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Short (Short) Story: Beauty Jackson is a Percival Everett fan

September 9, 2013

Beauty Jackson is a Percival Everett fan

By Derrick Weston Brown

 

“Her voice was a slow jam, full length white mink, Hella  fine with a beauty mark on her right cheek” -Ghostface Killah, Beauty Jackson

 

The call came into the bookstore around five in the afternoon. It was her. His left earlobe began to sweat the moment her voice billowed through the receiver like a playful fingertip of steam. She was calling again to follow up on that Percival Everett title she had special ordered two days earlier. His interest was on high alert the moment she  asked for the title, because though he got all sorts of requests throughout the day for all sorts of titles, he knew, deep in the core of his own book snobbish soul, that anyone asking for ol’ P. Everett had to be on some other stuff. If she  read P.E. regularly, that meant she probably had some sort of paper degree on her wall. And said degree was probably in either English, A.A. Studies, or Sociology, meaning she had acquired some serious book learning in her past and wasn’t done yet.

But to be clear, it was her voice that made him sit up straight on his stool and readjust his thinking cap, which up until this point had been threatening to slide from his two-weeks-late-for- a-shape-up head for some time.

She had a voice like a slow jam, and he truly hoped, that the rest of her, matched each and every beautiful phrase that had come out of her mouth once she finally arrived  to pick up the book.

_____________________________________

 

Most folks, he learned  never physically matched their voices. As a kid, for every voice he heard on the radio, there was a fully sketched figure complete with accompanying outfit, drawn up in his imagination. He just knew, that when he finally laid eyes on the source of the voices, he’d  be able to fit them perfectly into his carefully stenciled brain cut outs.

Unh-Unh.

Not So.

Take his favorite DJ for instance, Mr. Swift, who had a voice like metal rake teeth being scraped over a manhole cover.Mr. Swift cut the most sought after  promos and mixtape drops that would make the gulliest street soldier’s eardrums flinch. But in person, it turned out that Swift, looked more like a barely baked crescent roll full nelsoned into a candy wrapper tight throwback sports jersey. Main man was doughy. And our friend learned a hard lesson about judging a film by its soundtrack.  But our hero still held to his belief that most people just had to match their voices. This was merely a setback. His faith hadn’t been shaken from its perch. Not yet.

In college, the high pitched tea cup poodle barking from down the hall, and around the corner from his dorm room, that he thought belonged to a pipsqueak of a sophomore going door to door seeking the identity of “that nigga who moved my clothes” from the  laundry room dryer even though they had been sitting there for nearly two hours, turned out to be attached to  the a 6’5 two hundred and twenty pound frame of the  All-American small forward  for the university’s basketball team. Our hero, convinced that he was about to face a knobby kneed shrimp, stormed out of his room, rehearsing his angry tirade for  an underclassman that didn’t have the common courtesy to consider that other folks wanted dry clothes too, tore around the corner wearing his angriest face, and immediately hit the fader on the once rising bass and treble levels of his voice down to an apologetic, but  firm volume once coming face to chest with an almost unavoidable ass whooping.

“Damn!” he thought. “I really got to rethink this theory!” as he crept back to his room, locking the top lock, clicking the deadbolt into place and sliding the door chain into action for good measure. 

____________________________________________

So what we know about our bookstore working hero is this: He still hasn’t given up his hardheaded theory, that a person should physically match their voice. You would think after a close call near-miss of a beating in a cramped laundry room that smelled of lavender scented dryer sheets, Ol’ boy would have abandoned it. Nope. Not our hero. He’s no quitter.

But let’s get back to the events at hand. And back to Ms. Slow Jam voice, who currently had the ears of our determined book seller slow burning like tiny briquettes of Kingsford, at the bottom of a big bellied barbeque grill.

But what is a slow jam O’ knowledgeable Narrator and how was this unseen woman’s voice like one? The uninitiated may ask?

And my answer would be, if you don’t know what a slow jam is, kill yourself. Whoa! Okay that was a bit harsh. Let me try this again. I suggest, you consult a search engine or ask someone born no later than 1985 if you want to learn about what a Slow Jam is.

Point being, they could hook you up with a decent definition because most likely, they, and the rest of their fellow twentieth centurians were probably conceived to some incarnation of a slow jam.

Now according to today’s go-to reference of choice Wikiwhatever, “a slow jam is an umbrella term for music with R&B and Soul influences. Slow jams are commonly R&B ballads or downtempo songs. The term is most commonly reserved for soft-sounding songs with heavily emotional or romantic lyrical content.

This definition has led to intense debate over whether particular songs should be classified as a “slow jam”, e.g. Ginuwine’s 1996 hit single “Pony”. The common use and possible origin of this term traces back to 1983 when Solar Records group Midnight Star recorded the song “Slow Jam” on their album No Parking on the Dance Floor.

That’s a pretty good definition for the most part, although I got to give the mere mention of Ginuwine’s “Pony” as possibly being classified as a “Slow Jam” a big middle finger and an angry fist shake. But everything’s debatable I guess.

Now if, after this brief tutorial, you are still lost on what a Slow Jam is, I guess I’ll have to appeal to your senses and provide a few images and sounds to help you understand.

__________________________________________________________

 

Slow Jam

-the brush thump of a needle into a spooled vinyl groove and the accompanying hiss that sounds oddly familiar to fingers pulling clothing away or tightly across willful skin.

-amber lampshades heavily dimmed liked sleepy eyelids or falling stage curtains.

-the groan/moan of leather couch cushions bombarded by an avalanche of  limbs, asses, elbows, you name it.

 

 - growling bass saxophones

-the first forty seconds of R&B trio, Guy’s seminal New Jack Swing bedroom special “Let’s Chill” and Aaron Hall’s half whispered “slip-the draws off” introductory pillow talk, that’s been imitated but rarely duplicated.

-winks of light barely escaping the black hole crush of two pelvises colliding to rock like interlocked cruise ships stuck on choppy seas.

 

- arms and hands draw bridging closed across a waiting waistline.

-fingers encircling a neck, tracing a nape.

 “Always and Forever”, Heatwave

 

 “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” Otis Redding

“Don’t Say Goodnight” The Isley Brothers

Prince’s Woooooooo at the opening of “Adore”

 

 “Let’s Wait Awhile”-Janet Jackson

-a face nuzzling into a neck

-a forest of figures rocking like tall pine trees under a blue light basement sky of frosted stars and an orange moon and the breeze that has them  a’swaying  is The Force MD’s “Tender Love”

_______________________________________________

 

That my friends, is a Slow Jam.

So, after hearing this woman’s voice once again, our determined bookseller found himself on that slow start of  steep roll down a hill of expectation that felt as if his gut was billowing full of Purple Emperor butterflies. He put her on hold and carefully placed the receiver back onto its perch. He stooped down and scanned the special holds shelf underneath the book desk. After finding her title he picked the phone back up and tapped the flashing hold button. “Yeah, we got it!” he told her.  “Great!” she said. And he swore he could hear the smile in her voice.

“So you’ll uh, be by when to uh, pick it up?”

“In about fifteen” she sighed into the phone, not in a contrived breathy trying-to-be sexy kind of way, but in a “this is my last errand for the evening” sigh that comfortably stamped the period to her final sentence.

“Okay. I’ll be -we’ll be here.” He managed.

She hung up. He studied the name on the hold slip.

“Beauty Jackson!?”

“You got to be kidding me!” he said to himself.

He swiveled right on his stool to watch the door. And then he started praying.

 

 

 

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Buck Naked: Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part 2: A Review and then some…

April 3, 2010

Part I. The review.

“Cover me, I ‘m goin in”

It’s hard to believe that its been 13 years, five “studio” albums and one “live” album since Ms. Erykah Abi Badu, walked into our lives trailed by wisps of incense smoke and adorned by a head wrap that we still aren’t sure what it was covering.

But here we are. Thirteen years later. Thirteen!?

In a period where artists debut and disappear in less time than a ringtone,  Ms. Badu is an elder among the artists that remain on the slim (and getting slimmer) rosters of the few existing major labels. So she’s wise to the industry games and the fickleness of  listeners, and the whispers of focus groups organized by the suits who run this whole sha-bang!

So before I even speak on the obvious outcry, buzz, and larger conversation, regarding Ms. Badu’s  bunda and nakedness,  I got a music review to share, so here we go.

I count “Worldwide Underground” as the starting point of Erykah really taking over the sonic reins of her albums, and since then, short album as it was, Erykah’s really been turning out the ear candy. You got your tuning forks, sirens, sped up overdubbed helium vocals, crackling popping vinyl sounds, hand cymbals…and great music.

photo: Timothy Saccenti

New Amerykah Part 2: “Return of The Ankh”, is a leaner album than Part 1, though it has just as many tracks. Part 1. The 4th World War, was a disjointed mixtape, a Parliament –Funkadelic album cover collage of beats, in your face honesty, and  an Afro-futurist call to arms .Every track could have very well been its own album, as Erykah channeled, Cleopatra Jones, J-Dilla, Diana (Ms. Ross, to you), some Chaka, Queen Afua, and a lil Betty Davis thrown in for good  measure. But in a nutshell, 4th World War was Erykah’s coat of many colors, her, What’s Goin On, album.  She was in love, and she was really feelin’ herself, and feelin’ grown, both musically, literally, and lyrically.

“Everything around you see

The Ankhs, the wraps,the plus degrees  yes even the mysteries
Its all me-

-This year I turned 36
Damn it seems it came so quick
My ass and legs have gotten thick  yeah
Its all me”

- “Me” Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part  .1

And she’s still growing.

In the case of Return Of The Ankh, Badu turns the volume down somewhat  and  removes  the multi-layers from her tracks, so you can really digest the lyrical and emotional content this go round.

Courtesy: Motown/Universal Music Group

In the opening track “20 Feet Tall” Erykah reprises her role(s) of confidant and confessor, as she sings about a love that’s gradually raised an emotional wall to keep her out.

The second track “Window Seat” (we’ll get on the video later) opens up with some very Questlove like snares, and the groove is immediate, a nice thick bass bump gives the track some definite head nod effect, and we’re off, as Erykah ‘s voice, still honeyed and smooth, croons on about getting away from it all via a plane, spaceship, ect.

The next track, “Agitation”, is a short and mostly instrumental track that kinda reminds me of  Stevie Wonder’s “Contusion”. Its mostly an interlude into a funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter Baduized rendition of .“Sylvia Striplin’s “Can’t Turn Me Away”.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, just know it’s the song sampled by Junior Mafia, for their 1995 club banger, “Get Money” featuring The Notorious B.I.G.

Entitled “Turn Me Away (Get Munny)”, Badu and the band get all up in the pocket, as they mix  elements of Striplin and the late Frank White, for the desired effect, a nice two-step -at the cook-out- ala’ pimped out Cutlass Supreme ridin’ song. Badu freaks the lyrics a bit, and also has some hilarious ad-libs as the song sputters and hiccups to a close.

Other standouts like the dusted off sounding “Love” which uses an old J-Dilla  beat and the equally funky “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” ( I love how they rework that Eddie Kendricks sample, from “Intimate Friends”) and “Incense” are great as well, and really show the strength of Badu’s guiding hand as an executive producer for the most of the album.

But the crowning track of the entire album has to be “Out Of My Mind, Just In Time”. Clocked at ten minutes and twenty-two seconds, before I even heard the song, I had the familiar feeling that this one was going to be epic, so I dubbed it “Green Eyes II: Even Goddesses Get The Blues”.

The ol’ saying is true, some of the best art comes from pain and heartbreak, and somebody has broken Ms. Badu’s heart something serious. From the first strains of the lonely piano chord, you get a feeling this song is a swollen rain cloud getting ready to burst, and the first drops are some of the most heartfelt lyrics I’ve heard in a while.

“I’m a recovering, undercover-overlover…”

Damn.

I imagine Badu leaning on a baby grand, illuminated by a muted spot light, a Billie Holiday Gardenia in her hair, moaning out this song. It’s a story we’ve all heard before; someone loves someone, they put their all into the relationship, the other leaves  for another, and the one left goes crazy.

‘Cept it doesn’t end there, just as in Green Eyes, this is a song of  movements, the beats change, Badu’s voice intensifies, and she serves us  the must vulnerable part of herself; naked and unashamed to be falling apart.

Despite the uproar over her guerrilla filmed video for “Window Seat” ,eyes and ears should be focused intently on this album. Badu delivers  a helluva second serving of her New Amerykah series. Savor it, and get ready for thirds.

Derrick Weston Brown

The Kid With The Broken Halo

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Illiteracy, Epiphany at Wachovia (Reprinted from 2008)

January 14, 2010

I can read.

I can read every sentence I can write. The very words I’m typing right now I can read. Reading comes to me automatically. I can’t help but read any word you put in front of me. This is something most of us do unconsciously, without much thought. I cherish books. I’m not a voracious reader like I was when i was a much younger, but in college and grad school I read my fill of text that at times was really interesting and influential, while others were boring as hell!!

But my point is that we all take things for granted.  I took reading for granted though I know there  were people out there who are functionally illiterate and somehow have made in spite of the fact that they can’t read. I was naive enough to forget that fact until i met one of  these folks on my way out of the bank this past Friday.

This older gentleman with a pretty strong West Indian accent approached me as we exited the bank and were walking to our cars. He asked me if i could help him look over some papers because his eyesight was really bad. He asked me if I was busy and if i was in a hurry. I really didn’t have anywhere to go but i didn’t feel like standing around in the bank parking lot but I told him I had some time to spare.

We get to his truck and he spreads out several documents on the hood. The first few pages of documents are from a multiple choice test on railway safety protocol. He asks me to read him the questions and the answers. Several times he has me repeat the questions.

He also asks me if I think his selections are right? I tell him I don’t know anything about railway safety at all but we try to use the process of elimination to fish out the obvious answers. We end up going through the entire test, 25 questions in all and along the way I find out he’s been a railway employee for almost 40 years. 40 years!!! I’m blown away by this.  I can’t imagine the situation he’s in. If he doesn’t pass this test his job is in jeopardy. I’m wondering how he made it this far.

But then again i understand that necessity is the mother of invention, and he probably adapted the best way he knew how. He’s good at his job. He has to be if he’s made a career out of it, and by the looks of his truck and clothes he’s done well for himself so far. But i can only imagine the fear or thr burden he possibly has had to carry hiding this. Or maybe not. Maybe folks know that he can’t read.

All these things are running through my mind as he hands me several more documents. I read these particular documents that discuss boot safety and tell him the letter says he needs to buy some new work boots for the track and that the company will reimburse him. I’m fine with reading these but i have to stop when he hands me some tax forms. i tell him I can’t help him with these because i don’t want to mess with his money and what the government will take from him eventually. He tells me thanks and says “life is hard” a few times before handing me a five dollar bill which i immediately refuse. He won’t hear of it, says “Go buy yourself a beer or something.”

I take his money. Shake his hand and hop into my car for home. i’m sad. But i don’t pity him. Because he wouldn’t want that. Actually I’m in awe of him to. How did he do it? All those years. He made away somehow.

I drive on. Reading every billboard, every advertisement on the bus that passes me on the driver’s  side, and every street sign that guides me home.

Thankful.

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the kid with the broken halo: Re-up 2010

January 14, 2010

Okay. Its been almost five months since my last post. One hell of a hiatus indeed. Quite simply I was out living  so I could have stuff to blog about. In addition I now have  time and a lil’ bit more patience to actually sit and  write. Also. I f you are searching for poems. I’ll be posting them here from now on. Sorry Facebook. I’ll be in touch soon. Stay tuned.

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Blatant Disrespect Between two Black Men Shocks Poet!! News @ Eleven

September 24, 2009

Time: 11:45pm, September 22, 2009
Place: Bookstore of Busboys and Poets
Estimated time of violation: 15 minutes

So I’m running through my closing duties at the bookstore as the restaurant empties out of both diners and open mic poetry folks. Its a regular Tuesday night and though poetry is going on all around me, I’m in complete bookstore mode (that’s my cover, a mild mannered bookstore employee, cause in real life I’m actually a superdopefreshpoet but shhh don’t tell nobody). Anyway I’m in the poetry section (dead give away) and I’m straightening up the shelves and I see this smartly dressed couple in the bookstore browsing. I could go into their appearance and wax poetic about class, assume their social standing and such but this isn’t about that. Basically this entry is about common courtesy and about human interaction. But I guess its deeper than that.

So, the couple are staring at a few newly arrived books and chatting quietly when a younger but clearly taller brother rolls up on the couple and its clear he wants to speak to the young woman. But he says hello to the woman’s date, companion, boy friend, first and introduces himself.

Tall Guy: Hey What’s up man I’m (blah blah) how are you.

Boyfriend: Hello. Fine.

Tall Guy extends his hand

Boyfriend keeps his hands in his pockets.

Boyfriend: Yes?

Tall Guy: I’m trying to introduce myself.

Boyfriend: Uh huh okay.

Tall guy still holds out his hand

Boyfriend looks at hand, it obvious he ain’t removing his hands from his pocket.

Somehow, the woman is able to transition from this awkward moment and the Tall Guy doesn’t miss a beat. He actually know the woman. He asks her if her name is (blah,blah) she says it is and it turns out they went to elementary school together and were at one time great childhood friends. They chat for a while and it all cordial and cool. Meanwhile boyfriend says nothing just stands there with his hands in his pockets. Tall Guy says his piece, says goodbye and heads to the restroom. The couple leaves. The woman doesn’t say much, and granted she is holding a pair of red roses, so maybe it was a date.

So a few minutes later…Tall Guy comes out of the restroom chuckling shaking his head, I ‘m assuming he was kind of thrown for a loop at Boyfriend’s behavior as was I. He heads back to the bar orders a drink and relates to his buddy what just went down in the bookstore. I suddenly snap back into real time.

What just happened? Did I really see what I just saw? I was dying to know the whole story, the rest of Tall Guy’s discussion with his buddy and what would the woman say to her no handshaking boyfriend. Funny. I wonder if she kept those roses.

Further more, I was shocked because of the obvious courtesy and respect Tall Guy showed the couple. I have seen and been on the receiving end of the exact opposite, a guy approaches a couple to talk to the woman and then totally disregards the presence of the boyfriend or significant other. I ‘ve seen women pull this too when approaching a guy she may know who’s in the presence of another woman.

Coltrane’s song “Acknowledgment” comes to mind. Most folks I would think, don’t mind if someone approaches them while they are on a date or involved in an intense or important discussion, just as long as the approacher (spelling) acknowledges the person they don’t know.

Now among me and my brethren for the most part, if we see a woman we know and it appears she’s in the company of a significant other, we take great pains to acknowledge the brother and introduce ourselves and greet him before speaking to said sister. That’s common courtesy I would think and it immediately diffuses any tension, and any threat that we are up to no good ( even if we are or just being curious, keeping it real) and nobody wants that. However I’ve been out and had the opposite happen. An former girlfriend and I were out and about and this dude rolls up and just starts chatting her up..no prob…I chill and listen for a bit and after a minute I realize he ain’t even trying to acknowledge that I’m even there. I see my girlfriend trying to introduce me when there’s a break in his spiel and finally she holds up her hand and introduces me. I reach out for his hand…he could care less..and gives me the quick nod. At that point I understand his mathematics and calmly wait till my girlfriend cuts the convo short and we depart. Granted it takes alot to get me angry and i was mostly irritated and just blown that he couldn’t at the least extend me the same courtesy.

I ‘m not asking you, dear reader if I’m wrong, or if I have assumed a privilege I don’t deserve, but I do feel there’s something to be said for at least acknowledging, the presence of another person and especially within the situation of couples, intimate settings and so forth.

Its too bad to see either scenario occur, but its also just another eye opening moment, that we as human beings interact in different ways and just because you assume your social understandings are the norm doesn’t mean its so.

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Obsolete: An Encyclopedia Of Once Common Things Passing Us By aka Damn! I’m getting older!

September 1, 2009

obsolete book coverSo my heart stopped for a full 10 seconds this weekend when I got word that one of my favorite PBS shows of all time, was ending. Yes Ladies and Gentlemen…Reading Rainbow is done for, kaput, finito, dust.

Even though I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched an episode of  Reading Rainbow, there was something unsettling about its demise, and in the misdt of Michael Jackson’s passing, I realize that so much is changing at a quickening rate. Things that were a constant in my life and the lives of the true 80′s Babies (sorry if you were born in 1984 0r later you don’t count) are disappearing …changing..dying. I look around and I’m like “Damn! Bill Cosby is old!”  You can’t find a pay phone if you tried and to be honest..I’ve only had a cell phone since  2006, and even I can’t rememeber how I got  along without one. ( Note: i still have my land line though)

But I’m not here to gripe but rather to offer a little chaser to help the awful truth of aging go down easy. So thesoon -to be released  book you see above is called Obsolete: An Encyclopedia Of Once Common Things Passing “Us” By.

So I put the quotaions around us, because even the 20 somethings and teens are feeling the coooold gray hands of age, hooking its clammy fingers into our supple youthful skin. This book, by Anna Jane Grossman doesn’t bemoan the past so much as it points out just how quickly things are upgraded and discontinued as things get faster to meet our demands. No more slow-cooked meals..no more well aged cheese, sheesh what happened to the slow grind, slow drag, jesus, do people even slow dance anymore!!!!!???

Sorry.

Where was I? Oh. The table of contents alone will be sure to jog your memory, as Grossman documents over a hundred common place destinations, objects and otherwise that you may not have noticed are slowly disappearing without so much as a peep.

Blink and you’ll miss it:

Adult Book stores

After-School Specials

Airport Good-byes (Thanks alot Homeland Security!)

AM Radio

Arcades (Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, We hardly knew ye!)

Bellhops

Boom Boxes

Blackboards ( I miss chalk)

Camcorders

Cursive

Cash

CD

Checks

Dictionaries

Encyclopedias

Film

Gas Station attendants ( NJ still has those right?)

Video Late Fees

Layaway ( man i would have never been able to get that Troop jacket back in ’89)

Milkmen

Mixtapes ( A moment of silence)

Newspapers

Paper plane tickets

Pay phones

Phone Sex ( I strongly disagree)

Roladexes

Skate Keys

tokens

underscores/underlines

Video tapes

Video Stores (Blockbuster Bites the Dust)

The list goes on and on. So check the book out.  I ‘ll have to say that since reading this book i figure I’ll get two or three poems out of it bemoaning the loss of my beloved Reading Rainbow and my ultimate slow jam mixtape circa 1997 which was instrumental in me losing the virginity tag in college.

Till next time..read a goddamn book and try your best to keep your halo shiny.

Peace,

The Kid

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Can It Be I Stayed Away Too Long?

August 30, 2009

Michael Jackson would have been 51 yesterday. I also heard tell there was a huge MJ rememberance party in Brooklyn hosted by Spike Lee and just a goo gob of famous Brooklyn black folks who came through to pay their respects by singing, dancing and reminiscing. WIsh I felt like writing more, but its pretty late and after the day I’ve had ( a pretty good one) I’m gonna turn in for some shut eye. Till tommorow (er) later in the morning. Good Night.

P.S. R.I.P Sen. Ted Kennedy

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