Entries Tagged 'Books' ↓

Soul Power.

mick-jagger-by-albert-watsonAlbert Watson, Jagger/Leopard, 1992

Like a lot of legendary photographs, Albert Watson’s portrait of the Rolling Stones’s Mick Jagger, above, begins with another concept that isn’t working out.

Says the renowned lensman,

The original idea for the shooting was to have Mick Jagger driving a Corvette, with the leopard in the passenger seat. The big cat, a wild animal, seemed to suit Jagger, who likes to jump around a lot onstage, of course. However, putting the leopard in the car with him ended up being so dangerous that we had to build a partition. So, while we were waiting, I thought, “Let me try a quick double exposure with the leopard.” I shot the leopard first and drew its eyes and nose on the viewfinder of the camera. Then I rewound the film and photographed Jagger, fitting his eyes and nose over the eyes and nose of the leopard on the viewfinder so they matched. I didn’t think it would work, and I almost threw out the film. But of the twelve shots, four of them matched, and this was the best of the four that worked.

What’s amazing about the image is how, by combining the two subjects, Watson suggests a deeper truth about Jagger, inflecting his almost feline, preening aura; his famed, virtually predatory libido. I happen to think Watson’s creation story is nonsense, or, at best, incomplete. For example, did the leopard’s pupils and Jagger’s somehow match perfectly, or were the rock star’s orbs stripped in, later?

tina-turner-by-diltz-lo-resWhat’s without contest, however, is that this is an amazing photographic image. So is this 1985 photo by Henry Diltz of Tina Turner at LA’s Universal Amphitheater, right. Both do what photography does best: Isolate the moment with verity; freezing it so that we may contemplate and examine it in a way that is impossible in life.

Jagger’s and Turner’s are two of over 200 images to be found in curator and photo historian Gail Buckland‘s Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955-Present, in which Watson’s recollection appears. (As well, an eponymous companion exhibit is at the Brooklyn Museum through January 31, after which it travels to Worcester MA, Memphis TN, Akron OH, and Columbia SC.)

Gail Buckland is a guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, January 8, at 2 pm ET.

a-42-9We’ll also be speaking with photog Sue Kwon, whose Street Level: New York Photographs 1987-2007 documents the seething energy of the metropolis in which she lives from a personal p.o.v. Kwon works by getting close to the people and cultures that fill the city, working at eye level, crafting typically black and white images of the sights that meter daily life of the five boroughs; for example, this image, above, of Black Israelite proselytizers.

You can hear both Gail Buckland’s and Sue Kwon’s ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

My Hero.


“A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always the aggressor knows he runs as great risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater respect for Afro-American life.”

If Ida Bell Wells (1862-1931), above, had never written another word in her entire life, she would have been the object of my supreme ancestral regard merely for those sixty, above. Composed when she was about thirty years of age, the text, from her 1892 pamphlet, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, still simmers over a hundred years later with the nostril-burning scent of bitter defiance.

Keep in mind, however, that Wells was not describing some kind of abstract notion of a second amendment embrace, but penning her ideas when there was a literal price on her head. The definitive leader of her era in a wildly underpowered crusade against the lynching of Black people, Wells and her jagged prose sent entitled racists into spasms. Documenting their morbid outrages as a journalist, she inevitably had to leave for the North, merely to keep from becoming another prized lynching victim herself.

I read her words for the first time in the mid ’80s, in college, in a book titled When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, by Paula J. Giddings. At the time, South Africa was raging. Black New Yorker’s were being killed, seemingly with wanton disregard, by New York City police while an indifferent mayor, Ed Koch, wagged his finger at us.

I was looking for a functional political position that made humanitarian sense, but that had some teeth in it. Needless to say, Wells not only fit the bill, but lit my brain up, and sent me back to the stacks. There, I learned that Black radicalism was not new or recent, but a legacy response to racism.

paula-giddings-headshotNeedless to say, Wells changed my life, but not as much as she did Giddings’, right. Indeed, the Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor in Afro-American Studies at Smith College says that, even with the abundance of astounding characters in her book, Ida kept speaking to her, from the mists of history, beckoning for a volume of her own.

As my mother always said, listen to your elders. Giddings’ follow-up to When and WhereIda: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching—is a masterful, 800-plus page tome that, no doubt, will be the definitive record of Wells’ life and work for decades.

Paula J. Giddings is my hero, too, and the guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, January 1, at 2 pm ET. Indeed, our conversation was so rich and bountiful it wouldn’t fit into one broadcast. Look out for the second part, soon, on a future date.

For now, you can hear Part I by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

How Art Happens: Conversations with Frank Gehry Brightly Illuminates the Master’s Creative Process.

dscn4515_1Infinity and beyond: Experience Music Project, Frank Gehry, architect
Photo by Victor Gin

nationalmedalofartsThat Toronto-born Frank Gehry is the world’s most famous living architect, many would argue, is without question. It is best demonstrated, they’d say, by the instant recognizability of his style. Anywhere one sees it passionately realized—for example, in the flamelike arcs of Seattle’s Experience Music Project, above—one knows that only a single person could be responsible for that building.

Others would urge that his having been awarded not only the Pritzker Prize—”architecture’s Nobel,” as it is often regarded—or the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal but also the U.S. Congress’s National Medal of Arts, above, puts him in a singular class. Still others would note that he and his work were examined in a film by an Academy Award-winning director: Sketches of Frank Gehry, by the late Sydney Pollack, one of his his last films and only documentary.

simpson_frank_gehry_concert_hall_41I’d say, however, there’s really only one truly objective proof of Gehry’s renown: He’s the only architect alive to be featured on The Simpsons. In a 2005 episode, right, he’s hired to design a concert hall so that Springfield’s citizens will appear more sophisticated to their neighboring Shelbyville.

Of course, that it’s ultimately closed and turned into a prison isn’t the point. It’s that Gehry’s work has so much mindshare the Simpsons‘ writers felt him suitably big enough to both feature and lampoon on a mainstream animated series. An architect.

gehry-pic_1125075iThat episode aired, however, right around the time that, in real life, Gehry, right, had begun a new project with L.A.-based cultural writer Barbara Isenberg. She’d interviewed him numerous times over a twenty-year period, and Gehry, then 75, had just approached her with, literally, a once-in-a-lifetime offer. “He asked me if I would help him organize his memories through an oral history,” the journalist, below, says on her web site.

barbara_isenbergI was immediately drawn to the idea, having enjoyed our many earlier interviews, and what began as an oral history soon evolved into the conversations I’ve edited here. Since December 2004, Gehry and I have met regularly at his Los Angeles office and Santa Monica home, over restaurant breakfasts and conference room lunches. We’ve talked about the family he was born into and the families he created, who he wanted to be and who he became, what architects do generally and what he does specifically, always coming back to the family, cultural and geographic forces that have shaped his aesthetic.

Barbara Isenberg talks about Conversations with Frank Gehry, the book she authored, based on those interviews, during my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, December 18, at 2 pm ET.

You can hear her ideas—and Gehry’s—by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

Visions of a Gorgeous, Green Future.


That’s “The DoChoDo Zoological Island,” above, a fantastic rendering of an environmentally neutral structure, designed by Brussels-based JDS/Julien De Smedt Architects, from the retrospective of their work, Agenda.

[via bldgblog]

The Elements to Producing Precious.


Precious, Lee Daniels’ adaptation of author / poet Sapphire’s 1996 novel, Push, has gained wide acclaim for the director. Perhaps even more, though, it has procured deeper regard for both Gabourey Sidibe, as the titular, obese, frequently-raped, illiterate, 16-year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones, above, and comedian Mo’Nique, as her acid-tongued, trigger-hair-violent mother, Mary.

lisacortesUnless you closely study indy film credits, though, you may not heard of Precious executive producer Lisa Cortés, right. (A sr. v.p. with Lee Daniels Entertainment, she’s also worked with Daniels, in varied roles, on the Academy Award-winning Monster’s Ball, The Woodsman, Shadowboxer, and Tennessee.)

That Cortés does this in comparative obscurity, however, may prove she possesses what those in a producing role actually need, even more than publicists: The ability to work relentlessly, behind the scenes, to make movies happen, and an ego healthy enough not to pursue media visibility as its own end.

Lisa Cortés is a guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, December 11th, at 2 pm ET.

Then, Theodore Gray, is cofounder of software company Wolfram Research, makers of the legendary Mathematica. But that’s just his day job. In his spare time, Gray writes Popular Science‘s “Gray Matter” column…and collects samples of the 118 elements which populate the periodic table.

9781579128142But why leave all that hydrogen, helium, and ununoctium just sitting there? Working with Nick Mann, the two shot seemingly everything in Gray’s hoard for publication.

The result is The Elements A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, right.

Organized in order of appearance on the periodic table, each element is represented by a spread that includes a stunning, full-page, full-color photograph that most closely represents it in its purest form. For example, at -183˚C, oxygen turns from a colorless gas to a beautiful pale blue liquid.

You can hear Lisa Cortés’s and Theodore Gray’s ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Absolutely No More Starving Artists.


modigliani_picasso_and_andre_salmonIn 1920, Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani died at the age of 35, destitute and penniless. Done in by a then uncurable case of tubercular meningitis—and way too much drinking—he was literally so broke that he only ate by trading his work for meals. (That’s, l-r, Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and critic André Salmon in 1914, Paris, right.)

Of course, today, he is recognized as a genius. In 2004, Jeanne Hebuterne (devant une porte), above, an eponymous portrait of his life’s great love, sold at auction for $31,368,000; a record for his work.

Too bad he couldn’t take a trip to the future, not just to skim some needed cash off the top, but to pick up a copy of author Jackie Battenfield‘s book, The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love. As she notes on her web site, the text

is a comprehensive handbook that provides the information, tools, and techniques, for developing and sustaining a successful art career. It provides answers to the challenges artists face everyday and includes real-life examples, illustrations, step-by-step exercises, and bulleted lists that allow readers to dive in and begin working immediately.

jackie-portraitSome artists see poverty as the price they must pay to become great, or even, wrongly, as a sign of it. But Battenfield, right, a gifted visual artist herself, doesn’t dispute that, at points in one’s career, Ramen noodles can be a sculptor’s best friend.

Instead, her core idea is that, equipped with the right information, an artist can run their career, as opposed to having it run them. Modigiliani would, no doubt, agree.

Jackie Battenfield is a guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, December 4, at 2 pm ET.

i38b-frontThen, eight years ago this month, Wax Poetics, right—the chunky, Brooklyn-based bimonthly—began what has become a stellar run of thirty-eight issues to-date. Designed to putty “the once noticeable gap in music journalism—an editorial void between contemporary artists and classic greats,” the magazine effortlessly bridges disparate blends of groove-oriented musiculture.

Today, I’ll be talking with editor-in-chief Andre Torres, as well as writer Michael Gonzales, author of the current issue’s cover story on Super Fly soundtrack creator Curtis Mayfield.

You can hear Jackie Battenfield’s Andre Torres’s, and Michael Gonzales’s ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

Ronald T. Takaki, 1939-2009


“He couldn’t deal with it anymore.”—Troy Takaki

In January, I spoke with historian Dr. Ronald T. Takaki about his  book, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, for my WBAI radio show, NONFICTION. Specifically, we talked about the new Obama administration, and especially the president’s inaugural address, which he’d given mere hours earlier.

Almost exactly four months later, on May 26, Takaki, 70, ended his own life. He was, as his son said, above, seeking a way out of the pain and debilitation of multiple sclerosis., having suffered with the degenerative neurological condition for 20 years..

Had I known that I would never talk to Ron Takaki again, would I have spoken to him longer, more penetratingly, or differently, in some other way? Certainly. But, more, I’m honored that I had the chance to speak with him.

9780316022361_154x233I’d heard him talk in-person once before, at an otherwise middling race conference hosted by Michigan State University, about a dozen years earlier. He gave an explanation of the term “master narrative”—the history of the U.S. popularly held to be true by most people, and that our powerful institutions overwhelmingly support and reinforce.

For the most part, the master narrative is the story of white people, their victories, conquests, and supposed brilliance. Other people are attached to that tale, from time to time, like appliqués to a jacket. But the amazing race dominates the conversation.

Then, after explaining this concept, Takaki told his own version of the nation’s history. What I remember most is how, as he traveled through time in his story, different groups would appear, act, diminish, then reappear and repeat, over and over. It was almost like watching a master weaver, but one whose fabric was temporal and societal, not material.

With his sad and unfortunate death, our nation lost an irreplaceable educator and innovator. (Deeper, still, was his family’s loss of a husband, father, and grandfather.)

Thankfully, still, we have his ideas, in the form of his many books, and we also have his voice: Ronald Takaki is a guest today, on this encore presentation of my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, November 27, at 2 pm ET.

shemekia-copelandHe’s preceded by blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland, right, and director Joe Stevens, co-creator of the 2008, sound-systems-on-BMX-bikes short, Made in Queens.

You can hear their ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

“Why Michael Jackson Was the Greatest Ever,” by George Carlin.


Michael Jackson was, of course, one of my cultural heroes, but notoriously a punching bag, seemingly incapable of ever fighting back against those who taunted and tormented him.

97814391729571George Carlin, right, was another one of my esteemed art warriors, but 180 degrees away from Jackson in temperment, ripping new holes into targets at will. (Carlin died in June 2008; Jackson passed almost exactly a year later, in June 2009.)

So, when I heard that Carlin had once recorded a short statement about why Jackson was the greatest entertainer ever, “bar none,” needless to say, I was expecting a harsh, satirical assassination, given his notoriously acidic tongue and ribald takes on human folly.

Instead, the results, though scarcely a minute in length, and profane–audio NSFW, kiddies–are also profound. Carlin not only defends and hails Jackson, but he takes carefully considered aim at sacred American heroes, like Elvis and Sinatra, to make his point.

In honor of the recent, posthumous release of Carlin’s autobiography, Last Words, co-authored with Tony Hendra, above, I give you the Man…and the Man in the Mirror.

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To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before.


What is science-fiction?

csicsery-ronayistvan_mugTo Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., right, you can describe it many ways. But, in the end, “more than a literary genre or a social passion,” sci-fi, or sf, “is a way of organizing the mind to include the contemporary world.”

Well and simply said, and there’s more where that came from. In his book, The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, Csicsery-Ronay is bullish on sf. A professor of English at DePauw University, and coeditor of the journal Science Fiction Studies, he argues eloquently and passionately for a reconsideration of the form, and for its social utility and intellectual depth.

The title of his book alludes to what he describes as “a constellation of seven diverse cognitive attractions,” pulls, or features, sf possesses, and that make it compelling to fans. These include everything from the way it creates new language to how it handles the notion of history.

Like sf itself, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. is a mother lode of ideas. He’s a guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, November 20, at 2 pm ET.

One way sci-fi movies used to let you know you were in the future was to make the president Black. But given that he actually is, does that job now fall to Black female rockers, like Danielia Cotton, above, or perhaps journalist Farai Chideya‘s Sophia Maria Clare Lee, the lead in her new novel, Kiss the Sky?

portrait-faraiIn it, Chideya, right, weaves a fast-moving story of sex, drugs, racial politics, and rock-and-roll; a modern tale of a woman who wants it all, but who also keeps getting in her own way. An ultra-modern woman herself, with credits from Newsweek, MTV, and NPR—where she hosted this blogger numerous times—and other media, Chideya makes no bones about the fact that she’s always wanted to be a novelist. Plus, now that she is one, she gladly shares the good news of how she did it, encouraging others to tell their own unique stories. As she notes in her essay, “How Do I Write A Novel,” “writing — not just the product but the process — is as individual as our fingerprints.”

You can hear Farai Chideya’s and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.’s ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

Hoax…or Alien Doily Pattern?


For decades, millions have been entranced by the mystical appearances and geometric precision of crop circles, like this one from 2001, above. From where do they come? How are they made? Are beings from other worlds trying to communicate with us?

All of which must have given John Lundberg and his chaps a right good laugh. He’s the founder of circlemakers, “a UK based arts collective famous for covertly creating hundreds of the world’s largest and most elaborate crop circles.” With Rob Irving and Mark Pilkington, he’s also the author of The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making.

Now, in the first book of its kind – part history and part how-to guide – the secrets of the crop circle world are revealed, by the people behind the modern era’s most astounding artform.

Whether you think crop circles represent a genuine mystery, a new kind of art, or an elaborate practical joke, The Field Guide is sure to leave a lasting impression. Join us in the fields for a unique exploration of this very English artform.

Mystery solved! Wow: Can’t wait to tell Bigfoot, the next time I take a trip through the Bermuda Triangle….