Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President:

When you get up tonight in front of the nation, in front of the world, please say what we need to hear. And please, mean it this time.

You’ve had the type of global support no leader has ever mustered and yet you’ve managed to squander the power and energy of that support over the past year through inconsistent policy-crafting, continuation of troubling precedents set by the previous administration, and abandoning the grassroots populist ideals that got you elected.

As a citizen, I would say that you have failed on health care, you have failed on job creation, you have failed on big banking, you have failed on government transparency, and you have failed by escalating violent conflict.

You have set a tone of change, but have not set your policy as one of change.

As for those who say your supporters are disappointed in Rahm Emanuel and where he is leading your administration, I can only ask, “What did they expect?” Rahm Emanuel is an uber-insider, power-player, and meta spin-doctor, as are most of your closest advisors.

Please get up there tonight, and speak truth to power – your own power, given to you by the people of the United States – and then take action in the direction of that truth.

Please do not make me go get a t-shirt made up that says “Don’t blame me – I voted for Hillary in the primary.”

Thank you.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Review of Motherland

I meant to write up a review of this months ago when I went to see it with Tarous and Naomi. However, I've now written it, and it's become my first official review for remotegoat!


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

keep it simple

I went to the London launch of a venerated venue called Catweazle last night. It turned out to be a mostly music open mic night. A few singer/songwriter types went up and then the MC called Irene to the stage. Irene and her Autoharp.

I've long since learned not to laugh at an Autoharp. My friends had a band in LA called The Acres that I loved so much, it put me in danger of becoming a hillbilly.

Irene introduced her song as one that she had heard in a documentary on Hurricane Katrina and wanted to do for Haiti. I have been thinking a lot about the piece I wrote for Hurricane Katrina and how much it still stands now, in this moment of disaster. She began to strum the Autoharp and then sing in a clear and solid voice. The song was simple in structure, each verse asking mercy for someone in this time of trouble.

Irene is not the best singer. She is not the best Autoharp player. The song is not the best song ever written.

Yet still, as she sang, the audience was drawn in more and more and more to the song.

As a performer, or as a promoter, you learn to recognize the stages of engagement of an audience. Everyone knows when an audience is not paying attention. Once they are paying attention, though, there are so many levels of that, it is not to be believed. When on stage, I like to feel the particular quiet that comes from all energy being focused on what I'm doing -- even mine. This feeling is like creating an energy circle of which I am part, while I am also the originator and the, for lack of a better word, actor. In this state, the audience is in full participation in the event, even in their silence. There is a particular sound to it. It sounds different from other levels, sure as the crack of the bat will tell you it's a homerun without looking, because a homerun sounds different from any other type of hit.

When promoting, you hope for this type of moment to occur for those you've chosen to put on stage. As an audience member you hope for it, too. -- for that feeling that no time is passing at all that you are enveloped fully into something enriching. This is why we leave our warm cozy houses, our internet connections, our televisions, our coaches - to be drawn into something real and engaging and present.

Irene and her song created such a state. The song resonated as she let it just come through her. The audience connected with her true experience of the song and let it be theirs. She did nothing fancy. Nothing at all. She was just fully committed and real.

Besides being a beautiful moment, I was once again reminded how important simplicity is. The more I am on stage, the simpler I get. As you progress, you realize that simplicity, in its truest form, requires a degree of mastery not easily attained. Perhaps it is the result of those 10,000 hours. Perhaps it is just being seated in your own soul.

Meryl Streep's performances since Adaptation have appeared absolutely effortless. She glides through these characters like a shape-shifter. As a younger actress, she was all prowess and peacock; the acting was palatable even as you acknowledged its greatness, but now she is light as air, embodying these people completely. She is so simple in her process, she has created huge depths of complexity.

Over the holidays, I happened upon a special with Sting. He went back to his hometown and put together a concert of winter songs in a cathedral with a massive ban: string section, horn section, a harpist, back-up singers. They chose many traditional songs and also created new songs. They showed their rehearsals and the way they all came to respect each other as creatives. Out of this, something so beautiful came.

I'm not the biggest Sting fan, but there was something going on here -- a dedication to the music by so many great players was yielding something unprecedented.

They interviewed a female musician and she said that really, what it was, was that everyone was playing simple. No one was showing off. No one was trying to out-do anyone else. Everyone was just trying to play the songs together. Simple. And simple done properly, is the hardest thing to do.

I love it when a plan comes together. I found this on my friend Elana's FB page just a minute ago. She's an amazing singer. So here is the fitting end to this post:

"It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play." - Dizzy Gillespie

Enough said.

one year on

"Wish we'd wake up one day, and everyone feel good." sings Paul Weller on my iTunes. Everybody needs a little Style Council every once in a while.

Was there ever such a day?

Yes, I think there was.

January 21, 2009.

The previous day, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The world breathed a collective sigh of long held breaths - yes, the evil W was gone, yes, we had managed a smooth transition of power, yes, we had put an African-American firmly into the office of the presidency without incident. Yes, yes, yes.

As I walked around that day the anticipation was thick. Everyone had plans for where they would be. I went to the Theatre Royal in Stratford where Kat Francois was hosting an event. They broadcast the Inauguration in the theatre and after there was a jazz band in the bar. I was with an American friend and a Scottish one and we ate Caribbean food listening to jazz and the place was ebullient.

Waking up the next morning felt like the first day of everything. Even in the grey London winter, people were smiling and seemed joyful. Like there were clouds under their shoes.

Every possibility for positivity and change was suddenly in play again. All would be better.

January 21, 2010

Is it better?

No. It is not. The change is so slight as to be cosmetic. The things we hoped for and were promised - real transparency, real accountability, real transition - have been lost in large gestures that have hidden meanings. Like the closing of Guantanamo only to shift the prisoners to a huge costly facility in Obama's home state creating an ever-more permanent limbo for those incarcerated, like the continued shipping of certain captives to third-party countries, like the continued suppression of the images of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, like the cobbled together compromise on health care that amounts to not much more than people like me paying for our own health insurance, but now being forced to do so whether we can afford it or not.

I was never fully on the Obama bandwagon. Edwards was my first choice - his work on poverty is absolutely inspiring. Despite his personal issues, I always felt his depth of passion and activism. By the time I got to vote in the primary, Edwards was no longer in it. I chose Hillary, who I truly thought would make a great president. Maybe not a visionary one, but great. I felt that no one knew more about the health care issues and she had enough experience on the world stage to just get on with governing. She had plenty of allies, and probably as many enemies, as well, but power often cures those relationships. And, yes, I really wanted to see a woman president.

As the campaign tilted toward Obama, I was hesitant. My friends were fully committed. I appreciated the engagement of a generation of people who had decided they would never participate in the process and were suddenly energized. I just didn't see it. I was afraid he was The Secret candidate - we, and he, were filled by wishful thinking and prophecy and we were going to will him into office and into a great presidency. Obama would win the poetry slam with a 30, no doubt, but being President is not only about talking, it's about doing. GWB made us feel bad while he was running our country into the ground; Obama had the power to make us feel good while that was still happening. That was what scared me.

I appreciate his analytical skills, his intelligence, his talent as an orator and writer. I appreciate his dignified bearing and his compassionate understanding. Yet, I am disturbed by the actions of his first year as president. Reading Nat Hentoff's recent Village Voice article George W. Obama disturbed me even more.

Truly, I wish I could say my life, where it intersects governance, is better after a year of an Obama presidency. It is not. I wish I could say I felt that we would be winding down the military violence, but I fear we are escalating it. I wish I felt more prosperous, or safer. I wish I could point to one clear victory for those who worked so hard to propel this man to office. I wish I could say I was surprised that the Republicans picked up Ted Kennedy's senate seat.

I hope Michelle Obama inspires people to eat better - that would create a lasting positive shift in our population and its health. I hope she continues to preserve her family, as that would be a real and positive example. I truly hope there are no scandals. That, at least, would be something.

Yet I anticipate us decimating Yemen; I anticipate engagement with Iran where we have already begun the same path there that led to the horrible violence in Central America and the Middle East.

Obama is pragmatic, and this is a positive trait, but he is also inclined to play it safe. Dangerously safe, it seems as he moves further and further into Centrist territory, leaving his constituencies flailing, but not willing to call in their marks just yet.

Finally seeing a Democrat in office, I felt as though we could all move on with our lives and stop spending so much time as critics. We have moved on, and only lately have I felt the need to double-back, assess, and wonder what exactly has changed, if anything. What becomes clear is that as artists, as citizens, we can never fully relax in this climate of emerging technologies and revived tribalism.

Democracy demands vigilance. Maybe that is true and proper; maybe that is what a representative government is meant to be - a state wherein the citizens are always accountable for the actions of their officials, and therefore must maintain a degree of pressure at all times. Certainly this is how the rest of the world perceives us, though they seem to take their cue on who Americans are from episodes of Friends and reality television. After the recent weeks of NBC's folly, perhaps it is more important for us to put pressure on network executives than our actual government.

Except image isn't everything. Actions hidden by the mire of complicated situations eventually surface as part of a chain of events, despite the spin placed on them.

We do more than just vote - we advocate and we activate change. We do. The two-party system does not function as anything but a see-saw for the status quo - the center is stationary and all actions veer towards there, while the tone changes erratically. But tone does not dictate life and its quality; actions do.

With Obama's election, I felt as though we had earned some time off for a job well done, for good behaviour. I don't think I was alone in that. I felt that he would protect the freedoms he said he would with commensurate action. I felt I could take up different causes, easier causes, or more overlooked causes than peace, or our Constitutional rights.

One year later, I've sadly come to see, that there is no vacation from true citizenship. While I feel a certain kind of misery at reinstalling my critical software, I also feel that it is unavoidable. It's not okay to let Obama slide because he's Obama or because he's not a Republican or because he's smart, educated, erudite, and palatable in comparison to the previous office-holder.

There are things we'll never know; things that were in the letter left by GWB to Obama; things that change the expression and the eyes of the newly inaugurated president. There are parameters placed on the presidency that Obama never dreamed in running for office, and making the promises he made. However, the country functioned fairly well in its first two hundred years without many of the impingements to our freedom we are now seeing and without much of the vehemence that has come to classify our actions in world policy.

Technology has opened new doors and we feel life at an ever-increasing pace, yet every generation has felt that incessant pressure of the march of time and ingenuity. Human nature hasn't changed. The country was founded and maintained on principles that eschewed the implantation of fascism and factionalism in government. Eroding our internal freedoms while engendering fascism outside our borders is a sad and dangerous game.

With so much greatness in human capability, in resources, in lush topography, could we not put our energies and efforts to better uses?

I am sad on this day. Sad to think back to a year ago, and what has turned out to be, a momentary lapse of reason.

friends, fans and artists

I've been thinking about this for a week now. Erykah Badu on Def Poetry. I think it was Season 2. I think they thought, oh yeah, she fly, let's get Erykah. But she came out and she was all Badu. At the time I was still pretty fresh to spoken word, but I was a big Badu fan.

She came out with this little performance and we're all staring at the screen, like huh? She's got cards and words and do we actually really know what she's saying? And Erykah's best friend from college is a dope poet we all know and somebody else and Erykah they don't talk at all because of something something and we do feel close to her. But what is she on about?

But now you see, I've been thinking about it. Or at least the things she was on about have been thinking themselves into me. Friends, Fans, Artists. The differences in these groups. Falling into more than one of those groups or all three, is awkward, totally awkward.

I went back and rewatched. Finding that it all made better sense to me now, time passing, life changing as it does.

Friends, Fans, Artists...which one are you?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

time out

I remember reading in a biography of Gandhi that he set aside one day of the week for silence. I believe the day was Monday, a traditionally dreaded day in western cultures. He would take meetings and people could talk to him; he just didn't speak. It wasn't passive aggressive; it was just his policy.

When I read this, I thought it was a good idea. I wanted to try it. I didn't get very far. But the idea came back to me last night when I realized that it's not speaking that I need to refrain from periodically, it's responding. With FB, twitter, myspace, email, voicemail, phones, and in-person contact, I've achieved a kind of exhaustion I'd never imagined. It's an exhaustion with putting out -- like I'm a communications slut.

I can't tell you how many times in a normal day I hear Macy Gray's voice in my head "just a moment to myself....a moment to myself..." -- if I were paying her residuals, she'd be in good shape.

So this thought:

Is it possible to set aside one day of the week, say the dreaded Monday, to just not respond?

Read emails, FB's, twitters, even listen to voicemails, but have no obligation of retaliation. Because it does feel like a battle sometimes, all this answering, all this responsiveness, this endless table tennis match on a constantly shifting table. Um - my head again - "it's a jungle sometimes makes me wonder how I keep from going under." And you know where that lyric leads.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

R.I.P. Bingo Gazingo

Is re-blogging okay? Like re-tweeting?

Cause this is just a re-blog.

Downtown loses another walking piece of history, creativity, and resilience.

Monday, 4 January 2010

the smelly wars

I’ve written here before about trying to find SLS-free products. Specifically toothpaste. In fact, at the moment, I’m pretty happy with the baking soda toothpaste I got at Trader Joe’s. Although someone just told me now baking soda might be bad for me….

In my quest for all natural everything, I realized that I was still using commercial deodorants. About six months ago, I thought it was time I tried some options. Reluctantly. Very reluctantly.

At Whole Foods in Camden, I sought out some options. There was a travel size of one of those crystals. I bought it. I used it. With mixed results. First issue is – you have to wet it. Not always convenient and certainly a change to my routine – now you must be near running water to put it on. Second – you get wet. This is no anti-perspirant. You have to get used to being wet. Weird. Third – it doesn’t really seem to be strong enough to last all day. So you have to carry it around. And there needs to be more running water later when you reapply. At least it’s unscented.

I was told there’d be an adjustment period. For the first few weeks I felt kind of icky. Once I got the double-application down, it worked better. For a while. Then it seemed to not work again and I felt kinda smelly. Then there was the issue of laundry. You really couldn’t wear a top more than once anymore. On and off I considered giving up. I persevered, results still mixed. Not so bad in LA, in the heat, on set. Worse when wearing long sleeves, or warmer clothes.


But the endless illnesses that are supposedly caused by the aluminum and by not sweating. What to do?

Back in the day, it didn’t matter too much. As any dance teacher will tell you – dancers don’t sweat. And if they do, it doesn’t smell. Why? Well because after your first class, rehearsal, whatever, you’re pretty much sweated out. And if you sweat that much daily, you’re not moving that much out of your body except water.

I talked to a friend who suggested visiting Lush. I’m pretty much a fan of Lush products, though I think they are unnecessarily pricey for things that have looming expiration dates. I visited one, and asked about deodorants. They had several. One was a solid bar type thing that you put on. As with many Lush products, it doesn’t have packaging apart from the waxed paper they wrap it in. I asked for a sample – I really didn’t want to pay money for another product that didn’t work – and she happily obliged. She went away and came back with a chunk that I later realized would probably last a year.

It’s called Aromaco and is a little beige bar you kind of use like a solid deodorant. It tends to crumble and get on everything in your toiletry case. It has a scent. When you begin to sweat, you don’t smell like sweat exactly. You smell like a Dead show. An old hippie. Some patchouli and other smells come out that are smells I don’t particularly like. Ones that I would rather avoid. Ones that don’t really go with who I am, get stuck in my clothes.

As long as you’re not sweating, it’s fine.


For now I’m alternating between putting on one of these and going commando. I’ve discovered that if I’m really good about shaving, then I’m pretty much clear. I’ve also discovered that natural fibers make a difference.

But generally, I feel smelly and alone. I strangely have found that I get more dates now that I am au natural. Theorize as you like.

My friend Alfie posted something on her FB status about the whole natural deodorant issue. It sparked dozens of comments from people all searching for the natural alternative. It made me feel less alone. And even, a little less smelly. With enough trial and error, we may be able to solve this.

Until then…well, hmm…