Monday, May 30, 2005

Cedric the Entertainer: Honeymoons with CeeP (Q&A)

As I mentioned earlier, I worked a junket in Beverly Hills. The film was Cedric the Entertainer's upcoming feature, "The Honeymooners," a re-make of Jackie Gleason's classic sitcom of the same name which also co-starred Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph (Ralph & Alice Kramden and Ed & Trixie Norton, respectively). While I'm going to use the copy from the interviews with Gabrielle Union (Alice), Mike Epps (Ed Norton) and Regina Hall (Trixie) for other publications -- which I'll post on the left once they turn around -- I thought the Q&A with Cedric shouldn't go to waste, hence this posting...I thought I'd just transcribe everything and let you suss out what's cool and what ain''s what went down...

Q: How scary was it to take on a re-make of The Honeymooners? Was it weird walking in Jackie Gleason's footsteps?

A: You know, it was actually something to consider [deeply] I mean it's such an iconic figure, one: Jackie Gleason as well as the character Ralph Kramden -- it means so much to so many people that I wasn't sure if that was something that I really wanted to do. At the time I had already agreed to do Back to School, so I was thinking "alright, well I'm going to be doing Rodney Dangerfield over here and now this...but [Back to School] went away, now that MGM's sold to Sony, that kind of went away for now. So this ended up working out -- it was a real strong vote of confidence from the studio, the studio executive at the time really thought I was the only guy that could play Ralph Kramden in these modern times -- who could capture that "everyman aspect" that is Ralph Kramden. I thought that was a strong vote of confidence coming from a major studio like Paramount. So, I had to look at it and decide how to pull this off.

Q: How much of the original series did you look at to get the flavor of Kramden -- how much of your character is you and how much of it is Jackie Gleason?

A: What I didn't want to do was an imitation of Gleason and it's very easy to do -- because he's such a dynamic character and the way he played Ralph was one of those things, I mean Eddie Murphy did a great koke on it [in Eddie Murphy: Raw] that became a very popular joke for him -- it's just an easy thing to do, to do it exactly like him, so I got the DVD box set once I got the role and got all 39 episodes -- I probably looked at about 6 of them. I looked at the rhythms, figured out what I wanted to do. I thought it was going to be important to hit that voice from time to get his irritation to a certain degree but also make him loveable, where you definitely want him to win...a few of the things that I loved about the way Gleason did it, is that he would milk jokes. He would milk the moment -- if there was something going on [funny] he would just look at you for like 30 seconds before he even responded and you'd know that something was ticking in his head. So, we tried to get in a few of those things in there; those were the things that I felt were most important -- then I just put my own personality back in it and made him a lot less gruff, a lot less irritable...but enough so that you could recognize the character.

Q: His stuff like "to the moon, Alice" might've been too aggressive for these times, was that part of your decision as well?

A: Yeah, that was definitely something that we all talked about -- all the producers as well -- as an actor I thought that that was one of those things that would be politically incorrect in this day and age, to threaten any kind of spousal abuse, "to the moon," you can try to make it soft but we tried to make it a bit sweeter. I thought it was important to try to get some of those old cliches in...we thought about playing around with the "homina, homina, hominas" but (whispers) nobody says that [nowadays]...(laughs) "Homina, homina, homina?" come on...

Q: How was it shooting in Europe?

A: That was really different...we were all quite surprised that we were going to be shooting Dublin for Brooklyn (laughs) but for budgetary reasons we went over...we had a good time. You know it was different to be out of the country like that, to live where the things that we trip off of, working so hard to get a dollar and you find out that you need two to buy anything over there. It's like "Aww, our dollars ain't worth a dayum! I was over there cussin' everybody out (laughs).

Q: According to Gabrielle Union and Regina, you and Mike had a bit of "fun" by shooting over to Amsterdam...any tales about Holland?

A: ...They have great coffee (laughs)...great coffee shops!

Q:..and chocolates?

A: (laughs).

Q: How much of Ralph Kramden is really in Cedric the Entertainer?

A: To a certain degree, I guess, I still am a dreamer -- I still have things that I want to do and I'm not sure that some of them are the perfect I'm getting into auto racing, I'm getting with a champ car team next year -- I'm not gonna drive (laughs) -- my wife was like "what are you doing?" and I was like "It's fun! I went to the races and I loved it -- I want me a car." Some of the things can seem a little lame-brained at the time but I'm definitely pretty adventurous like that...

Q:What do you think about sitcoms with blue-collar over weight characters with these beautiful young wives? Gleason was like the first and the wives have just got better looking and progressively younger...

A: I think he's a genius for that. (laughs) That's a part of his genius. It's like "Yessss! Big guys are sexy too! We can get 'em hot and young!" But seriously, that was one of the main things about being an Executive Producer, you get to be involved in the casting aspect of things and so I, basically, stalked Gabrielle and then I don't even know if she knew the movie was happening, I just came and like rang her doorbell and was like "come on and do this movie with me, girl." It was really good to have her be a part of it as well as Regina Hall -- both of them are just great. They're strong actresses, really funny, witty and fast and they could hang with us, you know, like one of the guys. Both of them are really fun to hang out with. I think that -- to tackle your question -- those were one of the things to set the precedent for television and I know that Kevin James (from CBS' King of Queens) is happy about that.

Q: In terms of your film-making career, are you comfortable with being "the main guy" or do you prefer where you come in and kill for a few days, get the laughs and bolt?

A: I love them both. The thing about being the lead actor and "number one on the call sheet" as we always like to joke about; who's number one, is that you really have to be there everyday on the shoot. I mean they would have these off days and they would be killing me, Mike and Gabrielle would be like "We're going over to London -- we're off!" And I was like "awww!" (laughs) They'd hang out because London was 45 minutes away and they'd hang out without me and just do things and it was like, "well, I got to shoot everyday, so I definitely loved, like in "Be Cool," I loved the opportunity of just shooting for a week, coming in and stealing scenes but being in a movie with great actors and just having fun...

Q: This is a pretty hot summer for you, you've got like Madagascar coming out as well, have you seen it yet?

A: Yeah, yeah. I saw Madagascar, it's great...the thing about it is, you turn into an animated character and it's like you've got your voice and your attitude and you also know that it's going to be seen 50 gazillion times because kids can watch these things over and over and over again...Dreamworks is very good at these movies, making nice storylines and Madagascar had a super voice cast.

Q: Do you do a movie like that for your family, for yourself or because you want your kids to see you in

A: It's a combination, I have small kids. I have a four year old and an eight year old at the house and so, you know that they're going to enjoy it. My son has a huge movie collection -- every movie that comes out, he definitely wants the DVD as soon as it's on do that for those reasons and so that the kids will identify with you and you can say, "that's me in that movie."

Q: Has he seen/ heard you in the movie?

A: Oh yeah, yeah...he thinks it's cool.

Q: How's everything going in Charlotte's Web?

A: Charlotte's Web is going well too, I've only had one recording session so far because it's coming out next year, so we'll go back and forth and there's the opportunity for me to do something with Oprah -- I'm actually playing/voicing her husband, either I'm a goose or a gander, I don't know. (laughs)

Q: A gander -- she's the goose. Have you seen any of it yet?

A: No, they've only shown me small portions of it but it's going to be really good -- I mean, they've only shown me small portions of how they're doing the animation...

Q: Did they take any of your physical characteristics and apply them to your character in Madagascar? Did you notice any similarities?

A: Not too much, he had a little cuddly belly but not too much because I was a lemur and I guess there's only so much that you can do with a little lemur, you know? (laughs)

Q: In the break dance scene you did a little dancing, are we going to see any more dance routines in the future? You enjoy dancing onscreen and is there going to be a musical?

A: I believe do enjoy dancing, when I had my TV show I'd try to dance every episode. It's something I like to do, in The Kings of Comedy I brought some dance moves and we pulled it out in The Honeymooners because I still have my Soul Train contracts and all...

Q: You're working on something else right now, The Cleaner, right?

A: The Cleaner is myself, Lucy Liu, Liz Hurley is attached at this point...this is an action comedy/ comedic version of The Bourne Supremacy where you have a janitor at a Microsoft-kind-of-company and I get caught up in some stuff that's going on inside the company -- I think I'm a big bad spy and end up trying to figure out who I really am...

Q: I always wanted to ask you, how much of Gus Petch (his character in Intolerable Cruelty) was yours?

A: Oh, Gus Petch -- "Nail that Ass?" (laughs)

Q: Yeah, did you free form on that at all or was that all in the script?

A: It was written, you know the Coens, they write all of their stuff and they want you to stick to it...

Q: The other actors said in The Honeymooners you all were kind of playing off of each other --

A: Yeah, we had the opportunity to ad-lib a lot in this one but we also understood that we were playing these iconic characters, so we also stayed [true] to the script too...

The Honeymooners opens nation-wide June 10th, 2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Om, Namah Shivaya: Happy Birthday Siddhartha!

I first got to read about Siddhartha Guatama (the Buddha) when I read Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha" as a teenager. While Hesse spun a fantastical tale from a wooden desk top in the Teutonic hinterlands of Germany, there's still a lot of great things laid down in the pages of that small text...

...According to the Gregorian (read: Western) calendars, we should be celebrating Guatama's birthday right about now (kinda like Christmas before the department stores got full frontal and crossed the street to take over "J.C.'s" b-day to sell their know the guy, that Ahramaic-speakin' dude called Jesus). I'm no Buddhist to be sure, yet I'm certain that I know a good egg when I read about him/ what he has to say to me... All across the globe people are celebrating the coming of The Enlightened One in ways that are varied and sundry and while I don't follow any singular set of religious values I feel that good shizzle can be found in all of them, if you're down with doing the heavy lifting on your own (: research). I think "Sidd" had a whole heap of great ideas to share, guess that's why millions still dig him. Here's a couple that Hesse construed while channeling him for the book ...

Religion (like patriotism) has become one of the last refuges of scoundrels but I'd be remiss if I didn't give "The Big S.G." his props...By the way, 1994's "Little Buddha" is a sweet film to catch. Don't let the fact that it stars a pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves (as Siddhartha ) with Bridget Fonda and Chris Isaak co-starring, dissuade you from peeping it out. (in the spirit of brevity/ timeliness, here's a review that says what I would've more or less. I think the through-line and message takes the viewer on a real journey (if you're looking and listening)...years ago I'd read that "Om Namah Shivaya" meant" Greetings to the being that I am capable of becoming" which I think holds true...sometimes you should read between the lines -- or the chant's vowel structure as it were ...All of that said, I'll say this: Never renege on a chance to expand yourself beyond the standard means/ methods that you've been taught (especially in schools/universities)...sometimes you've got to think "outside the codified paradigm" to fully grasp exactly where you're heading in this sweet life and it is so sweet... just thought I'd pull your coat, yo... Laters.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Snakebitten: Mason Jars on Melrose

...I went down into Hollywood proper to spend a couple of days with a homie and be closer to this film shite I had to get done in the interim but as it turned out, one of his boyfriends was in town and so I was on my own...I'm beginning to find that the more I chronicle, the more I start to take note of the coolness taking place all around me (which justifies the message in the blog description) what's written below is not at all embellished...many of the paths you take in life must be traversed on the solo tip; I think that's what Robert Frost was alluding to in the Road Not Taken....

When I pulled up to my home-biscuit's door after checking out a screener over at Mann's Chinese, he was already walking out. After he appraised me of what was going on with him, he reached for a cup on a table beside his front door and handed me his spare keys, dropped them into my hand and rolled out into the Hollywood night. I walked inside and made a beeline towards his "bar" and poured myself a drink while I pondered what to do. The Frolic Room was out of the question but after downing a couple of "homemade cocktail grenades," I decided to shoot on up the road to a spot called "Daddy's" which is near the Vine/ Hollywood intersection. I got there around 1:30 AM, my logic being at least I could squeeze in a "6-minute Ab"- solut and a pint but I never got the chance, the gin jockeys were ignoring all the new punters lined up at the bar so I parted the velvet curtains at the front door, strolled it down Selma and shot up the alleys that lead to "The Room" a joint tucked back behind Cahuenga. It used to be an underground hang out (well at least by Hollywood standards) when I got in from NYC a few years back but has since gone the way of the MJQ in Atlanta (see George Lives) -- the ease with which the guy at the door granted entry should've told me that the jig was up but I'm the stubborn sort, once I set my mind to something (and you know this, yo)...

I waded through the throng of thugs, thespians and thrill seekers but immediately felt the urge to divest myself from the sea of sweaty bodies, bald heads and bleached teeth, so I kept on going, past the bar, past the DJ and towards the back entrance (which really should be the front, as it opens out onto Cahuenga). It was 1:55, so I hailed a cab instantly (since the bars close at 2, I beat the bum's rush for taxi service by a couple minutes) - I retreated to base camp as I had a press junket to cover at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in about 7 hours and sitting through one of those while nursing a hangover is a special kind of pergatory...

As mentioned in earlier entries, I'd been back in the South East for the last week and change and although I got proper service at 98% of the places I'd been to -- I do recall a couple of instances where I got "the business" (which is what Eddie Haskell called it when he was fuckin' with the Beav). I remembered in vivid detail; much starker relief than most of the other stuff -- I guess that's human nature. But like Chuck and Flava Flav once sang: "some think I'm negative but they're not positive; check what I got to give...yo Chuck, are we that type?...Don't believe the hype." Now here's...what I want y'all... to do...for me... (click on the header to see my native state's official song to really catch my drift about being given the biz...that's right, check your watch, this is the 21st century).

On Saturday afternoon, following the roundtables and 1:1 interviews at the Regent, I pulled away from Rodeo, turned left off of Wilshire, hooked a right off of Fairfax and stopped at a joint over on Melrose -- a dive-ish type affair called The Snake Pit -- I'd been there before with a homepiece prone to calling me part-way through a bender. It's perched right on the corner of Sierra Bonita, I've seen long lines of Harleys stacked like dominoes outside its orange doorway in the past but not at the moment, so it wasn't crowded yet. I walked through the screen door and let my eyes adjust (it's a trifle dark inside when you come in off the street), grabbed an L.A. Weekly, bellied up, ordered a Heffe with a side car of cold water and started reading -- the bartender served me a frosty mug of suds and an ice cold Mason jar of water. When I looked up a that jar of water, the obsequiousness of that "terrible 2%" from back East came rushing back which made me get salty... I'm serious, this was the exact same Mason brand jar that my granny would used to preserve blackberry jam or string beans in -- she'd pop you in the head but good if she caught you drinking out of one of those things and that's word, son. "Only drunks and derelicts drink out of jars and you're neither," she'd admonish adding insult to injury. "What's this?" I asked the lanky bartender sniffily while pointing an acusing finger in the jar's direction. "It's a glass of water," she said nonchalantly. "A glass? -- that's a jar, yo," I replied petulantly. "Those are our water glasses," she shot back while throwing daggers with her eyeballs. "That's nice, " I replied dryly, "I'd like my water in a proper glass, please," (making finger quotes in the air).

At the last, the 'tender slammed down an "according to Hoyle" drinking glass on top of an empty coaster beside my beer and splashily refilled it with the contents of the jar which she then placed in a sink beneath the bar -- while staring me down as if I had hooks for hands. I returned to this article in the Newsroom section covering Antonio Villaraigosa's mayoral victory over Jim Hahn -- he's the first Latino/ Mexican mayor in town in last 130 years-- historic,yo...a little while laters, these two tanned Julies rolled in off of Melrose and pulled up beside me at the "trough" at about the time I got to this piece on how Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein influenced 16th century and modern scientific principles, respectively -- tie-ins for two separate exhibitionsbeing held but good reading nonetheless ...I looked up while taking a belt of Heffewiessen and glanced over at the two birds sipping on straws dipped in Mason jars of water and got the zap on my dome... KA-BOOM!

See, I'd internalized how those ass-clowns back in the deep South were trying to make me feel on a sub-conscious level and didn't even realize it at the time, maybe thinking: "who cares? I'm only visiting this piece, kid." I guess you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the whatever...I'd been in the South long enough to know that though years had passed, I still hated it out there. At one point in Richmond, VA, I shuddered as the recollection of why I left town for university at 17 years of age and never looked back consumed me while I waited for an inordinate stretch of tick-tocks to place my order at some new boîte in an "upscale" part of town. A similar sensation washed over me while I sat at the bar on Melrose Ave....I had to address this cock-up STAT...

After calling her over, I asked the bartender what's her name and what region of these great united states she hailed from. She told me her name and that she was Canadian, actually. I introduced myself, where I was from and explained that serving a guy water in a jar was considered a passive-agressive social slight in some places. You might say "mountain out of a molehill, kid...move along" But that's a part of my point...the mere fact that when one of those trailer-bound simpletons back East would try that shite, there was that implication. If you let it slide and didn't sort them out, well, they won...when you're wrapped in brown, you can spend a lot of time going "I shoulda/ coulda/ woulda said/ done this" when it's long after the fact but since I reached the age of reason, I've vowed not to do so...I continued, explaining to her how fucked up some people still are in some parts of the country (no matter how long they've been around people of color and vice versa) and that I'd assumed she was giving me "fever" based on this -- it hadn't dawned on me during my jag of indignant self-righteousness, that if she were doing all of that "separate water fountain/Governor Orval Faubus shite then my beer would've been in a Mason jar as well...a friend of mine once said, "I cannot change the world, I can only change the world in me." (I think he cribbed that from John Lennon, who pinched it from somebody else but whatever). I apologized for making an ass out of "her and me" as I unloaded some of what I'd been through back "in the Land of Cotton" and then closed by telling her I felt about "this big" for getting all Randall-fuggin'-Robinson-Stokely Carmichael-Luther-friggin'-King" on her. I'll pay my tab and slink on out the door, never to return to the scene of my crime," I said with contrition while rising to my feet, "I'm gonna jet..."

As I turned to step out onto Melrose Avenue the barkeep called me over and cupped my hand in hers. "I get the same thing when I go home too -- not all Canucks are cuddly," she confessed. "Everytime I get back to Los Angeles it takes me a couple of days to re-adjust to the culture lag. You'll get over it soon enough," she continued and squeezed my hand in hers for emphasis. "Welcome back, sweetie. Welcome home." Cool chick, yo...I'm definitely going back there...Oh yeah, I'll post that R. Frost joint below for you (exclamations mine)...just in case you weren't paying attention that day in English class (wink/nudge)...Laters....

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference. (!!!)
*Robert Frost (1874–1963)

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars III - Revenge of the Sith: Tight this Film is, Yo-da

Ever gone to see a flick and the previews/ teasers / commercials drag on for so long that you momentarily forget what movie you're actually waiting to see in the first place? Happens to me...but not today. I just got back from watching Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, at a matinee, and let me tell you -- It's all that and a bag of Funyons, son...I'm sure, if you're at all interested in how the whole saga pans out, then you've already read shite that starts off like that...but I'm gonna "space out" anyway...

I went to see Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope back in 1977 when it first came out when I was 7 years old [ironically, at the Empire theater in Richmond, VA which has long since been razed]; I didn't know what all the hubub was all about but I was blown away by the special effects, larger than life morality themes and whatnot. The best thing we had up until that point, in the relm of sci-fi, was nothing...I mean nathan. Suffice to say, it rocked my world: the scale, the attention to detail, the technologies...the lasers which only increased in scale with each film...remember that wide pan across the silent Hoth tundra and those mechanical scrunching sounds far off in the distance, just before those four-legged Imperial "Snow Walkers" handed the rebels their asses in Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back?...if you saw it in theaters when it came out in 80,' you recognized that you were witnessing a bonafied great moment in cinema, kid. [Pressing the fast forward button]

George Lucas' final movement (or is it the bridge?) to his six-part cinematic epic is finally in the can and in theaters and I thought it was high time to get a little closure before I reached my forties -- when I went into auditorium I didn't know what to expect because of how long it has taken to bring the whole Skywalker Opera together...twenty years and some change. You got to have nuts the size of punch bowls to start a story of this scope in mid-stream like Lucas chose to do. After catching hell for the last two, it seems like "grey beard" might have the last laugh because the latter bought enough time to allow technology to catch up with his vision...imagine if Phantom Menace came out in 1977...there wouldn't have been another - too dark and I'd imagine the clone battles would've been on par with a claymation episode of "Mr. Bill - Oooh nooo...

If you've been following everything from adolescence into adulthood, as have I, then the story has been one of those things that's just been around - this franchise is as old as hip hop itself, think about it -- if you weren't of movie-going age when the first joint came out all of that "I was there from the jump" stuff might get lost in the sauce but I digress...

When John Williams' theme burst out of the speakers and those big gold letters crept up over the starfield, the audience began cheering and hooting (just like we did when "Empire" came out). It was tight, but there was a modicum of skepticism that seemed to creep through the room -- remember how the critics turned on Matrix: Revolutions because it didn't "deliver?" -- was Lucas going out with a roar or with a whimper? Would Jar Jar Binks have an even more annoying second cousin voiced by the galactically un-funny Jimmy Fallon? I crossed my fingers and waited but the moment never came...the only "new" character was General Grievous and he was harder than a coffin nail...

In short, Revenge of the Sith sutures up all of the loose ends that the installments before it left hanging in the ether by answering some of the burning enigmas, find out:

  • the real reason Anakin Skywalker started dabbling in black magic. (you're not even close).
  • who was the first person he ever choked out from across the room.
  • why Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness era) was living all alone in a cave on Tattooine.
  • how the Emperor got that fucked up grill and eyeballs.
  • why a seemingly healthy Padmé Amidala gets dead while birthing Luke and Leia (not a spoiler)
  • why the "all powerful" Darth Vader couldn't have known the whereabouts of his children or that they were twins.

...and last but not least, you'll get the answer to the biggest plot hole in the universe: why in the hell R2-D2 and C3-P0 didn't just spill all the beans in "A New Hope" and render the two that came after it moot?

Obviously I'm sold but I know that there are more than a few haters out there who suffer from what I like to call "the crack high syndrome" - they expect to get wowed like they did the first time around because back then they had nothing to compare it with (again like Matrix 2 & 3) but now they do because they saw the first film which, because of the conceptual edge, took them to a place they weren't expecting and peeled their wigs back which was because they'd never seen anything like it before in their lives -- you get the point. It's like trying to get your virginity back, you can't do it; good or bad, your first time is your first time, period...

In Star Wars III you'll see character arcs that began long before Luke, Leia and Han Solo met in Cell Block H on the Death Star. For fans, George Lucas' attention to the semiotics in character backstories will definitely butter your popcorn. The director leans on a familiar sequences and set -ups from older chapters to tie them to this (at one point Amidala rocks the "donut-do" and peep how Yoda gets scooped up on the low low in the end), hell, he even gets political with dialogue like "this is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause" or "this war represents a failure to listen"...don't worry, it's not preachy and it's all good. I recommend this new installment to everyone but I'd especially do so to fans of the story/ message that Lucas set out to tell way back in the 70's after he had American Graffiti in the can...

During the matinee today I looked around the dark, half-filled theater and everybody in there was in my age bracket, people in suits playing hookey from work, etc (guess that's why I could hear everything) and we were all cheering at how Lucas brought everything together...if you don't feel goose bumps of resolution when the orchestra starts to swell during the wide angle shot framing Owen, Beru, Obi Wan and baby Luke in the's official: you're not a, a side note, to all those knobs who wear storm trooper costumes and plastic light sabers while waiting in line for months...move along, the Rubicon has been crossed...Laters...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

MJQ Lounge: George Lives!

As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Eastside Lounge in East Atlanta when I decided to visit an underground club (figuratively) that I used to frequent once upon a time. As the story goes, it all started back in a kitchen...

I met George back when I was a line cook at Bridgetown Grill in L5P, Atlanta -- it was one of those auspicious life moments that you don't recognize until you look back in hindsight. See, unlike most restaurants where the cooks toil away hidden in a firey dungeon behind swinging doors at the back of the house, at BTG we were on full display, like in a sushi joint. -- as soon as you walked in the front door from off the street there was a small brick topped wine/ beer bar (with about seven stools). Attached to the bar was a tall skinny reach-in fridge which was connected to a big-ass six panel hood (a huge ventilation fan system which siphons cooking smoke up to the roof), underneath the hood was a raised salamander (an industrial-sized broiling oven) positioned at eye level - perfect for cooking 8 oz. slabs of fresh fish, melting the cheese on black bean nachos and burning of eyebrows. Beneath the "sally" was a small four-eye stove we'd use to cook Fred Flintstone-sized pots of blackbeans and rice. The "shorty" was lodged to the left of the open flame grill, the real work horse of the whole kitchen set up: it had eight ceramic elements which kept whomever cooked on it drenched in sweat for the duration of his stay...

When I worked at the spot, it was jumping from Thursday until Sunday on the regular...people from the hood and the suburban hinterlands alike queued up for the Jamaico-Cuban grub...they'd file in licking their chops while they watched us "turn 'em and burn 'em." so you couldn't afford to punk out under pressure...cooks tore all of their orders in little rectangles of scrolled paper that spewed out of a small ink jet printer which was connected to server registers at stations throughout the building - when we got "in the weeds" (had a full house and a constant stream of tickets still rolling in like mortar fire) the printer would start burping out coils
of service data while laying down a barrage of noise not unlike the report of an AK -47 rifle; sometimes my left eye still starts twitching and my pulse raises when I'm getting rung up at Ralphs. We'd take the little pieces of paper, seperate the orders appropriately (appetizers, main course or to-go orders) to place them on the line (30 wooden clothes pins laced on a 5-foot long stretch of wire) and when the order were cooked an plated we'd pull them off the line with our greasy mits, rip a little tear at the bottom to denote they were up and impale the paper on a little iron spike just beneath the line of wooden pins...

"I'm opening my club this weekend," George said to me triumphantly one day from the other side of the clothes pins. George was a tall, lanky Chinese guy who lived in/ around L5P. I can still recall the way his horn-rimmed specs would shake disapprovingly from side to side whenever some weekend warrior/ tourist visiting our neighborhood asked dumb-ass questions about the music (mostly, ska, rocksteady and reggae) that BTG played over the sound system. See, Georgie was a dyed-in-the-wool Mod (in the American sense of the word, while he was into classic R&B and ska, he wasn't no slouch in the vintage hip hop or New Wave departments
either). We'd share pitchers and talk about the music that mattered to us at the Point, the Yacht Club or even (if I was just finishing my shift) in BTG: two-tone ska, old school hip hop but mostly, his favorite genre of all: jazz). We've spent many hours (and pints of the brown stuff) discussing the messages sent in Coltrane glisses (my fave) and the modal grooves laid down by John Lewis' Modern Jazz Quartet (his end-all be all ambassadors of sound) -- George was a DJ sometimes and he dabbled in photography/ art too so an aside about Ryuuchi Sakamoto, Afrika Bambaataa or DeKooning, Salvador Dali or Pollack was never out of the question during one of our pow-wows, either...

"I've got all of the paperwork, kid," he continued. "My place has passed all of the requisite inspections so it's a go!" After cutting a look over my shoulder at him (I was cooking some vittles at the time), "Where is it at?" I asked. "It's in the basement of that little Hotel over on Ponce, you know right next to the Phoenix?" George had decided long before then, I think it was during a Romeo Cologne, "Disco Tuesday" over at the Star Bar, that he wanted to open a spot for types like us to kick it in - people who knew and loved all types of music and good conversation...

He wanted to call the place "MJQ" in homage to his favorite jazz act and thus he did. Initially MJQ was a place that neighborhood peeps patronized, primarily after work hours as most of us were working on creative things while holding down day jobs in some branch of "hospitality services" which worked out well - the place wouldn't start swinging until about 3:30-ish because of the latter. George kept the prices low, the door list short and if you were a 5-Pointer, you were chillin' like Bob Dylan. The club became popular on word of mouth alone but eventually the college set and all sorts of posers managed to gorilla their way in on the spot and the laid back neighborhood lounge feel began to dissipate, this took about two years to fully transpire but I ran for the border (Los Angeles, as it were) before I could witness any of that shite first hand. I'd get reports about this or that from friends over the years about somebody from the L5P 'hood getting tucked up by toughs from somewere other than, L5P. Guess that's life in the big city,yo...

Of all the things George was, he was also gay and when I heard that he'd died due to complications from the disease, I felt some really mental shitty back in L.A. I was too broke at the time to go back and see what was up but I don't even think that mattered because he was all about the real and getting your shite sorted personally and creatively...I think, ostensibly, that's part of the reason he wanted to launch MJQ, personally. To give fancy-pantsed artsy farts a safe haven from the neon King Kong clubs that only wanted you around when your pockets were packed with greenies...MJQ was an anomoly in that way, well at least for a minute...

Since its launch in the 90's MJQ has moved to another spot further up Ponce de Leon which is bigger than the original and is buried deep underneath a parking lot in a hill (not a typo). While MJQ still bears the same name, the feel of the place is nothing like it was...there's two main rooms in the new facility, in the one on the left, the crowd was 95% yuppies and the others were dance club punters on the booty patrol...too loud to crowded to even move around in, actually. The one on the right was almost a scale model of the original club that George had launched at the bottom of that transient hotel years back and because of this, even though it too wasn't the same, I kept expecting George to slide up next to me to holla for a second...ask me if I needed a beer (which he'd reach behind the bar and grab himself)...shoot the shite...and argue with me about some semiotic aspect of a Charles Mingus bass riff or why the Selecter was the best thing to happen to British Ska and not the Specials...but that never happened for obvious reasons...

While standing in this "rendition" of MJQ, I gazed around the place and joked that George had a dream and this was not it; his corpse is getting dirt-burn from spinning because the gooks have certainly infiltrated the wire but then, it's been a "dance club" longer than it's been a lounge, so I might be wrong on that one -- same reason you don't see Neanderthals and Australopithecines walking around or sitting beside you in a subway car -- evolution, well George, you're definitely remembered...Laters.

side note: Although the "cracking Julie" that I spoke with at the Eastside Lounge knew about George and most of the above, later, just before I left town, I was talking to a bartender (surprise!) while hanging out at Six Feet Under and he told me that he'd been frequenting MJQ for years now (he knew a DJ who spins there too) yet he had never heard about the joint's origin; the basement club that it once was; where the name came from or whose concept it was which compelled me to piece it out here, once I got back home...I thought it only fitting to give an old friend his dap...I'm sure he'd laugh at the title...Charlie "Bird" Parker was his favorite sax player...but that too is an argument he and I won't ever have again...double Laters...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Plastic People of L.A. Unite!

I've been on the go for the past week or so taking in everything that is the South East. I've been living out of suitcases running through airports and nursing hangovers but it's been worth it. Initially I was going to cap off my little cruise down memory lane and go visit some friends in NYC as well but it turns out that immersing myself in a steady dose of living below the Mason Dixon line has given me more context/ contrast than I could've ever imagined; I think Nietzsche was really on to something when he said: "Hell is other people" are a few happy thoughts to ponder...

I've often noted how people living elsewhere like to use that old coin about how "artificial" the folks out in Cali can be (especially the one's who'd been out there and have since scuttled back from whence they came); I've been out on the coast for about 8 years now and everytime I leave, after a while, every now and then, I begin to feel like Captain Willard (in Apocalypse Now), while sitting in his room waiting for a mission, when I'm sitting in my hotel out of town: "every minute that I sit here, waiting to do something, far away from the Hollywood jungle, I get a little bit weaker...and every second that California sits baking in the sun the Angelenos a little bit stronger..." I guess I'm actually starting to miss my adopted home...I don't know, what else, maybe it's a bout of "the grass is greener," but I will say there's a cloying lack of optimism on many of the faces I see around here and it seems to be draped over everything...even the trees -- it makes me want to recoil in horror, hand held to face... "fuggit, if you're so miserable here then fold up your tents and move to a new location, you tosser" -- no wonder I was in such a hurry to get out so many years ago..."never get outta the boat, goddamned right...unless you're prepared to go all the way..."

...Or maybe it's this constant layer of humidity that causes every pore on your skin to continually leak once you step out of any air conditioned building for more than 30 seconds -- that shite alone makes you want to hulk out and start biting people -- oh, and the slower than molasses Sunday drivers, who clog roads every day of the week out here, makes one misty eyed for the pistol waving and non-signalling lane jumpers who overrun L.A.'s 5. 210 & 405 freeways on the regular all of which causes me to circle back to the "L.A. fake-thing." It's all true, every bit...some Los Angelenos can resemble faxes-of memos-of-human beings...some, but not get that shite everywhere else too -- in NYC, Chicago, you name it but unlike in the South/ SoCali, they don't smile when they're doing do Boston they'll throw you a beating if you're in the wrong part of town wearing the wrong kind of skin but whatever...the point, I've come across since I've been revisiting my southern past, vis a vis the whole "L.A. fakeness," is this: most of the people who get out West and "change" for the worse didn't "change" at all...they were assholes wherever it was they came from..."don't hate the player, hate the game you say?" That's a bunch of pigeon pellets, kid...I wrote this because I've been asked more than ten times already: "how do you deal with those phony-ass glad-handers out there?" How? The same way I put up with shnooks out on the East Coast...ignore them...I opened with a quote from Nietzsche and I'll close with a quote from Mr. Mojo Risin' himself, Jim Morrison: " I drink because it allows me to converse with all of the arseholes in the world...which includes (myself)"...Laters

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Atlanta: Those Ice Cubes in Your Shirt or are You happy to See Me?

...So I slid into Atlanta from VA without a hitch; I got a ride from one of my cousins and almost missed my flight out of Richmond "by this much" (to quote Maxwell Smart) which ordinarily would've been a massive hiccup but the checkout people were "country cool widdit" and checked my bags in PDQ. I zapped my home-piece from Hartsfield/ Jackson while the 737 sat in a parking lot of metal birds waiting for an empty gate. My first night in "Hot-lanta" was a mish mash of readjusting to the deep South's uber-humid climate (it get just as hot in L.A., but the mugginess makes you want to choke somebody) -- for shizzle (One could see why William Tecumseh Sherman got all "burn baby, burn" when he stormed through during the Civil War). As I'd mentioned in pieces before, the last neighborhood I lived in here was Little Five Points (henceforth L5P) but I was in for a rude awakening as things had definitely when through ch-ch-changes...and, in some instances, not for the better...

It seems that over the years L5P has been through shifts in gentrification and a grip of the old boutiques/ stores that I knew have been replaced and (surprise, surprise) less than a block from Junkman's Daughter was a pristine little Starbucks (surprise, surprise)... The storefront to the Bridgetown Grill was all boarded up and vacant, the building a ghostly shell of its former self. Man, did I have some fun in that place (walk-in fridges are not just for storing cucumbers and carrots, son)...Felini's pizza - gone, Sevananda (this co-op for fruit vendors) missing in action...but the Euclid Avenua Yacht Club, the Star Bar and Zesto's were still standing vigilant...when you leave a place for a stretch of time (any city for that matter) even the changes can still yield a touch of familiarity, it might be hard to grasp because in your mind's eye said locales are still envisioned as they were but there remains a modicum of the elan of a past you remember spending there. Such was not the case in L5P which had went through several shifts in gentrification and everthing, including the whole neighborhood vibe felt different.

Later still, K.V., with whom I used to play in that band Full Stop, took me over to "the new L5P," so to speak which is nestled over in East Atlanta - a very diverse neighborhood to be certain. Mr. Rogers would be happy 'round here -- that is if he could hang tight in a room filled to the rafters with second hand cigarette smoke while listening to the Ramones, Kraftwerk or Jame Brown blaring from a huge-ass silver juke box as heavily tattooed revelers pulled in and out on Vespas and and super-loud Harleys...he'd fit riiiight in. (You're going straight to hell for that little aside, boyo). We sucked down a couple of Lemon Drop shots and oat sodas at this funky little joint called The Earl which, if memory serves correctly is kind of like the bastard child of the E.A.Y.C., the Point and Smith's Old Bar (bikers, yuppies, punk band burn-outs and the whole nine with a menu that wasn't too shabby).

I had the jerked salmon which was complimented by the lemony twang of the Sierras I was sucking down...a couple of bikers...musicians...Georga peaches (pretty women) sprinkled here, a couple of fuglies over thing I do recall about the South is that nowhere else in the country do whites and blacks co-exist in such an elbow-to-elbow way, Sure in cities like NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston even Washington, DC the "melting pot aesthetic can be seen on mass transportation vehicles (subways, buses, ferry boats) but that's about it -- you'd be hard put to find a bar, or restaraunt in Georgetown where "men in grey tweed suits," mingled with blue-collared grease monkeys (nametagged shirt optional) and black guitarists frequent on the regular (I didn't say anything about titty bars, so check yourself, yo); this first struck me last week as I scarfed down a couple of Denver omelettes at around 3 a.m. in the 3rd Street Diner back in VA after a night of carousing with my cousin.

Here, in Atlanta, that racial mix-thing is even more pronounced...a bitter-sweet reminder of a past that the rest of America wants to sweep under the rug whenever possible: in these regions we've been thrown together the longest -- starting at Jamestown and Williamsburg and through slavery, then the antebellum and up on to the present (that third item back there has left a scar on the national psyche that just won't heal properly but let's not even go there right now, m'kay?) "Smiles everyone, smiles [clapping hands together like Ricardo Montalban on "Fantasy Island"] -- where's a funny little French midget foil when you really need one? Maybe I'll find him in mid-town Atlanta walking around in his little white suit...

This heavily tatted scenester, that I'd met at the Eastside Lounge, told me to check out this spot called The Mark downtown this weekend...oh, and that she'd be there on Friday...say, that sounds just crazy enough to work...did I mention she was a cutie?...I've been writing all of my entries down on soggy napkins or this little green steno pad that I can easily store in my pockets (between sips and chatting with the birds -- can't be all scribble and no diddle, kid)...K. V. just told me that this underground hangout, that L5 Pointers and other Atlantans in the know would frequent late nights, called M.J.Q...had moved to a bigger venue since I'd left for the coast as he suspiciously informed me that he hadn't really hung out there in a minute...seems like an opportune time to pay tribute to an old friend named George from back in the day. Skol, yo (raising a half filled cocktail glass to the blog with a pinky extended)...laters....

Monday, May 09, 2005

PMA: Bad Brains on Mother's Day...

A month or so ago, I found and started listening to this old-old-old audio cassette that I'd recorded way back when I played -- music in a funk-rock-reggae outfit called Full Stop -- back in college. On the tape was a mix of groups like Fugazi, Hüsker Dü , Minor Threat, Black Flagg early Fishbone and Bad Brains. There was a shite's site more of the Brains on that 90 minutes of Memorex than any of the others -- I guess there's a reason for everything because around the time I unearthed that tape, I'd decided to go back to visit my mom for mother's day 2005 back in Virginia...As it turns out, I was in for a little more than just a reunion with my moms, I got a full on blast from the past with a grey-bearded Rastaman...the Fearless Vampire Killer himself...

I met HR (Paul Hudson/ Human Rights/ Ras Hailu Gabriel Joseph - I, depending on who you're talking with at the time) back when I was still a highschooler while waiting for the intramural buses behind the Maggie L. Walker building in Richmond, VA. (which was where my school was located/situated right at the end of this street where a small group of Rastafarians lived.) I was getting into reggae music/ Rasta and my hair was just begining to "kink up" into little curly-cues that would eventually become dreadlocks. HR just rolled up on me one day and started chatting about Rasta and things, like a monk...I hadn't the slightest idea of who he or Bad Brains was -- this was around 1987. I hadn't gotten into punk yet and I think, in hindsight, my ignorance of his past is was what might've invoked his candor. He never ever alluded to the fact of what he did and it never even struck me why everyone was so cool to the guy. Everywhere we went he'd get props from Rastas, punks, art students, bar keeps..everybody -- they all seemed to know the guy; looking back, I realize how I must've oozed youthful naivete.

Every once in a while, when he was in town, we'd hook up for veggie subs over @ the Village Cafe over on Grace Street or at this upstairs reggae club called New Horizons Cafe and just palaver about things. Eventually, dude's "night gig" came up in one of our discussions and he told me to come up to see him perform at New Horizons which I did. The laid back, cool runnings Rastaman I'd been reasoning with about "the path of righteousness" morphed into this bolt of lighting onstage; he backflipped from out of the crowd, shrieked an African wadada war cry and plowed through a blistering set of reggae -- tinged with a pinch of the punk that he was, then, starting to move away from -- the tune "The Big Fat Lie" has been burned in my mind every since...I continued to check out shows when I could in places like Traxx in Charlottesville or the 9:30 Club in DC when my university studies permitted. In the years that have followed I've caught HR in NYC, at a Bad Brains "reunion show" in Atlanta and in L.A. When I arrived in VA last Saturday, I found out that HR was playing that very night which I thought was a bit of serendipity [there's never any good live music when I visit] -- I shot on down to the Shockoe Bottom to this joint called Alley Katz.

"HR will be out here in a minute, I guess..." was what the guitarist declared apologetically..."All new tunes?" is that what he just said? After he finally walked out and unsheathed about four acoustic axes with little note tags on them. [in hindsight, I think he'd always wanted to get up on stage and go through that ritual of opening up his cases while the crowd awaited in's a band thing, try to understand, yo]... The group opened up their set with a new jammy called "Love Comes First" which was slow and skanky but still in the spirit of the Charge LP. Some would say that all of this is nothing special to write home about but they'd be wrong. Seeing HR here, of all places, definitely means something.

As soon as HR sat down in his wooden chair, it was clear he was "feeling it." granted, his acoustic playing needed a trifle "polishing" the intent was there; the spirit of the moment was there and it was readily apparent that everybody in attendance was waiting to see him. It was a beautiful thing to behold -- everything came together during a newer, dubbier version of "I Luv Jah" (a reggae classic from back in the Bad Brains days). Human Rights et al turned the dub factor up to a Nigel Tufnel-esque "11," homeboy bolted up out of his chair during the chorus/ bass vamp like his pants was dancing with figs: "...I said you gotta love Jah Jah with your heart and soul. Whoah!" and then that unmistakeable screech..."Eeeee-YOW!" -- I was 17 years old and standing in New Horizons again -- crazy, kid.

"Walking down babylon lane. Trying to live my life in peace. Two young men call me not their brother, try to make me feel ashamed. But I luv I jah yeah, he tell me not to be that way. I luv I jah, yeah, I gotta keep my PMA. My lovely sister, judge me by my clothes, yeah. Only to learn to her mistake not everyone's alike. We're not all a uptight - I no fuss, no fight. Cool that way, cool that way. ...I luv I jah."*

Before HR came out, Monty Morris from the original Skatelites came out to perform a short set. He performed cuts like "What You Gonna Do?," in that old style that you don't hear everyday. What was really sad was that these college age mooks who, in their drunken exuberance, kept trying to stir up a mosh pit and didn't even recognize/ have a clue as to what a treat they were getting musically. [and yes some of 'em were even moon stomping but apparently didn't realize why they were impelled to do so.] All of that aside, I braced myself for the worst; I'd watched Fishbone's "performance slippage" over the years and prepared myself to see another black rocker's decline in living color - no pun intended.

It was really strange was watching all of these younger heads who hadn't a clue about the Hardtimes Cafe days or even the Village Cafe nights/mornings -- weird. These guys were in their 20's and hadn't the slightest...and then, like a reminder of the profound insouciance embodied by the young heads all around me, the lead guitarist's audio mix bled through the mains, loudly shredding the vocal mix -- I turned back to the soundbooth in horror as I realized that the sound-guy was drinking a beer behind me at the bar...I yelled at nobody in particular "who in the fuck is driving? Who's in charge of the mixing console?" and the bartender drawled blithely "I dunno?" I quickly recalled stories about HR the artist from back in the old days. There were always whispers of dude being "difficult to work with" and "he had issues with timeliness" [he'd either show up minutes before he was set to perform or he wouldn't show at all] but I never witnessed it first hand -- maybe that's just me. I now know that all of these things and more are quite possible because...well, just because.

Based on the latter, I already knew that the guitarist's solo bleeding all over HR's vocals was the deal breaker -- I closed out my tab and finished my Sierra Nevada...I knew that there wouldn't be any more tunes. I can honestly say that the sound man dropped the ball in that instance because, sure as shite, when the tune was over, HR was like "thankyouandgoodnight!" What a buzz kill; the Alley Katz sound crew screwed the pooch big time but at least I got to hear some sweet ass Bad Brains dubbing...I never made it backstage to rap face to face with HR because all of the "village reggae officianados" and scenesters from the 80's were in the house and I didn't fancy negotiating through that gauntlet of glad handers...I stepped out onto the street basking in what I'd just least I got the opportunity to reunite with that dancing soul for about 90 minutes...albeit from just 15 feet away...that was good enough for me...

The LP Banned in DC has been cribbed by bands all over the globe calling themselve "punk" since it came out in the early 80's...HR, Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer and Earl Hudson should be given their propers...I wonder if they'll ever get "the Johnny Lydon Daps" time will tell...I'll hitcha from Atlanta in a short, yo...Laters.

*"I Luv Jah" lyrics, BTW...PAYCE (two fingers)...