Monday, June 27, 2016

Two significant events have happened in my life since last I blogged, and I will attempt to address them in today's latest blog entry. I've started and stopped this particular blog about 54 times over the past week or so, and each time real life steps in like Dikembe Mutombo and prevents me from finishing. I shall try again to just that.

The first big thing that happened two weeks ago was my son's graduation from Pre-Kindergarten. I have no problem admitting that at first glance, the whole concept of a Pre-K graduation sounded ridiculous as hell. Their attention spans are basically 30-seconds long, it was in the middle of the morning when most adults are supposed to be at work, and the kids will have more substantial graduations as they get older, which are way more meaningful. That being said, graduation was awesome.

My son, his classmates and his two teachers performed a song that I do not remember, they got their names called one by one, and then they closed the ceremony with this song My son saw me as soon as he and his other classmates walked into the auditorium, and he could not stop smiling. I heard him tell his other friends, "There's my mommy and daddy!". During the ceremony he pointed at his mother and father, he strutted across the stage, and he kept that million dollar smile on his face. All the kids were happy, the parents tried to navigate that balance between being proud and taking pictures like paparazzi. I can't say I want to do this every year, but considering this was my son's first year of school, it was rewarding.

90 minutes after the ceremony was over, I hopped on a bus and headed to New York. My main man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was being interviewed by Walter Mosley and the New York Public Libary. The NYPL asked Kareem to show up and talk about his latest book entitled, "Mycroft Holmes" which is now in paperback. They asked Kareem who he wanted to be interviewed by, and he said Walter Mosley, who also had a new book out entitled, "Charcoal Joe", which is the latest in the Easy Rawlins series.

For approximately 90 minutes, Kareem and Mosley traded stories about writing, their past, Muhammad Ali, the shooting in Orlando, religion, jazz and race. Kareem is usually reserved and a bit shy, but Mosley asked the right questions to get him to open up, and Kareem was up to the challenge. My favorite exchange is when Mosley asked Kareem who his favorite mystery writers, and aside from Mosley, he named folks who I had never of in my life. Kareem then asked Mosley that same question, and he paused, then he told the audience that most writers lie about their influences. He revealed that most writers want their colleagues and their readers to think they are deep, so they bring up some obscure or seemingly deep authors. Mosley then admitted that his two biggest influences were Nancy Drew and the Marvel comics series.

After the talk, I went and bought Kareem's book, and I started to remind him that I had interviewed him back in 2009, but I didn't want to be "that guy", so I went another way. First I asked him to sign his book for my son Nyles and he did, and then I asked him to recommend a jazz artist I should be listening to, and he gave me the name of an 11-year old prodigy named Joey Alexander from Indonesia. I said thank you, he said you're welcome and that was that.

I had so many more things I wanted to ask Kareem--in fact I felt the same way after my 2009 interview--but it wasn't meant to be. I'm still hoping that one day, I'll get 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to ask him about jazz, basketball and everything else, but who knows if that will happen. But considering that day started with my son graduating and it ended with me getting an autographed book from Kareem, I gotta say it was a good day.

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?