Tuesday, December 09, 2014

VANDALS: PLAGUE DOGS


by Steven Boone

This is the last time I will ever write about race. Until the next time. Or maybe I mean it this time.

Was riding with my cousin from her home in Crenshaw, Los Angeles the other day. She is a schoolteacher with a beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood. We were on our way to visit her adult sons, who share an apartment in Inglewood. Both of these young men are educated professionals. They have their mother's charm, eloquence and gracious good humor. The apartment complex they live in is immaculate and charming. On the ride there, we were accompanied by another female cousin, a very successful WNBA executive from the East Coast.

Nobody got shot.

Yet the subject of getting shot for no particular reason (other than a particular reason) came up. Crenshaw cousin was still visibly shaken by recent news items involving various slain black men, some younger than her sons, others around my age, whose killers the justice system protected from any legal repercussions. Her melodic voice strained and cracked as emotion pressed down on her words. It was all just too much. She didn't mention them, but I knew she was thinking of the "boys" we were on our way to see, the ones she raised to be such pillars of responsibility, compassion and respect. They only recently left the nest. Will they be alright out there in a land that now seems to have legalized the killing of black men (so long as the killer is not black)?

Big, Black and Scary Uncle Crizzle

Superthug Ta Nehisi Coates

- America's Nightmare: Kiese Laymon

- Prime Suspect Odie Henderson

- Rich the Villain (courtesy of Cube the Killer):

Thursday, November 27, 2014

VANDALS: ELECTROCONVULSIVE SOUL



by Steven Boone

The press conference comic relief in the James Brown bioflick GET ON UP made me think of a passage in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), in which philosopher Robert Pirsig, a WHITE American of Swedish and German descent, is trying to define his Metaphysics of Quality without defining it. Madness. Referring to his former self (pre-electroconvulsive therapy) in the third person the way, say, a Soul music superstar might, he recalls a pivotal encounter with some real cool BLACKS:

"Squareness. That's the look. That sums it. Squareness. When you subtract quality you get squareness. Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness.

Some artist friends with whom he had once traveled across the United States came to mind. They were Negroes, who had always been complaining about just this Qualitylessness he was describing. Square. That was their word for it. Way back long ago before the mass media had picked it up and given it national white usage they had called all that intellectual stuff square and had wanted nothing to do with it. And there had been a fantastic mismeshing of conversations and attitudes between him and them because he was such a prime example of the squareness they were talking about. The more he had tried to pin them down on what they were talking about the vaguer they had gotten.

Now with this Quality he seemed to say the same thing and talk as vaguely as they did, even though what he talked about was as hard and clear and solid as any rationally defined entity he'd ever dealt with. Quality. That's what they'd been talking about all the time. ``Man, will you just please, kindly dig it,'' he remembered one of them saying, ``and hold up on all those wonderful seven-dollar questions? If you got to ask what is it all the time, you'll never get time to know.'' Soul. Quality. The same?"

Like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, GET ON UP sorts through one brilliant man's memories, triumphs and traumas. Unlike Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, GET ON UP can't quite catch the groove. Zen's beautiful prose, for all its nerdy tangents, embodies soul; Tate Taylor's James Brown movie, despite its ultramagnetic star, only reaches it when the music is playing. Its flow of images is network-TV square.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

VANDALS: BRIGHTNESS


By Steven Boone

There is a hushed and lovely view of planet Saturn in the movie INTERSTELLAR that makes it worth any amount of congestive techno-expository dialogue and colossal corniness (of which this flick has a heaping amount). Godly beauty. Christopher Nolan regards celestial wonders the way Mike Leigh (via his cameraman, Dick Pope) regards ordinary people suddenly stricken with insight, love or compassion in MR. TURNER: steadily, patiently, avidly. Turner, the romantic painter, spends much of the film hunched and squinting at the world. It's all too much for him. He has to filter. But when his eyes catch something of surpassing beauty, they open and get that rounded, boyish look of astonishment. Nolan loves the universe and its impenetrable mysteries the way (Leigh's) Turner loves the sea and women who bear life's trials with grace. There is a shot of one woman gazing out at the night sky through a window, in profile; another shot of another woman cleaning a window in daylight. Leigh sees them both the way Nolan sees Saturn. The secret is in the light.

By the way, here's YEELEN:


Yeelen (1987) pt. 1 by karimberdi


Photo by Peter Kratochvil.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

VANDALS: AEROBICS


by Steven Boone

"Devoid of spirituality, art carries its own tragedy within it. For even to recognize the spiritual vacuum of the times in which he lives, the artist must have specific qualities of wisdom and understanding. The true artist always serves immortality, striving to immortalize the world and man within the world."-Mitt Romney

-My latest hero is Hiro.

Hiro Murai, directing a music video for Flying Lotus that rescuscitates a walking dead form.


-more jumping


-more running


-more flying


Amen and amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Black Man Talk: Dear White People

by Steven Boone and Odie "Odienator" Henderson

(The following is an E-mail conversation between Big Media Vandalism founder Steven Boone and Big Media Vandalism's proprietor Odie Henderson. It is the latest in the Black Man Talk series. Other installments include American Gangsters, Tyler Perry, Django Unchained, 42, Lee Daniels' The Butler and 12 Years a Slave.)

Editor's note: Mr. Boone's text is in standard Big Media Vandalism blue. Odie's text is in green.


ODIE


Allow me to start this edition of the Black Man Talk with a letter that some of our readers may have received recently.

Dear Black Person,

This is an eviction notice. You have 30 days to vacate the premises so that we can turn your tiny apartment into TWO even tinier apartments that some White people will rent because the location is primo. Don't forget to take your roaches with you! On second thought, leave 'em! They'll add to the mise-en-scène.

Love you, bye-bye!!

Sincerely,
Your Landlo'


Gentrification is a hot issue in the news, from Spike Lee's controversial rant to the Dropbox soccer controversy, where two privileged techies shamed my profession by trying to kick some brown kids off a public soccer field in San Francisco. "Who cares about the community?!" one of those I.T. people asked in the viral video. This "who cares?" comment could be the rallying cry for those like Lee who feel racial history is being wiped out by hipsters with big assed, irony-filled Negritude erasers.

I bring this up because one of the main plotlines in Dear White People deals with location entitlement. Samantha (the great Tessa Thompson--more on her excellence later) wants to repeal the housing mandate that will alter the living arrangements at her Predominantly White Institution of Higher Learning. These changes would prevent the small number of Black students from choosing the historically Black Armstrong Parker housing complex. 50 years ago, Winchester University would not only have been happy with these Negroes wanting to live "among their own," it would have demanded it. But now, as the Winchester dean so nonchalantly puts it, "racism is over" in Obama's Post-Racial America. Only by spreading out the Black student body and making them a literal and figurative minority presence in White housing do we truly overcome racism. Because nothing says "post-racial" like being the token Black person some place!

History and tradition are of utmost importance to the small faction of Black student protesters who want to keep Armstrong Parker Black. To lose that would feel like the final dismantling of racial identity for Samantha, Ricky and the others at the Black Student Union. As I've said before, my interpretation of "post-racial" is that everybody is now White and homogenous. You give up your identity for admission to a world whose actions constantly remind you of the identity you supposedly no longer have.

Which leads me to this paragraph from your spectacular RogerEbert.com review of Dear White People (and we agree on the 3-1/2 star rating):

"If it sounds like I'm talking around this film's supposed central subject, Race, I sho' is! This whole race thing is exhausting. Caucasians are generally as tired of hearing Negroes' race-based grievances as we Negroes are of being profiled, passed over for opportunities and murdered in the street with impunity. It's all so played out."

First of all, thank you for showing your age (and mine too) by using the term "played out." The millenials whose interpretions of race Dear White People projects are now scrambling for UrbanDictionary.com to translate your outdated Ebonics. Second, you may have wormed your way out of a discussion on race in that review, but I gots yo' ass now! We gonna talk about that shit!

It's a great jumping off point, because every character in Dear White People has a side hustle of racial overcompensation to go with their regular jobs as students. Let's face it head-on, and talk about Samantha, Kurt, Ricky, the Allstate guy, Troy and my favorite character, Tyler James Williams' Lionel. And to show you that I come in good faith, and even agree with you that race is a construct, I am hereby rechristening this chat as a "B---k Man Talk." We'll pretend to be post-racial just this once, at least until the readers send White Dog to eat our asses.

What say you, my bruva? I mean, my fellow human being of indeterminate origin?

BOONE

Thank you, my n---a. My roaches and I are dying to see where this convo takes us.

I didn't really groove to Simien's more jaded and calculating characters, from the bitter Allstate guy to his charismatic but rudderless son, Troy (Brandon P. Bell). No doubt, these are all accurate "types" of individuals, each pursuing a different path to security and prosperity in a country that still doesn't know what to do with unfiltered Colored people. But they didn't speak to me much.

"Perhaps you related to me when I played the baseball player in Major League?"

Samantha and Lionel, on the other hand, spoke volumes. These kids were trying to find some simple truth beyond the politics of survival. Samantha, so willful and commanding, didn't see it until someone (her sweet white boo, Gabe) had the guts and insight to assert it; Lionel, quiet and wily, didn't see it until he stumbled upon the campus newspaper editors he thought dug him for his talent, instead of relishing his value as a token. What Samantha and Lionel saw was the trap of identity politics, on the blackhand side and the whitehand side.

The (unexpressed) horror is that running away from all that, and instead becoming a cultural crazy quilt, does not ensure security. It's actually the most dangerous move you can make in this country composed of voting blocs, ethnic enclaves and wondrous varieties of racism. If you can't identify a sizable community that has your back on the basis of national/cultural heritage (and economic networks) your ass is grass. You are depending upon the kindness of strangers, which, ha-ha, good luck.

This is why Dear White People ends with all the black kids learning to get along, to make room for each other's non-regulation traits and to understand that their lot is inextricably bound. That's beautiful, but also sad and realistically conformist: The only way forward for the Coloreds is to follow the same formula that helped other groups in this country prosper even as we swung from ropes and our gains were rolled back under our own country's relentless terror attack. The only way forward is the spiritual miserliness that insists there's not enough room and resources for all of us, so you best stick with your own kind and fight. It's the antithesis of what America claims to be but never was.

We know that certain parties clamor for post-racial utopia only because it takes the headachy issue of longstanding injustice off the table, with the added benefit of keeping the one ethnic group without a national identity (Africa be a continent) scattered and powerless. It's what gives that I.T. punk in the SF story the nerve to dismiss the idea of community. The only community people like him will acknowledge is one built around his comfort zone and backed by private capital. Or, if persistently public, policed to protect the money and the money people only. All this privatization jazz has turned the underclass into the trespasser class. So, I get how the campus housing battle in Dear White People is a miniature version of the gentrification shuffle happening all over the country.

It's just sad that it has to come down to fighting over territory. Same shit, different century.

"I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords."

ODIE

The one character with whom I did not connect was Coco, the wannabe celebrity. Simien's least interesting material is the reality TV stuff, though I did like Coco's moment of clarity at the frat party. Until that moment, I didn't find her very compelling. I found Troy a more useful element in Simien's chess game.

Simien uses Troy and his dean daddy (Dennis "Are You In Good Hands" Haysbert) in an intriguing way. These are characters who think they can change the system while they're gaming the system, but their self-serving actions will eventually cost them. The dean points out that he was summa cum laude, but his former classmate barely passed the same classes and wound up being the university's president. The dean personifies the old adage my mother beat (literally) into me: You have to be twice as good as a White counterpart to get almost as far as they do. For some, my mother's notion may have come off as self-defeating. For me, it was an inspiration. I would not be the success I am without that mindset, psychological collateral damage be damned.

His lower-pay position is why the dean's so adamant about his son being down with the swirl created by the college president's daughter. This is the dean's ultimate revenge because, as we all know, a major component of racism deals with the fear of jungle fever sex! The university is sticking it to me, and my son is sticking it to your precious daughter.

The dean also knows that, if Samantha succeeds in causing "trouble on his massa's plantation," his ass is under the bus. He thinks Troy will uphold the status quo of a Negro flying under the radar, which makes it deliciously ironic that Troy neglects to tell him about the party that threatens his daddy's collegiate reign.


Troy is a character on both sides of the fence. His reign as the head of Armstrong Parker ties him to that storyline and his desire to be accepted by the lily-White  "comedy" magazine, Pastiche, ties him to the blackface frat party. Troy is willing to resort to being as racist as editor Kurt in order to get on the Pastiche staff. He sees this as a small price to pay for a possible catapult to Saturday Night Live. But Troy has the "illusion of inclusion"--he thinks that a spot on the Pastiche will earn him the respect of Kurt and his fellow writers when, in reality, he'll be just as big a token as Lionel is on that newspaper staff.

Troy knows how to curry favor with "self-deprecation," which is read by his White peers as acknowledgement that brown people are inferior. Hell, they're hearing it from the horse's mouth. Troy would make a great GOP candidate!

About Samantha and Lionel, you wrote:

"These kids were trying to find some simple truth beyond the politics of survival. Samantha, so willful and commanding, didn't see it until someone (her sweet white boo, Gabe) had the guts and insight to assert it; Lionel, quiet and wily, didn't see it until he stumbled upon the campus newspaper editors he thought dug him for his talent instead relishing his value as a token. What Samantha and Lionel saw was the trap of identity politics, on the blackhand side and the whitehand side."

Maybe it's me, but I found Samantha's sweet White boo's speech to her a tad condescending, as if he's saying "you're not as Black as you think you are!" He and I do share a fondness for the word mulatto, though, and his hollering of "mulatto, mulatto, mulatto!" was a high point of comedy for me. Far more fascinating is Samantha's later speech to him, easily the best patch of dialogue in the film. Thompson nails it, too. You can see it in her eyes, feel it hanging on her body like a ghostly apparition tugging at her clothes. The speech plays like a reverse "Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life" moment; this time Imitation's Sarah Jane is ashamed of her White father rather than her Black mother. Sam's father's illness jars her more into newfound consciousness than her boo does, though their romantic relationship is credible and hopeful.

I loved Samantha, but Williams' Lionel c'est moi. I didn't fit in anywhere growing up, and I had fantasies like Lionel does; fantasies where I'm accepted not only by my own people but everyone else as well. I was the neighborhood weirdo, the square peg on top of the round hole. I too felt weird about labels, but, after all these years, I've held on to at least one label:

"I'm Black, y'all..."
 
Like Lionel, I was wary of the Black students in my early days at school too, except they kicked the shit out of me for being smart. They didn't know about my bisexuality until they read this sentence, so I never got the kind of tormenting Lionel did.

At university, I was the only Black student in ALL of my classes. There were enough Black students at the university to have a Black Action Committee, but the meetings were the only place I saw 'em. And I know quite a bit about White people touching my hair without permission, especially when I had dreds. They can't do that shit anymore--I've kept a shaved dome for the past 20 years.

Lionel's disgust at the frat party helps him "conquer" his fears and seek the help and camaraderie of the Black Student Union. His scene with Samantha is especially good. "What do you want me to do?" she asks him, and when she finally shows up at the party, Lionel's confidence level visually increases. He feels united not in a racial context but in a purposeful one: He has a shared goal. It ties into what you said about not having to "depend on the kindness of strangers."

What messages do you think Simien and company are imparting to viewers Black and White? And why do you think the White folks who attended that frat party chose to go as racist Black stereotypes rather than, say positive Black people like Oprah or Dr. Maya Angelou? Can you imagine some blonde chick trying to imitate Dr. Maya Angelou's voice or some White guy holding Skip Gates' multiple degrees?!!

(Some costume suggestions for your next racist Blackface party.)

BOONE
I didn't connect much with Coco but did appreciate her rude awakening at the Pastiche party. All of the black student characters arrived at an understanding of their relative powerlessness but also of their untapped power, which comes down to specific choices. Coco observed white kids celebrating her video rant as a mere ghetto fab stereotype, laughing at and not with her. To them she was 100% surface. Substance? Ain't nobody got time for that. Teyonah Parriss's regal beauty helped sell the cruelty of this moment.

It's the same queasy moment Dave Chappelle reported having when he saw white folks on his set laughing at one of his ridiculous characters for the "wrong" reasons. At some point he chose to walk away. From what? The hand that was feeding him. But it works both ways, not just with demeaning caricatures but also with the plum situation Justin Simien probably finds himself in right now.

Hilton Als once wrote the following in White Girls, about being invited to write an essay meant to accompany lynching photos:

"So doing, I'm feeding, somehwat, into what the essayist George W.S. Trow has called 'white euphoria,' which is defined by white people exercising their largesse in my face as they say, Tell me about yourself, meaning, Tell me how you've suffered. Isn't that what you people do? Suffer nobly, poetically sometimes, even?"

Als, too, chose to walk away:  

"This is my farewell. I mean to be courtly and grand. No gold watch is necessary as I bow out of the nigger business."

 I hope that young Colored filmmakers like Simien and Ryan Coogler and Ava Duvernay grow in their courtly grandness. I hope they continute to find stories that celebrate and lament in truthful, human proportions.

You said:

"Troy knows how to curry favor with "self-deprecation," which is read by his White peers as acknowledgement that brown people are inferior. Hell, they're hearing it from the horse's mouth. Troy would make a great GOP candidate!"
 
Despite his rant this year against "humility," Kanye West long ago opened up the pop culture floodgates on self-deprecation (and general weirdness) that contribute to a more nuanced interaction between white admirers and kids like Troy and Lionel. It's a fascinating mess. Give us a million years, we could never untagle the strands of admiration from those of condescension. It's one huge contributor to my own racial paranoia: Is this white person commiserating with me right now or rewarding what he (mistakenly) supposes is my lack of confidence?

With my closer Caucasian friends, I take a leap of faith and assume it's all love. (A fragment of an old Armond White quote about filmmakers taking a "leap of faith, a pledge of felllow-feeling" reverberates in my mind when I go to movies like Dear White People, and whenever my paranoia wants to turn to anger or withdrawal.)

Lionel is such a heroic figure to me, from the moment he first appears, just for going his own way. But he's also such an anomaly in pop culture that I fear most viewers immediatlely jump to Steve Urkel and Eddie Murphy's Norbit. A black man who isn't loudly trumpeting his worth (another cultural glue trap) is seen as emasculated, ineffectual. It's like, "fool" if you do, "fool" if you don't.

Williams nails this perplexed look. How many times have you felt this way?

Samantha's white boo Gabe is undeniably an admirer, but admiration doesn't prevent anyone from occasionally stepping in it. He makes a valid point about the damage of denying a portion of your (known, expressed) heritage just because it bears some historical scars. He's an apt pupil of race, but his blind spot might be the simple irony of the fact that THE CAUCASOIDS INVENTED THE ASININE ONE-DROP RULE. So, it should come as no surprise when the palest of Colored folk assert their blacketyblackness and downplay or outright deny their white heritage. This is what y'all wanted, White Man.

If split screen didn't already exist, the endlessly splintered "milennial gaze" would have had to invent it. Their lives are playing out on screens and in text boxes, and their filmmakers are finding cool ways to reflect that.

Future filmmakers of America, unite!

ODIE

Ah yes, the One-Drop Rule!

You ever notice how math is always invoked in relation to Cullud (not Colored, my bruva!) folks? We were 3/5ths of a person in the Constitution and they have a shitload of names to refer to just how Black you are. Octoroon (1/8th Black), quadroon (1/4th Black) and Gabe's favorite word, mulatto (HALF, Ed-DEE!). I wonder if all these fractions subconsciously made me pursue math at university.

Since I saw Dear White People, I've thought about what happens next for each character. The university looks like it's about to enter into an unholy alliance with reality TV, thereby finding another way to exploit the youth of all races. But what about the main characters? What happens after college? How did it shape them? What are their futures? How will they differ from what happened to me a generation ago?

You expand that and ask what the futures are for some of our newest directors (note I left out the Black part, because these are directors who just happen to be Black). I had the privilege of sitting on a festival panel last year in Poland with Ava DuVernay, and I'm excited to see her latest, Selma. Coogler is rumored to be helming the Apollo Creed movie, which means I'll get to do the Clubber Lang one!

It took Simien seven years to get his vision on the screen, but I don't think he'll have the Kubrickian or Malickean luxury of spacing his movies out that far. There's also that sophomore jinx thingee the ar-teests and critics always fear.

The other thing Dear White People made me consider: How differently I see race and racism than these millenials do. There's a show on TV now called black-ish, where Anthony Anderson plays a Dad whose views on race seem outdated to his son. I've found myself agreeing with Anderson's viewpoint, which the show kind of negates every week. Now I know how the folks who liked Archie Bunker felt!
The Candy Man not only can, he also DID.

All in the Family tried to tell us how common, yet out-of-touch Archie's beliefs were in that era's universe. Archie didn't understand Meathead's perspective because it made no sense to his way of thinking and his way of life. This post-racial shit makes no sense to me, either, especially when many of the same things that were happening to us in 1974 are still happening to us in 2014.

"No gold watch is necessary as I bow out of the nigger business." -Hilton Als

This made me think of Al Pacino's famous line in Godfather III.

Your comment about racial paranoia hit a nerve, and not just because I've worked in a predominantly White career for 27 years (Blacks make up 4.1% of programmers). I've dealt with plenty of racism--explicit racism--as well as comments that I got my job through Affirmative Action or because the employer felt sorry for me, etc. The fact I'm a great programmer is the biggest fuck you I can offer back to these people. I'm still here, and I'm still working.

I've experienced this nonsense, though on a smaller scale, in the film critic world. For example, a film critic who shall remain nameless because we both know him, had the audacity to tell me that my 3-star take on Boyhood was due to the fact I "didn't get it, because you're Black." Never mind that I was once a boy (who grew up) or that I have more alcoholics in my family than the Betty Ford Clinic. Because Boyhood wasn't a masterpiece to me, it meant I couldn't identify with this White kid who went through things any boy would go through. I even got a Bible for Christmas once, like the kid does in Boyhood, but I didn't get a gun to accompany it like he did. Darn!

Whenever I dislike something that the general consensus loves (like Her, for example), somebody will bring up my Blackness as a possible reason why I'm not on the bandwagon. With Her, I found it especially amusing: I'm a fucking programmer, critic dude! You're the one that doesn't get operating systems, muthafucka!!

Pulling us back on topic: Will this fear of "not getting it" keep White audiences from Dear White People

Also, when the blackface frat party got heated and the cops came, were you afraid that Lionel, Samantha and the BSU were gonna get shot? I slumped in my seat fearing the worst, and I wonder that feeling of dread and suspense was Simien's intention.

BOONE

Here's hoping fashion cycles back to Cullud or at least a more flowery, early American pronunciation of Negro, such as KNEE-grolle. Any well-dressed Colored person should be considered a KNEE-grolle. Used in a sentence: "The stylish kids of Dear White People are some natty KNEE-grolles."

(Brief detour: I'll never forget the little KNEE-grolle girl in my first grade class who, when we were all summoned to stand around the giant classroom globe, shouted, "Oh no! ILLL! Nigger?" She pointed to a spot in Africa: Niger.)

You wondered about what the future holds for Dear White People's Negroblacolered kids. I didn't worry so much about the fates of CoCo, Troy, Lionel and Samantha. They're not exactly Tre and Doughboy, knowhamsayin? They are at an Ivy League school, benefiting from circumstances 99% of us will never know. Any trials or left turns ahead of them will only help manage their expectations, bring them in better touch with "reality."

So I contemplate their next chapter in the same swipe I contemplate mine, yours and ours. Their generation is better suited than ours to navigate the exponentially breakneck pace of technological change, but ours is better prepared for the Third World Thunderdome economic picture fast unfolding. We are from the physical world and our minds were formed under the influence of analog media; of actual, not virtual environments. So those kids who get past the Ivory Tower gates will survive just fine. Those who find themselves stuck outside the net when the empire collapses in earnest will have to rely upon those of us with some unplugged experience. But this is the tutorial generation we're talking about here--the quick (if superficial) studies. Walking Dead episodes have probably taught them all they'll need to know.

Otherwise, I regard this group the way Ben Stiller's Greenberg regarded the young Caucasians in the film of the same title: they have an outsized confidence, narcissism and meanness that counts as toughness in a world that bows to youth markets. Except here they're black. The warring impulses, perceptions and expectations could produce a tornado.

As for the fate of filmmakers, my blood pressure is quite level. We are living in the future once dreamed of, where anybody can make a film and get it before the people. Any filmmaker who would measure his or her success against enduringly absurd and inhuman Ho'wood commercial expectations is beneath my interest. The only suspense is which filmmakers will retain a plantation mentality and who will remain an independent artist.
The cast of black-ish

In your ingenious contrast of All in the Family and black-ish, you said, "This post-racial shit makes no sense to me, either, especially when many of the same things that were happening to us in 1974 are still happening to us in 2014."

Yeah, the further we get away from the Slavery/Jim Crow/Civil Rights, the less precise of an accounting for its Plastic Man reach into our present circumstance we get. Segregation is still in force and class warfare has been streamlined, Photoshopped. When everybody in one's social circles is affluent, this reality stays at a safe distance. You can visit hardship via Netflix and HBO, but you don't have to grapple with what provides for it or perpetuates it. In that scheme, it's easy to laugh off both Archie Bunker and Anthony Anderson's character, without ever seriously weighing the merit of their claims. Archie was mostly wrong, but the show's writing let us in, over time, to the America that shaped him, lied to him and deposited him into a post-60's world for which he had no point of reference. I haven't seen black-ish, but I suspect there's a lot more to Anderson's discontent reflected in reality. Naturally, his relatively privileged kids (future Winchester University students), might think he's only seeing ghosts. They might feel differently in a few years.

Yo! I never once thought about the possibility of the black kids in Dear White People getting shot at the blackface party, but that could have been amazing. That's a Spike Lee move right there. It would have been too much and just about right.

You ask, "Will this fear of 'not getting it' keep White audiences from Dear White People?"

Probably. But that's no great tragedy. Every day I leave Skid Row to go to work in downtown Los Angeles. Once I cross Los Angeles street on 6th, the street traffic goes from predominantly black and Hispanic homeless people in tents to predominantly white urban professionals clutching Starbucks mugs. A movie about race that will coax these people to cross the street and find out something new about those they fear, loathe and pity  will have to be a lot craftier than Dear White People. It would have to be borderline science-fiction and beautiful beyond words, especially beyond that word "race."

ODIE

That's a great sentiment to end this thing on. We out!


'What the hell did we just read?"

Friday, October 10, 2014

Causing Trouble With Odienator: Fitting the Description

by Odienator

Not to be outdone by the return of the ghost of Big Media Vandalism's founder, Steven Boone (see his Vandals columns on selected Wednesdays), I have decided to start my own regularly scheduled column here at BMV. It's the return of the familiar though infrequent Causing Trouble With Odienator series. You'll be able to find the column here on Fridays, and the subject matter will remain up for grabs until the moment I sit down to type this into Blogger. These are meant to be rambling streams of consciousness, and they're not for the faint of heart.

The idea for this week's column started with an E-mail I received from a reader who stumbled upon this blog. How she got here I'll never know, but she was outraged--OUTRAGED!!--by what she read. After bitching that my writing here was far less polite than what I do at RogerEbert.com, she lowered the boom on my big Black ass. "I thought you were one of the good ones!" she wrote.

One of the good whats? I asked myself. She couldn't have meant what I thought she meant, because we live in Post-Racial America (coughcoughbullshitcough). After about 3 seconds of contemplation, the red whorehouse light bulb came on over my head.

"Oh!" I said aloud. "She thought I was one of the good Nig-[TRAIN WHISTLE]!"

Honestly, I never knew what exactly constituted designation as "one of the good ones."  But I tell ya, this heffa ruined my fucking day. 

"You've got to remember that these are just simple readers. The common clay of the Internet."

Suddenly, I had a complex. Now, all writers have complexes--it explains why we're all alcoholics--so I should say that I had a new complex. I'm a compulsive, so I like order and consistency. Immediately, I started wondering if my writer's voice sounded different here than it did at other outlets. Granted, I'm far more profane and potentially offensive here at Big Media Vandalism, but even Redd Foxx could work clean and still sound like Redd Foxx.

For clarification, I re-read several of my pieces at Roger's site. It was still me, albeit a kinder, gentler version. (But not too much kinder.) Perhaps that's what threw my letter writer, or perhaps it's because I write more about Black issues here than I do anywhere else. Regardless, I felt stupid because I let her ignorant, racist perception of me cause me to temporarily question my abilities. 

I also feel badly because I wrote my letter writer back and cussed her trifling ass out for about 9 paragraphs. Bad Odie, indeed! If I were a woman, the New York Times would have written an article about how I got away with being angry. I blame my parents for making me a boy and costing me an opportunity to be in the paper of record. Thanks, Pops!

My Pops' response to my sarcastic thank you.

No matter how old you get, or how many times it happens, preconceived notions will affect you personally. If you're a minority, an LGBT member or a woman, there's always some clueless motherfucker just fixing to ruin your day. You could be labeled an ignorant thug, a pervert or a bitch  by people who know nothing about you outside of what they saw of your type on TV. Heaven forbid you call these people on it! Suddenly, you're "overly sensitive," an amusing idea if ever there were one. Your skin grows thicker than any amount of cocoa butter can penetrate when you deal with this shit every day.

My writer's anecdote above was an intentionally minor example, but the awful truth remains that the way we are perceived can have devastating, physically harmful and fatal consequences. The powers that be don't wanna hear that, and I don't give a fuck if they don't. I've no sympathy. They don't have to live it. We do. No matter how thick one's skin is vis-a-vis dealing with discrimination, it can't stop a bullet, a beatdown or a sexual assault.

"He Spoke So Well And He Fit The Description"

This will be my epitath, a little goose from beyond the grave for any Black folks who walk past my tombstone. If I had a dollar for every time I heard either of those two phrases, I'd be able to vote Republican.

This coulda been ME!!!

I want to close out with two brief stories about my experiences with speaking so well and fitting the description. Of course, the latter one is far more dangerous, and it's only by the grace of a God my mother prays to on her children's behalf that the worst fate that befell me was a broken wrist and a few knots upside my hard head. That's a story for another time. A less violent tale is in order today.

I was working in Nacogdoches, Texas in 2000. My boss and I went to the college dorm of a work colleague to pick him up for dinner. We had plans to hang out at the dorm after dinner. As we walked on campus, a police officer appeared out of nowhere. I swear, he must have come straight out of the ground like manhole steam on a Manhattan street. When he appeared, he did not draw a gun or threaten in any way. In fact, he was incredibly polite.

"Gentlemen," he said to us, "please forgive my intrusion, but--and I swear this is true, I have the paper in my car--you guys fit the description of a thief we've been looking for. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"

Here's the description we must have fit:

Me: Black male, 30, bald, light-skinned (like Cuba Gooding Jr.), 5'9" tall, clean-shaven, chunky. Has very visible physical disfigurement that is not easily forgotten.

My boss: Black male, 24, dark-skinned (like Wesley Snipes). 6'2" tall, goatee, skinny. Short, black hair on his head.

Our colleague: Black male, 19, Denzel Washington complexion, full beard and cornrows on head. 5'4" tall. Muscular as hell.

We couldn't have even been cousins! And yet, we somehow all fit the same description! Whoever called that robbery in must have been one indecisive son of a bitch. "He was light skinned AND dark skinned, bald AND had hair! Beard, goatee AND clean chin!"

After 10 minutes of questioning, the cop let us go without incident.

As for speaking so well:

Early in my career, I visited a customer whom I'd spoken to over the phone for years before we officially met in person. I knew she was White, but I don't think she picked up that I was Black. It's odd, because when I talk to people on the phone, I can always tell if they're Black, and vice versa for me. 

No matter. I went to visit her office dressed to the nines. This was back when Casual Friday didn't exist. I had on a suit and tie, and since it was winter, a full length leather coat and (this is gonna get me teased) a leather hat like Eddie Murphy wore in The Golden Child.

"O-DEE! I want to talk to yoo-ooou!"

I stepped to the reception desk and told them I was there to see Barbara (not her real name, of course). Reception told me where to go. When I got there, it turned out to be the mailroom.

"Um, I think they sent me to the wrong place," I said to the gorgeous Latina in the mailroom window. "Oh, this happens a lot to us brown people," she said, laughing. "Reception automatically sends them here. Go back downstairs and ask again."

The second time was the charm. Reception sent me to the right place, but I had to wait for Barbara. While waiting, I made the acquaintance of a White gentleman named Kevin. He was there for a job interview. We chatted for about 10 minutes before Barbara appeared.

"Odie," she said, "it's so nice to finally meet you!" She extended her hand to the White guy. Kevin silently pointed at me.

Barbara's eyes flew out her head like a Tex Avery cartoon!

"Hullo," I said, trying not to laugh.

Barbara tried to play it off, and I was willing to let it go. But then...

"You're Black," she suddenly said to me. 

"Yes," I replied. (I actually wanted to look at my hands and scream "I'm Black!" like Godfrey Cambridge in Watermelon Man. I refrained.)

"But you speak so well!"

"Well, next time we chat, I'll speak in rap lyrics, if that's OK?" 

"No, it's fine! I was just surprised."

The last paragraph of my review of Pride holds the moral I wanted to impart in this piece. Yes, I'm going to make you go read it. I'm proud of it and there's a connection here: I got hate mail for that review too. I didn't write that fool back. Maybe that'll make her think I'm one of the good ones.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

VANDALS: SATANIC YOGA, GODLY CURLICUES


By Steven Boone

I'm nearly a year late to this video, but it deserves another round of acclaim. April and Wayne Show's SATANIC ILLUMINATI DANCE EXPOSED is a brilliantly edited celebration of the world's various youth-powered dance movements, from East to West; from the ghetto streets to mainstream pop culture.


It works hard to be just the opposite, condemning secular dancing as satanic hedonism, but I can't imagine a hyperactive kid coming away with any message louder than its call to the dance floor. The sequel, RESPONSE TO THE DANCERS, is just as thrilling. It reminds me of conservative filmmaker John Milius striving to make mean, jingoistic war films but crafting them with such avid, florid detail that we feel more love and exhilaration than rage.  April and Wayne want to sew fear of eternal damnation, but their editing has such irrepressible rhythm and sense of drama that my primary reaction was laughter.

That's God. God is Love. God is in the details. And God is laughter.

Much love to Maciel Marquez for the links.






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

VANDALS: MISSION MIND CONTROL


by Steven Boone

Like my bruva-from-anuva-muva, Big Media Vandalism editor-publisher Odie Henderson, I have an ambivalent attitude toward Twitter. We both hate it, and yet we're on it. Fear of missing out?

Twitter offers sample-sized thoughts, ephemeral quips, self-promotion and petty outrages subbing for discourse. It turns all of us into chirpy salesmen and 13 year old wise-asses. And yet, some have worked wonders with it. BMV friend-hero-mentors Matt Zoller Seitz and Roger Ebert mastered the powers of Twitter for good, not evil. They've lent it a casual, stately, cool. In return: success! (Odds are you first heard of this blog because of something one of those guys or others in their networks Tweeted about it.) Millions of other sharp minds have done the same over the years. And people fighting for freedom all over the world have gotten the word of their struggle out in the talons of that stupid little bird. Most important to this fool, Twitter links you to brilliant reads and rich content.

So I will speak only for myself when I say that maybe I hate Twitter so much because, as Eddie Murphy said of the Moonwalk, I can't do the shit. I'm as clumsy and inarticulate at Tweeting as I am in real-world small talk. As a medium of expression, it best suits party people.

This space at BMV is my personal alternative to Twitter, by the grace of H.N.I.C. Henderson. On Wednesdays I will share links to stuff and offer some brief comments--but with no arbitrary character limit. It's up to me, not the ADD police force, to be as clear and concise as I care to be. I will also strive to be as untimely and untopical as possible. In the current scheme of things, this only means you might see items a week after everybody's done chewing on them, or ten years...

Finally, following the example of computer programmer-polymath Odie, I have a design in mind for this thing which will emerge only over time, as a pattern. Tap out at any time.

 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-Laura Bogart basically says Joan Rivers was the Sergeant Waters of misogyny.

-This fearless Andrew Schenker essay put something in the air this summer. A lot of searching, confessional pieces after it seemed to catch its vibe.

-Chaplin Today (beautiful)

-Radical Fred Rogers

-Wild Bill

-ABC's "Mission Mind Control"--with commercials!

-Courtesy of Gydnia Film Festival Artistic Director Michal Oleszczyk, delightful handmade cinema by a young marvel.

-Don't assume that the sudden availability of this masterpiece on YouTube will dissuade folks from buying it. This movie is an essential you wanna stock up on for emergencies.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Celebrating Stevie: List Three: 10 Perfectly Random Selections

by Odienator


Happy Birthday, Stevie Wonder!

If you even remotely know who I am, you are probably on your way to bust me upside the head with your keyboard. Before you get here, I've got some 'splainin' to do.

Last year, on Stevie's 63rd birthday, I started writing a trilogy of pieces on Stevie Wonder songs. I explained it thusly:

To celebrate Stevie’s 63rd birthday, I wanted to do a top 10 list of his songs. This proved impossible; I know what my favorite Stevie song is, but after that, there were way too many choices. So I did what I always do here at Big Media Vandalism: 

I cheated.

This is the first of three lists of Stevie Wonder songs. The lists are:  

  1. Love is Wonderful
  2. Peace, God and Protest  
  3. What the Fuss?
There are 40 songs in total, 15 for the first two lists and 10 for the last. It's a safe bet that Stevie-Prince-En Vogue song will make an appearance on that third list.

I got through two of the lists, which I've linked to above. Please read them if you're new to the series, for they explain much of what I've been doing. Keep in mind that this is not a best-of list, and my order of the songs isn't that important. Chime in with your own selections for random Stevie songs (and check my other lists before you bitch about what I didn't include, please).

This will serve as my third and final leg of the trilogy. My apologies for keeping everyone waiting, but sometimes life happens to ya and things fall by the wayside. Perhaps a better way of saying that would be to quote our subject:

"There's a time when playing ends, and the serious begins."

So Let's Get Serious! (Stevie wrote that song too, for Jermaine Jackson.) 

For Stevie's 64th birthday, I'll finish what I started on his 63rd. Herewith: 10 Perfectly Random Stevie Selections, or 10 Songs of What the Fuss?

10. So What the Fuss- It makes sense that I start here, as this is the song that gives this list its title. It's from Stevie's last full album, 2005's A Time to Love. Back in the days of Michael Jackson's Bad album, there was a rumor that the title song was going to be a duet between Prince and Mike. That never happened, but Prince did rub elbows with Motown royalty by providing Stevie with musical accompaniment on this song. This is their first direct collaboration, but not their first collaboration: Stevie plays harmonica on Chaka Khan's remake of Prince's I Feel For You.

I still get a giddy kick when Stevie calls out "Prince! POP IT!" and Prince drops his effective little minimalist riff on So What the Fuss. I get even giddier when Stevie presents his girl-group back-up singers, and they turn out to be En Vogue

The song itself is a take on the old "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" adage. Stevie sings different scenarios, then applies shame to the appropriate parties: me, you, them and us. As usual, what sounds simplistic in description is given deeper credence by Stevie's singing and writing. The scenarios that put the blame squarely on us have a power that practically moves you to act for change.

It's not a top Stevie song, but it's a damn catchy one, and did I mention he's got Prince and En Vogue on it? Stevie even has an answer for those who find this a sub-par number:

"If we're jammin the music and somebody's got the audacity
To say that they can jam it better than us
Shame on them!"

Shame indeed! 

Extra points for the clever use of "fuss" instead of the word old-school Prince would have used.

9. Gotta Have You- Readers of this trilogy are already hip to my love of Stevie's Jungle Fever soundtrack. Here's yet another song from that movie. What I love about this song is its focus (for lack of a better word) on sight. "Never been too much for watching," Stevie sings, "'cuz there's too many things to view. And when eyes begin to wander, they more than rightly never get through." The chorus sings of a girl who is "a sight for sore eyes to see." Even the video I linked to focuses on seeing, with Stevie jokingly taking off his glasses several times to observe his surroundings.

Ruth Brown used to joke that Ray Charles was faking his blindness, because his sense of where things physically were was at times eerily accurate. Especially when there were titties involved. Stevie Wonder may be blind, but I don't for one minute believe he can't "see." Listen to the viscerally descriptive lyrics he's been writing for the last 50 years. The colors he describes leap out like Vincente Minelli's Technicolor. You can close your own eyes and vividly visualize exactly what Stevie is telling you. "But beyond my own temptation," he sings here, "I'm enticed by what I see."

Some part of me wants to believe that this song, with its emphasis on the visual, is Stevie's secret way of revealing "I'm not really blind, I've just been fuckin' wit' y'all since 1962!" I know it's not true, but considering how some of the greatest images in music have emanated from Stevie's records, it's not entirely implausible.

8. Skeletons- OK, I'm just gonna come out and say this: This song is too damn long

Stevie goes to the lyrical well a few times too many, but before he makes the extra trips, this is a tight, funky little number that drips with the nightmarish fear that your lying ass is about to be exposed. "Skeletons in your closet, itchin' to come outside," begins the song, and as the hand-clappy, bass-driven groove makes your head bob, your might start reflecting on that cemetary in YOUR closet. "What did yo' Mama tell you 'bout lies?" Stevie asks accusingly, before revealing that what yo' daddy told you 'bout lies is even worse: "He said one white one turns into a black one!" 

In this song, Stevie is your prosecuting attorney, your guilty conscience and your hanging judge. As you dance your way to the gallows, his most accusatory sentence rings in your ears: "Yet you cry why am I the victim, when the culprit's Y-O-U."


Extra points: This is the song the limo driver is listening to as Bruce Willis evades terrorists in Die Hard. And they BLAST it in the movie!

7. It's You- Let's get a Stevie duet in here! In addition to containing most people's least favorite Stevie song (I addressed that in part 1 of this trilogy), The Woman in Red soundtrack features the PSA friendly Don't Drive Drunk, Love Light In Flight, and several songs by the delightful and psychic Dionne Warwick. I almost chose Love Light In Flight, as I love to sing its airplane metaphors, but the romantic in me won out. 

Stevie and Dionne duet here, and it's an interesting combination. Granted, Warwick had great duets with Luther Vandross, and her duet with The Spinners is one of my all time favorite songs, but she was widely seen in the 60's as sounding "too White" for R&B. Of course, this is bullshit; Warwick was a fantastic singer who was fearless in how she used her voice--just like Stevie. So, we get two vocal sadists together, and what do they sing? A mild, by vocal comparisons, love song that plays over the opening credits of a French remake. 

 
Gene Wilder directed The Woman In Red, a remake of the awesomely titled Un éléphant ça trompe énormément (translate it yourself). I haven't seen it in 30 years, but I recall Gilda Radner's pretty good in it, and also that they show Kelly Le Brock's bush despite the film being rated PG-13.

The story goes that Wilder sought Stevie to do one song for the movie, and after he showed the film to him, Stevie returned with an entire album. I give Wilder credit for managing to put the entire album in some form into the movie, and for using this song to open it. It has a good harmonica solo and a nice melody that announces something good is coming. (Unfortunately, it's not the movie.) 

There's a lyrical nimbleness as Stevie and Dionne volley back and forth before joining on the chorus. Said chorus once again proves that Stevie's simplicity is the most beautiful thing about his love songs:

 It's you.
 Nobody has to tell me so.
 It's you.
 You're that angel sent from Heaven above.
 It's you.
 Nobody has to tell me so.
 It's you.
 You're that angel sent from Heaven above for me.
 If only I had not waited, I would have picked the wrong one.

To show my dedication, I rented the movie just so I could get that credits shot above. And maybe I looked at Kelly Le Brock's perfectly coiffed pudenda again. Stevie would approve. 

6. Front Line- Like my second favorite singer-songwriter, Bruce Springteen, Stevie sings this song as a blue collar character. He's a Vietnam War veteran who "up and joined the Army back in 1964." For his trouble, he got his legs blown off in the war. Lieutenant Wonder sings zingers about how anti-Christian war is, and how recruitment usually came from the impoverished and downtrodden. He also sings about how few opportunities existed for vets who come back from any war. "They had me standing on the Front Line," he sings, "but now I stand at the back of the line when it comes to gettin' ahead."

One of the songs on Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium Vol. 1, Front Line contains one of my favorite bitter passages from Wonder's lyric universe:

My niece is a hooker and my nephew's a junkie too.
They say I have no right to tell them how they should do.
They laugh and say "quit braggin' 'bout the war you shoulda never been in."
But my mind is so brainwashed I'd probably go back and do it again.

Like You Haven't Done Nothing, Stevie employs a catchy, funk-infused rhythm (here represented by a distorted guitar) to deliver a vicious, pointed message on the nature of being poor and used in the U.S.A. A year later, Springsteen would deliver Born in the U.S.A., a misunderstood classic told from the same perspective as this song. 

5. Uptight (Everything's Alright)- Those drums, that horn section, that bass line! The first song Stevie got a writing credit on, back in 1966 (the same year he wrote All I Do) is pure joy. You want to find something to bang the drum parts on while it plays. And like Ebony Eyes, Stevie presented the younger version of me with the false hope that my broke ass might be able to secure someone to love. The narrator of the song is "a poor man's son from across the railroad tracks," but he has something richer than money. He's the apple of some rich, bougie girl's eye. 

He laments about how he can't give her "the things that money can buy." She loves him anyway, and how can't she? Hasn't she heard the song he's singing about her? The Funk Brothers' musical interplay alone is enough to get ANYBODY laid.

Stevie's voice sounds like the teenager he was when he recorded this, which made my a hopeful adolescent. I wasn't even trying to get some rich girl; I was pining for the broke-ass chicks on my block. Uptight gave me confidence and hope, and as I said in the first part of this trilogy: Stevie Wonder, you LIED to me!

What did yo' Momma tell you 'bout lies?


4. Sir Duke- I play the trumpet. I wanted to master this song, with its tricky runs and its swing-era horn section "ba-dahms!" Eventually, I did, but before it happened, I managed to get so winded I threw up in my horn. Stevie Wonder is NOT for amateurs!
 
Easily one of the catchiest records Stevie Wonder ever did, if not the catchiest, this is a tribute to the era and the music of the Sir in the title, Duke Ellington. Stevie gives shout-outs to Count Basie, Glenn Miller and Louie Armstrong. He also big-ups my favorite jazz singer of all time: "And with a voice like Ella's ringing out, there's no way the band can lose."

Whenever I hear this song, I like to focus on one musical part of it, usually the horns as I know the notes to play. But other times, I bask in the percussion section or the guitars. I've sung plenty of Stevie songs, but this one has my heart because, shit, I puked in my trumpet trying to master it. It's the one song of his I kind of feel I've earned as a crappy musician. It damn near killed me.

Lest I forget Sir Duke's chorus, which I know you're already singing:

"You can feel it all O-o-o-vuhhhh!
  You can feel it all Ohhh-vuh, people!"

Good Lord, yes I can.

3. Superstition- Click that link to see just how cool Sesame Street was when I was a kid. This clip is one of the earliest memories I have. Stevie came to Cookie Monster's 'hood and turned the joint out! I wish they had shown Mr. Snuffleupagus doing the bump with Big Bird, or Gordon and Susan going down an alphabet-studded Soul Train Line. Listen to how Sesame Street gets worked into the lyrics. They wouldn't do this on today's Sesame Street!

When I was in high school, I interacted with a lot of guys who knew little about soul and R&B because they were into rock. But whenever I mentioned Stevie, they knew THIS song. Later I'd discover that Wonder had written it for rocker Jeff Beck. Guitarist Beck even composed the drum section of the song with Wonder, and eventually recorded his own version. But the original is still the true classic, the rare Stevie song that gets played on AOR stations, oldies stations and R&B stations. Every guy I know who plays guitar can play this song. Jeff Beck does a helluva job of it in this live clip with Stevie.

But what the hell is it about? Superstitions, I gather, but is that all? I know as a kid, the words scared the shit out of me. "When you believe in things that you don't understand and you suffer." It still gives me the creeps. The opening drum solo is KILLER.

2. Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing- This song makes me happy. In fact, that's really all I want to say about it. I could be having the most miserable, fucked up day in God's creation, and this song will pull me out of my despair, if only for the 5 or so minutes Stevie devotes to it. Its Latin influences are on its sleeve, from its piano rhythm, to its shakers, to its chant that everything is really chévere. My grin stars at the beginning, with Stevie butchering Spanish almost as bad as Mike Bloomberg. It gets bigger as Stevie reaches the first chorus' run on the word "off." Like Aretha Franklin, for whom he wrote Until You Come Back To Me, Stevie turns a one syllable word into a spine-tinging, multi-syllable stretch over a series of notes.

By the time it reaches its joyous finish, where it sounds like the folks who played on this song have broken free of any restraints and surrendered to its groove, my grin is so big it feels as if my head is about to fall off. This song makes me happy. That's all I wanted to say about it.

1. Fingertips (Part I and II)- You knew this was coming. Little Stevie Wonder takes the stage at age 12 and this is the result. A tour-de-force for his harmonica playing and his infectious personality. "Clap yo hands just a little bit louder!" he commands, and we comply. When I was a kid, I relentlessly made fun of this song, clapping and jumping around the house, moving my head like Stevie and credibly imitating him saying "Everybody say YEAAAAH!!" Who am I kidding? I was just doing that shit right now as this song blared through my house. Some things never change.

Stevie Wonder's voice did, however, change, and Berry Gordy was forced to find another little kid to promote. That kid turned out to be Michael Jackson, Wonder's occasional duet partner and the background singer on several of his early 70's songs. Wonder's talent kept him from getting ditched by Motown, and as we saw with #5 on this list, he started writing his own material, eventually besting Gordy and taking control of his own music. This led to the 70's run of genius that will never be duplicated.

I know how much fondness folks have for that period, but in this trilogy I tried to spread the love, picking songs from Wonder's later periods and a few more obscure faves of mine. 

It would be impossible to compose an all-encompassing list of great Stevie Wonder songs, as there are WAY too many. Hopefully, this served as an appetite-whetter for fans and newbies alike. 

I'll end this trilogy with Stevie singing Happy Birthday to himself!