News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Friday, August 06, 2004
Review: From Teddy, with Love
Can a quadriplegic singer, known for subtlety and sensuality before he was injured, recapture the magic of performing live? That, unfortunately, is the question Teddy Pendergrass faced when he returned to live performance in 2001. I think the question should have been: Does he still sound good? But, we live in a society in which severe injury is a novelty. People are often repulsed by the handicapped because they remind them of their own frailty. So, in addition to the challenges faced by any singer who has been off the concert circuit for years, Pendergrass (pictured) had to somehow transcend the barrier that the able-bodied place between themselves and the disabled. Based on viewing the concert video From Teddy, With Love, I would say he has.
FTWL was recorded on Valentine's Day, 2002, at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Pendergrass performed before a capacity crowd. Much of the audience consisted of middle-aged and older couples celebrating their long unions. (A tip to Teddy: Don't passively accept the oldies category. Add more elements to the show that will attract younger people who have heard about your legendary career. Hip Hop performers are covering your songs. Take advantage of that to steal some of their audience, too.) Pendergrass rolled onto stage bouncing to the percussive beat of his R&B chart topper in 1988, "Joy." He uses a head mounted microphone, probably to wheel around without loosing contact with a stationary mic. He performed accompanied by four backup singers, two men and two women. "Joy" is a high energy number, so three dancers interpreted it, as well. The dancers were also prominent during the performance of a later dance tune. A move in the right direction, I think. Since his movement is limited, it is useful to inject kinetics into the show in other ways.
One's first impression of Pendergrass is that he is still very much himself in most ways. The same dark, satiny smooth skin, suggestive eyes and clear, subtly phrased delivery of his songs. The only other post-accident number he performs on from From Teddy, With Love, is "Truly Blessed," his memorial to surviving the automobile accident in 1982 that left him paralyzed. So, one can tell that, as he says in the interview included on the DVD, he is challenging himself. Before the accident, Pendergrass had a deeper, more powerful voice, though, even then, he was a full-range baritone. He doubtlessly works harder to achieve the deeper register required of the songs he sings on FTWL, which include "Love TKO," "You're My Latest, Greatest Inspiration" and "Do Me."
Most challenging of all is that he includes songs from his tenure with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Back then, Pendergrass was in his early twenties and at the peak of his vocal power. (Ironic that a 22-year-old sang "ten long years we've been together" on "If You Don't Know Me by Now," isn't it?) He acquits himself well enough on "If You Don't Know me By Now," "Wake Up Everybody" and "The Love I Lost." Some more vocal power is provided by having a couple of tenor backup singers. All four of the backup singers help provide fullness, similar to his pre- and post-accident albums. On "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose," a Gamble-Huff penned dance tune, he really goes to church, and to the disco. The sermonette to having a good time is delivered in the same earthy tenor as it was recorded, with much the same energy that makes it practically jump off the compact disc. The audience at the Wiltern gets up and gets down. When I compared the live version, which is part of Pendergrass' Anthology , to the original, on Life Is a Song Worth Singing, there was little difference.
I would be remiss if I did not say that part of the key to Pendergrass' comeback is the use of a crack band. Some of the performers, including the drummer, James Carter (a drummer's drummer has to be good), were with him during his heydey. Their virtuoso performances both complement the singer and provide additional focuses. Particularly of note is Robert Landham on saxophone and keyboards. He is also a fine jazz musician.
Does the fact Pendergrass is a quadriplegic effect the performance? To people not familiar with paralysis, it is probably pretty notable that Pendergrass does not move from the mid-section down and that he can't palm or grasp with his hands. In addition, he had gained weight, another hazard of paralysis, when From Teddy, With Love was taped. He was thin again, and looking very much like his younger self, by the time the interview footage was done. I am familiar with paraplegics and did not find his appearance disconcerting. An overly jiggly female backup singer who was usually behind him was more distracting than his wheelchair. However, I did read a newspaper review of a live performance in which the reporter could not get pass the paralysis. That was the main thing he noticed.
The most noticeable aspect of From Teddy With Love, in my opinion, is Pendergrass' palpable joy in returning to live performance. I believe that is in keeping with his personality -- proud, ambitious, determined. He could have settled for his work with the Blue Notes, and the fine career he had from 1977 through 1982, during which he had five platinum solo albums and earned enormous wealth. Instead, he chose to return to recording and became a fixture on the charts again in the later '80s and '90s. Another factor I suspect in his continued interest in performing is that he is still a love man. Glimpses of the legendary seducer peek through the more sedate persona of the middle-aged man who is already a grandfather. Pendergrass' return to performing, wheelchair notwithstanding, is Teddy being Teddy.
From Teddy, With Love, can be ordered from most music outlets, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is available as a video and as a DVD. There is also an audio only version.posted by J. | 5:40 PM
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Edwards: Talk about civil rights everywhere
I have said previously that one of the reasons I consider Sen. John Edwards (pictured) an asset to the Democratic ticket is that he is a person who does not evade the issues of civil rights. Unfortunately, not many white people like him exist, especially in high profile positions. The more common behavior is to make vague noises that sound supportive of equal rights for all American citizens, without being specific. The fear of squarely opposing the day-to-day racial discrimination that is still the norm is that by doing so a leader will alienate some, perhaps most, white people.
The New York Times reports that at last week's Democratic National Convention, Edwards reiterated his staunch support for racial equality.
If only more people really believed that civil rights issues should be discussed everywhere. One of the places that they believe "problems of race, equality and civil rights" should not be discussed is in the blogosphere. It would be wonderful if I could say that only conservatives attempt to repress discussion of civil rights issues here. But, if I did, I would be lying. Many people who call themselves liberals or progressives have deep problems with bigotry and that is reflected by their behavior in the blogosphere. There are bloggers who simultaneously aid and abet the 'scientific racists' at Gene Expression and claim not to be bigots themselves. A few weeks ago a blogger who is deluded enough to believe himself a progressive literally ordered an African-American blogger not to say he takes pride in the achievements of black Americans. Another white blogger follows a blogger of color around in the comments of a group blog harassing her. He says there's nothing wrong with that because he is a liberal. The conclusion I must reach is that Edwards' dedication to dealing honestly with issues of race and discrimination is not shared by much of the white electorate, including some who call themselves Democrats. Their representatives in the blogosphere have done a fine job of communicating that message.
Read why "John Edwards is an endorseable choice."posted by J. | 4:50 PM
Monday, August 02, 2004
Jadakiss is right to ask "Why"
I'm a music lover, but I don't follow the gangsta rap arm of Hip Hop very closely. I've heard the n-word more than enough times to last me for a lifetime already. It was people on the Right who brought my attention to the Jadakiss controversy. They were saying Jadakiss (pictured), another one of those ignorant you-know-whats, was attacking George W. Bush, accusing him of personally destroying the Twin Towers during 9/11. When I looked into the controversy, I found something quite different. The people criticizing Jadakiss, real name Jason Phillips, white folks on the Right, did not know he existed until they heard he had a line in the song "Why" saying who is ultimately responsible for 9/11. They immediately converted that into 'some stupid Negro thinks Bush blew up the towers.' But, if you listen to the lyrics, the remark is one of a series of rhetorical questions -- some serious, some tongue-in-cheek.
It is clear Jadakiss does not think Bush personally caused the buildings to go boom. He is saying the president should have been prepared for terrorism. The rapper has reiterated his message when asked.
With all due respect to Bill O'Reilly, the loudest voice criticizing "Why," he is, as they say on the side of town he never visits, "selling wolf tickets." The conservative talkmeister is criticizing a black American for daring to express an opinion about how the country is run, as if people of color are not allowed to hold or express such opinions. Jadakiss has a constitutionally protected right to say what he thinks about political issues. Indeed, speech about political matters is the most protected. O'Reilly and company don't have a rational leg to stand on.
There is another angle of the controversy that interests me that I haven't seen addressed elsewhere. Since the majority of people who buy rap music are white youths, some of whom do not relate to African-Americans as equals, there could be a chill on Jadakiss's career as their actual status in society comes to bear. I've long thought they are being attracted by the stereotypical content of gangsta rap. I know that at some racist sites, the mainly white male participants are gangsta rap fans. They like the genre because they believe it confirms their beliefs that blacks are genetically inferior, unintelligent and prone to violence. Now, that attraction has clashed directly with their parents,' and perhaps their, values. How dare someone they believe doesn't know what a voting booth is criticize Bush? Jadakiss is 'supposed to be' rapping about putting anybody who messes with him 12 feet under, not an inept politician. By acknowledging his brain works, Jadakiss may alienate some fans. We will see what happens.
The Jadakiss video for "Why" can be viewed at the iTunes Music Store.posted by J. | 9:00 PM