Extremely tall poet Ross Gay is back in town after a year-long sabbatical. The assoc. director of the Creative Writing Dept. at Indiana University, Gay took the year off to practice his penmanship, churning out scads of new poems and even an essay or two.
Ross Gay [Image from The Cortland Review]
For instance, his take on the dicey relationship between this holy land’s cops and its darker-hued citizens ran earlier this summer in The Sun magazine. The Sun is a neglected jewel, tackling issues and featuring voices that the corporate media usually only sniff at. Search me as to how The Sun survives: There aren’t any ads for Chevrolet, Subway, or Home Depot. Its cover price is competitive with periodicals that are chock-full of pimpings for vodkas and boner pills.
I’ll take The Sun over Time eight days a week.
Anyway, Gay revealed some very personal experiences he’s had with cops making traffic stops on him. He is a respected member of the community, tenured, a leader in his department. He’s also Black. Well, light brown. His dazzling smile can brighten any room. To associate the strictly chromatic descriptor black with him seems somehow amiss.
To many cops, though, that’s all he is. Black.
Just Another Stop
You have to check out Gay’s piece, written even before Michael Brown was whacked. I direct this especially to those who can’t seem to grasp why all the rage over the Brown killing. Don’t worry — Gay’s argument is not all anger and righteousness. This guy can write, of course. He cites, as an example, a joke about blacks and the cops:
The African American comedy duo Key and Peele have a skit in which President Obama is teaching his daughter Malia to drive. When she runs a stop sign, a cop pulls them over. Astonished and a bit embarrassed at having detained the president of the United States, the cop tells them they can go. But Obama, earnest as ever, says, “No, I want you to go ahead and treat us the way you would if I weren’t the president.” In the next shot we see Obama getting slammed on the hood of the car and handcuffed. It’s funny. And not only black people laugh at such jokes. Everyone does, because everyone knows. [The counter-italics are Gay’s.]
If the comedy duo’s bit appeals to you, sneak a peek at Paste mag’s “10 Best Key & Peele Sketches.”
For the Gay essay, go here.
[h/t to Bryce Martin.]
A Fine Man
One of my personal heroes is the late Nobel Prize-winning scholar Richard Feynman. The Bronx-born theoretical physicist who helped develop the frustratingly arcane study of quantum electrodynamics was named one of the ten greatest scientists of all time by a Physics World poll, played the bongos, and worked on his formulas while sitting in a booth at the local strip club.
In other words, my kind of guy.
It tickles me to note that his second wife (his first died of tuberculosis) sued him for divorce, describing him in her complaint thusly:
He begins working calculus problems in his head as soon as he awakens. He did calculus while driving in his car, while sitting in the living room, and while lying in bed at night.
Feynman gained national renown through his books and lectures. His memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and his collection of lectures on basic physics, Six Easy Pieces, are are valued parts of my core library.
Now comes news that his most famous lectures are available for free online. The California Institute of Technology has published his seven-hour-long “Feynman Lectures on Physics” in three volumes, readable on any device.
Say what you will about the internet — that it has turned us into a nation of screen-gawking zombies, that it makes nude pix of Jennifer Lawrence available to every drooling knucklehead, or that it is now the primary outlet for the likes of Glenn Beck — it allows us to learn the ABCs of physical existence through the words of one of the smartest human beings ever to walk the Earth.
[h/t to The Loved One.]
Speaking of drooling knuckleheads, who do you think makes the decisions about what you hear on your MP3 player? Not only are record company execs knuckleheads, they’re knuckle-draggers.
In their professional opinion, it seems, every artist who possesses a vagina must strip down and shake as much of her toned flesh as possible in order for her to be worthy of distribution through the corporate music system.
Here’s how bizarre the music biz is when it comes to gender politics: Rihanna earlier this year tweaked, bumped, grinded, and exposed herself while caterwauling the songs from her latest album — and she was praised for “empowering” women. The men who determine what we see and hear in popular music and the critics who shill for them view women as nothing more than fap fodder.
At least the strippers plying their trade while Richard Feynman worked on his calculus notes at a corner table didn’t claim they were the ideological daughters of Margaret Sanger, Rosalind Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Which brings us to Charlotte Church. Remember her? Back about 15 years ago, she made a huge splash as a cute, virginal 12-year-old, belting out arias and other classical and religious pieces in a debut album entitled Voice of an Angel. The Barnes & Noble music-buying crowd snapped up the disc by the millions. PBS ran a special featuring her, further endearing her to the faux-sophisticated crowd.
When she reached the age of 19, she decided she wanted to sing pop tunes. The first bit of advice she got from the bosses at her record company? Show ’em your tits.
Church: The Virgin & The Whore
Well, that was essentially what they said. Here, let Church explain it herself:
When I was 19 or 20, I found myself… being pressured into wearing more and more revealing outfits. And the lines I had spit at me again and again, generally by middle-aged men, were “You look great, you’ve got a great body, why not show it off?”
Or, “Don’t worry, it’ll look classy, it’ll look artistic.”
Church revealed this in an eye-opening speech she gave at the BBC-6 Music annual John Peel Lecture.
Still a very young woman, Church felt enormous pressure to bare her skin. Those record co. execs made it clear that since they were paying her their good money, they had a say in how much jiggle she was to display. She continued:
… I was barely out of my teenage years, and the consequence of this portrayal of me is that now I am frequently abused on social media, being called slut, whore, and a catalog of other indignities that I am sure you’re are also sadly very familiar with.
How’s that for the voice of an angel?
You ought read the entire speech. It’s not long but it’s loaded with bombshells about the abuse of women by their record companies.
Me? I’ll still take Carrie Brownstein.
Brownstein [Image from Stereogum]