When I spent way too much time dating assholes in the 90's, I came across a great quote that changed who and why I dated.
bell hooks spoke of making love while listening to the genius that is Stevie Wonder.
I took this observation to heart like all things hooks and Wonder.
As a kid, I didn't recognize his brilliance.
In the last forty years, we have yet to produce an artist as gifted, socially relevant and vulnerable as Stevie Wonder.
Most artists have refused to trot the path of love, spiritual renewal and commitment to full and unabashed, humanity enhancing artistic expression.
While artists and anyone raised in this culture gets seduced into worshiping money and doing any and everything to get it,Talking Book and the subsequent Songs in the Key of Life were not cheap, produced for mass consumption albums.
Everything you could ever want to know about love, politics and human possibility can be found when listening to Talking book, Songs in the Key of Life and Innervisions.
Politics come into play when he speaks of going to Saturn and living amongst people who not only don't take more than they need but also put back things they don't need(Songs In the Key of Life).
bell hooks often states that to love blackness in this culture is dangerous and upsets the masses.
Stevie loves himself and his black culture.
There is no way to produce his incredible body of work without a love of black humanity and humanity at large.
While each album stands on its own, Wonder's fascination with and devotion to social change and liberation via incredible musical arrangements is mind boggling.
We all have much to learn from this ballsy, leave it on the floor person.
Any artist who believes in truth as power and allowing our minds to wander unfettered owes a huge, unpayable debt to this man.
Prince, by allowing his genius to take him wherever it chooses, is a direct result and influence of Mr. Wonder.
Janelle Monae is another artist on some futuristic shit who has taken a page from the Wonder creativity book.
Perhaps my obsession has been brewing slowly.
Maybe it started when as a struggling, broke-as-hell artist living in Harlem, I listened to him for guidance and reassurance that I could make it, create art and have a voice.
Broke, scared and lonely, living in one cold room in Harlem, Stevie sustained me.
Perhaps it was 2008 when I was preparing for another life transition (moving to the West Coast) and was sure I could make it but unaware as to how.
Listening to him nonstop helped me pull it together, face personal demons and press on towards a new dream.
Perhaps it is time to pursue two life long dreams that are centered around this incredible man.
The first dream is having an opportunity to perform with this titan.
While I have adored and appreciated several artists, I am not moved to share the stage and "work" with many of them.
My second dream regarding Mr. Wonder: A kick ass tribute band.
Will I resurrect my dream ?
Is it time to let this dream go and create another ?
Stevie would not let go of a dream or calling so why should I ?
Here is my set list : "Sir Duke", "Knocks Me Off My Feet", "Superstition", "As", "Another Star", "All in Love is Fair", "Pastime Paradise", "They Won't Go".
There is a way to make art and a life that truly matters.
There is a way to do it with substance and a conscious.
This is my dream.
Ten years ago, I received a call with an offer to work with Lauryn Hill.
As a result of my obsession with this talented young woman, I couldn't agree to the gig fast enough. In my excitement, I called my sister (a fellow groupie), my cousin and anyone else I could dial up.
While I spent most of the night preparing for the next day's life changing opportunities, I was not prepared for meeting the artist in person.
She seemed broken.
I saw such misery and pain that my desire for fame and the end of obscurity ended.
All I wanted to do was hug her and ask : how you be ?
What I witnessed was an artist who had been pushed beyond their limits and was in need of rest and contemplation. My perception was that she had been pulled in so many directions for so long that she was now unable to belong to herself.
Was I another fan demanding a performance and happily willing to forego the need that she and we all have to safeguard our talent in ways that allow us to resist the unforgiving pimp that is fame and fortune ?
Was it more important that I pitch my ideas and a way for us to collaborate than offer a soulful connection.
What I had no way of knowing at the time was the dramatic shift that pop culture was gearing up to serve the masses. At a very pivotal time, pop culture was at a point wherein something new was being craved and yet there was a hunkering for predictability.
Lauryn Hill existed at that very pivotal place of "between".
Culture critics, academics and community elders love to highlight the problems that occur when we allow musicians and celebrities to rear and influence our children. Few will confess to being influenced by the culture at large and in turn influencing the same culture.
We are all products and creators of our shared cultural experiences.
What Ms. Hill represented in her 1998-2004 heyday was the possibility of success that was based in loving blackness, loving and embracing womanhood and allowing your talent to determine how far you could rise.
Loving blackness in this culture is a problem and can get you much side eyeing and baffled looks.
I said "loving blackness", not apping, obsessing over or constantly acculturating it.
Her dark skin and full natural hair could have allowed the larger white establishment and pop culture to dismiss her and keep her a small and powerful underground entity.
This ain't what happened. She wore her blackness proudly.
I saw her on the cover of major fashion magazines sans lightening and all of the other bullshit black folks feel we must consent to if pop culture success is our ultimate goal.
Videos filled with this rich dark skin blasted the air waves and our eyes.
Her love of blackness and respect for black artists who proceeded her was clear.
Unlike many young artists, there was no ridiculous claim to originality and the outrageous claim that she had invented a new and unrealized or unheard of musical art form.
Her music gave young girls something to aspire to and young men a vision of a woman whose primary concern was not the male gaze.
She never denied nor exploited her sexuality.
In the past fifteen years post her solo debut, much has changed and remained the same in regard to black folks, women, music and popular culture.
When my little sister went form talking with much pride about this young woman who had accomplished so much so early in her life to explaining the significance and media sensation that was "Paris Hilton", I knew the end was near.
There is no guarantee that Ms. Hill would be interested in remounting her throne or that anyone would be interested if she did.
There is a need for young women to see other young women "belong to themselves" and not gleefully trotting towards anything that will offer them celebrity.
Our new world order is full of blond weaves, trash talking and a depth of soul violation that is sickening and almost humorous.
I never worried or winced when my baby sister listened to Lauryn Hill.
I worry when the only thing black woman can do or take pride in is being the "baddest bitch".
Be like Lauryn and bell hooks: develop a real taste for rebellion, be clear in communication and love yourself fully and maybe we won't need Ms. Hill because her job and mission is complete and successful.
Miss Brown was an addict, a sex worker, a transgender MTF and my friend.
When we became cooking buddies, I began to learn a great deal about transitioning and its challenges.
She taught me a great deal about about men, power, money and negotiating of sexual liasons.
While I struggled to be progressive, I often was aghast at the things she endured to become her true self and live in a non-exploitative and non-objectified manner.
I often struggled with seeing her as female because I knew of her birth gender.
I am ashamed to admit I had not seen her as a full human.
I saw her as entertaining.
I saw her as educational.
I saw her as fun. I saw her as an individual who brought laughter and some new insights.
I never saw her as a person struggling to make sense of a world that didn’t like her as male and hated and attempted to destroy her as a transgender female.
Many of us struggle with the same dislikes of transgender individuals.
We hate, dismiss and psychologically deny them for several reasons.
When I began to examine my uncomfortability , it became clear that it landed differently depending on whether the transperson was MTF or FTM.
Male to female always brought up a ton of thinking about domination, oppression and white supremacy.
My opinion was one that questioned why anyone would willingly move from a position of power to one of powerlessness.
With my tribe that went from female to male, my perception was that it was only a shameless grab for power and entitlement.
After some serious self examination and some heartfelt listening, I discovered that I was wrong on both accounts.
What frightens us all is visibility and the bold choice to remake and reinvent without anyone's approval.
Most gays spend a lifetime waiting for someone, typically,a family member or uncomfortable friend to grant them permission to be who they are and live boldly and freely.
When one of our own gets bold, we have the option to either applaud and join them or wish they would slink away in shame painfully awaiting for approval of the ubiquitous “they”.
To claim space anywhere in the world at anytime is thrilling and dangerous.
Most of us fear the trans community because we fear the responsibility and visibility that comes with choosing to redirect our lives and our gender.
Few of us have made decisions about how we live and exist in a world that hates and attempts to control and destroy anything that is not white, young and male.
Choosing an identity makes folks realize how much society( a group of people they have never met) influences their thoughts, behavior and sexual expression.
Miss Brown shared with me the brutal physical abuse she endured first at the hands of her homophobic grandmother(who tried to beat the sissy out of her young male body) while threatening her then later at the hands of the medical establishment who told her the operation and hormones could cause death.
Her response to both threats: I’m willing to risk it.
Choosing death and visibility over lies and self denial is brave.
All my trans folks who decide to live have much to teach us all.
Confrontations with those in power and those that offer conditional love provide examples of how to take on the wall of shit that we all face when we decide to self create.
Choosing to forgo a lifetime of meaninglessness means you are inviting all kinds of danger and vulnerability.
Ms. Brown struggled with addiction and self medicated via tricks and drugs; she had tackled the initial battle of taking on a world of bigots and intimate terrorists and won.
She had not disappeared.
She underwent her transformation not seeking to gain or relinquish power.
She reordered her identity.
Forgive us for our fear.
Forgive us for our lack of bravery and courage.
Forgive us for not doing the internal work that would allow us to accept, revere and learn from your ranks.
We are ripe to learn lessons of how to be brave and offer a big middle finger to society who can only accept us when we clone ourselves and allow people to go unchallenged and their bigotry unchanged.
Trans folks also understand exploitation.
The school of resistance is rewriting its curriculum.
Time to show up and show out.
Please join us in our valiant world domination.
Fairy tales and movies can teach us to love ourselves or misogyny.
Filmmakers and creatives often rely on stereotypes to keep us entertained and non thinking.
As a boy, I loved stories of all kinds and lacked the cultural insight of a dear friend who told me that when reading Hansel and Gretel, she always sided with the witch (it was her house first).
This radical and feminist memory of Hansel and Gretel reemerged when I found myself at two very different films that represented women and children of color in divergent and revolutionary aspects.
My seven year old grandson wanted to see Annie.
While I had hesitation about a film with a young natural haired black girl at the center (my fear that her hair would be referred to as a problem and become the running punchline in the movie),I soldiered on with my grandson expecting two hours of tomfoolery and hoping to witness a balance between humor, story telling and a proper valuation of young black female depth and power.
My fears were somehow lessened when thirty minutes into the film my young charge began singing along with the score before telling me : she looks like me and then sharing: I love it.
What was witnessed that day was that you can be brown, well loved and significant. It doesn't mean you won't have challenges and morons who can't or won't understand you. It means that there is a place for you even if and most importantly if you have to self create it.
We are all influenced and shaped by images that we witness.
Into the Woods was very disturbing.
I could not understand why a film with Meryl Streep(whom I adore) caused me such angst and discomfort.
I was disturbed watching a grown ass man lusting after a young child.
When I let that go, I immediately reached for my critical lens of how the other women were being portrayed in the film.
Much of the tale centered on women who will:sacrifice any and everything, including their lives for their children and or get punished when they indulge in or dare to have any desire for anything that only benefits them.
I saw this so many times in the film I began wondering whether this was the original theater version or had it been punched up Hollywood style by a pack of woman haters still stewing about the one that got away.
After the giant's home is burglarized by a small boy, the entire cast rallies around him to take down the angry wife set on revenge.
When the couple desperate for a child strikes a bargain with the witch, both the witch and the young wife die (get punished).
The young wife in a moment of ecstasy and curiosity allows a dashing prince to "seduce" and kiss her.
Five minutes later she dies.
When the witch finally is restored to her former glory, her punishment is becoming a large pool of tar.
I was glad that none of my granddaughters saw this.
It would have been difficult explaining why the men stole, lied, manipulated and charmed and still were rewarded with their desires.
At some point, I will co-write tales for girls and women with girls and women in ways that uplift and celebrate.
I will try to steer my young charges male and female away from films that demonize those with dreams and power who wish to see (experience) how far their ambitions can take them.
Any suggestions for revolutionary and women positive fairy tales ?
Any suggestions for males who appreciate collaborative efforts with people who may look, think and see the world differently and yet want similar things ?
My kids need it and I am desperate for something I have yet to see.
We have to stop teaching young people that ambition packed in the female form is a bad thing.