The Christmas Truce

Happy Holidays mi gente,
Leave it to the Christian right and people in general to fuck up a good thing… There are two parts to today’s post. One illustrates how conservatives use religion to foster fear with the intent to force compliance, the other illustrates how spirituality can be a powerful force, even in the midst of unbelievable violence and insanity.

The Fake War on Christmas

07-10-16_ Sunday Sermon [Resistance]

A solitary unarmed Black woman demanding the Black Lives Matter confronts a militarized aggression.

What we preserve in the larger human story determines what we believe is possible in the world.

The fake war on Christmas is not really about Christmas, but rather it is in reality code for religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, and bigotry. It’s the dog whistle to rile up the rabble.

From what I can tell, at the message at the core of the historical Jesus is a powerful and sublime philosophy: that we love one another, and that we should treat one another with respect and as we would like to be treated. Of course, Christmas really isn’t about that at all. Shit, if there is a war on Christmas, it was won long ago by a consumer culture grounded in the mindset of mindlessly acquiring material possessions rather than self-actualization or compassion for one’s neighbor.

And that’s the tragedy here because this vital message of love is lost. And if you doubt the power of the true message of this spiritual teaching, then check out the following story…

Silent Night

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WWI soldiers in the trenches

The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914

On Christmas Eve in 1914, two lines of homesick soldiers, one British, one German, were dug into the trenches on the Western Front in the middle of World War I. Now, you have to understand that WWI was considered the “war to end all wars.” It was one of the most vicious wars because in those days, you had to look your enemy in the eye as you stabbed or shot him. You were more likely to die from starvation, exposure, and disease as you were at the hands of the enemy. So, there are these two front lines and between them was a fire zone called no-man’s land. On a moonlit, snowy night in this God-forsaken landscape, the Germans lifted army issued Christmas trees sparkling with tiny candles over the edge of their trenches and set them in plain sight.

The British shouted and cheered with delight. The Germans began to sing “Stille Nacht… ”and the British began to sing along with “Silent Night.” This encouraged the Germans and they set down their guns in the moonlight and heaved themselves from their trenches carrying candles, cake, and cigars toward their enemies. The British responded in kind, carrying steamed pudding and cigarettes.

These men met in the middle of the forbidden zone, exchanged gifts, sang carols, and played soccer. This seemingly spontaneous truce eventually extended for hundreds of miles among thousands of soldiers. The really funny thing was, having seen each other’s humanity, they could no longer shoot each other…

The war essentially stopped.

Horrified, commanders on both sides had to transfer thousands of men to new positions until the enemy became faceless again, something killable, not a human being — not a brother.

Almost a hundred years later, scholars are still studying this event, reading soldier’s journals and letters that refer to it, seeking to understand “the breakdown of the military mindset,” or attempting to understand how a fuckin spontaneous peace movement could spread even in the cold dark heart of war.

Today you will hear countless other stories. Stories of death and unspeakable cruelty. You will no doubt hear stories justifying, in the name of global economics or religion, the starvation and killing of innocent men, women, and children. You will see or read approximately 80,000 messages today bombarding you with the agenda to get you to buy something — most of it will fly under the radar of your awareness. But if you remember anything, remember this story because it is true and it speaks to who we really are and the essence of what it means to be a human being.

Most of all, remember the contrasts between the two parts of this post today. The first part emphasizes difference and domination, the second part reinforces what is good in all of us, regardless of what or who we believe in or where we find ourselves.

Happy Holidays.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Hola Everybody,
Anyone in the issue of the struggle against racialized social control and mass incarceration, should come hear us at Old Soul’s Church. For details, see the flyer below:

mass-empowerment-event-flyer-1

I usually leave the art stuff for Saturdays, but in preparing for tonight’s panel, I came across the following poem in my notes. It’s from a poet that not too many people may know about. Many people know of Maya Angelou’s memoir I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but not as many know of the poet who inspired the title, Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African-American to gain national prominence as a poet. He died much too young, at 33, but his work is as fascinating as it is beautiful.

With that, I leave you with…

Sympathy

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I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting —
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!

— Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

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My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

The Kool Logic of Late Capitalism

Hola mi gente,
I could decide to be quiet or “safe” — to not point at and ridicule the Emperor’s nakedness — but I’m not “safe” in that way. Whatever people will say about me when I’m no longer around, they will not be able to say I was a safe Puerto Rican, or that I didn’t try.

Here’s a gem from a kindred and “unsafe” Puerto Rican…

Kool Logic

06-25-16_ Kool Logic [Poetry]

The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Frederic Jameson
— by Urayoán Noel

 

1
I hope this finds you in good health (Or at least gainfully employed). We’re here to discuss the hologram-self In the era of the void.

Some say modern man is hollow, Others say it’s a condition Called “postmodern.” Do you follow Could this use some exposition?

2
O.K. See the common graves Rotting in the ancient cities? The Fast food? The porous borders? The ambiguous sexualities? The debt-bludgeoned ethnicities? The wars of chemical roses?
Cash flows from Utopian rivers And the market never closes!
“This is the kool logic
Of late capitalism.”

3
In the Prozac marketplaces People hoard new models of leisure; Love has been deregulated: Plastic breasts! Prosthetics! Seizures! In the suburbs neighbors mourn The death drive of their libidos, Late summers full of soft porn, Stolen Wonder Bras, torn Speedos.
“This is the kool logic
Of late capitalism.”

4
You can consume what you please: From work music to new age; Ricky Martin and John Cage Are touring the Basque Pyrenees; You can sing your song of peace (Pop! Punk! Folk! Tribal! Assorted!) But the violence will not cease, Hate’s fetus can’t be aborted!
“This is the kool logic
Of late capitalism.”

5
Macrobiotic-cybernetic- Fiber-optic folderol! Neo-gothic supermodels! Satellites and virtual malls! Vegan power lunch grand slams! Word elites! Money-go-rounds! Free will or free (pillow?) shams In the global shantytown?
“This is the kool logic
Of late capitalism.”

6
NBTFA, Mercosur, Hamas! DVDs and open mikes! Watercross and motocross! SUVs and mountain bikes! Trailer parks! Gated communities! High-rise ghettoes and favelas! Acquired diplomatic immunities! Self-help prophets! Braille novelas! Mexico, Miami, Rio! Euro-Disney, Bollywood! Dell, Intel, Taco Bell, Geo! Stanford post-docs in da hood! I’ll stop fronting pedagogical… One last question (extra credit): This kool logic ain’t too logical But it’s still “kool.” Do you get it?!
“This is the kool logic
Of late capitalism.”

About Urayoán Noel: Puerto Rico-born and Bronx-based performance poet, Urayoán Noel, has been delighting and confounding the enlightened masses since the late 1990s. Solo and as part of the rock band objet petit a, he has performed-sung-scatted throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, as well as in the Dominican Republic and Perú. His laugh-tracked new wave guarachas have rocked the rafters and/ or emptied the room at the Nuyorican Poets Café, Bowery Poetry Club, Bar 13, Cornelia Street Café, Instituto Cervantes, and Roka Espacio. (click here for more info and/ or buy Kool Logic here.)

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My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

 

I am the Warrior

Hola mi Gente,
I am conflicted about having to be inside a jail for eight hours a day, five days a week. If you’re not vigilant, being inside a jail that much can suck the soul out of you…

The Awakened Warrior

06-08-16_ Scholar Warrior

Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
— Marie Curie

 

I sold my son on education using the archetype of the Scholar-Warrior. After watching an old Bruce Lee movie, he wanted to learn the martial arts. Having studied Lee’s original art, Wing Chun, myself, I made a pact with him. We would both study with a master if he took the oath of the Scholar-Warrior. Of course, I made the whole thing up. LOL

Actually, there are precedents for the oath of the Scholar-Warrior. Throughout history and across many cultures, scholar-warriors weren’t just fighters; they were often learned men and women who were versed in a wide range of disciplines. They were familiar with poetry and the healing arts, for example. They were protectors not destroyers.

We live in a different age, of course, but I would submit that the times we live in are screaming for more Scholar-Warriors to come forth. We cannot count on our leaders and government to be brave on our behalf; they are beholden to legal fictions (aka Corporations) endowed with the rights of personage. I would say that a failure of courage all around is at the root of most our problems today. Doing the right thing is a reward itself. Scholar-Warriors do not look for credit…

The word courage comes from the French coeur, meaning “heart.” Courage is a power that comes from the integration of the heart and brain. Brave, on the other hand, comes from the word for barbarians and was used by the Romans to describe the daring of the “wild people.”

For me, courage is the willingness to embrace challenge. Courage isn’t a single trait so much as a combination of a range of qualities: willingness, persistence, intent, valor. Real courage faces reality head on and when change is called for, accepts the need. It also calls for intelligence in that it calculates whether the means justifies the ends.

The irony is that seemingly unremarkable individuals commit some of the most courageous acts. Julia Butterfly Hill was only twenty-three when she climbed 180 feet into an ancient redwood. She lived in the tree for two years, saving it from destruction and in the process inspiring a generation of environmental activists.

I tried to teach my son that within each of us there lies a sleeping scholar-warrior and that part of our life’s purpose is to awaken that warrior. Sometimes it takes an extreme situation for the inner warrior to emerge. Many of the heroes we celebrate were initially reluctant everyday people taken by surprise.

I had a friend, Freddie (who has since passed away), who with no thought to his own safety acted on a situation. It was late at night and he was on his way to the corner bodega when he came upon a rape in progress. Without hesitation he tried to save the young woman. The cowards turned on him, beating him so badly that, among other serious injuries, they broke his eye socket, causing him to lose sight in that eye. Freddie was one of the funniest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and when asked, he said he wasn’t a hero. For him, he was just doing what needed to be done.

I don’t consider myself a hero. I am just a son of the human species who was taught that an injustice to one person is an injustice to all. If I am a scholar-warrior at all, I am a warrior for Truth.

Today, we’re at the political mercy of a relatively small group of bullies. This is how I view most of what goes under both political parties in America today. Much of what they do is based in fear and loathing. A woman once spit at me because she didn’t see me as a human being but as a receptacle for everything she hated. To her I was a thing; I was the “other.” Her fear and ignorance compelled her to see me as a scapegoat for all her frustrations. Bullies bully because they are rarely confronted, growing bolder with time. Push back against a bully, and his or her fear stands exposed. A scholar-warrior can stand up to them.

Lucky Babcock is an example of a spontaneous scholar-warrior. One day she was minding her own business looking out her window when she saw a man throw a woman to the ground and rip her blouse off. Lucky, then sixty-six years old, grabbed her cane and raced down two flights of iron stairs. “I felt like I was flying. I put my hands on the rails and just threw myself down four steps at a time.” She used her cane as a club and drove the man off.

Compassion is a powerful motivator. Scholar-warriors develop a thirst for compassion. The compassionate are the true protectors of the earth, moved enough to take a principled stand to wage war against injustice.

A newspaper editor in Uruguay who agreed to a duel with an irate police inspector announced he would turn up without a weapon. He was challenged after his newspaper reported the officer was involved in transporting contraband. “I am not going to bear arms against another human being,” he stated. He stood convention on its head and as a result, he gained the support of the press, many politicians, and much of the public. The exposure resulted in a power shift that saw a new party formed and a new president elected.

I could tell the stories of countless reluctant scholar-warriors who almost never get any coverage, but they all seem to share the same quality of people who simply did what needed to be done.

If everybody who cared actually participated, the world would change. But we can’t count on other people — only ourselves. If we each do our part, who knows? But if we don’t, I think we know what will happen — it’s happening now. I’ll tell you today what I tried to teach my son not too long ago. The task of the scholar-warrior is to persist in the face of the greatest opposition. Even if our efforts turn out to be for nothing at one level, our actions still create ripples of effect. Courage isn’t risking ourselves for what we believe in, my friends. Courage is letting go of the belief that there’s something to risk.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday Sermon [Gettin’ Naked]

Hola mi Gente,
Happy Sunday and all that! First: if you want to grow and be an Intellectual just like your Uncle Eddie, then the first rule goes as follows:

Eddie Rule #1 for Intellectual Wannabes:
You cannot disagree with something you have failed to understand.

Gettin’ Naked

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Fear is excitement without the breathing.

 

Have you ever had a dream of being naked? Being naked or partially naked is a common dream theme. It may be a negative or a positive experience, depending upon how you feel about being naked in the dream. The clothes we wear in waking life help identify us — they represent how we want others to see us. Clothes also hide our imperfect bodies and, metaphorically, our emotional and psychological imperfections. In our nakedness, we are stripped of our identity and others can see us as we really are. That can be a scary thing or empowering experience, depending on how you see yourself.

Recently, I was discussing the creative process with a friend who is an artist. Mostly, we spoke about how creating art and offering it to the world for its judgment is often an act of courage. Or, better put, it is often very scary. Who among us doesn’t fear public exposure of our creative ideas because we then will feel naked and vulnerable in front of others, and believe we may end up rejected or laughed at in our vulnerability?

Our creative output usually holds special significance for us. They express something that we have been quietly nurturing in our inner life, sometimes for years, away from the eyes and ears of others. It is risky, or seems so, to go public with them. All of sudden, we’re out there, and despite being clothed, we feel a profound nakedness.

Yet we must find a balance between the need to expose our creations to possible public criticism with the fear that our offerings may be somehow cheapened or ridiculed — maybe even stolen.

People say I am an excellent public speaker but, like many people, I suffer from a fear from being on a stage, or in front of a crowd. Add to the fact that I often am presenting controversial views in front of other professionals who often disagree with me, and public speaking for me can be both a fearsome and exhilarating process. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that being in front of others can be rewarding, and that a part of me thrives on the attention and the adrenaline rush. Perhaps there is a healthy exhibitionism beneath the courage to go naked — but we had better have something to back it up!

On the other hand, after a while, an experience that produced trepidation and excitement can become routine or boring. What for some can be an experience of a lifetime can become tedious for others. We need the courage to go naked, but it is much more than simply overcoming fear. Perhaps stage fright is not just a fear of being out there naked, but a desire to be out there really naked. Perhaps along with presenting our creativity to others, we also need to know that we are pushing our own boundaries, along with those of our audience. We are naked to ourselves as well as to others.

This all involves a degree of risk-taking, to be sure, if only because we have invested so much of ourselves in our product that we do not want to see it flop. We have risked everything — our hopes and dreams — on our creative ideas, and we desire some measure of recognition and reward, whether the rewards are social or financial.

I guess the moral of today’s “sermon” is to get out there and do it! Take it off — take it all off! As in love, in the realization of the dream resides self-realization; in its impact is its proof, in our creations we complete ourselves.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Of Cuckoos and Neoliberals

Hola mi Gente,
The HillBilly campaign is anything but progressive. They’re a lot like the cuckoo birds… LOL

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Hillary's Privilege_ 2016_002

Of Cuckoos & Neoliberals

Facts are stupid things.
— Ronald Reagan, 1988

 

 

Poor Ronnie, I believe he meant to quote Mark Twain’s, “Facts are stubborn things,” but he slipped up. I guess his whole presidency was a slip.

The best analogy I’ve heard regarding the neoliberalism, an ideology that emphasizes the value of free market competition over human interests1, is the one using the nesting habits of the cuckoo bird comparison. Cuckoos employ a rather interesting reproductive strategy involving what is known as “nest parasitism.” Briefly, the female cuckoo lays an egg in the nest of another species of bird (after first removing an egg from the host’s nest). Upon hatching, the baby cuckoo goes on to banish the remaining eggs and hatchlings of the host, at which point it becomes the sole focus of the host parent’s interest.

By now you’re probably asking why the host parents don’t push out the alien egg before the troubles begin, or at the very least abandon the parasitic baby cuckoo once it has grown to a size far larger than host parents themselves. The problem, of course, is that birds lack the critical thinking skills necessary to recognize the parasite. They take note of the eggs, of the sight of a baby bird’s features and cries, and follow a “care for egg/ hatchling in nest” instinctual pattern. It does not demand much of a masquerade on the part of the cuckoo to abuse the host’s instincts. All that is necessary is the initial neural imprinting by the parent host on the baby parasite’s signals.

One cannot help but be struck by the remarkable parallels between the nesting line of attack of the cuckoo and the infiltration of the democratic party beginning in the 1980s by neoliberals.

Just as the parasitical cuckoo bird ingratiates itself into the nest of an unsuspecting host, eventually driving out the rightful offspring, so did the neoliberals come to dominate, to the point of exclusion, what passes today for “progressivism.”

Intelligent men and women assure me that there are reasonable neoliberals capable of logic, so this will be the only point I will cede on their behalf. During the last 30 years, however, like my cuckoo birds, neoliberals have systematically dumped progressives from office, replacing them with right-wing, laissez-faire parasites. The neoliberal, who first began appearing during the Reagan years, but really took hold with the ascendancy of the Clintons in the 1990s, is a warped mutation of true progressive ideals. Furthermore, neoliberalism grew out of racist and classist ideology. Neoliberalism is characterized by a resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality; and some of the common psychological factors linked to it include fear and aggression, dogmatism, and an intolerance of ambiguity.

First, I have to begin with the Biggest Lie — the myth of the Clintons. I have had it up to here with the constant idolization of what was in fact an incompetent (and very likely predatory) president. In the pantheon of the neoliberal iconography, Bill Clinton is only slightly lower than white Jesus.

Even Bill Clinton himself has been selectively telling media outlets that he made some mistakes as president and might have acted otherwise. He’s even tried to recast actual events and been taken to task by fact-checkers who recall his leading role in what became major crises, such as the 2008 global financial implosion.

Some of the more disastrous policies of the Clinton administration include mass incarceration, increasing poverty and deregulating the finance sector. Clinton is the president most responsible for the mass incarceration of Americans on an epic scale. The gung-ho crime fighter-in-chief passed the single most damaging law with his omnibus federal crime bill in 1994. The consequences of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill have been devastating for millions of American families, with the number of poor families with children rising 17 percent since.

Financially, The Columbia Journalism Review concluded that, “The bottom line is: Bill Clinton was responsible for more damaging financial deregulation — and thus, for the [2008] financial crisis — than any other president.” Clinton expanded the death penalty and the war on drugs, both of which were hugely detrimental to black and people and other people of color. Bill Clinton helped gut America’s manufacturing base by promoting and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. And Hillary Clinton, an active FLOTUS, fought tooth and nail alongside her husband to get these policies through congress.

The list of draconian Clinton policies both past and present is vast but what concerns me most is that the Clintons are somehow perceived as “progressives.” And it seems that they have many people, especially African Americans and Latinxs, convinced.

Hopefully, historians will prove less easily convinced, I dunno…

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Notes:

1. The main points of neoliberalism include:

  1. THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionizing workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.
  2. CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, and even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.
  3. DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and safety on the job.
  4. PRIVATIZATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatization has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.
  5. ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.”

 

The King of Soul and the Palace

Hola mi Gente,

I’m at an interview yesterday and when the issue of compensation comes up I’m rocked by what an executive director would think is adequate compensation for what is essentially a director of programs position — I’m shocked. I thought I had heard wrong. In retrospect, it was insulting and a huge waste of both of our time. Oh well, his loss. I’m off for another interview today. If you have a free couch… LOL

It’s been several years since James Brown passed away. I wrote this back then…

* * *

03-24-06_ James Brown & The Pitkin Theater

Loew’s Pitkin Theatre, Brooklyn, NY – November, 1930

James Brown and the Pitkin Theater

 

At a crucial point in the award-winning film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, the teacher of the title is fighting to save the high school arts program from budget cuts. The exchange goes something like this:

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.

Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.

It is a telling moment in a movie that’s principally about the essence of education. The fact of the matter is that art is indispensable to education. Numerous studies have shown that children who are immersed in arts programs tend to do better in reading, writing, and mathematics, for example. The word educate comes from the Latin root word educare, which means to draw from. The implication being that education is not about filling children’s minds, but drawing out the potential that already exists. It is unfortunate that today we eat our young and then blame them for our own collective narcissism and shortsightedness.

I won’t get into that today, but I mention the arts because it has been such an integral part of my life. Art, or Beauty, or Truth, or whatever you want to call it, literally saved my ass. When I was at the lowest point in my life what saved me was art. What saved me was the knowledge that in this fucked up world, full of petty motherfuckers racing mindlessly to catch/ buy/ sell/ the latest trend/ soundbite/ flavor of the month, there is Beauty.

Even in despair, I could still find sustenance in the intricate beauty of a Faulkner paragraph. I could quench my spiritual thirst with Neruda’s passion; I could listen to John Coltrane’s fearlessness and peer wide-eyed along with him into the void. Knowing and experiencing the beauty of a Monet assured me that there was sanity in this world and that it was worth living. And there were many times I needed reminding of the preciousness of life. Therefore, it is with great sadness that I mark the passing of great artists — those who sustained me, when I felt I couldn’t do it myself. I feel a profound sense of gratitude for the archetype of The Artist, because they serve to remind us that there’s more to this momentary passage of time on this ball of mud we call Earth. The Artist, sometimes at great personal cost, follows her vision and sometimes points us to what matters most, though we oftentimes don’t pay heed.

And so it was with James Brown. I remember growing up listening and dancing to the sounds of James Brown. As a young teen, I danced the Camel Walk to James Brown. And who can forget his anthem to black pride when he sang, “Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud!” At the time, it was a radical notion for people of color to be proud of their skin color, the texture of their hair, and their culture. We take it for granted now, but there was a hard war fought in order for us to assume that we should be proud.

I was born of Puerto Rican parents and raised in the slums of New York City, rubbing elbows with African-American neighbors who also lived in those ghettos. I remember it was 1967 when we moved to East New York Ave in Brooklyn, right behind the Pitkin Theater. The Pitkin was multi-tiered theatre with Greek statuary adorning the side walls and proscenium area. It had a Robert Morton 3 Manual, 14 Rank theatre organ as well. In those days, movie houses were built to resemble opulent palaces: velvet seats, gilded trimmings, lush carpeting in huge auditoriums facing a great stage where a huge silver screen hung. There was even a balcony and the older kids would go up there to make out.

At the time, we were one of the only Puerto Rican families living on that block embedded in a predominantly African-American community. In the beginning, I had to fight my way to and from school almost every day. Eventually, I would befriend most of my neighbors and the first girl I ever kissed was this beautiful black girl called Gail. Actually, she would kiss me when we stood on line in school and I hated it because I didn’t like girls — yet.

On Saturdays, my mother would give each of us something like seventy-five cents and send us to the Pitkin Theater across the street on Pitkin Avenue (our apartment faced the back of the Pitkin Theater). The cost of admission was twenty-five cents and for that sum, you would see two new releases, plus the cartoons sandwiched in-between.

But the Pitkin Theater also held live shows and this is where I first experienced live soul music. I remember seeing Little Anthony and the Imperials there, and there were other acts. Many of the then up-and-coming Motown acts used to pass through in those days, part of the circuit and these were hugely popular. I remember the first time I was sitting down at the Pitkin and they were showing, between films, the hottest acts of the day. It was the first time I remember where all the white acts were booed and the Black performers cheered loudly. LMAO!

Now, James Brown, he was no up-and comer. JB was the King — the Godfather of Soul. I don’t know if he ever played the Pitkin, but whenever I think of JB, I’m reminded of the Pitkin and those long-ago days. JB took the field holler and put it to a fatback backbeat. When JB squealed, screamed, hollered, it was almost as if the collective pain and anguish of the oppressed was concentrated in those musical moments. JB had the nastiest, funkiest rhythm section and if you listened closely, all the West African rhythms were encapsulated in his vocal stylings. To listen to James Brown was to be reminded that you were alive, that you were sensual, sexy, and a bad-assed muthafucka on the dance floor.

Without James Brown, popular music as it exists today would not exist. JB is the most sampled artist, the most emulated, having influenced people from the great Miles Davis to Prince, almost every Hip Hop luminary, and everybody in-between. Our world is a better world because of James Brown, whatever his inner demons were, and today, we’re a lot less richer because of his passing.

And the Pitkin? Unfortunately It closed in the late-1960’s. After, it served for a long time as a church, but the congregation eventually moved out. The entry lobby was converted into retail space (later used as storage), and after over the 40 years of neglect and dereliction the building gradually became a wreck.

In the Summer of 2010, work on the building began and today it has been converted into a school and retail use. So, in a real way both the Pitkin and the Godfather of soul live on.

Rest in peace, JB

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…