Monday, June 13, 2016

I couldn't write about Ali's death at any point during the last week, which sucks for someone like me who fancies himself as some kind of a writer. Every time I turned on the computer or the television, there was someone I respected, writing or discussing Ali and it was making me gun shy about writing any damn thing. From Bryant Gumbel to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to Jeremy Schaap, to Jim Brown to Bob Costas, to Tony Kornheiser, there were respectful athletes and journalists, who were discussing Ali's legacy and what he meant to each one of them. And I was in awe every time.

I remember when Phife died, I was pissed that certain news outlets were covering his death strictly as a news story, rather than an emotional event that they felt passionately about. Looking back, I don't know why I expected news outlets to do anything more than what they are paid to do, but the fact that I irrationally wanted more just speaks volumes to how much Phife's (and Tribe's ) music meant to me. Phife started his career in 1988 when I was 13, and it ended prematurely in March of this year when I was 41. In between that time he made a bunch of amazing music that served as the soundtrack of part of my life. That seems quite corny and cliched but it indeed the truth. That is why I appreciated the memorial service that was done in Phife's memory. All the people who spoke about Phife, actually lived in during his era of relevance. These weren't second-hand stories or things people heard on the Internet, they were authenthic, heartfelt stories...which brings us to Ali.

I wasn't fortunate enough to have been conceived during Ali's dominant, talkative, militant time. In fact, the first time I saw Ali fight it was in 1980, when he fought Larry Holmes.. Holmes, who had been Ali's sparring partner at one point, was young and in his prime, while Ali was slow as molasses, barely a shell of his former champion self, and based on what we know now, he was in the embryonic stages of Parkinson's. The fight was so bad that at one point Holmes would hit the defenseless Ali, and then look to the referee and beg him to stop the fight. The ref never stopped it, but eventually (and thankfully) Ali quit.

My father cried during that fight, and at five years old, I really did not understand why he was crying. When I asked him, he took me to his room and showed me two Sports Illustrated covers: This one after he defeated George Foreman and this one after the last Ali/Frazier fight. My dad said he was used to seeing Ali as a frontrunner or coming back from adversity, but he was not used to the sedentary Ali who was hit repeatedly and no longer had the ability to be elusive. My father said Ali was a hero of us, and that fight signified the end of relevance in the ring. From then one, I knew Ali was someone I need to learn about.

Since then, I've read book and articles, I've watched documentaries, I've listen to men and women in older generations, and I've even watched fights, and I feel like I know the man, and more importantly I know the effect he had on people. I know he was hated by some and loved by many, and I appreciate how he empowered so many of the adults who have helped raised me over the years. But I'd be selfish and foolish if I sat here and waxed rhapsodic about the good old days of Ali, when I wasn't there. I'd much prefer to leave that to folks who were there, and I can appreciate from afar.

By the way, 11 years ago today Ralph Wiley, who is still my second favorite writer behind John Edgar Wideman, passed away. Back in 2002, he wrote a brilliant article on OJ Simpson that I highly suggest you read.

Friday, June 03, 2016

No real blog entry today just two morning observations:

1) I was at the water cooler just now trying to fill my bottle for the day, and one of my female colleagues got there before I did. Me being the gentleman that I am (sometimes) I stepped out of the way and allowed her to get water first. It kind of annoyed me that her water bottle was half full, and I was wondering why the hell she was even at the water cooler already, but I stayed silent. As she bent down to get more water, some of the existing water in her bottle spilled all over the little lever that has to be lifted and pulled in order to get the water to come out. She apologized, adjusted her now 3/4 empty bottle and went down to try again, but since she had spilled water everywhere, her fingers keep sliding all over the place. The following conversation happened:

Her: Jesus, it is so wet I can't keep my fingers on there

Me: You said what now?

Her: Oh my good that sounded so pervy didn't it?

Me (in my best DeNiro voice): A little bit

Her: Well it is wet

Me (grabbing some paper towels): How about you take both of us out our misery and wipe it down and try it again. This is weird

Her: Good idea

I am quite proud of myself for taking that elusive high road, because the minute she said that pervy sh*t, I wanted to hit her with a "That's what she said", but she's an attorney and there are way too many attorneys around her to be that reckless.

2) Right before I walked into the building, Quincy Jones's (it was originally written by the late James Moody) "Moody's Mood for Love" came on my iPod, and I forgot what a beautiful song it is. Brian McKnight and Rachelle Ferrell sing lead, Take 6 handles the background vocals, and it is just a beautiful song where everyone can sing, and it is they are having an internal competition without getting all Patti Labelle on the song. Check it out:

Thursday, June 02, 2016

On my way into work this morning, I received an email from the Kennedy Center regarding a Marvin Gaye tribute concert this Sunday at 8pm (the same time as Game 2 of the NBA Finals, which is not smart). The lineup is pretty impressive: Whoopi Goldberg will host it, Babyface will sing, as will Audra Day, Ledisi, Jussie Smollett (from the show I don't watch, Empire), Valerie Simpson (her husband was Ashford), BJ The Chicago Kid, Mary Wilson (her former group was The Supremes) and Leslie Odom Jr. (who is playing Aaron Burr in the hit musical Hamilton), and others.

I'm not necessarily a fan of all the artists I listed, but I do know that each one of them can carry a tune and they have made enjoyable music that I have purchased in the past and probably will purchase again in the future. I preferred Ledisi the jazz artist more than I do Ledisi the-semi-crossover-singer, but this is not a bad lineup at all--except for one thing: Marvin F Gaye will NOT be there to sing.

Marvin had a unique sound. He could beg, he could croon, he could demand that you pay attention to his sexual desires, he could get deep and observational, he could make a song where he says, "I'm gonna give you some head for two straight minutes, and most importantly to me, he sang layered background vocals like no one I've heard. Those are the traits people have come to know, love and respect, and that is why Marvin's music is timeless. No one listed in that tribute concert is going to appeal to the audience's emotions the way Marvin could if he was in attendance.

Babyface is my main man who sings beautiful love songs, but let's be real..he's a little soft. The time to listen to Babyface is on the night of your wedding (if you're sober) when you want to make sweet love to your spouse. You can listen to Marvin's music in the car on the way back from playing basketball, and just storm in the house and give it to your spouse on the coffee table while they are watching television and doing meaningless things on their phone. If it was a Stevie Wonder tribute, I'd be ok with Babyface. Not for Marvin though. There are also a lot of women in the lineup who will be singing, including Valerie Simpson who co-wrote some of Marvin's hits, which is beautiful. But I don't need to hear a woman singing Marvin's songs. It isn't sexist, there are just some male artists (like Teddy P) who should always have a male covering their songs, to maintain the essence of the song. Granted, I suppose there are some songs like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" which have been covered by women before, but still, I want to hear Marvin, and I cannot, thanks to his dad gunning him down way too soon.

This same reasoning is why I have grave concerns over the Prince tributes that will coming down the pike over the next year or so during the BET Awards, the Grammys, American Music Awards, etc. I don't mind if the Wendy and Lisa, the Revolution, Rosie Gaines, Sheila E, The Time, and Questlove are involved in the tribute, because they all have played with Prince and received that elusive stamp of approval from him before he died. But there are a select group of singers who can do his songs justice, and they may not necessarily be tv-friendly, ratings grabbers, which is what television is all about. It is rare that I've seen a tribute for an artist that I liked..usually they just make me want to run and hear the original singer's catalog, and who knows maybe that's the secret motive any damn way.

And now, the aforementioned, "I'm gonna give you some head" song by Marvin Gaye called, "Soon I'll be Loving You Again". At the 1:07 mark of this song, he tells the woman that he's never given head before (which was a f**king lie Marvin), and that he would gladly make her the first one. 46 seconds later, he goes from being shy about the head-giving to just repeating "I'm gonna give you some head" for the last 90 seconds of the song. You don't really need headphones to hear it, but put them on anyway for the full effect. And then when you get home, repeat that same phrase to your man/woman, and thank Marvin(and me):

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

A couple weeks ago I went on a rant in this blog space about people who bury their heads in their phones, and walk right into folks because of their refusal to look ahead. Now I have a second related rant--although this is more like a public service announcement than anything else.

This morning I had just completed my 5-mile run in the 70-degree Wednesday morning weather, and I was doing my little cool down walk before I headed back in the house. For my cool down walk, I removed my headphones, put my iPod in my pocket, and I just walked slowly and tried to think relaxing, cool thoughts. I was sweaty, tired, and in need of water. I do not believe I looked menacing or threatening, but who knows.

While I was walking I noticed a woman about 200 yards or so in front of me. She had on a short, free-flowing sundress as the ladies are wont to do in warm weather, she had on sunglasses, headphones and her head was buried in her phone. She did not notice the gentleman on the bike who was trying to pass her from behind, but could not do it easily because she was walking erratically. She also did not notice my sweaty ass getting ready to walk by (but into) her. I wanted to make lots of exaggerated noise and yell "heads up", but frankly I was too tired to and unable to expend any extra energy besides walking and cooling down.

Eventually this woman was two steps away from me, when she finally decided to look up and see me getting ready to walk by. She screamed (not a loud orgasmic scream, just a muted yelp like a dog who is ready to be taken outside) and dropped her phone.

Her: Oh my God you scared the sh*t out of me

Me: And good morning to you too

Her: Oh my God, that was so scary

Me: Well you did have your head in your phone, I'm just getting ready to walk in my house. Have a good day.

As I walked towards my house I noticed that she put her headphones right back in, buried her head right back in her phone and acted like nothing had happened. This is how folks get robbed or worse. I'm not implying that I live Chicago or anything, but I do live in a semi-gentrified area, and rich, entitled folks are sometimes targeted because of their carefree, I'm-going-to-act-like-I-own-the-city attitude. I'm not saying they can't do that, and I'm not saying anyone deserves to be profile and robbed. But I AM saying that it happens and you have to--as John Madden used to say--take the temperature of the room and adjust accordingly. You can wear headphones, but keep your head on a swivel and look at your surroundings every now and then--especially at 6:15 in the damn morning.

Even when I go running at 5am, I keep the volume on my iPod low, and I look up and around to make sure things are relatively safe. It isn't a foolproof method of safety, but it is much better than the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil method I see used all over this city. Plus, if I can be candid, I am not too keen on having white women screaming in my direction at any hour of the day, especially when I've done nothing wrong. The optics on that--even in a progressive city like DC--are just all wrong, and I don't want to be a 2016 version of Emmett Till. That may be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point right?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

So the last time I asked for help via the blog, things turned up lovely for me. My mother-in-law read the blog I wrote about the strange dream, she analyzed it, and then gave me some homework assignments for me to dissect future dreams. Now I have another request for anyone out there who reads this blog.

So back in '91, Public Enemy had a song out called Nighttrain which appeared on their album "Apocalypse '91, The Enemy Strikes Black". The song that appeared on the album was good, not great. The remix to the song--which came out in 1992--was simply amazing for so many reasons.

1) James Brown. The remix used the beat to Brown's song, "Get Into It, Get Involved", which is absolutely impossible not to dance and move to. In fact, my mother and father used to tell me that when they were in college, that record had to be a staple at any GOOD party. Public Enemy was smart to incorporate that into the remix.

2) The presence of Pete Rock and CL Smooth. By the time this Nighttrain remix was released, Pete Rock and CL Smooth had already released their 1992 classic, "Mecca and the Soul Brother", , and "(T)hey (R)eminisce (O)ver (You) was just picking up steam. But they already had an EP out from the previous year entitled "All Souled Out", and Pete Rock had been doing great remixes for a few years now--including my favorite remix of his ever for EPMD's Rampage.. So when they both made an appearance on this Public Enemy remix, it set the song off that much more. Pete Rock was on the beat and the adlibs, and CL Smooth laid an efficient verse which effectively stuck with the train theme:

The conductor, track the structure overstood
Nighttrain the plain, little engine that could
One express so the next stops Mecca
A place to face to make a black man better
CL and Chuck D, we don't talk rubbage
But just like a slave, we gotta ride wit the luggage
On the nighttrain

3) The voice. Chuck D has the best verse in all of hip hop. It really doesn't matter what he's saying, because he has the cadence, the tone and the gravitas of a Baptist preacher. But sometimes it is easy to forget just how adept he is at writing rhymes that flow perfectly over the beat--this Nighttrain remix allows him to "catch wreck" as the kids used to say in '92. Chuck is never on anyone's top 10 list in the rhyme department but this song would get him some honorable mention votes.

So why am I mentioning this damn song? Back in 1992, I first heard the remix on Rap City when they played the video and the next week I went to Sam Goody and bought the maxi single. The maxi single had the original song, the instrumental, the remix and the instrumental to that. Sadly, that maxi single was lost some time betwwen 1992 and 2000, but thanks to lovely music sharing sights that popped up around 2002 or so, I was able to find the song and place it on a CD (I didn't have an iPod back then). I lost that damn CD before I had a chance to convert it to mp3, and now I can't find the song. It isn't on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal or anywhere. I've seen it for sale online via vinyl and cassette, but that ain't helping me get it on my iPod. So I need help. If anyone can help, I'd really appreciate it.

And now, the song:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nyles has had the same bath routine since he's been a year old. My wife reads him a story or two, and then I give him a bath for about 5-10 minutes. We talk, I politely and repeatedly ask him to wash all of his little body parts, and I always play two to three songs that I want him to hear. When my wife gives him a bath, she tends to play the Pandora station geared towards children, but I do no such thing. I see it as my mission at bath time, to force feed as much good music as I have in my iPod, so when my son gets older, he'll have Questlove sensibilities, and not someone with the music IQ of Fetty Wap (and hell no I'm not hyperlinking anything related to that man).

The first bath song Nyles latched on to around two years old was Michael Jackson's "Human Nature", which made me very happy, since I am the world's biggest MJ fan:

The second song Nyles really took a shine to was the Doobie Brothers song "Minute by Minute". Nyles really had no interest in the verses, the instruments or even the background vocals, but he loved the chorus where Michael McDonald would sing "Minute by Minute" over and over again. I never realized just how catchy that song was until I heard Nyles gravitate towards it.

Fast forward three years later---more specifically about two weeks ago, when Nyles was listening to Maxwell's new song "Lake By the Ocean" at bath time. For the first 50 seconds, Nyles was more interested in playing with his toys than he was listening to Maxwell. Then the chorus came on, and Nyles had no clue what the words were, but he recognized the cadence of Maxwell's song, and he said, "Is this Minute by Minute Daddy?". Now I corrected him and told him it was Maxwell's "Lake By the Ocean" and not "Minute by Minute", but I could barely contain the smile on my face because it appears as if my son has a good ear.

So listen to the chorus of the Doobie Brothers (start at the 1:02 mark):

And then listen to Maxwell's chorus (start at the 48 second mark):

Monday, May 23, 2016

It rained every minute of the weekend, and since my wife and I decided not to register young Nyles for soccer for a fourth consecutive time, it was imperative that we come up with activities for the weekend. Saturday there were errands, an indoor playground, blocks, coloring and indoor basketball (via the timeless invention called the Nerf Hoop), but we needed an activity for Sunday morning. Usually he watches cartoons, while Mommy and Daddy read and watch inane political shows, but this time we decided to switch it up and visit the National Air and Space Museum.

Now, I had not set foot in this particular musuem since my son oldest son Carlton was 12 (almost 7 years ago), so I had completely forgotten how overwhelming the sights are when you initially walk in the building. There are planes, propellers, planets, pieces of space vehicles, exhibits, things for the kids, and of course lots of people. Nyles was just as overwhelmed as I was, but to his credit he asked questions, he (for the most part) kept his hands off the exhibits and he enjoyed setting foot in the antique planes. His questions were not quite a sophisticated as the ones I heard from kids who were seven, eight, nine years old and older, but I was proud of my son for holding it down at the age of four. My wife always says it isn't a contest or a competition, but that's bullshit. EVERYTHING is a competition. I digress.

I will readily admit that I was deeply concerned about setting foot in the museum, because I loathe crowds. People are arrogant, oblivious to people around them (the rule is to keep your head on a swivel, or as we say in basketball, see your man, see the basket and see the ball) and they are loud. But since it was raining, and my son needed an activity, I had to place aside my own personal insecurities and make sure those two hours or so were good for my son. For the most part, I was able to do that, but there were two annoying things I observed.

Cutting in line

There was an older plane which was cut open so visitors could see inside the cockpit, and I'd say the line was about 20-25 people deep. There were people taking annoying selfies in line (more on that later), but for the most part people were patient, relatively quiet, and they acted like they had home training---except for this one gentleman. He looked to be around 50 or so, and he was way too close to my wife in line. My wife would move up three inches, and this ass would move up two and a half inches, so that he was RIGHT on her ass. I mean literally if she took half a step back, she'd bump right into him, which naturally would have set me off. My wife does not like my temper, so I decided I would stew in silence, while keeping an eagle eye on the situation.

As we got closer to the cockpit, the line narrowed a bit, which allowed me to let my wife get in front of me, which meant the creepy old man was now on my ass. When the line moved up, I purposely stood still and didn't move, just to annoy this guy, but eventually he got the point--that was until we got closer to the cockpit. There was a couple in front of us taking pictures, which meant my wife and I were next to view the cockpit. After the couple was finished, but before my family could walk up and in the cockpit, this creepy dude steps in front of us and starts observing the cockpit as if he were next in line. My first impluse was to do a Rambo and then pull out the jammy and flat blast him
, but I instead I opted for the cooler approach. I said to him, "So you're just going to step in front of us like that boss?". He looked back at me incredulously, stood there for a second, and the got the hell out of the way. My family looked at the cockpit, lingered for a minute just to f**k with creepy guy, and then we left. Nyles asked why we were leaving, and I said, ""We have some people really pressed to see the exhibit Nyles", and then I looked back at the creepy guy who was foaming at the mouth to see the exhibit.

Did I mention I hate crowds?

Selfie sticks and camera phones

I apologize if I sound old and out of touch, but back when my family visited museums--and even back in 2008 when I brought my son Carlton, we simply enjoyed the museum. We took a picture or two as we left, but the bulk of our visit was for questions, answers and learning. It was basically an extension of the classroom. Yesterday, every damn kid and parent decided that they had to take pictures of everything and put them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. There were cameras and selfie sticks everywhere and in some cases, folks got annoyed if you walked into their shot, not really grasping the fact that their were six million people trying to see things in the museum. If folks really want to see what's in the museum, they should bring their ass in there and see, rather than getting an eyeful via someone's social media page. Not five seconds went by without someone snapping a picture of some sort, and it made me angry, but it made me a little sad too. There is such a thing as being in the moment and soaking it all in, but I guess that is lost on some parents and kids.