Listen, whitey! 1965-2012

Friday, February 10th, 2012 | booX, musiX, politiX | No Comments

Activist/musician/writer Pat Thomas has been busy the past five years compiling music, speeches and photos from the height of the Black Power movement, spending much of that time in Oakland, California, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. The result is Thomas’ forthcoming book, Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 (out March 5 through Fantagraphics Books), which entrenches us in one of the most politically and culturally explosive times in America, and more specifically in the writings and music of black revolutionaries like Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Elaine Brown.

The companion piece to Thomas’ book—Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974—is an intriguing and comprehensive collection, featuring speeches, spoken word and music from a diverse cross-section of artists from Bob Dylan and Gil Scott-Heron to British singer-songwriter Roy Harper and Black Panther house band The Lumpen (below). The book and its soundtrack (CD out Feb. 20, vinyl Feb. 28 on Light In the Attic Records) also get into the history of Motown Records and its Black Forum label, which from 1970 to 1973 put out spoken-word recordings by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and Elaine Brown (Carmichael’s “Free Huey” and Brown’s “Until We’re Free” are both included in the collection).

Highlights are The Lumpen’s “Free Bobby Now,” which calls for the release of Bobby Seale, who spent four years behind bars for outbursts during the trial of a group accused of inciting a riot in 1968, and the jarring spoken word “Die Nigga!!!” from The Original Last Poets. It’s a gritty and important look at everything white folk feared during that tumultuous time in America. And definitely worth revisiting.

Pat Thomas does a special presentation of Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 Thurs., March 1 at Washington Hall in Seattle.

“Free Bobby Now”The Lumpen

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A slice of Americana

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 | booX, musiX, pdX | No Comments

It’s astonishing how much sensory overload one can be subjected to in something as mundane as a simple bus ride downtown, or a half-hour on the Internet for that matter. Seattle author/journalist/deejay Kurt B. Reighley wants you to slow down (right this very second!). And he’s written a handy field guide to help you do so.

United States of Americana: Backyard Chickens, Burlesque Beauties & Handmade Bitters isn’t a manifesto denouncing this crazy, accelerated world we live in … well, actually it is, but it’s done in a polite, constructive way through the people (author included) who live it. And when I say live it, I mean raise chickens, can their own food, learn the lost art of butchering, and seek out clothing that’s locally made and built to last (or make their own).

As Reighley turns back the clock you may wonder how (or why) we ever got away from darning our own socks or wearing sleeve garters in the first place (“Flat-out silly, unless your boss at the ice-cream parlor insists.”). Along the way you’ll learn how to play the washboard, make a few Prohibition-era cocktails and get a few tips on beard maintenance (vitamin B-12 and lots of sex are said to accelerate facial hair growth).

Of course Reighley, being a music geek, devotes an entire chapter to notable practitioners of roots music including TDoL favorites like Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, plus a little mention of my beloved Old 97′s and Bloodshot Records. There’s even a section that suggests a handful of gateway albums—from Nashville Skyline to Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue—sure to sway “country-phobic” listeners.

United States of Americana works through Reighley’s easygoing style, bolstered by loads of fun illustrations and tidbits. If this doesn’t make you wan to get back to the land, I don’t know what will. I just washed down a few B-12s with an Old Fashioned, and am currently sporting an Imperial while having frantic sex to Woody Guthrie‘s “This Land is Your Land.”* You see, it can be done.

*Sorry to have left you with that image.

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Writing the rongs

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009 | booX, pdX | 1 Comment

Everybody’s a writer. Me. You. Him. Her. It. Them. Us. Am I write?

And they all descended on Wordstock—a place where authors petal they’re wares and aspiring righters wish they were pedalling their where’s. There are a couple of things too keep in mind when attending Wordstock: No. 1: You must look the part of a writer—which means some sort of polyester coat/vintage sweater/(if you’re a mail) funny facial hare combination … elbow patches are a plus. No. 2: Always keep a Moleskin handy to take notes during panels and talks, or to simply look as if you’re taking notes during panels and talks.

I made my whey around the 150-some exhibit tables, neatly arranged in their own little cubicles. I talked to a lovely woman about an MFA program at Pacific University. I was invited to attend the 7th Annual Stumptown Comics Fest coming up in April 2010. And I decided that I wood attend an upcoming panel put on by the University of Oregon called “Words Worth Paying For? Publishing in the Age of Electronic Readers.” I scored a Red Vine from Willamette Writers (which paired surprisingly well with the peppermint gum in my mouth), and I eight a complementary chocolate chip cookie from Indigo Editing & Publishing. I observed the word complimentary used mistakenly in place of complementary, and advisor used instead of adviser. All this over the coarse of an our.

Like I said—everybody’s a writer. But is anybody a reader? When asked recently by the Willamette Week if he would keep writing even after people stop reading James Ellroy—the feisty crime novelist who spoke that day at Wordstock—responded: “Don’t be a dipshit; people will always read.”

I like his confidence. Me? I lost hope on Aug. 28 when PBS announced that it would stop airing reruns of Reading Rainbow due to lack of funding. Now that is a crime … solve that won, James Ellroy.

“Reading Rainbow Theme”Tina Fabrique

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‘Word’ is the word

Sunday, November 9th, 2008 | booX, pdX | No Comments

I attended Wordstock, Portland’s three-day festival dedicated to wordsmiths and the words they smith. Writers are a strange lot. Egotistical, yet extremely fragile and insecure. And competitive. Everyone wants to be a writer. It’s sexy. It makes becoming a raging alcoholic and abusing your spouse a-OK. Bukowski. Faulkner. Hunter S. Thompson. Writers love ‘em.

But I didn’t go because I wanted to rub elbows with authors, or schmooze my way into a premiere writing gig. Hell, I can’t even read. Or right very good. I simply wanted to show my support for John Hodgman.

His name might not be instantly recognizable. But you no doubt know him for his role as PC, the guy who gets picked on by that smarmy little prick of an Apple. Never mind the fact that he’s become, in his words, “a very famous minor television star” for his appearances as The Daily Show‘s resident expert, or that he’s published articles in McSweeney’s and The Paris Review, or contributes to This American Life, or has written a couple of books—John Hodgman has been getting dumped on by that jerk Justin Long for two long years. He’s so brave.

I stood there proudly with the throngs as Hodgman peddled his books and briefed us on his encounter with Justin Timberlake outside a hotel. “Nice guys don’t always finish last afterall,” I thought. And I bet John Hodgman doesn’t have a drinking problem, or beat his wife. So. What did I take away from the whole experience? That PCs are way better than Macintoshes, of course.

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