We Didn’t Start The Fire…But…

December 7, 2014

Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start The Fire" (video screen shot), 1989. (http://denverlibrary.org/).

Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (video screen shot), 1989. (http://denverlibrary.org/).

As the rest of this sentence goes, “we poured gasoline and kerosene all over it.” And by “we,” I mean everyone who has been or remains in denial of the role poverty, greed and systemic racism plays in our lives. Every. Single. Moment. Every. Single. Day.

As an eclectic music lover, as a historian and as an educator, there are few songs I hate more than Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Well, maybe Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” (1990) or anything by Chicago after Peter Cetera quit the group in ’85. The song was released in the fall of ’89, during my junior year at Pitt, when I’d become a history major. Every time I heard the song, I wanted to strangle Joel with it. This is the same man who wrote “Just The Way You Are” (1977) and “New York State of Mind” (1976), right? First, he wasn’t even singing in most of the song. “Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team?” Wow, I bet the coked-up songwriters for Thompson Twins wasn’t booked that weekend Joel wrote these lyrics, no?

State of Denial (2006) front cover, by Bob Woodward, December 6, 2014. (http://amazon.com).

State of Denial (2006) front cover, by Bob Woodward, December 6, 2014. (http://amazon.com).

There’s one big beef I have with the song more than any other, one that’s relevant even a quarter century later. The issue of denying responsibility. Yeah, those poor White Baby Boomers, how terrible it must’ve been for so much to happen in your lives, with so little that you could do about it, too! It’s true, though. Whether it was “JFK” being “blown away,” or the “Russians in Afghanistan,” the song is about fucked-up shit that happened between the late-1940s and when the Baby Boomers approached middle-age by the end of the 80s.

The problem was and remains the reality that they’ve been putting fuel on this fire that’s allegedly been “always burning since the world was turning.” I mean, who voted for Nixon in ’72 or Reagan in ’80 or ’84? Who’s blindly supported every Israeli policy for as long as they’ve been able to vote, policies that have helped incite terrorism? Who’s been in constant denial of American violence and racism as a generation, despite contributing to it their whole lives? The very same generation whom Billy Joel and his idiotic lyrics represents, that’s who!

Die-in in front of Verizon Center, Washington, DC, December 5, 2014. (Samuel Corum, @corumphoto, via Twitter).

Die-in in front of Verizon Center, Washington, DC, December 5, 2014. (Samuel Corum, @corumphoto, via Twitter).

So now in 2014, with America and the world the way it is, with daily protests now over grand jury denials of indictments for police killing unarmed Blacks, with Gaza and Nigeria and Kenya and Ukraine, with wealth so heavily concentrated in so few hands, what do these “We Didn’t Start The Fire” types have to say now? “Trayvon, Michael Brown, Garner in a chokehold?” “Hawking, Gaza, twerking from Azalea?” As if we wee Americans can abdicate responsibility for their deaths, like Pontius Pilate did in effectively condemning Jesus to crucifixion, but washed his hands of his role in the process. Who’s been front and center in supporting a police state, in advocating policies that criminalize Black and Brown bodies for taking a breath, in turning the American Dream of a middle class into a get-rich-quick scheme? Hmm, let me think about this one…

Outside of the small minority of Whites who are truly upset about and are actively involved in protests against this latest round of American injustice, many Whites have expressed how enraged they are. About die-ins in front of the Verizon Center before a Washington Wizards game. About delays in getting to their destination because the Beltway or the Lincoln Tunnel or some other thoroughfare’s been blocked by protestors with “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” signs. For this very-much-not-silent majority, these protests and the outrage and yearning for social justice they represent are major inconveniences.

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose in pre-game warm-ups, dressed in his "I Can't Breathe" protest shirt, United Center, Chicago, December 6, 2014. (http://chicagotribune.com).

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose in pre-game warm-ups, dressed in his “I Can’t Breathe” protest shirt, United Center, Chicago, December 6, 2014. (http://chicagotribune.com).

Well, that’s too effing bad! You spend your life in denial, in assuming that anything racial isn’t your fault. You deserve inconvenience, you deserve to get smacked in the face with reality while drinking your beer at a basketball game, expecting Black players to stay in their entertainer role. You don’t want to think about the real world and your role in maintaining stereotypes and oppression in it? Oh well! Grow a pair! Not of balls, though. Grow a pair of lobes! Because none of us wide-awake, “Black Lives Matter” types are going anywhere.


The Art of Interviewing Killer Cops and Other Whites on the Prowl

December 4, 2014

Dumb-assed George Stephanopoulos of ABC News interviewing Michael Brown murderer, former Officer Darren Wilson, November 25, 2014. (http://abcnews.go.com).

Dumb-assed George Stephanopoulos of ABC News interviewing Michael Brown murderer, former Officer Darren Wilson, November 25, 2014. (http://abcnews.go.com).

I think it would be interesting if I applied my qualitative research skills and did a sociohistorical study of the killer cops and White vigilantes who’ve gotten away or almost gotten away with murdering African Americans over the past few years. We know so much about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Jonathan Ferrell, including their arrest records, their blood-alcohol levels, their drug use, even their family members’ criminal records, if any. The media always performs a pseudo-social science-y qualitative research study on Black and Latino victims and their families and friends, in search for the perfect victim, someone to justify the outrage and anguish over state-sanctioned, cold-blooded murder.

It’s time to flip the script. I’d conduct a group interview process, bringing in the cabal of murderers, alleged and convicted, for a two-hour-long sit down. I’d ask questions about their upbringing, about the influence of popular culture in their lives, about facing down dangerous criminals carrying cigarettes, Skittles and broken toy guns. Only, my overeducated Black ass wouldn’t make it to my first question. I’d get choke-held or shot the moment I’d reach in my book bag for my digital tape recorder, even if we were conducting the interview in a public place, like the Children’s Room at New York Public Library on West 41st and Fifth Avenue. So I’d have to find one of my privileged White colleagues to interview these men on my behalf.

———————————————–

Overseer Daniel Pantaleo, 2014. (http://nydailynews.com).

Overseer Daniel Pantaleo, 2014. (http://nydailynews.com).

Narrator: Today we have George Zimmerman, Daniel Pantaleo, Darren Wilson, Theodore Wafer, Michael Dunn, Tim Loehmann, David Darkow, Sean Williams and Randall Kerrick here to talk about what it takes to be a White man fighting hard to protect the world from unarmed African Americans.

Pantaleo: Shut da [expletive] up, dumb ass! Where’d ya earn that PhD, Harlem?

Dunn: Yeah, that’s telling him! I respect the law, too. Even if it has me in chains.

Narrator: Okay, everyone. We’re taping here, so wait for me to ask my questions, please.

Loehmann: I’ll give you two seconds to ask your questions. After that, I’m not promising you anything.

Narrator: My first question is about your backgrounds. Can any of you tell me how your background impacted your decision to become either a police officer or vigilante?

Wafer: I’m deeply offended by the idea that you’re calling me a vigilante. I was defending myself. I live in a bad neighborhood. I mean, who bangs on my [expletive] door at three in the morning? You come to my door that late at night, I put you in a body bag!

Zimmerman: Dude, I couldn’t agree with you more. But I wouldn’t wait. I’d hunt these assholes down first!

(Laughter rises up from group)

Darkow: I’m feeling you there, dude!

Wilson: You asked about our background. I grew up as part of a hunting and fishing family. My old man took us out to take down elk and deer every year. It made me a good shot. I could shoot a doe in the head from fifty yards away.

(Group breaks out in laughter again)

Narrator: So, Mr. Wilson, are you saying that when you shot at Michael Brown, you saw him the same way you see a young female deer?

Wilson: Uh, absolutely not. As I said in my report, the perp was like Donkey Kong, like Hulk Hogan, angry, unresponsive and dangerous, more like a giant bear than a doe.

Pantaleo: Man, it’s all right to say it, because I’m thinking it, too. These [expletive] n—-s are dangerous — they all need to be put down!

Narrator: Why’s that, Mr. Pantaleo? Would you say–

Williams: Will you listen to this egghead? Questioning how we do our jobs. Like that guy in Godfather said, n—-s are animals! We have to control them, so that they only destroy themselves!

(Dunn and Wafer raise their hands to show their handcuffs)

Zimmerman (to Dunn and Wafer): Y’all were just stupid enough to get caught snorting and drinking after you defended yourselves!

(Group breaks out in laughter again)

Narrator: Mr. Pantaleo, what about your background?

Pantaleo: The best training I had for the NYPD was from Tarzan and Wild Kingdom. I learned my hand-to-hand fighting skills from them. Also, WWE prepared me good, too.

Narrator: So, when you put Eric Garner in a choke-hold—

Pantaleo: It was like taking down a bull or buffalo! My heart was pumping so hard, I could feel the blood flowing inside my head! That fool should had just fallen to the ground so I could cuff his Black ass!

Wilson: And that’s what these suspects don’t get. When they see us coming, don’t walk, don’t run, don’t grab for anything, don’t hold your hands up. Lay down like you’re dead, and we won’t have to put you down.

Narrator: Mr. Kerrick, you haven’t joined the conversation yet. Do you have anything to add?

Kerrick: Just that my case is still pending. I can’t talk about it much.

Narrator: You shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, correct?

Kerrick: I can’t talk about that. I–

Zimmerman: Dude, you got a raw deal!

Pantaleo: You should work for the NYPD. Police never get indicted for going hunting here!

(Group breaks out in laughter again)

————————————————–

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad, Season 4, 2013, "I am the danger!" (not the only White as danger, either). (http://www.giphy.com).

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad, Season 4, 2013, “I am the danger!” (not the only White as danger, either). (http://www.giphy.com).

On second thought, maybe we don’t need to apply social science thinking to these White men (in thought, if not entirely in genetics). We have a century’s worth of studies of White supremacy and systemic racism already, showing that vile men grow out of a vile system.


For What It’s Worth, My Life Matters, Our Lives Matter

November 27, 2014

Protestors hold a die-in at 14th and I St NW, Washington, DC, November 25, 2014.  (Andrea McCarren/WUSA via http://www.wusa9.com)

(For What It’s Worth) Protestors hold a die-in at 14th and I St NW, Washington, DC, November 25, 2014. (Andrea McCarren/WUSA via http://www.wusa9.com)

Between Bob McCullough, Darren Wilson, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, the NYPD, Rudy Giuliani, the Cleveland PD, and 100 million other sources, I could easily draw the conclusion that the lives of Americans of color are only worth as much as three cigarillos or a toy gun. Or, with it being 2014, that we’re just characters in a video game in which scared Whites get to kill us for sport or out of spite. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ferguson PD allows Wilson to mount Michael Brown’s skull above his mantle after he returns from his long-delayed honeymoon, the poor racist!

But my life, your life, all of our lives are worth more than what any racist asshole or system places on us. I had to learn this lesson a long time ago. It’s the lesson that is the raison d’etre for my blog Notes from a Boy @ The Window, not to mention my book Boy @ The Window. There are literally millions of messages we as Americans of color take in over the course of our lives that for so many, our lives don’t matter. Counterintuitively, it means our lives really must matter. Why would anyone or any system expend so much time and effort excluding people on the basis of race and social status in the first place?

Café Crème cigarillos, Denmark, October 21, 2011.  (PeddderH via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Café Crème cigarillos, Denmark, October 21, 2011. (PeddderH via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Still, learning that I mattered began at home, in Mount Vernon, New York, from folks who treated me every day as if I mattered not at all. Between my Humanities and Mount Vernon High School experiences and the abuse I suffered at home, I didn’t need the additional dimension of police harassment or White vigilantism to remind me that those of us without standing, who refused to conform to acceptable ways of thinking and speaking, were discardable. Maybe that’s why I turned to nondenominational Christianity in the first place. To realize that despite it all, that I mattered to God, to a universe much bigger and much more mysterious and powerful than the fists of my stepfather or the denigration and ostracism I received at school. It all gave me reasons to live.

So when my first encounters with police harassment and White vigilantism did occur (beginning right after my seventeen birthday), I had faith in God, and with that, faith in myself as a foundation from which to draw strength. Whether at Tower Records or in Pittsburgh or in Los Angeles, and regardless of how scared I might have felt during those moments, I remained outwardly calm. I remained myself.

Yes, I was lucky. Maybe my weirdness, my proper speech, my faith, maybe even God and the universe, kept me from getting beat up or shot on sight by police, security guards or by groups of drunken White guys in pickup trucks. But really, by the time Whites (and some Black cops, to be sure) started profiling me in earnest, I had made the decision that I had worth, that my existence, creativity, analytical ability, critical reasoning, all mattered.

It helped that I had victories in my life, big and small and somewhere in between, to draw on, too. Not just my advanced education or my first publications. By the time I’d hit thirty, I’d learned how to love again, to feel again, to write again, to have fun again, to even feel pain and recover again. All of that made my life much sweeter, filled my world with color and sound and texture, with words and deeds that mattered to me and everyone who’d become important to me.

W.E.B. Du Bois in duality (double-consciousness), original picture circa 1903, November 26, 2014. (http://www.storify.com/ozunamartin).

W.E.B. Du Bois in duality (double-consciousness), original picture circa 1903, November 26, 2014. (http://www.storify.com/ozunamartin).

While there are moments that I can go there, because of the likes of Wilson, McCullough and Giuliani, the fact is, I refuse to allow dumb-assed racists to determine my life’s worth. That those folk who devalue the lives of other folk because of their -isms (racism, misogyny, homophobia, imperialism, capitalism) and ish are in fact making their own lives worth less and worthless.

While W.E.B. Du Bois was right about this “peculiar sensation…this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” I don’t think I live my life in a constant state of double-consciousness. If I did, I would’ve jumped off that bridge over the Hutchinson River Parkway long before adulthood. No, up or down, I know my life has meaning, my existence is worth more than a 9mm bullet, that every sentient life matters. And like Michelle Alexander’s talk with her son this week, I’ve made sure that my son knows that his life matters, and should matter, to him, his mother, and to me.


Bill Cobsy, The Nexus of Father Figure and Power Corruption

November 20, 2014

Jell-O Pudding Pops ad with Bill Cosby, circa 1983, November 20, 2014. (http://pinterest.com).

Jell-O Pudding Pops ad with Bill Cosby, circa 1983, November 20, 2014. (http://pinterest.com).

In the aftermath of my Mom’s second divorce in September ’89, she would sometimes engage me in conversations about manhood and fatherhood. It was as if she didn’t think of me as a man in really any sense at all. This despite years of handling adult responsibilities and running interference between her and my now ex-stepfather Maurice.

George Michael, "Father Figure" video screen shot, 1988. (http://vevo.com).

George Michael, “Father Figure” video screen shot, 1988. (http://vevo.com).

One Christmas holiday day in ’90, we were sitting in the living room at 616 watching a rerun of The Cosby Show on NBC, then the most popular show on the most popular network in the US. My Mom asked me, “If you could pick your father, you’d want it to be Cosby, right?” I stared blankly at my Mom, wondering where the heck that question came from. I didn’t say anything. But my Mom took that as me thinking, “Yeah, he would’ve been a great father for you.”

At the time, I certainly thought that Bill Cosby would’ve been an entertaining father, if I’d been lucky enough to have a near-billionaire as my dad. What I really wanted was my father, Jimme Collins, to get himself sober, to be lucid enough to talk to now that I was in my twenties. Beyond this, I didn’t give Cosby or my Mom’s question and comments much thought.

Over the years, I’ve watched TV dads come and go, frequently with some tragedy or controversy. Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch (1969-74) fame comes to mind, with his in-the-closet status and his early death from colon cancer and HIV complications. So too does Conrad Bain, because of the backlash Diff’rent Strokes (1978-86) received as a result of its dated way of treating issues such as race and poverty with his character Phillip Drummond as the father to two Black kids, not because of his personal life. But Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable, an obstetrician and gynecologist (talk about irony) and father of four daughters and one son, became for many “America’s Dad,” a title that the media has celebrated recently in the wake of The Cosby Show‘s thirtieth anniversary of its first airing earlier this fall. He was supposed to be above reproach.

Bill Cosby in midst of his "Pound Cake" speech (with Rev. Jesse Jackson in background), NAACP 50th Anniversary of Brown decision gala, Washington, DC, May 17, 2004. (http://blackpast.com).

Bill Cosby in midst of his “Pound Cake” speech (with Rev. Jesse Jackson in background), NAACP 50th Anniversary of Brown decision gala, Washington, DC, May 17, 2004. (http://blackpast.com).

I’ve long been disappointed with Cosby, though. For his culture-of-poverty arguments against welfare mothers, crack babies and pregnant teenagers. For his frequent need to chastise Blacks living in poverty for not knowing “proper moral behavior” (this from a person who purportedly holds a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts). Not to mention his double-standard on monogamy.

Now even the oblivious set has become aware of the growing number of accusations from women who’ve said that Cosby had allegedly committed rape and other forms of sexual assault going back at least thirty-two years. I’ve been aware of these accusations and rumors for nearly twenty years, in the wake of Cosby’s son Ennis’ death in ’97. I hoped that these accusations were false ones at first. Who would want to believe that “America’s Dad,” the Jell-O Pudding and Pudding Pop Man, was also drugging and raping women in his spare time?

I think what we need to recognize the most, maybe even more than systemic racism or our culture of imperialism and violence, is that this society of ours is somewhere between an oligarchy and a plutocracy. Bill Cosby’s stance on race, community and morals has only mattered because of his fame and fortune, not because of his expertise and certainly not because of his professional experience. Bill Cosby’s a comedian, an actor, a philanthropist and a philanderer, and perhaps a rapist as well. Americans all too frequently fall for the facade of father figures and others whom seem to say what we want to hear. When all those with power and money really want to do is to wield that power and money to their own capricious and narcissistic ends.


Neoliberals, Neocons, and Other Useless Labels

November 4, 2014

The Matrix, Path of Neo, November 4, 2014. (http://comic.com).

The Matrix, Path of Neo, November 4, 2014. (http://comicvine.com).

I’ve never really had much patience for technical academic jargon, even in my wide-eyed grad school days twenty years ago. And my patience for terms like post-structuralism, post-modern, neo-Marxist and eschatological has grown government-paper-stock-thin as I’ve approached middle-age. Lately, terms like neoliberal and neoconservative have found their way into my sniper sights, especially with the ’14 midterm elections upon us. These terms may have meant something very separate and distinctive fifty or sixty years ago, but they darn sure don’t now. Except, maybe, to academicians and the elite literati, people who somehow believe that these terms are as useful as food, drink and water.

It wasn’t until grad school at the University of Pittsburgh when I became aware of these terms. Back then, I saw neoliberal or neoliberalism in everything I read about race and economic concerns. Whether it was about Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s ridiculous statistical depiction of slavery in Time on the Cross (1974), or Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s work on twentieth-century political shifts in his Cycles of American History (1986), they and the reviewers of their books used the term neoliberal like it was parsley for making pesto.

Neoconservative hasn’t been around as long, a term about a decade younger than it’s post-World War II counterpart. It’s definition has evaded most academicians and the vast majority of lay-folk over the last half-century. Sometimes it’s used interchangeably with conservative or politically conservative, sometimes it’s used in the same sentence as right-wing or the religious right or evangelicals.

Asteroid Eros, a near-Earth object, or NEO, June 16, 2014. (http://jpl.nasa.gov). In public domain.

Asteroid Eros, a near-Earth object, or NEO, June 16, 2014. (http://jpl.nasa.gov). In public domain.

Though it’s definition is elusive, it’s history isn’t. Barry Goldwater’s gigantic loss to President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the ’64 Presidential Election led to a host of disaffected Democrats, old-money Republicans and other political misfits getting together and hatching a plan to dismantle the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition. They took advantage of the racism and roiling, boiling resentment of Southern Democrats — Dixiecrats, really — toward their party, the federal government and its growing support for Blacks and civil rights. They also took advantage of wealthy Republicans and the ages-old cry of corporations desperate for lower taxes and ever-higher profit margins. All of this came together in Richard Nixon’s ’68 presidential campaign with the Southern Strategy, turning Southern voters from Democrat to Republican. Not to mention with LBJ and Vietnam, the so-called Silent Majority, and their resentment toward rebellious, privileged college students and protestors.

We know it all worked, because fifty years later, to talk of the South as a Democratic bloc today is almost as ludicrous as it was to talk about the South as being ripe for a Republican takeover in ’64. Beyond that, though, with the inclusion of evangelical Christians and other religious and social conservatives came the inclusion of traditional conservatism, neoconservatism, and neoliberalism in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and in the US’ cultural mainstream by the late-1980s.

By then, these terms neoliberal and neoconservative had lost their original meaning, if they were really that different in meaning to begin with. The Republicans had married the terms and allowed the coupling to have kids and then grandkids with names like smaller governmentderegulationlower taxes for the wealthy (so-called “job creators”) and for corporationsprison-industrial complexending abortion, welfare reformeducation reform, and voter disenfranchisement. This combination of war hawks, an unfettered version of free-market capitalism, with low government regulation and taxes on the rich and corporation, combined with high government regulation of nonconformist activities and peoples (people of color, LGBT marriage rights, women’s reproductive rights, everyone who isn’t Christian or Christian-sounding)? I don’t understand why we don’t call it what it really is.

Quote from Henry A. Wallace, Vice-President of the nited States, 1944. (http://meetville.com).

Quote from Henry A. Wallace, Vice-President of the United States, 1944. (http://meetville.com).

Ladies and gentlemen and transgender, what we have in the US today — and have had in increasing measure for more than four decades — is a mild form of fascism, plain and simple. Yes, you can still vote, but the process is rigged from start to finish by greed and corruption and legal barriers to benefit the rich, the greedy and the corrupt. Yes, we have representation, through gerrymandered districts and hundreds of candidates with lined pockets running unopposed. Yes, we still have a Congress, a group who has done nothing to support ordinary Americans without also benefiting the top 1% in more than thirty years. A group who, in recent years, has done next to nothing at all other than raise more money to run for reelection in the past four years. As for the presidency, despite Congress’ control of the purse strings, every president since FDR’s third term has found a way to increase their political power, even as their influence on the legislative branch has decreased.

With all this, I have no use for the terms neoliberal and neoconservative. Not when all roads have led us to oligarchy, plutocracy and fascism.


The ’72 Dolphins and Baby-Boomer Narcissism

November 1, 2014

For as long as I’ve been alive, America has confronted me with its Baby-Boomer narcissism. This idea that the Boomers were the generation that forever changed the country and the world, the folks who’ve shaped our popular culture — and the response of younger generations to it — has been around for more than sixty years. The Beatles, Watergate, Vietnam, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stone, Roe v. Wade, “I Have A Dream” — Boomers have taken credit for it all. It sometimes makes me wanna puke.

Bill and Hillary Clinton (nee Rodham), circa 1971, Yale University, New Haven, CT. (Charles F. Palmer/HuffPost via http://clintonlibrary.gov/photogallery.html?galAlbum=28).

Bill and Hillary Clinton (nee Rodham), circa 1971, Yale University, New Haven, CT. (Charles F. Palmer/HuffPost via http://clintonlibrary.gov/photogallery.html?galAlbum=28).

Along with the arrogance of this constant supposition of their centrality to the sort-of-historical is the obvious factual ignorance that comes with it. It’s as if the ’80s didn’t happen and Generation X wasn’t born and didn’t grow up. Or the ’90s were only about Baby Boomers having kids of their own. Or that Boomers somehow didn’t vote for the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 — seven times in all!

But nothing, absolutely nothing, has demonstrated Baby-Boomer narcissism more than that annual rite of fall that has been the ’72 Miami Dolphins celebrating when every NFL team has lost their first game of a given season. The remaining members of that team get together with the hopes that no other NFL team finishes the season with a perfect record. It’s a sad sight watching elderly men long out of professional football show their glee on TV and in pictures when every team has at least one loss on the season. Every. Single. Year.

Yet it so represents this nation of Baby Boomers that have ruled this roost for so many years. Before most Gen Xers were old enough to vote, much less protest, Baby Boomers had coined us “slackers” and “apathetic” about life and politics. Heck, Baby Boomers took away Gen Xers’ right to drink — but not to die in war — just as the first Gen Xers turned eighteen! And for the past ten years, Boomers have turned their critical eye to Millennials, looking for flaws in their politics, voting patterns and vapid obsession with pop culture. As if Millennials didn’t cut their self-absorbed eyeteeth on a steady diet of Baby-Boomer megalomania.

President Barack Obama honors the Super Bowl VII Champions and their 1972 perfect season, East Room, White House, August 20, 2013. (UPI/Kevin Dietsch). Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/08/20/Obama-welcomes-72-Dolphins-to-the-White-House/UPI-27321377029133/#ixzz3HopWhqwX

President Barack Obama honors the Super Bowl VII Champions and their 1972 perfect season, East Room, White House, August 20, 2013. (UPI/Kevin Dietsch).
Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/08/20/Obama-welcomes-72-Dolphins-to-the-White-House/UPI-27321377029133/#ixzz3HopWhqwX

So when Mercury Morris or Bob Griese or elder statesman Don Shula have gone on TV year after year after year to gloat about their perfect season, it doesn’t reflect pride in their 17-0 record. It’s a reflection of their desperation, a selfish attempt to hang on to a past that is irrelevant in today’s NFL. And yes, it’s their fault. Kind of like when civil rights Boomers who claim the blood and name of the movement, yet root for younger generations of social justice activists to not do so well as them. All while taking ginormous amounts of credit for every good thing that happened during their watch years and years ago.

Is there something to be done about this? Maybe. We could try to ignore these winners of yesteryear and the annual ESPN champagne cork-popping graphic in honor of the ’72 Dolphins team. Or, better still, we can say, “Enough!” Forty-two years is long enough to celebrate the so-called perfect season. Especially when it was on a fourteen-game schedule.

As for the rest of the elite Baby Boomers, you can continue to self-aggrandize, as if three million protesters and stoners could fully represent the other 76 million Americans born between 1945 and 1961. Just remember. Gen Xers and Millennials will be the near-final arbiters of your history. It will be one in which you were as responsible preemptive war as LBJ and Robert McNamara, as accountable for NSA and a virtual police state as Nixon was for Watergate, as culpable for climate change as Ford and GM. That’s as much your narcissistic legacy as the anti-war movement and free-love.

Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start The Fire" (video screen shot), 1989. (http://denverlibrary.org/).

Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (video screen shot), 1989. (http://denverlibrary.org/).


Last Gasps, Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love,” and My ’86 Mets

October 26, 2014

The Mookie Wilson-Bill Buckner connection, Game 6, 1986 World Series, Bottom 10th, Shea Stadium, Queens,  NY, October 25, 1986. (http://halloffamememorabilia.net).

The Mookie Wilson-Bill Buckner connection, Game 6, 1986 World Series, Bottom 10th, Shea Stadium, Queens, NY, October 25, 1986. (http://halloffamememorabilia.net).

Sunday, October 26, 1986 was part of a great three days for me, perhaps the three best days during my Boy @ The Window years. My Mets had pulled off a miracle. They survived being within a strike of losing the ’86 World Series because Mookie Wilson put a ball between Boston Red Sox 1st baseman Bill Buckner’s rickety legs the night before. Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” was #1 or #2 on the R&B charts and was near the top of Billboard’s Top 40 on this day twenty-eight years ago. Within the next thirty-eight hours, my Mets would complete the comeback, and win their second (and last, to this point anyway) World Series after falling behind 3-0 through the first six innings. Meanwhile, my Giants would run through the Deadskins at home in East Rutherford, NJ, as Joe Morris rushed for 185 yards in a 27-21 victory, on their own march to a championship title.

GoGurt, Yoplait's squeeze -in-mouth, portable yogurt, October 26, 2014. (http://freehotsamples.com).

GoGurt, Yoplait’s squeeze -in-mouth, portable yogurt, October 26, 2014. (http://freehotsamples.com).

My coping mechanisms were at their peaks, though, and had nothing else to do but crash down into the Earth. It was also my senior year in high school, a time of too many AP courses, too many college-going pressures, too many haters and doubters among my classmates, and too much of the grinding poverty and chaos that was living at 616. Within two weeks of my Mets, my Giants and Anita Baker’s first big hits, I’d discover my idiot stepfather’s pornography collection, nearly got set up with a prostitute because of my father, and face humiliation at the hands of my AP Physics teacher David Wolf and his boss Estelle Abel for the first time.

It took me almost two years to recover from the happenings of the mid-fall of ’86. In the process, I faced betrayal, ostracism, humiliation, broken-heartedness, and homelessness, but somehow managed to not make every song and every Mets and Giants (and Knicks and Rangers) victory a vicarious signpost for my own life. It helped that I started to think of Pitt — if not Pittsburgh — as my home, with concerns beyond living and dying with my New York teams and with relatively unknown but talented music artists.

Giants' RB Joe Morris running through Deadskins again, RFK Stadium, Washington, DC, December 7, 1986.  (http://sikids.com).

Giants’ RB Joe Morris running through Deadskins again, RFK Stadium, Washington, DC, December 7, 1986. (http://sikids.com).

I learned other things along the way, too. That myMets and Giants weren’t the perfect teams I thought they were. Between the alcohol and drug issues of Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, LenDykstra, Lawrence Taylor, Kevin Mitchell, not to mention their and other teammates’ domestic violence issues, it was obvious to me that talent and winning were more important than living by a consistent code. Listening to the new 24/7 sports radio station WFAN when it began its run in the summer of ’87 showed me the hearts and minds of most fans. They obviously weren’t using sports as a coping strategy for dealing with the emotional grind of poverty and threats of abuse and domestic violence at home. Mostly White and male, their constant barrage of vitriol and disparaging racial commentary about my favorite athletes at that time — Mike Tyson in particular — actually made me wary of White sports fans for years afterward.

I also learned that with artists like Anita Baker and Luther was really the last gasp of R&B as I’d known it to be in the US. R&B was already too much like ’80s pop and a bit too mixed up with rock at times, but with Cameo’s “Word Up” and Club Nouveau’s cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me,” R&B was already beginning its merge with hip-hop, and not in a good way, either. Yeah, there were some exceptions, like Levert, or Regina Belle, but the process of R&B devolving into some Yoplait GoGurt version of itself — with Autotunes, bad rap lyrics and worse rhyme spitters, and assembly-line hip-hop beats — had already begun.

Anita Baker, Rapture phase, circa 1986. (http://projects.latimes.com).

Anita Baker, Rapture phase, circa 1986. (http://projects.latimes.com).

Some of you may say, R&B’s still alive in the US, specifically in our churches, but that’s not true, thanks in large measure to Kirk Franklin. His work in the ’90s made it so that it’s taken longer for jazz to catch on in bands and choirs than rap and hip-hop. No, if you want to find R&B with actual singers these days, try the United Kingdom of Great Britain, try France, try Senegal, try Nigeria. But don’t try the US. Nicki Minaj is no Aretha, no matter how imaginative her videos and her clothes. For that matter, Iggy Azalea’s no Teena Marie, as the former doesn’t understand the difference between cultural appropriation and authenticity. Hip-hop sprang in part from the roots and branches of R&B, but like a parasitic vine, it has cannibalized those roots.

Still, it’s good to remember days like the ones I lived through twenty-eight years ago, with Anita Baker in my ear, my Mets in victory formation, my Giants lined up right beside them. Those days are gone, like the coping strategies I used to get through every one of those days. Not to mention the R&B that was more a part of my life than the hip-hop that my contemporaries were supposedly raised on.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 704 other followers