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Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

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I’d been to Florida on a business trip, and right before that, to New York for the pre-party stuff for that year’s MTV Awards. Def Jam was still being run by Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons. Rick Rubin had returned to the fold via a label deal, and The Bowery Bar was a location where they held a welcome back Rick launch party. I went with a date, and the Hollywood billionaire, Ted Field. On the way in, we stopped and chatted with an exiting Chris Rock who mentioned that the party wouldn’t have been real if I hadn’t shown up – nice guy that Rock.

We stayed briefly, and then jumped into the back of a limo and headed to a party that Diddy was throwing at Tao, the Asian fusion joint on the East Side of Manhattan. They were all there; Pharrell, Ice-T, Sylvia Rhone, Dame Dash, Rush, Gary Gray – a strong slice of the Urban entertainment player community. If a bomb had gone off in that room that night, Jim Jones would have run shit for a decade. Just another night of fun and networking in the Apple.

I had to get up and catch a plane the next morning. I went to Orlando to meet with the soon to be disgraced kiddie mogul, Lou Pearlman and signed an act that he’d developed. The next day, I took a train to Miami and signed a couple of Dirty South MC’s called No Good. I spent the night on South Beach at The Tides, woke up and got a plane home.

I was living here in Charlotte, and preparing to move to New York to run the East Coast office of ARTISTdirect Records. I slept well, and early the next morning, I got a call from a friend in New York who told me to turn on the television, “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, followed her instructions, and turned on the TODAY Show. I was barely awake, but I saw one plane jutting out from the building it had attacked, and smoke coming from the hole it had created. Moments later, another plane crashed into the other tower and the in studio announcers lost it. So did I. Tears streamed down my face as I watched in disbelief and horror. It’s been thirteen years, but I will never forget the day that terror became more than something that you watched on television. It became a reality show that changed the city I love forever.

For Rebecca, Sylvia, Summer, Caress and the fallen

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Newburgh

Newburgh, New York, currently has the highest murder rate per capita in the state. Like many of America’s urban centers, manufacturing jobs have fled, and in the wake of outsourcing, they have been replaced with directionless African-American males, gang warfare, drug abuse and neglected, abandoned housing. Recently, four citizens from this dystopian, post-industrial New York City satellite ran afoul of federal authorities and were ensnared in an F.B.I. sting operation that alleged the men were Muslim terrorists planning to shoot down a U.S. Army airplane, and then blow-up a synagogue in the affluent Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. HBO has commissioned “The Newburgh Sting”, a documentary from award-winning filmmakers, David Heilbroner and Kate Davis detailing the F.B.I. plot to entrap the aforementioned four poor, Black males in a case that falsely labeled them as terrorists and sent them to prison for the attempted demolition of the synagogue and military plane. Using actual F.B.I. surveillance footage from the case, and on-camera testimony from four Newburgh defense attorneys, ex-F.B.I. officials and family members of “the four”, “The Newburgh Sting” is a searing exposé that unearths the U.S. government’s abuse of the criminal justice system in the name of Homeland security; the film premiered tonight on HBO. S/O to Jayson Jackson and Monica Lewis.

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Somebody asked, “What do you think of Macklemore winning big at last night’s Grammy Awards?”

Occasionally, I forget that in such a racially heightened moment, people look for clues to why a celebrating Stanford alum is referred to as a thug and why a Harvard Law grad could be called a “food stamp president” with such ease. And then, I see the work of a young genius like Kendrick Lamar overlooked, I remember that the trades were unable to record a single instance of a black artist reaching the top of the pop charts, this past year and that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame failed to induct a single black artist in its incoming class. Them, the joy caused by watching a ceremony that saw my old friend Nile Rodgers win three Grammys and Pharrell win producer of the year dims. This is how institutional racism works.

And so my answer: The culture has expanded so far past it’s roots that it is often difficult to recognize it. That said, Macklemore made a vibrant, socially conscious pop record. His winning gives validation to the DIY/Internet model. He is an entrepreneurial genius. Kendrick made the best record that I’ve heard in the past year and a half. His was a landmark recording that reclaimed the art form for the sons and daughters of those who first created it. His poetry was from and for the streets. He deserved better.

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Last night, the music stopped. David Simon, the co-creator of The Wire, presented the final episode of his love letter to New Orleans, Treme – the little show with small and quiet performances and big ideas about community, culture and corruption set against the city’s music culture as a background. Sprinkled throughout the stellar ensemble were actors performing exceptional scripts that raised questions about child rearing, social justice, education, how to maintain a living as a creative individual and where to get a good meal. Real life local musicians and star chefs mixed in easily with a cast of first rate pros to bring one of the most overlooked and satisfying TV shows of this golden age to small screens every Sunday night.

For those who never saw it or gave up on it after a few episodes, the series examined the people of the Big Easy’s struggle to survive after the devastation of Katrina and against the ongoing corruption of the criminal justice and political power structures. The bulk of the storytelling was done through the lens of New Orleans’ musician class, the cooking community, at risk working people and the political class – with a bit of flavor thrown in from the old connection between the tradition that emerged through the Native American and African American blending of cultures.

Sure it moved slowly, but the novelistic approach to storytelling that has replaced the MTV inspired brand of narrative that has contributed to an ADD like shortening of attention spans, has thankfully been replaced by the slower unveiling of plot that has become the norm for most quality cable series. Like a spicy gumbo, they let it simmer until it was just right.

Some said it was boring, but I loved the cast of colorfully eccentric characters who were up against it and who tried to stem the tide of corporate real estate carpetbagging, city hall’s malfeasance and indifference from elites that threatened their way of life with just as much menace as any storm had or will. In other words, they were dealing with the changes brought on by capitalism that currently threaten most of America.

Every Sunday night, HBO presented Southern folks trying to hold on dearly to what was all nearly swept away: Musicians looking for places to play in a town where gigs had been plentiful, where they had been able to play freely on the street and who fight to play what they want to play in a changed marketplace. Surviving families looking for justice for deceased relatives who had been wrongfully killed by the hands of the police. Chefs striving against business interests to continue to cook in one of the great food towns in America. Mardis Gras Indians looking for a place to practice their rituals and to sew their costumes. Homeowners attempting to keep their houses from being torn down. Children and teachers looking for funding for after school programs and safe travel along their streets. This was serious drama about working class heroes just trying to keep it going, and great bands playing great music every week.

Like The Wire, the show never received a Golden Globe or Emmy nomination, and attracted precious few regular viewers. The trials of regular folks may not be as glamorous as meth dealing former school teachers, power mad ad execs or bi-polar espionage operatives but for me, it made for great viewing. Cast members, Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens, Lucia Micareli, Melissa Leo, David Morse, Wire alum, Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters and the great, John Goodman all poured their hearts and souls into the rich little show that I savored like a great meal from Acme or Dooky Chase. I am sad to see it go, I could have used a few more helpings.

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