At one point, Glenn Thurman shows Aretha Franklin The Trust Fall and it takes a little bit of internal work for Aretha to make it. But make it she does. Watching eight hours of Genius‘s third season requires a lot of trust in showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks, because the viewer has to wade through aaaa lottttt of Lifetime-type, music-biopic tropes to get to the core of Franklin’s story: She is a woman who is sometimes-comfortably trapped in concentric gender and music circles, pushing out only when they threaten her windpipe. Each burst-through creates its own cycles of searches. Aretha’s stoic speaking voice is the outer shell that hides deep insecurities but also hidden strengths. The seemingly endless flashbacks show where and why the holding patterns stick; her grown-ness comes in her 40s, as an unavoidable right-of-passage beckons. Parks has said she read all the books and articles, so while the hours went by this viewer had to trust that she was going in a direction worthy of so much (relatively) limited discussion of politics and society that seemingly dominated the show’s first two seasons. What the playwright has shown is how complicated the sexist male circles are to surmount–how it takes time and patience to wedge through, to prove oneself, to burst free into a full identity who can do anything–even sing opera on 15 minutes notice.
This sure beats Maya Angelou’s “a rock, a river, a tree” 🙂
“The Hill We Climb”
When day comes we ask ourselves
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast;
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
And the norms and notions of what just is
Isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it;
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny black girl descended from slaves
And raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president,
Only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes we are far from polished, far from pristine,
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge a union with purpose,
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze not to what stands between us,
But what stands before us.
We close the divide, because we know to put our future first,
We must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried,
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious—
Not because we will never again know defeat
But because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision
That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time,
then victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promised glade,
The hill we climb if only we dare it.
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded,
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
It can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust,
For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
But within it we found the power
To author a new chapter,
To offer hope and laughter,
To ourselves sow. While once we asked:
How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert: How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
But move to what shall be,
A country that is bruised but whole,
Benevolent but bold,
Fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation
Because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might and might with right,
Then love becomes our legacy
And change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
With every breath of my bronze pounded chest,
We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lakeland cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sunbaked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
In every known nook of our nation,
In every corner called our country,
Our people, diverse and beautiful,
Will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
….right here! I won something 🙂
A very fine article I found reminded me of the type of serious longform writing and print-era that, once I discovered it, shaped and fascinated me as a young newspaper reporter. The Village Voice and its crew, of which Stanley Crouch was a part, were in this great, fascinating NYC-centric, newsstand literary universe.
I was definitely not a fan of the content, philosophy or personal style of Crouch (who had left The Voice when I began to read it), but I was a fan of the idea of him. This act of remembering–published in one of the remaining traditional 20-centuryish places left for this kind of writing–brought back memories of a time long gone: of picking up The Voice at Newark Penn Station while on the way to or back from Harlem on an early 1990s Friday, all the while wondering what was possible for me and writing.
Later in the 1990s, embedded in graduate school, I was even more obsessed with The Writers’ Life. For example, I actually bought a transcript and video of the below because I wanted to absorb this discussion. (Not surprisingly, these writers–who were actually post-World-War-II-nouns, who wrote in the mid-20th century for a living–didn’t see that nonfiction and fiction were going to move en masse to the academy.) I succeeded: this 23-year-old talk has been almost completely memorized over the years and, as a result, it serves as part of my internal writing clinic when/as I write.
And for an activist success story, read this book excerpt by Lawerence Hamm and Annette Alston, courtesy of Jared Ball’s imixwhatilike.org.
I thought it was important to put my thoughts on the record here since I unofficially now have a LOT of reviews online:
I see my “job” as a cultural critic to hold up a clean glass and a dirty glass and evaluate whatever it is I’m reviewing at to where it fits on that scale. I strive for fairness and proper perspective. If I was reviewing, say, Battle of the Planets: The Complete Series, I wouldn’t compare it to The Smurfs. Different glasses, different classes of merriment. The wand (the perspective to review from, which comes from the topic) chooses the wizard (the review).
My “issue” is that too many Black intellects want to play in radical waters and not risk drowning. So I call them on that. Every time. As hard as possible. Because there’s too much ancestral blood in that water to play. So if Black scholars want to be Black Power smoothies rather than Integrationist Oreos because the rewards are relatively remarkable, I’ll call them smoothies. But smoothies are not examples of clear water.
1) Once upon a time, a great New York non-white artist tried through multiple meanings to find America. As a result, he becomes one of the most popular artists in the world. So this is a 21st-century remix. Hamilton is amazing in its constant past-present tensions, its constant double-meanings. Some/here around the fifth time I watch it, I will put the captions on to catch everything.
2) I reserve Lin-Manuel Miranda’s right to have a favorite white writer–one who took his pen and created his persona and shook an elite world in which he gained entry. I definitely do. But I would not write a glowing tribute to his racism and/or create sympathy for his society’s application of it. (Having Thomas Jefferson, the enslaver and rapist of Sally Hemmings, look and act like Prince’s and Morris Day’s love child was genius!) How much more politically powerful this would have been if that silent ensemble had been enslaved Africans, commenting on them! But then it would have made America uncomfortable, see, so….
3) There’s no way this musical would not be loved by any national media personality, artist, writer, thinker of any type. Who would ever hate (on) a pre-written story about a young underdog who by grit and talent moves to New York City, re-invents him/herself and becomes a star and then a legend? We now know it’s not just a post-World-War-II Great American Novel thang, but a popular fantasy that pre-dates the establishment of the nation itself! Hamilton might as well used this song in the prologue or during intermission.
4) It’s still hard for me to worry about who lives, who dies who tells your story while the enslaved Africans’ saga still awaits. Frederick Douglass, Daveed? Daveed? Hello? Hello? Are you gonna make me a fan of (Broadway/Hollywood) biting? And you’re playing him already? Hmm……
5) My simplistic ideological comment has been my favorite since the beginning of the Hamilton phenomenon: If Dick Cheney likes your musical, you’ve written the wrong musical. While I still hold that position while bowing down to Hamilton’s pop-a-ganda greatness, I truly hope that a future Miranda–And I believed it too/And *I* know who *you are*—will grow past this American-fan-service phase into rubbing his subdued anger about the state of his American colony in America’s face, a la the Paul who is no longer Revere-d. 🙂 As I sing along, I truly hope for and look forward to America’s future disappointment in you.
Watching this extraordinary performance (there are probably only three people on Earth right now who don’t consider Dave Chapelle a legend, and I guess Candace Owens and Laura Ingraham are probably two of them 😉 ), and I remembered something about Christopher Dorner. I am officially at the age where I’ve written so much, I’m beginning to forget what I have written! LOL!