Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Call the Manager, Karen

A few weeks ago when the first complaint was registered on Twitter that a certain demographic of women felt that they were being unfairly tarred and feathered, I laughed it off as some woman having too much time on her hands. Seriously Karen?

In fact, I had intended to weigh in with a few jokes, but Damon at Very Smart Brothers beat me to it. And because his deconstruction of that kind of silliness is always funnier, I was content to leave it there. After all, we're living with a global pandemic. I am wearing the same clothes and haven't had a manicure in weeks so it is harder to type. I have my own anxieties about life, so the last thing I need to worry my little head about is whether some ladies on Twitter are organizing mutiny.

But they are. The Karens are displeased. So they have taken to the streets, like this woman in her yoga pants and messy top knot demanding that we get back to work. She has had enough of our loafing. She wants her hair cut and a pumpkin spice latte (I know, we're in a different season, so she wants her green tea frappucinno with soy milk and extra foam) NOW!

Only she can't call our managers to demand that we get fired because they're all at home on the sofa watching YouTube makeup tutorials. Unless someone is deemed an essential worker, we're ALL on lockdown, Karen. We all need a life, a job, and a haircut. We are all trying to navigate a world that has been turned upside down by a GLOBAL pandemic that has made it necessary for Savannah Guthrie to read the news from her basement. How is that not clear?

Oh, that's right...not enough people have died to warrant your inconvenience. You don't know anyone among those 45,000+ casualties. You barely know the single mother who fulfilled your recent Insta-cart order, but forgot the pomelo so now you can't make that recipe you saw on pinterest. (And you showed her by only giving her three stars!) Well, she wants to get her hair done too, but she has to pay her rent which is why she's venturing out in a homemade mask, a sleep cap, and kitchen gloves to shop for your groceries.

But by all means, Karen, complain that we are making fun of your name. That we've made it a slur, equal to the n-word that you dare not say because then Delroy Lindo might show up at your door, and you don't want that smoke...

So no, being branded as a Karen isn't a social media 'lynching' or branding a scarlet letter K on your profile. Your block button works. You don't have to be on social media correcting other people's grammar. You don't have to become the star of a viral racist Tik Tok rant that you and your stupid boyfriend made because you're bored. Oh wait, that was your daughter Becky...

Look Karen, we know it isn't your fault that you have too much free time on your hands, enough that you can take to the streets to demand that we get back to work so that you can get back to your regular complaining and calling the cops.

But before I let you get back to your crusade, let's go on and address your shitty analogy comparing the word you dare not say to being called a Karen. Sexism and misogyny are words that I happen to understand very well, being a woman myself. I also know about being Black, but we won't play the your-blues-ain't-like-mine card because we aren't playing games. Your life isn't at risk when someone calls you Karen...your feelings are hurt. Those are not analogous experiences.
The mere fact that you can take to the streets without a mask toting your homemade signs, brandishing your guns without getting tear gassed or arrested illustrates the very privilege of being a Karen. Trust, Angela cannot take to the streets in righteous indignation over the police shooting her son. Maria can't afford to take off from her second job to protest not being paid a living wage. The nail techs and salespeople who need to go to work are at home in a queue waiting to get through to someone who can process their unemployment checks. There are small business owners who can't get loans because Ruth Chris's Steak House got to the money first. Monica is providing five hours of online instruction for your children and planning an online memorial service for her great Aunt Carole who died alone at the hospital where Miriam has to reuse PPE and wear a garbage bag while treating patients.

But you aren't protesting those injustices, are you Karen? Or Laura. Or Jill. Or Miss Anne. Or whatever the fuck your name is.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Playlist Project: Babyface

It was not my intention to begin this playlist with a reference to the much ballyhooed producer showdown between our playlist honoree and fellow super-producer Teddy Riley, but that elephant is still in the room so there's that! I also thought that folks might appreciate a perspective on why Babyface might not be all that bothered if this never happens again...and honestly, I don't know how recovered I will be come October when it will be Riley's birthday.

(Well, the battle went down on Monday night while I was still writing, so I'll be sure to weigh in with my thoughts when this posts.)

To be clear, this piece is not about that Saturday night fiasco (I'll leave it to others to deconstruct), but there is a point to be made about the different styles each producer brought to the 90s music scene. Riley brings the flashy New Jack Swing while Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds brings his version of the more laid back Quiet Storm. The great thing about music is that one can be a fan of both approaches, so let's celebrate Mr. Edmonds, born April 10, for his musical contributions as both a performer and producer.

Of course, whenever I begin to research these artists, I learn SO much. For the Facebook playlist, I barely scratched the surface by only focusing on songs that feature Babyface the singer. To my knowledge at the time, that began with I Love You Babe (1986), from his first solo album, Lovers.

What I didn't know was that he had been with The Deele during that same time, so Lovers was a side project. (I also had no idea that prior to his time with The Deele, Babyface had been a member of a late 70s psychedelic funk group named Manchild...and wow, when this quarantine is over, guess who will be digging deep into her Daddy's crates because Face's song Funky Situation is exactly my Dad's kind of groove). Face joined the The Deele in 1981, so our formal review of his work begins with that era of his career. The first major hit that most of us remember from The Deele was Two Occasions (1988). However, they released two prior albums, beginning with Street Beat in 1983, where you can hear what would become classic Babyface arrangements and lyrics on Just My Luck. His name also appears on one other song from that album, Crazy 'Bout 'Cha, along with Antonio "LA" Reid, his long-time creative collaborator, who was the drummer for The Deele during that time.

With few exceptions, Face did not sing the lead and was often pictured in the back or off to the side with the other members of the group. Perhaps he was more interested in writing and producing, so he might have been content to stay in the background, much like another very talented and prolific songwriter and producer from the same era, Rod Temperton. On The Deele's second album, Material Thangz (1985), Face was credited as a writer on nearly all of the songs, and he sang lead on Sweet November (which would become a hit for the group Troop in 1992). Babyface clearly possessed the looks and the voice to be a solo artist, as evidenced on the Lovers project, but he appeared to lack the charisma to be a front man for a group. At least that is my impression; by the time he releases his second solo project, Tender Lover in 1989, the stars seem to be aligning differently.

Or possibly it could have been that Face was studying the business and preparing for musical domination...

While I was re-discovering pre-1988 The Deele, I noted how this modest dance hit Body Talk (1983) sounded exactly like the kind of filler song that would be played on Soul Train between music acts. Hearing that song again for the first time in years reminded me of Klymaxx's The Men All Pause which came out in 1984. That compelled me to look more closely at SOLAR Records, the label that distributed The Deele and Klymaxx, and that had been founded by Soul Train creator Don Cornelius and partner Dick Griffey in 1977. (I wrote a piece in the early days of this blog about my nostalgia for that show, so I will definitely revisit this topic for a future playlist.)

SOLAR was home to several groups that made regular appearances on Soul Train, so it wasn't just a random similarity of sound that caught my ear--there was a SOLAR sound as evidenced in songs such as: And the Beat Goes On (1979) and It's A Love Thing (1981) by the Whispers; Second Time Around (1979) and A Night to Remember (1982) by Shalamar; and Wet My Whistle (1983) and Freakazoid (1983) by Midnight Star. In that environment, LA Reid and Babyface honed their skills by working with their own group as well as their label-mates, producing Slow Jam (1983) for Midnight Star and Rock Steady (1987) for the Whispers.

That made this performance and interview with Don Cornelius all the more prophetic. The changes he noted with the group weren't just about their toned down stage presence and mellower sound. It was also evident in how Reid centered the conversation on his and Face's production partnership and their forthcoming work with various up and coming artists. The mere fact that The Deele performed as the back-up band for Pebbles on her song Girlfriend should have been a clue that we were witnessing the end.

What emerged was a new era of super-producers who had taken copious notes from the success of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who had their own experience with the SOLAR sound. There were also personal ties--at the time, LA Reid was married to singer Perri "Pebbles" Reid and Terry Lewis would marry singer Karyn White in 1992. Both women found success thanks to their collaborations with Babyface, who recorded Love Saw It (1988) with White, and Love Makes Things Happen (1990) with Pebbles. In the space between the release of both of those albums, Face released Tender Lover (and these were my faves): Whip Appeal, Soon As I Get Home, and Sunshine. He also released A Closer Look (1991), a remix album that included his duets with Pebbles and Karyn White and the live version of Two Occasions.

The Babyface/Reid machine continued to churn out successful projects with other artists, so in some respects, Babyface music was what got released as the side project. To provide a representative sample of artists with whom Babyface worked, I started with Bobby Brown, who worked with Face and Reid on Don't Be Cruel (1988) and then primarily with Teddy Riley on Bobby (1992). Akin to drawing six degrees of separation, it was fascinating just to demonstrate how that Saturday night wasn't really a botched battle between rivals, but a comparison of notes... **

Face and Reid produced most of the songs, including Don't Be Cruel for Brown's second solo project, and also worked with Brown's future first wife, Whitney Houston on I'm Your Baby Tonight (1990). During that same time in 1990, Face produced songs for the solo projects of both Ralph Tresvant (Love Hurts) and Johnny Gill (My, My, My), both from New Edition (and all three singers appear on the others' solo projects). Face worked with Boys II Men on the megahit End of the Road (1992), who were discovered by Michael Bivens of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe. Face produced the soundtrack for Boomerang in 1992, which introduced us to Toni Braxton (Love Shoulda Brought You Home). Braxton and Face also performed Give You My Heart together for that same soundtrack. Face produced the Queen of the Night (1992) for Houston on the Bodyguard soundtrack (which does sound a LOT like Free Your Mind by En Vogue...released the same year). TLC was also featured on the Boomerang soundtrack on Reversal of a Dog, as well as Aaron Hall of Guy with Charlie Wilson of The GAP Band on It's Gonna Be Alright. Aaron Hall was in Riley's group Guy, so that brings us almost exactly within six degrees to Teddy Riley's work on Brown's third album, from which his most most memorable contribution was...Something In Common?

Even more impressive than that list of projects was how Face still managed to find time to release his own music. He released two studio albums in the 90s, For the Cool in 1993 which included: Never Keeping Secrets, And Our Feelings, and When Can I See You. From The Day, released in 1996, there was his cover of For the Lover in You, with LL Cool J and featured a reunion of the Hewitt/Watley/Daniels lineup of Shalamar, who had initially recorded the song in 1980. That album also included his duet with Mariah Carey on Everytime I Close My Eyes.

Face did more soundtrack work in between his album releases, most notably Waiting to Exhale in 1995 and Soul Food in 1997. On Waiting, he reunited with Houston for Shoop, Shoop; with Braxton for Let it Flow; and with TLC for This is How It Works. On Soul Food, he produced A Song for Mama, another big hit for Boys II Men, and he had a cameo as a member of the fictional group Milestone, which consisted of his brothers Kevon and Melvin of After 7, and K-Ci and Jo-Jo from Jodeci on the song I Care About You. A live version of that song was also featured on his MTV Unplugged album along with a cover of Eric Clapton's Change the World with thee Eric Clapton. He recorded a version of Fire with singer Des'ree for the 1997 independent film Hav Plenty (bonus points for anyone who knew that Bruce Springsteen wrote that song in 1977, but it was popularized by the Pointer Sisters in 1978). The duet he produced for Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, When You Believe from The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, was performed at the Academy Awards in 1999, even though his version of the song was not nominated.

We haven't even addressed the work that Face produced in the 21st century. He released his fifth studio album in 2001, Face 2 Face, on which he collaborated work with Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes. The two stand-outs on that project were There She Goes and What If. His next project, Grown and Sexy was released in 2004, with the title track, The Loneliness, and Sorry for the Stupid Things being my faves. He released an album of duets with Toni Braxton in 2014 called Love, Marriage and Divorce which featured the single Hurt You.

And even after going through all of those songs, there is still plenty more from Babyface. So my honorable mentions include One Tender Moment (1978) from his Manchild days; Shoot 'Em Up Movies (1988) by the Deele; Superwoman (1989) by Karyn White; Can't Stop and Ready or Not in 1990 by After 7; Can We Talk (1993) by Tevin Campbell; and Someone to Love (1995) with Jon B. As much as I really want to include Slow Jams from Q's Juke Joint (1995), I won't post a link to any songs by or that make reference to a certain R&B singer (even though that joint is fire, Tamia and Babyface are perfection, and it was written by the late, great Rod Temperton.) While not a show-stopper, this song Smile (2004) which he produced for Tamia's More album is an acceptable alternative. Finally, I will close this out with this undated clip I found of Face playing with Uncle Charlie on a live version of Yearning for Your Love. That's not even one of his songs, but damn if just seeing him on stage makes the song sound that much better.

There is still so much more. But you get the point. Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds is a musical genius. Period.

** As I was still writing this piece, the rescheduled producer battle resumed (4-20) and it was EPIC. In all fairness to Teddy Riley, who will be the subject of a playlist later this year, I won't formally declare a winner...but I will refer back to a few points I made at the outset. These two were comparing notes. Between the two of them, there are not many other producers who can stand toe to toe and go more than 15 rounds, and still have unearthed gems in reserve. And while Riley was STILL doing the most, I think he redeemed himself and deserves to preen a bit. But since this is Babyface's playlist index, and he chose Count on Me (sung by Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans) as his closer, that's how this ends.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Quarantine Chronicles, Chapter One

Busy Black Woman's Quarantine Log, Stardate 042020 (doesn't matter which day) and we're in week #5 of social distancing due to the crisis currently known as COVID-19. I've been in three Zoom chat rooms today, two virtual dance parties, and have more laminating to do before falling asleep in my clothes again.

I thought that was a much better opening than what I initially wrote last week when I started this piece, which was this--->  By now, I figure that every blogger has written a version of this subject. And I figure I might as well add mine to the atmosphere since there are plenty of folks out there who are bored and actually care if I have gone bonkers yet...not yet. But the Kid is asleep and I just had a drink.

I don't know what day of the week it is. I'm joking, but seriously, does it matter? Unless it is Sunday, and then it only matters until the Livestream of Bedside Baptist is over and I turn right back into the un-showered pumpkin life I've been living.

The time of day doesn't matter much anymore either, unless it is 6:45am when I need to be awake to administer a daily prayer call. Administer is the official way of saying it is my job to remind the callers to mute their phones. That happens to be very important because some people seem to believe those instructions don't apply to them personally (trust me, we can hear your toilet flush). But bless them. Afterwards I get to decide if I will go back to sleep or scroll through my phone. Although that is typically a 50/50 split, I have determined that sleep is a better option. Y'all aren't saying anything important between 7 and 9am. Twitter has devolved into a middle school bathroom wall, a first wives club support group, or a Klan rally.

And I should clarify what I meant by that--time of day is important, but now that I am no longer in a constant rush to get anywhere I am always on time! Yes, you read that right. Unless I am experiencing some technical glitches (which are common now that everybody is on Blue Ivy's internet), but I haven't been late for church or the Kid's daily community meetings, which are the only two 'places' I have to be. The only thing I have to worry about is whether I am wearing the same shirt for more than two days in a row.

I have been spending more time in my kitchen, and after a few days I was reminded why I hate being in there--it's a damn broom closet. Don't get me wrong, I love to cook and this kitchen has been too small for 18 years. However, it seems a lot smaller now that my Kid likes to spend time in there with our Alexa Echo, a Christmas gift that I finally decided to connect last month. By the way, Alexa is better described as a smart-ass speaker. Instead of complying with my commands, she opts to present me with similar stuff I can buy from Amazon.

Homeschooling. Apparently, my Pre-K 4 (now five year old) is only expected to do an hour of work each day. But I am supposed to put in up to eight hours or more of prep work. And maybe, if she feels like doing anything other than littering my living room with thousands of little toys, she'll put in a good ten minutes before she loses interest or gets distracted. And then I will get pissed because I spent the better part of the day before cutting and pasting and laminating this stuff, and I turn into Mommy Dearest. And then the Over-Protective Indulgent Pushover Papi comes to her rescue. And then they retreat to the tiny ass kitchen to bake cookies and yell at Alexa.

Wash, rinse, and repeat. So let's not even discuss laundry.

Let's see what I am shopping. Here is where I have a moral dilemma. Do I need to buy candles and hair care products? No, but I want these small business owners to make it. Same with restaurant take-out. Did I need to have that over-priced shrimp po' boy with truffle fries, those exotic gourmet tacos, or that expensive box of fried chicken from the re-branded French cafe when we have food at home? Yes, because those outings are essential to my sanity. I need to leave the house every few days to get away from little Miss Free-Range Montessori and her OPIP Papi. What about the delivery workers? Well, I don't feel right about having someone expose themselves to deliver something to my house that I can get myself. But isn't that also true about the cooks at the restaurants, the cashiers at the grocery store, and the mail carriers? Shouldn't I be donating that money to a food or diaper bank instead? Do you see why I am so stressed out about everything? That's why I need my expensive hand-poured candles!

And liquor. During this crisis, I am grateful for the blessing of wine clubs and my local Costco where I can buy liquor in bulk. I am thankful that my city declared liquor stores to be essential. Between homeschooling, Alexa, laminating, unwashed laundry, contemplating the meaning of life, and these daily press briefings, I got plenty of reasons to drink.

Since I have had time to ponder the meaning of life, I can tell you that coronavirus has intensified my every insecurity. I am a brooding, moody, emotionally walled up bad Mommy who didn't organize a Zoom birthday party for her full-moon stir crazy daughter. Unlike the rest of the creative community who can offer their captive audiences some form of entertainment, all I have to offer is over-thought snark. I wish I had better inter-personal relationship skills. I'm 46 years old and still socially awkward AF in the midst of social distancing. I don't know which is worse, grief or depression. I could really use a hug. And some fries.

Yet, I can tell you that I don't feel so bad about not finishing my 2020 vision board. I still intend to post indexes for all of those music playlists that I have been working on, even if it takes me until June July to catch up. I've decided to wait until my book gets published to tell several people what I really think about them (yeah, I know, I have to find time to write it). 

However, here are a few other observations to put things into perspective: in the midst of a private tantrum over some petty slight, it dawned on me that I would rather have someone to be mad at for their bad habits and histrionic behavior than not. Every day I read heartbreaking stories of sudden loss: health care providers serving on the front lines, elderly residents of nursing facilities, and others who just happened to get infected. Like this woman whose viral Facebook post highlighted the cruel and random irony of this pandemic--she got sick and died two weeks later. Or this church leader who defied the social distancing guidelines and also died shortly thereafter. This fool participated in a #CoronaChallenge and went around licking toilets (no word on his current condition). This woman lost her husband and son within days of each other, and the photos of this elderly couple holding hands before they both died have gone viral. None of these people's lives should be dismissed as expendable casualties so that the rest of us can return to 'normal' life. So eff this dude, these protestors, their Troll King, and Laura Ingraham too.

This has been hard on everyone. I don't presume to know just how much of a challenge this disruption has been for anyone specifically, and I won't try to guilt-shame those whose situations appear to look rosier on the surface. I won't rain on anyone's parade. Just do your best--I won't talk about your gray roots if you don't talk about my yoga pants. Stay inside, wash your hands, and let's survive this.