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Friday, February 11, 2005

Message to Him:

What a glorious celebration of a life! The large church was filled to overflowing with music lovers, old friends, relatives, students, and a mass choir of about 80 voices of all races and ages -- singers that he and Terry (his son) had worked with over the years. They raised the roof with soulful gospel music, spirituals, and the best jazz I've heard in years. The elite of the Bay Area's musicians (Peter Barshay on bass, John Santos on congas, Babatunde on drums and John Stewart on keyboards) were there in praise of Ed's life. Wish you could have been there to hear the music and the eulogies.

Ed Kelly's music has been heard the world over, from his years of study at the prestigious Berkley School of Music, to concerts in Japan, Switzerland, Paris, both coasts, and for the past 20 years or more from the classroom of Laney College in Oakland. His awards have been many, from Downbeat Magazine to the Bammies here in the Bay Area. He was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Black Gospel Music Academy a few years ago, so his fans and admirers were countless and today filled the church of his lifetime with a loving and melodic sendoff into eternity.

All of the prominent Bay Area black preachers were present and accounted for, led by Rev. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., Ed's pastor at Allen Temple Missionary Baptist Church -- his eulogy was very moving and heartfelt -- a proper balance between the sacred and the profane -- gospel to jazz, though today jazz was accorded full status as Black America's classical music. Today jazz was sacred. I'm so glad to have been in that congregation. Even sang out a few "Praise the Lords" and "Amens" along with the rest of the brethren. (Atheism doesn't hold up terribly well in the black church.)

Not sure I'll arrive until late afternoon tomorrow, surely in time for the art show openings. Saturday is a big day at the store and I'm not at all sure that David can get away to pick Dorian up from practice. It will add some miles to my driving -- having to go to Oakland and back, but I'll be ready to roll shortly after noontime. Should arrive between 3:00 and 4:00 if the traffic is relaxed and easy. The rest of this day will be spent doing last minute tasks in order to leave Dorrie set up for the weekend without me. Will probably get little sleep tonight since I do tend to get burned up by anticipation -- been true ever since I was about six. Christmas was a disaster until I gave up on Santa Claus much later than most kids, actually; ever the dreamer optimist.

Guess I've gotten past my eulogizing now and can get back to living concerns again, like civic meetings, matching socks, and feeding cats. Will get out of my mourning suit and into my blue jeans and tee shirt and catch up with things I've neglected for the past few days.

Hope you're well and that your tests show nothing worrisome. While I'm in my temporary state of religious bliss, will send up a few prayers of support, but I don't think there's much chance that I'll be heard. Sinner status will be reinstated just as soon as I get out of my mourning clothes!

Fondly,

Betty

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

In an eerie case of "death comes in threes,"

yesterday brought the third announcement. It's the more bizarre because about ten days ago I woke from a disturbing dream in which the only characters were my mother, father, and sister -- all three died years ago. I wondered at the time if this was a foreboding of events to come, or, if it indicated something more personal -- a premonition of my own death, maybe? I rarely recall my dreams so this made it the more troubling... .

Yesterday, barely minutes after I wrote the last entry there was a call from Joan, a lifelong friend whom I see rarely now. I was one of her grownup friends when she was a teenager and I served as godmother to her first born son, Michael. I have two godsons, Lyn and Michael. It was Lyn's father who was memorialized on Saturday.

While a student at U.C. Berkeley during the Vietnam War, Michael left the country for Cuba in a period of deep disillusionment and nationalist anger. He was a student activist during the turbulent Sixties and one of the casualties of the civil rights movement. He was handsome and bright and talented, and eventually became one of Cuba's young intellectuals with a radio program on Havana radio to much acclaim. He could never return to the US, though his parents and sister visited him on occasion, but I've never seen him again.

Joan was calling to tell me that Michael had died two weeks ago. It had been a brief illness. Michael had died of cancer of the esophagus -- the illness that had claimed Joan's father's life when Michael was still a baby. The anniversary of that death and Michael's was but a single day apart. Joan had flown to Cuba for services and wanted to let me know that their friends here were planning a memorial in early March. I was stunned! She sounded calm and sensible as I've always known her to be. No hysteria. But it's been a while since his death and it was only I who was unknowing at this point. Michael was the age of my middle son, Bob, and memories of them as children rushed back in these moments as I tried to catch my breath. It felt like a full blow to my body, and it hurt as if I'd been hit squarely with an invisible fist!

When I cradled the phone I sat for a long time sitting still and feeling relieved that it may now be over; the cycle of death. This was the third. No more, please. Let this be the end.


This weekend I will drive to the north coast to be with him. I'm telling myself that this is as much for Dorian as for me -- building up muscles for independence again. We've both regressed since she returned home, and I'm becoming more and more "Mama" with each day; infantilizing her into the role of "child". When she was still in her Oakland apartment, we'd worked out a nice relationship as super-friends, but that's been fading fast. She is delighted to have our condo to herself for the weekend, and I'm trying to not allow myself to see this as a self-serving strategy designed to free me to exercise my rights as woman. I'm not too sure that I have the answers yet, but we both appear to be enjoying a little distance in our relationship, so I won't question too closely.

In two weeks he and I will drive up to Ashland, Oregon, for 6 days -- and this weekend will serve as the dress rehearsal. Haven't told her about that yet. Not sure why, but maybe it has to do with not wanting her to have so much warning that she can plan mischief of some sort to get into while I'm gone. (Obviously, I'm not fully confident, right?)

The special bus service will pick her up each day for NIAD where she will spend her five hours. David will check with her each evening. She's a great mother to her two pet cats and considers them her children. They will need tending, and she's never been neglectful. (Not to worry, Mom!) I'll notify her caseworker and teachers that she'll be alone -- and that should do it.

Besides, the death cycle has now ended, hasn't it?

Here's to life!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Passages ...

Attended a memorial service on Saturday -- the day after the Rennie Harris dance performance -- and the contrasts were stunning.

The setting was the nursing home where my friend, Henry "Buddy" Sims, spent his final three years of life. As the godmother of his only son, Lyn, this was a service I dared not miss. Properly dressed in my only black pants suit I managed to arrive promptly for the two o'clock service -- to find myself in a room with my contemporaries -- mostly strangers with whom he'd shared his last years. There were also his relatives, most of whom I'd not met before and at least two widowed friends.

The thing I remember most about Buddy was his enthusiastic two-finger jazz piano duets with anyone who could handle the bass end of the keyboard -- and his inventive dance steps. No one could boogie like Buddy.

I realized in looking around that here was my age appropriate group, yet I felt out more out of context here than I'd felt last night at the Yerba Buena Center; strange. I have no sense that I'm trying to escape the aging process. In many ways I'm probably more aware of the inexorable passage of time than ever before. What's different? Could it have been the nursing home setting? There were so many in the room with walkers and attached to oxygen tanks and wheelchairs ... felt a shudder. I realized how fortunate I've been for such a long time; blessed by excellent health and continuing energy with which to move through life without the hindrance of some chronic illness to contend with.

It's quite possible that the fact that I've not stopped working has added to my stamina -- but there's surely something more to pay attention to. Wish I knew what it was ... .

It's genetic, I suppose. Long-lived parents and grandparents surely account for much of it. One thing is perfectly clear, at least. Despite arguments to the contrary miscegination surely did not foul the gene pool!

Given any luck at all, a favorable response to global warming, a world eventually at peace, continuing safe journeys on the roads, I may make it to the century mark as did my mother, Lottie, and greatgrandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen. But that's a crap shoot these days, and the odds are not great, I think.

I think that I'm less afraid of death than of dying. Its not that I'm all that courageous -- it's simply that I've never been able to imagine the state of non-existence ... .

On Friday of this week there will be another memorial. This time is will be another dear friend, masterful jazz pianist, Ed Kelly who died a week ago after a long battle against a devastating stroke. This will be different, I think. The service will be held in a large African American -- Allen Temple Missionary Baptist Church in East Oakland. Every musician for miles around will be in the congregation. There will be great music and I'm certain that his life will be celebrated magnificently. His son, Terence, is the director of the internationally famed Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. Ed often accompanied the group so surely they will " ...make a joyful noise onto the Lord."

I will surely feel less age-isolated in that congregation since folks of every age and gender will share in that celebration and the music will erase all of the insignificant differences -- all except the love we shared for Ed and one another during his lifetime.

In a way I'm looking forward to this experience. It will be inter-racial, inter-cultural, but firmly rooted in Black culture. It will be rich and memorable, and I will be nourished for having been a part of it.

Wish Buddy could have attended. It would have been his cup 'o tea ... .

Monday, February 07, 2005

Sensational performance!

Rennie Harris is a brilliant performer...

and his dance company is astounding in what it brings together. The show is called "Exploring Outsider Art and Street Culture in Facing Mekka." The company is Rennie Harrie Puremovement. Astounding! The subtitle is "Imagine a whole new way to see. Life Amplified!" A more apt description could not be found, I think.

There were drummers, singers, film against towering screens, dancers who used the entire spectrum of movement from street dance to house dance to acrobatics to break-dancing to ballet and African-influenced movement. There was even one young musician who used only voice in an unbelievable range of sounds -- a page taken from the Bobby McFerrin songbook but expanded beyond belief. Gutterals, percussive bursts, screams and shrieks, with body movements accenting sound in a way that announced to the world that Hip Hop is indeed a worthy art form, one that now circles the globe and permeates much of the emerging art forms. Anyone who has allowed themselves to limit the definition to rapping (a single expression of a vast new world of expression) is missing something profound and as important as Dada-ism, Impressionism, Surrealism, etc. There are some new young masters making their mark in film, music, dance, and poetry (known as "spoken word")under the banner of Hip Hop. San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, and large cities in between have embraced this exciting art form, and others will follow in time.

Rennie Harris, DJ Spooky, presentations by entrepreneur Russell Simmons all appear to be the leading lights right now. Their work is raw, audacious, and bold, often pushing the edges of propriety -- but then that's the role of the artist in society anyway, and always has been. And they're working from the pallette we've left to them as legacy; a legacy of unbridled violence from a constant stream of televised hatred fed to them in lieu of time and attention in a world often too busy for nurturing parenting.

In watching the show on Saturday night I realized the power of the dance as a way of dealing with profanity in ways that doesn't crash up against our hot buttons in quite the same way that speech does. Yet I saw in the multi-media backdrop fire and water and violence and guns and heinous cruelty and charging dogs all reinforced by a foreground where dancers contorted their bodies grotesquely to a cacophony of sound that was abstract and dissonant, raucous and magnificent! Had all of that been delivered in words I undoubtedly would have shut them out in the attempt to protect my senses. Dance exposed and delivered every emotion and at a feeling level that could penetrate my resistance without destroying me. It was amazing ... !

It also occurred to me that -- in this show that was devoid of sexual innuendo (almost always erroneously associated with Hip Hop) -- the new pornography is violence. But that's been true for a very long time now, hasn't it? Films and television exploit it quite freely, and we do little more than complain mildly and soothe ourselves with the belief that this is a freedom of the tawdry that we must defend as a privilege granted by the 1st Amendment, of course; and I agree. Maybe the answer is what young people are doing with it; transforming it into poetry and music and paintings and dance and reflecting it back to us for reconsideration in a plea for peace and love. If you listen closely you can hear that in the work of Eminem and others.

They're crossing racial and cultural lines to share their concerns and it's working for them. Below the age of 30 the young in urban areas show every sign of having eliminated racial bigotry from their world. The celebration of Black culture is universal in their world, and without apology. It's no longer a case of expropriation of a culture, but a crossing over of lines of separation with a full understanding of their own shared history and the "sins of the fathers" that may need atonement.

If we can keep the world from blowing up at the hands of those who make claim to fundamentalist religious beliefs, this supposedly profane generation of true believers may yet save us all.

Meanwhile -- if you live close enough and can get tickets to any of the upcoming Yerba Buena Center for the Arts dance performances this spring, do so. The Robert Moses Dance Company and DJ Spooky are both coming soon to the YBC. The Black Choreographers Festival at Project Artaud Theater, also in San Francisco comes February 11-13 with a Sunday family matinee performance. It should be really exciting.

Have been thinking over the weekend about contacting the Richmond Art Center director about the possibility of creating a program of performing arts tours that people here might subscribe to. Wonderful way to begin to build an audience for bringing shows here at some point in the future.

But for now there's work to do, like sorting laundry ... .

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