Archive for November, 2009

A day version and a night version too, with music from some guy named Beethoven, who I think may have a big future in the music biz.

Timelapse movie: The Alps — part I from Michael Rissi on Vimeo.

Timelapse movie: The Alps — part II (night) from Michael Rissi on Vimeo.

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Tiger and the Fam

The little wreck involving Tiger Woods, who pulled out of his driveway in the middle of the night and rammed a fire hydrant and an innocent tree that was minding its own tree business, is as bizarre as it is baffling.
Something tells us he didn’t leave home in the middle of the night to go to the practice range to work on his golf swing.
The incident, which left him unconscious, occurred only two days after the National Enquirer claimed that the world’s greatest golfer and one of its greatest athletes was having an affair.
It would sure turn out to be a disappointment, to me and a lot of other people, to find out that Tiger doesn’t walk on water.
It’s no secret to jitterbuggers that two of Jitterbugger’s men for whom we have male-man blog-man love are Tiger and Letterman, who’s been through his own embarrassing and sordid event this year.
Whatever the story behind the story of Tiger’s wreck is, it can’t be pretty. The story behind the wreck story will eventually come out in this age of 24-7 celebrity news, and Tiger is sure to face more embarrassment than that which he’s suffering through now. It appears that Tiger, like Letterman, made some bad free-will choices that may come back to haunt him for a long time.
Sorry, Tigerman, but if there is something sordid in the story behind the wreck story, now’s the time to own up to it, take your lumps in the media (and at home???) before someone forces your hand and exposes it all.
Sometimes even the National Enquirer gets these things right.

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A beautiful rendition of the old hymn “Morning Has Broken” from the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens:
In the photo: Cat Stevens then, Cat Stevens the Muslim now

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Gabourey Sidibe portrays the troubled Precious

I went and saw the intense and controversial movie “Precious” this weekend and found it to be even more intense and powerful than I anticipated based on all the ink that’s been spilled about it already.
It’s a film that depicts life in the raw, depicting the seemingly unsurmountable struggles of a 16 year old African American girl living in a most destructive home with a very destructive mother who hates her.
It’s some tough realism, hard to watch at times, and yet it rises to the level of real art, if you accept the definition of art as truth powerfully rendered.
Some, of course, are so offended by it as to deny the truth of it, and others are offended by the relentless truth of it, but that’s OK too. Another definition of art is drama that challenges your values. And there’s enough in this movie to challenge the values of whites, blacks, rich, poor. When it comes to offending people, it’s an equal opportunity offender.
I saw it Friday, and may see it again. It’s the kind of movie that stays with you long after the credits start rolling at the end.. I had dinner with friends last night who saw it and we had some stimulating conversation about it. One friend asked me if I thought the evil mother of Precious redeemed herself at the end of the movie.
That’s why I may have to see it again. I told her I’d have to think about that and that says a lot about the movie itself.
It will make audience members think and never mind that some will be prone to react with emotional responses rather than thought.
Again, that’s what art does. And nobody can deny the acting and direction. The movie has already won a number of awards and will, for sure, be a sure bet for some Oscars, plural.
Here’s a commentary on the controversy from an LA Times writer:

Black viewers divide on film’s ‘Precious’-ness
Though it has been adored in some quarters, the film has its detractors. One critic has dubbed it ‘a Klansman’s fantasy.’
By Erin Aubry Kaplan
November 29, 2009
Long before it opened, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” had racked up plaudits for its groundbreaking depiction of the inner life of a black, overweight, ghetto-dwelling teenage girl. But since its release, a story-outside-the-story has developed that’s equally fresh and complicated: black people’s reaction to the movie and what it means.

Verdicts about high-pitched movies from black viewers and public figures are usually swift and decisive — “Do the Right Thing,” “The Color Purple,” and the recent Robert Downey Jr. performance in “Tropic Thunder” come to mind. But that’s not what happened this time out. That’s partly because the embrace of “Precious” by the white film establishment has been a bit disorienting for black folk, even off-putting. But it’s also because the tough stuff in “Precious,” whether you like the movie or not, is striking chords of recognition for many black people that are making them not angry or enthusiastic, but uncertain. That’s new territory.

The many issues raised in the course of this one story — class tensions, self-image, racial progress, how Hollywood bears on all of the above — have hit black viewers squarely in the gut, rendering the usual right-brain arguments about stereotypes inadequate. For black filmgoers, assessing black-themed films is generally a political process; “Precious” has made it emotional.

That discomfit was evident recently in a packed theater with a largely black audience in Marina Del Rey. The viewers were characteristically vocal at first — gasping, clucking tongues, even tittering at the initial haplessness of Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and the villainy of her mother, played by Mo’Nique. But as the film got more intimate, zeroing in on issues such as Precious’ illiteracy, the repeated rapes by her drop-in father and her casual wish to be white with “good” hair, people fell silent; it was as if they were no longer viewers, but participants.

They applauded at the end, but filed out of the theater much more soberly than I’ve ever seen a black audience file out of any performance, especially one that had a clear impact. It’s quite a contrast to reviews and commentary that ranged from supportive to effusive on black-oriented websites including The Loop21.com, Racial icious.com and thegrio.com. But even the praise has a bit of apology about it, as if to allow for the fact that blacks can — or perhaps even should — admire “Precious” without necessarily liking it.

Not everybody is buying into the nuance. The unrelenting inner-city misery that frames “Precious,” including a foul-mouthed welfare mother and an absentee father, has raised plenty of alarms among blacks, notably film critic Armond White. In his review for the New York Press, the famously curmudgeonly White excoriated “Precious” for being an “orgy of prurience,” “a Klansman’s fantasy,” racist propaganda cast from the infamous mold of “Birth of a Nation.” For White, “Precious” is bad art because it is a bad representation, a reminder that for black people, art and politics are inseparable.

Yet one of the unusual things about “Precious” is that it doesn’t try to separate those things, and so forces us to think beyond the negative/positive binary that often keeps discussions about movies like this airless and superficial.

Certainly other black people share White’s condemnation. But that condemnation has dimensions: C. Jeffrey Wright, writing at UrbanFaith.com, a conservative Christian site, fretted less about the images in “Precious” than about the fact there are too few black films released to provide a diversity that would make the movie less controversial. That’s a fact nobody on any side of the discussion would disagree with.

Nonetheless, Wright decries the movie for its lack of what he calls “achiever values.” And here we get into the thorny issue of class. For black people that means not solely money and education, but a concern about how we are being represented in public. How blacks are represented in movies always galvanizes such concern, and “Precious” is no exception.

“We just don’t want to see black pathology on screen,” says T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, a professor of critical race studies and hip-hop at Vanderbilt University. “There’s clearly a segment of us that worries about what white people think.”

That worry, she says, is usually about representations of the black poor, a group that’s long been an anathema to whites — and to some blacks as well. “Precious” exposes that unflattering divide. “Americans despise poor people, and they really despise poor black people,” Sharpley-Whiting says. “Unfortunately, we [black people] buy into it.”

Widespread debate

The good news is that the Internet encouragesa broader discussion of these complexities than black people have had in the past. At thefreshx press.com, a site geared to young African Americans, one blogger who had read White’s review but hadn’t seen the movie wrote that he was leery of incest being portrayed as a “black” thing, but he supported a filmmaker’s right to tell his own story.

Another objected to White’s comparing “Precious” to “Birth of a Nation,” saying that missed the real critique the film was making about the troubled internal dynamics of black communities. “We’ve made a lot of strides, but what are we really doing to bring those who haven’t been as fortunate as our college-educated selves out of the gutter?” she wrote. “This is a very real opportunity to bring a very real problem into the mainstream where it belongs.”

At Racialicious.com, a blogger named Tiffany grumbled that she was “tired of the black aristocracy getting up in arms about anything that isn’t ‘The Cosby Show.’ ” Ironically, White himself bolsters that point: When he huffs in his review that ” ‘Precious’ hyperbolizes the class misery of our nation’s left-behinds . . . the Obama-era unreachables,” he’s at least acknowledging those unreachables and their plight.

But how can that plight be authentically represented? Is it ever possible for a black character — dark, light, poor, privileged, whatever — to vault above, or through, the stereotypes and emerge chiefly as a person and not a trope? Rarely. “Precious” breaks that ground, but it feels like alien terrain because blacks have been defined by extremes for so long. In an interview with Essence.com, director Lee Daniels says the harsh themes of “Precious” should be taken at face value. “Life is life,” he said. “Life is what it is.”

But grim subjects such as institutional poverty, illiteracy, child rape and incest are reasons enough to stay away from any movie, and many black folks say they will bypass “Precious” for that reason — too much of that trouble in real life, they say.

Richard Yarborough, an associate professor of English and African American Studies at UCLA, says there might be something else to the aversion for not just blacks, but all Americans. “The abject degradation of black people in ‘Precious’ is as close as you can get to a modern film that may be similar to a film about slavery,” says Yarborough. He points out that slave-era films such as “Beloved” and ” Amistad” didn’t do well at the box office, and those were mainstream movies with big budgets and established directors. Those movies also presented widespread black exploitation and oppression as phenomena of the past; “Precious” has no such buffer.

“If people aren’t going to see slavery in a historical context, why would they go see a movie about slavery in a modern context?” says Yarborough. He adds that the legacy of slavery — racism — is another issue that feels much too close for movie-watching comfort. “Racism is not dead,” he says. “The immediacy of racism and the pressure it still puts on [blacks] is tremendous. We’re still arguing about the Confederacy flag.”

Despite these macro-level realities, it’s nice to contemplate the possibility that “Precious” could start a new trend of black movies that are more individual-oriented and inward-looking. Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, says that will only happen if “Precious” makes the kind of money that Hollywood can’t ignore. It grossed an impressive $11 million on 629 screens last weekend.

But, he says, don’t hold your breath. One of the enduring truths about the movie business is that even a widely acclaimed black movie made by blacks doesn’t guarantee that another one will be made, let alone start a trend.

“What Spike Lee was doing in the ’80s was more challenging and visionary [than ‘Precious’] — and he talked stuff while he did it,” says Boyd. “He’s still working, he’s still making movies. But nobody talks about Spike anymore. With features, it’s about the money vehicles now, like what Tyler Perry is doing. The days of the small ‘impact’ film are over.”
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

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As Goldie McKay used to say, “Lord have mercy on my soul.”
How gratifyin’ and satisfactionizing is it to introduce people to the gifts and graces and talents of one of the most underrated showmen rock and roll ever saw, yaw. And of course we’re talkin’ ’bout the late and the great Billy Preston, who started his long and truly legendary (as you all saw Michael McDonald say in that video posting from Saturday) at the tender age of 10 with his appearance on the teevee with no less a legend than the immortal legend of legends Nat King Cole. It’s gratifying and satisfactionizing to get emails and contacts from people who knew Billy Preston from his big hit songs “Will It go Round in Circles” and “Nothin’ From Nothin'” and a couple other top 40 hits songs of his, but who didn’t know he recorded and toured with The Beatles, the Stones, Eric Clapton and every major act in gospel, rock and blues from the tender age of TEN YEARS OLD.
Billy was simply one of the best–the showman who inherited the mantle from Sammie Davis Jr. and Louis Armstrong and the other giants of yesteryear–and one of the most versatile, being one of the great singers, organists and showmen in gospel (first of all) and rock and rhythm and oh what blues he belted out with everybody who was anybody in gospel, rock and blues.
And so, we’re starting to wind down our Thanksgiving of Rock Weekend Hop with Billy Preston, but we ain’t not done yet naw, yaw.
Because more Billy video follows:
(For Amy McKay, Jorge Rodriguez Jr., Dave Matthews, and all the other of us Dave Matthews cultists who are Trippin’ Billy’s who love and struggle with the mystery of God the Father/Mother, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit every day. But what a magnificent mystery it is to struggle with.)

Go forth and love God and life:

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Yes, ladies and germs, need we remind you that we here at Jitterbuggingforjesus.com are having a trippin’ Billy Thanksgiving Weekend Hop featuring the late and the great singer, musician and showman Billy Preston, a genuine legend of gospel, blues and rock known as the “The Fifth Beatle”? Last night we gave you two videos–one featuring Billy with Michael McDonald at Michael Mac’s Motown concert that was on PBS TV and, as an extra added bonus, a video of Billy showing off his jitterbugging feet with Mick and the Rolling Stoners (vid in which Billy literally launched Mick Jagger into “Outta Space”)!!!
And yes, you regulars now know that we’ve made Billy’s signature song “That’s the Way God Planned It” the theme song for Jitterbuggingforjesus.com. We’ve also posted a permanent video of Billy’s most memorable performance, out of so many, many memorable performances, of him doing “That’s the Way God Planned It” at the top, right corner of this page so that you can watch the memorable Billy performance with his closest friend the Beatle George Harrison anytime you want. And you should go there often for a jolt of truly exhilirating rock music sung and performed in honor to God.
With no further ado, here’s another vid of Billy, this one his performance with Eric at one of Eric’s annual summertime Crossroads guitar Festivals.
Billy Preston on the organ and Eric on guitar: That’s an explosive combination, so stand back, people!

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David Brooks (Him? A rocker? I know)

Our favorite conservative pundit David Brooks sings the hosannas of rock music and especially the rock music of Springsteen in his New York Times column. “Rock, when done right, is jolting and exhilirating.” We here at Jitterbugger don’t have to tell our regular readers that we find rock jolting and exhiliarating–and spiritual. Of course, a blog named for jitterbugging music and Jesus Christ our Lord and savior just might lean to the spiritual, ya think?
November 27, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
The Other Education
Like many of you, I went to elementary school, high school and college. I took such and such classes, earned such and such grades, and amassed such and such degrees.

But on the night of Feb. 2, 1975, I turned on WMMR in Philadelphia and became mesmerized by a concert the radio station was broadcasting. The concert was by a group I’d never heard of — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Thus began a part of my second education.

We don’t usually think of this second education. For reasons having to do with the peculiarities of our civilization, we pay a great deal of attention to our scholastic educations, which are formal and supervised, and we devote much less public thought to our emotional educations, which are unsupervised and haphazard. This is odd, since our emotional educations are much more important to our long-term happiness and the quality of our lives.

In any case, over the next few decades Springsteen would become one of the professors in my second education. In album after album he assigned a new course in my emotional curriculum.

This second education doesn’t work the way the scholastic education works. In a normal schoolroom, information walks through the front door and announces itself by light of day. It’s direct. The teacher describes the material to be covered, and then everybody works through it.

The knowledge transmitted in an emotional education, on the other hand, comes indirectly, seeping through the cracks of the windowpanes, from under the floorboards and through the vents. It’s generally a byproduct of the search for pleasure, and the learning is indirect and unconscious.

From that first night in the winter of 1975, I wanted the thrill that Springsteen was offering. His manager, Jon Landau, says that each style of music elicits its own set of responses. Rock, when done right, is jolting and exhilarating.

Once I got a taste of that emotional uplift, I was hooked. The uplifting experiences alone were bound to open the mind for learning.

I followed Springsteen into his world. Once again, it wasn’t the explicit characters that mattered most. Springsteen sings about teenage couples out on a desperate lark, workers struggling as the mills close down, and drifters on the wrong side of the law. These stories don’t directly touch my life, and as far as I know he’s never written a song about a middle-age pundit who interviews politicians by day and makes mind-numbingly repetitive school lunches at night.

What mattered most, as with any artist, were the assumptions behind the stories. His tales take place in a distinct universe, a distinct map of reality. In Springsteen’s universe, life’s “losers” always retain their dignity. Their choices have immense moral consequences, and are seen on an epic and anthemic scale.

There are certain prominent neighborhoods on his map — one called defeat, another called exaltation, another called nostalgia. Certain emotional chords — stoicism, for one — are common, while others are absent. “There is no sarcasm in his writing,” Landau says, “and not a lot of irony.”

I find I can’t really describe what this landscape feels like, especially in newspaper prose. But I do believe his narrative tone, the mental map, has worked its way into my head, influencing the way I organize the buzzing confusion of reality, shaping the unconscious categories through which I perceive events. Just as being from New York or rural Georgia gives you a perspective from which to see the world, so spending time in Springsteen’s universe inculcates its own preconscious viewpoint.

Then there is the man himself. Like other parts of the emotional education, it is hard to bring the knowledge to consciousness, but I do think important lessons are communicated by that embarrassed half-giggle he falls into when talking about himself. I do think a message is conveyed in the way he continually situates himself within a tradition — de-emphasizing his own individual contributions, stressing instead the R&B groups, the gospel and folk singers whose work comes out through him.

I’m not claiming my second education has been exemplary or advanced. I’m describing it because I have only become aware of it retrospectively, and society pays too much attention to the first education and not enough to the second.

In fact, we all gather our own emotional faculty — artists, friends, family and teams. Each refines and develops the inner instrument with a million strings.

Last week, my kids attended their first Springsteen concert in Baltimore. At one point, I looked over at my 15-year-old daughter. She had her hands clapped to her cheeks and a look of slack-jawed, joyous astonishment on her face. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing — 10,000 people in a state of utter abandon, with Springsteen surrendering himself to them in the center of the arena.

It begins again.

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