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‘Movin’ On Up’: How the Black Panthers invented ‘The Jeffersons’


 
Somewhat like top basketballers before Michael Jordan (thinking of you, Dr. J….) the reputation of Norman Lear’s sitcom The Jeffersons suffered somewhat by poor timing and the shows that came after it. Cheers and Seinfeld are regularly lauded as among the greatest sitcoms of all time, but The Jeffersons, whose impressive 253 episodes were spread across a whopping 11 seasons (1975-1985), never seems to get mentioned with the same respect.

If you eliminate animated series and long-running staples from the dawn of TV history, the longevity of The Jeffersons puts it in a special category with Two and a Half Men (262 episodes), Cheers (275), M*A*S*H (256), Frasier (264), Married ... with Children (258), and Happy Days (255).

At a minimum, The Jeffersons is arguably the greatest put-down show of all time!

And it never would have happened but for an intervention by the Black Panthers.

Norman Lear, creator of a fair portion of the most successful sitcoms of the 1970s, including All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, and Maude, is the subject of an upcoming PBS American Masters telecast under the title “Just Another Version of You,” which is expected to get a theatrical run in the summer before appearing on PBS affiliates in the autumn. Since the 1970s Lear has become more or less synonymous with the introduction of ethnic diversity in American TV as well as the foregrounding of what might be termed a liberal consciousness in televised comedy.

Remarkably, the creation of The Jeffersons was a direct outgrowth of an intervention staged by three members of the Black Panthers political organization at some point during 1974. A trio of pissed-off revolutionaries went to Lear’s office to complain about the “garbage” they were seeing on TV, specifically Lear’s show Good Times, which ran from 1974 to 1979 and focused on a black family in the projects of Chicago. You wouldn’t think that the Black Panthers would object to a popular sitcom calling attention to poverty in urban America, but they wanted to see a broader palette of Black America on TV.

Last weekend Lear visited Dan Harmon’s weekly podcast Harmontown, which is taped live every Sunday at the Nerdmelt Showroom in Hollywood, to promote the American Masters documentary and shoot the shit with a well-known showrunner (Community) from a more splintered era of TV programming, namely, ours. Harmontown tapings are usually attended by GenXers and Millennials, so the appearance of the 93-year-old (!) legend of TV was an unusual event.
 

‘Good Times’ aired on CBS from 1974 to 1979
 
At about 42 minutes in, Harmon and his sidekick Jeff Davis engaged Lear on the subject of the beginnings of The Jeffersons:

Harmon: There’s this anecdote, about ... three Black Panthers show up, and come to your office and say, “We want to talk to the garbageman! I wanna talk to Norman Lear, the garbageman!” And they storm into your office, and say, “Good Times is bullshit” ... They read you the riot act ... You credit that moment as starting us down the road towards The Jeffersons. ...

You’re still listening! You’ve already proven that you’re the king of television at that point, and people are barging into your office to call you a garbageman, and you listen to them! And took their feedback and made another great television show, that was great from another perspective.

Davis: What was the Black Panthers’ [complaint]? ... Because they were living in the projects, because they were downtrodden?

Lear: Their big bellyache was, why does the guy have to hold down three jobs and occasionally—in an episode, it almost seems like he’s looking for a fourth—he’s so hungry to make some money to support his family and why can’t there be an affluent black family on television? ... They were pissed off that the only family that existed, the guy had to hold down three jobs.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Does Your Mama Know About Me: Diana Ross sings Tommy Chong’s Motown hit about interracial love, 1968
04.22.2016
10:19 am

Topics:
Music
Race

Tags:
Cheech & Chong
Motown
Diana Ross


Can you find Tommy Chong in this group shot of Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers?
 
During the musical section of their set at LA’s Novo on Wednesday, Cheech and Chong played a song called “Does Your Mama Know About Me.” Chong wrote the lyrics for the number, which was a hit Motown single in 1968, and which Cheech says he adored before he ever met Chong. YouTube has fuzzy smartphone video of the duo performing it at a 2011 show.

As Cheech tells the story, he moved to Canada in ‘68—not to evade the draft, of course, but to protect Canada from a Vietnamese invasion—and when he was introduced to his future partner in Vancouver the following year, he immediately recognized him as the “T. Chong” credited on the label of that Motown record about an interracial couple he’d spun so many times.
 

 
Chong was one of the guitarists in Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, itself an interracial group which got some press by changing its name to “Four N*ggers and a Chink” during an engagement at Dante’s Inferno; lead singer Taylor is often credited with discovering the Jackson 5. Berry Gordy signed Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers to the Motown subsidiary Gordy Records in 1967. Their recording of “Does Your Mama Know About Me” peaked at number 29 on the Billboard chart in May, 1968, and the Supremes’ version appeared on their Love Child LP, released later that year. This post from Night Flight goes into Chong’s musical career in some detail, but the best source is Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography:

...just before we were discovered by the Supremes and Berry Gordy, I wrote a poem that started our songwriting career. Tom Baird, who was a talented keyboardist and composer, read my poem and put music to it. It was a poem about a black guy asking his girlfriend if her mama knew about him. The song was also about my own experiences with white women. Being half Chinese, there had been times—actually, many of them—when I had to drop a girl off at the end of the block so her parents wouldn’t see who she was dating. That experience saddened me. It hurt to know that my race was a deciding factor for white people.

~snip

Soon the Harlettes discovered the song. They were the all-girl group that sang backup for Bette Midler, Diana Ross, and Jermaine Jackson, and they actually recorded it. The lyrics also changed the way Motown songwriters wrote. Until “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” came along, R & B music had always consisted of love songs. Now songwriters started exploring the color barrier with their songs. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Love Child” come to mind as examples of this shift.

Berry Gordy loved our song, and after it hit the charts, he put us on the road with Diana Ross and the Supremes. We opened the show and performed part of our club routine, which eventually pissed off Diana Ross so much that she had the tour manager tell us to stop doing it. The part Diana took offense to was a Parliament song whose lyrics we changed to say “Oh, white girls, you sure been delicious to me.” Our song pissed off the promoters, who were unprepared for an outrageous performance from the “opening act.” They had hired Diana Ross and the Supremes, who had become a “white act.” The promoters did not appreciate this unknown band from Canada singing about white girls’ being “delicious,” especially with so many white girls in the audience.

Listen to “Does Your Mama Know About Me” after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘The Art of the Black Panthers’: Revolutionary designer Emory Douglas
04.06.2016
04:12 pm

Topics:
Activism
Art
Media
Race

Tags:
Black Panthers
Emory Douglas


 
Emory Douglas served as Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party and artistic director of The Black Panther newspaper from its inception in 1967. Douglas is unquestionably one of the most important artists and designers working in the political realm in the last several decades, and his work is a necessary component of anyone’s understanding of the lived experience of activism, advocacy, and resistance.

If you are trying to push an issue forward on the grass-roots level, whether it’s women’s health issues, the crimes of the 1%, or the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the work of Emory Douglas is relevant to you.

Douglas was a native of the Bay Area; as a “guest” of the California Youth Authority (today it’s called the California Division of Juvenile Justice)—basically prison for teenage offenders—he was told to work in the print shop, which he called “my first introduction to graphic design.”
 

 
Huey P. Newton asked Douglas to provide the Black Panther newspaper with an effective visual style. Douglas and Eldridge Cleaver did many of the early issues pretty much by themselves.

One inspiration Douglas had was to mimic woodcuts for their ability to communicate ideas very clearly in a simple and stark visual style, an approach that proved very effective for his entire career. One factor that influenced Douglas’ style was that the Panthers could only afford one other color (aside from black and white), most of the time. So the picture would be conceived in a powerful black-and-white way and then the single color would be used to highlight some portion of the picture. In a way, it helped that the pictures weren’t too complex in terms of the color palette.
 

1969
 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Human Zoos: Europe’s dirty racist secret
03.09.2016
11:50 am

Topics:
History
Race
Stupid or Evil?

Tags:
racism
human zoo

022kolonialhumger.jpg
 
Brussels is the capital of Belgium. It is the major city within the nineteen municipalities that make up the Brussels-Capital Region.

Since the end of the Second World War, Brussels has been home to a large population of politicians, diplomats, civil servants, businesses and industrialists. It is closely tied to the European Union and has been dubbed the “de facto capital” of the European Union since the 1970s. It’s Europe’s Washington. DC.

Brussels is where the European Commission (that august government branch of the EU) and the Council of the European Union (the well-respected legislative body made up of those jolly executives of member states) are based. It is city that represents the humanitarian values of a civilized and prosperous Europe.

But wait.

Not so long ago, indeed within living memory, Brussels was the last bastion of a racist sideshow called the “human zoo.”

In 1958 Brussels held the first World’s Fair since the end of the Second World War. Between April and October of that year, the Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles gave testament to the shared ideals of equality and fraternity, the innovation of industry and a very real humanitarian hope for a peaceful and prosperous future.

Among the many major exhibits at Expo 58 that celebrated this hope for a better world were the massive building-cum-sculpture the Atomium—or “load of balls” as some have since described it—designed by engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André & Jean Polak; and the Philips Pavilion where composer Edgard Varèse premiered his seminal eight minute work Poème électronique—which followed a naive and simplistic narrative of the development of life and civilization towards a universal “harmony.”

In amongst all these space age wonders and exhibits from countries across the world was the Belgian Pavilion. Here visitors could find all that was best about Belgium including one small enclosure where the public flocked to pet and feed the exhibits.

Look here comes one now. A middle-aged matron in finely cut dress, coat and hat, wearing early designer sunglasses. Doesn’t she look chic? Let’s watch as this no doubt charming woman leans over the fence that surrounds the enclosure to feed one of the humans inside—a small black girl.
 
07humzoogirl.jpg
 
Horrendous isn’t it? Shocking. Horrific. Unbelievable. Like some dystopian sci-fi movie.

But to the 41 million people who visited Expo 58 this scene of unbridled racism caused little concern to the public—no upset, and no fury. No nothing.

You’d think after the racist atrocities of the Second World War that maybe, just maybe, Europeans might have developed a little more respect for their fellow man. But no, apparently not.

Human zoos, where white Europeans could go and see people from other ethnic backgrounds exhibited in cages, or in specially built villages for entertainment purposes is one of the biggest, dirtiest, and most shameful racist “secrets” of European history. Which no amount of saying “the past is a different country, they did things differently there” will ever excuse.
 
023acclimhumzoo.jpg
A poster advertising a ‘human zoo’ in Paris.
 
This wasn’t the Middle Ages. This was 1958. The year NASA was formed. The year the microchip was invented. The year the American Express card was introduced. When the hula-hoop was the #1 toy. When Elvis Presley joined the US Army. When Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were the world’s pinups. When The Bridge on the River Kwai cleaned up at the Oscars and Steve McQueen terrified audience in his fight with The Blob. When the Yankees won the World Series and Brazil took the World Cup. The year the forerunner of the EU, the European Economic Community (EEC) was formed. This is within our pop culture timeline of rock ‘n’ roll, drugs and teenage rebellion. Your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents might even have attended themselves.
 
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Pretend to be a drug dealer from Mexico with ‘Beat the Border,’ an actual 70s board game!
03.03.2016
10:23 am

Topics:
Amusing
Drugs
Race

Tags:
board games
Beat the Border

Beat the Border board game, 1971
“Beat the Border” board game, 1971
 
I’ve written about vintage board games in the past here in DM, but here’s one that I’m pretty sure didn’t sell very well back in the early 1970s, and for good reason. I mean, can you imagine sitting down on game night with your kids and playing a game that was based on the Mexican drug cartel and their mission to bring drugs into the US of A?

Now? Sure. Back then, not very likely. Still that didn’t stop a company called Border House Inc. (for which I can find absolutely no reputable online reference for) from making Beat the Border.
 

The handy “kilo” buying and selling chart from ‘Beat the Border’
 

 
The cover of the
The box cover of the ‘Beat the Border’ board game (1972 edition). Text reads: Warning: “Your friendly local neighborhood Pusher warns that Marijuana Smoking is against the Law and may be Hazardous to your Freedom.”
 
Unlike the actual task of bringing drugs to the U.S., game play in Beat the Border is pretty simple—players start with $1000 and attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. to buy “kilos” of marijuana from their contacts named “Edwardo,” “Renaldo,” “Papas”, “Pepe” and “Jose.” Players then try to broker a sale in major cities like Tucson and New York, and for some reason Muskogee, Oklahoma.

To help your cause, players have access to “dope lawyers,” “phoney identification” (as it is spelled in the game), and “guns,” (affectionately referred to as “heaters” here). There’s even a handy chart telling you how much the going price for a “kilo” of grass was back in 1971. For instance, according to the handy “kilo buying and selling chart” (pictured above), a kilo of pot was worth $350 in 1971. Quite the bargain compared to today’s prices!. Much like its elusive creator Border House Inc., I wasn’t able to track down a physical copy of “Beat the Border” anywhere, just in case you were thinking about picking one up for your upcoming Election Day “apocalypse party” this November.

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
Is this footage of a 21-year-old Bernie Sanders getting arrested in 1963?


This sure looks like my Bernie to me.

Yesterday on the In These Times website, Miles Kampf-Lassin alerted readers to a newly posted video that purports to be of a young Bernie Sanders getting arrested at a civil rights protest against school segregation in Chicago in 1963. The future Vermont Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate was then just a 21-year-old student at the University of Chicago.

Clearly—if this footage is indeed Bernie Sanders and it sure looks like him to me, he was rather a distinctive-looking fellow even in his younger years—then this is visual proof positive that Sanders has been consistent in his beliefs—and fighting the good fight—for his entire adult life. And yes, this was back when a young Hillary Clinton was a confirmed “Goldwater girl.” Feel the burn?

The footage was taken from Kartemquin Film’s ‘63 Boycott project, which chronicles the Chicago Public School Boycott of 1963, and was filmed by Kartemquin co-founder Jerry Temaner.

The protest on Chicago’s South Side took aim at racist education and housing policies being carried out in Englewood—namely the proposed construction of a new school for black students made up of aluminum trailers known as “Willis Wagons,” named after the Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Benjamin Willis who first ordered them. These trailers were used by the city to deal with overcrowding in black schools, thereby preventing integration of black students into less-densely populated white schools.

 

 
Sanders was arrested for his civil disobedience—specifically resisting arrest—and fined $25.

Look at the glasses. Also, compare the big chunky watch in the clip below with the big chunky watch the young Sanders is seen sporting in the photo below:
 

 
I wouldn’t bet my life on it that it’s a young Bernie Sanders in this footage, but I’d surely wager a pinky or a toe…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Nappy Happy’: Radical thinker Angela Davis interviews Ice Cube, 1991
02.11.2016
09:12 am

Topics:
Feminism
Hip-hop
Music
Race
Thinkers

Tags:
Angela Davis
Ice Cube


 
Before the release of Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, renowned black radical Angela Y. Davis interviewed him for Transition Magazine. It’s probably the first and last time a magazine has used a Gramsci quotation to introduce its readers to Ice Cube.

Davis, a former student of Herbert Marcuse, had been targeted by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969 and 1970, when she was an assistant professor in UCLA’s Philosophy Department. At the governor’s urging, she was fired (twice), and Reagan vowed that she would never teach at the University of California again. Because who was better qualified to evaluate the work of philosophy professors than like Ronald Reagan? (Today, Davis is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at UC Santa Cruz, and “Reagan” is a pair of syllables that stands for mental decay.) In ‘80, a decade after she was arrested because of her association with the Soledad Brothers, and again in ‘84, she was the vice-presidential candidate on the Communist Party USA ticket.

Ice Cube was coming from a different place. You couldn’t call his analysis Marxist, and “feminist” would have been a real stretch: he was reading The Final Call, not People’s World. This was during the period of Cube’s loudest advocacy for the Nation of Islam—before Friday, long before Are We There Yet?—when he was advocating black self-reliance (“We’ve got to start policing and patrolling our own neighborhoods,” he told Davis), endorsing an anti semitic NOI book called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, and arguing that the Hon. Elijah Muhammad was more important than Malcolm X. He and Davis had plenty to talk about.
 

Angela Davis and Ice Cube in Transition #58
 
Hip-hop historian Jeff Chang, who thinks this meeting likely took place in July of ‘91, writes in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop that publicist Leyla Turkkan set up the interview, hoping it would position Ice Cube as “an inheritor of the Black radical tradition.” Chang continues:

The interview was a provocative idea—one that both Davis and Cube welcomed. But none of them had any idea how the conversation would turn when they got together in Cube’s Street Knowledge business offices.

To begin with, Davis only heard a few tracks from the still unfinished album [Death Certificate], including “My Summer Vacation,” “Us” and a track called “Lord Have Mercy,” which never made it to the album. She did not hear the song that would become most controversial—a rap entitled “Black Korea.” In another way, she was at a more fundamental disadvantage in the conversation.

Like Davis, Cube’s mother had grown up in the South. After moving to Watts, she had come of age as a participant in the 1965 riots. While Cube and his mother were close, they often argued about politics and his lyrics. Now it was like Cube was sitting down to talk with his mother. Davis was at a loss the way any parent is with her child at the moment he’s in the fullest agitation of his becoming.

Cube sat back behind his glass desk in a black leather chair, the walls covered with framed gold records and posters for Boyz N The Hood and his albums. Copies of URB, The Source and The Final Call were laid out in front of him. Davis asked Cube how he felt about the older generation.

“When I look at older people, I don’t think they feel that they can learn from the younger generation. I try and tell my mother things that she just doesn’t want to hear sometimes,” he answered.

There’s more, after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘Pistol shots ring out in a barroom night’: Bob Dylan’s riveting performance of ‘Hurricane,’ 1975
02.02.2016
03:28 pm

Topics:
Crime
Music
Race

Tags:
Bob Dylan
Rubin Carter


 
Yesterday, right after I’d finished reading an article on The Daily Beast about it being the 40th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s 1976 album, Desire, I clicked over to YouTube where I dialed up “Hurricane,” Dylan’s powerful narration of the story of middleweight boxing contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, which was the lead single from it. Carter was imprisoned for almost 20 years on flimsy evidence (a random bullet and a shotgun shell found in his car) and sketchy testimony (that the perpetrators had been black, pretty much) for a triple homicide “race killing” in a Paterson, NJ bar in 1966. I still had the Wikipedia page on Carter open on my browser when I saw, in another tab that New York attorney Myron Beldock, who worked for over a decade to free Carter, had died at 86.

Throughout his long career Beldock, who described himself as “a creature of my time, liberal, progressive and idealistic” had a reputation for taking on legal lost causes. One such case was representing George Whitmore Jr., a black teenager who was arrested in Brooklyn in 1964 for the rape and knife-killing of several women. Whitmore claimed he was beaten by NYPD officers until he signed a falsified confession. The outcome of this case would become highly influential in the Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda decision, which required police to advise suspects of their right to remain silent and be represented by an attorney, and in overturning capital punishment in New York State. But Beldock’s most famous client was Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

Carter’s case had been boosted by copies of his 1974 autobiography The 16th Round, which proclaimed his innocence, being sent around to notable lefty-types who might want to lend their celebrity to his cause. Esquire magazine’s art director George Lois organized a campaign to support Carter and Muhammad Ali was vocal in proclaiming that Carter was innocent. (Joni Mitchell, however, who was also one of the books’ recipients, passed thinking “This is a bad person. He’s fakin’ it.”)

Her friend Bob Dylan felt differently. Dylan read Carter’s book during a 1975 trip to France, and visited the boxer—who was then incarcerated in a New Jersey penitentiary—in May. The two met for several hours and Dylan agreed to help him.

Having difficulty cracking the lyrics, Dylan enlisted Jacques Levy, a New York-based theatrical director who had worked with Sam Shepard (and who’d staged the nude comedy review Oh! Calcutta! off Broadway) to help. Levy said of the song:

“The first step was putting the song in a total storyteller mode, the beginning of the song is like stage directions, like what you would read in a script: ‘Pistol shots ring out in a barroom night… Here comes the story of the Hurricane.’ Boom! Titles. You now, Bob loves movies, and he can write these movies that take place in eight to ten minutes, yet seem as full or fuller than regular movies.”

 

 
“Hurricane” was premiered to an audience of about 100 people in Chicago on September 10th, 1975 during the taping of Bob Dylan’s performance on the PBS TV series Soundstage. This particular episode was titled “The World of John Hammond,” being a tribute to the retiring Columbia Records executive and civil rights activist who’d signed Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin and Leonard Cohen (among many, many others) during his fabled 45-year-long career in the music industry. The show, broadcast in December would be Dylan’s very first TV appearance since his duet with Johnny Cash in 1969. The 8:33 single was recorded on October 24 and released in November.

Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue was used by the artist as a platform to campaign for Rubin Carter’s release and the first leg of the tour ended at Madison Square Garden on December 8th with a benefit concert dubbed the “Night of The Hurricane.” Roberta Flack and Muhammad Ali, who called Carter in his jail cell from the stage, also participated. A second event, Night of the Hurricane II, took place on January 25th at the Houston Astrodome and featured Stevie Wonder and Stephen Stills.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Moms Mabley, the original wise old black lesbian comedian: ‘Comedy ain’ pretty’
01.13.2016
06:31 am

Topics:
History
Queer
Race
Television

Tags:
comedy
Moms Mabley


 

“He said, ‘Now what would you do if I died?’ And I said ‘Laugh.’”

If you have the opportunity to see the 2014 HBO documentary Whoopi Goldberg presents Moms Mabley, don’t pass it up. Clearly a labor of love, Goldberg recreated Mabley’s act as a young performer at Berkeley in the ‘80s and was obviously very inspired by her work. The doc was originally called Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You and was supported by Kickstarter donations. Then HBO bought it and no doubt asked for a title change to include Goldberg’s household name due to the relative obscurity of its eponymous subject some forty years after her death in 1975.
 

 

“What’s she got that I ain’t had thirty years longer?”

Unless you’re a real comedy nerd or over the age of, say, 55-60, you probably have little direct experience of Jackie “Moms” Mabley or remember seeing her on television. She could be seen mostly on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, maybe Laugh-In and various talk shows doing a toned-down version of her “blue” stage act. She was billed as “the funniest woman in the world” and was one of the first female stand-up comics, black or white, if not the very first. (Even Phyllis Diller claimed to be indebted to Moms Mabley.) I only really knew of her via seeing her albums in the comedy album cut-out bins of the late 1970s or hearing snippets of her stand-up on a long-running radio show called The Comedy Hour that used to air after The Dr. Demento Show back then. Her act was that of a straight-talking, dirty-minded, toothless old black lady who made jokes about chasing young men around. I had but a vague awareness of her at best, so I can be forgiven for assuming that her comic persona was something akin to the way she might be in real life, but exaggerated a bit, like say Minnie Pearl.
 

 

“Did you know I was on President Nixon’s enemies list? Yes darlin’, I told Tricia that if the Pilgrims had shot bobcats instead of turkeys for food, we’d be eating pussy for Thanksgiving.”

Nothing apparently could be further from the truth: The mismatched old lady clothes and the Gilligan hat merely clothed a character that Jackie Mabley had developed—and aged into—from the late 1920s onwards on the black vaudeville touring circuit, or the “Chitlin circuit” as it was called, including the big rooms of Harlem, like the Apollo Theater. “Moms” had a costume, the character’s “look” completed when she took her false teeth out. In real life Jackie Mabley was a proud and defiantly out butch black lesbian woman, at a time when the very concept of such a person would probably not have computed even to people who worked with her on a day-to-day basis. Offstage the dresses she claimed to buy from the S&H green stamps catalog were exchanged for the sort of smartly cut men’s suit that Janelle Monáe might favor. (She can be seen in a man’s suit in 1933’s Emperor Jones.)
 

 
Moms Mabley was one of the great 20th-century comedians, up there with any of them, although she’s little recalled today. She’s also someone who figures into the civil rights movement and the nascent gay liberation movement, too. (Even if few actually knew it at the time. It’s not like she was trying to hide her sexuality from the world, because she obviously wasn’t.)
 

 

“That man so old… he’s older than his birthday.”

As Goldberg states at the beginning of the doc, the reality is that not all that much is truly and factually known about Moms Mabley’s life. One can surmise certain things, or know what sort of money she made ($10,000 a week, which was a fortune then and not too bad by today’s standards either) or find posters of her on a bill at the Apollo and YouTube clips of her TV performances, but the details of her life are quite scarce and ephemeral at this point. Most people who would have known her or worked with her in her heyday would be long dead. Goldberg deserves thanks for rescuing this fascinating woman’s life story and helping restore her rightful place in comedy history, not to mention her role in helping white TV viewers and nightclub audiences of the 1960s to understand the POV of a wise old dirty-minded black woman. Had she been a few years younger, it’s easy to imagine Moms Mabley in a Norman Lear-produced sitcom of the ‘70s and as well-remembered today as say, Redd Foxx is, another risque black comic who was lucky enough, for posterity’s sake, to be born 26 years later.
 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
(Way more than) Everything you always wanted to know about the Nazi Skinhead music scene


 
Today’s post is about the new book The White Nationalist Skinhead Movement: UK & USA, 1979 - 1993 released last month by Feral House publishing.
 

 
It should be noted that the use here of the term “Nazi Skinhead” is my own broad-brushstroke, informed by being at numerous ‘80s punk shows ruined by “White Nationalist Skinheads”—sometimes at the wrong end of a Doc Marten. This is not a term used by the authors of The White Nationalist Skinhead Movement to describe their subject.  Having just admitted my own bias on the topic of “Nazi Skinheads,” let me add that as a student of the history of youth subcultures and countercultures, I am endlessly fascinated, as a topic of study, by the Skinhead movement and its extreme right-wing offshoots.

When I first heard that Feral House was publishing the definitive guide to Nazi Skinhead history, my curiosity was piqued because I was fairly certain they would get it right. Feral House’s Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal is the go-to reference on the Satanic fascist Black Metal scene and is an absolutely compelling read. I was hoping for a similarly riveting examination of the White Power Skinhead scene.

Before going into where the book succeeds and fails, I feel the need to point out that the title, The White Nationalist Skinhead Movement: UK & USA, 1979 - 1993, may be a bit misleading. The book is more specifically a history of the “Rock Against Communism” (or RAC) music scene than an overview of Nationalist Skinheads as a political counterculture. Indeed, the original (more appropriate) title of an earlier self-published version of the book was When the Storm Breaks: Rock Against Communism 1979-1993.

It should also be noted that the majority of the enormous 610 page book is devoted to the British RAC scene. Only about 60 pages at the end of the book discuss the American RAC bands, and seems to be an added afterthought compared to the extremely well-researched history of the UK bands such as Skrewdriver, and Brutal Attack and their ilk. Actually “well-researched” is kind of an understatement. And that leads me to the pros and cons of The White Nationalist Skinhead Movement —which are mostly one in the same.
 

 
When an author goes about compiling information for the definitive history of a subject—particularly a subject they may have an affinity for—they are forced to decide between paring that knowledge down to a narrative which would make for a fascinating read to the novice, or sharing every shred for the like-minded obsessive seeking an authoritative reference. Authors Robert Forbes & Eddie Stampton took the latter route here. The wealth of information culled from interviews and historical records (mostly fanzines, naturally), would be a boon to those already immersed in the White Power music culture—not simply your basic Nazi Skinhead, but your Nazi Skinhead music über-nerd. If you are a member of this small target-audience, then you will likely find no fault with this weighty tome. If you happen to be taking all of this in as someone with a passing interest in the history of the Oi! music scene and its racist offshoots, then you are likely to become bored with plowing through the minutae of every RAC gig and band-member change. Because it’s ALL in there. I’ll be honest, this book was a struggle for me to make it through—simply because it was just TOO MUCH. Sure, it’s fascinating to see how the popularity of a group like Skrewdriver unfolded from their beginnings as an “apolitical” punk band, through line-up changes, to finally finding a rabid audience among White Power Nationalists; but entire portions of interviews with scenesters are reprinted describing “what it was like the first time I saw Skrewdriver,” when one or two pull quotes would have sufficed. The whole premise is bogged down under the weight of trying to include EVERYTHING.
 

 
The authors seem close to their subject matter. One of them perhaps too close for comfort, if you are the sort of person who is a stickler about giving your money to those who hold opposing ideologies to your own. According to this review of When the Storm Breaks, “Eddie Stampton is involved with the Nationalist movement, Robert Forbes writes from a neutral position, intrigued by the subject but not involved in the dogma.”

The end of the book contains the following disclaimer:

The political views expressed in this book may or may not necessarily be those of the authors. No hatred is aimed at any people or races mentioned within, however, for realism when relating to certain events or situations, the authors feel some quotes from others will need be entered into the text to make the mood or feelings of those at said events or situations as true as possible. The authors must stress their own aversion to any acts of hatred or violence towards others. This book is a historical commentary, nothing more and nothing less.

At the same time, the front of the book contains a “Rest in Peace” dedication to notable Nazi Skinheads, including Clive Sharp of No Remorse, Ian Stuart of Skrewdriver, and Nicky Crane (famously violent Skinhead who later came “out” as homosexual). Some may be bothered by the inclusion of such a dedication, while others will overlook it in the interest of having an authentic insight.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
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