On stage in Dundee the first gig of the tour, I told the crowd that I had dreamed of coming to Scotland for a long time and had a sort of fetish for the place, which elicited the last thing I expected - uproarious laughter. It's true, I've had this weird thing about Scotland for years, I can't point to a particular film or book that triggered it, I guess it's probably from connecting with many forward-thinking Scots on Facebook and the cool shit they all seem to do - poets, performance artists, fringe-y freaks... MORE
Every Mother Counts
My good friend Kristi York-Wooten asked me to perform at a benefit she wanted to put together for a charity organization that her friend Christy Turlington Burns had founded, one that gives aid to women worldwide who don't have access to adequate prenatal and childbirth care. Of course I agreed, I love Kristi, and Rufus and Martha Wainwright were on the gig too, but as I learned more about Every Mother Counts I was struck by a couple things that made me proud to be involved... MORE
In December, I started participating in meetings held by what was then a little group of musicians and other artists led by Marc Ribot, Melvin Gibbs and Rosanne Cash, who were, like most of us "lifer" musicians, completely frustrated by the almost total lack of respect we, and other "content creators" experience in this country, especially when it comes to getting paid. David Byrne was sitting behind me, and while he talked of some things getting a bit better, I knew that he, and Chris Ruen, and lots of other people, had been blogging about how problematic many of these issues continue to be: piracy and theft of intellectual property, the downturn in the music industry in general, with music especially being transformed into free manna for the downloading masses. MORE...
You called Memphis your home, and the sort of spiritual pilgrimage I came here for was, like yours, about the music - for you country, gospel and the blues, for me blues and soul - that revved me up when I was a child and forced me to heed my calling to be a musician. Much respect to you, my man, for being great. For loving Black music and feeling Black music and for giving mad props to Jackie Wilson for doing Elvis better than you ever could. But dude, what's being done in your name now makes me sad.
My first stop was Sun Studios, where Johnny Cash and Ike Turner and Howlin' Wolf made their first records. Where you walked in off the street and recorded a little ballad that Sam Phillips didn't like, because it wasn't different enough and probably too "white" for him, deep cat that he was. It was only but for his assistant, Marian, who saw into your soul, the soul of you, which eventually produced a version of "Blue Moon" that sounds exactly like love feels and which changed American culture so that Black artists could have their magnificent, stirring music welcomed on White radio with love and admiration. You did that.
I stood on the same floor where you did that. I caressed the microphone you sang, spoke and breathed into. It's a beautiful, heavy thing. Those walls at Sun contain sacred spaces that changed millions of lives, cultures, futures. No joke, music does that.
I went to Stax records, which is now a museum, one I teared up in more than once during the three hours I spent there, soaking in Pops Staples and Booker T, with his integrated band of funk brothers, and Tina Turner and Chaka Khan. They spoke about the brief, shining moment that was Stax, where black and white faded together into the color of music, of family and friendship, of greatness. Then Dr. King was killed and everyone was forced to remember what they looked like and it was lost.
Which brought me to Graceland. I spent a lot of money to walk through a plastic-coated, roped-off part of your bizarre, haunted mansion (no one is allowed in any of the personal, upstairs rooms, one of which is the bathroom where you died). It is smaller and darker than I imagined it would be. The crowd shuffled like a prison cafeteria line past your odd-looking, nouveau plastique furniture (strangely reminiscent of my Aunt Filomena's house in New Jersey, c.1980), tacky rumpus rooms painted sickly yellow, sparkly jumpsuits, flaccid and stained, and claustrophobic halls of gold records and Elvis merch and flickering footages of ridiculous films set in Hawaii. I wondered if you dug it, doing all that, even though you wanted to make "serious" movies, I bet you would have slaughtered Sinatra's part in "The Man With the Golden Arm".
As we exited through the gift shop we wondered where all the money was going. Nearly $40 for the tour, which included a walk through your plane, "Lisa Marie", with its thick plastic-covered plush velvet seating and solid gold seat belt buckles and sinks, which wasn't remotely as flash, fun and special as Isaac Hayes' gilded blue Cadillac, spinning on a dais at Stax, gleaming wildly with 70s disco king pimped-out decadence. Isaac says in a video, with a little impish twinkle, "Hey, it was the 70s, that's what people expected, and it was lovely!"
Stax made a school, an academy for middle school and up kids http://www.staxmusicacademy.org. They learn all the Rs, plus science, plus music. They audition to get in. Admission to the Stax Museum funds the academy (housed in a modern, glassy building next door), and I was told the school has a 100% graduation rate and 100% scholarship placement. Hearing that was the first time I was moved to tears at Stax. The second time was watching a bunch of tweener-looking girls from a church group, in front of a giant screen playing old episodes of Soul Train. They didn't know all the lyrics to R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but they shouted them out anyway, and danced in that free, spazzed-out way of young girls.
Stax is living, light, fun, full of magic and music where you feel the past meet you where you stand. Stax and Stax Academy shine open and beckoning in the middle of a poor, run-down neighborhood, reminding the city of its grace. It celebrates the halo-ed revolutions in American culture led by the Memphis Gospel singers, the dirty bluesmen, and by you. Graceland is a frosty mausoleum, a cash grab, signifying nothing. All that money from all those pilgrims. Memphis needs the tourists, but its people need a real legacy, they need to reap the bounties of what's been sown, so hard-fought and so well. They need music, not a coffee mug with a hound dog on it.
is a video series that showcases the fabulously unique people in my life. They are super intelligent, super creative freaks of all stripes. We talk, and what happens is funny and surprising and true.
Skin Tight #2 - Titania Colossal
SKIN TIGHT #2 features Titania Colossal, an artist model and fetish performance artist from Atlanta, GA. I thought after living in San Francisco as long as I did I was aware of every fetish under there was. I was wrong.
Skin Tight #1 - Dred Scott
SKIN TIGHT #1 features my good friend, the pianist Dred Scott. Dred and I talk about some of his favorite things; "prepared" piano and why he has a warm fuzzy for Satan