Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Before the holly jolly and the merry merry, one final update…

Last week I started on The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. And I’m about two-thirds of the way through Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Two totally different books with the word ‘cutting’ in the title.

Of all of the books that I’ve read this year, the two that I enjoyed the most happened to be the two longest books: Cutting for Stone and Master of the Crossroads. They are both long sagas with unique perspectives.

The most impactful book that I read this year was Between the World and Me. I’m going to gift my two sons with this book, and hopefully we’ll talk about it somewhere down the line.

I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to Benedict Anderson, who passed away on December 19. His seminal work, Imagined Communities, was among the Top 10 Books that Stuck with Me. And also to editor and publisher Curtis F. Harris, who worked as chief executive of Howard University Press, and founded Amistad publishing. I read books published by Howard Press, including And Then We Heard the Thunder by John Oliver Killens and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. As a child, my older son read books by Walter Dean Myers, published under Amistad Press. And one of our all-time favorite books that I read to them was published by Amistad, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.

What’s on tap for next year? I might start by reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. December 16, 2015 marked the 240th anniversary of her birth, and Rosamund Pike just recorded an audiobook of this classic. Hopefully the audiobook will be available in the library by the time I’m finished with Cutting for Stone. I’ll probably listen to the audio along with reading the printed book. Haven’t done that in a while. I got into reading along with the audio when I took a Shakespeare class. My introduction to the wide world of audiobooks.

Hope that your year in books has been just as exciting and enlightening as mine. And here’s to another great year of family, friends, good times, and great books. Happy Holidays!!

 

Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Well, the holiday stuff is on the store shelves…which means it will soon be time for making another batch of New Year’s Resolutions. So how have I done on this year’s resolution? Out of the fifteen books, I’ve managed to read five, which is a third of the list. A bit of a dent.

Lately I’ve been reading books that are not on the list. Recently, I read Between the World and Me. There’s been so much buzz about it, and with the current racial climate, I had to read it. Right now I’m reading something from my audiobook wishlist, Cutting for Stone.

So far for the year, I’ve read a total of fourteen books. Not too shabby. Before the year is out, I hope to start one more book from my New Year’s list, the Attica Locke book that’s sitting on my desk. At the rate I’m going, it will take another two years to get through the list. Guess this means I won’t have to make a resolution for 2016…Nice.

One summer. 40 shows before Labor Day. One helluva season.

Well folks, I’m back in action after spending the summer doing my usual, chasing shows. This year it went to a whole ‘nutha level. Most summers, I’m lucky if I make it to 20, 25 shows in the parks. These year, I far surpassed that. Made it to 40 shows before Labor Day.

Some of the highlights:

Rhiannon Giddens: I love her work with Carolina Chocolate Drops. She’s the second member of the group to release a solo project. The band was stellar, and their repertoire covered a wide range, from Americana, blues, and spirituals to Beyoncé. Rhiannon sings and plays with authority.
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Systema Solar: This band is from Colombia. I met up with some young fellow Colombians who were visiting the city, and couldn’t wait for the band to take the stage. With their limited English, they asked where I was from. When I told them I was born and raised in NYC, they said I was the only American that they met who was dancing and enjoying the music. They wanted to know why. I told them that Duke Ellington once said, “There’s good music, and then there’s everything else.” This band joins Los Amigos Invisibles as my all-time fave party bands.

Big Bands Represent: Thought I’d heard it all when it comes to big bands. Then I saw Letieres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz at Lincoln Center Out of Doors‎. A ferocious set of Brazilian music. Arturo O’Farrill, a band leader in his own right, sat in with the group. And the final concert at Lincoln Center was Lyle Lovett’s Big Band. I sat next to a couple, and we marveled at the generosity of Lyle Lovett, as he let his musicians lead various parts of the concert.

Best weekend of music: August 1-2 at Central Park Summerstage. Mardi Gras meets Carnival, with Dr. John and the Nite Trippers on Saturday, and Brasilfest on Sunday. What a treat.

Singing and Dancing in the Rain: The weather forecast for the VP Records 35th Anniversary Celebration was spot on. They said rain starting around 3, and they were right; it rained the whole time. I had my trusty Helly Hansen. Wasn’t going to miss this. I remember when VP Records first opened on Jamaica Avenue. Back then, folks thought it was a joke, selling records from West Indian artists. Caribbean Massive packed the place to see the likes of Maxi Priest and other performers.

Roomful of Teeth: This was the only set I was interested in attending from the River to River series. This group has a unique approach to a capella singing. Great set.
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Batala NYC: If you saw the beginning of the post-parade ceremony for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, you saw this group of women dressed in red and white, playing samba drums. The week before, I saw them at Penn Plaza, and my mouth dropped. They played straight through for 45 minutes! And they don’t just beat dem drums—they dance with ’em!
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Muscle Shoals All Stars: From the minute they took the stage, I was on my feet dancing. And this was at Lincoln Center, where the audience is rather staid, to put it nicely. Muscle Shoals was the ‘muscle’ behind some of the biggest hits in the business. Guests included the incomparable Bettye Lavette, one of my all-time faves, and the legendary Sam Moore.

Jason Isbell: Smokin’ country music from a master storyteller.

Dance, Dance, Dance: The dance performances this year were really fantastic. For the July 4th Holiday, I checked out Un Break a Mozart and the Dash Ensemble. The performance was part of the celebration of the arrival of Lafayette’s ship, L’Hermione. Later on in the month, I got to see Philadanco as part of their 45th anniversary.

Afropunk: Blew the roof off of Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center. The bands gave us a real flavor of the festival.

The Tempest by the Classical Theater of Harlem: Saw the preview of this presentation during the July 4th weekend. The setting for this production was in Haiti, which added another layer of magic to this mystical piece. And this was my first visit to Marcus Garvey Park. But not the last. I checked out the circus performance there, and one of Jazzmobile concerts which featured Jeff “Tain” Watts and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
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Best Family Event: My niece and I attended the 40th anniversary celebration of The Wiz at Rumsey Playfield. The place was jam packed; and the audience was in it from the first note. At one point, I could hear my niece singing in the background—and she knew every verse to the songs! That’s how much of a fan she is. So lucky to spend that evening with her.
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Third World: ‘Nuff said. The Jamaica Gleaner had a great review on the show. I was surprised to see a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while, so we got to hang out. I was told her that the Third World show was my 30th for the season,, and I was on track to make 40 shows. And a guy sitting next to me piped in and said, he’d already see 50 shows! My friend confessed that this was her first show for the season. Between schedule conflicts, and trying to find someone to go with her, this was the first time she got the chance to hang out. “Next year, I’m gonna take a tip from you,” she said, “and go solo.” Yep, that’s what I’m talking about.

tUnE yArDs: This was one of the best closing shows that I’ve even seen at Celebrate Brooklyn. This woman is such a consummate performer, with a deep musical reservoir that infuses her songs. Absolutely brilliant.

The Ones That Got Away:

  • Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. A mistake on my part. I placed the date in my Google calendar instead of Outlook. I never use my Google calendar. If it’s not on Outlook, it doesn’t exist. That won’t happen again.
  • And of course, the pop-up performance by Stevie Wonder in Central Park. I didn’t find out about it until I went home and watched the evening news. It was just as well; the tix sold out in 30 seconds. So I didn’t have a chance. But it made me see how people can get FOMO.

And I’m Not Done Yet!

Every day, there’s always something low-cost or free to do in New York City. This month, I’ve been hanging out at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. Last week, I saw a fabulous performance of The Amigos with special guest Nature Ganganbaigal. A fantastic collaboration where Americana meets China. Thursday, October 14 will be the Nicaraguan guitarist Aurelio. And one of my music heroes, Randy Weston, has taken up residence with the Jazz program at the New School. As part of his residency, he will present the traditional music of Morocco on October 13.

So as we enjoy the autumn leaves, I hope that all of you had just as much fun as I did over the summer.

Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Yea, I know, been missing in action lately. Too busy checking out all the summer concerts. Tomorrow I will attend my 40th concert for the season! Now I’ve done 20, 25 shows in a season; but this year I’ve just been on a roll. One show that passed me by was tonight’s free Stevie Wonder concert at SummerStage. He’s one of my absolute heroes. Oh well. Guess I’ll have to pony up and pay to see him when he swings back to the City in November.

All this traveling around on the trains to chasing concerts means that I’m just about done with Master of the Crossroads. Hope to have it done by the end of the month. A phenomenal historic novel. Highly recommend.

Over the weekend, I was able to borrow the audio version of another book on my list, Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. Should be starting that one soon. And another book to add to the office library.

And speaking of the office, I think that after I’m done with Crossroads, the next print book I’d like to read will be the book that’s sitting on my desk, The Cutting Season by Attica Locke.

In case you’re keeping count, I’ve read four out of the fifteen. Not even close to half. But a nice dent in the pile.

Recently, the thought came to me that, for next year’s reading, I may focus on books that were made into movies. I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series, but I haven’t read The Hunger Games. I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I got to see the second movie in the Hunger Games franchise, and I thought it was great. My Navy son is a fan of Goosebumps, so he’s looking forward to the movie coming out in October. I think I’ll mix up both old and new; on my Kindle I have Frankenstein, and Pride and Prejudice. So we’ll see. Stay tuned…

Sports Snippets – Girl Power Edition

Over the past few weeks, women athletes have been in the news. And it’s a great thing. I entered high school a year after the Title IX educational amendment became law. The education system was still trying to figure out how to implement the new mandate. So I did not benefit from Title IX in the same way that I did with civil rights. I’m thrilled that the next generation of women athletes have been able to take advantage of the law.

  • Cross one off the bucket list: Attended ticker tape parade for a sports team, USA Women’s soccer. Wonderful to see all of the families, young girls and young boys who play soccer or are soccer fans. The last ticker tape parade I attended in person was for Nelson Mandela. I watched some of the Yankees ticker tape parade from an office building near City Hall. But this was the first time that I was on the ground to cheer on a sports team. USA Women’s Soccer was the first women’s team to be given a ticker tape parade, and the first non-local team.
  • I had hoped to attend a ticker tape parade for the New York Rangers this season, but alas, it was not to be.
  • More Girl Power: One of the performers at the ceremony after the ticker tape parade was an all-women samba band, Batala NYC. I saw them perform at One Penn Plaza as part of their weekly concert series. I’m happy they were given the honor of performing for the US Women’s soccer team.

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  • There is also another conversation going around about Title IX in general, and the women’s soccer team in particular. That is: how do we get to the next level, which is parity with pay? The women’s team received a fraction of what the men received for playing in the World Cup. The same disparities also exist between the NBA and the WNBA.
  • 10 year old Jaden Newman wants to become the first woman in the NBA. I’m rooting for her. And an all-women crew won the eighth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.
  • There’s been a lot of buzz about New York Liberty alum Becky Hammon, who’s now a full-time assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. They won the summer league under her leadership. She may very well become for the first female to become the head coach of an NBA team.
  • Serena Williams just completed the Serena slam with her win at Wimbledon, now setting her sights on a calendar grand slam if she wins the U.S.Open championship. Too bad it was colored by the flap about the N.Y. Times article about women tennis players and body image.
  • One for the Idiot Box: You would like to think that if JPP could buy a truckload of fireworks for the 4th, then he could hire a fireworks company to provide his own private show. But he ends up having a serious accident where he had to amputate his finger. Just sayin’.

And that’s the snip!

Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Last week on the way to work, I passed by a woman with a T-shirt that said, “I like big books and I cannot lie,” right on the morning when I started on the epic Master of the Crossroads. So far, I’m almost a quarter of the way in; this book should take me through the summer (and all the concerts in the parks!).

While I had the paperback version of this book sitting on the pile in my house, I’m reading the e-book. It’s so much easier to read it on my tablet, rather than carrying around a large bulky 700-page. It reminds me of the last question that Richard Quest asks his guests on his business show, “Quest Means Business.” Usually, he’ll ask his guest is, What are your reading, and what type of book do you prefer to read? His seems to be biased toward print books, as are most of his guests. You know, the whole things about the ‘solid’ feel of a print book. But one of his guests mentioned that he was reading his book on a device; it was a big book, and just too much to travel with. What I find interesting is that none of his guests mentioned that they read audiobooks. It seems like the debate is a binary one between print books and e-books.

I read books in all three formats. Usually, I have an audio book and a print or e-book going at the same time. It’s more important for me to be reading something as opposed to what format I’m using to read.

Before we had e-books, I once joked with my younger son that if we didn’t borrow books from the library, we’d have to find another place to live just to store all the books we had read. One reason I was motivated to get through this pile is to get these book read, and out of the house. Cut down some of the clutter.

Luckily, I have a place for these books to go once I’m done with them. We have a small borrowing library in my office. Bring one, borrow one. I’ve put in a few books, including Master of the Crossroads. The book that i have in my office by Attica Locke was taking from the office library. Maybe that will be the next book, just in time for the fall.

The books I put in are: Composing a Life, The Blue Taxi, The Warmest December, Master of the Crossroads, Prince of Frogtown.

The books I put in are: Composing a Life, The Blue Taxi, The Warmest December, The White Queen, Master of the Crossroads, Prince of Frogtown.

Why do I have natural hair? Because I hate hairdressers.

Then...

Then…

Yea, I know that we’re not supposed say that we hate anyone. Maybe what I should say is that I hate the experience of getting my hair done in a salon.

I came to this realization about 15 years ago. A white friend of mine got the idea to have her hair braided. She has gorgeous long blond hair. It was summertime, and she wanted a style that would be easy to care for in the heat. A number of her co-workers are black women with braided hairstyles, and gave her the name of a hairbraiding salon in downtown Brooklyn. She asked me if this was the type of place where she could get her hair done.

I told her the truth: “So far as I know.”

Then she asked if I would come along with her. You know for moral support. I shook my head. “Sorry, I can’t come with you.”

I’m not sure what she thought about my answer. She never asked why. And I never told her why. I didn’t tell her that the last time I set foot in a hair salon was in the late 80s. I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve set foot in a hairdresser as an adult.

Now I’ve read stories ad nauseum about how hairdressers are a woman’s best friend, confidant, and psychologist. There’s even advice on how to break up with your hair stylist. That’s how close the bond is. And that women think of the hair salon as a type of sanctuary, one of the few safe places where we can be themselves and talk about whatever is on their mind. Well, I know nothing about that.

As an adult, the few times when I went to the salon to get my hair braided, it was done so tightly that I went home with a powerful headache, and wound up taking it out before it drove me crazy.

As a child, my mother sent me to the hairdresser to get a perm when I was eleven years old, after I spent the summer with a short afro. This was back in 1969, when sporting an afro was a radical political statement. But my mom didn’t cut my hair into an afro to be political. I liked to sleep with gum in my mouth, and this one time when it fell out and got stuck in my hair, my mom had no choice but to cut it. One of the things that happened to me in a most eventful year.

Before I got the afro, my mom, like all black mothers back then, put my hair under the hot comb in the kitchen. Now I’ve read sentimental essays that where women recalled the love and bonding with their mothers and grandmothers through this weekly ritual. Not me. Every Sunday, I lived in mortal fear of getting burned behind the ears with that hot comb. The worst burn that I ever got was the Sunday when Martin Luther King gave his last public speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” We listened to the TV broadcast while Mom straightened my hair. When he spoke those words, I think my mom had a premonition that he was going to be killed. And sure enough, she was right there at the back of my head—and burned the top of my ear.

Getting my hair straightened with the hot comb was worse than a whipping. If I could’ve gotten out of the hot comb by getting a whipping, I probably would’ve done it—gladly.

That brief summer season when I had my hair in its natural state was the first time that I experienced a relatively painless hairstyle—unless, of course, I didn’t braid my hair up at night. But I’d take that any day over the burns on my ears from the hot comb. Or, when I went to the hairdresser. At first, my mom had the hairdresser use the hot comb to straighten my hair. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t get my ears burned. I couldn’t believe this was ever possible. But the damage was already done. I was traumatized by my experience at home, so I was a nervous wreck when I sat down at the hairdresser. So my mom agreed to give me a perm.

I thought that I that the hot comb was bad, but I didn’t know about bad until I got that perm. Back then, we didn’t have the variety of products available today. We had few options, and all of them were lye-based. The hairdresser treated my thick, kinky hair like it was an enemy combatant. She permed my hair to within an inch of its life so it was bone straight. I was under the dryer for so long that all the other customers had left, and the hairdressers were sweeping up the place. The next day, there would be scabs in my hair from the burns. And sleeping in rollers, to me, is a contradiction in terms.

When I got to my senior year of high school, and mom said she couldn’t afford to send me to the hairdresser anymore, I didn’t say a word. In my mind, I thought, “Thank you, Jesus!” I grew out my curly perm, then went back to the short afro. In the 80s, I wore cornrows, then went to box braids. In the 90s, I just couldn’t take the tight braids anymore, and went to twists. Except for the few times when I went to the hair dresser, I’ve always done my own hair.

My best experience at a hairdresser was actually in a barbershop. For the New Year in 1980, I wanted to get a nice cut for my afro. On the last Saturday before the New Year, I went to the local beauty school, hoping to get a cheap cut from one of the students. But the school was closed for the Christmas holiday, so I ended up going to a nearby barbershop. I was the first customer, and the barber gladly cut my hair. Best haircut I ever had. If I ever get to the point where I can no longer do my own hair, I’ll go right back down to the barber, tell him to chop off these twists, and give me a brush-and-go. No qualms about it.

I mention my hair experience because it seems that a confluence of events has caused the question of black hair to be a topic of discussion this past week. The first was a so-called ‘study’ which reported that “Women with Natural Hair Have Low Self-Esteem.” Frankly, I think this was either a satire, or a bait, because there’s no online reference to the actual study. And if it was commissioned, it was probably done by a company with a vested interested in getting black women to chemically straighten their hair. I won’t dignify this article by providing a link, but Google it, and you’ll see how this has flown around social media.

What I will say it that the trauma of straightening my hair as a child was more of a cause for low self-esteem. What did I hear during all those years of hot comb and perms? “Her head is too hard.” “We can’t do anything with that!” “It’s too nappy!” Even if I wasn’t told those things, just the pain to took for to “look nice” spoke volumes. I swore that if I gave birth to daughters, I would never subject them to that kind of pain in the name of beauty.

Right after I picked up the so-called study about women with natural hair, I saw up an article from Atlanta BlackStar, which said that relaxer sales are slumping, and natural hair is here to stay. Now that I can attest to. Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen more women sporting afros, twists, braids, and locks. I’ve also seen women of other ethnicities embrace their curls and ditch the heat and the chemicals. And the beauty industry has taken notice; there’s a lot more products out there for women with natural hair.

Then, there was the whole flap around Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who identifies herself as black. That’s when we get into the whole discussion about race; representations, and societal reactions to those representations. We may not want to admit it, but hair for black women is still ‘political.’ If you don’t think so, well, tell me the last time you saw an African-American female reporter in a natural hairstyle. I’m not talking about commentators like Melissa Harris-Perry. Or the black female reporters on CNN International, or the BBC. I’m talking network television. There was one black woman reporter with a short afro back in the 90s. As soon as her hair got long enough, she straightened it. Blink, and you would’ve missed it.

Now I won’t give the side eye to women who use perms, hot combs, weaves, or dyes. In fact, I’ve complimented many of them, as people have complimented me on my hair. I just can’t do all that for the sake of beauty. But I can’t help but wonder how Rachel Dolezal got her hair to look like that. Did her hairdresser know her secret? (Probably did. “Only your hairdresser knows.”) Maybe that’s one of those things that we need to #AskRachel, if it hasn’t been done already.

...and now.

…and now.