Amy Winehouse: We Lost One

Amy Winehouse was found dead on Saturday in her home in Camden, North London.  I fell instantly head over heels for her brassy, blues and jazz infused voice that sang songs of pain and frustration, lust and love.  What saddens me more than the loss of this talent to the world, are the reactions from media outlets and individuals who blame Winehouse for what has happened to her (even as the autopsy report is pending).

The news of her death sparked immediate head shakes of disappointment in the artist’s “wasted promises”, finger wags and twitter tags of “I knew it,” and for a few of us, feelings of deep sadness in the loss of life, a life which blessed us with music that spoke to our souls.  Known as “the crazy Amy Winehouse” to classmates, what seems clear both from the blues in her voice and the lyrics that she wrote was that melancholia had been a part of her life for a very long time.   The numbing affects and addictive nature of drugs and alcohol were an unfortunate combination which led to her inability to keep up the unrealistic endurance required to live life under the scrutiny of millions.  They also inhibited her from getting treatment, but I never once counted her out.  I had hoped she’d make it through the fire, like Chaka Khan has.

Though I cannot imagine Winehouse’s demons, in my life I have felt lost and depressed; have lived through times where I had no home, no anchor, and was lonely.  Having felt all those things, I know that it is only a blessing that I made it out, both physically and emotionally, intact.  That is not the experience of a great many of us, some of whom numb their unbearable pain with whatever will do the trick.  I feel blessed to have come out of my experience with understanding for those who live with the kind of depression that makes their body ache on the inside and that makes it nearly impossible for them to experience joy or happiness in the way that others do; understanding for those who live with addictions which are as mental as they are physical.

Blessed to have kept my capacity to be sensitive to the loss of life and sensitive to the mistreatment of others in life and in death.

Thank god tears dry on their own

Chris Brown = Bobby Brown 20 years ago

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

As my favorite poet once said, “There are no new ideas, only new ways of making them felt,” I want to take a short pause to muse over the fact that Chris Brown and Bobby Brown have had almost the same trajectory in terms of their early career.  In other words, Chris Brown is the Millennial’s version of Bobby Brown.

Go with me here…

Chris Brown can dance and so could Bobby.  Bobby was a master of his era’s dance moves. As Chris Brown is.


Now let’s think about the way that they sing. If you listen close, you’ll hear something similar. They have that nasally, high pitched man sing. But they can do the deeper man sing if they want.

Bobby was a bad boy, but he started out a good guy. Chris Brown knocked the hell out of Rihanna, but he started out a nice guy. Bobby was probably the worst thing that had ever happened to Whitney Houston, and we could say something similar about Chris Brown as it relates to Rihanna, but she got outta there.  Quick.  I really want Chris Brown to get some professional help, and once he’s able, he needs to do some outreach to other young men about hitting women and anger problems.  In the meantime, I wonder if he’d consider giving some of that money to foundations that do that work.

Organizations Ending Violence Against Women

American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence
740 15th Street, NW, 9th Floor
Washington, DC, 20005-1022
phone: 202-662-1000
The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence website provides information about a wide-range of domestic violence issues and extensive links to other resources and organizations. The website includes listings of ABA policies, training materials, legal briefs, and sample legal forms relevant to domestic violence issues and proceedings.

Asian Task Force against Domestic Violence
P.O. Box 120108, Boston, MA 02112
24-hour multilingual helpline: 617.338.2355 / Tel: 617.338.2350
Fax: 617.338.2354
Based in Boston, the mission of the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence is to eliminate family violence and to strengthen Asian families and communities. Many of their brochures are available in Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Washington, DC 20009
Tel: (202) 387-4848
Ayuda’s mission is to protect the rights of low-income immigrants in the DC metropolitan area. We are the region’s leading provider of multilingual legal and social services for low-income immigrants in the areas of immigration, human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Center for Women Policy Studies
1776 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Suite 450
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 872-1770
Fax: (202) 296-8962
The Center for Women Policy Studies was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first feminist policy analysis, research and advocacy institution. Their mission today is what it was then—to shape public policy to improve women’s lives.

Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women
145 N Street, NE, Suite 10W.121
Washington, DC 20530
phone: (202) 307-6026 phone
TTY: (202) 307-3911
The mission of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is to provide federal leadership to reduce violence against women, and to administer justice for and strengthen services to all victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This is accomplished by developing and supporting the capacity of state, local, tribal, and non-profit entities involved in responding to violence against women.

Family Violence Prevention Fund
Washington, DC Office
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW
5th Floor, Suite 501
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 682-1212
Fax: (202) 682-4662

Men Can Stop Rape
1003 K Street, NW, Suite 20001
Washington, DC 20037
Tel: (202) 265-6530
Fax: (202) 265-4362
Men Can Stop Rape mobilizes male youth to prevent men’s violence against women. Their mission is to build young men’s capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equality.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
Hotline: 800 799-7233
A project of the Texas Council on Family Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is open year-round. Trained staff provide counseling and referral services to all, free of charge. The staff speaks English and Spanish, and translators are available for 129 other languages. They offer crisis intervention, referrals to domestic violence and other emergency shelters and programs, information and support, and can link callers to a nationwide database on domestic violence. They advise on shelters, advocacy and assistance, and social services programs.

Polaris Project
P.O. Box 53315
Washington, D.C. 2009
Tel: 202-745-1001
fax: 202-745-1119
Named after the North Star that guided slaves towards freedom along the Underground Railroad, Polaris Project has been providing a comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery since 2002. Polaris Project is a leading organization in the United States combating all forms of human trafficking and serving both U.S. citizens and foreign national victims, including men, women, and children

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
2000 L Street NW Suite 406
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 544-1034
Hotline: (800) 656-HOPE
Provides information on resources throughout the country, for survivors of rape, abuse and incest. Runs a 24 hour, 7 day a week hotline.

V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery. V-Day is also a non-profit corporation that distributes funds to grassroots, national, and international organizations and programs that work to stop violence against women and girls. The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.

For a more complete list, check out who I thank for keeping this list!

Lil’ B Ain’t Gay, but He’s Certainly Queer

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Rapper Lil’ B is causing a scene with his recent news that he’ll be naming his upcoming studio album I’m Gay.  He’s not only earned some recognition from GLAAD, he’s also received a few death threats, and has lost some valued support from those who once had his back in the game.  What do I think it means?  Good question.

Lil’ B is something new.  Something we’ve not really seen before.  He’s not normal.  Not your average rapper.  He’s too comfortable with his sexuality, and that disturbs people.  From his song “I’m Paris Hilton” to “I’m Ellen Degeneres,” there’s something about him that makes you tilt your head a bit and go “huh…” Having listened to some of Lil’ B’s mixtapes and after having some extended conversations about the topic, I’m apt to say that Lil’ B, though he does not identify as gay, may embody queerness. Queer need not refer directly to gay or lesbian bodies, but can stand in as a term for all non-normal configurations of sexuality (Halberstam 2005). He doesn’t say stuff “right”, doesn’t do stuff “right” and he is certainly doing something extra-ordinary (that is… outside of the normal), by being a Black heterosexual man who is a near-mainstream rapper and says that he supports gay and lesbian rights.

I don’t know what it means.  Maybe it means that in the next 3 years there will be a mainstream “out” gay rapper though and that will certainly be news.  Right now, I think we wait and see.  We wait and see if Lil’ B can remain relevant and we wait and see if a major studio gets brave enough to back an out gay/lesbian rapper.  Let’s not forget him though.  Lil’ B is definitely doing something worth remembering.


2005  Halberstam, Judith. In a queer time and place: transgender bodies, subcultural lives. New York University Press.


Ciara and the Drop from Pop

Ciara experienced what felt like a meteoric rise in the early 2000s and her ability to capture the 14-19 age demographic with songs like “Promise” and “Goodies” seemed unmatched.  As I usually do in conversations about Ciara, I have to note that I attended the same high school as her–saw her in the halls, but never ever thought I’d be blogging about her 6 years later.  And then, I realized that something had happened to Ciara over the past year or so.  I heard the infamous words, “she fell off,” being spoken about the once pop princess.

If you recall she did have song or two out last year one of which was “Ride,” with the video that you couldn’t watch at work because it was somewhat x-rated.  She also had “Gimme dat” where she performed dance moves that only she and a select group of women could do.  But then, a friend and I realized that we had absolutely no recollection of what album those song were from, or if an album was released, or if anyone was listening to Ciara at all.

Ciara’s album, Basic Instinct, did in fact drop late last year (December 10th, 2010), with little notice having not even broken the top 25 Album Chart on the Billboards.  Ciara’s first album sold 3 million copies, her second, more than a million.  More research confirmed what we had learned through a Twitter Poll: “Did anyone purchase or illegally download Ciara’s album?” the answer to which was a resounding “wind and leaves rustling.”  Apparently, Ciara has only sold about 38,000 copies of Basic Instinct and last month Ciara was dropped from her record company, LaFace Records (LA Reid and Babyface’s record company–the same company that put TLC in bankruptcy).

And what does all this mean?  Probably nothing, but it does provide an excellent opportunity to talk about what it means, philosophically of course, to be dropped from popularity.  What does it mean to “fall off”?  What happens in the space between relevance and popdom, and irrelevance and regularness.  What happens when someone who once signed autographs in their sleep, starts working at the Bank of America down the street?

Popularity, for the most part, is an illusion.  A socially acceptable one.  A socially constructed one, but the mass construction of popularity for an individual is situated within a bounded framework.  It depends on context and technology, human biology.  People die.  People forget things.  And people are not going to be socially invested in the same things for all time because socially constructed “coolness” is constantly in flux.  It’s why 50 Cent was the most popular rapper like 6 years ago, and now nobody listens to that dude.

Pop is fickle, and though there are exceptions to this rule… think about 100 years from now–will people really know who Madonna is?  Cher?  Prince?  Dare I say… Michael Jackson?

More often pop acts from “a long time ago” (30 years) will remain nameless because we don’t remember them anymore.  We will forget the names of The Backstreet Boys, or the girl who sang that “Goodies” song–if we haven’t already.

Blackness, Nudeness, and Thinking Critically


Timothy Bloom featuring V. Bozeman, ‘Til the End of Time

As you can imagine, I’ve got plenty to say about Timothy Bloom’s new video “‘Til the End of Time,” but rather than offering my own reading of this video and the message its sending through its lyrical content, I’m just going to ask a few questions that came up for me and hope you’ll consider them when you watch it for the first, second and third time.

Let’s start from the top.

  • Where are they? What’s the context? You remember in school when your teacher would talk about the importance of looking for context clues? Well, what are the clues in this video that would help us make sense of it? Is it purposeful that there is no context?
  • Why are they naked? If you’re naked the first time you are talking about making a baby, that’s kinda late, right?
  • Are there other ways that Black men and women relate to one another other than in the context of sex?  And if so, where are those depictions?

Booooooy, put it inside of me/Go ahead and inplant your seed until the end of time/
And aaahhhhh… if you should die tomorrow/seed will live on inside of me.

  • What exactly is she talking about? Does it at all sound like a weird way to say “let’s have a baby”? Think about it literally and figuratively.   Literally: if this man dies–or if leaves her–his “seed,” the part of him that aides in the growth of another being will live (and grow) inside of her forever.  Okay.. so what does that mean? Figuratively: perhaps she’ll remember that dude for a long time after having sex with him.
  • But isn’t the general use of the word “seed” in the context of sex in reference to semen?  So, “implant your seed” means that they aren’t using condoms… which seems like an awful thing to do, because what if that dude does leave you?
  • Assuming the song is about two committed people having children, which would make some sense in the context of their naked bodies (babies come out naked), when you and your partner sit down and discuss having children, is it a deeper conversation than “I want you to remember me”?
  • Is this song/video so beautiful that it makes you forget that typically, women in heterosexual relationships are burdened with an unequal amount of reproductive labor, i.e. they spend way too much time “remembering” their kids and their partners, and not enough taking care of (remembering) themselves.  Do you think at all about the unequal distribution of power between men and women on a larger scale when you watch this?
  • Let’s just say that the video is hot, it’s only about good sex, and it’s just not that deep “Doctor” Lane… then what is its purpose? I mean, why make it? There’s plenty of videos and songs, and whole industries dedicated to that.
  • And then, let’s assume it is deep and is meant to send a message and does exist in a particular context where homosexual bodies continue to be policed, continue to be deemed “unnatural” because they don’t “reproduce,” and some people really think that sex can only happen between a man and a woman, and the AIDS/HIV crisis, is still a crisis and STDs are real but you have folks who would deny teenagers and grown people in prison condoms, and Planned Parenthood is in danger not existing in the next year or so, and feminist are fighting tooth and nail for Roe v. Wade… In that context, what then does this video mean?

The above questions are meant to aide you in the consideration that popular culture isn’t produced in a vacuum.  I don’t have all the answers to the questions I asked, I only know that it’s a good idea to ask them especially when Blackness and (hetero)sexuality are being deployed.

Enjoy and do me a favor, think critically.