Thursday, February 11, 2010

Having difficulty dealing with the contrasts in life right now ... the highs and lows are so extreme.

On the one hand, David's concerts were an example. Of the 8 in the series, one had to be canceled due to low ticket sales -- but two were standing-room only (both in San Francisco and in Oakland). What an experience it was to be there to watch him standing in his late father's big shoes. He was commanding. He had been honest and clear in his dealings with people, and the respect he deserved was forthcoming. Not sure where it will go from here, but David has gone a long way toward re-introducing black gospel music as an art form back into the local culture. It had gone mainstream to a large extent by becoming "integrated" into some of the racially-integrated mega-churches, and was hard to distinguish from pure entertainment. I've maintained for years that -- if one were looking for a true black experience with black gospel music -- the audience has to be at least 51 percent black. Otherwise, the experience is hopelessly altered since so much of it rises from the traditional call-and-response of the congregation. Without that, it comes off as pure entertainment, and the magic -- the "religion" has been lost.

In white churches music is only one of many elements in the liturgy. In the black church (the venue for this concert series) the music, itself, is the act of worship. On Saturday evening at Star Bethel Baptist Church in Oakland, even we non- and barely-believers were quite visibly moved by the 3-hour experience of exuberance and blessedness -- the pure exaltation, the spontaneous dancing in the aisles; the arms waving heavenward in praise; I'd almost forgotten how powerful ... .

So much of American music has grown out of these roots. Found myself wondering while listening to dignified and humble Lee Williams and his Spiritual Q.C.'s -- four handsome black men conservatively dressed in beautifully tailored dark brown suits (appropriate for church), delivering their traditional songs in the ages-old manner of Lou Rawls and the Soul Stirrers; the Mighty Clouds of Joy; the Blind Boys of Alabama, etc., who preceded them in the genre -- watching them stir the congregation to heights of emotion that exceeded the energy of the mosh-pits and dramatic light shows of the Rock era. No staging here or electronic gamesmanship -- just the sheer power of the music. No shattered guitars or ear-shattering decibels or drug-induced ecstasy. No wild makeup a la Kiss or stage-stalking a la Mick Jagger and the Stones. No bare chests or dropped jeans, or crotch-grabbing. Just music. Pure unadulterated rhythmic and God-inspired music delivered in the equally unadulterated faith in the power and goodness of a Supreme Being whom everybody knew was in the house! I found myself wondering if all of that wasn't a vain attempt on the part of mainstream (white) culture attempting to reproduce the kind of raw emotion that we were witness to on Saturday evening in that sold-out standing-room only audience of believers?

I was awed by the experience, and aware of being in the presence of an art form that must be preserved. This -- was/is the very essence of the black experience; an authentic American experience that Mel and I (and now David) are lucky enough to have helped to preserve -- though with less awareness at the time than I now am able to appreciate in these years of summation.

... And, on the other hand, after 10 weeks of slow and painful recovery for her shattered legs, Dorian's x-rays show that, though healing well, the femurs are out of alignment and the entire process must now be re-started and the screws and metal plates surgically removed and the bones reset. This, after stays in 4 nursing homes and 3 times-a-day visits (with Mom) wedged between the increasing commitments for work brought on by Black History Month and additional public exposure that is beginning to bring more attention to my work than before.

Now -- having taken the day off to try to adjust to all this -- I'm off to visit with Dorrie -- who received the news yesterday on the very day that she was graduating from the wheelchair to a walker for the first time. I need to pick up more yarn for the creation of more colorful and mind-diverting afghans and scarves; and make a stop at my office to check on my in-box for updates ... .

Contrasts ... .

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