FKA Twigs, "Glass & Patron"

FK My review of the new single and video from FKA Twigs is now up on the terrific music site, Sound It Out. You can also read it below:

OK, places everyone! Here’s the video concept for the new FKA Twigs single, “Glass & Patron”: a white van is parked in the middle of the piney woods and inside a pregnant FKA Twigs goes into labor and gives birth to a magician’s endless multicolored silk streamer that billows in the breeze … fade into a “Paris is Burning”-meets-“The Cremaster Cycle”-style vogueing ball that takes place on a long mirrored runway in the middle of those woods, with an enthroned FKA Twigs judging from the far end and telling the half-dozen dancers: “Hold that pose.” Got it? Go!

The bizarre, fascinating new video (from the album LP1, released by Young Turks) is classic FKA Twigs, with its slow build, extreme close-ups, high-drama sexuality and energetic dancing. As with all her videos, Twigs directed this herself.

The FKA Twigs cocktail is a mix of equal parts “Controversy”-era Prince + the falsetto soul of James Blake + Manchester-based late-1990s trip hop/drum and bass duo Lamb + the daffy physicality of Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl in Robert Altman’s version of “Popeye.” She’s really something. Weird, intense, with a beautiful wavering soprano that floats over the stuttering static and deep bass undulations of her band, this is dark, erotic music. No matter how much you dig it, this will never be your summer jam. It’s more of a darkest-night-of-winter jam. “So do you have a lighter?” she sings, “Am I dancing sexy yet?/I can’t wait to make your body my own.”

Like Madonna and Lady Gaga, she emerged from an underground club scene (Twigs performed in London’s burlesque clubs and was a backup dancer for Kylie Minogue and Jessie J) with a highly refined total vision of herself, from the music to the fashion to the performances. Many of FKA Twigs’ points of reference seem to borrow from early 1990s Madonna, especially “Sex,” “Erotica” and of course, “Vogue.” But Twigs is no copycat. This isn’t Miley Cyrus licking a wrecking ball. This is something more convincing: a serious performer with a 360-degree artistic vision. She may be young, she may look like Prince’s runty kid sister, but like that crazy club kid Maddona Louise Ciccone before her, this little Bjork chop clearly has world domination on her mind.

You can watch the video here: [youtube][/youtube]



Book Review: Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James McGrath Morris

Ethel Lois Payne

This review originally ran in the Boston Globe on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

‘Somehow, I felt I was woven into the drama that was going on,” said Ethel Lois Payne of her experience as a reporter covering the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott for the Chicago Defender newspaper. “This was something taking place for me and for all the people that I knew . . . It was like a historic battle being drawn out on a field, but you were part of it.”

During her 30-year career Payne seemed to be present for every pivotal moment of the struggle for black civil rights. And like the African-American Defender itself, she didn’t pretend to be objective. As Payne said, “We are soul folks and I am writing for soul brothers’ consumption.”

James McGrath Morris has written two other biographies about journalists, “Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power’’ (HarperCollins, 2010), about newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer, and “The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism,’’ (Fordham University, 2003), about newspaper editor Charles E. Chapin. In “Eye on the Struggle’’ he focuses on a less well-known yet equally important aspect of American journalism history: the black press.

As Morris shows, the Chicago Defender and other black newspapers were often the only news outlets that regularly reported on the injustices facing the African-American community, from the early days of the civil-rights protests in the South to the first reports on the murder of teenager Emmett Till. And Ethel Payne was often first on the scene.

Payne was born in Chicago in 1911. Morris’s portrait of the Midwestern metropolis challenges the widespread belief that segregation was confined to the American South. Strict racial divides prevailed in the city, including the schools Payne attended. “When it comes to morality, I say colored children are unmoral,” said one assistant principal of a predominantly white Chicago high school. “Not that we segregate them: the white keeps away from the colored.”

Payne was a bookish girl whose hero was “Little Women’s’’ Jo March, but because of a struggle to get a good education and the economic crisis of the Great Depression, her dreams of becoming a writer were put off for years. Payne was 40 years old when, in 1951, she finally published her first story at the Chicago Defender.

She may have started late, but “[h]er ambition, stoked by years of closed doors, gave her the energy to match younger reporters.” Payne took her readers into the action of the civil-rights movement, her folksy, down-to-earth personality and writing style putting her subjects and readers at ease. She was one of the first reporters to understand that the black church was the source for new leadership in the fight for civil rights. “ ‘A new type of leader is emerging in the South,’ ” Payne wrote in one of the earliest newspaper profiles of King. “ ‘He is neither an NAACP worker, nor a CIO political action field director . . . [he] carries a Bible in his hand.”

Payne’s personal relationships with leaders of the civil rights movement, as well as her political connections in Washington, earned her the title of “First Lady of the Black Press,” and her career as a journalist and, later, as a union organizer and political activist took her overseas for meetings with world leaders including Nelson Mandela, whose antiapartheid cause she had long supported.

“Eye on the Struggle’’ is a fast-paced tour through the highlights of 20th-century African-American history, with Payne as witness. But we hear very few details of her personal life. One gets the impression that Payne was highly protective of her intimate relationships — assuming there were some. Yet perhaps that’s fitting for a woman whose profession was her identity.

“For black journalists, particularly me,” she once said, “[w]e were absolutely unable to make the distinction between what is ‘objective journalism.’ So I adopted a code of trying to be fair, but I could not divorce myself from the heart of the problem, because I was part of the problem.” As Morris’s exhaustive and heartfelt biography reveals, Payne was also a large part of the solution.

Colorado Public Radio interview: Ryan Warner and Buzzy Jackson

cpr-logo-square I was interviewed a few days ago by the gracious and charming Ryan Warner on his show, Colorado Matters, on Colorado Public Radio KCFR 90.1. You can hear the full interview here. Not only was it fun to chat with Ryan about The Inspirational Atheist, but I got to meet an amazing climate scientist, Diane Thompson, from Boulder's National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Colorado State Historian, Bill Convery, while we waited nervously in the green room. Diane is now on her way to the Galapagos Islands to study coral for a month. It is 3 degrees Fahrenheit here in Colorado right now.

The 3 Rs: Required Reading & The Richardson House

News! Podcasts! Living the Good Life! Happy to report on my new podcast, Required Reading, with my collaborators Matthew Meschery and Steve Goldbloom. We'll be producing one 45-min show weekly(ish) on all the stuff you should have read, watched, and listened to in the previous week but couldn't fit in. Next week: The Life and Death of Mike Wallace, The $1 Billion-Dollar Photo, and The Strange Case of Augusta National. Check us out -- you can listen to RR right there on the link above. And it's FREE!

I went out to California a few weeks ago to finalize podcast details and on the way I had to drop by my dear mom in Truckee, my hometown. Sometimes it's nice to be a tourist in your hometown. For the first time, I did not stay with family or friends but at a (gasp!) hotel! Not just any hotel, though: The Richardson House. Anyone who's ever been to Truckee has probably seen it: a gorgeous Victorian sitting atop the hill overlooking downtown Truckee. I've lived, at different points in my life, within a two-minute walk of The Richardson House yet I'd never stayed in it -- until last month. It did not disappoint.

My son referred to it throughout our trip as "The Mansion" and it did feel like that. Gorgeous, high-ceilinged rooms, beds covered in seven layers of featherbeds, and a view of Mount Rose from our room. It was amazing. I may never stay at my mom's house again (sorry, Mom). The Richardson House is a Truckee treasure -- try it!

That's my Truckee Insider Tip for this month. Hey, I should add that to the podcast....

PS: Here's our podcast crew: Steve, Matthew, Leo (our producer, with pacifier), and Me. Hope you enjoy the show!