There's no telling how often the blog might be updated, or what future wisdom we can expect from the genius beloved by both the Billboard charts and the New Yorker. Though blogging and tweeting from jail seems a bit...frivolous I think is probably the right word....there is something touching and sincere about the rapper's personal notes to fans who have written to him:
Mia Edwards (Southern California) – I wish you nothing but the best for you. Earning your Masters in Library and Information Science is beautiful. I’ll keep you in mind whenever I decide to do an autobiography on my life.
Kelly Holloman (Brooklyn) – I still remember your letter. You have a great spirit. Thank you for the words and being a real fan. I love you.
Nurris Terrero (New York) – Your letter was so thoughtful and sincere. The way you worded everything left me in awe. Please send suggestions on books I should read. I look forward to checking them out.
And although we might not think we need more rapper-felon role models, maybe the world could use a few more superstars hyping library science. Even if they are hyping it from jail. On Twitter.
In 1945 in Laurel, Mississippi, a black man named Willie McGee was accused of raping a white woman named Willette Hawkins. Despite inconsistencies in the trial testimony that suggested that Hawkins had fabricated the story to cover up an extramarital affair with McGee, an all-white jury convicted him, and a judge sentenced him to death. In The Eyes of Willie McGee, journalist and Mississippi native Alex Heard tells in fascinating detail how this small-town trial snowballed into a landmark battle of the burgeoning civil rights movement. Communist Party lawyers got wind of the case and took up McGee's appeal, arguing that his sentence was the result of racism—a white man would never be executed for rape. Over nearly six years of new trials and stays of execution, celebrities including William Faulkner and Norman Mailer advocated on McGee's behalf. But to no avail: McGee was executed in 1951.
Heard is a great storyteller and a meticulous historian, yet his real triumph was convincing both McGee's and Hawkins' descendants that he "wasn't in this to take sides, push a political view, or set them up to be humiliated." It's their tales of how the case affected them that bring this complicated, emotionally charged story to life.
Do you watch CBS’ The Good Wife, the series partly inspired by the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal? Me neither, but I will tomorrow night! Why? Because apparently there’s going to be a “Mother Jones” reporter on the case. Drama, excitement, Sex and the City's Chris Noth AND smart, fearless journalism - what a great combo. Are you curious how MoJo will hit Hollywood? If so, check your local listings or go to the CBS website and have a watch.
Last month I took note of the curious new genre of Tea Party-themed protest music. No musician, save for perhaps Ted Nugent, has capitalized on the conservative movement's career-building potential as successfully as Lloyd Marcus—a self-identified "black unhyphenated-American" who has headlined dozens of Tea Party rallies across the country since last spring. His stage presence, like any successful artist's, is distinctive: He sports a braided rat tail and performs in a black vest and cowboy hat. Marcus is currently touring the country with a handful of other Tea Party troubadours and conservative speakers as part of the Tea Party Express tour sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. I caught up with the singer at the tour's first stop—in Harry Reid's hometown of Searchlight, Nevada.
TM: Who would say are your biggest influences?
LM: Sammy Davis Junior, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Nat King Cole. [Laughs.] That's a bizarre combination. But, like a lot of people have called me a combination of all three. Oh! And I like Michael Jackson.
TM: Really? What's your favorite Michael Jackson song?
Have you heard Nellie McKay's tribute to Doris Day, Normal As Blueberry Pie? I had the pleasure of seeing her perform songs from this and other albums at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last week. Here are 10 little observations:
1. When McKay first steps out onto the stage, her strange charisma reaches me at the back of the room, at the table where I sit drinking. I sense that something special is about to take place, something unforgettable. I start to grin like an idiot, before anything has even happened. She is surely going to unravel us with her sweet and satirical musical persona.
2. Beautiful, somewhat unhinged, raveling and unraveling, McKay appears both iconic and eccentric in youth. Her digressive flair dazzles as she moves from a sweet Doris Day number to "Sari," her piano-driven rap song, about three-quarters of the way into which she forgets a line of lyrics, laughs gamely, and simply screams, "Die motherfucker!" It calls to mind McKay's quoting Greta Garbo describing Day's curious allure: "Anyone who has a continuous smile on her face conceals a toughness that's almost frightening."
3. The girl's got pizzazz! A gift for linguistic play, a dynamic intellect, serious musical ability and style. No matter the direction this young woman veers, we're held in enchantment by that loverly voice. It guides us along.
5. McKay has written earnestly about Doris Day for the New York Review of Books, showing critical insight into her career and demonstrating what, as an iconic figure in popular culture, Day stood for: "What she possessed, beyond her beauty, physical grace and natural acting ability, was a resplendent voice that conveyed enormous warmth and feeling." In concert, the sincere commitment of McKay's homage disarms the intellect—especially as the word "resplendent" describes McKay's voice as well: supple and warm, gleaming brilliantly as it sanctifies (an ambling, almost humble "Sentimental Journey") and subverts (her own "Mother of Pearl").
"Much Ado About Cutting," Nikhil Swaminathan’s piece from our March/April issue, is about the ongoing circumcision debate in the US. A lighthearted romp through a controversial subject, it features a couple trying to decide whether or not to have their new baby circumcised, adult men trying to restore their foreskins with the assistance of weights, and the professional opinions of both medical researchers and a porn star named the Italian Stallion.
While fact-checking this article, I was struck by the passionate opinions people held on both sides of the debate, from the larger issues at stake (whether or not US health organizations should recommend circumcision as an HIV prevention measure, after trials in Africa found it to be beneficial in this regard) to the personal details (whether or not snipping male newborns dooms them to a life of diminished sexual pleasure). Everybody seems to have a strong opinion about this, so we’ll be expecting quite a few wily comments concerning the fate of the foreskin.
So in a deft act of Biblical aikido, students, parents, and neighbors countered the so-called Christian organization's "God Hates You" placards with "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself" signs. Watch the inspirational video below to see the community's myriad slogans and to listen to the songs. You can't miss the songs. Apparently, Stanford University adopted Gunn's counter-protest tactics, using copious amounts of levity to ward off Westboro's Debbie Downer message. One sign read "Gay for Fred Phelps"...my personal favorite.
English comic novelist Evelyn Waugh's close relationship with the aristocratic Lygon family forms the basis for a compelling narrative in Paula Byrne's new biography, which shows the extent to which they served as models for the characters in Brideshead Revisited, one of his greatest works.
Waugh met Hugh Lygon—who later became tragically alcoholic, and inspired the character of Sebastian Flyte—at Oxford, where the two carried out a homosexual love affair. After the publication of Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies—a scathing satire of 1920s London and its party-wild "Bright Young Things" (a circle in which Waugh traveled, and which produced his first, most disastrous, marriage)—Waugh began frequenting the Lygons' country estate, Madresfield, where he grew close to two of Hugh's four sisters, Mary and Dorothy. Byrne provides a page-turning account of a scandal involving Lord Beauchamp, their father, who was exposed as a homosexual and hounded out of England by his brother-in-law, the Duke of Westminster. Waugh wrote about this incident in A Handful of Dust, which featured an old-fashioned gentleman exiled from his country home—a character that, in Byrne's words, "owes a profound debt to Evelyn's knowledge of the last man to be hounded out of England: Earl Beauchamp."
Waugh has been criticized for snobbery by some biographers and critics, who interpret his close-knit friendship with the Lygon girls and his obsession with Madresfield as aristocracy-worship. (Waugh was the son of a middle-class publisher.) Byrne takes pains to defend Waugh's "love affair" with the family, and the portrait she creates here is a generous one, providing a nuanced view of the writer's life as it concerns the Lygons. The importance of these friendships to Waugh becomes abundantly clear through Byrne's able scholarship—previously unutilized private papers have been pored over, passages of letters reproduced in full where once they had been published in censored form—and the result is a wonderfully illuminated perspective on Waugh's sexuality, his sense of humor, and the devotion and fascination that drew him towards the Lygon family. All of this leads Byrne to conclude that "what he is really in love with is the family, not any one member of it," and that this makes Brideshead "one of the great expressions of what might be called the bisexual imagination."
An excellent, engrossing biography—even those who have never had the pleasure of reading Waugh will find Byrne's work fascinating, and will certainly feel compelled to seek out the works drawn from this remarkable period in the novelist's life.
In a spectacular display of theocratic zeal that makes The Crucible look like The Sound of Music, the government of Saudi Arabia—America's petro-partner in the war on terror—is preparing to get medieval on a Lebanese TV personality: The popular host is to be beheaded Friday for practicing "sorcery" on his Arabic-language TV show. And according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the man's ordeal is but one strange front in a renewed Saudi offensive to root out un-Islamic thoughtcrimes. As one Amnesty worker puts it, "If JK Rowling lived in Saudi Arabia, she could be arrested for practising 'sorcery' with her Harry Potter books."
His sleepy voice and bluesy piano seemingly untouched by time, Mose Allison returns with one of the best albums of his career, which has spanned more than a half-century. On The Way of the World, the Mississippi-born sage skewers the pompous and chronicles life's absurdities with the same sly wit that influenced rockers like the Who and the Clash, who both covered Allison tunes. "I know you didn't mean it when you blew us up," he drawls at one point, exuding bemused resignation; "Modest Proposal" (shades of Jonathan Swift) finds him muttering, "Let's start making some sense today." Though Allison is in his early 80s, he still possesses the irreverence of a rookie.
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