Song of the Day: Chatham County Line, “Alone in New York”

My friend Dan turned me on to NoiseTrade, and Chatham County Line was in last week’s download. I adore this song’s breadth and breezy sturdiness.

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5 Years

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Today marks five years without dad.

I debated writing about it, but it’s so difficult to think of something profound to say about grief. There just isn’t anything I want to say along that line. Yet, since this blog was begun as a way of writing through grief if not about grief–objects not feelings, or not morbid introspection–I’ve decided to write about things. Specifically these photos. On mother’s day, my mother went frantically digging through the chest of pictures that’s also the bedside table in my bedroom at her house. She wanted pictures of both my grandmothers to post on Facebook. There was a specific picture of Laverne, dad’s mom, that she couldn’t lay hands on. I pulled down the baby book–she forgot that she only gave me one of them–and quickly located the picture she wanted.

It’s not like I look through my baby book on a regular basis, so I took a moment to flip through it again. Dad wasn’t much for pictures, which I assume is where I get that instinct to duck from, but these are some of my favorite of me and him.

 

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I have young parents; I think I’m between one and two in these pictures, so dad isn’t older than 24 here. In many ways, they were just kids themselves figuring out how to parent me. I’m pretty sure I’m the worst leaf helper in the world here. Dad used to wake me up to watch Looney Tunes, which is how I originally learned classical music. He was goofy, with a wicked and often inappropriate sense of humor. I learned to appreciate cars, cooking, all things British, and Christmas from him.

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Arkansas, Marriage Equality, and Acceptance over Tolerance

Late yesterday afternoon, the ban against same-sex marriage was overturned in Arkansas. This morning, while I’ve been sitting in the morning graduation ceremony, busting with pride for our graduating majors, another major and her fiancée drove to Eureka Springs and became the first same-sex couple to get a license and marry in the state. This student I’ve seen blossom in class this semester, sustained and supported by her fiancée now wife. I’m so happy and proud of them.

It should surprise no one that I listen to NPR when I run. This morning’s short run–let’s be real, I got up too late for more than a mile and a half–include a feature on a short film about a girl bringing home her girlfriend from college. The 19 yr old director wanted to expose the difference between tolerating diversity and accepting people. In the film, the mother serves as the mechanism by which this topic is explored. The director, when asked if she’d be so hard on the mother in 30 years, replied that she hoped acceptance meant we were past this issue. I sincerely hope my student and her wife experience love and acceptance in their new life together.

Questlove on Hip Hop, part 2

Questlove continues his series on hip hop in New York Mag. This time around he takes on consumerism and class in hip hop and American culture at large. Two key paragraphs

I’d argue that when people think of hip-hop, pretty quickly they think of bling, of watches or cars or jewels or private jets. They think of success and its fruits, and the triumphant figures who are picking that fruit. This linkage isn’t limited to hip-hop — all of American celebrity, to some degree, is based on showing what you can buy — but it’s stronger there. The reasons are complex, of course, but the aspirational strain in African-American culture runs all the way back to slavery days. Slaves couldn’t own property because they were property. When freed, they were able to exist politically, and also economically. Owning things was a way of proving that you existed — and so, by extension, owning many things was a way of proving that you existed emphatically. Hip-hop is about having things to prove you’re not a have-not; it works against the notion that you might have so little economic control that you would simply disappear.

The part about owning things to prove you existed is both smart and ridiculously apt as it speaks both to racial experiences in America as well as class positions. The old canard that the woman down at the welfare office or on food stamps has a designer handbag is one that I’ve heard a thousand times. It’s raised as evidence that the women doesn’t desire the help of such social services without recognizing that perhaps the woman owned the item before economic hard times or that owning such items makes her visible versus one of the invisible poor. Only the really rich can dress shabbily and not be condemned for it.

The other key paragraph comes after Questlove unpacks Run-DMC’s use of material goods versus the use of materials goods in Jay Z’s songs. (Students, this is how use you close reading to craft an argument). He argues that hip hop artists have shifted the discourse on consumerism to one of exclusion:

But what does it mean that hearing the song somehow makes me measure myself against its outsize boasting? For starters, it means that hip-hop has become complicit in the process by which winners are increasingly isolated from the populations they are supposed to inspire and engage — which are also, in theory, the populations that are supposed to furnish the next crop of winners. This isn’t a black thing or even a hip-hop thing exclusively. American politics functions the same way. But it’s a significant turnaround and comedown for a music that was, only a little while back, devoted to reflecting the experience of real people and, through that reflection, challenging the power structure that produces inequality and disenfranchisement.

The whole article is again worth a read about how popular culture reflects the imperatives of consumerism in often self destructive ways that reify power structures.