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El Toro Negro

El Toro Negro

The genius Stevie Wonder turned 65 years old yesterday. It is hard to believe that he has reached the official point of senior citizenship. It seems like just yesterday when I first heard his records. He was a kid like I was. A Taurus like me too, he called himself “El Toro Negro” (The Balck Bull). A decade older maybe, but still a kid. A big fun loving kid who dressed like Ray Charles played the piano and caused trouble when he picked up that harmonica to play it. His youthful exuberance made the occasion of my Uncle Dave’s funeral truly memorable because my older cousins Joan, Jimmy and Carl (Uncle Dave’s niece and nephews) were all closer to Stevie’s age and had been hip to the Wonder get down before me. They, fortunately, wanted to share the gift of Stevie’s genius with their little cousin, and the gift has kept on giving ever since.

There aren’t many artists or records that you can recall exactly where and when you first heard them, but for me, Stevie Wonder is one of them. I was six or seven and I’d traveled from Soul City with my mother and grandmother to Springfield, Massachusetts for was supposed to be a sober and somber event when I “got it”, for real, after hearing my older cousins playing “Uptight”, the slangy, up-tempo, Soul Music romp by the then sixteen-year-old Stevie, the night before Uncle Dave’s home going – funky bunch of kids we were.

Like most African-Americans of, or near my generation, I have felt a deep connection to Stevie Wonder’s music for the past fifty years. He is the most important musical reason that I chose to pursue a career as a record man. Earlier today, I did what I normally do on the great man’s birthday, I listened to his music, and I posted some of it on my Facebook timeline.

A noted author who wrote, an important non-fiction book about a particularly messy, and corrupt period in the career of a key record business figure who I’d worked with about 25 years ago, made what appeared to be a sarcastic remark about how much I love Stevie Wonder. Though he is a celebrated author with a national reputation, his comment revealed a lack of consciousness. Because if he understood what it meant to be young and Black in an America that was finding its way after King was assassinated, and during the rise of Black militancy as exhibited by; the Panthers, Stokley Carmichael’s SNCC, and Angela Davis; during and after Vietnam and Watergate. If he understood how closely intertwined Wonder’s music was with the struggle and rise of a people, and how that music, which was as potent as King’s message of non-violence. or James Brown’s message of self-determination, and how that music provided a platform that Wonder used to get the King Holiday through the US Congress, and how many house parties that music jumped off, then yes, he’d understand how much I love Stevie Wonder. I loved him because he was a potent voice of my America when we didn’t have many. Happy birthday El Toro Negro, nobody ever did it like you. Thank you.

insideplaya

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MIKE NICHOLS ON THE SET OF THE GRADUATE

The 30th of October, 2001 was memorable. It was a crisp fall evening and the opening night of the NBA basketball season. Michael Jordan had come out of retirement one last time and donned the uniform of the Washington Wizards. He’d been granted an equity stake in the team, and had gotten that itch to lace ‘me up again. Coincidentally, the old Knick killer was scheduled to make his season debut at Madison Square Garden against a Knicks team that was in decline. I was a newly installed Executive Vice President of a fresh start-up record company that was based in LA, and I was traveling back and forth between both coasts while trying to sign artists and establish a New York office. I got a pair of tickets for the game and a date.

New York was still on it’s heels after having taken a devastating combo on the chin when both World Trade Center towers were destroyed on 9/11. National Guardsmen were patrolling the streets and paranoia filled the air. Buildings that you could previously walk through in order to take a shortcut were closed. Metal detectors were everywhere, and anyone with a Middle Eastern appearance was mistrusted on sight. Racist propaganda was spouted from every possible source, and patriotism was the thing that made it okay. The Bush administration was preparing to take advantage of the patriotic fervor by invading two countries that we still haven’t fully gotten out of, and by directing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to use the moment to empower all intelligence services to begin to monitor civilian communication by phone, and the web – they called it the Patriot Act. We were badly in need of an evening’s entertainment.

This particular night, the game was being played in the stands. Jordan brought the A-list out and seated next to me was SNL’s Darrell Hammond, and his date, Lorraine Bracco of the Sopranos. My seats were cool – right on the aisle of the first row behind the fold-ups on the Eighth Avenue baseline. We were in the corner nearest the Knicks bench. The networking thing was in full effect. My date was a leggy Italian attorney with a great smile and gorgeous eyes. I’d given her the seat on the aisle and she was being chatted up by one of the City’s great power couples, Good Morning America anchorwoman, Diane Sawyer and her husband, the great film, and theater director, Mike Nichols. Lovely people. It was an honor to spend an evening in their company.

Of course, at that point, I had already been a Nichols fan for nearly 35 years after seeing his satirical groundbreaking masterwork “The Graduate” as a child. And since then, I’ve seen it many, many times more, along with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Working Girl, Silkwood, The Birdcage, Postcards From The Edge, Wolf, Heartburn and his unforgettable contemplation on morality, fidelity and the Internet, Closer.

Earlier today, news came to us that Nichols died of a heart attack. I do remember that the Knicks beat the Wizards that night, but I most remember meeting one of the greatest directors that America has produced. I am grateful to have lived during the era that formed him. R.I.P. Mike Nichols, you did your thing.

insideplaya

For Sylvia

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http://m.soundcloud.com/jperiod/the-legacy-of-jb

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http://stagedoor.fm/2014/11/11/new-music-mark-ronson-feel-right-ft-mystikal/

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http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/entertainment/music/2014/11/11/stevie-wonder-presidential-medal/18850249/

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the playa, Teddy Riley, Tammy Lucas, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo

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