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Archive for October, 2013

Thanks

His career had political implications from the start. While still in high school, he was imprisoned because of a brawl at a bowling alley. When the smoke cleared, he was the only participant to get jail time. The prosecutor used an old statute that had been designed to combat lynchings to railroad him. Virginia’s first black governor stepped in and pardoned him. And then, he became an All American at Georgetown. At a young age, Allen Iverson learned to be mistrustful of authority.

Controversy followed him into the professional ranks. Lurid tales of domestic discord, financial irresponsibility and a disdain for “practice” were plentiful. His friends were an issue, his shorts were too long, his hair was thuggish. But somehow, along the way, he became an 11 time All Star, a Rookie Of The Year, an MVP, a 4 time scoring champion and the central figure in the last run that the 76ers made for a world championship.

Between the lines, he was a thing of beauty; a jittery blur who was streaky from the outside and explosive around the rim. He is one of a handful of players to have scored 60 points in an NBA game. He broke the will and the ankles of opponents.

He was authentically and unforgivably black. He inspired the dreams of children and represented the streets. I tried to never miss one of his games.

We met several times. The last time I saw him play live, I was given two court side seats at the Garden for a preseason game by the late Steven Greenberg. Iverson was giving my Beloved Knicks the business and someone from behind me yelled, “Iverson, you suck!”

His reply, “What game you looking at?”

Yesterday, he officially retired and there will be those who will be unappreciative of the sure fire first ballot Hall Of Famer’s contribution. But I will look back and remember when the kid from Virginia Beach strode on to the national stage and shook up the sporting world, and I will remember that he electrified buildings all over the country and in his prime, each and every time he touched the court, it was an event. Bubba Chuck could play. So long. Thanks for the memories.

insidepaya

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Last weekend, I was scanning my Twitter feed and several posts indicated that the great New York hip hop radio legend, Kool DJ Red Alert was celebrating 30 years in the game. That caught me by surprise. For 29 of those years, we have known each other. Where did the time go?

When we first met, I made a living getting records exposed, and he exposed ’em. We ran in the same circles but there was a difference between us; I worked as both an independent operative, and a staff member for important but small record labels where hip hop was taken seriously. Red was a DJ for a few hours every weekend on the powerhouse New York Urban outlet, 98.7 Kiss-FM and because he was one of the guys who could give your record airtime, DJ Red Alert became one of the most important figures from the golden age of hip hop.

In addition to getting my records to him at the station, I’d see him everywhere; shows where new artist and stars were performing, the multi leveled new wave, dance and hip hop smorgasbord at Danceteria, the spot where Madonna was discovered by in house DJ Mark Kamins, and the girls had purple hair mow-hawk haircuts, body piercings and combat boots, but they loved to shake it to U.T.F.O.’s “Roxanne Roxanne”. I’d see him at the shabby chic cavern of The World where I caught the DC go-go band Trouble Funk play “Drop The Bomb”, where I hung out with Coati Mundi from Kid Creole and The Coconuts and I watched Andy Warhol look on in stoic fashion. I’d see Red at the rotating art instillation with bars and booming system that doubled as the club called Area where the downtown mix master Justin Strauss spun hip hop, new wave and disco to good effect. Boy George and Grace Jones were frequently seen there and pioneering filmmakers Darnell Martin and Kate Lanier worked there too.

I would hear Red spinning at the B-Boy headquarters of the Roxy, the roller skating rink in pre-gentrified Chelsea where the rock and roll swindler, Malcolm McClaren’s cohort, Ruza Blue promoted a party that catered to adventurous European dancers, b-boys and girls and the members of the emerging hip hop business. It was the place where Afrika (Bam) Bambaattaa, the Zulu overlord first held sway on the 1 and 2s, and formed a small beach head in the alternative rock world and began to slowly introduce members of his Zulu Nation clique to the untapped and unsettled region known as Downtown. Along with Red’s cousins Jazzy Jay and Afrika Islam, Bam sponsored each of them as DJs at the Roxy. Around the same time, Bam released the anthemic smash “Planet Rock” and a young visionary radio programmer named Barry Mayo was hired at 98.7 Kiss FM to challenge the hegemony of the “Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker at WBLS-FM. Red Alert was central to Mayo’s strategy to unseat Crocker and BLS as the primary outlet for Urban programming in New York.

Crocker and WBLS were enjoying tremendous success as the number one overall station in New York by programming a mixture of independent Black Dance and corporate Black Pop releases that he chose, and New Wave and crossover pop records that were chosen for him by a transplanted young Chicagoan named Beth Yenni. He also added hip hop records that he was forced to play but he never fully embraced the music. This created an opportunity for Mayo, and he elected to play any and all records that appealed to 12-24 year old Black and Latin kids, and in the New York of that time that meant hip hop.

Mayo formed an alliance with clubs, labels and retailers who were catering to the tastes of this 12-24 demo and built his growing powerhouse by playing any “bangers” that would appeal to them. He reached out for Bam, the planet rocker for recommendations for a weekend mix show that he was launching. Red’s cousins Islam and Jazzy had gotten shots but weren’t feeling radio. Tommy Boy record exec, Monica Lynch recommended Red and history was made.

Red grew up in Harlem and went to school in the Bronx, he also had a brief but important career as a basketball star at the All American factory, Dewitt Clinton High School, alma mater of Nate “Tiny” Archibald. When I met him, he hadn’t become a hip hop legend yet, but he had the juice to make his name ring out. He was on the rise.

As I have detailed previously, I grew up in a small town just outside of the northern tip of Manhattan and slightly south of the Boogie Down that I now call Soul City, around the same time that Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Caz and others were inventing our thing. The heat of the moment was making its way across the Hudson River and infected Soul City with the fever too. Like many who pioneered in our thing, Red put in some nonspecific type of work in the street that could easily be described by the catchall phrase “hustling,” before he started spinning. The citizens of Harlem, the Boogie Down and Soul City all flowed freely through each others communities and hustlers and their aesthetic permeated these districts.

Red went back to the earliest days of hip hop and caught the feeling early, I spoke with him recently and asked, how it all began? He replied, “When I was in school, I played ball, but I used to go to all the hot parties in New York,” he said, “I snuck downtown to Negril, I went to Kool Herc’s parties in the Bronx, park jams, and all the rest… and I just paid attention. At that time, I didn’t care about girls, drinking or anything else, it was all about music. I would go and stand in front of the booth and just peep what the DJ was playing.” He paused and continued, “My family background is Caribbean, so I heard a lot of different kinds of music because of the culture and because of my older brother. I heard the reggae, ska, funk, soul and disco and I loved it all.”

Along with a few other spots, the Roxy formed the world that we affectionately referred to as Downtown, the area of town were the fewest restrictions were enforced, unfettered creativity was allowed to flourish, freedom of expression was valued most and the place where we operated with comfort. Mainstream Black culture and Black owned media outlets held us at arm’s length. Our path toward wider acceptance began through alternative White media, clubs and rock press. You were more likely to read 3,000 words written about one of us in The Village Voice or Spin Magazine, than you were to read a paragraph about any of us in Ebony or Essence. Early on, Afrika Bambaattaa was the primary force and conduit for access. When I asked, if at the time, “Was Bam running an underground railroad from Uptown to Downtown?”

Red said, “Yeah, he was the Harriet Tubman for that time.”

Even though he may have had the methods of a monastic record collecting nerd, by the time I met Red, he conveyed a different image all together. He played the smooth Uptown hustler chic. He wore flavor jogging suits with color coordinated track shoes and rocked whatever the official bomber, shearling or label promotion jacket that was in vogue that season. His jewelry game was basic and tasteful; one thin chain, no medallion, no ice. Casual, neat, trendy and understated. No flash, his vibe said, “player at work.”

While we talked, he mentioned corporate record execs who treated our thing with disdain and didn’t take him seriously because of his gear. Class based discrimination was rampant in the record business of the New York of the ’80s and ’90s, and his beef echoed experiences of my own. He recalled a particular regional rep who worked for Motown, who didn’t quite get it, “Yeah, I used to make it my business to get as many different records from different labels as I could. I went by this guy’s office and he handled me crazy, he treated me like I was a piece of shit. Tony Gray, my PD, called him up later, and cursed him out like crazy. After that, I never had problems getting records from him again.”

Subsequently, Red has had few problems in the game at all. New York’s Hot 97 hosted the Red Head and Funk Master Flex made way one more time for the legend. These days, the legend is based in Atlanta and is a family man working on his Prop Master clothing line. He does the occasional gig with Chubb Rock and we recently collaborated when I helped him get on the EVR.com website with the help of my old friend Mark Ronson. Red played a few classics for the storefront East Village online radio station and rocked “Pump It Up” by Trouble Funk while setting Twitter on fire for a bit. If I closed my eyes and imagined, I felt like I was transported back to the late ’80s Downtown when Red Alert held sway and the Zulus ran the motherfucker.

insideplaya

For Monica Lynch, Tony Gray, Chuck Chillout, The Awesome 2, The Latin Rascals and Super Rocking Mr. Magic R.I.P.

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What You Won’t Do For Love

I loved “Homeland” from episode one. I’d been turned on to the work of the great Claire Danes back in the ’90s when my independent film producer friend, Karen Kaufman-Wilson was working with Carl Franklin, the director of “Devil In A Blue Dress”. Back then, according to Kaufman- Wilson, Danes was a young Meryl Streep. Time passed and her assertion proved to be true.

Early in the first season of the show, I had dinner with the Golden Globe and Emmy winning Danes. We have a mutual friend and over sushi and cigars, I took the opportunity to express my appreciation of the taught espionage thriller and it’s “Manchurian Candidate” like quality. I enthusiastically recommended the show to all my friends and acquaintances who have taste.

Because I was born during the Cold War era, and I was deeply affected by the popular culture of the period; James Bond films and novels, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Avengers” etc., the rhythms, plots and characters of the spy thriller genre are easily recognizable, and as familiar to me as an old record by the Temptations. “Homeland” had the stuff that I like; the double agent, the overly sexualized female operative, the cold analytical spymaster and the exotic foreign threat were all elements that were consistent with other work in the espionage narrative area. The first season was stellar.

The second season moved more into the area of melodrama as the two lead characters, Danes’ erratic Carrie and Brody (the sleeper/double agent played brilliantly by Damian Lewis) dance too closely to the fire by falling for each other. And instead of focusing exclusively on the procedural aspects of hunting down an Al Queda sleeper agent, by a gifted but challenged C.I.A. operative, the plot shifted to the tortured but growing, love against all caution story between the two leads. In my opinion, though it was well performed, it was less gratifying than the first season. I’d signed up for a suspense thriller with a side of international intrigue as the main course and the star crossed lover’s thing had high points but less impact. The season finale proved to be dramatic when an unexpected explosion provided a Hitchcockian grassy knoll type plot twist that set up the wrong man and made it necessary for Brody to make a hasty retreat to parts unknown. His season ended with Carrie, sharing a tender moment, in the darkened woods near the Canadian border with him, before they parted and she decides to rejoin an agency in tatters and to not become a rogue agent in the name of love by following him into the darkness.

While “Homeland was on hiatus, in it’s vacant time slot, Showtime delivered the smash hit drama “Ray Donovan”, the powerful Liev Schrieber vehicle that features him as a private eye/fixer set in the sleazy world of backstage Hollywood. While examining the themes of the immigrant experience and ethnically based conflict in and around show biz, the show does a good job of looking at the evolving world of male sexuality; a former prison inmate with a thing for black women who can twerk advises his grandson on the more permissible aspects of same sex liasons, an at risk juvenile rap star gets rough with the girl next door, an ex boxer with Parkinson’s disease finds true love with a nurse who happens to be married, a blackmailing pre-op transvestite puts the arm on a bi-sexual above the title player in order get the funding to become post-op, the above the title player looks for love in all the wrong places, a priest with a history of child molestation comes to a shocking end and so on. “Ray Donovan” sizzles and it’s heightened world of revenge, illicit trysts, blackmail and strong arm tactics served to create greater anticipation for the return of “Homeland”.

“Homeland” returned and I was looking forward to more of the domestic espionage narrative, and an international manhunt to be the key elements of the third season’s story lines. In the wake of recent revelations of NSA surveillance of US civilian communications sent via cell phones and e-mail, and the Wikileaks don, Paul Asange’s avoidance of prosecution by finding refuge in countries that were unwilling to release him into the custody of the US, I’d hoped that this “ripped from the headlines” approach would fuel another successful season.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The first two episodes of this season focused on the C.I.A. being called on the carpet during a congressional hearing for not preventing the bomb explosion at their Langley, Va. HQ that decimated their morale and killed many of their personnel. In order to placate congress (total fiction, right?) there was agency maneuvering that scapegoated Carrie for the attack. Additionally, Carrie’s family struggles to get her back on her meds (always a chance for Danes to show her chops). In response to agency politics and family pressure, Carrie acts out and seeks revenge by breaking the agency’s code of silence when she tries to tell her side of the story to the press. Carrie is then involuntarily committed to a private mental health facility by her mentor, Saul, the spymaster (Mandy Patinkin).

The affect that Brody’s believed involvement in the bomb blast, and the discovery of his duplicity has had on his family is examined too; the attempted suicide by his daughter, his family having to move in with his wife’s mother because of removal of all Veteran’s benefits, the absence of the prestige and pay of his congressional office and so on. It seemed as though there was endless whining that was caused by Brody’s disappearance. In other words: corporate politics and family drama. Not very compelling stuff.

But then, last Sunday’s episode found both Brody and Carrie in similar circumstances; held against their will and involuntarily medicated. Carrie in a mental health institution, filled with behavioral modification meds to combat her bipolar mood swings. Brody hidden and protected – with a $10 million bounty on his head – by a mysterious drug cartel, in an unfinished South American high rise, while being shot full of heroin as a home remedy to kill the pain from an unexplained gunshot wound. Both of them cut off from family, friends and work, but most importantly each other.

When I watched the first two episodes of this season and all of last season, I didn’t get it until last Sunday: “Homeland” has become a cautionary tale against choosing poorly in love and the ache, pain and heartbreak that can happen when you have to have someone who you shouldn’t be with. When you go against prevailing wisdom and throw caution to the wind and love someone that you and everyone you know feels is dangerous to your mental and spiritual health but you don’t listen. When family, work and all else no longer matter because that other person fills a hole that religion, family or work can’t. When you’re willing to sacrifice all, and the potential resulting devastation and havoc that can be caused to your career and family when you love selfishly and irresponsibly. This is the emotional terrain that the show has staked out. It is a tale of two broken and lost individuals who have no “home” other than each other. “Homeland” has become an epic tale of love gone wrong. Like so many others, I’ve been there before. I can’t wait until next Sunday night.

insideplaya
 For Karen, Jim, Seth, Jenina and Claire

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