

Dont believe in fear
Dont believe in pain
Dont believe in anyone
That you can’t tame

You stupid girl
You stupid girl
All you had you wasted
All you had you wasted

You stupid girl
You stupid girl
Cant believe you fake it
Cant believe you fake it

You stupid girl
You stupid girl
Cant believe you fake it
Cant believe you fake it

You stupid girl

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Hey, love
You say you need someone
To be there for you
To love you all night long, huh
It’s kinda funny but
I don’t think you have to look no further
Because I’m right here
And I’m ready
To do all the things your man won’t do

Tell me what kind of man
Would treat his woman so cold
Treat you like you’re nothin’
When you’re worth more than gold

Girl, to me you’re like a diamond
I love the way you shine
A hundred million dollar treasure
I’ll give the world to make you mine

(La, la, la, la, la)
I’ll put a string a pearls right in your hand
Make love on a beach of jet black sand
Outside in the rain we can do it all night
Out to tour the places he would not
And some you never knew would get you hot
Nothin’ is forbidden when we touch

Baby, I wanna do
All of the things your man won’t do
I’ll do them for you (Whoa)
Baby, I wanna do (Hey)
All of (All of) the things your man won’t do (Every little thing)
I’ll do them for you (Yeah)

I’ll take you out on a night cruise
On a yacht, just can’t lose
‘Cause we got a lot to look forward to
one, two, what ya gonna do
What good is a diamond nobody can see
I hear he got you on lock down
But I got the master key, yeah

(La, la, la, la, la)
I’ll light a thousand candles all around
Show me to the subway, I’ll go down
Nothin’ can be sweeter than the sound of makin’ love
Baby, when I start I just can’t stop
I’ll love you from the bottom to the top
Nothin’ is forbidden when we touch

Baby (Baby), I wanna do (Hey…)
All of the things your man won’t do (Every little)
I’ll do them for you (Ooh…)
Baby, I wanna do (I wanna do, yeah)
All of the things your man won’t do (Oh)
I’ll do them for you (Yeah)

And oh…oh…yeah…yeah…oh, yeah
Oh

(La, la, la, la, la)
I’ll light a thousand candles all around
Show me to the subway, I’ll go down
Nothin’ can be sweeter than the sound of makin’ love
Baby, when I start I just can’t stop
I’ll love you from the bottom to the top
Nothin’ is forbidden when we touch, ooh , yeah

Baby, I wanna do (Oh)
All of the things your man won’t do (I’m gonna, I’m gonna, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh)
I’ll do them for you (Ho)
Baby (Baby), I wanna do (I wanna do)
All of the things your man won’t do (And oh, yeah)
I’ll do them for you

Ooh, I got a jones in my bones for you
There ain’t a damn thing that I won’t do
I’ll make your body cream with my sex machine
I won’t stop until I hear your mother scream

Baby, I wanna do (I wanna do)
All of the things your man won’t do (Whoa, oh, oh, ho, ah, yeah, yeah, hmm)
I’ll do them for you
Baby, I wanna do (Wanna do)
All of the things your man won’t do (Yeah, whoa…whoa…)
I’ll do them for you

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