Many of us can laugh at the fiction of a zombie apocalypse on large and small screens, but real-life humanity is eroding at an ever more rapid pace. From everyday manslaughter such as road rage and hit-and-runs, and gang-related and police-related homicides, to deaths resulting from Man’s continual assaults on the environment — humans continue to use their free will to stamp out others’ freedom to live.
Paris, je t’aime.
Numbed by the mass-media coverage of the multi-venue massacres in Paris, France, over the weekend, I’m finally able to write a blog post. This post serves to express my condolences to the families and friends of all the innocent people murdered and injured in the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 — people who may not have agreed with whatever decisions their government’s politicos made in the past and who were just trying to enjoy an evening of music, dining and sports. Paris, je t’aime.
John Lennon’s “Imagine” wasn’t just a song. Not only during the holidays, we really need to share more kindnesses among us. We really need peace and love on earth.
Paris, I love you.
“Prissy,” they may hiss —
Although it’s a portmanteau
For “pretty pussy.”
© 2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
So that was our “date”?
Flirting me out of my skirt?
You squirt — now I’m late.
© 2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
Cradles Cyn’s face,
Convinces her of love’s
Palliative potions debased
© 2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
Trapped like an ice cube,
I resist melting ’round you,
Unfazed by your fizz.
© 2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
Friday night. Late August. I wanted a laugh. More important, I needed to hear other people’s laughter. Problem was: I only wanted my pet’s food to be canned, and I didn’t want my living room to be comedy central. Devoid of amorous company, I dove into the subway and emerged into the neon nirvana of Forty-Second Street, Times Square.
Passing on caricature portraits and flirtatious pickpockets, I swerved around starry-eyed tourists and glazed-eyed addicts to zoom in on the first hawker of comedy venue flyers in my hot concrete path. “Hmmm…twenty bucks for three comics performing live?” I asked the husky, bearded Black dude in baggy denims and black tee. “I’m there.” It was roughly forty-five minutes until the eleven o’clock set.
After I was ushered to one of a dozen tables among stadium seating, I distracted myself from both claustrophobia and the dearth of Black people in the tiny, dark club by inhaling the first of four turkey sliders on pretzel buns divided between two red-and-white checkered paper boats. Before I could fantasize about sailing away from the venue into fresh, open air on the Caribbean Sea, I heard a reedy voice ask, “Excuse me, madame. Is this seat taken?” Apparently the joint had filled nearly to capacity while I was on my armchair vacation, and the average-height blond man hovering over my medium cup of Coke was assuming that my companion had stepped away to use the men’s room — or to find a slender girlfriend.
“No one’s coming,” I told the stranger through my thin napkin as a couple of thirtysomething stick-chicks tittered my way as if I were the set’s opening act. He squeezed his thick frame into a red wooden seat perfect for Baby Bear, plunked his bottle of Heineken at the tiny corner of table that I had managed not to monopolize, and then neglected to provide either his name or a handshake. He did mutter a monologue about being in Manhattan on business for two days before returning to Finland and finding it difficult to close a precarious deal. I recall him smiling as I reacted between munches: “Oh, you’re Finnish. I was trying to pin down your accent and thought I detected Nordic — ”
Before I could complete my sentence, all the house lights (“hut” lights would be more apropos) except the ones onstage went out, and the emcee — a dead ringer for singer-songwriter Levi Stephens, sans guitar — asked the crowd, “Are y’all ready to laugh yo’ asses off?” After waiting for our tiny, nearly all-white village to chant “Hell yeah!” for the third time, the night was on like Cheddar cheesy pop-poppity-popcorn.
From the lesbian comic opener who is responsible for my repulsion to rabbits of the silicon variety (let’s just say her repetitious ribbing rubbed my insecurity the wrong way) to the Honduran pothead from Red Hook — I lost all six porcelain fillings by laughing and coughing so hard. The few times I looked over at the Finnish businessman, he seemed to be enjoying the comedy as much as his fourth or ninth Heineken. I wasn’t counting, the bottles that is.
By the time the house lights had flickered back on and the applause had waned, my Finnish seatmate was gone. I was left with his emptied beer bottles and his cold, stiff seat. “Well, not even a goodbye,” I thought. Biting my bottom lip, I stood up and swiveled around to watch all the other patrons making their way toward an exit so narrow that we could have been trying to flee a funhouse. And like that amusement park feature, life suddenly appeared so distorted, though no deceptive mirrors were in sight.
Friday evening had begun in solitude; it now ended in loneliness. Although crowds of people were wandering the vivid, illuminated streets between Eighth Avenue and Broadway, I felt abjectly alone. Rendered two-dimensional by virtue of melancholy, I was a crumpled soul embodied in a woman who was destined always to be a party of one. Faltering with each footstep, I couldn’t compete with those five-dollar caricature portraits drawn in haste in front of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Unbearable awareness of my mateless meandering had reduced my bodyweight to that of pencil lead.
Heading toward the BMT subway, I thought that a downpour was threatening despite the hour, but it was my own rain. I felt tears streaming down my face and gazed in horror at the left side of my torso, which already was beginning to be smudged out. With watercolors for eyes, I probably stumbled past the vanished Finnish visitor, whose soliloquy on his apprehension toward a business deal with boorish Americans could have competed for length with any of Hamlet’s procrastinations.
Topped with charcoal-gray hair, I lost my balance beneath an unexpected gust of wind — my maker’s hurricane breath sweeping rubbery bits of eraser into the fragile paper frame’s northwest corner. In contrast to my disappearing form was a colored-in scene of jubilant figures shouting, singing and otherwise affirming their existence within a replacement neon picture frame.
Before my lungs could be extinguished, I gasped at the irony that I had made an unplanned Broadway debut but that the last laugh was on me.
© 2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
I thought I would die.
He promised loads of babies;
Confused “lay” with “lie.”
© 2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
Sketched by a flickering autumn fire,
A frameless, eight-by-ten charcoal portrait
Depicting parting flames arguing between thin lines
Over obscure boundaries and dirty games
Rips at the widower’s waning faith
In committed, institutionalized love,
Scatters his quaint thoughts in layers
Shallower than rust leaves shed by restless trees
That, unlike a platinum-set diamond ring,
Possess circles of nature’s secrets to infinity.
Instead of shredding dark gray memories
Of secondhand misery slithering
Against wind-blown, lush green symmetry —
Estranged lovers stumbling over words and gravel
Three feet ahead of his scuffed shoes
That shuffled worn-suede indigo blues,
Bickering beneath tittering birds over dusty bits
Destined to be, like their bones,
Pulverized into ash, a grisly sand —
He rocks on his coccyx in shrouded optimism.
Tossing his stubby illustrator’s pencil,
He pretends it’s a log-in-miniature
Rolling with discarded muses in the fire,
And it sends half-dead embers sputtering
Like the feisty engine of his ’77 Honda Civic —
The red-hot one with a leopard-spotted backseat
Designed for muff diving and drive-in sex —
Which struggled decades of crying, pooping babies
And catered wedding anniversary parties later
To hold on when his wife’s heart and lungs could not.
From a distance, in the spare kitchen,
The usually silent telephone rings,
And he leans toward the loops in anticipation,
Breathing as if reborn a new man,
Or being fitted for an elegant new suit
An hour before cabbing across town
To reunite with a cherished friend
Dressed in her slimming black, strapless gown
For a five-course meal and foreplay’s zeal
Topped by popped and poured libation.
Having caught up on two lifetimes,
And, like a spring gale, turned a new leaf,
He kneels at the hearth, groveling to God,
Whose meaning he could not grasp
While drowning in mind-numbing grief.
Heat from crackling wood extends to wrinkled skin
As to his will does the long-awaited chance
To reclaim The One who had got away
A split second before his wife returned a week late
From a girlfriends’ men-bashing holiday.
His weathered visage glows in the firelight
As he realizes that his lonely plight
Has ended and his fickle fate is tied
With that of the two parkside lovers.
Withered lips warm to a wide smile
Despite crowns from failed dental wars —
The least of his disclosed flaws —
For the rekindled blaze sketches
Upon his crinkled paper a spirited dance,
Orange halos on rescued smudges of romance.
© 2012-2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
What a scintillating sensation on the tongue — now, now — when saying “Me gwan fill ma belly” and “methinks I shall find sustenance.” OK, I only think but don’t say either phrase, unless chatting with close friends. Yet the former statement is a dart to the bull’s-eye of my desire to satiate my appetite. When *tings* get primal — be the desire for food, water, sex, inner peace or safe shelter (in any sequence but nevertheless linked to survival) — my mind-spirit connects to Mamma Africa, no matter how mixed my ancestry and no matter how Eurocentric my primary and secondary educational experiences.
Thus, I urge (with the pronunciation “uhhhje”) you all to read blogger louella001’s essay, below: “Of creoles and other ‘undignified’ speaks.”
Originally posted on louella001:
Being from the Caribbean, I unavoidably grew up in a place with more than one register. There’s the queen’s English, then there’s broken English or more particularly, Trinidadian English, which isn’t a standardised form of usage of the English language. Rules are rules. So, how come we find so may snatches of one language buried so deeply into the culture of another that the users of the language don’t even know the actual origin of the words they use? A perfect example is one that I heard from a friend of mine of African language influencing our Trinidadian creole. Who knew that obzokee, meaning funny looking, is of African origin? Or yampee is the mucus that collects at the corner of your eyes. Or a sou sou, which is a system of saving where all members pay installments of a sum of money over a period of time…
View original 192 more words
As I prepare to hit the road again (hopefully not literally, should I get punked into taking those ski lessons on Le Massif), my thoughts turn to a travel memoir that I penned while unreeling memories of my first trip to France. For now I’m a bit smitten with the vestiges of New France. Besides, I desire to put the finishing touches on my novella “The Counterfeit Princesse,” so Old France will have to wait.
[An aside: People really need to stop referring to Quebec province as “France in America” — especially labeling Quebec City and le Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal) as Aix-en-Provence and Paris, respectively. French Canadian language and culture are uniquely *douce*. Well, not always sweet. Don’t think that with Quebecers dousing everything in maple syrup (sucre–accent on the “e”–not douce), they can’t go off the deep end. Piss off a Quebecois driver, and his road rage might be laden with blasphemy in the form of Catholic saints rather than effin’-dees and -daat.]
So here’s my effin’ travel essay, first published in 2010: “To Be Black, American, Female and ‘Un-Invisible’: A Brief Paris Memoir.” Yeah, ya *see* me now?
Originally posted on Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog:
I could’ve titled this essay “The Dark Side of Paris,” but I’m no Jackie Collins, and despite my penchant for black eyeliner, I’m not a whore. This isn’t meant to be any kind of travelogue. The tone of this memoir starts off on a bitter note because I decided impulsively to see Paris after the life of someone close to me ended. And, just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, spiteful colleagues sent me on my way, not with a “Bon voyage!” but with mean-spirited comments about how nervous and lonely I would be, how I “should’ve waited until you landed a boyfriend first,” and with questions concerning why I would “want to go there anyway.”
These colleagues, all of them White and female, had just returned from leisurely vacations in various European countries. Those misguidedly envious women couldn’t have been more off-target because not one of them could ever know what it was, and…
View original 3,113 more words
Originally posted on Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog:
Circus clowns are tragic creatures. That’s something she learned all too well from the numerous family trips into New York City via the Long Island Rail Road to witness the excitement of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. No cotton candy for her – the stunning feats would leave her mouth agape. Sometimes she felt as if she couldn’t catch her breath until the end.
When death arrived at her family’s suburban door, winter came early. That she thought of the circus was cosmic justice in that she always identified with the tragic clown in times of stress.
Now, reflecting back on how death brought with it alienation as easily as neighbors used to walk through their side door with Sunday’s lemon meringue pies, she wished that she had paid more attention to the acrobats tumbling high above the stage at Madison Square Garden, than to the bumbling clown. Then…
View original 51 more words
And to clear things up –
Before the lump in my throat
Grows any larger,
Blocking my airway,
Causing a stroke –
I just want to say
I intended no harm
By shaking off sorrow
At her grim memorial,
But she was my mother
Safely dead in sealed casket.
Could she spy on my sadness?
If I offended frail sensibilities
By forgoing self-pity,
Commiseration in Chanel black,
By wearing neon-bright colors,
My pretense of composure
Framed in lacy frivolity,
I apologize belatedly
For not appeasing my elders.
But, really, all these decades later,
I wonder if they realize
Now that I was only a child,
Heart heavy with new burden,
Tears like a clown’s disguised
As popcorn-puffed entertainment.
Once home, the circus over,
I put away my makeup,
Slamming the cabinet,
Shattering its mirror
And caught my pained expression.
In shards of glass below me
Distorting my reflection.
I imagined jagged razors
Ripping me from numbness,
Adding to the tally
Of coffin-tight secrets –
A cul-de-sac of repression.
Growing up sheltered,
Couldn’t prepare for the bomb
Dropped on our perfect family.
Terminal sentence looming,
Queen of the house arrested,
We were guilty by association
Like reeking of secondhand smoke
From a funny cigarette
That might have eased suffering
From aggressive breast cancer.
I was fifteen years young,
Embarrassed by death,
Bereft of coping skills,
Complicit in the depth
Of a widower’s grief,
A father come undone.
Where did my youth go?
Overnight made a woman,
I sought divine mercy
For a pass/fail grade,
In a crash course in courage,
A detour on the road
That’s all I had to do.
I caught my breath
Like trapeze artists
Tumbling in the air
High above a sturdy net,
Pretending to defy
Copyright © 2010 By Chantale Reve
I’ve just completed a blog post about valuing oneself and not identifying by occupation. There are times, however, when it’s totally appropriate to ask where a person works. Those are moments when you find yourself singing the melody of that cautionary Jackson Five song (but with the lyrics slightly altered): Stop, the life you save may be your own.
Some years ago, I reluctantly attended a company party at an upscale jazz club-restaurant on the East Coast. Of course, the event took place at night and in the middle of a week that didn’t contain a payday. That meant – for the non-promiscuous among us – going home alone by subway, not by taxi. I say that I reluctantly attended the shindig because I knew most of the co-workers would be talking out of their asses the way they did back at the office, except they’d be full of more shit after taking advantage of the open bar and buffet. (I was right.)
Ah, but there was yet another reason I’d decided to go to the bash: Just as I know that all humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, I knew that my upcoming performance review hinged on how I navigated the testy waters of the company party. I had my eye on a promotion, and since I wasn’t willing to kiss any female manager’s ass or sleep with any male manager with a perpetual hard-on, the company party would be my last opportunity.
The grapevine gala was going on its second hour, with voices growing louder as bottles of differing shapes and sizes emptied faster than a well-serviced drainpipe during a torrential downpour. By then I’d already stretched the rayon of my little black dress by returning to the buffet tables for thirds of fried spicy wings, jambalaya and cornbread.
Meanwhile, a live band took a break from 1970s disco tunes, and lots of silver-haired folks ambled toward the dance floor upon hearing the opening strains of the American standard “I Remember You.” The change in pace prompted them to channel the confidence of “Dancing with the Stars” competitors and deliver their best imitation of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – and, when the rhythms switched to swing, their best impersonation of Frankie Manning and Freda Washington (look ’em up, y’all).
I knew a little tango and a lot less foxtrot, so I had no inclination to join the brave on the dance floor and glide amid the royal blue and lavender spotlights. My exuberant co-workers, however, began goading me to “get out there!” because they knew I’d begun taking formal lessons at I-wouldn’t-have-dared-tell-them-where. (Actually, I had been dancing for many years, but not ballroom dancing.)
I ignored their girlie chanting, holding my purse to my chest and bearing my weight into my shoes and into the chair. They laughed loudly, perfuming the air with mingled spirits – and I don’t mean joie de vivre, either – as they attempted to pry my purse from my tight embrace. I must’ve flattened my “D” cups to a set of “B’s” that night in a fierce attempt to fight off those drunkards. In contrast, I was chain-drinking sodas. This was like one of those pseudo-lesbian scenes from a bad 1980s women’s prison flick, except we remained fully dressed. (Come to think of it, were there any good movies of that subgenre in the ’80s?)
Out of nowhere stepped a rather charming, handsome man. He looked nothing like Astaire or Gene Kelly or either of the Nicholas Brothers, but, more importantly, he wasn’t dressed to the nines like most of the employees at the party. However, he smiled so widely and his teeth were so bright, that I guess he had us blinded from his purpose. Then again, our company was quite large, so none of us couldn’t possibly know everyone present. The guy stood about six feet, had a lanky physique and reddish-brown complexion, and he kept smoothing back black, wavy hair brushed close to his head. I didn’t try to guess if he had a conk; he had a cock, which made him a man — at least in the semidarkness of our table — so I knew to be wary. His smile appeared a bit fake, as if he was contemplating: Which of you sisters will I be bedding tonight? I thought: Not this one! And just as that thought flashed through my mind, his gaze zoomed in on my face. Damn, damn, damn, I cursed inwardly while trying to snarl outwardly.
Just then, Mr. Charm extended his hand and grinned under a mustache thinner than Don Ameche’s. I played coy because I was embarrassed as hell. Glancing up at him, I said, “Merci, monsieur,” while shaking his hand. I’d just returned from Quebec and was still feeling Frenchified, when what I should’ve have felt was too petrified to lift a limb.
“Excusez-moi, mademoiselle. Êtes-vous française?” he asked before raising my right arm higher to give the back of that hand a slo-mo peck.
Smiling and struggling not to imagine growing a wart on my hand, I replied: “Non, je suis americaine.” Then I snapped myself into my non-French reality and re-answered, “No, I just came back from vacationing in Montreal.”
“Montreal, eh?” he said, pronouncing his beloved city “MAWH-ray-YAHL.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled back at me before practically dragging me tango-style onto the dance floor.
Mr. Charm looked to be 15 years my senior. I didn’t understand why he selected me, but then I rationalized that he didn’t want an inebriated dance partner who would spill her guts when he spun her. That thought caused me to look back at the giggling dingbats at the table. Whenever I wanted to glance over at them, he would pull me in closer to him. I think he really was trying to cop a feel, desiring the sensation of my heavy bra on his muscular chest. Whatever.
It was difficult to place my right palm in his as my hand was still limp from his light kiss in front of my colleagues. I made up some fancy footwork that I’d watched on those dance championships which aired on PBS every year. Oh, but he was quite the dazzler, displaying smooth footwork of his own. And those damned chalk-white teeth. He dipped me so sharply at the end of our twanglo (it wasn’t the tango; but it was twisted), that my left shoe nearly flew off. A rather embarrassing moment, yes, but one about to be outdone by a horrifying sequence.
When Mr. Charm and I returned to the table, I reclaimed my purse, checking for any missing currency inside while my co-workers asked my dance partner within which department he worked at our company. The assumption was that everyone at the bash was an employee. “Leave the man alone,” I urged the intoxicated gaggle. But no, they insisted on imploring further.
Mr. Charm complied. Retrieving his scuzzy-looking backpack from beneath the table, he matter-of-factly revealed, “I don’t work for your company at all.” Then he smiled widely. That night, he explained while zipping up his windbreaker, he had landed at the Port Authority bus terminal after a 10-hour ride from Montreal.
The other women acted as if his admission was artistic and bohemian. He said nothing about just finishing an avant-garde installation at a gallery in Montreal; he wasn’t distributing flyers for his upcoming high-wire act in Mont Royal; and he didn’t magically produce an easel and palette to do our portraits there in the club-restaurant. No, this man had just held my waist, danced cheek to cheek with me, touched my palms with his, and now I was learning with the subtlety of a Band-Aid ripping the hairs off my arm that he was some kind of vagrant!?! I was terrified that he’d crashed our company party and was even more of a stranger than a co-worker on crystal meth sliding by on HR’s second written warning.
When another co-worker at the table had the gall to ask him what he did for a living in Montreal, he casually replied that he handled cadavers. Oh, great! I thought to myself while sneering over at her. At this point, my colleagues were giggling nervously, but I wasn’t. My jaw felt locked and my pupils must’ve been as dilated as a comatose patient’s. When the intruder reached into a pocket at the front of his backpack, I held my breath. What, is he going to retrieve a knife or gun now? I wondered.
Looking around at the other women, I could tell they, too, were having a cardio-pulmonary event. Any trace of laughter was replaced by grim silence. Still grinning, the mysterious stranger whipped out a company I.D. card that contained his photo, the name of the hospital, and the department where he worked: the morgue.
I’ll never forget how “The Addams Family” theme flitted through my mind and how this interloper’s increasingly weird vibe crept through my bones and over my flesh. I’d just danced toe to toe with a man that tagged toes. A part of me struggled to escape out of my skin, but I caught myself midflight. I was above discriminating against anyone’s occupation – unless it was serial killing, rape, armed robbery, etc. – and I didn’t want him mistaking me for one of those paranoid, post-Patriot Act Americans who assume that all foreigners are terrorists. Still, for all any of us knew at the table that night, Mr. Charm could’ve been a murderer of Ripleyesque or Ripperian proportions.
The next day, I made it a top priority to communicate discreetly to the appropriate department at our company that there had been a security breach at the party. Perversely, the cliché about “no good deed…” echoed in my head when I was placed under surveillance for having danced too intimately with a company-party crasher. Yeah, where was the videotape when I was getting my ass groped in the mailroom earlier that year for committing the sin of hand-delivering my manager’s last-minute package after hours?
Alas, the moral of this true story is: Go with your gut instincts and ask crucial questions because, if you don’t – and especially if mind-altering libation (or another kind of drug) is involved – you could wind up as some morbid statistic.
Article was first published on the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog on February 25, 2010.
“Rethink Passing On (and Passing Out at) the Company Party” Copyright © 2010/2014 Chantale Rêve All Rights Reserved
Clip Art Source: commons.wikimedia.org
A beautiful read, here is a recent post by talk radio’s G.D. Grace.
Originally posted on G. D. Grace:
Closing my weary eyes I see a life force rising,
slowly emerging from the destitute ashes of over with and absolutely done.
It searches the regions of foreign and unknown looking for recovery with complete abandonment.
It desperately wants to be relieved from that obsession that covers the sun and blinds the moon.
Deep within a battered voice calls out frantically, beckoning to be freed from the ties that bind.
It stood on the opposite side of a desolate street, looking for a secure way across it,
and countless failed efforts manifested into profound desperation,
until that fateful moment when clarity was made clear.
All the material belongings were gone…
Connections with the slim & shady, severed,
And many of the fears had dissipated.
In this powerful vision a lone raft of hope floated towards the curb, and it was filled with faith.
Half measured availed us none, but complete…
View original 79 more words
This morning, while watching two episodes of the early-1970s sitcom “That’s My Mama,” I began reminiscing about the crush I had on the lead star, Clifton Davis. Davis’ only competition in my young mind was Michael Jackson, whose posters adorned every wall in my pretty-in-pink bedroom. Once I drifted down from the cloud-nine childhood fantasy of my marriage to Davis, I decided to do a Wiki-peek at Davis’ beginnings and current goings-on. I was familiar with his acting credentials post-“That’s My Mama.” For example, I was a die-hard fan of “Amen” (1986-1991), the groundbreaking prime-time sitcom that parodized the (Protestant) African American church, in which Davis portrayed the charismatic, dedicated minister, the Rev. Dr. Reuben Gregory.
As the main story arc charted the Rev. Dr. Gregory’s new career as a minister, another, parallel arc charted the church deacon’s daughter’s strategy to get her man — or, to put it more aptly, her man of the cloth. Pictured in character in the above photo are (l-r) Davis as the Philly reverend with the legendary Sherman Hemsley as Deacon Ernest Frye and Anna Maria Horsford as Thelma Gregory (née Frye). “Amen” airs in syndication on TVOne, and as I’m in the Northeast, I set my DVR for 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.
While conducting my Wikipedia research, I recalled that Davis sang in different episodes of “Amen,” but I was totally surprised to discover that he wrote the song “Never Can Say Goodbye.” The melodic, midtempo song was first recorded by The Jackson 5 and became a big pop and R&B hit for the legendary band. Years later, disco queen No. 3, Gloria Gaynor (Donna Summer taking the top spot, followed by Sylvester), covered Davis’ song. Of course it’s the ever-popular anthem and karaoke mainstay “I Will Survive” that placed Gaynor in the disco pantheon.
I also learned in my research that Clifton Davis had been a songwriter before becoming an actor, and that revelation got me thinking about the TVOne program “Unsung.” I view “Unsung” fairly regularly, and I realize that the show strives for objectivity in its profiles of Black artists, so that’s fine and all. However, I’m wondering now that the show has been airing for more than two years, why it focuses predominantly on singers, musicians and actors.
I can understand why the network would want to limit its focus to these categories of artists (for the time being), but doesn’t art also encompass dancing, painting, sculpting and photography? In no way am I attacking TVOne — although when I visited its website, some kind of “toolkit” attempted to attack my computer … hmm — but I ‘m trying to open up dialogue about which art forms get promoted more aggressively in the Black media.
In the realm of drama, Clifton Davis is but one example of a Black artist who is unsung. Thus, I hope that the producers of “Unsung” come across my blog — since it appears they have ignored my missives — and consider expanding the thrust of “Unsung.”
Regular readers of the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog already are aware that I love to digress, so I will do that once again. While there’s a sprinkling of actors profiled on “Unsung,” singers and musicians are featured mostly. If it’s true that TVOne is responding to what its viewers have requested, then in this blog I’m appealing to those viewers, too. What am I getting at in this double appeal (i.e., to the producers and viewers of “Unsung”)? Well, how about: I’m sick and tired of folks, no matter what the phenotype, thinking of all Black people as musically gifted.
There’s a line spoken by a white character, an executive sports agent, in “The Game,” which is a well-acted dramedy series (returning on January 11, 2011, and airing on BET) that takes a satirical look at the relationships between Black footballers and their agents, and at the romantic relationships of all involved. I can’t recall the exact quote, but the character is replying to an underling (also white) who compliments Tasha Mack’s (Wendy Raquel Robinson’s) vocal talent.
In the episode, Tasha mistakenly thinks that fellow agent Rick Fox (who from 2008-09 portrayed a fictional version of himself on “The Game”) sabotaged her career, and so she tells him off in song. Her boss joins her in singing Rihanna’s “Take a Bow,” mocking her and Rick’s situation, until she leaves in disgust. When the underling comments on Tasha’s great singing voice, his boss shrugs it off by saying something akin to, “They [emphasis mine] all do.”
My detractors will say, “Oh, Chantale, you’re just being too sensitive,” or, “Chantale, Chantale, stop playing ‘the race card.'” To them I say, “Hey, I’m just keepin’ it real.” You see, at different times in my life I’ve been asked some of the most annoying questions, or have heard annoying comments, related to music by white people such as: “You mean you never sang gospel in church?” and “How come you don’t play piano?” These questions and remarks rank right up there, or I should say smell rank down there, with such asinine questions and remarks as: “What was it like to grow up in the ghetto?” and, my favorite from 1996, spoken by my white manager: “Your hair looks too fancy for the office. You should get your hair braided, to look more corporate.” That last comment was made by one of the white-feminist bullies to whom I referred in my Paris memoir on this blog, titled, “To Be Black, American, Female and Alone: A Brief Paris Memoir.”
My point about “Unsung,” though, should be clear. That is: Black people are just as well-rounded within the arts as without. As “Unsung” prefers to focus on Black artists, it would be wonderful and groundbreaking to view profiles of Black people whose art forms have been underreported if not unrecognized. Here’s a sampling of unsung Black artists by category: photography (e.g., Rashid Johnson, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Deborah Willis and Linda Day Clark), choreography (e.g., Judith Jamison and Bebe Miller), paintings (e.g., William T. Williams, Sam Gilliam, Mickalene Thomas, Louis Delsarte and Kehinde Wiley), sculptures (e.g., Allison Saar and Willie Cole), poems (e.g., Nikki Giovanni, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove, James A. Emanuel, Lucille Clifton, Lady Lee Andrews, Quincy Troupe), novels (e.g., ZZ Packer and Tayari Jones), graphic novels (e.g., Lance Tooks), collage art (e.g., Kara Walker), and multimedia (e.g., Betye Saar, Lezley Saar, Faith Ringgold, David Hammons, and Adrian Piper). Yet all of the above-named artists of color, covering a wide age range, are very much alive as of this writing. When I was a journalist, I had the pleasure of interviewing and witnessing the art of some of the aforementioned individuals, and I only wish that they could be lifted from the shadows before it’s too late.
As with many forms of change, baby steps are needed. For now, it’s worth repeating that TVOne’s “Unsung” does a fine job of profiling Black singers and musicians. Songwriters do get tossed in the mix as commenters on the subject of the profile rather than any of them ever being the subject. I’m not referring to songwriters who also are performers, such as Angela Winbush and Teena Marie.
I was happy to see Winbush featured, but surprised to find that Lady Tee is unsung! And in no way is “Lady Tee” Black, just as Dusty Springfield wasn’t, yet she had a soulful voice. (What, is Joss Stone destined for “Unsung” 20 years from now?) True, back in the day everybody on the block and beyond wanted to think that Teena Marie was Black, but I did and still do give her props for giving shout-outs to Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni (“just to name a few”) on the smash “Square Biz.”
Another Black songwriter who is unsung is Leon Ware. The Europeans love him and know who he is. We here in the United States should, too. Well, many of us over the age of 40 and Black or Latino or Black and Latino probably know who Leon Ware is. I mean, the man penned “I Want You,” recorded by Marvin Gaye and later by Fourplay featuring El DeBarge and Patti LaBelle. Yeah, that’s all, right? C’mon, people. Ware also shared songwriting credit with “T-Boy” Ross on “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” which was written for tween-aged Michael Jackson. Jackson made it a hit, and the song later was covered by Marvin Gaye, Jose Feliciano and many others. Gen Xers who know Ware’s name probably associate him with the song he wrote for Maxwell: the groovilicious “Sumthin’ Sumthin’.”
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Above: Veteran actress Mary Alice, who portrayed the mother in the original Sparkle (1976) as well as memorable recurring TV characters on “Sanford and Son” and “Good Times” (pictured here in 1993 at the 45th Emmy Awards’ Governor’s Ball) definitely is unsung! Here on the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog, I have noticed searches for “Mary Alice” by readers who are curious as to what happened to this fine actress. Why haven’t any roles been created for her and other Black actresses of her generation (including Lynn Hamilton – see her in the photo below) to claim?
Photo Source: en.wikipedia.org
Above: Veteran actress Lynn Hamilton, who portrayed “Donna,” the fiancée of entrepreneurial junkman Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) in the landmark 1970s sitcom “Sanford and Son,” was phenomenal in John Cassavetes‘ Beat Generation film Shadows, but she’s still unsung!
Photo Source: imdb.com
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While one might not expect a Black painter or sculptor to be featured on “Unsung” anytime soon, could we at least have a few more actors? I’ve mentioned Clifton Davis (again, an actor who was a songwriter first), and here are other unsung actors: Mary Alice, Carl Lumbly, Novella Nelson, C.C. H. Pounder, Ernie Hudson, John Amos, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Vondie Curtis-Hall, S. Epatha Merkerson, Richard T. Jones, Lonette McKee, Philip Michael Thomas, Forest Whitaker, Tyra Ferrell, Blair Underwood, Regina Taylor, Viola Davis, Michael Beach, Dennis Haysbert, Reginald VelJohnson, Andre Braugher, Clark Johnson, Mekhi Pfifer, Jesse L.Martin, Giancarlo Esposito, Jeffrey D. Sams, Wendell Pierce, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Audra McDonald, Mykelti Williamson, LaTanya Richardson (who many folks still refer to as Samuel Jackson’s wife, and while that’s honorable, she should be respected as an actor in her own right).
That’s by no means an exhausted list of underrated Black actors, but the laundry must get done today. Then again, all the washing machines probably are stuffed with lazy tenants’ clothes, anyway, so I’ll state further that I cry out for the cardiac paddles when I see a photo of an unsung Black actor in the “In Memoriam” portion of the Academy Awards broadcast. I had one of those shocking moments when I spotted Alaina Reed-Hall’s photo flash by on screen. The first time I saw Reed-Hall was on “Sesame Street,” and I find it disturbing and sad that both she and Matt Robinson — who created the “Roosevelt Franklin” Muppet (the Muppet banished from “Sesame Street”) — were unsung.
It’s hard to believe two other unsung actors are deceased: from “All in the Family” and its spin-off, “The Jeffersons”: Isabel Sanford (the ORIGINAL “Weezy”) and Michael Evans (who co-created “Good Times” with Eric Monte). Sanford passed in 2004; Evans, in December 2006. Sanford was the first Black actress to win an Emmy for Lead Actress (1981). Sherman Hemsley, actor of the stage (“But Never Jam Today” and “The Lottery” with Vinnette Carroll’s Urban Arts Company; and “Purlie,” which was his Broadway debut) and screen (“All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Amen”), died in 2012.
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You know, too bad TVOne didn’t think of expanding the focus of “Unsung” by the start of 2010. Already we’ve lost a major yet unsung actor, Vonetta McGee, in July. (My condolescences go out belatedly to McGee’s husband, actor Carl Lumbly.)
Beautiful, elegant and eloquent, Vonetta McGee is immortal for her roles in Clinton Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction (1975), which also starred Eastwood, and the Blaxploitation-era horror flick Blacula (which scared the bejesus out of me at the time because I was a kid). However, how many of us recall her role in Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger (1990), which starred Danny Glover?
The photo below shows Vonetta McGee paired with Max Julien in Gordon Parks Jr.’s classic western, Thomasine & Bushrod (1974). I remember that film better than I do Bonnie & Clyde. I suppose the reason for that is: As a young child, I was proud that the lead actors resembled folks in my family rather than the folks fleeing my suburban neighborhood.
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REST IN PEACE, VONETTA MCGEE (pictured above with her co-star in Thomasine & Bushrod, Max Julien, star of the seminal Blaxploitation film, The Mack)
“2 Talented 2 B 4gotten” Copyright © 2010 Chantale Reve All Rights Reserved
Article was first published on the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog on December 4, 2010.
Above: The late Robin Williams as “Mork” in “Mork & Mindy”
Only last night I was viewing, for the umpteenth time on my DVR, the “Tavis Smiley” two-parter in which iconic comedic auteur Mel Brooks had the Black TV host in stitches. Brooks extolled the exquisite comedic talents of Cleavon Little and Richard Pryor, the latter whom he called “perhaps the greatest comedian of all time” and the former whom Smiley imagined would’ve had limitless potential in the comedy and acting realms. Brooks’ appearance on Smiley’s PBS program was on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Blazing Saddles. And now, before retiring to bed, while searching online for something to chuckle over, I’ve just read that comedic actor (and a damned great straight-up dramatic actor) Robin Williams is dead, allegedly committing suicide at age sixty-three. And yeah, Williams got a chance to appear on the “Richard Pryor Show” in the late ’70s.
Decades before ADD became a household acronym, fast-thinking and -talking Williams blew our minds organically (or so was our wishful thinking) as one-half the titular characters of the 1970s sitcom “Mork & Mindy.” It took awhile, but eventually he had me at “Nanu-nanu.” He was on top of the worlds — Earth and Ork — during that television breakthrough, but his list of stand-up shows and film credits would become longer.
Williams was an amazing character actor. Some of my favorite films starring Robin Williams are: Mrs. Doubtfire (the best man-in-drag movie — with or without prosthetics — since 1959’s Some Like It Hot; 1980’s de Palma homage to Hitch, Dressed to Kill; and 1982’s farce Tootsie); Dead Poets Society; Moscow on the Hudson; Popeye; Good Will Hunting; Patch Adams; The Fisher King; Good Morning, Vietnam; What Dreams May Come; Father’s Day; The Bird Cage; and Insomnia. And I’m not counting his myriad voice work in great animated films such as Happy Feet and Aladdin.
Overlooked among his TV feature film work was his touching role as a sort-of angel (to Susan Sarandon‘s melancholy character) in the HBO yuletide drama Noël, which included in the superb ensemble cast another actor we lost too soon and this year: Paul Walker.
Robin Williams is and will continue to be missed. Despite his mortal departure creating a dark mood, the night sky beams one star brighter. We Earthlings have a way to keep him in our orbit, for his pan-galactic humor always will be a click away.
© 2014 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
Blades of tall grass bend
As chirping sparrows take turns
Pecking at sweet crumbs.
© 2014 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
If you ever have caressed a petal parted from a rose,
Recall the saline taste of tears and a facial twitch.
How fragile all of life is, I realized today —
After tossing out with the trash that “life’s a bitch.”
How pungent is the stench of fear to age in our skins,
A genetic mutation of vain minds that propagate the specious
And, with (m)admen, are destined to do us in.
Mulling over my final moments with each withered bloom
Of all the roses ripped from fertile soil and accelerated to decay,
I wonder why we jump to false conclusions in assuming
That our lives do not as delicately slip away.
© 1998-2014 Chantale Rêve
When your mind drifts to vast deserts of thought,
Take comfort that you will be young again.
Dash out nude into gentle acid rain
To reclaim the confidence some said you lost.
Face the sun and the moon when redemption comes.
Ascend with innate grace to your higher power.
The second hand will not tick past your resplendent hour.
Slip on gossamer wings when that worn shell’s done.
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Meet Mommy and me at Nathan’s down on Coney Isle,
Chat with authentic mermaids and swim with dolphins awhile,
Spy on Picasso making art and love up in Montmartre,
And hang tough with herds of regal elephants over in India.
We’ll party with Dalí and Gala by sea cliffs in Cadaqués —
When the surreal revelry ends will be anyone’s guess.
In Africa we’ll learn Wolof, Kiswahili, Moroccan, Shona and Zulu,
Wail and pray about war and other disease — intraplanetary blues.
We’ll fly over the Arctic and Antarctica blowing air kisses
That freeze sea waves into grand glaciers for endangered species.
Hopping on bejeweled carousels stretching across the globe,
We’ll ride horseys with eyes of ruby, sapphire and peridot.
© 2012 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved
Stood-up on a rain date in New York City,
I dodged the sunset and hopped a “D” train home,
Where, brimming with blissful solitude,
I urged the Muse to purge me of ulcerous self-pity –
Sonic grooves by Alanis setting the mood
For repentant limerent spectres to roam.
Then ferocious catcalls in the corridor
Ripped me from an entranced state,
Echoed like rutting felines in the alleyway,
Too vulgar and sexual to be ignored,
Intruded on an impromptu mini-holiday —
My solitary, literary weekend escape.
Through a cracked peephole I dared,
Despite my paralyzing, unutterable fear,
To observe lewd gestures of the same
Vicious thugs whose vile words and three-pronged stare
Five years back had degraded me past naked shame,
Had left me drowning in blood and putrid smears.
In an update unbeknownst to me,
Buried beneath grim news headlines,
The terrifying trinity was on parole.
A mockery of justice permitted them to be free
But imprisoned my courage behind bars of old,
For which the keys were impossible to find.
How I hated waiting alone for the police,
My pulse throbbing at a blistering pace!
Flashbacks transported me to that horrible Saturday,
When three men morphed into a six-legged beast,
Ravaging a blithe spirit until hope in Man rotted away
And her peace and joy vanished without a trace.
© 2012-2015 Chantale Rêve
All Rights Reserved