Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Arranging a race between Neil Fallon of Clutch and John Andretti



Recently, I attended my eighth concert of heavy metal stalwarts Clutch. I've written about my affinity for Clutch before, both here and in the Tampa Bay Times.  But today I wanted to share a few things: a link about Clutch and the time I tried to arrange a go-cart race between the lead singer of Clutch and a member of the famed Andretti family.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about Clutch in their Speakeasy blog. Of course, there is a Star Wars tie-in, because it's 2015 and there has to be, but it is still a good article.

The third time I saw Clutch was in Tallahassee, Florida at one of the many locations of the Cow Haus, which moved several times before settling at a location on Railroad Ave and then became The Beta Bar.

(At the old location I saw Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains and Clutch and in the newer locale I saw Buckcherry and Clutch again.)

Prior to the first time seeing Clutch in Tallahassee, I dropped an email to the (at-the-time unofficial) Clutch website: Pro-Rock.com:
Sent: Monday, March 19, 2001 4:14 PM
Subject: Hey Datskat

Hey man,
Great job on the pro-rock page. I've been checking out for years now (since 96 or so) and I just want to say keep up the great work. I have a question for you maybe you can relay to the band. Is Neil really interested in racing Andretti as he mentions in Pure Rock Fury? I am from Melbourne, FL and there is an Andretti Thrill Park go-cart type place here that my mother works in. John Andretti usually visits the park when NASCAR races in Daytona. Maybe, just maybe Neil can show Andretti how ready he is.
Mike
A few weeks later, I received a reply.
Sent: Sunday, April 1, 2001 5:30 PM
Subject: Re: Hey Datskat

forwarded message to Neil. let me know if you hear any replies.

thanks,
djf

Doug Fisher
Graphic Designer
Broad Street Designs

A few months after the correspondence, on June 2, 2001, I attended the show. I was lucky enough to chat with each member of Clutch and get them all to sign my copy of their CD "Pure Rock Fury".

When I chatted with lead singer Neil Fallon, I asked him a few questions such as which was his favorite song, if he remembered the location where I had first seen them in a bar in Houston, Texas on October 10, 1997, and whether or not he received the above correspondence. Fallon said he did, but unfortunately he was not able to get to Melbourne, Florida to actually race an Andretti.
ANDRETTI'S NEVER RACED ME BUT IF HE WANTS TO OH I'M READY COORDINATION OF THE EYE AND HAND IS NOT MY STRONG POINT BUT I MAKE DUE WITH WHAT I HAVE.
In the 14 years since, I wonder if they ever made it happen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Shock G aka Humpty Hump performs in Tampa

As part of my ongoing effort to create a documentary/archive of the works of Kenny "Kenny K" Waters, Tampa's first hip-hop DJ, I attended the 3rd Annual Kenny K Tribute Concert. The concert took place in Ybor City at Crowbar on October 25th.

Among the many videos I recorded during the show was the return of Shock G aka Humpty Hump to the Tampa hip-hop scene. Although he garnered most of his fame through his work in Oakland, to include discovering Tupac Shakur, Shock G openly acknowledged Kenny K's influence and ability in creating Digital Underground, one of hip-hop's most legendary groups. While Shock G had performed in Tampa several times since, it had been nearly 20 years since he performed in front of audience there to celebrate Kenny K and Tampa's hip-hop roots.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Culture and Traditions of Tallahassee, Florida Bars in 2001



(Here is a paper I wrote in 2001 for a folklore class. I guess the line between folklore and anthropology isn't that large. Warning: this report is over 3,000 words. I researched those bars quite well.)

In 1999, Florida State University was voted number one party college in America by Princeton Review (1). Much of the credit for this dubious distinction goes to the bars and pubs of Tallahassee, Florida, Florida State’s home. Tallahassee has a plethora of drinking establishments, many of which are a short walk from the university campus.

A majority of these drinking establishments are located on Tennessee Street. The “Tennessee Strip” is home to such bars as Bullwinkle’s, Fatty and Skinny’s, and Ken’s, to name a few. In the 35 plus years that students have been enjoying themselves on the “Strip”, as well as at other locations throughout Tallahassee, several traditions have developed.

One of the more famous of these traditions is the “Tennessee Waltz”, named after the Official State Song of Tennessee (2). Culturally Florida.com defines the Tennessee Waltz as visiting the Tallahassee bar scene on weekends the Florida State Seminoles play their home football games (3). To those who frequent the “Strip” however, it has a quite different meaning.

According to Emily George, a senior at Florida State, the “Tennessee Waltz” is a rite of passage for Tallahassee residents who celebrate their 21st birthday. After “warming up” with a “pre-party” celebration, the birthday person, along with his or her friends, go to Bullwinkle’s. There the birthday person receives a birthday sticker to wear on their chest. The benefit of wearing this sticker is that every bar on Tennessee Street gives the birthday celebrator a free beer or other drink with valid proof of ID. The “Waltz” concludes when the birthday celebrator has either visited all of the eight bars on the “Tennessee Strip” or they have gotten sick from the over consumption of alcohol.

Over time students have added traditions to the “Tennessee Waltz.” For example, when a member of a group of girls turns 21, the entire group dresses up in a certain theme. Some of the more popular themes include Hawaiian, Cowboy, or 1980s-retro attire. The birthday girl is usually designated by a crown, boa, or tiara (4). So famous has the “Tallahassee Waltz” become, it has been mentioned in Sports Illustrated (5) and on the Florida State University website (6).

The “Tennessee Waltz” is the only major drinking tradition in Tallahassee that involves more than one establishment. Many places have their own traditions and nuances that distinguish them from the rest. What follows is a journalistic report of visits and interviews conducted by the author.

October 20, 2001 Indian Harbor Beach/ Sebastian Beach, FL

I started my study on Tallahassee bar traditions not in Tallahassee, but in Indian Harbor Beach, Florida, home of Poor Paul’s Pourhouse. This bar shares its name with one of the many on Tallahassee’s famed Tennessee Street. I was curious to know whether there was any connection between the two bars other than their name. There was also a Seminole football game that night so I figured where better to watch the game than a place that would be full of fellow Seminole fans.

Poor Paul’s is a typical sports bar with televisions mounted around the bar and a large screen television in the middle of the establishment. There was a large array of Florida State paraphernalia posted around the bar.

As I watched the game I noticed whenever a customer purchased a pitcher of beer the bartender would spin the bargain wheel. The bargain wheel was a solid wooden wheel mounted on a post by the bar. Similar to the concept of the wheel of fortune, the wheel had notches on it and it was divided into several colored sections (red, blue, yellow, black, etc). The customer “called” his or her color as the bartender spun the wheel. If the wheel stopped on the customer’s color, he or she would receive a free pitcher of the beer of their choice.

After the Seminoles won the game and the crowd left I had a chance to interview the bartender, Dave Brooks. Dave had tended bar for 18 years starting in Simsbury, Connecticut. He informed me that Poor Paul’s had been opened in 1999 and is frequented by all genders mostly of age 25 and up (7).

Dave also told me of Poor Paul’s special theme days. On Wednesday nights, the Poor Paul’s NASCAR club meets. Saturday brings together the Brevard County Seminole Club, a member of both Seminole Boosters, Inc and the Alumni Association. It is headed by Brendan McCarthy and conducts such activities as an annual golf tournament and gives away a $1000 scholarship (8).

When I asked Dave about any association between the Poor Paul’s Pourhouse of Indian Harbor Beach and its namesake in Tallahassee, he told me that although the name is not trademarked and can be used freely, the owner of the Tallahassee bar disapproves of the use of the name elsewhere. An interesting side note to the situation is that the owner of the Indian Harbor Beach Poor Paul’s also owns a neighboring bar named the Purple Porpoise, the namesake of which is in Gainesville, Florida, home of the Florida Gators. The use of this name is approved by the Gainesville bar owner (7).

After thanking Dave for his time and leaving Poor Paul’s Poorhouse I headed down SR A1A to the Sebastian Beach Inn. This is a small little beach bar that frequently showcases live music. When I arrived, there were approximately 20 people there. As the night progressed and the band finished their set, I was able to interview the bartender, Eddie.

Eddie had worked bar for 34 years learning on the job at a bar named Badlands in Ohio. He told me the Sebastian Beach Inn had been opened for over 25 years and that it was primarily a blues and reggae bar. Although he claimed the bar was patroned by people of all ages and ethnicities, I only saw middle aged white people there. Also of note was that the Sebastian Beach Inn was along the Poker Run of motorcyclists in the local area. When I inquired about this tradition, Eddie introduced me to a man sitting at the bar named Ted. Ted was a local biker with both the Independence Chapter of Brevard and the Harley Owner’s Group (HOG) (9).

According to Ted, a Poker Run is a charitable benefit drive in which each biker puts in an entry fee of $10. This fee enables the biker to acquire a playing card from each participating establishment. The biker with the best hand after the run is over receives half of the benefit money (10). Once I finished talking to Ted, I called it a night, returning to Tallahassee the next day to further my research.

November 13, 2001 Tallahassee, FL

The first Tallahassee bar I researched was Fatty and Skinny’s, located on Tennessee Street. Fatty and Skinny’s is an Irish pub with a large array of imported beers for the customers to choose from. While there I interviewed the bartender, a college age girl named Jenine.

Jenine told me Fatty and Skinny’s had been opened for about 10 years and its main patrons were men of various ethnicities over the age of 21 (11). Besides its theme and its product array, Fatty and Skinny’s was mostly devoid of recognized tradition.

After interviewing Jenine, I met a man who claimed to be a founding member of the famous rock and roll band the Eagles. He introduced himself as Randy Meisner and continued on about how he was taking a Greyhound bus to Tempe, Arizona to go to Lake Tahoe with 70’s singer/ songwriter Jackson Browne (12). A week later I did research on Mr. Meisner, who was indeed a member of the Eagles. However, the man at Fatty and Skinny’s claimed to be 63. Randy Meisner is 55 years of age. I also read an online article about an imposter in Atlanta claiming to be the classic rock band’s bass player. Was the individual I met really Randy Meisner? Or merely an imposter?

While congratulating myself on meeting a rock legend (?) I walked down Tennessee Street to Ken’s.

Ken’s is the oldest bar on Tennessee Street, having opened in 1966. It is a beer/ country bar catering primarily to the Greek (fraternity and sorority) community of Florida State. Inside Ken’s is a pool table and several dart boards. I talked to Carl Ots, who had worked bar at Ken’s for three years. He claimed to have learned how to tend bar by being an alcoholic. He also told me the hardest part of his job is dealing with a possibly unruly crowd.

Carl told me of the many traditions associated with Ken’s. The bar has held an annual charity golf tournament for the Shriners since 1995. During the tournament, the golfers traditionally drink a beer per hole.

Another tradition at Ken’s is the Mugs Club. The Mugs Club is an original traditional at Ken’s, having been done since its opening in 1966. In order to join the Mugs Club and have a mug posted behind the bar, an organization must stay at Ken’s from open to close for 2 days. This is a variation of the original tradition that was a Sunday to Tuesday camp out outside of Ken’s. This tradition was changed due to liability concerns.

The bartenders at Ken’s have their own traditions. Behind the bar, they give free beer to any girl who gives the bartender her bra. Outside of the bar, they annually make a trip to Biloxi, Mississippi for a weekend of fun. They even have their own identity, the Hondo Club. In order to join the Hondo Club, a new bartender must place a $100 bet on red or black on the roulette table at a Biloxi casino (13). After interviewing Carl I returned home, finishing my research for the night.

November 14, 2001 Tallahassee, FL

On my second night I continued researching the bars of the “Tennessee Strip.” I started the night at Poor Paul’s Poorhouse. Poor Paul’s has been opened for 20 years and is located underneath the adult toys and games store on Tennessee Street. It is a small bar without much circulation and a tendency to become very smoke filled.

Inside Poor Paul’s Poorhouse I interviewed Eric, the bartender. He has currently been working at Poor Paul’s for 4 months, having accumulated eight years total bartending time, starting in Daytona, Florida. Eric told me Poor Paul’s clientele is mostly 25-35 year old white males. Poor Paul’s has a drinking special every night of the week and has some of the cheapest beer prices in town. On every Wednesday, there is a meeting of the Poor Paul’s Dart League (14).

Having already visited the Indian Harbor Beach Poor Paul’s (October 20, 2001 entry), I asked Eric what he knew of any connection between the two establishments. Because of his limited experience at Poor Paul’s, he directed me to Jim, the bar’s manager. Jim stated he wasn’t sure about the situation but added that he thought the Indian Harbor Beach bar was making a royalty payment for use of the name (15). After talking to Jim, I left Poor Paul’s and headed to neighboring Bullwinkle’s.

Bullwinkle’s is possibly the most famous Tallahassee bar, having been named on both Playboy magazine’s “100 Best College Bars” (16) and Playboy’s College Bar Survey “5 Places to Party Like a Rock Star” (17). Bullwinkle’s has a unique set-up. It is divided between a dance club inside and a stage outside, frequently used for local music acts.

At Bullwinkle’s I interviewed another bartender named Eric. He told me Bullwinkle’s has been opened since 1979 and that people ranging in age from mid 30s to mid 20s frequent it. Bullwinkle’s has different theme nights ranging from Wednesday College Night (free admittance and free domestic beer for college students with a valid college ID) to Saturday Ladies Night. Eric also told me patron traditions at Bullwinkle’s include the gathering of the Friday night happy hour crowd and the Wednesday night gathering of the Florida State Anthropology Department (18). After taking advantage of some free domestic beer, I continued my research by going to the Leon Pub.

The Leon Pub is located approximately five miles from the “Tennessee Strip” on 6th Street. It is a tiny pub featuring two pool tables and one of the largest selections of beer in Tallahassee.

When I arrived, there was a large crowd at the Leon Pub and I found it difficult to interview the bartender, who used to be a neighbor of mine. When the crowd finally left, I was able to interview her. Her name is Kayse and she has worked bars for two years, the last four months of which have been at the Leon Pub. Kayse told me that the pub has been opened for eight years and that most of its customers are white drinking age males. The only tradition the Leon Pub is involved in is as the meeting place of two gentlemen-an uncle and his nephew- who get the same beer everyday (19). After finishing talking to Kayse, I went home, satisfied at the research I acquired.

November 18, 2001 Tallahassee, FL

The last bar I decided to research was Brother’s, Tallahassee’s only gay bar. Brother’s is located on Tharpe Street. When entering Brother’s, I noticed it is divided into three sections: an outdoor area with a small bar; the main bar area, containing a pool table, a juke box, and two televisions; and a dance floor area, also containing its own bar, as well as tables and chairs surrounding the dance floor.

While at Brother’s, I had the opportunity to interview one of the bartenders. His name was Adam and he had worked at Brother’s for a year, being taught how to tend bar by Nathan, the bar’s manager. Adam told me Brother’s had been opened for eight years and of course, was a gay bar. It is owned by the same individual who owns Club Park Avenue, a dance club in downtown Tallahassee.

Brother’s is often frequented by people of all ages, ethnicities, as well as all sexual orientations. Its traditional theme nights are Sunday night 80s Night and the Saturday Night Drag Queen Show led by Tony Denise. Even the bartenders at Brother’s have their own tradition of saying “Hey girl.” to patrons of every gender.

One of the more interesting answers I received from Adam was when I asked him “Who are the traditional patron groups of the establishment?”. Adam gave me an extensive list including “old gay men, young gay men, lesbians, married men, 1980s punks, college students, frat boys, sorority bitches, rednecks, goth kids, drag queens, and “try” sexuals, those who will “try” anything” (20). After thanking Adam for his time, I left Brother’s.

November 24, 2001 Tallahassee, FL

This was an unplanned night as far as my research went but is necessary in order to explain Tallahassee bar traditions. My friends and I decided to go out to Brother’s for the night. This time I was a little more comfortable going into a gay bar because I thought I knew what to expect. I was only partially correct.

At approximately one am, after spending an hour and a half on the dance floor, the lights came on. At first I thought Brother’s was closing but I knew it was too early. I then realized I was about to witness the Drag Queen Show firsthand.

After everyone had circled the dance floor, the first “gender illusionist” (as they are referred to in Brother’s advertising) entered the dance floor. She (for the purpose of gender classification in this research, anyone posing or desiring to be a specific gender will be regarded as such) was the master of ceremonies for the show and initially told the crowd Tony Denise would not be in attendance tonight. After the crowd sighed their disappointment, the MC told them what they were getting in tonight’s show- “a white one, a black one, a little one, a big one, and me.” Then she went off stage.

The first drag queen came out a few minutes later. She was a large black “woman” wearing typical dance club attire. She walked on to the dance floor to the beat of an old 1980s pop song. Then, to the crowds’ approval, she began to dance. It was a very sultry, seductive dance, full of hip gyrations, blown kisses, and other provocative gestures. She would purposefully tease some of the men standing around the stage. A few would even venture on the floor to dance with her. After each brief “flirtation”, she would receive a dollar, similar to the “reward” given to erotic dancers at adult entertainment establishments.

Following the first drag queen was a huge white “woman.” There was no mistaking she was actually a man. Like the first, she danced around the floor collecting dollar bills and teasing the men. This time even some of the ladies surrounding the dance floor danced with the drag queen.

Finally the third performer came to the stage. She was the MC who had opened the show. She danced very provocatively to the latest Britney Spears dance song “I’m a Slave.” She was not only smaller than the first two performers, but much more athletic, being able to do things such as leg kicks on the dance floor. She made quite a bit money after very exotically dancing with a very attractive young female.

Once the MC had finished her routine the dance floor lights returned to their original setting and the crowd resumed dancing the night away. The drag queen show had taken approximately 30 minutes. I had definitely enjoyed witnessing this Brother’s tradition firsthand.

Conclusion

Although not every bar in Tallahassee is full of traditions and customs, each did have its own “personality.” Even the patrons of each bar, from the macho fraternity brothers at Ken’s to the drag queen performers at Brother’s, had their own collective culture. It is these cultures and personalities who establish the many traditions associated with the Tallahassee bar scene.

Bibliography

1. OnlineAthens: News: UGA drops in party-school ranking. August 25, 1999. http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/082599/new_0825990010.shtml

2. Official Song of the State of Tennessee. http://www.50states.com/songs/tenn.4.htm

3. Culturally Florida. Com: North Central Florida. http://www.culturallyflausa.com/pop/region/region.php?region=9&page=3

4. George, Emily. Interview conducted December 1, 2001.

5. A Gentleman And a Scholar. Sports Illustrated. Page 28. December 27, 1993- January 3, 1994.

6. Perfecting Your English. http://www.fsu.edu/~fsu-isc/handbook/2001/Perfecting_Your_English.html

7. Brooks, Dave. Bartender, Poor Paul’s Poorhouse, Indian Harbor Beach, FL. Interview conducted October 20, 2001.

8. Brevard Seminole Club Flyer.

9. Eddie. Bartender, Sebastian Beach Inn, Sebastian Beach, FL. Interview conducted October 20, 2001.

10. Ted. Local biker. Interview conducted October 20, 2001.

11. Jenine. Bartender, Fatty and Skinny’s, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 13, 2001.

12. Randy Meisner (?). Patron. Fatty and Skinny’s, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 13, 2001.

13. Ots, Carl. Bartender. Ken’s, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 13, 2001.

14. Eric. Bartender. Poor Paul’s Poorhouse, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 14, 2001.

15. Jim. Manager. Poor Paul’s Poorhouse, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 14, 2001.

16. America’s Top 100 College Bars. Playboy. Page 128. October 1997.

17. The Campus Buzz. Playboy. Page 116. November 1999.

18. Eric. Bartender. Bullwinkle’s, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 14, 2001.

19. Kayse. Bartender. The Leon Pub, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 14, 2001.

20. Adam. Bartender. Brother’s, Tallahassee, FL. Interview conducted November 18, 2001.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why is it important for a community to support local entrepreneurs?



(This essay was written for a job opening. I did not get the position, but figured the essay was relevant, so decided to post it here.)

If we start with the premise that local businesses are the lifeblood of communities, then it is vitally important for communities to support local businesses. Given that local businesses are operated and created by local entrepreneurs, then supporting local entrepreneurs is even more essential.

While national and international corporations spend shareholder investments in establishing storefronts, local entrepreneurs usually invest their own savings. They are taking a gamble that they know what the community needs and that the community will in turn provide the business with the financial stability to continue providing the goods or service.

Local entrepreneurs are also more likely to provide benefits to the community such as hiring locally, sponsoring community efforts, and having the flexibility to move with the needs of the community. Most importantly, they typically keep their money local. Local money spent on goods and services provided by local entrepreneurs usually goes right back into the community. Money is not forwarded from the community to a big corporate headquarters in a faraway state or country.

Another benefit of local entrepreneurs is that they have a tendency to provide guidance or mentorship to other aspiring local entrepreneurs. One local entrepreneur’s success becomes a building block for a community of like-minded locals. If they are all supported, the many local entrepreneurs can create a movement and possibly an identity for the community. A great example of this phenomenon is the local beer movement in Tampa initiated by Cigar City Brewing. Because of community support, Cigar City Brewing was able to prosper and create opportunities for other local breweries, providing Tampa a cultural identity as a growing “beer city”. This identity in turn brings in other business and opportunities such as tourism, brewing supplies, and restaurants.

A local entrepreneur recently told me, “Give enough people what they want, and they will give you what you want”. When this “giving” relationship stays local, all parties benefit. But local entrepreneurs cannot give people what they want if they are not supported locally. Without their community, most local entrepreneurs would flounder and fail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Chuck D of Public Enemy talks about Kenny K



Back in February, I had the opportunity to interview legendary hip-hop performer Chuck D of Public Enemy. Chuck D was speaking at Eckerd College in St Petersburg. Thanks to the folks at WMNF 88.5, Tampa's community radio station, I was able to get 15 minutes of Chuck D's time and ask him about his relationship with Kenny K Waters, Tampa's first hip-hop DJ.

On my list of interesting people I've had a chance to interview, Chuck D is on the top. Chuck was exceptionally courteous, give me time when everyone else wanted to talk or take pictures with him. And he gave great answers, especially considering we were talking about an old friend who passed away over 20 years ago.

This video is being posted now to raise awareness for this year's Kenny K Celebration and Concert taking place on October 25th in Tampa. This year's event is especially notable as it is the first time Shock G of Digital Underground will be making an appearance. According to the Facebook page on the event:
Kenny was the 1st DJ in Tampa to bring Hip Hop to the radio via WMNF.org 88.5 FM and expose the Tampa Metro area to the innovative hip hop coming from the east as well as the west. Kenny was also a founding member of the legendary rap group, Digital Underground, whose hits like 'Humpty Dance' and 'Doowhatchulike' as well as helping to start the career of 2Pac, cemented their place in history.

For more on Kenny K, check out my interview with Chuck D:

Sunday, October 4, 2015

We need Lesser Heroes



Sometimes in the course of daily affairs, we need help with the little things - those minor obstacles that frustrate us and stand in the way of us having a generally swell day. We often fight these frustrations alone. Unfortunately, like 911, the police, or late-night Taco Bell, super heroes should only be called upon in case of emergencies.

But what about when we don't need to be saved from a mugger, a fire, or a maniacal madman set on destroying the city? What if we don't need super strength, super vision, or the ability to tackle demons from another dimension?

We need a legion of lesser super heroes. Those who might not be "super", but kinda better than good. Not-so-heroic heros, but heroes nonetheless.

Advertising has given us a few examples of non-traditional heroes with niche talents who came in handy when needed. For example, there was "Condom Man" for sexual protection and "Keith Stone" for cheap, watered-down beer. But those needs don't occur often for most of us.

What we really need is a conglomerate of super friends who fly around helping people with their most common needs. Heroes such as:

Water Bottle Woman - A seasonal hero, she flies through the city with a belt and backpack full of water bottles. If she sees someone sweating, she fights dehydration by providing those in need with a cool drink of H2O.

Bottle and Jar Opener Guy - Sometimes beer bottles need a bottle opener. Sometimes there is no opener to be found. Sometimes jars are a pain in the ass to open. That's when Bottle and Jar Opener Guy appears. He has the tools to open any jar, bottle cap, or cork. No bottle too big, no bottle too small. But he may hesitate if he thinks you've had one too many.

Lighter Woman and Cigarette Man - These two heroes are often seen together fighting two ends of the same dilemma. Some citizens have a cigarette but need a light and others have a light but need a smoke. When they sense a smoker in trouble, one member of this team springs to the rescue.

Toothpick Man - Ever have a little piece of something caught in your teeth? No amount of tongue wrangling is going to dislodge it. That's where Toothpick Man comes in. This skinny semi-superhero senses your struggle and swoops in with a well-placed toothpick to help smooth your smile.

Milk Lady - Like the milkman of yesteryear, but with a cool super suit instead of stodgy truck, Milk Lady appears when you are out of milk and provides you with a bountiful amount of cow juice. Because nothing is worth than having cereal and no milk.

The Cologne and the Perfumer - Sometimes in the course of the day, you are forced to be in close proximity with someone who failed to execute proper hygiene earlier in the day. When this happens you call The Cologne or The Perfumer to spray some odoriferous emanations on the rogue . Or sometimes, you might need The Cologne or The Perfumer to spray on you before a hot date or a job interview.

The Flat Tire Twins - Like AAA or other roadside assistance, the Flat Tire Twins assist when a driver finds themselves in a dire predicament. Sometimes confused with the Michelin Man, the Flat Tire Twins ride on their own ride-flat tires.

The Phone Finder - The newest of our heroes has the most to do in today's culture. Whenever there is a phone lost or misplaced, the Phone Finder will be there to find it. He will search high and low, near and far, and under every bar to find missing phones. While he is usually busiest on Friday and Saturday, more than half of the phones he finds are forgottenly misplaced in pockets and purses.

And here is where we lament the sad demise of Atlas Man, a long-time hero who provided directions to the lost and wandering. Since the advent of cell phones and GPS devices, Atlas Man has had less and less to do. Even his full-time profession as a map maker shrunk in importance. He now spends most of his time in his mother's basement, building geographic databases of geological geniuses. While those he tracks are smart with the rocks, some say the once super map man has lost his own marbles.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Exploring a Work-less World



Just before I finally left the ranks of the unemployed, I read a very interesting article on The Atlantic.com. Entitled "A World Without Work", the article discusses what happens to towns and people when their jobs are replaced by soulless machines. The article details the effect automation has had on demographics and segments of the American workforce and focuses on parts of our economy that have lost the most workers.

Author Derek Thompson predicts a future where:
I see three overlapping possibilities as formal employment opportunities decline. Some people displaced from the formal workforce will devote their freedom to simple leisure; some will seek to build productive communities outside the workplace; and others will fight, passionately and in many cases fruitlessly, to reclaim their productivity by piecing together jobs in an informal economy. These are futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency.
He then writes about "post-workists" - in an era where the fruits of labor are bountiful, we could distribute the goods fairly and people would be able to focus on social work, not economic work.
In a post-work society, Hunnicutt said, people might spend more time caring for their families and neighbors; pride could come from our relationships rather than from our careers.
While I thought the set-up, a post-industrial nirvana and communal society idea was interesting, the next part of the paper I wholly disagreed with.
But even leaving that aside for the moment, this vision is problematic: it doesn’t resemble the world as it is currently experienced by most jobless people. By and large, the jobless don’t spend their downtime socializing with friends or taking up new hobbies. Instead, they watch TV or sleep. Time-use surveys show that jobless prime-age people dedicate some of the time once spent working to cleaning and childcare. But men in particular devote most of their free time to leisure, the lion’s share of which is spent watching television, browsing the Internet, and sleeping. Retired seniors watch about 50 hours of television a week, according to Nielsen. That means they spend a majority of their lives either sleeping or sitting on the sofa looking at a flatscreen. The unemployed theoretically have the most time to socialize, and yet studies have shown that they feel the most social isolation; it is surprisingly hard to replace the camaraderie of the water cooler.
This was 180 degrees from my unemployed experience. I did not just "watch TV and sleep". I hustled. I slept only 6 hours a day. Yes, I browsed the internet, but that was mostly for jobs, networking opportunities, and other creative projects (such as this blog and my other online writing spots). I was also involved in the Tampa Bay Seminole Club and taking classes. I went to job fairs, met with job counselors, and shook hands at networking events. At times, I was working just as hard finding a job as someone with a job.

Although this part on unemployment I absolutely agree with:
Research has shown that it is harder to recover from a long bout of joblessness than from losing a loved one or suffering a life-altering injury. The very things that help many people recover from other emotional traumas—a routine, an absorbing distraction, a daily purpose—are not readily available to the unemployed.
Thompson then postulates on communities that create, instead of work. This is not unlike what I did to stay active, writing on various websites, to include my business analysis of baseball in Tampa Bay. That webpage was cited in national websites, I was quoted in the local newspaper, and I was told city council members mentioned my research in a prominent council meeting. So I was making a difference in what interested me, even if I wasn't getting paid for it.

I was also starting to get back into stand-up comedy. Doing open mics is labor-intensive but also doesn't pay. You are writing, rehearsing, driving to the venue, and performing not for the money, but for the rush of entertainment.

Now I find myself in a position not unlike Thompson's final option:
one can see a third possible future, where millions of people struggle for years to build a sense of purpose in the absence of formal jobs, and where entrepreneurship emerges out of necessity. But while it lacks the comforts of the consumption economy or the cultural richness of Lawrence Katz’s artisanal future, it is more complex than an outright dystopia.
Right now, I am working an internship to build skills in market research and analysis. I am also consulting for a military academic institution. Both of these jobs hold incredible potential for me down the road. They are both great for my resume. And the fact that I can do both speaks to my diverse background. There aren't many people with advanced degrees in both a social science and business and lengthy experience working with the military in various parts of the world. I am a rare breed, but learning how to capitalize on my experiences was a skill I had to learn. I now have two sources of income, which is incredibly important.

In the final part of the essay, Thompson outlines a utopian society where a basic living wage is provided to everyone and people are free to choose what they want to do for a living, whether that is engage in jobs that don't like, or live a creative life.
the simplest way to help everybody stay busy might be government sponsorship of a national online marketplace of work (or, alternatively, a series of local ones, sponsored by local governments). Individuals could browse for large long-term projects, like cleaning up after a natural disaster, or small short-term ones: an hour of tutoring, an evening of entertainment, an art commission. The requests could come from local governments or community associations or nonprofit groups; from rich families seeking nannies or tutors; or from other individuals given some number of credits to “spend” on the site each year. To ensure a baseline level of attachment to the workforce, the government could pay adults a flat rate in return for some minimum level of activity on the site, but people could always earn more by taking on more gigs.
"A World Without Work" is not a light read. It is the foundation from which novels are written. Thompson gives his readers a lot to think about in regards to life and labor.  Maybe the future will be selective parts of his essay and post-apocalyptic Mad Max conflicts over limited resources. Maybe a rich billionaire will create an online marketplace for work through a corporation, where people will have primary jobs, but be able to spend time on other endeavors. Maybe some corporations will have a "bullpen" of substitute workers who can relieve workers on occasion.

I really enjoyed "A World Without Work". Due to my education and experience, I think I am in an interesting place. I'm not sure how normal I am in regards to the rest of the workplace. I have had to do what I had to do and take what courses I had to take to set up future success. Again, I've had to hustle. But our current economy and the fields I have been in have made hustling a necessity.

Sometimes I might live in a world without work. Sometimes I might live in a world of abundance. The trick is stay afloat.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pre-owned, post-owned, and a tear in the space-time continuum



Today I went to a music store.

I found a used CD I wanted. When I went to the counter, the cashier said the used CD was "pre-owned".

I asked him if I left the store with the CD, would he consider it "owned"? He said yes.

Then I asked him what he would think if I returned it. Would that be considered "post-owned"?

He said if I returned it, the CD would resort back to being "pre-owned".

I'm pretty sure that logic somehow defies Einstein's laws of space-time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Star Wars and Bad Management Practices

Twitter e-migo Jon Pyle made some very interesting observations about Star Wars recently that I had never thought about.

I have thought about Star Wars a lot. I've thought about it from a meta-cultural perspective, a philosophical perspective, a warfighter's perspective, a theoretical perspective, and I've been working on exploring Star Wars from a military intelligence perspective. But I have never looked at Star Wars, particularly the Empire, from a managerial perspective. Since I am near completion with my MBA and have business management on my mind, Jon's tweets piqued my interest.

So with his permission, I decided to post them here in all their observational brilliance.

(Note: Alex Knapp wrote a similar piece on Forbes.com a few years ago.)

Absolutely brilliant. Perhaps a book is not a bad idea.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the AfroSquad almost made Creative Loafing



I was rummaging through some old emails recently and I found an interesting correspondence. Back in 2008, when the Afro-Squad was running wild at pro wrestling shows throughout Central Florida, I emailed a writer for Tampa alternative publication Creative Loafing and invited him to check us out. I thought our colorful cast of characters and devoted fans would make an interesting story.

Alas, although they liked the idea, the story never came to be. The writer moved on as did Florida Championship Wrestling. Most of the Afro-Squad also moved on, some actually moving and others removing their afro wigs and drifting away, like small sailboats in the dark night.

But for the annuals of history, here is the correspondence I had with Creative Loafing:

December 1, 2008
Hi Jordi,

My name is xxxxxxx -- I am the staff writer for the Creative Loafing
newspaper here in Tampa. I was forwarded an e-mail you sent us about your
wild wrestling group. I took a look at the site and -- yep -- you definitely
fit our paper ;-)

I'd love to come to a Thursday meet up and see what your group is all about.
When are they? And what's a good date?

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best,

My reply:

December 2, 2008
xxxxxx,

We would definitely like to meet with you. We meet regularly at the Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) show on Thursday night at 7:30pm. FCW is located at 4535 South Dale Mabry, Tampa, FL 33611. We will probably be there between 6:30-7pm. You should be able to recognize us by our afro wigs.

Of note, FCW regularly does TV tapings for broadcasts on cable TV. These tapings usually draw a larger crowd (hence more people in afros) and we are able to better interact more with the crowd and the performers. I have been told that next Thursday will be a taping and that the show this week is merely a "house" show - without the full-out wrestling production.

If you have any other questions, feel free to email me or call me any night after 6pm at ###-####.

Thanks,

And that was all.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Farewell to rapper Sean Price



Rapper Sean Price passed away in his sleep Saturday morning. I was a fan of his for 20 years. I decided to write a little bit.

"Ruck is the luckiest fucker alive / I went from nothing to something a couple of times" - from the song W.M.D.

This is by far my favorite Sean Price lyric. As my career has been anything but linear, I've used messages from hip-hop as a way to keep me hustling, grinding, and moving forward. Few rappers inspired me like Sean Price. This is how I became a fan.

While watching "Yo! MTV Raps" in the mid-90s, I saw the video for "Wontime" by Smif'N'Wesson. The gritty, Shining-influenced Wontime introduced me to the boom-bap sounds of Duck Down Records and the Boot Camp Clik. I was a little late, as members of the label had released several albums prior to Smif'N'Wessons' release, but such was the plight of a suburban white kid relying on MTV for new music long before the days of the internet.

While the verses of Wontime were solid, the baritone refrain had me hooked. I eventually found out the deep chorus was done by fellow Duck Down members Ruck and Rock, aka Heltah Skeltah. Heltah Skeltah appeared on a few tracks on the Smif'N'Wesson album before releasing a single "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka" and their own album "Nocturnal" in 1996.

At the time, I thought Rock - he of the deep baritone - was the better of the two MCs. Ruck, who referred to himself occasionally by his given name Sean Price - was nice lyrically, but sounded somewhat generic. He didn't really grab me as a presence like Rock did.

I drifted from hip-hop for a few years and dove into rock and blues, but every once in a while I would play that Heltah Skeltah album. It was one of the few non-Wu-Tang or Def Squad albums I kept in regular rotation.

A few years later, I found Sean Price's first solo album "Monkey Barz" in a used CD bin. It had been a while and I was curious. What I heard wasn't like the Sean Price of old. This was a meaner, rougher, gruffer Sean Price. One who didn't need Rock's baritone voice to balance a song. Sean Price had gone back to the lab and come out a monster, a hip-hop version of blues legend Howlin' Wolf.

Lyrically, Monkey Barz was amazing. Using the theme of "The Brokest Rapper You Know", Sean Price rhymed about falling off after the first Heltah Skeltah album, hustling to survive, and getting back into music.

I've always had a soft spot for hustling lyrics. Stories of the struggle and trying to make it. I've never been a fan of the plush verses of Jay-Z, Kanye West, etc. I can't relate. But I because my career has had its ups and downs, can relate to the struggle; stories of working hard to get what you need to survive. In my opinion, that is where hip-hop is at its best.

Sean Price released his second solo CD, "Jesus Price Superstar", in 2007. While I thought Monkey Barz was better, Jesus Price Superstar was another good album. Again Price showed incredible lyrical power and the ability to command songs. He was also promoting the idea of "grown man rap", which didn't cater to teen or newer trends. Sean Price knew his audience, knew what he liked to do in the booth, and knew the intersection of both.

Despite not being as good as Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Superstar was an important album for a two big reasons: it introduced me to up-and-coming MCs Skyzoo and Chaundon. It also closed with the introspective track "Mess U Made", which became one of my favorite Sean Price songs.

"Money ain't a thing says the guy who's rich / While the broke motherfucker thinkin life's a bitch"



The year after Jesus Price Superstar, Sean Price reunited with Rock in 2009 for the third Heltah Skeltah album, "D.I.R.T: Da Incredible Rap Team". Whereas on the first Heltah Skeltah album I thought Rock was the far better MC, on DIRT, Sean Price's growth as an MC and as a presence made them equal tag team members. They were like The Road Warriors of pro wrestling lore: rough, tough, brawlers who beat up beats with hard rhymes.

After the release of DIRT, Duck Down Records celebrated their 15th anniversary in 2010 with a tour that included a stop in Tampa. I was finally able to see some of their acts live. I wrote about the show here, although back then I was a little harsh on some of the local acts I know more about now.

As mentioned, one of the highlights of the show was seeing Sean Price live.
Sean P killed the crowd despite getting angry at the house sound guy for an annoying feedback that plagued his entire performance.

If you have never seen Sean Price, he is a big dude. As he got angrier and kept trying to spit rhymes about destroying MCs all the while battling an uncontrollable stage malfunction, I began fearing for the sound guy’s life. Remind me never to mess with Sean P.
In the five years since, Sean Price became an even bigger name in the underground hip-hop community. He released "Master P", "Mic Tyson" and "Kimbo Price", and collaborated with Black Milk and Guilty Simpson on the "Random Axe" CD. He also appeared on several collaborations and features. He never seemed to stop writing.

He also never seemed to stopped tweeting. His twitter account @SeanPrice was one of the few music personalities I followed on the platform. He tweeted about boxing, music, and life with his kids. While other artists enjoyed interacting, Sean Price seemed to enjoy blocking people, meaning they would never see any more of his tweets. That's the reason I never tweeted him. I didn't want to be blocked.

But I think the reason I like Sean Price the most was that I felt like I could relate. Sean Price was a grown man, who did grown man rap, who wrote prolifically about nothing and sound like something. He liked wordplay and being a tough guy, but seemed like a family man who just happened to be from the streets. He had fallen off and worked hard to get back. He had a practical, pragmatic view on life with no need for the trendy trappings of celeb life or the rap game (or cookie-scented candles). He hustled. He made good music and he put on a good show.

And for 20 years, I was a fan.

P!

Friday, August 7, 2015

When U-God of the Wu-Tang Clan found the internet



The internet as we know it has been around since about the mid-90s. Around that time, people started using the internet for entertainment and media purposes. So there is 20 years of stuff deep in the annals of the web, piles upon piles of archived goodness to discover and laugh at.

Heck, even my earliest blog stuff is almost nine years old.

If you dig deep enough and scrounge around long enough, every so often you find a nugget of early internet goodness in raw form - not a re-post or quote brought into its present context - but something from the early days that might make you laugh, or cry, or even shred a tear for an earlier era.

A piece of internet goodness that makes you ask "can it be that it was all so simple then?".

Such is the case with this great olde tyme interview from 1999 with U-God of the Wu-Tang Clan on MVRemix.com. At the time, the Wu were already big in hip-hop circles, but had not yet crossed over into the wardrobes of teenage girls. Notorious BIG had died only two years earlier and hip-hop was just breaking through to the mainstream. Old school rap wasn't cliche and it definitely wasn't sang by middle age moms waiting to pick their kids up from elementary school.

In their 1999 interview, Hugo of MVRemix.com asked U-God several questions about his new album:
U-God: Yeah, it's comin' out in a minute, it be out in July.
His thoughts on clothing:
U-God: I don't know, I don't like clothing man. I don't like clothing no more man. I'm going into movies man, fuck clothing.
His thoughts on the trials and tribulations of Wu-Tang co-member Ol' Dirty Bastard:
U-God: I don't like Police man. Get a fucking new job man. A life.
And, best of all, his thoughts on the internet.



Bill Gates and the Wu-Tang Clan.

It's their world, we are still just living in it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reflections on a High School Reunion



On August 21, 1995, I left Melbourne, Florida for the Military Entry Processing (MEP) Center in Jacksonville, Florida. It was the first step in a military journey that led me to Basic Training in Missouri, Advanced Training in Arizona, and four years in the Army.

It was also the last day I called Melbourne "home".

From the brotherhood of the military, I then went to Tallahassee to join the Seminole family at Florida State University. Then it was off to Tampa and a city and region I've often considered the closest thing I have to my own home. My friends and professional network are in the Tampa Bay area and it is close enough to Melbourne that I can visit family, but far enough to have my own life.

Going back to Melbourne last weekend for my high school graduating class's 20th reunion caused me to reflect on my life's strange journey. And of course, to write about it.

20 years? Have I been gone that long?

I wasn't a very good student in high school. I graduated with a 2.5 GPA. That's half Bs and half Cs. I'm pretty sure I had a few Ds mixed in as well, balanced out by a few - a very few - As. For whatever reason, I didn't try academically in high school. I didn't give much thought to college or any future plan. I didn't have any ambition, nor any guidance. I was just there, existing my way through three years at Eau Gallie High.

To be honest, the only reason I joined the Army was because I talked baseball with the recruiter and didn't have any other plans. Looking back, it was probably the best thing I could have done.

But knowing all that I have become, the idea of going to my high school reunion intrigued me. I wondered what everyone else had done. Were there classmates who also joined the military? Were there any who also went to Florida State? Although I had met people at FSU who went to my high school, they graduated after I did. How many people went to Florida State when I could have gone in 1995 and graduated when I finally enrolled after leaving the Army in 1999?

And of course there were friends I hadn't seen in 20 years. What were they up to? Would they remember me? I was friends with some on Facebook, but Facebook is only a step above keeping a business card in a Rolodex.

In the weeks leading up to the reunion, I had mixed feelings, the biggest being my employment status. Or lack thereof. As frequent readers of this blog know, I haven't worked in a while. Truth be told, I haven't had a job in over two years. While there is some hope I might have a job soon, unemployment is not a good feeling. Even with interesting experiences in Afghanistan, in the Army, stand up comedy, and nearly two master's degrees, would people look down on me if I told them I wasn't working? Even in "today's economy", that's not normal.

I'm also single and have no kids. That's also not entirely normal for someone in the late 30s. Would I have to answer for that? And how does one actually answer that? Although I am not against the idea of marriage or kids one day, life has taken me on a very strange route.

Another problem hit me in the days leading up to the reunion. Try as a I could, I didn't remember much about high school. I didn't remember many of my classes, my teachers' names, what I learned, or any extraordinary experiences, in or out of school. As I mentioned, I was just kinda there.

Despite my difficulty, I did fill out a questionnaire sent out by the reunion committee. Here are their questions and my answers:
  1. Marital Status: single

  2. Children/ages: None.

  3. Occupation: Market Analyst, MBA Candidate

  4. Where have you traveled to? Bosnia, Qatar, Afghanistan, Dubai, Palm Bay

  5. Greatest Achievement: Realizing I was actually kinda smart

  6. Favorite Teacher/Class: Mr. Dibben, Electronics

  7. Most Embarrassing Moment - getting a bum phone number from a girl who will remain nameless

  8. Best High School Memory - graduating
Granted, they are not the best answers. As I mentioned, occupation was tough to answer. So was Question 5. What was my greatest achievement? Was it receiving a Master's Degree in International Affairs? Was it writing a thesis that has been quoted heavily all over the internet? Was it writing a yet-to-be published 200-page novel? Was it doing stand-up comedy at the Tampa Improv? Winning Writer of the Year at the FSU newspaper? Surviving Afghanistan? Being in the Army?

I settled on "Realizing I was actually kinda smart" because if I never developed confidence in my intelligence, I would never have had any of the jobs I had or followed through with any college endeavors.

Question 7 was also a bit of a challenge. I've written about my bum phone number adventure here before, so I cited that. I didn't want to go into too much depth with that story, however, as the follow up gets even weirder. But now, as I looked through my blog for inspiration, there was another great embarrassing moment I could have gone into much more detail about in the questionnaire - a time when I called my English teacher "voluptuous" instead of "verbose".

That might have been better.

Be it as it may, I answered what I could and drove to Melbourne to see my old classmates for the first time in 20 years. The event was divided between a happy hour on Friday evening and a gala on Saturday. My plan was go to both.

Friday night I went to the bar for the reunion happy hour. As I drove, a looming sense of nervousness crept over me. I felt like it was the first day of school all over again. Would anyone remember me?

Thankfully, one of my old friends saw me moments after I walked into the bar. We exchanged pleasantries and decided getting a drink would be a good idea. He introduced me to his wife and we all chatted for a while before we each recognized other people we wanted to say hello to. Although I had to (re)introduce myself to a few people, once we started chatting, it was like we never left.

On a positive note, my friend's wife said I looked skinny and other people said I looked good. That's definitely a win.

Saturday night I again hung out with my friend and his wife, talked to several other people, learned some of my former classmates did spend time in the military, some did go to Florida State, and some had other great adventures either in Melbourne or around the world. Some were parents, others were married, some didn't have kids, and some never tied the knot.

Although my individual story was unique, others traveled their own very interesting roads.

Perhaps the best part of the reunion experience, besides reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, was the lack of egos and judgement. There was no pretentiousness and no "I was this" or "I was that" or any present day "I am this" or "I am that". The awkward social strata of high school had been wiped clean by maturity. Whereas I might not have been the most popular kid back then, 20 years later, I was just another person in their late-30s from the Eau Gallie High Class of 1995 trying to make it through life. No matter what they did to get there, everyone at the reunion seemed to be in the same boat.

And speaking of boats, I still can't see the autostereogram image on the cover of my high school yearbook.

I've been told it's an anchor.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Passing of a King and the Reign of the Blues



BB King died last Friday.

That's tough for me to write. Like Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra, BB King was a cultural icon. One I had the pleasure of seeing perform several times. He was a living link to America's musical past, long before the days when people could access any music from anywhere at the touch of a button. BB King was from an era of juke joints, traveling musicians, and the segregation of people and songs.

To realize how long BB King was in public consciousness, his first hit came in 1952, 63 years ago. BB King had a hit three years before Chuck Berry's first big song, and only a year after Ike Turner made "Rocket 88", the first rock and roll song.

Prior to his first hit, BB King was a staple of the Memphis music scene, hosting shows as the "Beale Street Blues Boy" on WDIA as early as 1949. WDIA was the first radio station in America to market entirely to African-American listeners.  BB King did so well on WDIA, his show was expanded. According to BB King's original program manager, he was "too hot for radio".

Of course, BB King went on to national acclaim: Grammy awards, Presidential Medals, Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction, and many, many more.

But I want to go a little deeper. I want to write about BB King, and the blues in general, and their place in modern culture.

The blues was America's first underground music. It was born from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. Blues music was a way for sharecroppers and the lower class to express their frustration at a society that was only one generation removed from thinking of people as property. The forefathers of this music - the Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Barbecue Bob, Mississippi John Hurt - were the artists who influenced BB King.

But the blues had limited shelf life to the Black Community. While it provided personal or individual empowerment - the ability to have talent and words heard, recorded, or broadcast - it lacked community empowerment. The blues was about the individual. When James Brown and other Soul, Funk, and R&B singers put the growing black community efforts in their songs, the blues no longer had young black listeners. So in order to survive, the blues had to find a new audience.

The story of British audiences embracing BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and the other greats of the blues is well documented. The music of the blues masters influenced The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Yardbirds. Even Black Sabbath started as a blues rock band.

This created the interesting situation we have now. New African-American blues players are as rare as white heavyweight boxers. The blues, once a staple of the black community, has been kept alive by white musicians raised on Eric Clapton and other British guitar legends. While Clapton and others can play Robert Johnson note for note and even express some of the same individual emotional pain of Johnson, they will never match the world Johnson came from. Even the most itinerant white musician of the last 60 years will never face the same circumstances Johnson and others faced in the Jim Crow Mississippi Delta.

The concept of the blues means something different to white musicians than the black musicians they listen to. Again, not to say white people can't have or play the blues - anyone can do that. What I am saying is that modern white musicians lack the cultural depth black blues players have.

(And don't get me started on the "Cell Phone Blues" or any other interpretation of modern problems. No "first world problem" should ever been the subject of a blues song.)

This cultural appropriation, whether accidental or not, is why I think the black community is more protective of hip-hop than almost any other music. Hip-hop was born of soul and R&B and in many cases carries on the messages of community empowerment. Again, white rappers such as Eminem may be able to flip and bounce words and rhymes as good as any African-American rapper and they might be able to articulate their struggle just as well, but their message is often individual and lacks the message of community uplift that Nas, Public Enemy, or even the Wu-Tang Clan has.

Therein lies BB King's place in history. Like Louis Armstrong, he was a giant in American music. Like Louis Armstrong, his legacy paved the way for modern music, especially in regards to the acceptance and integration of African-American culture in US music.

To an extent, BB King is the personification of the blues in American history.

Without BB King, WDIA might not have been as popular. Without Black radio, musicians such as BB King might not have been heard, signed, and recorded. Without the growth of Black radio, Black communities might not have become organized, and community messages might not have been reflected in new music. But that organization and message eventually forced blues to be seek another demographic, a demographic that embraced it, kept it alive, and celebrated its heroes.

Without the Beale Street Blues Boy and WDIA, Elvis Presley might not have been inspired. Without Elvis, rock'n'roll might not have crossed over into white living rooms and middle class consciousness.

And without Elvis, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, and their white audiences, BB King's career might not have continued as it did.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Anthony Mason, Hip-Hop, and Hunger



I don't write much about basketball anymore. Not sure why. I just kinda stopped. But I need to today. Today, one of my favorite players passed away.

Anthony Mason wasn't a star. He wasn't even a starter until his seventh year in the league. But he had heart, he had toughness, and he had character. He also had skills. He personified an era of Knicks basketball that many, including myself, still remember fondly.

There is a often discussed phenomenon that people love the music they discovered as a teen more than any music before or after. Teenage years are when people develop their own tastes, their own judgements, and their own way of processing meanings. According to a recent Slate.com article,
Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments).
I believe the same phenomenon applies to sports teams. Early baby boomers laud the exploits of the 1950s Yankees and late boomers insist the 1969 Mets were nothing short of a miracle, when in fact, both teams were good, but no better than any championship team before or after. But their legend has grown in the hearts of fans who came of age at the same time as these teams.

As a teenager getting into basketball - something no one else in my family was into - the early 90s Knicks teams were my team. I knew little of Willis Reed or Bernard King. As far as I was concerned, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, and the rest of the squad were the best incarnation of Knickerbockers ever.

The truth is, while they were a great defensive team, the early 90's Knicks played a brutal, bruising form of basketball. There was little art to their game, only muscle. They bruised and brawned their way to several conference finals where the majesty of Michael Jordan was too much for them to handle. And when Jordan stepped away from the game, the dominance of Hakeem Olajuwon prevented the Knicks from winning their first title since 1973.

But I wasn't the only one who holds the early 90s Knicks in high regard. Pretty much every other Knicks fan over the age of 30 does as well. At least that is my unscientific estimate. I'm sure not every Knicks fan was a teenager in the early 90s. But somehow this team of overachievers and defensive-minded warriors captured the heart of a city and a fanbase.

Likewise, outside of Madison Square Garden, another cultural era blossomed into the hearts of the populace. Coinciding with the Knicks was an era of hip-hop that was also workman-like, gritty, grimy, and full of muscle. It was tough, but not in a "Tougher Than Leather" sort of way. It wasn't big chains and big cars. 90's New York hip-hop was from the staircases, the alleys, and the sewers. It was an era when you had to "Protect Ya Neck" and stay in "A New York State of Mind".

Although basketball and hip-hop have had a long relationship, few teams and musical eras mirrored each other like the Knicks and New York hip-hop in the early 1990s.

Like the Knicks, the 90's NY hip-hop scene wasn't known for it's mainstream appeal, and even those who crossed over once felt the sting of rejection. John Starks and Anthony Mason, for example, could almost be compared to the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA. Both pairs were signed and released by other organizations. But after they were released, Starks and Mason, like the founders of the Wu-Tang Clan, found a second home and together created something far beyond their individual parts.

Hard elbows and hard beats. Hand checks and verbal dexterity. Arrogance, but not "swagger". Hunger. Grit. Determination to make it on the biggest stage. It was "all eyes on me" before Tupac put it on the cover.

New York's biggest cultural exports in the early 90s both had similar foundations.

Twenty years later, loyalists to the early 90s era bemoan the current state of both New York hip-hop and New York basketball. They try to tell younger generations of days when you had to be hungry, when you had to "work for yours" and represent your team and city. Before NBA stars were "global icons" and rappers were a "business, man".

Twenty years later, loyalists to this era live and die by their memories. They remember Ewing playing hurt. They remember Starks headbutting Reggie Miller and dunking on Horace Grant (and Michael Jordan). They remember Oakley. And they remember Anthony Mason - his defense on the aforementioned Olajuwon, his passing ability, the messages shaved into the side of his head, and his heart. The same heart that did him in yesterday.

As for me, I know I'm still hungry. I still haven't made it to where I want to be. I'm still clawing and I'm still scraping. And I know I still have my Mason jersey somewhere. It should be with my Starks jersey. Although it has been years since I wore Mason's name on my back, I'll have to represent.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

AfroSquad on AFN Europe

When I was in Afghanistan, I had the privilege of watching hours upon hours of the Armed Forces Network. This staple of deployed broadcasting isn't terrible, but it has its peculiarities. A big difference between AFN and American television is the lack of commercials. That's right, for nearly a year I did not see one commercial shilling a product.

Instead of commercials, AFN airs hundreds of public service announcements. They range from instructions on when to salute to history of the military to proclamations denouncing sexual harassment. They are all good things and I wish American TV had a few of them on cable television.

But there was one AFN commercial that was absolutely ironic to me. In order to capitalize on the "Party Rock" craze that was popular at the time, a few military actors donned afro wigs and glasses and the attire of the band LMFAO. While there is nothing intrinsically ironic about that, the subject of their commercial is what makes it my absolute favorite.

They made a commercial about speeding.

Meanwhile, sitting in Afghanistan watching their commercial was a member of the Afro-Squad who was the unfortunate recipient of nearly 10 speeding tickets in eight Florida counties. That's a ticket every two years I've been driving in over 10% of the 72 counties in Florida. I'm not exactly proud of that, but I think being that I have never been in an accident, I don't think I am a bad driver, just a little fast on the gas.

But perhaps if I listened to my European Afro-Squad friends.