Sunday, October 17, 2021

Daddy Dumb Asses

If we needed any concrete proof that our country is knee-deep in shit right now, exhibit A continues to be the Energizer Bunny persistence of the disgraced former DESPOTUS, still holding super-spreader rallies to whine about losing his job. Exhibit B is tabloid clickbait, because no, I am not blown away by how good Heather Locklear looks at 60 with her new lesbian partner, Drew Barrymore. Exhibit C is the revelation that a lot of very loud men are both homophobic sexist pricks and terrible absentee sperm donors. 

That last example comes courtesy of the social media musings on the news that Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, took two months of paternity leave after welcoming twins. That he and his husband Chase would both opt to stay at home to care for two babies while most of the federal workforce is also still working from home due to COVID is the epitome of...something that makes this Tim Taylor gif seem totally appropriate.

What a bunch of wusses. And yes, I m referring to the fraternity of man-baby bros who think telling Dad jokes about breastfeeding are funny. (God forbid a kid with no teeth gets nipple confusion.)

Leading the charge of criticizing Buttigieg is Tucker Carlson, the frozen TV dinner heiress whose most challenging daily decision is whether to bring back the bowties and sweater vests as his signature look. His tag team partner is a fellow conservative Dad of four named Matt Walsh, whom I'm guessing is also still working from his basement judging from the background in his videos. That the defenders of detachment parenting are Carlson and Walsh, two guys who went to prep school and would probably run a craft brewery with Brett Kavanaugh if they weren't assholes Tough Dads in the send-them-off-to-boarding-school tradition, for sure. 

However, stooping to their level by ridiculing them isn't why I'm here. Nor is it to defend Buttigieg, a man about as interesting as a glass of milk. He withstood some below-the-belt sucker punches for taking time to be present for his children, something that should be laudable to the family values set. But I forgot, they long for a return to the Leave It to Beaver days when the most important jobs for Dad were to read the evening paper, mow the lawn, and look concerned when one of the kids had a problem. A lot was assumed and superficial about those 50s and 60s era TV Dads, but we'll come back to that later. The point is that for all of their big talk, guys like Carlson and Walsh couldn't manage two hours alone with their children without back up from their wives, so picking on Buttigieg isn't even about parental engagement.

Of course it is several shades homophobic, which is easy enough to denounce. And we also know that guys like them were hardly at the top of the adolescent social pyramid, so making fun of the Buttigiegs is a playground defense mechanism that still works all of these years later. To avoid getting stuffed in their lockers, these dweebs found someone else their own size to pick on which is why they think it makes them look tough to diminish the work of women as primary caregivers. Taking care of a newborn baby is just breastfeeding and cleaning up poop, they proclaim, and no 'real man' needs to use his paternity leave for those tasks. 'Real men' can accomplish the job of being present in five easy steps: (1) taking the car seat to the local fire station to have it installed; (2) driving the mother to and from the hospital; (3) not passing out during the birth and cutting the umbilical cord; (4) emptying the Diaper Genie every night; and (5) making coffee every morning before heading off to work. 

All of that can be done without breaking a sweat. Therefore those detailed lists of household chores that were posted by several modern Daddies in response to Carlson and Walsh's obtuse pronouncements are the kinds of responsibilities that get outsourced to other female relatives or the hired help. 'Real men' don't fold laundry.

Because they can't.

A 'real man' who feels the need to proclaim on Al Gore's internet that he did not use his paternity leave is obviously projecting the veneer of toughness to distract from his inadequacies. It's a weird flex to forgo using an employment benefit that most people don't get. It is very similar to the tone-deaf brag of not contracting COVID at a Trump super-spreader rally, but only because you gave your ticket to someone else who did. You got lucky Tuck, whereas the average new mother barely gets three to six weeks of unpaid maternity leave. You are blessed Matthew to have a benefits package that provides some manner of support to your family and respects the contributions that can be made by the two parent households you tout as ideal. That you opted not to use it because you want the admiration and respect of other 'real men', like this gem of the ocean...otherwise he'll call you a pussy and stuff you in your locker?

So let's deconstruct all of that. Lockers are cramped spaces and it's no fun getting shoved into one over a long holiday weekend. Pissing in your pants is definitely not cool either. And being called a pussy is a taunt that no 'real man' can afford to let go unanswered. It is much more acceptable to be called a dick--an apt description for all of these 'real men' out here who make their living as professional whiners. Bragging about not using paternity leave must be the 21st Century social media equivalent of buying a sports car. Good luck keeping those seats clean now that you have kids!

The true reveal here is how the views of these 'real men' reflect workplace policies that treat the birth of our children, indeed the entire existence of family, as a disruption. Work is always their priority. In theory, parental leave is supposed to give new parents time to adjust to the upheaval of caring for a new life; instead, it is regarded as an inconvenience, subject to the cost-benefit analysis of how much time can one afford to stay away from one's job. As previously stated, most new mothers are lucky to get unpaid leave to keep their jobs, and most new fathers barely get enough time off to provide meaningful support other than those five tasks. For these families, one or two missed paychecks are all it takes for them to descend into financial ruin. So who can afford family leave?

'Real men' like Carlson and Walsh can take a few paid days off, but they would rather brag about having fathered four children while their wives breastfeed, clean poop, and cut their meat. 'Real men' don't use their paternity leave to stay home with sick children or to attend parent-teacher conferences. 'Real men' don't take time from work to advocate for their elderly parents, let alone visit them at the nursing home. 'Real men' can't really take care of themselves without co-dependence on a wife or a personal assistant. Yet, 'real men' can and will defend an exploitative system of labor that grants them meager privileges they dare not use lest they be mistaken for...women.

Because it is women's work to perform the domestic labor of raising children, housework, cooking, shopping for the household, planning vacations, keeping up with relatives and friends, carpooling, caring for elderly parents, etc. Or it gets delegated to other women in low-paying jobs that don't offer any kind of leave. 'Real men' ought to be at the forefront of arguing for workplace policies that support families and protect workers. Instead, these dudes would rather be modern-day overseers, wielding the whip, yet and still sweating in the fields, grinding in the factories, digging in the mines, serving at the pleasure of the master/owner/game show con man former DESPOTUS. 

Real men, defending segregated coffee shops and public transportation:

Real men, traumatized by the prospect of seeing their graven idols to a Lost Cause moved to a museum:

Real men, losing their tenuous grip on reality and political power:

Real men, triggered that Pete Buttigieg, a man who shows up for duty to country and family, isn't worried about your childish taunts:

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

An Elegy for Ghetto Malls

It was this tweet and then this article that inspired me to take a stroll back in time to revisit an unfinished piece I had started way back in June about living and growing up in DC in the 80s. The original piece was part of some research I had started after I wrote this piece about my high school, and the last visit we made there as a alumna community before its demolition (which just began this past week). In the process of writing about the changes I had witnessed over the years between the District and neighboring Prince George's County, it got a little too overwhelming to confine it all to just one long-form article (therefore, it is still in draft, so you'll have to wait for it). In the meantime this more urgent matter deserves separate emphasis because it is imperative to settle the question of which DMV area ghetto mall has the better snickerdoodle cookies.

Of course it is Forestville Mall. Fight me.

But before I engage in that debate, this elegy for the ghetto mall is a lot deeper than cookies. Times and shopping habits are rapidly changing, and pretty soon it won't matter which mall had what because by the end of this decade, they might all be gone. So, in response to that original tweet, no, Iverson Mall is not still making it. (But you should keep grinding, if that advice resonates.)

When that tweet was posted at the beginning of September, I had to seriously stop and think about the last time I had been inside Iverson. Mind you, I have driven by Iverson countless times because my parents still live about fifteen minutes away. I no longer live on that side of the city, so my trips in that part of Prince George's County are generally rare. Before COVID, my parents used to like eating at the Red Lobster further down the road and I have friends that live in the neighborhoods adjacent to the Mall. I've gone to the $5 movies at the Marlow 6 next door with the Kid a few times and I might have been in that Macy's for towels or something random because I was desperate. The last time I had been in the area was before the pandemic for a house blessing.

I hadn't actually gone inside Iverson Mall in nearly 20 years.

Before I share my recent adventures there, let me say that I have been on a rather coincidental nostalgia trip back to some of the long deserted landmarks of my youth, stirred up by a series of various events that began with my Mom's Zoom birthday party back in February. Because I was determined to reach every relative I could, that drive took me to a lot of homes and hoods that haven't been in my orbit since high school. Then there was that aforementioned all-class high school reunion in June. That visit was  a surprising high point, which was then followed by the sad news of the death of a high school friend a few weeks later. On my return visit to the area for his funeral, I ended up driving past several other old haunts from my youth, including my grandparents' old neighborhood in DC. A friend purchased a home not too far from there two years ago, and I have been reacquainting myself with those old stomping grounds as well. Finally, on a whim last week, I decided to use some errand time to take a trip to Iverson.

Because of the pandemic, I hadn't been inside any mall until fairly recently. Not even my local ghetto mall, Prince George's Plaza, which I used to frequent regularly for errands. The first time I went back there was in Spring of this year when I was shopping for my daughter's birthday party. A closer Target store in the city has made it unnecessary for me to travel outside of my COVID-condensed bubble of home, the Kid's school/camp/ballet, my parents' house, and assorted errands within a limited radius. So when I had to travel into Virginia to Pentagon City Mall to pick up a pair of shoes this summer, for the Kid it was exactly like that scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door to Munchkin Land. And it dawned on me that her excitement was genuine because the last time she had been inside of a mall might have been when she was still being pushed in a stroller to take this picture with Santa.

And from the looks of the many vacant store fronts whether inside traditional malls, open air shopping strips, or stand-alone retail, to declare that the pandemic took a toll on brick and mortar retail is an understatement. Everywhere, even in Manhattan, we walked passed dozens of deserted establishments. My guess is that some of those store fronts will be re-occupied as some businesses and national restaurant chains re-brand new concepts. Or there will be a lot more banks and pharmacies. But a lot of that will depend on economic factors that are beyond my Busy Black understanding.

The experts say that malls are dying, and it doesn't seem to matter if we're referring to the local ghetto mall or the former upscale mall that has rapidly become a ghetto mall. Major department store anchors have closed at Annapolis Mall (Lord & Taylor), the Marlow Heights Shopping Center (Macy's), and the Bowie Town Center (Sears). I haven't gone into Mazza Gallerie in a while, but my understanding is that the Neiman Marcus closed a year ago. On my most recent trip to downtown Silver Spring, we perused the Five Below because it was the only store open at the former City Place (now Ellsworth Place Mall) after 5pm. 

I didn't even see a Five Below at Iverson.

A few days after that "motivational" tweet, I saw a similar tweet about the West End Mall in Atlanta, and that one made me laugh out loud for real. I lived within walking distance from that mall for four years and it has been at least 27 years since I've been in there. I didn't spend nearly as much time or money there as I did uptown at the now beleaguered Lenox Square Mall, but I have walked by West End whenever I've taken the MARTA to visit campus. That stretch between the station and the campus parking lot have remained unchanged, and I regard it as a last vestige of old Atlanta that only survives because gentrification had more lucrative options in the area. As it has also been the same amount of time since I've been in the Greenbriar Mall, also in the SWATS (SW Atlanta), and I am curious to see how it is still surviving as well. 

I guess the point of this analysis, short of arson and in spite of improbable odds, is that ghetto malls do manage to endure. Upscale malls decline to the point where they become ghetto malls or get redeveloped into condos, some kind of art space, or just abandoned like Landover Mall. I foresaw the fate of Lenox back in 1994 when I got locked inside the Crate and Barrell Store during Freaknik--all because Snoop Dogg and his entourage walked past the Macy's. Now that the METRO goes all the way out to Tysons Corner, it is only a matter of time before the anchor stores forget to renew their leases. Georgetown Park Mall, White Flint, and Landmark Mall are or will become redeveloped as high-end mixed-use communities. 

As for Iverson, there isn't much to see and my visit there had to be one of the saddest nostalgia journeys to date. When my Mom and I used to frequent there, we parked at the Woodward & Lothrop (Woodies) entrance, because that was usually her primary destination. We only parked in the deck if it was too crowded, typically during the holidays. On the morning of my recent pilgrimage, I had to use the parking deck because the store now occupying the old Woodies didn't appear to have a public entrance from the lot, and I could not remember where the mall entrance was on that side. Then I had a kind of Wizard of Oz experience in reverse, from technicolor to black and white (or more like that scene from The Wiz when Dorothy and friends confront him for lying to them). It was 10:30 in the morning, and half of the stores weren't open yet. I expected to see a few mall walkers, but apparently I was too late, or perhaps that effort has been dispatched to another locale or disbanded.

Afterwards, I drove over to Marlow Heights and learned that the Macy's finally gave up the ghost. I didn't even look to see if the Baskin-Robbins was still there. I drove down St. Barnabas Road and thought about making a trip to Rivertowne Commons, but decided that one retail graveyard was enough for the day, so I headed back to the strip where the Cavalier Men's Shop and the Kemp Mill Records used to be. I thought back to when it had been my dream to score a retail job at Iverson Mall instead of in the corporate office at the downtown Cavalier's, because it was closer to home and many of my friends worked there. Those were the days...

Indeed, there had been better days when life and commerce teemed from every storefront, and every nook and cranny. I wonder if the patrons that still shop at Iverson know that once upon a time in the main concourse, there had been a Jordan Kitts Music store where some of my friends took piano lessons. The pet store next door is where my brothers would go to stare at the dogs, and later where my parents bought us goldfish. We spent what felt like hours waiting to try on shoes at the Stride Rite, and then more hours waiting on my Mom to flip through the enormous pattern books at the fabric store across the way. Sometimes while we waited, we could get a slushie from Orange Julius, or maybe some fancy candies at the Fannie May upstairs. There was a costume store where my Mom bought my first ballet leotard and a few of the costumes her students wore for their performances. There was a Wilson's Leather, a Florsheim Shoes, a Lerner's, and a Hit or Miss. Although we didn't venture often to that side of the mall, the other anchor store had been Montgomery Ward.

Get a group of local Gen Xers and maybe a few geriatric Millennials together and we could go on and on about the glory days of Iverson before it became the ghetto mall where we used to shop. Shoot, there is a whole movie about how our generation came of age at the mall. So yeah, Imma need a minute or two, because this hits a little different...

However, I'm not that torn up over the reality that the modern mall concept has more days in its rearview than ahead. COVID has seen to that, aided by Amazon and the trend towards e-commerce in general. There is an ebb and flow to our shopping habits, and while I miss those marathon mall excursions with my Mom and Aunt, the truth is that I like receiving products in the mail from a more diverse assortment of businesses. For example in the golden era mall days, I bought candles from the stores that sold candles, and that was probably from an exclusive or limited number of brands. Now I can order candles from any number of small businesses, and the same is true for stationery, personal care items, and clothing. The new trend in retail appears to be the pop-up, which allows a hybrid of options between traditional brick and mortar storefronts and smaller entities that "rent" access to those patrons. Another trend that may help more small businesses grow are these food halls, which also incorporate some space for retail. Perhaps we don't really need the mega Mall of America model of retail when there are other options that aren't as dependent on the fortunes of regional and national department stores. 

If Iverson is barely making it on a tired business model that hasn't changed in over 20 years, then maybe that isn't the kind of encouragement we need in uncertain times. For all of the Black wealth in Prince George's County, Iverson is a poor reflection of all that "success". I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with shopping at stores like Roses if that is your price point (because it ain't like rich folks don't shop at Walmart and the Dollar Store). However, it speaks volumes that there are so few small Black-owned businesses occupying spaces in these ghetto malls except for nail and hair salons. That is not a criticism of the immigrants that appear to run most of the stores, but I don't see them doing much shopping or hiring...

So then the issue is us. It is our definition of "making it" and what that is supposed to look like. When I started this piece, my objective was to lament the decline of a once vibrant community space. Well I've done that, but I also realize that as long as Iverson and West End and their sister malls are still standing, there is hope that those spaces can be revived. Perhaps not restored to what they were, but reinvented into something else. 

On the same day of my trip to Iverson, I made a few more stops, including one last ride past my old high school. The demolition had begun and throughout the week, other alumnae posted pictures of the process. I posted my own and wrote about the prospect of new beginnings and perhaps that is the metaphor that we miss when we focus so much on what was or is instead of what could be. Unlike the other alumnae, I do not mourn the end of that era because the school no longer serves the purpose for which it was built. We left, and the middle school students that will inhabit the new school deserve a modern and more functional space. The same is true for the patrons of Iverson--now that we've moved on, they deserve a better mall. Not some relic of a bygone era. 

As for the snickerdoodles, one of my LRHS sisters conducted this taste test to compare the offerings and for the record, I was always #TeamForestville. As someone who could once brag that I knew every inch of both malls, I never had any recollection of getting snickerdoodles from Iverson (although we must have). If I venture back over there again, hopefully I will have more compelling reasons to go inside.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Peace, Love and Soul Train!

Forgive me for not paying closer attention to the date, but ya'll, Soul Train premiered nationally 50 years ago on October 2!!!

The lazy way of acknowledging this major milestone in pop culture history is to point out that I wrote an ode to this show ten years ago, so this piece will refer you back to that one and build on it just a tad. I'm not saying that what I wrote back then was perfect (because Lord knows it wasn't), but a lot of what can be said about Soul Train doesn't need to be re-written. It doesn't need a scholarly re-examination, nor does it require another long-form essay from some Gen X blogger who lives for nostalgia. 

Okay I'm lying...

Because I effin' LOVE Soul Train. Sadly, the reruns haven't been aired on TV for quite some time, so for the most part, I only get to see the clips on YouTube when I make #PlaylistProject updates. In that earlier piece, I was able to include some of those video clips until someone tipped off the lawyers, and my lack of coding knowledge means that I cannot just update that piece with links without possibly losing the content. Therefore, I will update, expound, and opine on a few of my other favorite aspects of the show, not included in that original piece:

1. Al Green performing with a live band and then breaking into a church revival, twice. Clearly this was from the very early days when the emphasis was more on the live performances, because Green took up a full twelve minutes in that first set, then nearly seven in this second segment, and then there was this third song that I did not remember. I might have seen this in real time as a baby in 1974, but once I saw it for real, I assure you that this is one of the most iconic performances EVER. And that is saying a lot since Green was a semi-regular on the show.

2. The Jackson 5 performing Dancing Machine in 1973. There are a lot of reasons to love this clip and this performance, but for me, it is recognizing that Michael was such a boy wonder. It isn't just the voice or the moves, but he had ALL of the charisma, so when the other brothers stand back to watch him do the robot, it is as if they already knew.

3. Kim Fields' performance (1984) is one of my favorites, and I think it is the perfect follow up to that Jackson 5 clip because it speaks to the phenomenon of MJ during that time in the early 80s when he truly was the GOAT. What Fields accomplished was nothing less than extraordinary--she got a fan letter through to him! As someone who wrote plenty of my own, perhaps I love this clip because it was insane to think that Kim Fields, who was still on The Facts of Life, had a fan crush on Jackson like the rest of us. And let's not forget that she had that episode two years earlier where her character had been in love with Jermaine...clearly because MJ was already too big for a mere TV appearance.

An important side note is that Fields' fan letter was a remake of a solo MJ effort of the same name that he had released ten years earlier. While I've known that for some time, I did not know that in 1984, so I guess she was his number 1 fan... 

4. This 1975 Elton John performance has quite an interesting back story according to the dramatization provided on American Soul, the BET original series that offers us a look at the early days of Soul Train. I won't spoil it if you haven't seen that episode, but it certainly proves that host Don Cornelius was a shrewd poker playa because I bet your Grandma can still sing all of the lyrics to "Benny and the Jets".

5. Of all the clips I could have chosen to epitomize the crazy 80s, I cannot believe I chose Pebbles...when I could have gone with this very early appearance from The Deele.

6. I must have been in a rush to finish that piece or something because all I did was mention that ridiculous Scramble Board. Easily the most disposable of segments, we still looked forward to seeing it, if only to see if anyone would ever guess wrong, which no one ever did.

7. As part of the promotion for American Soul, the producers tracked down several of the iconic dancers and talk about a blast! I didn't remember any of the first wave of dancers from the 70s, including the late greats Fred 'ReRun' Berry and Adolfo 'Shabba Doo' Quiñones. However, when the 'Best Of' series aired on Bounce TV a few years ago, I got a chance to see them and quite a few others in action (check out ReRun here at 1:07). My era was the 80s, so of course it was dancers like Cheryl Song and Reggie Thornton that stood out. There were definitely others, like the guy my Dad and I called the Poser and that dude who wore the Foxtails.

Part of the fun of watching those interviews and just remembering individual dancers was learning more about one of the greatest gifts that the show gave the culture, and that is the Soul Train line! It was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the show, and of course no Black dance party is complete without one. Definitely take some time to watch some of those clips, especially one of my faves with The Don himself making a trip down the line with Mary Wilson. 

8. The commercials that aired during Soul Train were just as memorable as the show itself. All of these years later, there are certain commercials we don't necessarily remember seeing in real time, but we knew about them because who could forget that there was an Afro Sheen commercial that starred the ghost of Frederick Douglass?! Or that ST dance alum ReRun and his group the Lockers also starred in a Schlitz Malt Liquor ad? Part of what made thee Billy Dee Williams THEE MAN in the 80s were these Colt 45 malt liquor ads. And because remembering random and obscure pop culture trivia is kind of my thing, I first saw Robin Givens as the Dragon Lady in this anti-smoking public service ad!

But what I did not realize at the time, but so appreciate now is how many celebrities and singers were in those ads. One of ST's main corporate sponsors was a Black-owned Chicago-based hair care company, Johnson Products. That company and its history are deserving of more recognition, and when one of its founders, Joan Johnson, passed away in 2019, I posted a tribute to their commercials on the Busy Black Woman Facebook page. Stay tuned for more about them in a future post.

9. Don Cornelius was supposed to have received his own paragraph in that original piece, so let's give him more than that one sentence. He deserves that and much more for being the visionary who recognized in the years before there was Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Music TeleVision (MTV) that Black music needed an outlet to be heard and seen beyond local radio. Of course, Black artists performed on American Bandstand, the Ed Sullivan Show, and others, but Cornelius gave us our own show. Actually, it was his show, which he created, produced and hosted--almost unheard of at the time.

Almost...because there were several Black owners in media when Cornelius' Train left the station: Berry Gordy and Motown; Al Bell rising through the ranks at Stax; Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at what would become the iconic Philadelphia International label; the Johnson Publishing empire that gave us Ebony and Jet magazines; and countless other local radio stations across the country. While some might argue that Cornelius simply adapted the format of local dance shows and syndicated it for national audiences, my interpretation of what he did was to create a prototype for how music content would be delivered in the decades to follow. 

In that sense, Cornelius was not just a veteran deejay with super suave stage presence, nor was his TV show merely a performance venue for Black entertainers. Behind the scenes, ST was a music label, a production company, and a talent agency. Beyond the TV screen, ST was an unapologetic ambassador of Black culture and promotor of Black business. In addition to the Black actors in every commercial, did anyone else get the not-to-subtle hints from the public service announcements that success and uplift could come from joining the military or going to college? Even the corny Scramble Board trivia was intended to teach us pride in being Black, as several of the questions were about Black historical figures. Once a week for more than 20 years, Don Cornelius was the maître d' of the Blackest hour of television!

10. When I was growing up, in DC Soul Train came on every Saturday at 5pm. It didn't matter what we were doing, but somehow, everybody in the 'hood knew that e-v-e-r-y extraneous activity needed to be completed or suspended in time to watch ST. And for a good deal of its run, those were in the days before we had VCRs, so we couldn't afford to miss any episodes, in whole or in part. 

What fuels my Gen X nostalgia for a show like Soul Train is the realization that it was one of the few shows that we ALL watched, not just as a family, but as a community. Almost nothing has that kind of universal appeal, or involved a full-scale shut down of activity that beckoned us to all crowd around a communal television at a designated time. Of course, that was in a different time and space, since now we have with limitless options and content is accessible on a variety of platforms. And that isn't lost on me as you read this updated piece with YouTube links and GIFs on your phone or laptop, brought here by a link you saw on social media, an email subscription, or just curiosity. 

Thus, I find it surprising that this anniversary came and went without much fanfare given how HUGE an impact Soul Train had. I mean, where was the weekend marathon from the 'Best of' shows on BET (which owns the rights)? Did Vh1 air The Hippest Trip In America and I didn't know? Did y'all pay tribute at the 2020 Soul Train Awards and can I see it online? Or am I supposed to wait for the 2021 Soul Train Awards? I saw that there was a dance party in Detroit, but what about in Chicago where it all began? Is this all you got NPR? What did I miss???

And now here is an abrupt segue with a few of my bonus thoughts and observations (because I told you I was lying earlier):

The aforementioned scripted drama, American Soul, is an interesting project, one that offers a history of the show via dramatizations of past performances with current artists. I hope it will return to production soon. However, as I was binging that show one weekend last summer, the concept felt slightly familiar...kind of like the show American Dreams, which aired 2002-2005 and used that other dance show, American Bandstand, as its backdrop.

So that brings us to the inevitable comparisons of Soul Train and American Bandstand, and more broadly to comparisons of Don Cornelius and Dick Clark. Having said my peace about Cornelius, I don't have anything negative to say about Dick Clark. Although I was not a big fan of AB, I certainly did watch it on occasion. I would categorize it as one of several mainstream music shows that I saw over the years such as America's Top 40 with Casey Kasem and Solid Gold. Unlike Soul Train, none of those other shows left the same indelible impression on me. 

That there was a rivalry between Clark and Cornelius doesn't surprise me. Clark probably did not appreciate the competition and he must have resented the fact that his show had been on for 15 years already. But that's capitalism, and there was a marked difference between the products that each man was selling. If Cornelius presided over the Blackest hour on television, Clark helmed one of the whitest. Clark's show featured Black musical guests pretty regularly and he spoke about the process of integrating the studio audience here. However, the primary goal of his show was to showcase American music, which at various times throughout Bandstand's 37 year run was rock n' roll, some country, easy listening, disco, and dance music. Train was strictly for the culture.

Thus while many of the Black artists that went on ST also appeared on AB, these were not interchangeable platforms. Bandstand was a mainstream show, while Train clearly targeted a niche audience. Most mainstream artists never needed to go on Train to sell records unless they were trying to cultivate a Black fan base (i.e. Elton John, Teena MarieMichael McDonald, Hall & Oates, and The Beastie Boys). Alternatively, the Black artists that went on Bandstand already had some crossover appeal. Of course there were notable exceptions, and perhaps that is a rabbit hole worth exploring at another time. 

For most artists, Soul Train supplemented urban radio airplay with television exposure that made lesser known performers Black-famous such as Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Angela BofillMidnight Star, and Switch. If you don't know any of these artists then you have never flipped through your Auntie's old vinyl, and you can probably guess why they were profiled on Unsung...

But let's be clear that Black artists, no matter how big they got, never took Soul Train for granted either. For example, before Michael Jackson went supernova, he appeared on the show with his brothers and as a solo artist. I found this clip of his final live appearance in 1979 that came right after he finished filming The Wiz and right before Off the Wall dropped. Other members of his family continued appear on the show, including Jermaine, Rebbie, and Janet who performed Control in 1986. MJ, who was slated to perform at the Soul Train Awards in 1993 did so with an ankle injury while seated on stage. He later performed for the Soul Train Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Special in 1995. When Janet received the Lena Horne Award at the Lady of Soul Awards in 1997, she reflected on how important it was to remember where she began.

And that is a good place to pull this train into the station. We all have dreams and so many of us start with little more than some DIY, some slight-of-hand camera angles, perseverance, and a bucket of fried chicken. That is certainly how this blog got started...but more importantly, it is the vision and the audacity to pursue those dreams. And you can bet your last money on that, honey!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Days Like This

One random day in September is designated as National Daughters Day and that means a lot of pictures of smiling parents with their little Princesses. A few days later, for National Sons Day there are lots of handsome young men brightening my timeline. Then, right at midnight as the clock barely strikes 12, some of y'all started posting status updates of you sucking on lemons...

Why do y'all insist on ruining EVERYTHING?

After I saw a status update written by a fifth disgruntled person complaining that there was no day to celebrate her because she had no children, I sent out a tweet thread to express my frustration. Yes, that was hella passive aggressive because it didn't respond directly to her, and perhaps writing this piece will be seen in much the same way since I won't be personally posting it on anyone's personal page. But if you happen to read this and begin to wonder if this is about you, then yes, it is, and yes, I am judging you.

What ever happened to just letting people share their good news, putting on a fake smile, and then talking about them later? When did everybody become so sensitive? I know that social media allows everyone to share every single feeling and opinion, but damn, some of y'all aren't happy unless you post something to make everyone else miserable.

I noticed this a few years ago around Mother's Day. I have written about my own issues with that particular holiday, but mostly on my blogs. And I am pretty clear that my issues were never tied up in feeling any kind of way about not being a mother at the time. It was mostly about my own mother and the issues I had with her. I don't think (and I am open to being corrected if this isn't true) I ever saw this as a reason to make other women feel bad about celebrating their mothers or feeling special about being mothers themselves. In fact, I was big on celebrating every woman in my life who had some kind of mothering influence on me, and to this day, I try to send cards to every Aunt, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, and whomever to celebrate them.

I did all of that before I joined the Mommy club in 2015. Since then, I have softened in my feelings, but again, mostly towards my own mother. I don't have any grand expectations for how I should be celebrated except to take a picture with my daughter every year. Anyone who follows me knows that I am generally happy to take a picture with her for just about any reason at any point in the year, as long as I look decent enough to be in the shot. So there's that. 

However, one year I saw a post that listed all of the reasons why some people might not be as joyous as others, and I took note of the various categories of grief and loss listed that may be triggering. I empathized, and it made me pause to think about how in focusing on my own issues, I had never noticed that others might actually be suffering through a day that I merely had to endure. When Father's Day rolled around, I took note of the gripes, mainly from those who felt the absence of their fathers (or co-parents).

Thus, it was no surprise to note that Valentine's Day had become yet another holiday where scrolling through Facebook felt like a day of navigating an emotional minefield. Mind you, I don't care for that one either...but I dare not say that aloud and expect not to annoy someone who would point to the Hub and slow blink. Therefore, as social media created other holidays for pets, lefties, coffee drinkers, tacos, etc., I actually felt relieved that people could find other reasons to express their pride.

WRONG. Apparently, some people who don't have children, significant others, or parents they like also don't have pets, are right-handed, drink tea, and don't eat tacos. So for them, any day that is specially designated to honor others is another day to complain. If only I could only empathize with feeling that left out...

Social media is a carefully curated form of social interaction. Which means, on any given day, it is probably someone's birthday or anniversary. Someone might be celebrating a new job, starting a business, achieving their fitness goals, or just happy to be alive. Sadly, others might also be experiencing the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, or barely making it through some horrific natural disaster. People choose to share all of these tragedies and triumphs, and most of their friends and acquaintances know how to express the appropriate sentiments.  

Therefore, for the life of me, I don't understand the need to be the cloud in other people's rainbow. Why is it necessary to point out that some people grew up without their father on Father's Day? We know that it isn't a day to celebrate deadbeats. Are you hoping to shame the guy who abandoned his family into finally reaching out to make amends, or is it intended to make everyone else whose father was present in their lives feel bad? You want an entire day to celebrate your awesome wonderfulness? It is called your birthday, or you can pick a day to dress up and toss confetti on your Instagram profile just to see who comments. I bet at least 20 folks will hit the 👍 or 💓 just because.

I get that some of these holidays aren't inclusive, but in an age when everyone gets participation trophies just for showing up, I don't see why you can't find a way to barge in with your own folding chair, if that's what you want. Someone suggested that a day designated for sons and daughters wasn't considerate of non-binary offspring and guess what, I won't question it if you decide to tack on a disclaimer so that your kids don't feel slighted. If there are missing letters in the LGBTQIA+ acronym that don't describe you on National Coming Out Day, just tell us how to acknowledge your truth. When someone schedules an event that conflicts with your religious observances, trust that it is not because they don't care, it is because they probably didn't know any better. And if there really is a holiday or celebration that is inapplicable to you, then just scroll by. It takes more energy to get offended by something that has nothing to do with you.

I joined in on the National Daughters Day posting a day or two after the fact and even joked that I thought it was all rather silly. But then it occurred to me that after 18 months of being shut in, disconnected, and stuck in a cycle of endless angst and grief, seeing all of those smiling children on my timeline was a good thing. I don't have a son, but that didn't stop me from liking those #BoyJoy pics a few days later. I don't have a lot of what some of y'all have, but life is too short to wallow in my feelings about not being able to join the fun of Boss's Day on October 16 (unless I can celebrate not having one). Given the state of the world these days, having anything to celebrate is worthy of acknowledgment. 

So back to Mother's Day, which is fraught with all kinds of complicated feelings. Does it have to be that way? Can you find some happiness for the new mother, some compassion for the mother who has lost a child, or the imperfect mothers who did the best that they knew how? If you aren't a mother, can you celebrate someone else who is, just because? My attitude on Mother's Day changed after my Mom's diagnosis, then it changed after I had my own child and I began to appreciate what she managed to accomplish with three of us. Then it really changed as I had more friends who lost their mothers. Instead of complaining, can you find the space in your heart to reassure that single mother that she can make it or to comfort someone who is grieving their mother that they were loved? 

If you still feel left out, you can borrow my kid on National Aunts and Uncles Day (July 26) while I enjoy my bagel with a coffee milkshake in peace. 

Ten years ago, in this very space, I heralded the joys of being an anti-parent. Also ten years ago, not long after I wrote that piece, I learned that my Mom had Alzheimer's. I am sharing that not to elicit your sympathy, but to highlight how life unfolds in the most unexpected of ways. There is beauty, there is pain, and as we know from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, a time and a season for everything under Heaven. 

Celebrate yourself! Go on an exotic vacation, have brunch and happy hour get-togethers with friends. Share the good news of your job promotions, your new home purchase, your newly published book,  your new exercise obsession, and whatever else you have going on. If you don't have anything fantastic going on in your life, who cares? It is social media--make up something and keep it moving. The thing is, you don't need a designated day to feel special because you ARE special!