Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Confederacy of Dunces – You’re a Grand Old Rag

“Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land” – D.D. Emmett        

“The institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise... would an existence spent in slavery have been any crueler than a life spent in sub-Saharan Africa?” -  Rep. John Hubbard, Republican - Arkansas

"Its symbolism in history is directly linked to the enslavement, torture and murder of millions of Americans.” - Assemblyman Isadore Hall, Democrat - California

One would think that by the summer of 2014 A.D. the Year of our Lord (by which, of course, I mean Marjorie Lord) any discussion of the baneful banner that is the Confederate flag would be neither timely nor relevant. Regrettably, such is not the case. The ascension of an African-American to the highest office in the land has reversed calendars south of the Mason/Dixon Line a century or so, exhumed graves, unsealed crypts, unearthed sarcophagus’s and filled the U.S. of A with the intolerant apparitions of long-dead traitorous and treasonous Johnny Rebs, while creating a new generation of modern-day, would-be Johnny Yumas.
You're an idiot
Twaddle, you proclaim? If only your audacious declaration of doubt and denial were true. But, the course of recent human events has illuminated actions and attitudes most ignoble.  A new poll taken among Mississippi Republicans (a group known for the inability to spell the name of their own state) reveals that over a third, 37%, would support the Confederacy, and its fight to preserve slavery, had they the opportunity today.

Meanwhile, in the equally unenlightened state of South Carolina, the first to secede from the Union, home of the palmetto tree and Young Jeezy, the state attorney general has allowed for the continued and legal display of the Stars and Bars at the chapel entrance of the Citadel military college in Charleston despite abundant objections to its obvious offensiveness.  Said City Councilman Henry Darby in response, "It's just still as if they are trying to preserve the Confederacy” - indeed.

You're an idiot
Then, there’s the legend that is Operation American Spring, the Tea Party event, held just this past May, that promised to bring 30 million real Americans to Washington D.C. to finally and for all-time oust illegal alien, Muslim, anti-Christ, puppy-mill owner, child-candy stealer, original Star Trek series canceller, Garden of Eden snake, President Barack Obama from his comfy chair in the Oval Office. Although only missing its attendance goal by but a trifling 29,999,970 people, in this modern American era of 1865, as long as the stupid take a stand, there will be confederate flags flown. The few hearty and enthusiastic, anti-American haters that did appear were parading their rebel rags with more illicit ill will and perverse pride than John Holmes did his John Thomas. But I say, Gomer, keep it in your overalls.

You're an even bigger idiot
So, is the Deep South truly an un-enchanted land where teeth and diplomas are equally rare commodities, family values means marrying someone within your own family and “Deliverance” a dead-on documentary? All obviously exaggerated, false and distasteful stereotypes, but keep waving the Southern Cross rather than burning it, keep promoting the glorious and glamorous benefits enslavement held for our black population like so much Proactive Plus for Adam Levine, and the Hee Haw viewing, greased-pig chasing, Honey Boo Boo raising, insulting insinuations will remain. We cursed Yankees would like to believe that there might be some nuclear physicists named Zeke, great philosophers called Josephus, smart, selfless and sophisticated statesmen christened Gomer, but continue to harken back wistfully and nostalgically to a time when you had the right to own other human beings, and your region turned violent, treasonous traitor to our great nation in a war a century and a half passed but still felt like a fresh wound in some mindsets, and like George Michael in a public restroom, one can only judge by the evidence at hand.

Okay, you get a pass
This deliberate and odious icon is too often regarded as a meaningless piece of pop culture, be it as a gargantuan backdrop on the concert stage behind Lynyrd Skynrd or as a constant presence in every idiotic iteration of the Dukes of Hazzard. It’s not comedic, it’s not artistic. It should be treated here as the swastika, its moral equivalent, is in Germany, banned and illegal to sell or purchase.

This flag, this unfurled material of malevolence, doesn’t represent Southern Pride, state’s rights and a nostalgia for a genteel, better life gone by - it represents the ownership of people. It represents beatings and whippings and torture and lynchings. It represents ignorance, intolerance and inhumanity. It represents treason, disloyalty and sedition. It represents a presidential assassination. If you fly it, or proudly display it or tattoo it upon your flabby, fatty, southern-fried flesh, you’re a fool.  If you fly it in the nation’s capital, if you display it outside the current home of our first Black President, you’re saying Obama belongs not in the White House but in the cotton fields of your plantation.

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

Strange Fruit  
“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” - Abel Meeropol

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jimmy Scott - I’ll Be Around

Saturday Song Selection: Special Edition

“Good-bye again,
And if you find a love like mine,
Just now and then,
Oh, drop a line to say you `re feeling fine” – Alec Wilder

In light of his recent passing and in recognition of a true interpretive artist, we revisit our “Saturday Song Selection” feature in deserving memory of Jimmy Scott.

His voice was unique - inimitable, yet many times imitated. His style was distinctive – often as slow as a Republican’s retort and as full of emotion as a winning Price is Right contestant. (As slow as midtown Manhattan crosstown traffic and as smooth as a Dr. Oz medicinal miracle pitch. As slow as a Tea Partier’s response to Final Jeopardy and as emotional as an eliminated World Cup team – pick the combination you prefer.)

Employing the fairly common technique of singing slightly behind the beat, Jimmy Scott could almost appear to be two tunes in arrears, transforming a quick ditty into an epic ballad. Had he attempted a lyrical rendition of The Minute Waltz, we might still be awaiting its conclusion today – yet, somehow, he made it work beautifully.  

To address the elephant in the blog, Mr. Scott’s undeniable feminine timbre, his unusually high contralto voice, he was born with a rare genetic condition, Kallmann's syndrome that prevented him from reaching puberty, also accounting for his slight stature.

Jimmy Scott first found fame with the Lionel Hampton Band in the 1940s, billed as Little Jimmy Scott, and while reaching some level of notoriety amongst jazz aficionados and fellow performers such as Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson, widespread renown did not follow and by the 1960s he was toiling as a hospital orderly, shipping clerk and hotel elevator operator.

But, perhaps it was inevitable that a natural gift like Jimmy Scott’s would attain an eventually, appreciative audience even if unfortunate decades had to pass. In 1991 the late Lou Reed, a distinctive talent himself, heard Jimmy sing at the funeral of legendary songwriter, Doc Pomus and with Reed’s influential urging and support, Scott’s late in life career renaissance began, rewarding him with the recognition that had previously proven so elusive.

And it was a beautiful, early 90’s day, not that long after the departure of Mr. Pomus, while idol in the idyllic setting of my beloved borough’s Central Park, that I was first introduced to Jimmy Scott’s voice, thanks to the good taste and good graces of jazz radio WBGO-FM.  Do you readers recall an ancient and long-forgotten enterprise known as a “record store?” Well, this was the pre-MP3 era when that archaic business was still flourishing, and so moved was I by this newly discovered artist that I headed post-haste to the Tower Records that once existed near the West Side of the park.  While prideful in my reasonably extensive knowledge of jazz and standard singers, this one was unrecognizable to me, sounding most in style and tone like Nancy Wilson, but not quite. The D.J. credited his playlist, I purchased the CD from whence the track came, and have been hooked ever since.

At this point, I’ve lost count of precisely how many times I’ve seen Jimmy Scott live and at which music establishments but notably, at one such performance, there sat famous fans Laurie Anderson and the essential and aforementioned, Lou Reed. And, as with all in attendance that evening, the gifted and prominent pair was enthralled and enraptured by the emotive ability on display.

Thanks, Lou. You are missed
Living in New York, if you take advantage of it, can be a truly amazing and wonderful thing – someone else’s vacation as your everyday - enjoying with great regularity that which countless others might only wish for, or may possibly get to fulfill on the rare journey or two. With this potpourri of possibilities and opportunities at hand I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy concerts by Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Liza Minnelli, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon and at least twice that roster that currently slip my mind. If you’re an accomplished singer and we shared a lifetime (meaning, although legally qualified to be categorized as “old as the hills” I am still too short in the tooth to have experienced Judy Garland, Bobby Darin or Billie Holiday), chances are that I’ve procured a ticket or two for your musical presentation. And, out of this impressive and encompassing inventory, (even keeping in mind that to me Sinatra stands alone, as in, there’s Frank and then there’s everyone else) no one I’ve witnessed  intoned with as much open and honest emotion and raw feeling as Jimmy Scott.

As an employee of the entertainment industry and a resident of a metropolis where star spotting can sometimes be a daily activity, I rarely, if ever, inquire after autographs or pictures, and most New Yorkers follow suit. Leaving the luminary to his or her justified privacy is practically an unwritten law in the Big Apple, and a reason why celebrities can and do feel comfortable living here – my atypical exceptions, photographic evidence of a day spent working with Liza Minnelli and John Kander in Mr. Kander’s impressive and memorabilia filled digs, and the sought after signature of a true vocal genius, Jimmy Scott, as he ruminated alone at a nearby table following one of his memorable shows at the short-lived jazz venue once housed in the now demised Tavern on the Green.  And,  as one would hope, and even possibly expect, he was not only gracious, but sincerely appreciative to be asked.

The great Jimmy Scott’s performances made me smile, made me tear up and made me feel, and isn’t that what art should do?

James Victor “Jimmy” Scott
July 17, 1925 – June 12, 2014

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.