Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Spike Lee Joint Revisited

Da Mayor: Doctor, always do the right thing.
Mookie: That's it? I got it, I'm gone.

Last night, I watched "Do The Right Thing" all the way through for the first time in six or seven years. The first time I saw it was on July 4, 1989 with my mother. Pure cinematic fireworks. All-American and revolutionary. We were both intrigued by this movie that had made such a splash at Cannes earlier that year. We didn't know anyone else who'd seen it, but we had seen Spike Lee's previous movie ("School Daze" featuring my Dad.) There were only another dozen viewers in that theatre in Jacksonville. We had no idea what we were getting into. When the movie was done, we all sat through the credits in stunned silence.

DTRT became a lightning rod that summer amid blockbusters like "Batman," "Ghostbusters 2," and "Indiana Jones 3." The opening sequence is iconic: Public Enemy's aural assault, the visual style of DP Ernest Dickerson and the electrifying solo dance routine of Rosie Perez. From the get go, DTRT is on fire. One hot day in a Brooklyn furnace.

So many classic lines fill the script. I won't even try to quote them. But I know that my GU posse brothers and I could recite most of the movie by the time September '89 rolled around. It was all we could talk about for days at a time.

Many careers were launched by DTRT along with Rosie Perez: Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence, John Tutturro, Robin Harris, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn. Oh how young they all look. And it brought Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee to a whole new audience. The only actor Oscar nominated from the cast, Danny Aiello was in the middle of a career high ("Moonstruck" preceded it). Speaking of Oscars, so many of the performances could have been recognized. Especially, Davis & Dee's work. In a just world Bill Nunn's doomed Radio Raheem would have been honored, too. The fact that DTRT wasn't even nominated for Best Picture is silly, considering "Driving Miss Daisy" won. Whew, what was we thinking, America!?

A decade ago, the AFI 100 was first published and I was personally outraged by DTRT's dismissal. Frankly, I would argue that Spike Lee's magnum opus is the most important American movie of the last 30 years. We are still struggling with the issues and the aftermath in our "post-racial" America. I have talked to people who think "Malcolm X" is Lee's best work. No disrespect, but as far as original material goes DTRT can't be touched. The film is a bit of a time capsule with its nods to Africa medallions, Air Jor-DANS, and day-glo biker shorts (au courant for 1989), but the themes are timeless. There may be better films that this, but none that can spark conversation, evoke a laugh or make me weep for humanity like it.

When Radio Raheem's body shudders to its end and falls face first onto his "LOVE" brass knuckles, I break down like a baby. Every single time.

I encourage you to watch "Do The Right Thing" and revisit the power of cinema, great storytelling and potent acting and vibrant direction. I remember many critics thought Lee was copping out. He was supposed to give us solutions, he was supposed to work it out for us, give us answers. Says who? The best art asks us to search ourselves for the answers. DTRT forces us to.

That's my 2 cents.

Peace... always

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Not Desert Island, But the First 10 Discs I Bought

After talking with Murdy yesterday, I realized that a top 10 albums list would take me too much thought right now. And I would have to go through all of my ticket stubs to rank the top 10 concerts I've attended. But John and I got to discussing the first CDs we purchased, back when buying a CD meant something. They were about $15 a pop on average in 1988. Doing the inflationary math that's roughly $27 to you and me now. And you think music is a rip-off today! Ha ha ha.

The very first title I bought, sheepishly, because I didn't actually own a CD player and somehow I thought the store clerk would know, was the Beatles' "Help!" Got it at the Wiz in the Pentagon City metro stop in NoVa after doing a tour of *duh* the Pentagon. So jogging my imperfect memory, between May and July 4th of 1988, I purchased, in order...

1. The Beatles, "Help!" The Wiz, Pentagon City.

2. Prince & The Revolution, "Parade." The Wiz, Georgetown.

3 & 4. The Beatles, "Beatles For Sale" and Prince, "Lovesexy" (the day it was released). The Wiz, Georgetown. The store clerk was pissed at me for my indecisiveness and said of Lovesexy, "Buy it now, you're going to eventually. Get it now!" I managed to borrow a floor mates CD player to listen to each of the above once before school was out for the semester.

5. Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Are You Experienced?" This I bought with my $70 Sanyo portable CD player at Coconuts in Jacksonville. I think that was every cent I had saved during the school year.

6. The Rolling Stones, "Rewind." The first used CD I ever got, from Vintage Vinyl in Jax.

7. The Clash, "Combat Rock." Coconuts. Should I Stay Or Should I Go became a belated party anthem for my apartment the next 3 years at college.

8. Tracy Chapman, "Tracy Chapman." What can I say, Fast Car and Baby, Can I Hold You? are great songs. But I returned it the next day for Steely Dan, "A Decade of Steely Dan." The Record Bar, Regency, Jax.

9. John Mellencamp, "The Lonesome Jubilee." Vintage Vinyl.

10. Paul McCartney, "All The Best." Coconuts, Orange Park. I think I shelled out $18.99 (a whopping and wallet-numbing $34 in today's cash) for this to the amazement of Mike and Mark who were with me that night.

Of these 10 CDs, I still possess 8 of them. Mellencamp was sold back shortly after buying it. The Steely Dan was replaced by the monster "Citizen Steely Dan," which was one of the first collections loaded onto my iPod. At the time, I was still alternating between CDs and vinyl. Not a whole lot of titles were available, but by the end of Summer I trucked back to Georgetown with about 40 CDs, including 90% of the Beatles' titles and popular party choices like "License To Ill" and the soundtrack to "Cocktail."

Don't Worry, Be Happy!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Just Keep Blogging

Hey all,
don't know when Blogger will update my posts, so I'll just keep writing with faith that you'll be reading this soon. 

In music news, a friend of mine has been plying me with tracks he's been working on for the past several months. Today, though he left one on my voicemail that was very enticing. All bleeps and blurps, but solid. It might be a one-off, but with yet another article in RS about the demise of the CD, that's probably the way to go for a new release: digital only. 

I'm also pondering recording some of the acoustic numbers I've been doing at Church. Some of you might be interested in hearing my arrangements. We'll see. 

As you may get from my previous posts, I'm listening to a lot of Dylan. I've reloaded all of Bob's material onto my iPod. Hadn't listened to Time Out Of Mind or Modern Times since late '06. Times was my favorite record that year. Word on the street is that Dylan's got a hard-country set coming out in April. I'm continually amazed at artists like Dylan who create at such a high level. 

Before I ramble, I'll sign off. 

Peace & Patience

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Pressing On

Hey Family,

Blogger is experiencing lots of glitches right now. So much of this may be repeated material from this week's blogs. Hopefully these past few posts will get published.

This morning, Church was wonderful. Pastor Joey's message was deep. He discussed how our personal faith is a private matter. You've got as much right to ask me if I've been saved as I have to ask how much money you make. You can probably guess, no alter calls at our church. I know for a fact that I'm loved and I'm trying to get right with Christ. Life is still challenging and exhausting, but the reward is greater for the effort.

Today during worship, I sang Pressing On from Dylan's 1980 LP Saved. This evening, I bought the whole disc (thanks Jackie & Medardo, it's a Birthday present!) from iTunes. It's an underrated work. I prefer it to Slow Train Coming, Dylan's first born-again record. I'm digging the title track, What Can I Do For You? and Solid Rock, particularly.

This lyric hits me in the breadbasket:

I know all about poison, I know all about fiery darts,
I don't care how rough the road is, show me where it starts,
Whatever pleases You, tell it to my heart.
Well, I don't deserve it but I sure did make it through.
What can I do for You?
Copyright ©1980 Special Rider Music

Pressing On first made an impression on me when I saw Todd Haynes' Dylan-approved Sci-fi-non-biopic I'm Not There. In it, John Doe does a vocal that Christian Bale mimes. A wonderful, life-altering performance. I give Bale credit (he can sing, but he didn't for this movie) for a truly believable moment. For all of those giving him grief, I give him props. I think Christian is quite an artist. Prior to that, I had not heard much of Dylan's music from the period. This number, though, I point to as a watershed in my journey.

I'll be doing the song again for Wesley School's chapel in the AM. My new guitar rang clearly and true in the sanctuary. All for God's glory. I'm looking forward to the privilege of playing for Him tomorrow. It's funny how this musical career is being steered. I love the venue and I really love playing for my audience of Three-In-One.

Coming up: A reprise of Take Me To The River at the end of the month. Pastor Joey has also put in a request for Dylan's What Was It You Wanted? for Palm Sunday. Got my work cut out for me. And then I'll open the Sign "O" The Times songbook for my 8:15 on March 15 & Easter.

I know in some traditions, Lent is a time to give things up. I see Lent as a time to take things ON.
But right now, it's time for rest.

Love & Peace