Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Slow Down Heart

Slow Down Heart
Michael A. Gonzales
copyright © 2007

In the fall of 1965, when Dawn Rodgers was fifteen years old, the sleek boogie of Motown music had been as vital to her existence as blood and water. Living in a regal Harlem building on a 116th Street and 8th Avenue, Dawn had converted her bedroom into a soulful shrine of her favorite singers: countless seven-inch 45s were sprawled on the carpeted floor, and Ebony magazine pictures of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Little Stevie Wonder and The Supremes hung on the white wall.

Across the room, on top of an antique dresser, was the blue record player that had been a Christmas gift from Dawn’s father before his sudden death from a heart attack two years ago.

When she first unwrapped the present, it reminded her of a magical, aqua hued jewel box. With its mono-speaker and hard cover, the record player was her most prized possession.

On the weekend, Dawn and her lanky girlfriend Barbara Jean played the records repeatedly, dancing like American Bandstand regulars as their wavy press combed hair flipped.

As Barbara Jean belted “ooohhs and aaahhs” in the background, Dawn grabbed a broomstick from closet and strained her vocal chords singing lead on “Baby Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “Where Did Our Love Go” and other soon to be classic tracks.

Yet, since buying the sweet swoon of “My Girl” from Shadow’s Record Store-the first record Dawn had bought-the sweet song held a special place in her heart. As Barbara’s charm bracelets jiggled, Dawn perfectly pantomimed those silky moves.

For the rest of the story go to...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Youth Uprising

The Nightshift Chronicler had the pleasure of trailing along with author Ferentz Lafargue on his stop at Oakland's Youth Uprising. Lafargue, in town promoting his memoir Songs in the Key of My Life, visited the organization to conduct a creative-writing workshop with some of the young people in the organization's media arts program.

Youth Uprising is a Bay Area seeded youth service and development organization that delivers programming for 2500 young adults between the ages of 13 - 24 in the Oakland area. Their programs range from film and music production, to career enhancement, to peer mentoring, all of which are housed in their immaculate center. The program's mission is to be "a leader in the advancement of youth leadership development as a means of affecting positive community change by ensuring that youth and young adults are supported in actualizing their potential"

Lafargue's workshop started off slowly as the author sought to find his bearings in front of these tech-savvy youth. Finding his nook in a shared appreciation for music, Lafargue drew those in attendance into the activities by asking the attendees about their favorite songs and artists. Selections brought up were varied as expected--except with the surprise that three of the male students selected Tupac's "Dear Mama" as one of the most influential songs in their lives. The testimonies delivered by the participants were moving and often drew long pauses from Lafargue as he sought to compose himself and get back into the role of facilitator.

As he milled around the center after the workshop, Lafargue had this to say about his experience at Youth Uprising:

I've done a number of these since publishing Songs, and each time I learn so much from the students. Each time I am surprised by what they bring to these workshops. In fact I am having to consider what precisely I am doing in these conversations, what am I really offering, because of how deeply affected I am after doing each of these sessions. What was striking about this group at Youth Uprising is how passionately the students were making use of the space. They respect each other and earnestly cherish the opportunities afforded through this program. I could tell that as many of them were sitting there they were chomping at the bit to get back to their own work. It's inspiring to see such a band of youth committed artisans in their studio.

Lafargue hopes to continue engaging young people long after his tour, or as he says, "as long as I can make a contribution."

The Nightshift Chronicler

Hip Hop Literati

On May 13th, The Nightshift Chronicler had the privilege of attending The Hip Hop Literati reading curated by Adam Mansbach at La Pena in Berkeley California. Mansbach, author of Shackling Water and Angry Black White Boy curated this evening as part of the Hip Hop Theater Festival currently happening in the Bay Area. The evening toasted the work of writers such as Jeff Chang, who read from a forthcoming memoir, co-author of Grub and renaissance man Bryant Terry, spoken word luminaries Chinaka Hodge, Tomas Riley, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai and George Watsky, as well as American Book Award winning poet, Matthew Shenoda.

I am still waiting on pictures from this event to share with everyone because the murderow's line-up was as good as advertised. Everything from Watsky's duel with the infamous "Mc Hardcore," to Chang's poignant reflections of life in Hawaii, to Tsai's searing meditation on the ramifications of falling in love with an artist. Riley also neatly captured this author's imagination with his heartfelt rendering of a lotto line bearing a boatloads of San Francisco's proletariats assembled under a mango manicured telephone pole.

Mansbach's offering from his forthcoming novel, The End of the Jews, was layered with a piquant wit and manipulation of the languages of coming of age in a Black and Jewish world worthy of invoking comparisons to Roth's Goodbye Columbus and Beatty's White Boy Shuffle, Mansbach's book is sure to captivate readers.

Terry began the evening discussing his work since Grub and desire to take the words off the page and toward pronounced action by readers and citizens committed to making healthier food and lifestyle choices. A living representation of anti-nihilistic impulses of the 70s baby hip hop generation, Terry walked the audience through a conversation about food justice and options for sustainable development on a local level.

The evening concluded with Songs in the Key of My Life author Ferentz Lafargue reflecting on Stevie Wonder's masterful tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in the song "Happy Birthday." After recanting a story from his book about hearing Wonder perform this live in South Africa at a conference in honor of Nelson Mandela, Lafargue led the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday," for Stevie Wonder and two audience members celebrating birthdays on May 13th.

En fin the six score in attendance to see this coterie of writers experienced a savory blend of art and activism, testimony and critique, and some dope beats courtesy of the Bay Area's own DJ Max Champ.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Black Panthers, Basquait, and more

Sloth normally prevents me from going further than circling gallery shows I should go see in Time Out or the New Yorker, and then, two weeks later thinking, Whoops! Guess that's closed now. But now that my semester is over and the sun is shining, I managed to shake off my torpor long enough to see four great shows currently up in Chelsea ...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

There's no other way to put this, but I miss Arrested Development. Part of it is nostalgia, and part of it is prompted by seeing a quartet resembling them perform last week. 1992's 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... still holds up really well and they had a great stage show.

I really don't have much else to say, except I miss Arrested Development....